In this excerpt from the ‘Inspiring Engineering with PES Performance’, Materials Inside Podcast from Goodfellow, our technical director Dan Fleetcroft explains how a one-week school work experience led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and set the tone for Dan’s engineering design career from then until today.
I was incredibly lucky to get the opportunity. Essentially, I started my journey in engineering at 17 years old doing a week’s work experience at Ferrari’s Formula One department in the UK. After the week of work experience, I got invited back on my Saturday mornings while I was at school. Then I did 10 months of my year out before university with the team.
My boss on the work experience, who became my boss for the next 15 years was John Barnard. John had been headhunted as technical director by Enzo Ferrari, and he did not want to go to Ferrari at Maranello in Italy, so basically, he got Ferrari to set him up a factory in the UK.
The greatest part of that for me was working for John and learning from him over such a long period of time. He is one of the greatest engineers I’ve ever met. Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed Skunk Works is absolutely another one of my iconic engineers, and I put John in that bracket for innovation, dogged determination, raw skills, and I picked up so much knowledge working for John.
It was painful at times as John was a very determined, very precise, very demanding, Formula One technical director. But when you look at his achievements, he developed the first carbon fibre monocoque, he was also one of the founders of McLaren.
He developed the first carbon fibre semi-automatic gearbox at Ferrari, and the ‘coke bottle designs’ on the back of the monocoque on racing cars was John’s development. If you go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, you’ll see one of his Formula One Ferrari cars hanging on the wall there.
There are numerous other inventions and innovations John brought to the world of motorsport and being able to have some of that skill, even if it’s only a small amount that rubbed off on me, and to learn how to ‘design think’, in that way was an amazing opportunity.
In the team I moved around every department, which is something I think that young engineers really need today. I had experience in the composites shop, in the machine shop and the fabrication shop, in the test lab, in the drawing office, at the track and with the wind tunnel.
I got a really diverse understanding of all the aspects of making a Formula One racing car, which is eminently transferable to almost any other product and care. I then focused my development on engineering design within the drawing office under John.
John was all about detail and our businesses really picked that up and run with that. Most of the things in engineering, the big stuff you don’t miss, the big stuff is obvious most of the time. It’s the small things that catch you out and you need to be very focused on the detail.
Some people find it difficult, and they think it’s rather pedantic, but if you look after the little things everything else tends to look after itself. John was absolutely into the details up to a point of obsession, but I’ve taken that ethos and I’ve seen the value of it.
So that opportunity, learning from John, learning in the Formula One environment again, with the budgets, the access to technology, the hunger to incorporate and embrace new technologies as soon as they were available, was just such a rich environment to learn from.
And really, I have a massive debt of gratitude to John and the team that helped me on my journey to be an engineer. That opportunity to travel, to go to the track, to see the racing cars, to help the team while on race weekends, and the other projects that came from that time period was just the stuff of dreams really.
You know, I couldn’t have hoped for anything more than that. And it’s really shaped me and to be fair, for PES Performance a lot of the processes and the methodologies we embrace today have come out of Formula One and that that controlled engineering environment that I grew up in.