Behind the Scenes of Formula One Design with Elizabeth Apthorp, Composite Design Engineer Alpine F1 Team

By Ed Bernardon

Elizabeth Apthorp, Composite Design Engineer Alpine F1 Team

We know that race cars are built to go fast. Materials are carefully selected and the aerodynamics of movement are constant considerations. Seeing these mechanical marvels traveling at furious speeds around the track, it makes you wonder…who builds these things?

Formula 1 design requires constant teamwork and never-ceasing innovation. From concept to race day, there are teams working together in order to get these cars over the finish line. There are professional aerodynamicists and engineers who work behind the scenes every day in order to conceptualize, build, re-conceptualize, and repeat.

In this segment of our Women Driving the Future series, Ed Bernardon interviews Elizabeth Apthorp, Composite Design Engineer at Alpine F1 Team in Enstone, England. In part one of a two-episode series, she reveals what goes on behind the scenes of F1 design, the challenges of building sturdy, yet race-worthy, machines, and she discloses a few surprising engineering secrets.

Some Questions I Ask:

  • How did your experiences lead you to this work? (3:16)
  • What exactly is a Formula One car and how is it different than a NASCAR or IndyCar? (9:58)
  • How many people work at Alpine F1 Team? (11:49)
  • What’s something you’ve designed that you’re really proud of? (20:54)
  • What surprised you the most about the difficulty in taking a piece of composite material and trying to shape it into what you needed? (28:43)

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • What inspired her interest in F1 (2:32)
  • Her engineering mentor in the industry (6:02)
  • The cost of building a Formula One car (13:10)
  • Her favorite part of the job (15:34)
  • The unique properties of carbon fiber (24:25)
  • A surprising fact about F1 parts (26:25)
  • How different countries with different needs work together (8:02)
  • The differences in how men and women use transport (15:52)
  • Examples of careers in the transport sector (17:49)
  • How COVID is already affecting the future of transportation (27:16)
  • How to make transportation more equitable (40:24)

Ed Bernardon: You’ve just found the seat for your first ever Formula 1 race, and lucky you, you couldn’t be any closer to the action. Since it is your first F1 race, you are in awe of the sights and sounds. As you wait for the race to begin, you notice the reflections of sunlight bouncing off the cars as they line up on the grid and then race is on. They jockey for position. The sleek, powerful machines look like rockets and, when the wind blows your way, the air smells of hot asphalt, brakes, and the occasional scent of burnt rubber. The energy in the crowd is electric as people start to cheer for their drivers and teams.

Formula 1 cars are technological wonders: the speed, the acceleration, proximity to the ground, the wings, the tires, the complex aerodynamics and engine…and you think to yourself, “Who actually designs these cars?

-intro music-

Welcome to the Future Car Podcast. I’m your host, Ed Bernardon, VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industry Software. My guest is one of the great minds behind the curtain in the world of racing. Today is Part 1 of a two-part podcast with Elizabeth Apthorp, a Composite Design Engineer at Alpine F1 in Enstone, England. She’s one of 35 women on a design team of 150, and today, she’s here to talk about the unique aspects of Formula 1 design and how her team’s design work is aimed at the many aspects of engineering that create these mean beasts of racing with the ultimate goal of winning!

Elizabeth explains how it is as much an engineering/technology game as a racing game. She also reveals a well-kept engineering secret to make a winning F1 racecar. The design must make the driver happy because happy drivers go fast.

Welcome to the Future Car Podacst Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Thank you for having me.

Ed Bernardon: Elizabeth, when we speak to someone that has been in racing or is in the racing world, it’s always good to figure out what was the inspiration that brought them there. Now, I grew up in Indianapolis, we like to call it the racing capital of the world. So, I couldn’t help but being interested in racing, what was it for you?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, for me, I actually have always watched Formula One with my father. So, he’s been a super fan of F1 since I’ve known. And every weekend, whenever the race was on, I’d sit down with him and watch it with him. So, I think that was sort of my first glimpse of the F1 world.

Ed Bernardon: Did he have a favorite driver back then?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, everyone’s favorite driver, Michael Schumacher, and he’s still one of my favorite drivers to this day.

Ed Bernardon: So, spending time with your dad watching the races got you thinking, Oh, I’ve got to be a racecar driver? Or maybe I’m going to be an engineer.” Did you know then or all that watching of Formula One, how’d that build up to finally bring you to where you are today?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, I think, in my case, it’s sort of a merging of two things. I think in Formula One, you have three different types of people: you have the nerds, you have the engineers, the people who love to get into the technology; and then you have the second group of people who are the fans. They are the superfans; they love racing, racing is in their blood. And then you got the group number three, which is where I think I fall, which is you’re a little bit of a nerd, you like the technology, but you also love the racing. So, I think what happened with me is I came through my engineering degree, I studied engineering at university, and alongside that, I had this hobby on the side, which was watching F1 with my friends on the weekend. And then it was actually one of my great friends, Sam Rawcliffe, said to me one day, “Well, why don’t you go for a job in Formula One?” And then that was when the pieces fit together, and I went, “Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea.” And I’m loving it ever since. So, I’m glad for that advice.

Ed Bernardon: That was the aha moment when he said, “Just go for it.”

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly.

Ed Bernardon: When you were little, did you play with toy racecars?

Elizabeth Apthorp: No, see, I never did. I guess if you were to use stereotypes, I could be classed as a girly girl. I was probably playing with Barbies, and dolls, and things like that. But I do think they can come hand in hand, I think you can be a girly girl and enjoy racing as well.

Ed Bernardon: So, when did you first realize that you are going to take that step towards actually being involved in racing?

Elizabeth Apthorp: I think it was when I was studying at university and you’re learning all these amazing things. But then it gets to the point where you think, “Well, what job am I going to do? How can I make this learning that I’m enjoying, how can I actually put this into a job?” Nowadays, the opportunities are endless. There are so many jobs that I never knew about when I was growing up out there. And it was just having this chat with my friend where we said, “We love watching Formula One. It’s one of our hobbies. It’s a side thing. It’s something we do to relax. It’s something fun.” “But why can’t you work in it? Why can’t you go for it?” And it was that moment when I was studying and I was starting to look at different job options that I thought why not I’m going to give it a whirl and managed to get my foot in the door, which was the start of my now career there.

Ed Bernardon: You mentioned Michael Schumacher is one of your idols from the racing side. Do you have someone similar from the racecar engineering side that’s an inspiration or someone you admire?

Elizabeth Apthorp: I don’t have a particular celebrity engineer, and to be honest, it’s quite rare for engineers to be celebrities. But I had a really good mentor when I started working at Alpine which was Renault. My boss, who is Ricardo Berry, and he’s now working in Ferrari, so we’re now sworn enemies. But I’ve just had one-on-one mentors throughout my time and it’s just those individuals that have helped me love it and do my job to the best.

Ed Bernardon: Do you ever talk to your sworn enemy now and then?

Elizabeth Apthorp: We do keep in contact. Formula One is a strange industry. It’s quite a small family. So, you never really lose people, even if they go to the dark side.

Ed Bernardon: It does seem, in Formula One, that there is a lot of movement between teams. And you learn on one, you move to another one; there’s constantly shifting around, which just seems that’s what happened to your former boss.

Elizabeth Apthorp: I think you do get a lot of movement. It’s kind of a close-knit family. I guess it’s quite exciting to have the opportunity to go to Italy to do the same job but in a different setting. And you do get different ethos is at different teams. So, a lot of people like to see something new, see something different. And I think it’s often in the nature of people who work in Formula One is that we’re all quite competitive people; we’re always looking for a new challenge, a new opportunity. So, you do get people moving around but my plan at the moment is to stay with Alpine. I’m enjoying my time there at the moment. I think I might be a longtimer, you get the longtimers as well. The year service, 25 years plus, you’re doing quite well.

Ed Bernardon: Well, speaking of competition, have you ever driven a race car, or race go-karts, or anything like that?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yes, I have. I think it is a bit in the blood. It’s a passion. I’ve never driven a Formula One car, and that’s something that doesn’t happen. Not many people know but Formula One cars – they are beasts – they are really mean machines. And actually, that’s why the Formula One drivers – they are really skilled. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of practice to be able to drive a Formula One car.

Ed Bernardon: Is that what you meant by mean? It’ll bite you back?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly. I’m not sure I’d get one round a lap safely, to be honest. So, I have driven smaller cars, let’s say, or recreational race cars, but I’ll leave the Formula One cars to the professionals.

Ed Bernardon: Now, what kind of cars have you driven?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Just track day things, little single-seaters, open-top single-seaters great fun. That was actually one of my friends at the university club together and bought me a track day ticket for my 21st birthday, I remember that now. I went with my dad, and he’ll never let me down because he always beat me. I’m not born to be a racer, unfortunately, but I can enjoy it.

Ed Bernardon: So, were you able to drive it at Silverstone or one of the nearby infamous tracks there in the UK?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, that’s a great thing about being where I am. We call it the Motorsport Valley around here, a bit like Silicon Valley but for motorsport. Silverstone’s an hour’s drive from home for me. So, that’s where I’ve done a bit of track racing is at Silverstone. It is a great place. It is a really cool place to be able to drive.

Ed Bernardon: Well, let’s take a step back because many of the people that listen to the future car podcast might not know the subtle differences, or maybe not so subtle differences, between different types of race cars. So, here in the United States, of course, we have NASCAR, and we have IndyCar, but then there’s Formula One, and then there’s rally. Could you tell us a little bit about what exactly is a Formula One car and how is it different, say, than a NASCAR or an IndyCar?

Elizabeth Apthorp: It’s a good point. They’re vastly different. I guess the summary is a Formula One car is a circuit racing car. So, we have dedicated circuits, but the cars race around. And the thing that makes Formula One different to all of those other series you mentioned is that there’s a really big emphasis on the engineering. So, in a lot of series, the driver has a big input, maybe over 50% input, if we want to talk numbers, into the output of the race. And then the engineers, they maybe can change the setup between four different setups, the suspension between four different setups, they might have an option of two rear wings. But in Formula One, the power is put a bit more into the engineer’s hand. Because we love data, we predict that the driver’s input is more around 30% and the rest of the performance is by the engineering of the car. So, we have a lot more freedom. We can design our own suspension. We can design our own bodywork shapes, all of the internal structures, cooling. So, it’s much more of a technical game. Even though you sit down and you watch the racing, and you see the drivers, and the drivers stand on the podium, it’s much more of a technical race. That’s why I’m maybe a bit biased but, to me, it’s an engineering game as well as a racing game. So, that’s why we like it.

Ed Bernardon: The budgets and the number of people that actually work on a Formula One team is also much bigger, like you said, two-thirds of the effort is from the engineering side, how big is the team, how many people work at Alpine Formula One?

Elizabeth Apthorp: It’s quite a big operation. We build two cars a year. So, we have two drivers and we build a car for them. Most of the parts are the same, but we do have some driver-specific parts. And in my office, in my site, there are 750 people, and that’s designing the car: the monocoque, all of the bodywork, everything you see on TV, the suspension. But then we also have a site in Paris, and there’s another 700 people over in Paris who design the engine. So, we’re talking one and a half 1,000 people to build two cars, which is quite crazy. We’re a medium-sized team. So, you do get differences.

Ed Bernardon: Well, even at 1,000, that’s quite a few people, basically trying to get two cars to go around a circuit as fast as possible. That’s the main goal: faster than all of the other teams.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly. It sounds easy but you will see it on TV, there’s always cars not crossing the line. So, we’re always, “If we can get the cars across the line, then we’re happy.”

Ed Bernardon: What’s the budget, roughly, the range of budgets, let’s say, for Formula One team in order to be successful through an entire year? How much money do you need to spend? Is it the tens, hundreds of millions?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Hundreds of millions. It’s big money. One thing that is good is we have a governing body, the FIA, which is a bit like FIFA for football, and they monitor everything we do, and they set the rules and the regulations that we have to adhere to. Actually for 2021, this current season, which is kicking off in March, they have actually input a new cost cap regulation. So, it’s the first time that we are having this actual cost cap.

Ed Bernardon: So, now you have these cost limitations that tries to limit how much can be spent to try and bring some parity to the different teams. How has that impacted the engineering?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, it does mean we need to be more clever about how we spend our money. We buy nuts and bolts which are aerospace quality. The same nuts and bolts they put on satellites going into space. So, we do use top-quality materials. The point of Formula One to some extent is to always push technology and use the latest and greatest technology that’s available to you. But that normally comes at a premium. Now what we need to do, and it’s something that we’re building into any decision matrix is cost is a big part of it now. So, is the performance gained from choosing material B compared to material A? Is that actually worth the cost increase that you’re going to have to spend on that part? So, it’s just another parameter. We’re engineers, we like to be decision-makers and put the numbers against each other. So, cost is another parameter which we just have to consider a bit more carefully now.

Ed Bernardon: Just making that puzzle a little bit more fun to solve, it sounds like.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, just another piece which we have to fit in.

Ed Bernardon: Now, without revealing any secrets, you said you have to be a little bit more clever. Can you explain what that really means? Can you give us an example of being a little bit more clever when you’re designing an F1 car?

Elizabeth Apthorp: You would hope and you would think that when you’re designing an F1 car that you always choose the best solution that’s the lightest weight and will ultimately make the car quickest, but it’s not always like that.

Ed Bernardon: Well, with all that budget, that sounds like a perfect thing and it would be easy to do that.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly. That was my initial thought when I came in. But actually, there’s a lot of negotiation, and there’s a lot of chatting between departments. It’s actually one of the parts I like the most about my job now is, you don’t just say, “Option A is the best. We’re going for option A.” There are lots of things you have to weigh up, you have to talk to the aerodynamicists and they might have a preference on how you combine two parts: do you bond them together? Or do you bolt them together? But the aerodynamicists don’t like bolts because their airflow doesn’t go over it as smoothly as you think. But maybe from my side, as a designer, the bolt junction is good because then I know the mechanic can take it off quickly if he needs to change it for an upgraded version. So, there’s always compromise even in an F1, even when the budgets seem limitless, you always have to think. And we also rotate through parts quite a lot. You build the car for the beginning of the season, for launch, for the first race. But throughout the season, we’re constantly trying to improve the performance of the car. So, we’re adding new front wings, for example, so whenever you think, “Okay, I’d like to be able to add a new front wing.” What you have to do from the first place is think, “How am I easily, in the future, going to add a front wing?” You need to make that junction easy to update. But by adding in an extra junction, you’re adding complexity, you’re adding cost. So, it’s always a compromise. It’s not as simple as it may look.

Ed Bernardon: You mentioned that every couple of weeks – since there’s a race every two weeks, typically – things are discovered, you find out where the car is strong, where the car is weak. And it’s Monday morning, and I’m sure you must have meetings, I would imagine, or something that says, “Hey, we have to redesign this,” or “We have to redesign that.” And now the puzzle, once again, is presented to you and it’s becoming even more complex. Is that how it works?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Exactly. So, we have lots of systems in place. And after a race weekend, we get a log of two separate things. There’s one which are faults; anything that went wrong, anything that went catastrophically wrong or slightly wrong, or anything that the people at the track think that could be improved, they’ll send us back a notification saying, “This went wrong, please fix.” Or, “We think this could be improved. Do you have the capacity to improve it?” So, we’ll always get a big log of work to do after a race weekend. And the other thing is development items. We’ll also get a list from the aerodynamicist saying, “We’ve designed this new wing mirror,” or, “We’ve designed this new floor and it will make us go  0.2 seconds a lap faster. Do you have the capacity to build this? Do you have the budget to build this?” So, after every race, we’re able to analyze all of the data on the car, there are sensors all over the car. That allows us to then think, “Okay, what are we doing next?” It’s never a finished car, you’re always working. There’s never time for rest. There’s no rest for the wicked like they say.

Ed Bernardon: Do you ever look at that list and say, “Ugh! There’s no way I can do that!”

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of my favorite things actually is working with my colleagues in the aerodynamics department. In aerodynamics, they design these lovely, smooth shapes, and they work theoretically really well.

Ed Bernardon: And then you go put a bolt, right in the middle of it.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly. So, there’s the compromise I was talking about earlier. But they design these lovely shapes which have zero thickness, zero mass, nothing, it’s just an empty shell. And then it’s kind of my job, in design, to then put the reality on it, put some mass in it, gravity, and see whether we can actually make it work. Can you physically make that shape? Will it stay on the car? Because that’s one of my biggest fears as a designer is making sure my parts stay on the car, they don’t fall off.

Ed Bernardon: Can you give us one that you’re really proud of? Like when you first saw it, it was, “Oh my God! There’s no way I can do that.” But then you thought about it, you solved it, and you said, “I can’t believe I just did that.” Has that ever happened? Or how often does it happen?

Elizabeth Apthorp: I could give you two examples following from that, the number of times my department receive these shapes from aerodynamics, and we go, “No way, that’s impossible. There is no way can make that.” But we’re all engineers. That’s your first initial glance, you look at it and you go, “No way.” But you sit down and you ask the aerodynamicist, “Okay, what’s the advantage of this piece? And why do you like it and why is it working for you?” And you sit down and then when you all get together and you get your brains together, there’s always a solution. There’s never a never, normally, I don’t think there’s anything I’ve ever come across that we haven’t found a solution to. But whenever there’s a compromise, we sometimes ask the aerodynamicist, “Would you mind just changing that surface slightly because then I can do this and I can make it work.” So, it’s a compromise but you’re using both sets of expertise: you’ve got the aerodynamicists who know what they’re doing, and then you’ve got the design engineers who know what you’re doing, and we’ve got to come into a middle ground and find the sort of harmony in the middle. But answering the second part of your question, which is, my proudest moment is something that you luckily don’t see very often, which is the monocoque, which is also called the survival cell. So, if anyone has seen Romain Grosjean’s crash, you would have seen what started off as looking like a full Formula One car, actually ended up he was just encased in this tub. And that’s the part that I mainly work on, I work on other parts as well but it’s the survival cell for the driver, and, in any impact, that is the last thing that shouldn’t break, and the driver should be protected in it. The first time I worked on one of those was in 2018. It’s a really important part, and I was really proud when we have to pass lots of tests to satisfy the safety requirements, and when we got the green tick saying, “Yes, you’ve passed all those tests.” That was a great feeling.

Ed Bernardon: Your title is Composite Design Engineer, and you do a lot of work with composites and carbon fiber, and the monocoque is probably one of the most complex composite parts made anywhere. We think of carbon fiber, and we think of that beautiful roof panel or something on your dashboard that makes it look really cool. But the monocoque, like you said, it’s not about looks, it’s about keeping people safe and being competitive, lightweight, strong, stiff safety. Can you tell us a little bit about the complexity of that and how you go about engineering something like a monocoque for a Formula One car?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, without giving too much away, it still starts with aerodynamics. So, even though this monocoque is hidden underneath all the bodywork and you can’t see it, we have a lot of internal cooling which is kind of not seen on TV. We still have to let the aerodynamicists lead the way, which they always do, with the monocoque. So, there’s a big push because the monocoque is really structural. So, we have certain load tests, we have big side structures; the side panels on the right and the left-hand side of the driver are really important, and we simulate side-impact crashes if you imagine a Tbone crash. So, we do fight back with the analysis, but I’m afraid I can’t really go into the details of how we manufacture it. But you’re right, it’s lots of carbon fiber. For example, the R.S.18., the Renault 2018 car that you put carbon fiber down in patches, so it goes down in patch by patch, and there are over 3,000 patches in one monocoque. Every single shape we design by hand in 3D CAD. So, they’re complex beasts. That’s not simple.

Ed Bernardon: These patches that you’re talking about, those are actually carbon fibers that get laid down like a piece of fabric in different locations, different thicknesses. That’s what you have to try and figure out: where do I put these 3,000 different pieces? It’s so much different than working with metal, where you might stamp it out in a press, or machine it, or whatever it might be. You’re building it up from nothing basically.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly. It’s something that is quite strange about carbon fiber. Because I use it every day, I’ve got used to it now but it’s exactly what you said is we lay it down in patches. So, you start with a mold, and then you build up your thickness with one layer and another layer. And the reason we use carbon fiber is because it has directional properties. So, with metal, you’ve got the same properties in all directions, it’s the same strength in all directions, but that means it’s also heavy in all directions. With carbon fiber, if you’re clever with it, and you know where the loads are going, and you know what direction to put your fibers in, then you can make a lighter part overall.

Ed Bernardon: As you probably know, being a composites engineer, you always want to keep those fibers like you just said in the direction where you want the car to be strong, or stiff, or whatever it might be. But when you get a lot of these complex shapes, a big danger is something as simple as the material wanting to wrinkle or not stay on the surface. So, you have to be able to understand when that’s going to happen because when you do get this wrinkling like you would get when you throw a tablecloth quickly onto a table, your carbon fiber isn’t going to be as strong as you hope it to be, correct?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, exactly that. We actually manufacture every component in a cleanroom environment. So, a bit like if you are in a laboratory working on samples or something. We have a cleanroom environment, and the reason for that is because every ply you put down, every patch you put down, you don’t want any dust particles in between those layers. You want to keep those layers as closely together and as well consolidated as possible. So, it’s the precision and the direction of the fibers is really important. So, we specify and design which direction we want the fiber to be in. And the other thing which maybe some people don’t know is all of these F1 parts – they’re handmade, it’s completely handmade, it’s a skilled labor. Every piece that goes down onto any Formula One part is put down by a man or woman, they follow the direction in the instruction manual. We even have lasers, which are projected from the ceiling. So, the laser projects down into the mold and it shows them exactly the direction that we want the fiber and just to help. So, it’s quite cool technology. But every piece is handmade, so you can get a human error in there, which we have to design a buffer for because you don’t want the parts falling off.

Ed Bernardon: Have you ever tried your hand at laying up composites?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yes, I have. I think it’s really important if you’re going to be writing the instruction manuals on how to make a part that you’ve made a part yourself, so you know what it feels like. It’s like you were saying about the wrinkling. A bit like you have different alloys for metals. We have thousands of different types of carbon fiber, and the way that carbon fiber is manufactured can be different. So, if you imagine your hair is a bit like carbon fiber, you can have carbon fiber which has a weave, which is really thick like a chunky cable net jumper. Or you can have a carbon fiber net which is really thin, maybe like a nice cashmere jumper. If you imagine you’ve got a really curved surface, the cashmere jumper material will go around those curves better because it’s not as chunky, it’s not as thick. So, these are all things we have to consider when we’re designing and when we’re specking materials.

Ed Bernardon: You haven’t revealed a secret that maybe the next Alpine F1 car might be made out of cashmere or human hair?

Elizabeth Apthorp: No, it’s unfortunately not quite as strong as carbon fiber. So, I think we’ll stick with that for now.

Ed Bernardon: The first time you were in the laminating room or the layup room, what surprised you the most about the difficulty or the differences in taking this piece of composite material or fabric and trying to shape it into the shape you needed for the wing, or the monocoque, or whatever happened to be?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, I think that’s the first thing is shapes in Formula One are so complex. If you google a Formula One front wing, and you look at all the different pieces, I think a Formula One front wing is made up of over 30 parts; little winglets all bonded and bolted together, and they’re really complex, and some of them are really small. So, what amazed me the most is the dexterity and the skill of the people who work there. I wouldn’t be able to do it nearly as well as the guys and girls who do it. So, it’s really skilled labor and they’re in high demand. It’s quite a cool job. I think it’s quite a nice job.

Ed Bernardon: It’s time for our rapid-fire section, where we’re going to ask you a series of quick questions that you can answer in one line, or multiple lines, or even pass if you don’t like the question. And we’ll run through those very quickly here. You’re ready to go?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, let’s do it.

Ed Bernardon: What was the first car you ever owned?

Elizabeth Apthorp: I have an electric blue-colored Mini. It’s my first car and I’m still driving it all these years later. I absolutely love it.

Ed Bernardon: Did you pass your driver’s test on the first try?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yes, of course.

Ed Bernardon: What did you do when you had that driver’s license, what was your first drive?

Elizabeth Apthorp: It was actually a trip to McDonald’s. It was what we all did. It was kind of your passing ceremony was to go to McDonald’s.

Ed Bernardon: Did you go through the drive-thru?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yes, that’s the fun of it.

Ed Bernardon: Big Mac?

Elizabeth Apthorp: No, I like a Filet-O-Fish, which I don’t know if you have over there.

Ed Bernardon: Yes, we do. We’re not as expert at fried fish as they are in the home of the fish and chips. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Once.

Ed Bernardon: So, tell me your best speeding ticket story. It must be that one.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, it’s the only time I got caught. And that’s my trick: don’t get caught, and don’t speed, of course, that’s the other trick. No, it wasn’t very interesting. I was just on the way to work and I thought I was in a rush, but you know what? It’s not worth speeding to be a few minutes late. So, I won’t be doing that again.

Ed Bernardon: Absolutely not. We always like to tell speeding tickets stories on the Future Car podcast, but we always say, “Do not try this at home.”

Elizabeth Apthorp: Exactly. I agree.

Ed Bernardon: In the autonomous car future, the car will become, what we call, a living room on wheels. So, you could have pretty much whatever you have in any room in your home, your living room, whatever it might be, for your five-hour drive, an autonomous car in the future. Describe your living room on wheels.

Elizabeth Apthorp: I guess being English, I can’t go a day without a cup of English breakfast tea. So, I would need a tea-making facility, that would be essential.

Ed Bernardon: A teapot is another name for a tea-making facility.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, it’s very important you’ve got your cold milk as well. That’s why I call it a facility.

Ed Bernardon: So, basically, a tea room on wheels, it sounds like.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Yeah, I’d be very happy. I’d be able to sit there for hours having multiple cups of tea on end.

Ed Bernardon: What person living or not, would you want to spend that five-hour car ride with?

Elizabeth Apthorp: I think I would choose my mother. I’m known for being able to talk for England, as the expression is. I definitely get that from my mother. I know if I was in the journey with her, we’d be able to talk for hours, if not days, on end. So, I definitely wouldn’t get bored.

Ed Bernardon: What car best describes your personality?

Elizabeth Apthorp: Well, it depends what you’d like to think describes your personality in the reality I guess. But I quite like my mini – it’s fast and it’s fun.

Ed Bernardon: Fast and fun. Perfect. So, you found your home when it comes to car personality, it sounds like. 

Ed Bernardon: Elizabeth, thank you so much.

Elizabeth Apthorp: Thank you, Ed. It’s been great chatting to you.

Elizabeth Apthorp, Composite Design Engineer Alpine F1 Team

Elizabeth Apthorp, Composite Design Engineer Alpine F1 Team

While studying Engineering at Durham University she decided to work in Formula One. After completing a Masters in Advanced Motorsport Engineering at Cranfield University, she  secured a Student Placement at Renault Formula One Team working in the Materials Science Department and  then moved up the ranks from Intern, to Graduate Engineer, to now Composite Design Engineer. She has always worked at the Formula One team based in Enstone, Oxfordshire. It was Renault F1 Team, but has recently been rebranded as Alpine F1 Team.

Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives – Host

Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives – Host

Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011, he previously directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory.  Ed holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/on-the-move/behind-the-scenes-of-formula-one-design-with-elizabeth-apthorp-composite-design-engineer-alpine-f1/