Li, who is from Chengdu, China, was selected in January from among 12,000 applicants for the yearlong program, which provides opportunities for engineering students to go straight from undergraduate work to racing’s front lines with a Formula One team. Students split their time between Infiniti’s technology center in Cranfield and the Renault Sport headquarters in Enstone.
“I have been working on developing the range of rear wings in an attempt to extract more performance from them,” Li said. “We try to look at old problems with new eyes.”
She added: “Who gets to do that, at my age, and from my background? This is an opportunity like no other.”
The international academy, which has been in operation for four years, annually offers internships for seven aspiring automotive engineering students. It also helps Renault Sport compete against Formula One’s elite teams for engineering talent.
“We want to create opportunities for them, that they almost certainly would not have if they were competing against professionals for openings,” Volpe said.
Interest in the program has grown exponentially, to an estimated 20,000 applicants for 2018 from about 1,200 in the first year, Volpe said.
One applicant is selected from each of seven geographical regions: Asia/Oceania, Canada, Mexico, China, the Middle East, Europe/Russia and the United States.
Word is getting around among engineering schools, Volpe noted, “that this can be a ticket straight to the top.”
Volpe said the program, which he described as unique not only in Formula One but in other forms of auto racing as well, was considered such a success it could be expanded in future years.
A 2014 participant in the program, William Priest, was hired as a full-time engineer at Infiniti. Daniel Sanham, a 2015 graduate, has a contract with Renault Sport.
Caitlin Bunt, of Rockport, Ill., was the first woman in the program. She now works for the chassis team at Infiniti.
Bunt said she was pleasantly surprised with how much say she has had in her projects. She was invited to work in the control room at the Renault headquarters during three races this fall.
“We’ve been able to try a lot of things that maybe they haven’t tried before, or haven’t had personnel to work on before,” she said. “I love it.”
Infiniti and Renault have each expressed interested in keeping Li after her internship is over, she said.
“I have always been passionate about racecars and always curious to learn how everything is made and how it works,” Li said. “During my time at university, I found that engineering is not only about what we learned from a book, but also about the experience. The more experience I gain here, the more determined I am to become a racing engineer and to realize my dream.”
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