Rupert finds the formula for future in the fast lane

KARTING ROUND: Rupert in karting action at Kimbolton's Hunts Kart Racing Club.
KARTING ROUND: Rupert in karting action at Kimbolton's Hunts Kart Racing Club.
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The phrase “life is the pits” means everything to West Pinchbeck motor racing fan and high performance engineering apprentice Rupert Vickers (17).

Just the thought of tuning up an engine, improving the aerodynamics or boosting the downforce on the work of art that is a Formula One car fills the former Spalding Grammar School student with the same excitement as Lewis Hamilton gets from winning his home grand prix.

MOTOR MECHANIC: Rupert Vickers has his sights set on a career as a mechanic for a Formula One team.  Photo supplied.

MOTOR MECHANIC: Rupert Vickers has his sights set on a career as a mechanic for a Formula One team. Photo supplied.

In fact, Rupert can claim to be something of a lucky charm for the 2008 world champion because on the two occasions when the Mercedes driver won the British Grand Prix in 2008 and this year, Rupert 
was among the 120,000 people in the crowd for both of them.

“I’ve always loved motor racing from when my dad used to watch it on TV and I’d watch it with him,” Rupert said.

“The first time I went to Silverstone with my dad was in 2008 when it was really wet.

“But this year I went with some of my friends from Spalding Grammar School who I’ve got into Formula 
One.

“It was crazy because both times Lewis Hamilton has won at Silverstone, both times I was there.

“This year Hamilton was in the best car and he was the best chance for a British victory.”

Rupert’s knowledge of what it takes to be a Formula One success has increased substantially since starting a High Performance Engineering apprenticeship at Silverstone University Technical College (UTC).

Opened in September 2013, Silverstone UTC gives its 14 to 19-year-old students an unprecedented pathway into the world of automotive engineering, with the chance of securing work with one of the Formula One construction teams.

Rupert said: “I used to go karting with my dad and a few of us who did it found out about the course.

“I applied online last year and got an interview where I was asked about my previous experience and where I wanted to go.

“I knew I was going to Silverstone UTC last December, but the course only started on September 1 and it’s been really good so far.”

The three-and-a-half year high performance engineering apprenticeship is run from a £10 million state-of-the art campus overlooking the pit lane of the world-famous Silverstone grand prix circuit.

Only 40 places are available on the course which provides an unparalleled pathway into the automotive engineering industry with its links to prestigious motoring names such as McLaren, Force India, Aston Martin and Caterham.

Rupert said: “The whole idea of the course is for students to get an apprenticeship with a Formula One team.

“It was just a relief to get on it because quite a lot of engineers working on Formula One cars have come through the college and gone on to teams, while others end up in the touring car world.

“The course starts from quite a basic level where we’re taught how everything works, health and safety and the workshop, before focusing on the practical side of testing racing cars.

“In the workshop, there are old touring cars like BMWs and Fords, but later on in the course we’ll get to see Formula One cars.

“We start doing our practical apprenticeships in February, but the students still have to do coursework as well.”

At one stage, Rupert’s 
ambitions were centred on making it as a racing driver by progressing down the same route of karting taken by Hamilton and other world champions, including Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and the late Ayrton Senna.

“Karting has grown over the years and I can remember my first ever race at Tattershall Karting Centre (near Woodhall Spa) which I won when I was 13.

“At the time, I’d already been karting for six years so I was pretty confident, even though I’d never actually raced before.

“It was a club championship race and I wasn’t really nervous, so when I won I thought it might be easy.

“I raced in the Motor Sports Association and did pretty well in my first year.

“We were racing at Kimbolton (near Huntingdon) at one of the biggest clubs in the country but when my dad and I realised how much money the people at the top of the championship table were spending, we decided to just watch karting instead.

“These days, driving is about money more than talent and it’s not always the best drivers who are on the grid.”

Rupert’s dad Darran said: “We watch some of the races at Snetterton (Norfolk) and if there’s something on at 
another local circuit and we’re doing nothing, we’ll go and watch.

“There are national karting events at Kimbolton that we go to two or three times a year and because of thos, my son is ahead of the game compared to most of the others at Silverston UTC.

“Motor racing has become his life and Rupert will be fine on the course because over 90 per cent of students got apprenticeships with motor racing or touring car teams last year.”

Rupert has an extra incentive for doing well at Silverstone UTC after his sister Harriet (19) won a £3,000 scholarship from Jaguar Land Rover last year to study engineering at Durham University.

“My sister is into motor sports which is good because we can share ideas, although her engineering course is different from mine,” Rupert said.

“At quite a low level, we’re taught about taking responsibility for the whole car and, before that, being put in charge of one part.

“A good Formula One car needs to have good aerodynamics, although the changes made this season have made the races better.

“I hope that, through the course, I can get into an international team in Formula One or touring cars as a mechanic and hopefully work my way up.”

Rupert and his fellow 
students are overseen by Silverstone UTC principal Neil Patterson who was chief engineer at McLaren Automotive for nearly 14 years.

Mr Patterson said: “I am passionate about giving young people the opportunity to excell, become highly employable and achieve their full potential.

“I expect that the students at Silverstone UTC will rise to every challenge and strive for success, push boundaries take pride in their work, work together to achieve goals and will be proud to say they go to Silverstone UTC.”