Big Fish and little ponds

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a racing driver. Not just that, I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver and I was going to race for Ferrari…

raikkonnen ferrari
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I might not quite have made the racing driver bit but I have worked for some of the greatest names in motorsport in my career, a fact that has given me a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction.

Don’t narrow your goals too much

The central theme of this website has been the question “How can I get a job in F1?”. Whilst that is still the most common query I get, I also hear many people saying “How can I get a job at Red Bull?” or “What do I need to do to get a job at Mclaren?”. I just have a word of warning about being too specific.

Whilst it is fine to have personal favourites, if you are serious about working in F1 then you need to keep your options open. Red Bull might be the most successful team of recent years but will it still be in 3 more years? If you were offered a job at Marussia F1 would you not take it? There are pro’s and con’s to working at front running teams vs working at the less successful end of the grid.

Are the “best” teams actually the BEST teams?

Who doesn’t like winning? I’m a hugely competitive person and love to win in whatever I do. When you work in Formula 1 however there are a lot more factors to consider as to whether or not you enjoy your job and you get the most out of your career than whether you work in the “best” team or not. This is especially important when you are just starting out. There will be plenty of time for winning later, and the most important thing now is getting your first job and establishing yourself as a Formula 1 person.

Take a team like Mclaren for example. They might have around 600 employees and may take on graduates and apprentices in a number of different areas of their business each year. Each department however only looks after a very small part of the racing car and you are not likely to get involved in other areas as they have specialist people in each division. Each employee gets a win bonus and takes pride in the team’s undoubted success.

marussiaf1
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Marussia on the other hand might only have 150 employees. They only take on new people as and when they need them but with so much to do a new employee is likely to be given much greater responsibility and therefore end up making a much larger contribution to the car and team. Success for them is much more modest but even a single point scored over a season could be as satisfying as a championship would be to McLaren.

The advantages of being a big fish in a little pond
Although most people would naturally aim to work at one of the teams at the front of the grid my advice is to seriously consider concentrating your efforts further down the grid, at least at first. Why? Well there are several reasons.

There is less competition. For every 20 people who apply for a job at McLaren, only a handful will apply to work at Marussia. You would be amazed how much teams further back on the grid struggle to recruit quality people. They still get a lot of applications of course but as people trip over themselves trying to get a coveted place at Red Bull you could really stand out if you make a good application to Marussia or Caterham. Once you have a job in F1 you have made it into an exclusive club and getting your second job is an awful lot easier.

Secondly, you might learn more. As I mentioned above the small teams need 1 person to cover several jobs and may even move people about to cover skills shortages during different busy times. When you are in the business of learning this is the best way as you get put in at the deep end. You’ll come out of that as a better engineer. The downside is that there may not be as many experienced people in your group to learn from but this is an inevitable flipside.

Thirdly, you can further your career much more easily by being a big fish in a small pond. Many of today’s technical directors have reached the places they are today by working their way to seniority in a small team, learning as they go and then spring boarding across to a top job in a front running team. Working your way up through the large teams from the very bottom is extremely difficult these days.

Adrian Newey made a name for himself working at the very underfunded March / Leyton House team in the early 90’s with a car that often failed to qualify but within 2 years he was chief designer at the all conquering Williams-Renault team and has never looked back. James Key, Sam Michael, Mark Smith, Mike Gascoyne and others cut their teeth at what is now the Force India team(previously Jordan), I could go on but even if you don’t want to be a technical director or chief designer, the same principle applies and you can build the broad foundations of your knowledge and your career away from the bright lights in a more flexible environment.

Be prepared for frustration
Inevitably there are downsides to working at the smaller and less well funded teams. The primary risk is that these teams are less financially stable and their very existence is not guaranteed for more than the next 12 months. This risk lessens as you move further into the midfield but its a fact of life in motor racing and no team is immune from external market forces.

The void between the big teams and the small teams is often most in evidence when looking at their factories and facilities. The McLaren Technical Centre in Woking is probably the most modern and impressive facility in world motorsport and is designed by a famous firm of architect. Many other teams bases are located in dull looking industrial estates alongside haulage firms or supermarkets, hardly the glamour you might expect.

Salaries at the smaller teams may also be short of what the larger teams are offering but if you can make progress in your career more quickly by following that route then you should soon be on a par or moving beyond your more static colleagues. As with all things in Formula 1, it is what you make of the opportunities that you get that counts.

Further reading

Please take a look elsewhere on this site for other help and guidance on what you need to do to work in F1. The FAQ section should soon be up and running and should be the first port of call to answer many commonly asked questions.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 or on Facebook.

Best of luck and see you on the grid someday.

What degree do I need to get into F1?

One of the prime reasons that I started this website was because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked “How do I get a job in F1?”

I wanted this website to be an answer to the question and many more of the common questions that people have about working in F1.

What degree do I need to work in F1?

This post is going to concentrate on the question of degree qualifications and suggest which types of courses are best for those wishing to get a job in F1. Firstly, you DON’T need a degree to work in F1. Motorsport has a huge number of different roles within the industry and the majority of people who work in F1 don’t have degrees. Read my earlier post here as some background as to why.

For those wishing to be designers, aerodynamicists or engineers, a degree will almost certainly be required as academic qualifications count for a lot in this type of job. This is an unavoidable fact.

Mechanical Engineering

The good news is that you don’t need a specialist degree to work in F1. The vast majority of engineers and designers will have solid degrees in quite standard subjects like Mechanical or Aeronautical Engineering. A good grade in a traditional engineering subject from a reputable university is exactly the background that teams are looking for. A candidate who can mix this academic background with practical experience and demonstrate that they have used their initiative to learn about racing has the ideal background for F1. Easier said than done of course, but this is what you should be aiming for.

What about specialist Motorsport degrees and courses?

An increasing number of institutions are offering motorsport specific degrees as an alternative to the traditional general engineering courses. Should you take one of these instead?

A difficult question but in general I would advise some caution. There are a number of very good courses of this type on offer but they are nestled amongst several gimmick type courses which neglect the fundamentals of engineering which are so important. A good engineer with a solid fundamental understanding can apply him or herself to just about any technical issue in Formula 1 with just a small amount of learning time. A candidate who has learnt from a specialist course at the expense of the fundamentals may struggle if the subject or problem strays too far from their course matter. The latter type of candidate is of much less use in F1 than the former.

I would say you should research your course and your institution fully before making a decision. Where have previous graduates gone after leaving? Is the course new or does it have a long history? Does it have strong industrial links? The course entry requirements may give you the best clue, if they are lower than other courses you should be suspicious!

A degree of specialism does however have advantages. Many degree courses are long and an element of applied motorsport project work or modules may keep you motivated towards your target and help maintain the link between what you study and what you hope to do. Many people lose sight after 3 or more years of exams.

It can also make your CV stand out from the crowd but many teams are skeptical unless they recognise the university name which has run the course. It’s a fine balance.

I hope to list Motorsport courses which I recommend elsewhere on this site or in a future post.

Aerodynamics

A big exception to the above is for those wishing to be aerodynamicists. Aeronautics is a relatively new discipline and not every university will offer a course as it requires specialist staff and equipment to teach the practical elements. If you do want to be an aerodynamicist however I would recommend that you study an aeronautical engineering degree if at all possible. Mechanical engineers can ‘convert’, particularly if they are very bright but the subjects are diverse enough that in this case the specialists will have an advantage.

There are a number of post graduate courses in aeronautical engineering for those who wish to keep their options open in their first degree but it will mean extra study and time before you can start work and earning a living.

Further reading

Please take a look elsewhere on this site for other help and guidance on what you need to do to work in F1. The FAQ section should soon be up and running and be the first port of call to answer many commonly asked questions.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 or on Facebook.

Best of luck and see you on the grid someday.

Your F1 Grand Prix Needs You!!

No sooner had I mentioned volunteering then a potentially great opportunity came up from Silverstone Circuits.

They are looking for volunteers, or race-makers as they are calling them in an effort to copy the games-maker label which was so successful at the 2012 London Olympics. The positions are available for their 2 main events, the F1 Grand Prix and the MotoGP motorbike race.

Not sure that there will be any positions going on the pit crew for the F1 teams but it’d be a good (and cheap) way of gaining good behind the scenes access to the premier events of British Motor racing. It would look good on any potential employees CV too in my opinion.

Click here for details

Volunteering in Motorsport

In my previous post I talked about the Formula 1 mindset and how critical it was to demonstrate to potential employers in Formula 1 that you have the right attitude and work ethic to make it in motor racing. Formula 1 teams want the smartest and the best qualified people that they can get but if those people can’t be relied upon then they won’t make it in F1. Finding people who are well qualified AND who can demonstrate that they have the right attitude are quite rare and are prime targets for F1 teams looking to take on new people. You can be one of these people if you get the right experience.

How can I get experience in motorsport?
In the UK especially, and in many countries of the world there is some kind of motorsport going on somewhere almost every weekend. The Formula 1 circus might only come to town once a year but the crowds and the security that surround it make it the worst place to start if you want to get involved in motorsport.

The money and facilities that Formula 1 enjoys come to an abrupt halt the moment you walk outside of the grand prix paddock and the remaining 99% of racing relies on volunteers and enthusiasts to make it happen. This is fantastic news for anyone looking to get experience in motorsport because if you present yourself well then many team owners or weekend enthusiasts will be more than happy to have an extra pair of hands. The so called ‘weekend warrior’ is the mainstay of amateur motor racing without whom most of the races would not take place.

motorsport volunteering
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The best way of cutting your teeth in racing is to compete yourself but that is understandably expensive and prohibitive for the vast majority. If you can’t do that you need to get down to your local club or circuit and just take a look around and see what appeals to you. In the UK (apologies to those from overseas but this blog will necessarily be centred on the UK as it is where most of my knowledge of racing is based) the RACMSA or Motor Sports Association have a list of clubs and venues covering everything from touring cars, karting, rallying to drag racing. The wide array of cars and events that are run is pretty impressive and something is sure to take your fancy.

One step at a time
If you are serious about starting out in motorsport then don’t aim too high! As I mentioned earlier, the F1 Grand Prix is the worst place to look for volunteer places as its high security and full of professional teams. High profile national races such as the BTCC are also going to be a difficult starting point unless you have an established background in racing.

The MSA Yearbook or Bluebook as it is commonly referred to has details of every club, championship and regulation governing UK motorsport, all in handy .PDF format. From here you should be able to find circuits local to you and find a meeting or race event that interests you. Its incredible what kind of machinery you find at very low key race meetings in the UK and the proud owners of these cars are typically bursting to tell you about them rather than shroud them away in secrecy. Most of these club meetings are very cheap and paddock access is normally part of the entry so it shouldn’t cost the earth.

historic mclarens
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If you are looking for an even more grassroots part of the sport to get involved with then karting is probably the best option to you. Here you will find many of the budding Lewis Hamiltons and Jenson Buttons desperate to start their racing careers. Whilst many karters spend enormous budgets on their racing, a spare pair of hands is always welcome and you are bound to find someone who is happy for you to help, even if it is just for a push-start. Racing karts are relatively simple machines but much higher technology than the indoor types you may have driven yourself. The attention to detail required in a race kart’s preparation is very similar to that required for a single seater car and someone with solid background in working with karts is likely to be of greater use to a race team than a complete novice.

If you can’t afford the ticket prices you can even marshall at many events as a volunteer and get full access to the paddock and circuit facilities. Many marshalls have been around in racing for years and might know someone who needs a little help or might be able to point you in the right direction. The MSA have a separate site to encourage people to do exactly that at Volunteers in Motorsport.

The secret is to get out, have a look and to talk to people. You’ll be surprised how many of these people have either worked in racing or actually work for current F1 teams and run their own cars at the weekends. When you hear tales of people ‘knowing people on the inside’ then this is often how its done and if you aren’t there getting involved then you won’t be making those contacts ! The opportunities are out there, it’s up to you to make a start.

Feel free to comment on or ask questions about what I’ve talked about here either on this blog or via my Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and maybe see you on the grid someday.