Jonathan Marshall

Head of Vehicle Science for the Sahara Force India Formula One Team 
MEng & Man Lang DIS (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, Manufacture and Management with French, with Diploma in Industrial Studies (2001)

Birmingham’s campus is the best I’ve seen anywhere in Europe; it’s beautiful, self-contained, and an oasis of calm.

I am Head of Vehicle Science for the Sahara Force India Formula One Team. I am responsible for the performance development of our racing cars, for all areas of operation other than Aerodynamics. I manage a team of engineers who simulate, specify, test and develop suspension and other vehicle systems.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
The best things about my job are being part of a team, constantly learning new things, getting to work with world class engineers and having immediate feedback on our performance in the form of fortnightly race results.

To what extent did your degree set you up for your career?
My degree gave me a broad grounding in a range of engineering disciplines, many of which have proven directly relevant to problems I’ve encountered in motorsport. I value the breadth of what the course contained. The specific skills that I gained from involvement with the Department’s Formula Student Team got my foot in the door of my first employer within the industry. I designed the suspension of the 2000 Formula Student car, and I’m still involved in suspension design in my current role.

What were the most positive and also the most challenging aspects of your course?
The most challenging thing about the course was the amount of commitment required; it was a serious, academically rigorous programme, with a lot of lectures each week, and a lot of coursework. But that was also the course’s strength; the reason for wanting to attend a top University is to get the best possible training, and that means covering a broader range of more challenging material than other courses offer.

What advice would you give to current students studying your course?
I’d advise students to get some experience as soon as they can. You’d be amazed how much easier the course seems after time in industry. This is because you naturally develop a “work ethic” in an industrial environment, and also because the course material is put into a much clearer context.

What was your favourite thing about the university?
I should probably say meeting my wife! The best thing about the University is the range of different courses on offer. It means that you get the full “University Experience”, by meeting people with a completely different outlook and career trajectory. Don’t underestimate how big an advantage this is compared to institutions with a narrower remit. You go to University to grow up, as well as prepare for your career, and people around you will have a strong influence on the way you see the world, and the type of person you will become.

Birmingham’s campus is the best I’ve seen anywhere in Europe; it’s beautiful, self-contained, and an oasis of calm. Yet you have your own self-contained student town (Selly Oak, all of your friends within 5 minutes’ walk) and all of the facilities of a major European city, just 5 minutes away.

What is your best memory of your time at Birmingham?
OK, now I should really say meeting my wife! It’s true though - the things that stand out are the diverse and amazing people I met, and the friends I made. 13 years later, my best friends are still the ones I made at Brum. The vast majority have gone on to be extremely successful in their chosen field.

From an engineering standpoint, firing up the Formula Student car we’d built for the first time was also a high point; as a group of people, we’d all invested so much of ourselves in the project, and none of us wanted to let each other down. So when it worked, it was immensely satisfying.