Xevi Pujolar, Head of trackside Engineering at Alfa Romeo speaks to Paddock Magazine about his way to Formula 1, his main responsibilities at the team, his future goals, Max Verstappen and running.
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Why did you choose engineering and when did you decide to learn Mechanical Engineering in Girona?
It’s always been clear to me that I want to be an engineer. I made up my mind at the age of six or seven. Initially, I was more interested in motorbikes, which comes from the fact that MotoGP is very popular in Spain. I also like to ride motorcycles myself. My dream was to race my motorcycle, but that dream has never come true because I didn’t have the budget. (Laughs)
During my university years, my interest shifted to cars. I had the chance to work for a go-kart team during my studies and we were fighting for the European and World championships. During this time, I worked together with drivers like Antonio Garcia and Fernando Alonso, who were around 12 years old. I remember that I told my professors and classmates that I want to work in motorsports and that’s what I’m interested in. I was often told that this is not a proper job. Actually, it’s like a hobby for me. This is what I enjoy doing most and I can earn money with it.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? Did anyone in your family have any connection to motorsports?
They all liked cars and motorcycles, but nobody had a link or connection to any Formula 1 teams. My dad, my uncle and my grandpa had the same passion that I have. My cousin used to have a race team, so we share the same passion for racing.
I’m living the dream, but I still want to improve as a person and build my career.
Could you explain to us your journey from karting and junior categories to F1?
It was pretty difficult because 30 years ago there was no internet, no mobile phone, etc. It was not easy to find a contact for a Formula 1 team. For some reason, I was convinced that I could make it to F1. When we won the karting championship, I knew that I’d need someone to help me get closer to Formula 1. I started to work with a Spanish karting team, then I went to a French outfit, and I moved to Paris. I met someone who worked in Formula 3000, and I got to know a person who knew Helmut Marko. I worked for Marko in the lower categories, and he gave me the chance to work in Formula 1. It took me 8 years to reach F1. During these 8 years, I worked for several teams, and had the opportunity to work with professional people. One of my nicest memories is building up a Formula Nissan team from scratch in 1998–99, and we built a very competitive car. Funny enough, Fernando Alonso was our main competitor.
Could you elaborate on your current role at Alfa Romeo? How large is your team?
I oversee the technical side of the race team. I work together with our engineers and mechanics trackside and the engineers who support us from the factory during race weekends. More than 30 engineers are working remotely during the race weekends.
I think we’re quite limited in the number of operations at the racetrack, I have 58 people there. The engineers are specialized in specific areas, like aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and tires. We need to put all the information together to get the most performance out of the car. We also need to help our drivers and work together with them.
Can we say that being the head of trackside engineering is your dream job, or you seeking to make the next step in your career?
I’m always willing to improve and get higher up. What I like about this job is that you learn something new every day. I’m living the dream, but I still want to improve as a person and build my career. When I was a race engineer, I worked together with a few people and now I’m responsible for a large group of people. The team is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s a great challenge to keep extracting the most out of ourselves. For me, that’s the most challenging part of the job and I enjoy it a lot. We’re continuously growing as an organization, and we need to make sure that we’re all travelling in the same direction. You can see that the field is quite tight, and the competition is close. For sure, everyone wants to win. We need to have the right amount of tension to perform well. Hopefully, we’ll be able to win the world championship here at Sauber.
You can’t expect everyone to behave and work in the same way.
You can’t expect everyone to behave and work in the same way.
What’s the leadership style of Xevi Pujolar like?
It requires quite a lot of energy and knowledge. There are people from different cultures and all of them have different characters. You need to adapt your leadership style to different people and try to get the most out of them. You can’t expect everyone to behave and work in the same way because we’re all different, therefore you always need to find the right balance.
You worked with several drivers throughout your career. Is there a driver who stands out?
Yes, it’s Max Verstappen. It was really special to work with Max and it was clear to me that he is world-champion material.
What do you do in your free time? It seems that you like running, running fast…
Running is a really good way for me to compete and set challenges for myself outside of Formula 1. If you look at the number of races we have nowadays, it’s essential to keep yourself fit and running is great for your body and your mind as well. I tend to attend some running competitions as well. I’ve done two races this year and I plan to do another two. When I see someone quicker than me, that makes me train even harder and sometimes my wife thinks I’m crazy. To be honest, I need to have the self-discipline to avoid overtraining. I’m not a good loser. If you lose, you still need to analyse your performance and see how you can improve. All in all, I have a very competitive character and probably that’s why I’m working in this business.
It was really special to work with Max and it was clear to me that he is world-champion material.
What are the essentials one needs to get an engineering role in F1 and have a career path like yours?
You need two things: motivation and commitment. You need to set a target and work hard to achieve it. Actually, it’s pretty similar to running. You set the target how fast you want to run 10 kilometres and you need to create a training plan for that. You need to set the target that you want to work on in Formula 1, and you need to work towards that goal. The only difference is that when you run, it’s all on you but when you’re in Formula 1, there is a team around you and there are several factors which can influence your performance. Things come and go, and sometimes you might find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s important to be patient and the opportunity will be there. I’m here for 21 years, still working at the trackside team, which is especially difficult because there are a limited number of positions available.