Matt Davidson, Software Architect at Williams Racing
BSc Computer Science. Class of 2005

From Swansea University to Formula One

The Software Architect behind Williams’ Success

From the beaches of Swansea to the high-speed world of Formula 1, Matt Davdison, Williams’ Software Architect and Swansea University alumnus, shares his journey. Discover how his love of Computer Science led him to F1 and how he helps his team gain that vital edge.

What made you choose Swansea University?
The Computer Science course I wanted to do was in the top 5 in the country and I loved the idea of the student village and that the university was next to the beach.

What did you do in your spare time at Swansea University?
Being a computer geek, I obviously played a lot of computer games with my housemates, but we used to love going out to beaches like Three Cliffs Bay. Incredibly I never did any surfing until the summer I finished uni and now must travel for over two hours to go surfing.

Was F1 something you always wanted to work in?
I knew I wanted to do Computer Science, but I didn’t really think about what I was going to use it for. I remember watching F1 as a kid and became a big fan of the sport in my twenties. For my 30th birthday my dad took me the Spanish Grand Prix and after that I realised it might be possible for me to work in F1.

Formula One Williams cars

How did you get a job in F1?
After university I moved home and worked at Oxford University for 8 years. I became a huge F1 fan and when I realised that I had many of the skills they were looking for, and that I lived in the heart of motorsport valley - 7 of the F1 teams were within about an hour of where I lived, I started to apply for jobs when I saw them come up. It took me several attempts but going through the interview processes helped me to see what it takes to get into F1, so I worked on getting my skills up to scratch. On my third attempt I got offered a job as a Software Engineer at Force India in 2014 – I still had a lot to learn but this role ended up being perfect for me and I am very grateful to the team for the opportunities I was given to develop my skills there.

What does your current role entail?
As well as designing and developing software, part of my role as a Software Architect at Williams Racing is to help our software teams align on the way that we build our tools and create an environment where we can grow our skills and work well together. Until recently, I was a Lead Aerodynamics Software Engineer. The Aero Software group works with the Aerodynamics department to simplify and automate many of the processes required for an aerodynamicist to take an idea from a concept to a part which will be tested in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and the Wind Tunnel before being sent to the design office to be built in full size and end up on the cars if it is successful.

How does what you do change throughout the year? For example, when the season starts.
It depends which part of the team you work in. My role at Force India was more track-focused so we would often be given hard deadlines because the car is going racing every weekend. In 2017, I had the Head of Vehicle Dynamics at my house until 1am the night before pre-season testing, finishing a suspension model because they needed it in the software to set up the car the next day - I think his flight was at 7am! In Aero, we develop new concepts all year round, but the focus tends to switch to the next season around halfway through the year and it gets very busy over the winter in the manufacturing and car build departments building the car for the upcoming season. Software teams also use the off-season to work on things that we can’t change easily during a season.

What’s it like at the beginning of the season? Is there a rush to look at other teams’ cars?
Yes, particularly for the designers and the aerodynamicists who will be looking at the differences in the cars and trying to spot how the other teams have solved the problems they’ve had. The rules are the same for every team but although they all look similar from a distance, once you get up close, they really are quite different. In F1 the margins between teams are very tight, milliseconds count for everything, and very small things can make a big difference to lap time.

What sort of software do you build?
A lot of technology is useful for us off the shelf, but much of what an F1 team needs is bespoke. As well as automation of tools used in our design and build processes, we provide APIs to serve data to our engineers, and create software to monitor and analyse the performance of our cars, help us make strategy decisions, setup the race cars and simulate the behaviour of our cars on track and in the simulator.

What is the best part of your job?
Getting to work on something I love and knowing how you and the team you work in have helped to improve the performance of the car and earn the results on track. I also really enjoy helping to build teams and encouraging the next generation of software engineers.