How to get a job as an F1 race engineer

My Work in Motorsport blog is a collection of tips and advice for people who want to get a job in Formula 1 or other motorsports.  I have worked in motor racing for almost my whole career and want to help other people onto the ladder.

In this post I talk about one of the most popular and envied jobs in motorsport, the race engineer.

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Photo Credit: Mark Gilmour via Compfight cc

A race engineer is effectively the racing driver’s right hand man, the person he relies upon to setup the car and give him the information he needs to perform at his best. Television coverage of Formula 1 in recent years has begun to broadcast the pit to car radio transmissions and the voice of the race engineer can often be heard passing information to the drivers, answering their questions or telling them to hurry up.

The race engineer has a very involved role at race weekends as he will organise how the car is run, what the setup is, how much fuel is put, what tyres are put on and what tests are carried out.  Much of this will have been pre-planned during the pre-briefings with the driver, and before than during preparation at the factory.  In fact the race engineer’s preparation for the race weekend will begin immediately following the previous race or test.

After each race the engineer and driver will sit down and go through a debrief where the performance of the car are discussed corner by corner and stage by stage during the race.  This feedback is critical for the rest of the design and vehicle dynamics team back at base as it allows them to go away and try to come up with solutions to the car’s handling or reliability.  Likewise, when at the factory the design team will brief the race engineer on new development or changes to the car specification which he will then incorporate into his run plan and pass onto the driver.  The race engineer is the primary link between his driver and the rest of the team and therefore must be a very organised and effective communicator.

The engineer will probably carry out lap simulations to optimise gear ratios and wing levels, generating data on the effect on lap time of more or less downforce and the effect on top speed and fuel consumption.  He may also oversee a simulator session with the race driver, going through possible setups and predicting the benefit of aerodynamic changes.  The race engineer must understand all aspects of the systems on the car in order to make the most of the performance they have to offer.  They do not need to understand the very fine detail of the theoretical aerodynamics or design but must understand how to get the best from it and what it can do for them and the driver.

With all of this preparation in hand, the engineers typically travel to the circuit on the Wednesday prior to the race weekend where they will oversee the final build of the car and meet up with the rest of the mechanics and race team.  A track walk has now become a critical part of the weekend and an ideal opportunity to discuss the circuit corner by corner with the driver.  The engineer will often photograph the kerbs and tarmac quality and compare to notes from last year and anticipate any effect of alterations to the layout on laptime and setup.

The practice sessions are planned in minute detail, each run being a precise number of laps and having a distinct purpose.  Even the out and in laps are utilised fully with practice starts, constant speed aeropasses and engine mixture sweeps being carried out as the car comes round to start its first timed lap.  The opening practice session is effectively an information gathering exercise on engine, brake and gearbox temperatures, tyre life and performance and verifying the choices that he made during the preparation in the factory.  This information then goes forward to prepare for the second practice session, then again to the third before the final choices are made for qualifying and the race.

The huge amount of data generated by the car’s telemetry means that each race engineer now has a dedicated data engineer to analyse and summarise the car’s important parameters for him.  This role is considered an apprenticeship for the race engineer as it allows him to understand the car’s detailed behaviour whilst observing the senior engineer and how he operates.  Formula 1 race engineers are generally either vehicle dynamicists from within the team or engineers who have extensive experience in lower formulas.  It is certainly not a job that you can jump straight into but it is perfectly possible for someone with only 3-4 years of work experience in Formula 1 to become a race engineer.  The very close personal relationship between driver and race engineer means that engineers often change teams at the same time as the drivers as they form part of their trusted inner circle and can command very lucrative salary deals as a result.

In terms of pressure the race engineers job is very, very demanding but is about as close as you can get to the driver’s seat without actually wearing the crash helmet yourself.  They are typically very competitive individuals who live and breathe racing and put in very long hours at the race track and at the factory.  The race engineer is often the public face of the team as they appear on television alongside the driver during practice and racing.  Many engineers are now well known names and faces amongst the regular fans and some are even known to have their own publicists !

If you want to experience the glamour and excitement of racing close up then race engineer is the ultimate position.  The typical route is likely to be a vehicle dynamics position within the team then graduating to data engineer and ultimately to race engineer.  The alternative is to get first hand experience of race engineering in lower formulas, which is surprisingly easy to get.  Most junior race teams are in desperate need of extra pairs of hands and if you are quick to learn then you can offer your services as a data analyst and quickly build up experience of setup techniques and mechanical changes.  The range of adjustments available in the lower formulas is in fact very similar to those in Formula 1 and so expertise is readily transferable should you get the opportunity to move up.  I know of several people who volunteered to ‘make the tea’ at sportscar teams one year and found themselves race engineering at the Le Mans 24hrs race the following season.  There is no substitute for jumping in at the deep and getting involved so don’t be disheartened.  Something that can seem a very long way away today may come around very quickly with just a few steps in the right direction.

Keep coming back to this blog as I get into more detail about how to make inital approaches to F1 teams and how to build up relationships and contacts that will get you that first crucial job in motorsport.  The racing industry, like any other, works on trust and knowing which courses, qualifications and experiences junior jobs are likely to gain the respect of team members is critical to making that first breakthrough.  I hope to go through all of the available routes and options open to you in order to make yourself a credible prospect for a job in motorsport.  Its easier than you think when you know how.

Good luck and keep an eye out for all of the new season’s cars coming out over the next few days.  You could be designing or building part of those same cars in the very near future so please let me know what you want to know or give me some feedback by commenting and following my blog.

Engineer Silly Season

Not really a full post but actually just a link to a news story which I think demonstrates the importance that teams attach to good personnel. This kind of things goes on all the time at lower levels but the higher level engineers such as technical director and chief engineers now make the motorsport news when they change jobs! It’s a clear indication of just how critical the job of finding the right employees is.

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/105274?ffsource=mostpopular

Anyway, it makes for interesting reading. Enjoy the weekend.

The job role of the Formula 1 designer

My Work in Motorsport blog is a collection of tips and advice for people who want to get a job in Formula 1 or other motorsports.  I have worked in motor racing for almost my whole career and want to help other people onto the ladder.

In this post I try to describe what a typical Formula 1 design engineer’s job role is and important tips on what someone needs to do to become an F1 designer.

F1 Grand Prix of Germany - Practice

The Formula 1 team members that you see on television are generally mechanics, race engineers, strategists and team managers.  This small group of individuals make up only a small fraction of the staff of a Formula 1 team.  A modern F1 team’s core business is not actually being a race team at all, they are actually focussed on the design and manufacture of racing cars.  A modern Formula 1 car is made up of completely bespoke parts, designed with only that one car in mind and the design and technology that goes into the cars is the greatest asset and secret of the teams.  The team of design engineers behind the F1 car’s concept and detail design are a highly prized set of experts who are rarely seen at races but form one of, if not the most critical part of the team’s function.

Each team will have its own “Design Office” comprising of somewhere between 25 and 150 designers.  These designers between them will produce the detail drawings of each and every individual component that goes to make up the complete car assembly.  Each part is specified in precise detail, the material it is made from, the manufacturing process and any heat treatment processes, it requires.  The detail drawing will show each dimension and measurement of the parts, and important sizes are toleranced a handful of microns (1/1000th of a millimetre).  Very few parts of a modern Formula 1 car are ‘bought in’ these days, other than nuts and bolts, and so each part of the car must be individually designed and made to order.  This is typically of the order of 10,000 parts for each vehicle – a lot of work !!

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Traditionally this job was done on a drawing board in pencil but now almost exclusively this task is carried out on a computer aided design (CAD) software such as CATIA, ProEngineer or Unigraphics.  Each part is modelled in a 3D environment which can also be used to build up virtual assemblies of mechanisms or even the whole car if the computing power allows.  Many of the advances in aerodynamics in recent years have only been possible because of the ability to package essential mechanical components of the car very tightly together.  The 3D CAD systems make this much easier than using a 2D drawing board and so car designs have become much more advanced since their use was introduced.  Despite this, Adrian Newey, arguably the most successful F1 designer of all time still uses a drawing board in order to visualise his aerodynamic designs and so the old art form still remains.  The CAD system is very capable and complex but it does not make the user a good designer and a fundamental understanding of design and draughting is still essential in this role.  It is however a very creative job and a fantastic reward to see a design that you have dreamt up and worked through to a finished product racing in Formula 1.  There are not many careers where you work is shown on television every 2 weeks !

Most new designers these days are degree educated in mechanical engineering or similar disciplines.  A good grounding in engineering fundamentals allows the designer to make judgements on the size and strength of the components and the suitability of a material for a particular purpose.  There are still many F1 designers who do not have degrees however and these are often some of the most gifted and capable as they may have many years of previous experience in manufacturing or assembly of parts.  Someone who shows a flair for ideas and understanding of mechanisms on the shop floor can still aim to be a designer if they so wish.  Whilst a good education is a valuable asset, many of the skills required to be a successful Formula 1 design engineer cannot be learnt from a lecture or text book and it takes a long time to gain the necessary experience.  Design is essentially an art form.

The best designers are the prize possessions of the teams and senior personnel can command very high salaries indeed, perhaps more than £100,000 per annum in many cases.  Starting salaries are however much, much lower and it is not untypical for graduates or placements to be very poorly paid.  For those who can prove themselves in the design office environment, this will quickly change but competition for those chances is very high and so the teams are not obliged to pay well.  To get a job as a junior design engineer is very difficult and getting the right CV, education or experience is critical to making your application stand out from the masses.  Contrary to what many people believe, it is not necessary to understand the inner workings of a seamless-shift gearbox or to be able to recite the theory behind double diffusers in order to get a job in F1.  Far more important than that is the ability to work hard, to show initiative and to apply logical thought to a problem.  Demonstrating these personal skills will be key to your application and CV and involving yourself in activities where you can develop and practice these skills is critical before you apply to one of the teams.

In future posts I hope to expand more on what kinds of skills F1 team managers and senior engineers are looking for from their applicants and what the do’s and dont’s of a good job application are.  In my next post I will run through the role of the F1 race engineer and what skills this very different job requires.  Feel free to comment or ask questions about anything I have written here or any other job roles you wish to me to describe.  Its a very busy time for us with the new car about to launch but hopefully I will get some spare time to write.  The new season is almost upon us which always one of the best times of the year and some good inspiration to follow those dreams of your F1 career !

Good luck.

How to get a job in a Formula 1 team

My Work in Motorsport blog is a collection of tips and advice for people who want to get a job in Formula 1 or other motorsports.  I have worked in motor racing for almost my whole career and want to help other people onto the ladder.

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For many, the excitement and high tech environment of Formula 1 make it an attractive place to think about making a career.  The money, prestige, travel and competition all combine to make a career in motorsport something to aspire to compared to the idea of mundane office job.  And so it should, a career in F1 or other motorsports is likely to be immensely rewarding, both personally and quite probably financially too.

When people learn that I work in F1, they almost always as me the same two questions :

“What’s it like to work in Formula 1?”

“How can I work for an F1 team?”

The answer to the latter is quite simple – learn what Formula 1 teams need from their employees and then get out and get those necessary skills !  Easy huh ?  Well, easier said that done I agree but in principle this is precisely what you need to do.  Many people I speak to about this subject are frustrated by not knowing which approach they need to take and sadly many give up amidst a cloud of confusing advice.  In fact much of the existing advice I have read on the internet appears to want to put people off by saying such things as “You need to know someone on the inside”, or “You have to have a degree or PhD” and even “You need to work your way up the racing ladder starting in Formula Ford”.  All of the above is nonsense.  That’s not to say a degree or a background in lower formulae wouldn’t help you (of course it would) but to say that any of these things are necessary is inaccurate.

The backgrounds of the people who work in our team ranges from people who have worked their way up from being junior mechanics in the 1970’s to fresh faced apprentices and graduates who would barely know a racing car if it ran them over in the pitlane.  To suggest that there is only one route into a racing team is quite a limiting outlook and is the reason why the arguments given above are so misleading.  The good news is that Formula 1 teams are so big now that they need all manner of different types of individuals with various skills and qualifications.  A degree is only necessary for a handful of roles and not having such a qualification would not stop you going to races, developing prototype mechanisms or contributing to the design of the new car.  An opening or an opportunity is more likely than you might think but you need to understand a little more about how F1 teams work and what roles are required within them in order to capitalise.  I hope that this blog will begin to bring that understanding and to crystallise exactly what job it is in F1 that you want to do.

Over the next few posts I hope to describe in more detail the job roles that I am most commonly asked about, and how that role fits into the rest of the team.  If you follow my blog here then you should learn a little bit about each role as it comes up.  If you already have a specific job or role you are interested in then please add a comment to this post and I will try to give you information specific to that role.

Breaking into motorsport isn’t easy but the key is to persevere and to learn as much as you can about the sport and the industry.  That way if a job opportunity does come up you will be ready to make the most of it and be better prepared than the other candidates.  Use my blog as a information resource or a way to get answers to the questions you always wanted to ask but never knew WHO to ask !

Good luck.

Thousands of people work in F1, there is room for one more !

Adrian Newey and Christian Horner of Red Bull Racing are 2 of the most famous people in Formula 1 at the moment.  Adrian Newey’s cars have won an incredible 9 constructor’s world championships and his fame and success is arguably as great as any of the current crop of F1 drivers.  Christian Horner is a relative newcomer to Formula 1 but has quickly established himself as a formidable team principle.

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These 2 are at the pinnacle of their professions but they are only the figureheads for a large number of unseen team members that work tirelessly behind the scene.  Employee numbers are a closely guarded secret but it would be safe to estimate that majority of front running and midfield teams are likely to have in excess of 500 employees each.  That’s roughly 6000 jobs in the racing teams alone.  The larger teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull have many more than that in their subsiduary companies (Red Bull Technology, McLaren Applied Technologies etc), and that does not even begin to count those people working on the engine programs.  As we work towards a major change in the engine regulations, there is a huge recruitment drive in this area.

In short, the industry behind Formula 1 racing is huge and many thousands of people make their livings from it.  When you widen the circle to other racing series and the service and supplier networks that surround the teams themselves then it is estimated that over 50,000 people are employed in motorsport related jobs in the UK alone.

For someone wanting to get into motorsport or work in Formula 1 that should be great news !  The more jobs there are, the more opportunities there will be.  In theory you are much more likely to have a career in Formula 1 today than you were 20 or 30 years ago.  Having said that, the global popularity of Grand Prix racing means that many more people want to follow in Adrian Newey or Christian Horner’s footsteps and so competition is higher than ever.

The right attitude, focus, experience and qualifications and a little insider help (thats where I come in!) will help lift you above 99% of the competition and make you the person that the teams want to join them.  Fantastic opportunities exist for school leavers, graduates, career changers or anyone else who wishes to earn a living working in one of the most exciting global sports in the world today.  This blog will hopefully help guide you towards that goal and see you working alongside the likes of Adrian Newey and Christian Horner sooner than you think.