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Inspiring Maltese Students Make History at Silverstone

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A group of Maltese university students made history at Silverstone after being the most successful foreign team at Formula Student.

The small islands of Malta may not be mentioned on the international stage often, but a week after the British Grand Prix showdown, this group made a huge step in their future careers. Formula Student is a competition which offers university students the opportunity to show off their innovative and engineering skills in an environment similar to Formula One.

They have to build a fast enough car, head over to Silverstone, run safety tests, and hope they will succeed. Most importantly, they get a taste of the industry they are preparing to enter and impress the judges who will be overlooking their work.

The Maltese students obtained the following results in Silverstone:

  • Third Overall in FS-Class
  • Third Overall in Dynamic Events
  • First in Endurance
  • Cleaven Caruana as the Most Entertaining Driver
  • Fourth in Lap Time Simulation
  • Fifth in Acceleration
  • Fifth in Skidpad
  • Seventh in Sprint
  • Ninth in Design Event

And they were the best foreign team to perform there. A very impressive result and as a Maltese myself, I couldn’t resist not getting in contact with such a talented team and having them speak to me about their experience.

That is how I got the opportunity to speak to Financial Officer Shaun Abela and the Head of Suspension Bernard Vella.

Road to Silverstone

While it is not easy for UK teams to get all their equipment to Silverstone and travel on trains or by car for long hours, it’s a bit more complicated for teams coming from abroad.

Shaun and Bernard told me how this car has been in progress for three years, since 2019. People started working on it and went to graduate before they can even see it in action at the track. The reason is simply Covid-19. In 2020, everything was cancelled because of the pandemic’s hit and in 2021, the team was advised that it would be safer not to travel to the UK, where Covid-19 was still leaving its toll on the world.

But 2022 was finally their year. The three years allowed them to perform many tests on the car. The new go-kart track built by the Maltese Government in 2020 gave them a great space to test their car. They’d test out the car there and then head back to the garage located at the University of Malta, which provided them with all the equipment they needed and look at the data they’ve collected and perform the required adjustments.

Shaun finished his exams just a month before the competition and started the preparations to get the car across Europe. With some other people, including Bernard, they set up a small trailer in which the car could precisely fit, they managed to put in an extra engine and some spare parts and also the team’s luggage.

They found a truck company and got the car to Silverstone safely. On July 5, the team made its way through a three-hour flight to the UK and was relieved to see that their car made it to Silverstone without any problems.

They explained to me how the competition ran from July 6 to 10. They used the first day to set up the garage and get their team registered.

On Thursday and Friday, they had what are called static events which included the judges asking the team about their business report, cost report and design report. The judges also made some safety checks on the car including tilt tests.

The UOM Racing car was the fifth to get through and the first foreign one to do so. Bernard explained to me how it is very difficult to get past the safety tests and many teams were failing in this section of the competition.

On Saturday and Sunday, they had dynamic events, in which the drivers, including Shaun and Bernard themselves, got to drive the car in several sections. They had acceleration, skidpad and sprint on Saturday and on Sunday they raced it off in endurance.

Speaking to Shaun

Shaun is the Financial Officer of the team and overlooks all their financial matters, sponsors, etc. What’s interesting is that Shaun is doing an Accounts and Marketing degree, and one might wonder, “Then how did he end up working on such a project aimed at engineers?”

He explained to me how such a team welcomes anyone who has a love for motorsport, and even if they do not know how to directly work on the car, a role will be found for them. Shaun is passionate about Formula One, Fernando Alonso being his favourite ever driver. He got to drive the car during the competition too, and it was an honour for him to go out on a track that his idol has just been competing on a week ago. Shaun has some experience in karting back in Malta.

Shaun spoke to me about budgeting and how there are no regulations regarding it. He compared it to when Formula One was like that and whoever had the most money could spend it. He explained the UOM Racing team as a midfield team but he told me about other extremes he got to see. One team was only made up of two people, and the team are still wondering how these two managed to make it to Silverstone with the amount of work that has to be put into it. Then there was another team that afforded to send 50 people over to compete. Shaun also explained how during the preparations, it was difficult to sometimes keep up with university work and with helping out the team too.

He was liaising with sponsors and companies and helping the team figure out which parts should be self-made and which require a certain level of skill and machinery and luckily they got companies to help them out with those. Some parts they had to buy ready-made from abroad such as from America and from the UK too, and Brexit made life a bit difficult for them because of extra costs.

Shaun told me that he would be open to making a move to a Formula One team and maybe working in their Finance Department. Being a huge Alonso fan, the team he supports right now is Alpine, but he insisted that he will not close the door on something else which might give him the opportunity of a lifetime.

Speaking to Bernard

Bernard is studying Mechanical Engineering and aims at working in Formula One, mainly Ferrari. He looks at furthering his studies by majoring in his Masters in Motorsport and studying in Italy or England, two huge motorsport nations. He also has some driver experience as he competed in Malta’s National Karting League and so got to show off his skills in Silverstone too. Felt a bit more special for Bernard too, because a week earlier his team and Carlos Sainz celebrated a thrilling win at the British Grand Prix.

He spoke to me about the car regulations. While there isn’t much, so that students can explore the innovation of motorsport, even more, there are some which relate to safety. He told me how the judges check every inch of the car to make sure that it is safe and they have regulations about certain aerodynamic parts in certain areas of the car and things like this which might cause risk.

For those who do not know much about Malta, it can be said that when it comes to international competition, as a nation it has been let down many times. It never managed to qualify for a World Cup or Euros tournament, it never won the Eurovision, and it never won a gold medal at the Olympics. Throughout its course of history, it was taken over or colonised by many empires, including the English. Because of this, there is a great part of Malta with a mentality that foreigns do it best, and as Maltese, we sometimes tend to underestimate ourselves.

But not these group of talented individuals. Bernard explained to me that although they were up against people who probably have more opportunities than them, and probably might come from a legacy that worked in Formula One, this did not distract them.

Instead, it pushed them, even more, to perform and show how they have got the talent too. They didn’t let the fact that they come from a small island which people probably do not even know where it is properly located stop them. They went for it and they hoped for the best.

And it served well because they have got some outstanding results and I hope we get to see them work and perform again on more professional levels.

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