From Formula One to UNSW Sunswift to Auto-UX

From Formula One to UNSW Sunswift to Auto-UX

Richard Hopkins is Innovation Advisor at Auto-UX. He is also the Professor of Practice at UNSW Sunswift Racing. But Auto-UX and Sunswift are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his experience in innovation in the automotive space. In this fireside chat with Richard, he talks us through his days from Formula One to UNSW Sunswift to Auto-UX and how he got here.


“It all seems like a long time ago. I guess it was. From a very young age back in England I think I had a level of curiosity that’s possessed by youngsters who go on to be successful engineers. I loved my radio-controlled cars, my Scalextric and my bicycles. I could always do a great job of pulling them apart. Putting them back together was another story.

My one passion when growing up was Formula One motor racing… I became quite fanatical. I went to my first Formula One Grand Prix at the age of 8, the 1980 British GP at Brands Hatch.

From that moment I watched every race on TV, not live back then like it is today, but a Sunday evening highlights show with Murry Walker and James Hunt. I had posters of the cars and drivers on my bedroom wall but not for a moment did I think that I would be anything more than just a top fan of the sport.

My school education didn’t go quite as well as it should have done. Let’s just say that I had a few ‘distractions’ along the way. However, it was while I was at school that led to a once it a lifetime opportunity. Work experience at the age of 15 came my way and with some encouragement from my father I contacted the Brabham Formula One team, the team closest to where I lived just outside London but also the team I supported and featured the most on my bedroom wall.

I spent an incredible week with the Chessington based team who were past their best at the time I joined, they had been world champions only a few years earlier.

I visited Brabham once again after my incredible week to see the people and the new car for the 1987 season. When I walked into reception that day, to my amazement I was invited into Colin Seeley’s office, the Team Manager who out of nowhere promptly offered me a job! Cutting a very long story short I took my last exam at school on the Thursday and started working in Formula One, at the tender age of 16 on the Monday.

That was the start of a career in Formula One spanning 28 years across 4 decades. Formula One, like music, is defined by decades.

Unfortunately, the doors closed on the Brabham team at the end of 1991 but in the 5 years, serving what was fundamentally a F1 apprenticeship proved invaluable with what was to follow.

What followed was 15 years at the McLaren Formula One Team. For the first 8 years as a mechanic travelling the world experiencing the highs and lows of this adrenaline fuelled addiction of mine. At the end of 1999 my enthusiasm caught up with me and what turned out to be a heart condition stopped my travelling with the team but opened a door of opportunity to look at the almost non-existent operational side of the business. At McLaren this let’s say wasn’t fully appreciated but the newly formed Red Bull team got to hear of my slightly avantgarde approach to running a team and brought me in to their Milton Keynes based team towards the end of 2007 to run operations but also to disrupt the status quo of Formula One.

At McLaren back in 1996 (I am the guy on the right)

Eight very successful years followed for a team that before I arrived had two 3rd place trophies in a very small trophy cabinet. During my tenure, we grew the size of the trophy cabinet significantly and won 4 consecutive world championships.

I create efficiencies and cultures that drives high performance and leads (hopefully) to success.

I have been around engineering all my life but am technically not an engineer. Someone once called me a ‘human engineer’. I quite like that. I guess that is why I am now Professor of Practice for the UNSW Sunswift Racing Team, and Innovation Advisor at Auto-UX.” Richard Hopkins.

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