Q&A with Jenson Button's Performance Engineer, Bernie Collins
What do you love about your job?
It must be said – I have an amazing job and I love it.
It’s really hard work and life in Formula 1 is extremely demanding. It’s certainly not an easy job and you don’t get many moments when you can relax. But it is fast paced, you get regular opportunities to test and to prove yourself, you can travel the world. It’s a job that has opened up some amazing opportunities for me.
And…on top of all of that, I get to work with some amazing technology and some of the brightest people in the world every day. It’s not bad.
What’s the hardest part of it?
As I say, life in Formula 1 is very fast paced. It’s exciting but it’s also very demanding. You have to be on top form every day because it’s impossible to know when the next challenge will crop up and you never want to let your team mates down.
The hardest thing is just maintaining that level of performance day in day out, even when you are tired, jet lagged and having to cope with very different conditions all around the world.
Can you explain your role during the race?
I’m Jenson Button’s performance engineer. That means I work closely with Jenson and my fellow engineers to optimise the set-up of the car and hopefully enable him to achieve the best possible outcome in the race.
What happens when something goes wrong?
Racing is all about pushing cars and people to the limit in order to maximise performance. As a result, sometimes things do go wrong. You have to plan for that and assess how you would deal with things. If you are properly prepared then you can anticipate and cope with most things.
Have you always been interested in formula one and/or cars?
Yes, I have probably always been interested in cars and motorsport. My dad has certainly always taken a real interest and over time that kind of enthusiasm rubs off.
But more than anything, I have always taken an interest in the way things work. I find machinery and particularly cars fascinating.
When I was a kid I didn’t know what an engineer was and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever work in Formula 1, but I did want to build things and to solve problems.
How did you get into it?
How did I start working in Formula 1? Well firstly, I have been very lucky. It’s a very competitive industry, so I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work at McLaren.
But my ambition to work in Formula 1 specifically started while I was at University and I became involved in Formula Student. It’s a programme run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and it’s a wonderful way to inspire the next generation of engineers.
How did you make the decision to follow engineering?
As with most people I started to work out what subjects I liked studying and that leads you to consider what job opportunities might be open to you. Because I liked maths and science, I started to consider what degree I would like to study and engineering was a logical route. Again it comes back to my curiosity about how things work and how they are constructed.
What advice would you give to teenage girls making career choices?
The very best piece of advice I can give is to keep your options open.
When you’re at school it’s really hard to know what you will want to do for the rest of your life. I didn’t know that it would be possible to work in Formula 1 when I was a teenager, but if I had given up on science and maths then I never would have been able to take the opportunities that came along later.
I’m not suggesting that everyone has to be good at science or maths, or that engineering is the natural career choice for everyone. But if you think you might, one day, want to work in engineering, science, medicine or even Formula 1, then it is better to keep studying maths and science at A-Level.
Bernie was speaking to the Department for Education in support of the Your Life campaign - designed to boost participation in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. For more information, visit the website.