Graduate Profiles

James Allison
At the time Technical Director, Lotus F1 Team
Now Chassis Technical Director, Scuderia Ferrari

James AllisonI left Cambridge in 1991, and so my experiences are somewhat less contemporary than many of the whelps in the other profiles. However, while my experience might not be as up-to-date as theirs, I doubt whether the essential nature of the place has changed much since I was an undergraduate there.

I rather fell into Engineering owing to certain adeptness at applied maths and a fondness for working on old cars and aeroplanes. I chose Cambridge largely because I thought it would make my parents proud. It did, but I was by far the biggest beneficiary of this happy decision.

I could tell you of the benefits that the Cambridge Engineering course offers by exposing the undergraduate to the full range of engineering disciplines before offering the choice to settle down into the area that suits you the most. I could also say with absolute candour that in my years at Cambridge I was stretched intellectually more than at any other time in my life. However, the truth of it is that whatever the redoubtable excellence of Engineering at Cambridge, this is not what you will revel in while you are there, nor is it what you will remember when you look back on it decades later.

When you are 18 years old, you tend to take most things that come your way for granted. However, life in a Cambridge College is such a lot of fun that you are aware, even as you are enjoying it, that this is a special period in your life. You live in wonderful surroundings, you meet a huge variety of talented people from all sorts of backgrounds and you are offered more opportunity for fun than you know what to do with.

While this brilliant, intense and deeply enjoyable undergraduate life is happening, you will find that simply by paying attention and working hard you will emerge not just with friends and memories that will remain with you for life, but also with a degree that carries considerable weight when you go looking for a job.

I loved Engineering at Cambridge. I left convinced that I wanted to be a professional engineer, and I have no doubt that it was the reputation of a good Cambridge degree that got my foot in the door with my first employer, the Benetton Formula 1 Team. Over twenty years on I still work in Formula 1 and I'm still grateful that I lucked into choosing Cambridge as my university.

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