As the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship draws to a close, so does the F1 in Schools World Championship. This past week, in a run up to this weekend’s grand prix in Abu Dhabi, 32 teams from 21 countries arrived at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi to compete for trophies, engineering scholarships, and the opportunity to meet and interact with F1 teams.
The United States was represented by a team of four girls from schools in the Marietta, Georgia area. Team Shift, as they call themselves, is made up of Kelly Fitzgerald, Claire McCoy, and Anna Awald, who attend the Wheeler High School Center for Advanced Studies and Sabine Saldanha, who attends the Campbell High School International Baccalaureate.
“Being at different schools has presented challenges from a scheduling and communication standpoint, but we have managed through this, says Team Manager and Resources Manager, Kelly Fitzgerald. “Formula One in Schools is not a program we do through school, it is something we have done on our own.”
The F1 in Schools program is offered to students between the ages of 9 and 19 with the objective of changing perceptions of engineering, science and technology. It’s a multi-disciplinary challenge in which teams of students deploy CAD/CAM software to collaborate, design, analyze, manufacture, test, and then race miniature gas powered balsa wood F1 cars. There is a heavy emphasis on STEM education. Teams from around the world enter, working their way from local competition to national run-offs until a national champion is named. Team Shift won the American competition this year.
Building their car was no easy feat says Design Engineer, Anna Awald. “We used SolidWorks to design all the components of the car, ran it through the virtual wind tunnel, did additional testing and made improvements to the car as needed.” Manufacturing Engineer and Graphic Designer, Sabine Saldanha, adds “Once we had all of the pieces designed and manufactured, we started assembling wheels, axles, and bearings.”
F1 in Schools isn’t just about building a fast car. “The competition [also involves] a portfolio which documents the team’s entire process, a verbal presentation, a pit display, innovation and racing,” said Fitzgerald. “Our team is balanced and all the pieces that make up the competition are the best we’ve ever done.”
As if that wasn’t enough work, the girls also had to work hard to find sponsorship. With the help of a teacher, Fred Stilwell, and their parents, they raised money, in-kind donations, and lots of encouragement. The end result was a rewarding experience that wound its way through regional and national competition and led them down the path to a trip halfway around the world to the World Championships.
“Throughout this competition, we have not only developed our engineering skills, but we have also developed public speaking skills, learned what it is like to be in a professional setting, and we have also perfected working as a team,” Fitzgerald reflected. “We have all gained confidence in ourselves by being part of F1 in Schools and are different people because of it.”
While the world of motorsports has seen recent strides, such as the promotion of Monisha Kaltenborn to Sauber team principal and CEO, F1 is largely a boys’ club. Team Shift saw it as a challenge. According to Fitzgerald, “Being an all-girl team has given us something to prove: that just because we’re girls doesn’t mean that we can’t be competitors in any area we choose. What is interesting to us is that lots of people highlight that we are an all-female team. To us, we are just a team doing the best we possibly can.”
Team Shift’s best efforts were met with some hurdles on the way. “The hardest part of getting to the World Finals was time. After Nationals, we immediately started finding sponsorship. Over the summer, we had weekly meetings, and a lot of time to just work,” relects Fitzgerald. “Once school started, we had to balance our school work, extracurricular activities, and F1 in Schools. Since our project wasn’t supported by a school program, we had to do all of our work outside of school, which meant a lot of lost sleep.”
Their efforts took them far, but they ended up falling short of winning it all. A team from Adelaide, Australia was crowned the World Champions, but Team Shift came in fourth place and were awarded the trophy for Outstanding Sportsmanship. As for the future, Awald plans on going into either automotive or aerospace engineering. Saldanha wants to go into automotive engineering. McCoy wants to do something science and math related and Fitzgerald wants to become a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon. Job well done, girls!