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How McLaren's tech chief is helping to find F1 designers of the future

In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, McLaren's Executive Technical Director, James Key, explains the journey he took to reach Formula 1, as well as the way he is now giving back to support future talent.

Norris Austria
To news overview © XPB

McLaren's James Key has revealed that he has set up a scholarship to help in supporting engineering students to become talents of the future.

In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Key – the team's Executive Technical Director – has been reflecting on his own journey to working in Formula 1, as well as looking at the ways in which he is now giving back.

Key joined the Woking-based squad in 2019, and prior to that worked for teams including Midland F1, Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso.

Where the interest in F1 began

After becoming fascinated by watching his engineer father work at the bonnet of his car, Key can recall when his interest in F1 began.

"I already had an interest in cars from an early age, but Formula 1 really sort of picked up [when I was] about 12, when I happened upon the European Grand Prix in Brands Hatch in 1984," Key explained.

"I was immediately hooked, not least by the wonderful commentary by Murray Walker and James Hunt. They made it sound like such a magical thing, this extraordinary world of Formula 1.

"I think that's kind of what hooked me immediately. After that, I watched every race and, within two or three races, I knew every driver and every team, a real sort of anorak very, very quickly. And I was fascinated by it."

This sparked Key's desire to work in the sport "one way or another", and as a result he left school and home at 16 to pursue his goal. Only three years after university, Key achieved his goal by getting a job with Jordan.

			© McLaren
	© McLaren

How Key is giving back

Key attended the University of Nottingham, where he studied a range of engineering disciplines. Since then, he has established a scholarship at the university to help others in achieving their engineering dreams.

"I had a brilliant time at uni, I absolutely loved it," the Briton said.

"It was a really special time in life. I've since set up a scholarship there to help engineers from disadvantaged backgrounds to go through it, because it was a great place to be.

"I wanted to give something back, but I wanted to encourage people who wanted to go into engineering to do the same. So I got a scholarship there, and also a little bit of money into their Formula Student team as well.

"It's lovely to give something back to that place, but also give young engineers an opportunity."

From there, Key went on to become one of the youngest Technical Directors in Formula 1 when he joined Midland F1 in 2005, before continuing his journey across several teams before arriving at McLaren in 2019.

Differences between engine suppliers

During his time in F1, Key has worked with most engine suppliers, and he admits that observing the differences between them has been interesting.

"They're all different. You've got the different architectures and so on, but the facilities, the approach, there wasn't a set formula for that," he added.

"It was all done differently depending on the manufacturer you're working with. And even details as well, electrical installations and systems and voltages.

"Cooling systems are totally different between each of them. So I think when when it came to installing one into the next in the car, there was very little carryover. You really did have to start again."

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