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AFBE Online Interview

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James Dornor - Electronics Support Engineer, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

We had a chat with James Dornor, an electronics support engineer at Mercedes who is also a mentor in the AFBE mentorship programme. We asked him about his work and other BME related questions. Here's how the conversation went.

Q: What does your current role entail? 

I am an Electronics Support Engineer in the Heritage Department at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. In my role, I am responsible for maintaining all electronics and car systems on a wide range of historic Mercedes Formula One cars. We cycle through firing up each car over a 12-month period and my role includes monitoring the on-car sensors throughout pre-fire up and communicating directly to the mechanics which system process is required in preparation for track running. I also ensure that the calibrations and software code on each chassis are as expected. 

In addition to this work carried out in the factory, I support the team’s Young Driver programme at various race circuits, as well as assisting with the current Formula One race chassis, working on a range of tasks from electronics to the actual build of the race cars.

When trackside, I analyse live data from the chassis, control and hydraulic systems. After each session I conduct various system checks, liaising with numerous team members, reporting any faults or problems encountered on the chassis.

Part of what I love about my job is that I have the opportunity every day to experience something different and work across the team with many departments and team members which is fantastic.

 

Q. What you feel your impact has been on the BME community either through your current role within your organisation or society/communities around you (please note that no impact is insignificant, we would like to share your story. Even what you think is little, would go a long way in motivating/ encouraging those around you)?

I hope that I have impacted the community by sharing my story of how I progressed in an industry which can be challenging to enter. I have taken time to visit primary schools and secondary schools where I have been able to talk to students as well as answering any questions they have. I hope that I can inspire them to achieve their dreams, regardless of background, ethnicity or gender. I have also spoken at universities, colleges and have met Members of Parliament at events which have enabled me to discuss engineering, my career path and share my thoughts on how we can engage the younger generation and spark the interest for more Black and minority ethnic young people considering a career in the motorsport industry. 

I was always fascinated with how cars worked and the mechanics behind them, and I knew engineering was an industry I wanted to work in after attending the British Motor Show at the London Excel Centre with a family member. However, from a young age I struggled with confidence. I always felt there was pressure for me to succeed in life, being the youngest child in the family.

I went to school after college and, although I didn’t initially get the grades required to do an engineering degree, I continued to work hard and found an alternative route to achieve my ambitions. The university I applied for had a foundation course which allowed me to progress onto the BEng degree and. I worked hard, thinking logically and visualising how I would answer questions in exam papers and coursework.

 

Q: Your advice to the BME community or words of encouragement to other BME (this could be to other students pursuing careers in engineering, academia or trying to progress within their respective?

My advice would be to believe in yourself and make your dreams reality, even if it takes time to get there. Set your foundations early. If you enjoy science, then focus on that area at GCSE level, then onwards to A-Levels and University. If studying is not your thing then there are several apprenticeships that provide hands-on experience post GCSE and college which provide an excellent route into industry.  

Make sure you look out for and apply to Industrial Placement schemes in your desired field. I completed over 50 applications to various engineering companies with several rejections. This can be hard but you need to remain determined and never give up on your preferred career. My first job in engineering after graduating was working for an automotive company free of charge over a two- week period, conducting vehicle fault analysis. With so many students now going to university, employees are looking for students with experience and any experience you can obtain early on is beneficial. 

Most minorities tend to live in urban areas whilst most Formula One teams based in rural areas of the country, with only one team relatively close to London. Relocating can be a difficult adjustment, whether it is for a short work experience or a year-long placement, but it is well worth taking the step out of your comfort zone for the experience you will gain. 

I will be mentoring an AFBE student for the next six months which I am really looking forward to. Having access to people in your chosen field or industry can be such a benefit to achieving your dreams and I am looking forward to the opportunity to help a young person who is the position I once was of starting out on the path to achieving their dream job.

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