Image: Warwick Racing
Image: Warwick Racing

Warwick Racing helps launch Formula Student Africa 

“Trailblazing”. “Inspiring”. “Unforgettable”. When speaking to members of the Warwick Racing Team, these were the words they used to describe their trip to South Africa in late February to help launch Formula Student Africa.  

Yet this initiative started much earlier. The first seeds were sown one year ago, and the roots the team will put down over the next two years leading up to the competition will grow to become a grand-scale Formula Student competition in South Africa, later spreading across the continent.  

After being approached by Alexander McLeod from the Warwick Innovation District, who wanted to carry over the Formula Student initiative that the Warwick Racing team are part of to Africa, the team laid the early building blocks by running online seminars, and while unsure at the time of the project’s future, continued to work towards making it a reality. 

Fast forward one year, and Alexander mentioned having a launch event at the time of the Cape Town Formula E races. Despite an initial lack of funding, through working with the Warwick Manufacturing Group and the university’s Materials Research Group, each organisation funded half the cost for seven members of the Warwick Racing team to spend a week in Cape Town. There, they worked on outreach and created a buzz around Formula Student Africa, which they are continuing to build now. 

As Team Principal Prem Gill summarised: “The ball is definitely rolling and then now we’re sort of at the forefront of that”, with the University of Warwick being the institution that is spearheading the initiative.  

Formula Student is an inter-student competition where teams design and build race cars that compete against each other, but the goal is not just to be first across the finish line; with criteria spanning engineering design, business presentation, and endurance, Formula Student claims to be a “testing ground for the next generation of world-class engineers”. 

This is exactly the outlook that the Warwick Racing Team adopted during their visit to the University of Cape Town. When asked about the challenges of launching Formula Student in Africa, Sachin Bharj, the Electrical Systems Team Lead, said that despite the differences in facilities between the UK and South Africa, there’s “definitely an abundance of enthusiastic engineers or students who are likely to get involved with this”.  

Launching Formula Student Africa against the backdrop of the first Sub-Saharan African Formula E race in late February, a recurring motif of this project is certainly the education of the next generation of engineers and innovators. They will realise the undergoing shift to electrification of transport across the world, but especially throughout the African continent.  

As Prem highlighted, “the solution always lies in education”, and he discussed the creation of educational programs in South Africa targeting all different age groups. This is aimed at creating awareness surrounding these opportunities and kicking into gear the engineering and entrepreneurial spirit that is present in these cohorts, who just need to be given the tools and exposure to develop their knowledge and help lead the electric revolution. 

Marieta Kyselà, Suspension Chief Engineer for the team, underscored that a key lesson she learned from their trip is that how good of an engineer you are doesn’t depend on your background; a key thing to carry forward is to make the most of the opportunities presented to you to realise your potential.  

The team were certainly able to capitalise upon spontaneous opportunities, because when asked what moment they wish they could freeze in time from the trip, they all mentioned being invited to the Maserati MSG Racing pits at the Cape Town E-Prix. It was an opportunity they got by talking to the Maserati Team Principal, who they met while presenting at a Formula E Youth Event. This is something they all now view as potentially being a highlight of their entire academic career.  

Not only that, but on their trip some of the team also climbed South Africa’s Table Mountain to fundraise for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Turkey and Syria earthquake; from culture shocks, to communicating with penguins, to charitable acts, the team had the trip of a lifetime, yet this is only the beginning for Formula Student Africa.  

Over the summer, Warwick Racing plan to run a lecture series to spread these educational opportunities even further, and across the subsequent months their primary role is to set up the rules and structure of the Formula Student Africa competition, although it’s going to be two years until the competition fully gets underway.  

Despite previous hesitancies about whether this initiative would gain traction, it now has the backing of Formula E, the South African government, and the country’s education ministers. This will allow the project to bloom, especially now that it has direct access to each and every one of South Africa’s education institutes.  

Jan Stebnicki, Chief of Business Operations at Warwick Racing, mentioned the South African government’s eagerness to increase mobility in the nation. The launch of Formula Student Africa, accompanied by the country’s aim to be a pioneer in the electric revolution, reinforces the power of education and opportunity. Through the channel of Formula Student Africa, the next generation of engineers and innovators will be educated on e-mobility, commerce, and everything in between, to help lead innovation in the electrification of transport not only across Africa, but the world too. 


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