UT alumnus Sebastiaan ten Pas is living his Formula 1 dream at Aston Martin

| Stan Waning

Alumnus Sebastiaan ten Pas, who studied Mechanical Engineering at the UT from 2009 to 2016, has been working for Aston Martin's Formula 1 team for a number of years. His office overlooks the legendary Silverstone circuit.

Photo by: jsmithphotography
Summer 2009, Hengelo (Gld.).

Ten Pas' journey begins like so many stories of beginning students. The Achterhoeker – good at mathematics and physics – is nearing completion of secondary school. But what does he want to do next? 'I had no idea. Programming was my big hobby, but I didn't want to link it to a study. After all, I already knew how to program, I thought, naïve as I was.' When he hears that a degree in Mechanical Engineering means a guarantee of a job, the choice is made. He exchanges Hengelo Gelderland for Enschede.

Winter 2024, Silverstone, County Northamptonshire.

Racing enthusiasts who have already visited the British Grand Prix know the route to the famous Silverstone circuit. If you follow the sloping road to the circuit from civil parish Towcester and take the Dadford Road exit, you will find the home of Lewis Hamilton – known for the Magotts and Becketts, Chapel and Copse corners – on the left. For decades now the home ground of the British Grand Prix, in the Second World War still training ground for bombers of the Royal Air Force.

'If I didn't have my current job, I would be a fan of Max Verstappen' - Sebastiaan ten Pas

On the other side of the circuit is the brand new Technology Campus of F1 team Aston Martin. The logo of the iconic luxury car brand watches above the impressive glass entrance. For Ten Pas, who has been working as a CFD Software Developer for the team since 2019, the campus now feels like home base. He likes to talk about his work in the building, but that is not easy in the run-up to the 2024/2025 season.

Taping off phone

The workshop underneath the endless strip of office space is forbidden territory to external parties. In fact, this rule is observed so strictly that guests have to tape the camera on their phone, just to be on the safe side. With a nice Aston Martin sticker. 'We are now working on the new car for next season. Then it is of the utmost importance that we keep everything that happens here in this building', Ten Pas now knows better than anyone.

The alumnus says in a meeting room – a few rooms next to the office of Lawrence Stroll, billionaire and executive chairman of Aston Martin – that in the early years of his studies, he already dreamed of a job in the world of Formula 1. 'Not as an ultimate goal or as a requirement for myself, but rather something that seemed really cool to me. While football has always been my great passion.' And rightly so, because Ten Pas even did an internship at De Graafschap. 'I did follow Formula 1 on television. Those were the years of Jos Verstappen. I watched it with my father, whose name is also Jos. Now I look at F1 very differently. If I didn't have my current job, I would be a fan of Max Verstappen, but now my focus is on our drivers. A disappointing result makes me grumpy.'

Autumn 2009, Dahliastraat, Enschede-Oost

Initially, Ten Pas' time as a student was not a great success. In no time at all, he suffers a considerable delay in his studies, because he thinks he can complete his course with the same attitude as at Ulenhof College. Together with three former classmates, he lives in a house on the Dahliastraat in Enschede. He is a member of student association Taste, but he is not very active outside of his studies. 'I didn't feel the need that way. I often traveled home on weekends and mostly hung out with friends I already knew. Living in Enschede was good. We had a kebab shop as a neighbor, ideal in those days. Also nice: during the student for a day at the UT, I won a Nespresso machine with free cups for a year. Came in handy in our house.'

Computational Fluid Dynamics

As the study progresses, Ten Pas flips the switch. He makes up for his delays, enjoys the project-based education and sees opportunities. 'I've never been a typical mechanical engineer. The technical aspect has always appealed to me more than the actual building. That's why I chose the course Computational Fluid Dynamics in my master's. The profession that is central to my current position.'

'I wanted to get on my bike to shoot carbide, but decided to react quickly' - Sebastiaan ten Pas

With a degree in Mechanical Engineering in his pocket, Ten Pas decides to pursue his dream. He is applying for a position with the Mercedes F1 team. He is flown in at the brand's expense, but due to a lack of experience, the choice does not fall on him. Not much later, a similar episode follows at McLaren. 'That's when I started working at Patchman in Enschede as a Software Engineer.'

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Exactly at the moment that Ten Pas is allowed to take a step up in that company, he decides to make one last attempt to pursue his dream. 'I suddenly came across a vacancy at Aston Martin on 31 December. I wanted to get on my bike to shoot carbide, but decided to react quickly. I had more baggage than I had three years earlier and felt that this was the moment. An offer followed two weeks later.'

The move to England is not only a relief for Ten Pas. 'I suddenly thought: shit, I'm really going abroad. I had underestimated that. Still, I didn't hesitate for a second. On the initial first day of Brexit - thank goodness that was postponed - I drove to England in a van. So I was suddenly a resident of the United Kingdom.' 

‘Most boring place in the world’

Ten Pas settles in Milton Keynes. The Almere of England, once rebranded as 'the most boring place in the world' by F1 driver Yuki Tsunoda. 'I've been living in Towcester for a while now with my Czech girlfriend and the little one, who was born last year. Life is good here, although some things are less arranged than in the Netherlands. I didn't expect it beforehand, but service – such as health care, maintenance of houses and roads, or waiting times – is generally not so good and fast here.'

'F1 is a business where everything is super-fast, tomorrow everything can be different' - Sebastiaan ten Pas

For Ten Pas, his job doesn't feel as special as it did in his early days. At the time, those around him were also very enthusiastic. 'It went all over the village. My sister, she had a colleague, a brother of her, she had a boyfriend and he wanted to know everything about me. Friends of friends of my parents had heard all kinds of things about me. I also realize that my job is special, you know. There are ten teams, all of which employ around 750 people. That's not much on a relative scale.'

Ten Pas notices often enough that his job is not an everyday job. When he sits down to lunch next to drivers Lance Stroll or former world champion Fernando Alonso. When top engineer Mike Krack is watching on his screen, or when Lawrence Stroll (father of racing driver Lance, ed.) arrives on campus by helicopter. 'F1 is a business where everything is super-fast, tomorrow everything can be different. You never get used to that and it makes this world beautiful. The financial power is also enormous. Take this campus as an example. Building this would not be possible anywhere else, at least not this fast.'

Ten Pas' main task within the Aston Martin team as a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Software Engineer is to create visualisations. 'We have a car and we want to get it as soon as possible. We do this by changing the geometry, so by making a part slightly different here or there.' Such ideas need to be tested first. The best test option is on the track, but that's the most expensive and there's not much time for that. 'So we're testing a scale model in the wind tunnel and doing computer simulations. These simulations all generate figures and images. It's up to me to understand them and interpret them in visualizations. In graphs and tables, but also in 3D images of air flows along the car.'

Ten Pas' work continues throughout the year and does not necessarily depend on the race calendar, although his schedule is occasionally turned upside down when an adjustment is requested after a race. 'I can have an idea today, work on it, but tomorrow I can do something completely different. That's quite unusual for the software world, but it's what I like about my job.'

Video of Vettel

In the meeting room, where staff in British racing green polos are constantly walking by, Ten Pas shows a short video to emphasize that Formula 1 is not an individual, but a team sport. 'Hey there, just two Sebs here. I want to wish you a happy birthday. Dear Seb!' On screen, Ten Pas is flanked by former world champion Sebastian Vettel, driver for Aston Martin until 2022. 'My girlfriend is a big fan and I asked him if he wanted to record something for her birthday. She loved it.' According to the alumnus, it works the same way when the team wins a prize on Sunday. 'If a driver wins, the cup will be in the reception a few days later, so everyone can have their picture taken with it. We all have a stake in success. That's how it feels.'

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Ten Pas thanks his good basis to his UT years. 'Not necessarily the knowledge I acquired, but mainly the way I worked together. I really enjoyed the project-based education. Mechanical engineering is not only learning how to make a bridge or car, but also developing problem-solving skills. That still helps me on a daily basis.'

Ten Pas is clear about his own future: he hopes to contribute to Aston Martin for a long time to come. 'Lawrence (Stroll, ed.) has a clear vision: he wants to be world champion. Just look around you: he gives us the tools to do so. Soon we will have our own wind tunnel and in 2026 there will be new regulations in the sport that will entail a lot. I still see plenty of challenges here. Friends sometimes joke that they think I should move to Red Bull, but I want to do better with Aston Martin next season than last year.'

'When I made a selfie with Jos Verstappen it came full circle for me' - Sebastiaan ten Pas

Ten Pas notices anyway that there are sometimes misunderstandings about his privileges. He doesn't travel the world with the team, doesn't get tickets for races and is even 'normal' at work during the Silverstone Grand Prix. 'I've been in the paddock a few times, and visited qualifying and free practice sessions through work. I have that advantage. When I started at Aston Martin I already had tickets for the Hungarian GP and I was allowed to enter the paddock with a mate. There I had the feeling that the circle was complete for me, when I took a selfie with Jos Verstappen. The man I watched on television with my dad in my younger years and now I was standing next to him for work. Very special, although he joked that I was wearing the wrong shirt.'

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