From Formula Renault to F1, on the engineering side!

The Formula Renault Eurocup is not only a springboard towards F1 for the drivers. 24-year old Damien Turlay is a data engineer at Tech 1 Racing and he won the European finale of the INFINITI Engineering Academy, which explores the convergences, synergies and sharing of technologies within the Renault-Nissan Alliance. We met up with Damien just before he stepped up.

For its fourth edition, the international detection programme launched by INFINITI and the Renault Sport Formula One Team is offering an exceptional one-year internship for seven lucky people chosen from around the world.

What is your background?

After attending a technology preparatory school in the Paris region, I went to the École Centrale de Lyon. Ever since I was a kid, I have followed F1 and have done everything I can to orientate towards motor racing. I took part in Formula Student, but Tech 1 Racing gave me my first real professional experience in this industry during my internship at the end of my studies.

I started as a data engineer just before the beginning of the 2017 season at Monza. Every car has a race engineer and I was the fifth man in the sense where I worked in support of everyone in the team. I also helped in a more manual way on Thomas Maxwell’s car in the pit lane.

How did you hear about the INFINITI Engineering Academy?

I frequently inquired about available positions or graduate programs run by F1 teams. Renault launched this annual programme in partnership with INFINITI and as I had discovered F1 during the era when Fernando Alonso began to battle with Michael Schumacher, this was obviously where I wanted to be! I saw on the internet that the registration began in March and I sent my resume and a cover letter while answering some questions…

How did the selection process go?

When I signed-up, there were questions about motor racing, knowledge and personality. Among the candidates in Europe, they chose 50 to be interviewed on Skype before selecting 10 people for the two-day finale at Enstone. This process was exactly the same in seven geographical regions across the world.

What did you go through?

We were subjected to totally different tests over two days. For example, groups of five had to modify a remote control car with mechanical settings or motors before racing against the other team. There were challenges to accomplish on our own, or as a duo or as a group of five, as well as an interview with an engineer from the Renault Sport Formula One Team, an Infiniti engineer and Tommaso Volpe, INFINITI Director Global Motorsport and Performance Projects.

It wasn’t just about technical skills. There was also the media challenge, where the panel of judges interrogated us in English in front of an audience of European journalists to scrutinize our reactions and the way we handled the questions. Some focused on our ten-year vision of the automobile industry or the Vettel-Hamilton incident in Baku. We had to analyze the situation and respond very diplomatically and pragmatically as if we were a team manager! Depending on the results and the way we work, the jury then chose the winner.

Were you surprised to have won?

I was already surprised to have passed the Skype interview! In the finale, all my adversaries had incredible experience, a speciality and something particular. One was a race engineer in F4, another had done a year in the vehicle dynamic programme at Williams, another made composite materials and wrote a thesis on a rocket…

I thought I had a chance, but when the announcement was made, I wondered who they would choose without even thinking that it was going to be me! I was really astonished because I spent two days with really competent competitors and it shows in a short video!

Do you know what your future missions will be?

We will spend six months with the INFINITI Motor Company at the Cranfield Nissan Technical Center, then six months at the Renault Sport Formula One Team at Enstone.

Over time, they will help us choose projects based on their opportunities and needs. I did some dynamic vehicle work at Centrale, but many areas interest me enormously. I don’t want to close any doors because I don’t really have a specific area of expertise and it will be really interesting to discover new things.

How did you prepare yourself?

It was very hard to prepare specifically, I didn’t know what to expect! I studied all the videos from previous finales to see what we could expect… It wasn’t very successful! Apart from that, I did some basic revisions: from technical vocabulary in English - because I’ve only worked in French until now - aerodynamics basics, mechanics and formulas that an engineer could use.

What has your time in the Formula Renault Eurocup brought you?

I don’t think that the jury was necessarily looking for technical skills, but for people capable of working in a group and able to adapt to unexpected situations… My trackside experience clearly helped me with all the pragmatism that it brings: you have to be ready to face everything, to be able to improvise and to always make the right decision by working with the skills of each person to make them work together.

Having professional motor racing experience is also a small plus and probably offers an established work method. It was a great experience at Tech 1 Racing. Alongside Simon and Sarah Abadie, I could learn enormously in a good atmosphere. I don’t think I could have made it without it and I want to thank them for being so comprehensive. In fact, the Skype interview happened during a collective test at the Hungaroring! I stayed in the motorhome after asking for permission from the Technical Director, Florent Gouin. The finale took place between back to back meetings at the Nürburgring and Red Bull Ring. Arnaud Cholley, our category manager, took care of the flights and the transfers. The entire team supported me and were really happy for me!