About computer games, Silverstone, gene cloning, and a pub quiz

On the afternoon of July 8, 2018, for the 71st time, the best racing drivers in the world set out to win the British Grand Prix. For the 54th time, this legendary competition took place at the Silverstone Racing Circuit, the birthplace of modern Formula One racing.

About 67 kilometers away from this annual spectacle, I had pitched my camp. It was, however, not the cars that drove me to England, but my educational leave to complete a master's degree in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing & Business Management at the University of Warwick in Coventry. I chose this unusual field of study because I think it is important for business economists to acquire industry-specific expertise and process know-how. A comparable academic course, which combines aspects of science, engineering, and economics, was not offered by any other eligible university. Therefore, my decision to go to Warwick was not difficult. In the end, my passion for British cars may have been a slightly deciding factor too. Coventry – or “Cov”- has always been the heart of the British automotive sector and the city is strongly associated with Jaguar.

Evolution of Silverstone Grand Prix circuit from 1949 onwards

In fact, Jaguar was founded in Blackpool in 1922, but shortly after the young company moved to Coventry, where the first Jaguar was produced. For many years, the city was the center and cradle of the British automobile industry. In the 1980s, however, its slow decay began, and since 2007, only the famous London black cabs have been manufactured here. Jaguar Land Rover, simply called JLR by the locals, is also still headquartered in the city. In addition, JLR has close cooperation with the University of Warwick and is currently building a research center at the university campus. Cost: 150 million pounds (around 168 million euros). With 33,000 m2 the largest automotive Innovation center in Europe is destined to shape the future of

Having been able to visit the original scenes of the early British automobile industry - as far as they were still visible after the heavy bombing during World War II - relatively easily through my repeated visits to Coventry, I spontaneously wanted to walk on the sacred asphalt of Silverstone,  which is situated close to Cov.

Lukas Strohmeier at Warwick University

© Lukas Strohmeier

Although the race track is only an hour's drive from where I lived, without a car and just before the end of a stressful semester, this task seemed hard to realize. In addition, a "general admission ticket" - the cheapest category - costs 230 euros for the Sunday's race. Of course, the tickets for the Grand Prix were sold out anyway. In desperation, I even tried to persuade a fellow Chinese student to do a test drive at Silverstone. But even here the possible dates were already booked out.

On the verge of saying goodbye to the picture of me at the Silverstone Circuit and strolling slightly depressed around the campus, I suddenly noticed a yellow note on the board of my department.

Calling all students, interested parties and especially Formula One fans to attend our annual Formula One Pub Quiz from 7 to 8 pm this Friday. The winning team will get tickets for and transport to the race at Silverstone on Sunday!

A pub quiz?! That was my last chance! The only issue, actually several; on this fateful Friday, we had to end our
corporate game and I also had to hand in the report on my lab course. In addition, I had to somehow put together a team and prepare myself for the quiz. Four more days until the pub quiz or a protocol from my week at university:


My day started with a digital corporate simulation game. How does a game fit in with biotechnology? Most people may not be familiar with the term and may think first of genetic engineering or the pharmaceutical industry - which are undoubtedly exciting parts of the field - but many other segments such as paper production, wastewater treatment or food production are also discussed in the lectures. After a variety of contents were taught theoretically throughout the year, the practical part followed at the end of the academic year: a laboratory course to cover the scientific focus and a corporate simulation game for the business part. In teams of four, we had to found a company and establish it on the world market. It is basically a computer game to train students and managers in matters of corporate strategy. After a rather botched start, and products that were far inferior to those of our competition, my team finally managed to catch up with the market leaders over a period of two game years.

In addition to the surprisingly rapid "recapture" of the virtual world market, I quickly drummed together some of my classmates for the quiz team and eventually began building my knowledge of Formula One at Silverstone late at night.

Due to the unfortunate involvement of a sheep, the first ever race on today's Silverstone circuit is called Mutton Grand Prix. 

© iStock

Today's Grand Prix was actually born out of a "tragedy". In the summer of 1946, Maurice Geoghegan and 11 other local drivers used the abandoned Royal Air Force Base at Silverstone as a racetrack. Maurice collided during this private race with a sheep that had strayed on the runway. Thus, the race did not only demand a destroyed car, but also an uninvolved death toll as a tribute. Over the years, this event became the founding legend of the racetrack and entered the history of racing as the so-called Mutton Grand Prix. Just a year later, the Royal Automobile Club began leasing the airfield, professionalizing the races and shaping Silverstone into one of the world's premier motor racing venues over the decades. The first official race at Silverstone was the Grand Prix of the Royal Automobile Club International - the forerunner of today's F1 Grand Prix - on October 2, 1948.


Wednesday began as Tuesday had ended with my studying the premier class of racing. On May 13, 1950, the Italian Giuseppe Farina won the very first Formula 1 race ever at Silverstone and crowned himself the first World Champion in Formula 1 history at the end of the season. This first official Formula 1 Grand Prix was also attended by the then British King George VI. Still, to this day, it is the only time that a reigning monarch has visited the race. Between 1955 and 1986, the Grand Prix was not held exclusively in Silverstone. Due to an annual rhythm, it changed between Aintree, Brands Hatch, and Silverstone. In 1987, the racing circus in Britain returned to its roots and since then, it is exclusively at Silverstone.
The racetrack is by no means the same as it was in 1950. Since its inception, the track layout has been changed over 10 times, the last time in 2010. Alone 14 people are responsible for mowing the grass each year. In 2009, however, Silverstone almost lost the British Grand Prix when Donington Park near Birmingham signed the first 10-year contract for the race. This deal, however, never went into force.

On May 13, 1950, the Italian Giuseppe Farina won the very first Formula 1 race ever at Silverstone and crowned himself the first World Champion in Formula 1 history at the end of the season.

© iStock

My lab course was in stark contrast to the fast-paced world of Formula 1. It was like entering a completely different world, away from speed and variety, to patience and accuracy. The task sounded highly spectacular at first: cloning a human LDH gene, incorporating it into the DNA of an e.coli strain, increasing the cell culture and recovering the protein in its purest form. That sounds indeed more exciting than it was. Mostly, I pipetted minute amounts, sometimes less than 1 microliter, and performed countless repetitive separation steps (mainly chromatography and centrifugation), controlling countless gel electrophoreses to see if we had worked exactly enough. As a bonus, I had to document all of these steps in a protocol. Although I have learned a lot and we have also completed our experiments successfully, I realized above all that the laboratory work is simply not for me (I already knew that on the morning of the second day). Although I have the greatest respect for the people who do this for a living, this work is just too monotonous and slow for me.


While the lab course and associated report made my heart only beat a little faster, the corporate game had definitely aroused my ambition. After sitting in front of the PC at least until 3 am for a few days and analyzing our sales channels or competitors' products, we finally became the world market leader in all segments. Accordingly, we proudly finished the game and just as pleased I submitted my lab report early. This left enough time to prepare for the quiz.
One of the most memorable races was probably in 1999 when Michael Schumacher had to bury his hopes of winning the World Championship at Silverstone. He crashed into the barrier after a brake failure in the Stowe curve and suffered a double leg break. The local hero David Coulthard won the race and the Finn Mika Häkkinen crowned himself world champion at the end of the season. The home track is generally in favor of the British drivers - 20 victories for the British, followed by Germany and France with only five wins each. Alain Prost and Jim Clark share the record number of British GP wins. Clark’s quintet came over in just six years, while Prost needed a decade. By the way, since 2014 Lewis Hamilton has won four times in a row for Mercedes. Another memorable event took place at the race in 2003. The defrocked priest Cornelius Horan was imprisoned for two months after he ran across the race track at Hangar Straight mid-race. He was brandishing a banner proclaiming “Read the Bible”.


Curious about this day and the performance of Lukas's team at the pub quiz? Then continue reading in the magazine...

Have a look...

Pumps Magazine
  • PUMPS Magazine - Speed Issue PDF : 45.5 MB