MONTREAL — When Tommaso Volpe, Infiniti’s global director of motorsports, looks out at the future of Formula One, he doesn’t just see a brighter technical future for the average passenger vehicle.
He sees a future bright with students who are building the technology bridge between F1 and the real world.
They are global citizens deeply embedded in his England-based technology centres. And they are doing things that one day seemed impossible: Bringing F1 closer to a dealer’s lot.
“We are not only changing cars, we are changing the lives of people,” says Volpe from the second floor of Luciani Infiniti during Formula One weekend here in June.
Through the years, executives have used the technology transfer from F1 to a dealer’s world as justification for the millions spent. Volpe says the transfer is real, but perhaps in ways unimagined a decade ago, or at least six years ago. And it’s happening with a future generation of engineers.
But first, engineering Exhibit A: The Infiniti Q60 Project Black S prototype, unveiled late last year in France, has a hybrid powertrain developed by the Renault Sport Formula One team.
“It shows the transfer and application on an existing vehicle,” Volpe says. “It is the first prototype F1 technology on a car already in existence in the market.”
That’s the stuff that will eventually get to the dealer lot, at least in some form. Infiniti executives have said that the company is committed to a rapid electrification expansion by 2022, in most cases for performance and not necessarily fuel savings.
But start talking about engineers, and the bridge between F1 and the real world gets more real.
In Montreal, Volpe and the Infiniti team named this year’s Canadian winner of the 2019 Infiniti Engineering Academy, an annual global competition for students interested in earning a paid six-month assignment in both Infiniti’s F1 technical centre and its advanced-engineering passenger-vehicle program. Both centres are located in England.
Canada is one of seven regions where students compete for a coveted spot on the Renault-Infiniti team. Seven regions, seven spots. The other regions are the United States, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, China and Asia Pacific.
More than 10,000 students globally apply for the program each year and that list is narrowed to 10 within each region. That’s a lot of available engineers for an industry whose very future requires access to such talent.
With the help of in-market Infiniti executives, one winner is selected following a gruelling set of engineering and personality tests.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but because they get to work on hybrid technology we really want to show how F1 is becoming more and more relevant for automotive,” Volpe says. “Hybrid technology opened the door for automotive access to r&d.”
Motorsports and automotive engineering “careers in the future will be more connected,” he says. “Increasingly, these worlds will become closer.”
What’s also gaining speed is the Infiniti Academy’s national stature. This is the fourth year awarding a winner in Canada. Last year’s student came from Oshawa, Ont. This year, Calgary student Matthew Kemp won the competition. Calgary ranked second globally for number of applicants.
“That is very positive to be able to spread the message all over the country,” said Infiniti Canada Managing Director Adam Paterson. “Those are also your potential future consumers.”
And they are the future disciples on the bridge to a closer union between F1 and Main Street.
“The two worlds are firmly coming together especially with electrification,” Volpe said.
“It’s just once in a lifetime. Emotionally, it’s a project that, in a way, we care about the most. It’s young talent as a source of innovation.
“A lot of engineers love motorsports; in a way we want to be a pioneer anticipating these careers and showing you can actually do it.”