Williams Advanced Engineering is part of the world-famous Williams Group, launched to provide world class innovation in many fields including aerospace, defence, renewable energy, and of course, motorsport. With a large focus on creating sustainable solutions for the 21st century, the Advanced Engineering programme also provides the battery technology for the Formula E Championship. Their work remains largely behind the scenes, but we could soon see it making its way into the mainstream and improving everyday life for many, so I spoke Cristina Manas Fernandez who works for the business about her career in engineering.
From a young age, Cristina was always interested in motorsport, and particularly the technology behind it. “I started watching F1 with my father when I was about 10 and that made me dream about being one of those engineers that I saw on TV,” she said, “I have always been attracted by the mix of high-end technology and competitiveness that motorsport offers.” Her passion for technology showed through her love of STEM subjects at school, with her saying: “I used to enjoy scientific-based subjects over any other!”
Often when people are asked for their advice to those wanting to work in motorsport, they said you should volunteer, and Manas Fernandez is proof of that with it being her route into a career in the industry. “I was volunteering for the Motorsport Association (MSA) at a Formula E race in London. It was the first time that I experienced a race from behind the scenes and I decided to apply for a job afterwards,” Cristina told me. Having always had a love of the sport, volunteering and experiencing life on the other side of the track provided her with the confidence and determination to pursue the career she had always wanted.
Having previously worked in engineering, she had always known it was the motorsport sector that she wanted to specialise in. “You realise that it is an environment which never standstills. It does not matter whether it is day or night, there are always people pushing to get a car on track for a race, which I find very rewarding,” Cristina explained, which appealed to her passion for fast-moving technology and the competition the sport provides. But there is another part of working in the sport which for Manas Fernandez, is unlike anything else. “The ability to measure ourselves every week-end is quite unique,” she described, as with motorsport, new components can be brought in throughout the season and be compared to other teams at every race.
Her role with the Williams Group came after deciding she wanted a change. “This job came about as my previous experience proved to be relevant. I was previously based in Spain and decided to take on a new challenge and move to rainy England,” she joked. Her role now is a Simulator Performance Engineer, which as the title suggests, means she works with the all-important practice simulator. Speaking of her job, she said: “as the simulator is used for drivers and engineers to get ready ahead of a race weekend, our ‘virtual car’ needs to behave as close as possible to the real race car. My job involves the development of the vehicle model to make sure that we close the gap between a simulator session and a lap on track.”
Simulators provide the team with the closest thing to being at the track that you can get, and this means updates and development are constantly needed to make it close to reality. Cristina and her team work on these improvements, vital in helping teams prepare for the race weekend. “The preparation of a race starts a few weeks ahead to make sure the race car is set up to extract the highest performance available at each track,” Manas Fernandez explained.
Cristina is also a member of Dare to be Different, something she thinks is extremely important. “I believe these initiatives help youngsters to have a better understanding of what certain jobs are. For example, Engineering can actually be quite abstract, but if they associate people that they follow with their jobs, they could say “Ah, I want to do that”, and get into career paths that would have been complicated to figure out or that they didn’t know existed otherwise,” she explained. This is very true and something that D2BD is keen to promote. Engineering is often associated with the mechanics you see working on the car itself, but behind that banner are many roles that are crucial to the success of a team.
Speaking of the advice she would give to the young people she wants to inspire, she said: “try to get your hands on any project that you like during your studies. This will help to figure out what you actually want to do and gain practical experience, which will be very valuable in your future job.” Cristina Manas Fernandez is working with cutting edge technology and constantly working to provide a vital service. Although mainly behind the scenes, simulators are one of the most important tools a team can use and Cristina works to make sure theirs is at the highest specification possible. Her employer, Williams Advanced Engineering, is also working on technology with other applications that may be more useful for the general public, so we could soon see their work influencing our daily lives.
(Heading photo: Williams Advanced Engineering)