Ep16. Becoming A Formula 1 Engineer With Dave Devine Racing Point [Part 1 of 2]

[Part 1] Formula 1 Engineer Dave Devine joins Samir Abid on this special two part Your Data Driven podcast. Dave Devine shares his journey on how he has turned his own race driving hobby into his perfect day job. How did he break into Formula 1? What is it like to work with F1 drivers? What has he been able to bring to F1 from his own racing? How can you learn about the things he has brought back the other way?

[3:53] Racing with Nick Tandy @NickTandyRacing

[11:30] How did you get to F1?

[13:38] Value of Motorsports experience in F1

[17:12] Touring Car Racing with @RMLGroup

[20:55] The jump to F1 @RacingPointF1

[24:03] Fuel tank development (F1 driver? Skip this section … )


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    Full Transcript: [Click] To Listen

    Samir Abid: [00:00:00] So welcome Dave.

    Dave Devine: [00:01:19] Hello.

    Samir Abid: [00:01:19] thank you so much for taking the time on I’m super excited about this conversation and how it’s going to go. I’m sure people will be absolutely fascinated by your story and also your day job. So the idea really is just to. Get some background on you and what you’ve been up to.

    And also if we can think about, you’re working in Formula one, but you also raised at club level. So the idea really is to help people listening to this show to say, what can we learn? So we can actually apply in our own racing as well.

    Dave Devine: [00:01:52] It sounds good. Thank you for having me on. And, as you say, hopefully if there’s anything, people can learn from my experiences and background and then all the better.

    Samir Abid: [00:01:59] So tell us a bit about you. How did you get into racing? What’d you do for those?

    Dave Devine: [00:02:03] So I was very fortunate growing up with a father who enjoyed racing. And so I was almost, as soon as I could stand up, I was holding a spanner and I’m helping out in the garage. The passion and the desire and, enjoyment of motor racing all started for me there really. When I was around about the age 10, I think my, my father had quite a big accident of his own and hurt his back and, and decided that he, he was going to stop racing himself and decided to let me have a go.

    And so we went and had a look at all kinds of different formulas. We looked at. even some motocross, karting, but then ended up going short oval stock car racing effectively.

    Samir Abid: [00:02:44] Sorry to jump in. But what is short oval racing, just for the benefit of people who may or may not be aware of that form of mighty school?

    Dave Devine: [00:02:50] The formula I ran in to start with as a junior was, called mini stocks. And you basically take a mini, a roll cage, but then reinforcement around the outside to keep the people or the children safe in there. And if all my, for 10, 16 year olds. you can imagine as a 10 year old, when you first come out, it’s quite daunting, situation.

    You could have up to, we had, I think, over 30 cars on occasion on a quarter mile oval. And just to spice up the action. As you get better, you have to start further back. So you have to overtake.

    Samir Abid: [00:03:22] And so you’re going to get a lot of racing experience in a short period of time. And the idea. If you’re the best. it, you start at the back note.

    Dave Devine: [00:03:31] Yeah. Oh, exactly. Exactly not. I know we sent in the one year where the champion, he didn’t win a single race all year. and it’s just about consistency. you just need to be there all the time and again, it’s great because you can develop a car and make it fast, but if it’s fragile, you won’t win the championship. If it’s not quick to work on you won’t win the championship.

    And, it’s again, I think it’s frowned upon by quite a few people. But, the only thing I would say is a recently, which is, which has helped a lot, I would say is, Nick Tandy, who I raced him and his brother, Joe Tandy. but Nick went on to win them with Porsche in LMP one.

    I think that was obviously a would tell people that it can’t be all bad and it’s got to be a fairly good training ground. if someone can go from there all the way to Le Mans and win. And I think he’s very well-respected indeed. So

    Samir Abid: [00:04:22] Nick Tandy has done very well hasn’t he? And one of the things that you and I have always talked about when we’ve talked about this type of racing is the roast craft.

    It teaches you. And one of the things that. A lot of people focus on when, getting into circuit racing, for example, or even carting isn’t about that. The focus seems to be primarily on how could we drive the car faster, almost in a bubble on your own. And there’s so much attention on how you can drive the car, how you get onto the pace.

    But what I love about. This form of motor school is that yes, task is important, but the actual track is quite simple and really it’s much more about race craft. And ironically, when you get up to speed on a circuit. You’re in a race, and that really defines whether you win or lose your rice cough, not necessarily your pure speed.

    Dave Devine: [00:05:18] Absolutely. If you start at the back of 30 cars and you need to overtake them all in 30 laps sort of thing, race craft really is key. and almost, I’d say one of the biggest things I gained from oval racing was the art of, driving defensively. is to one extent, but actually just not putting your car into a vulnerable position so that if you were to make contact with somebody, then.

    You hopefully will stay pointing in the right direction. 

    So for example, if was going to try and make a move, trying to overtake around the outside of a car, for example, is making sure that when you overlap you don’t leave the last corner of your car overlapping with the car on the inside of you.

    Because if that car and the inside were to slide out. By accident or intention, then they may push you into a spin. Whereas if you can make sure that if that car is to hit you, it’s going to hit you in the side, into the driver’s door. For example, then they’re only going to push you sideways, push you across the track rather than start to rotate your car.

    So there’s various features like that. As I say, I learnt very quickly because I, I was fortunate. I had a fairly competitive car, right from the word go and. I mean by taking someone and just blasted past in a straight line. And then they just tack the back of the car. As I came past and off, I went into the Armco quiet quite quickly.

    So you learn very quickly how to look after yourself, make sure that you’re not putting yourself into a vulnerable position all the time, even when you are overtaking people. So you’re always looking to.. I say, you could even be going down the street, you pull up alongside someone, and then you actually.

    Take your foot off the throttle just to keep yourself level with them so that when you arrive at the corner, there’s no way that they can, whatever they do, it’s not going to affect you coming, going into the corner or coming out sorts of things. So I’d say there’s lots and lots you can learn. And, obviously very crowded all the time.

    So again, you get from, a circuit like that onto, a larger circuit like Silverstone, all of a sudden, it seems. It’s a big empty space. And, you feel like you’ve got a lot of track to play.

    Samir Abid: [00:07:25] It was through the Mini stock, preparation translated very well.

    Dave Devine: [00:07:30] Yes. Yeah, I think so. and again, my father and I had a very good, relationship and, we’d look always to try and to improve the car.

    So every race we went to, I think we had something new on there to try. we were always looking to develop the car and we managed to, certainly get a car that was very comfortable to drive. I absolutely, it’s probably the most fun car I’ve driven. There was a called Pro Comp LA gold.

    And, I know through fast corners like Gerard’s and Mallory park, I could literally just go around the whole corner using the throttle to stay in the car around the corner. I didn’t even touch a steering. It was so well balanced and it was the most fun car. I think I’ve driven, very lightweight and 160 horsepower or something like that, but absolutely great fun.

    And, and then, yes, I’d say after the first year, it’s a bit of a toe in the water was all going to like circuit racing was going to be any good at it. And when we then had a newer car and all of a sudden we were winning races, Kind of a sign that yes. Yeah. We were enjoying it and we could do fairly well.

    Samir Abid: [00:08:28] So you’re doing really well. The, there, that must have put a few noses out of joint, I imagine. But, so that’s it, but where did you carry it on from that? I think a little bit,

    Dave Devine: [00:08:38] Yes. we, again, looking for, to see where we could get to, we’ve always looked at. What’s the highest level we can compete at for the budget that we had.

    And, we ended up Ginetta, had a single make G20 championship, and it was on the support bill for the British GT and F3. Which at the time was quite a big package, really because they had, Bruno Senna and Nelson PK, junior, and people like that were in year three. So that was quite a buzz around the paddock.

    And the G20 championship was, I say, single make very low cost for the level of racing. And so it meant there were big grids again and now 45 old cars type thing. So qualifying heats to get through to final and things like that. And we absolutely loved love that time because we were all of a sudden, we were still just a van and a trailer and we were up against people with.

    Yeah, big lorries, big teams running lots of cars and things like that. And, quite quickly I think we managed to win a race, I think within the first few meetings. And I’m just loved, absolutely loved the time in that, because it was all about slipstreaming and things. So you very rarely could get away at the front either.

    It was always down to the last lap to decide who was going to win. And yes, we then ended up doing that for three. Years the second year got cut short because I ran into a pheasant while I was fighting for the lead.

    And, yes. again with that Thruxton flipped streaming, like mad and tucked up behind the guy who was leading and he darted out to the way you have a pheasant crossing the road. And, and I hit it absolutely square on and split the radiator and blew up the engine. Unfortunately that was a bit of a shame, but so we had to sit out that year and then we’re back in again. And for the last year, we ended up finishing second in the championship.

    Again, it went down to the last race and very narrowly missed out. I think there’s a couple of places on the championship, which was a bit gutting at the time because. That was an opportunity to have a test drive in the Panoz GT3 car, and with the idea

    Samir Abid: [00:10:46] that I could sing in disguise in retrospect.

    Yeah. Wow.

    Dave Devine: [00:10:50] Exactly. Exactly. Yes. but obviously the idea of it was amazing and, it was possibly opened the door to GT racing. So we pushed, to try and win that prize. Unfortunately we’ve never really missed out, but, But with hindsight, it’s not the end of the world. It, basically at that point we then stop racing.

    Cause my father quite rightly so decided that he probably spent a bit too much going motor racing and we’ve given it our best go to get to sorts of GT racing. And I’ve got made a couple of offers to go and race in GTs, but, again, they need it budget as always. We call it a day there, but, I think we had, we had a fairly good crack at it, or, to try and get into GT racing effectively.

    Samir Abid: [00:11:29] Tell us a little bit about your, the work side of things. Cause you, you work at a Formula one team, but how did you get there? I’m guessing. That this passion of motor sport that you’ve experienced as you’re growing up has translated to, what am I going to do for a job? Oh, there’s  professional teams out there that pay money to employ engineers.

    So what do you do and how did you get to that point?

    Dave Devine: [00:11:56] Currently our worker to Racing Point, Formula 1 team, seems to be rebranded Aston Martin. So is a bit into the flashy name. but, basically I’m responsible for the front suspension on the car and, to get to where I did, I went to university at Loughborough, mechanical engineering.

    And from there when I finished, I was struggling to get to jump into motorcycle initially and ended up taking up a, an unpaid placement at RML, which was a six week unpaid placement, because I feel very fortunate that even from a very young age, I decided that yes, motor racing is what I love. And if I can work in the industry that I love, then hopefully on enjoy going to work.

    And, So right from the word go I’ve had a goal of where I wanted to go. So it’s made decisions on which levels to take and which degree to take and things like that. It’s very easy because I’ve just got a target I’m aiming for. And then when I finished university, I couldn’t get a job. I thought, what am I going to do now? But I knew that if I could just get my foot in the door somewhere, that hopefully I could show that I was enthusiastic, and I wasn’t too. Stupid. And, and fortunately I did, I took up this, six-week placement with RML and then they were happy and quite liked me. And so they just gradually extended my contract.

    So I ended up getting a full-time job. Working on the, mainly on the touring car project there, but also. Yeah, sports cars. And they also did, Mclaren Mercedes SLR, and various other projects. It was a great company to work out for various projects.

    Samir Abid: [00:13:38] There’s a question that I sometimes get asked by people about getting into my school as a job.

    And the question really is about the education. And so you said, Oh, you’ve done a degree, but. My feeling is, and I don’t know how you feel about this? That the fact that you, racing as a hobby has given you a more rounded package and a more practical package and a more valuable offering for the race team, particularly a touring car team, you might say.

    But that experience of just being in the world of motor sport. Must. I think that’s really valuable extra piece of information or extra piece of experience that would really help you kind of job. In addition to your formal qualifications. What’d you think about?

    Dave Devine: [00:14:28] That? If I’m completely honest, I basically, whilst at university, I managed to get a couple of, two week placements, at what was then BAR and, I was surprised at that point, how uninterested they were at my experience of actually racing.

    And it put me off Formula one. initially, because I they, there was almost this, they didn’t want to look outside of the world of Formula one for any kind of knowledge or didn’t overly value the experience of that. Initially, whilst I’ll use the University. It did make me then question, whether well working in the world of most of it was for me, but, I’m glad I persevered because certainly when I went to RML, it definitely helped as soon as I was there.

    And, they asked me to design parts and instantly I was looking at how easy it was to assemble, how easy it was to make, and the importance of the part. Was it going to make the car faster. If yes, write ok. Let’s put a lot of effort into this. Was it a case of. It’s a simple bracket that doesn’t really matter.

    Okay. We’re not too worried about this, so that all of a sudden it gave me more confidence that this is what I want to do. And then since moving on to, Racing Point, Force India, I should say then Racing Point again. I feel that I would say more enthusiastic of motivating in general effective leader, not just formula one, that they’re quite happy to look outside.

    And we often talk about, motorbikes and Touring Cars, GTS and things like this. So yes, at that point, when all of a sudden, I would say. It does help. It does help. I say that split there at university, I thought, Oh, hang on a minute. maybe this isn’t going to be of use, but certainly now when I worked with mechanics and show them things on designing and propose solutions to problems that we’ve got, they are generally appreciative of my approach because I have been now I have been in a paddock putting things together midnight or.

    I’ve been out in the workshop during the week sort of thing. so an appreciation of not just what makes a car go fast or how a race meeting is run, but just assembling apart and things like that. so I would say that experience certainly does help and it does look good on your CV and even Formula student now.

    At Formula one teams. They do look at former students as well as another area. So even if you’ve arrived at university and you haven’t had an experience and you’ll find it difficult to get out to club races to get experienced. And Formula student is another place where actually the standards with Formula student is very good.

    And so that also gets looked at so yes, I would say that. The inexperience you can get is a bonus on the CV, for sure.

    Samir Abid: [00:17:12] So tell us a bit about touring car racing. So what goes into a touring car and what were you doing for those teams? And maybe what can we learn from what they were doing that maybe we could apply on it in our own racing.

    Dave Devine: [00:17:24] When I first started, I was the Chevrolet touring car, which, Was the car, which outperformed this it’s credentials, if you like and pays out of it very well. And then, I ended up taking a responsibility for the chassis, and all the suspension mounts on the Chevrolet Cruise. So this is all Super 2000 era.

    And then when the regulations went to TC1, I then moved out to the engine department too. Design the, basically all the inlets and sending their head, which again, zero experience of designing engines. So I was very grateful for that opportunity. but as for what I learned from there and what can be applied, the, I would say almost one of the biggest things that we would focus on was, kerbing street circuits, especially because touring cars.

    Touring cars, and especially they visit a few street circuits. You end up getting these of man-made chicanes and things like this. And the curves were just horrendous. And so we got to the point of developing without damper supplier of how to be able to strike these curves and keep the car.

    We’ll get the car back onto the ground as quickly as possible. And if you could do that, all of a sudden you’re finding sort of half second chunks is it’s not the hundreds or the tenths you up to half a second. If all of a sudden you can straight line the chicane without firing yourself off into ward.

    Afterwards, the time we found there was huge so. We did a lot of, lots of development without damper supply, got to the point where the damper supplier said, look, this is far as we can go. So we ended up bringing the dampers in-house and we carried on and developed those even further.

    Yes. Yep. Yep. So we did all of our own dampers, and they were quite involved by the end of it, I would say but again, it was an area of performance where we just recognized that it’s somewhere where we really could make a difference. And it, the kerbing performance of the champagne crews was I’d say probably what won the championship. It’s just. I like the kerbs and, the drivers could just attack everything basically.

    And, they really, When you get to all the street circuits, it was competitive at. And, I say that, touring cars, there was so many streets circuits that if you’re competitive on those, you’ve got good chance in the championship, basically. So that was put most effort we put into, what the dampers.

    Yeah.

    Samir Abid: [00:19:48] I guess you’re learning all the time. There’s damp is a quite sophisticated, complicated, confusing piece of equipment. I think for many people. Did you have much experience with dampers before? And what kind of stuff did you learn from that you now, that you can apply? Or at least think about when you’re thinking about dampers..?

    Dave Devine: [00:20:09] So damping for me was relatively limited before RML and I must admit I wasn’t, solely responsible for the dampers at a time. So I’ve only gleaned what I could from the project, but. The actual characteristic of damping was certainly important, but. Touching on there. I was just suggesting that the curbing performance.

    So we’re looking at all the blow off performance of dampers, of how to lose the energy as quickly as possible effectively. so we put a lot of, not of effort into the blow off characteristics and yes, how, I’m not quite sure how to explain it without revealing everything, but basically. From there is, as you say, it’s just all useful information. I’ve managed to keep on learning and 

    Samir Abid: [00:20:55] So you are at RML and you’re learning all these, you’re getting massive exposure. To all these different parts of the car and you’re learning all these can do different things.

    And then you seen the opportunities to jump. I went to Formula one and that’s gone. So now, and now you’ll, you’re in a Formula one team. So what kind of stuff did they get you doing? And was it useful to have had that pre-work pre-exposure RML and your, we’ve already touched on your own racial.

    Dave Devine: [00:21:21] Yes.

    Even just as a basic knowledge of, CAD software and designing and releasing parts, just general design process effectively and where to start from, and the approach to a design and things like that. so it’s almost once you’ve designed. For a while in a motor sport environment, especially because the most support environment is very, high tempo.

    We got to put out designs very quickly. It’s it’s different from almost any other industry I’d say because of the speed at which you need to turn stuff around. just that approach to design, helps you. I could have gone on to design anything really after that. and it would have helped.

    But I actually, when I first moved to Force India, I was on the fuel system, responsible for the fuel system, which again, there’s another area which I’d had zero experience on the touring car. So I the volume from designing a chassis and then to designing an engine to RML to then designing a fuel system to Force India.

    Again, it was another start to learn again and go from there, but touch on this earlier on the. Just the whole sort of service ability and just can you physically work on the thing? Can you use it? And then again, that all came in a very useful. The fuel system on a phone one car is actually remarkably complicated from as a general punter so you, you don’t get to see any of it. But you can imagine that now a car needs to hold, race distance worth of fuel. And it’s in a very hot environment because it’s effectively between the drivers back in the engine gets very hot and then it’s surrounded by two radiators on either side. And then now we put a battery pack underneath it as well.

    So there’s got a big load of fuel there that wants to get hot very quickly. And so it’s trying to keep it cool. And if you can’t keep it cool, you’ve got to try and stop it boiling effectively. There’s a lot that goes into the fuel system, which, again, we’re not, when I told people about working on the fuel system, they were you’re not just joining a box. But there’s a lot that goes into the box. Put it that way.

    Samir Abid: [00:23:18] And in general, the fuel system, is there something that you guys take for granted in Formula one with regards to fuel? And looking at it, if you will, because you’re, you’ve had to look at all these temperature stuff. And as a result, you may have discovered something else. That’s important that other people who were racing.

    In a club environment. So yeah, I could implement something like that. For example, I believe that when we had refueling in Formula one, they used to chill a few, little bit as well and make it a cooler because that would give them a more performance. Is there something that people could learn from how you, the complexities of that fuel system, but not the implementation, but the problem that you’re actually trying to solve.

    Dave Devine: [00:24:01] One thing that I say was surprised me was the temperature control, with the amount of fuel you’ve got in there.

    if you can’t keep it cool. Then it will boil and it will evaporate. And of course there’s a fuel evaporates. You can’t use it. So you start off a race with fuel that you’re never going to use.

    Samir Abid: [00:24:16] Typical engineer. that’s the only thing everyone else has got. It’s going to blow up and you’ll go. I know, I just can’t use it. It’s like

    Dave Devine: [00:24:24] Exactly. Yes. Yes. There’s various bits on the 41 car, which you just don’t want the driver to know about. And the fact that. Just behind his back. He’s got a whole load of fuel that tries to get quite hot.

    Samir Abid: [00:24:40] All the formula one drivers do  to listen to the show by the way. So it’s just be careful what you say.

    Dave Devine: [00:24:45] Yeah. They need to just turn off for the moment. Yeah.

    So if you start a race and you’ve got, say 110 liters of fuel and five liters of that is going to evaporate effectively, then. That’s no good because you’re starting the race with potentially up to five kilos of extra mass, which you’re just carrying around as ballast.

    After the race we always drain and pump the car out to monitor how much fuel we are and definitely they’re using and how much comes out and surprising the, if you try and pump the car in this, the straight after a race, you won’t get huge amount out, but if you let the car cool down or you start pumping more fuel out, The, I would say certainly for longer races, more endurance, type races, that if temperature of fuel is certain the of interest, because it’s just wasted performance, basically, it’s this kind of, you want every drop of it’s not light, is it fuel. And they want every drop of that to go to the engine and give you performance to make you go faster.

    You certainly don’t want to be using it as balanced effectively. So more endurance type races. if you’re carrying. Large volumes of fuel that I’m keeping the thing called is certainly worth doing.

    Samir Abid: [00:25:55] So you started on the fuel systems and then you’ve moved on to suspension. is that what you said? The front suspension?

    Dave Devine: [00:26:03] Yeah, so I actually, I actually picked up the exhaust system as well whilst working in the engine systems department. I, don’t know why I just suggested, I think I came up with an idea because. the work cut down on the touring cars and, I’ve done some quite a bit of exhaust work, but for the touring cars.

    And, and so I ended up picking up the exhaust system as well, whilst in the engine systems department. So that was, which was great fun, around the time

    Samir Abid: [00:26:26] Another heat management situation,

    Dave Devine: [00:26:30] Right! Because we were in the realms of these Coanda effect exhausts. That was great fun because that was genuine performance, Aero performance from these all sorts of things there was a lot of interest going into that and we did a lot of testing, but again, yes.

    Samir Abid: [00:26:47] Benefit of the people listening. What was the Coanda? what is that effect? The Coanda affects. I forgot how you said that.

    Dave Devine: [00:26:53] Yeah, that kind of Coanda effective. It was simply basically a high velocity gas going near a surface gets attracted to the surface.

    So you can start to steer. this flow. And basically we can then steer this high energy flow into an area to then help aerodynamic performance on at the back of the car. So if you can imagine, if you could see it, you’ve got, a jet of this, very high energy air. And then all of a sudden, if you can use that again, I won’t go into exact details just in case. but yeah, for Aero performance,

    Samir Abid: [00:27:29] There’s been a fair amount  in the public domain on how it works, but it was when you were using it, I think was the particular thing that was interesting.

    Dave Devine: [00:27:40] Exactly. Yes. Yeah, because we basically well caught on that. The off throttle.

    You would obviously close throttled. So therefore suddenly this jet would stop.

    So all of a sudden, quickly worked out that. Hang on a minute. if we keep the, we don’t close the throttles and we keep flow going through there, then we still get this downforce downforce gain. So of course this is when, in the time, when all of a sudden you heard cars going into corners, Sounding like a bag of nails and all of the strange noises coming from them because all of a sudden teams were flowing fuel through the engine and basically setting fire to it and exhausted to generate this jet of energy sorts of things.

    It was a shame because I think generates an error performance from effectively a waste product. Which is just going to heat , which is good for now into the environment. I think generating performance from that is, was a great idea initially. But then when, once we started to burn fuel on purpose, just to get extra downforce, then that’s when the FIA obviously started to say, hang on a minute.

    This is that you keep doing this. And, and of course, yes, again, we start the rice with mor fuel than we needed because we knew we were going to use it just to, give us down force, so that was, yeah, that was a very interesting time. and then as you say, very high temperatures and, you’re trying to control something with the engine.

    We’re fortunate enough to go and see the engine on the dyno, various times off. So we were testing and this thing’s bucking around all over the place and the exhaust port, which we were making out of. One millimeter thick pipe or something like that. It, the whole thing is glowing cherry red.

    And at the same time, you’re trying to hold the end of this pipe to point it where you want to. and you’ve got various carbon fiber suspension components and body work and things like this, that all. But quite happily catch fire if you let them. So it was a, it was an interesting time and probably gave me a few more gray hairs before I started, because you can imagine a failed bracket where the exhaust then swings or moves to some way different, can be, could be very serious. Indeed. an interesting project. To say the least ….