They wear long-sleeved overall suits or short-sleeved collared shirts designed with stripes and lines of bright colors. Some wear matching caps printed with their team name, logo, or sponsors. They could easily pass off as members of a car racing team in Formula One—if not for their age. Still taking graders’ and high schoolers’ math lessons, these kids are part of F1 in Schools, an international racing competition for school children aged 9 to 19.
But don’t get it wrong. “F1” in F1 in Schools doesn’t mean they make race tracks out of schools’ baseball and soccer fields. Students who compete here don’t drive seven-foot long racing machines loaded with powerful V10 engines. Instead, they “drive” (well, the term still fits) miniature cars no bigger than their own hands.
These mini racing wheels are just like those in the Japanese anime series Crush Gear: they are made to run fast (except that they are not made to crush each other during the race like in the anime). These little cars may actually look like the top shelf toy cars you can find in toy stores. But don’t underestimate them just yet, because these mini cars aren’t just toys. They are very special in their own right. First, they are made of balsa wood—setting them apart from the die cast or plastic bodied toy cars.
Second, they are crafted using Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) programs so the balsa cars would be tailored with as much precision as possible. One example of such programs is the F1 Virtual Wind Tunnel software or F1 VWT, which is specially made for the F1 in Schools’ participants. This program makes use of computational fluid dynamics or CFD so that the probable amount of air resistance against a balsa car being designed is taken into consideration. That means the balsa cars undergo almost the same design process as a real F1 car.
Another thing that makes the mini cars unique is that they are made by intelligent youngsters who want to tough it out as a team in the tilt and bring home the bacon for their schools. Well, that’s not far from what the founders of F1 in Schools Ltd. wanted when they first launched the competition in 1999 in UK . They wanted to raise students’ awareness in motor sports (specifically the F1) as well as change their perceptions of engineering as a boring field of science and technology.
Now, with the competition having been participated in by around nine million students from 30 countries, anybody can say that the F1 in Schools company is indeed successful in realizing its objectives. The competition is held every year in any of the following countries: Australia , China , England , Wales , Germany , Malaysia , Ireland , Northern Ireland , Scotland , South Africa , South Korea , United Arab Emirates , and the United States .
After the registration and screening process, student teams get access to tips, CAD tutorials and sponsorship referrals. But other than those things, they need to work pretty much on their own. They should raise their own funds to finance their equipment, materials, research, and travel and accommodation if the race will not be held in their own country. With this system of the competition, F1 in Schools is no doubt a good training ground for all future adults.