Michael Rackstraw

MEng Mechanical Engineering with Industrial Year, 2014
Specialist Vehicle Dynamics Engineer, McLaren Racing

I work with various simulation tools, including driver in the loop simulators, to develop Formula One cars for McLaren. This can range from exploring setup changes during a race weekend to evaluating different concepts for next season's car.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?

The pace of the industry means there are always new and varied projects to work on providing plenty of opportunity to learn and develop. The short time scales involved means you normally don't have to wait too long before seeing your hard work pay off.

How has your career developed since graduating?

After graduating from the University of Birmingham I started a two year graduate scheme at McLaren. This was a great opportunity to experience a range of roles and learn how a Formula One Team design and car and develops it throughout the season. After the scheme I was offered an opportunity to work in the Vehicle Performance Department and learn to work with different simulation tools, including working with a driver in a simulator in a few roles before settling on developing suspension technologies.

michael rackstraw

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

I don’t think my application came down to any one reason I applied to the University of Birmingham, just a combination of factors which ticked all the boxes. The Engineering course offered a good range of flexibility in terms of the topics and course length. The mixture of a campus University a short train journey from the centre of the City looked like a great place to spend my time at university. On a personal note, both my Dad and Grandad studied Mechanical Engineering so I already had a couple of positive reviews!

What are your fondest memories of the University?

The most endearing memory from my time at Birmingham would be the first time I saw a Formula Student car run. During my first year of university I had mainly helped with the manufacturing and assembly of the car. Despite not having designed any of the car’s components, I still felt I was part of the team! After working what felt like non-stop since exams finished at the beginning of June, to finally see the car up and running was very special.

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

One of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of my time at university was being involved with the Formula Student Team, UBRacing. I was fortunate enough to work on a number of different areas of the car and, as a result, I developed my understanding of a number of the subjects being taught as part of my degree, as well as gained a range of different skills not featured on the syllabus. Having the chance to work on a project from the design phase through to seeing the finished car running on track, and being involved with the various steps in between was hugely rewarding and a useful grounding for my future career.

What advice would you give to students?

University offers a great opportunity to try something new and learn a range of new skills in a safe environment surrounded by people who are willing to help you. I’d therefore encourage any undergraduate to make the most of opportunities available between the course, extra-curricular activities and societies as you never know what you might learn or where it might lead to.

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