Jonathan Marshall

MEng & Man Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing & Management with French Language Diploma in Industrial Studies, 2001
Head of Vehicle Science, Cognizant Aston Martin F1 Team

I hold responsibility for the performance development and optimisation of our racing cars, managing a team of engineers who simulate, specify, test and develop suspension and other vehicle systems. I'm responsible for a range of physical test rigs and Driver-In-The-Loop Simulators.

What is the best thing about what you’re 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 regular race results. I also enjoy my managerial responsibilities - getting the chance to offer people their first job in Formula 1 is particularly enjoyable.

What made you interested in your current role?

I inherited an interest in F1 from my dad and my uncle, but never thought that it was a career option. I took an engineering degree because I liked maths and physics and learning how things work. In Year 2, I saw an advert on the Mechanical Engineering notice board for a sandwich year placement at Bentley Motor Cars, had a punt, and got the job. I think I realised at that point that my career opportunities were a lot broader than I'd previously imagined; ultimately, if those jobs exist, someone has to get them.


How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

Motorsport can be a fairly volatile industry, and so I've worked for quite a few different companies over the years. After a couple of placements with Reynard Motorsport, I got my first job in F1 with European Minardi at Ledbury, but three months after I arrived that site was wound up, and I was made redundant. Having worked on some physical test rigs, I decided to take a postgraduate Master’s degree in Control Systems, and that helped me to get a successful interview at Jordan Grand Prix as a Junior Vehicle Dynamicist. Since then, I've worked at Red Bull Racing, Renault F1 and various incarnations of my current employer. My roles have included Vehicle Modelling Engineer, Vehicle Dynamics Engineer, Trackside Vehicle Dynamicist, Race Engineer, Test Team Performance Engineer, Race Team Performance Engineer, Simulator Engineer and Head of Vehicle Science. Along the way I spent five years travelling to tests and races, and had the good fortune to work with some genuinely world-class drivers and engineers.

What motivates you?

Primarily, I'm motivated by competition. F1 is a brutally competitive environment, and I love the sporting, technical development and teamwork aspects that it combines. It's an incredible feeling to develop a new component, fit it to the car, and watch the team use it to deliver a result at the next race. Since I've become a manager, I've found that I love the responsibility that I hold for the professional development of my staff, and for the operational efficiency of my department. The role can be pretty diverse; I get to do things like putting together strategic plans & delivering major CapEx projects, alongside the day-to-day optimisation of the cars during a race weekend.

We Are (Third Width)

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

Brum has a very good reputation for Mechanical Engineering, and the campus is the best that I've seen anywhere in Europe. The combination of being within a self-contained student environment but with incredibly close proximity to a major city centre is pretty unbeatable. I loved the fact that the University has a huge breadth of courses - I wanted to be exposed to a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds, interests and viewpoints. It's important to remember that university is an opportunity for you to grow into adulthood, as well as to challenge yourself academically and prepare for a career. More flippantly, I recall earnestly assessing which of the major red brick universities had the best local nightclubs, and at that time, Brum won out...coming from Manchester in the 1990's, that was a big deal at the time!

What are your fondest memories of the University?

Now... I should really say meeting my wife! It’s true that the things that stand out are the diverse and amazing people I met, and the friends I made. Twenty years later my best friends are still the ones I made at Brum. It's incredibly cool to see what everyone's gone on to achieve, but they are all thoroughly grounded, decent people. I credit a lot of that to the environment and ideals that the University imbued. From an engineering standpoint, firing up the Formula Student car we’d built for the first time was 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.

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?

I invested a lot of time in my last two years in the Formula Student project. I captained the departmental hockey team in the Inter Departmental tournament, with minimal success and maximum enjoyment. I formed a band with a couple of mates and we played some of the open mic evenings at the Guild, which was great. The University offers such a diverse community, and such a breadth of facilities, that there really is no limit to the opportunities available. In fact, some of my mates set new clubs up with Uni support. My friends were involved in activities as diverse as university radio and Korfball!

How did your time at the University help you start your career?

The launchpad of my first two years, with advice from the academic staff, got me my sandwich year. Coming back for Year 3, the industrial experience had changed my approach in a really positive way. I got involved with the Formula Student project, which was incredibly hard but fantastically rewarding. It gave me a taste for working on a collaborative technical project under pressure, and at that time was quite a new thing to have on your CV, getting my foot in the door for two undergrad summer placements with Reynard Motorsport, who produced chassis for the US Indycar series. Ultimately that resulted in a graduate placement, and I didn't look back from there. The teaching and technical staff and my peers were all big influences. One technician in particular (Carl Hingley) just had the knack of encouraging and motivating students - he's been responsible for launching about 30 F1 careers. There were fabulous tutors (like Mike Ward and Doug Walton) who had real passion for their subject. My course-mates showed me what could be achieved, helping me see the relevance of the subject matter. You know that you're going to be surrounded by high quality people at Brum.

What advice would you give to current students?

Firstly, enjoy it. My time at Birmingham was one of the happiest periods of my life, and I loved it there. You'll meet amazing people, discover new passions...I even fell in love! Secondly, I’d advise students to get some industrial experience as soon as they can. You’d be amazed how much easier the course seems after time in industry. An industrial environment changes your work ethic, and puts the course material into a much clearer context. That experience will also make your CV stand out when you start looking for graduate jobs.

Jonathan's take-home message

“My experience at Birmingham was universally positive. The campus, the breadth of people, and the city itself are particularly fabulous. As a formative experience, the University of Birmingham offers something genuinely unique.”