What skills make a good F1 engineer?

When you work in Formula 1 you get the privilege of working with and learning from some of the most talented individuals in motor sport. You get to see exactly what skills and personal attributes make a successful F1 employee and I want to share some of those with you in this post.

When I left college and started work I thought I knew pretty much everything about racing and engineering but I couldn’t have been more wrong. My degree taught me some valuable fundamentals but I learnt more about racing and design in those first 12 months of work than I had in four years of university.

One of the best aspects of working in Formula 1 is that you get a grandstand seat to watch and absorb every aspect of how a race team operates behind the scenes. You also get to see which people are the most successful and how they achieve it. The people who really succeed in this business aren’t necessarily the cleverest but they are smart in the way that they approach the job and I think that’s a good lesson for anyone wishing to follow in their footsteps.

The following are 3 key lessons that I’ve learnt from successful engineers in motorsport and these attributes portray the kind of mindset that teams look for in young or new employees :

  • Never assume anything
  • Assumption is the mother of all f@*k ups. A colourful use of language perhaps from an F1 old timer but its also very true. Formula 1 is a complex business and I’ve seen many ideas and designs fail because people assumed they understood rather than think through or test something fully enough. The best F1 people never assume anything and constantly question results either good or bad.

  • Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication
  • Actually a quote from the late Steve Jobs of Apple but equally applicable to F1. Extracting speed from a Formula 1 car is a series of compromises and in order to see what the best compromise is you need to break it down into as simple a problem as you can. The engineers who can reduce a complex problem down are far more effective in F1 than those who don’t. It’s all too easy to get carried away making complicated & expensive mechanisms and go faster bits which don’t actually solve anything. Keeping a clear head and prioritising what is really important is one of the most valuable skills to learn.

  • Don’t believe the hype
  • In a closed community like Formula 1, paddock chatter, media speculation and suspicion lead to great deal of discussion about what other teams might or might not be doing. It’s very easy to assume that other teams know something that you don’t and that somebody has a ‘magic pill’ or setup that means they are a second faster than you. Many engineers become distracted by these thoughts and become demotivated by the lack of a ‘golden egg’ or ‘demon tweak’ on their own car. The truth is success only comes from hard work and understanding, not from a shortcut or a single bolt on widget. The people who have the courage of their own convinction and are prepared to work away at those things are the ones who will make the biggest gains.

As I’ve said several times already, getting a job in Formula 1 is as much about your mindset and the way you think as it is about your qualifications. You can apply for a job with lots of top grades but if your application doesn’t show evidence of practical thinking and initiative then there is nothing to distinguish you from the many other well qualified people around. Ask yourself the question “what is it that teams need and how do I fulfil that need?”. It’s a game, a competition and you need to find out the rules and beat everyone around you.

Keep in touch

My updates to this site have been rather slow of late, for which I apologise. It’s been a particularly busy period recently which hasn’t left much spare time. I hope to get back to it a little more now.

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, check out my FAQ’s or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on my home page to be kept up to date by email. I hope to shortly post a series of job role descriptions, detailing what the day to day duties of a designer, aerodynamicist, data engineer and many other people who make up an F1 team really are.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.

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19 thoughts on “What skills make a good F1 engineer?

  1. Hi
    I am in India and currently into Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering and I do know for a fact that electronics plays a vital role in an F1 car.I was wondering if you could tell me the roles played in an f1 team for a person who is in my field and secondly on which subjects do I concentrate more on

    • Lots of sensors, instrumentation and control electronics in F1. With new engine formula KERS & WERS are set to play a bit role and there are lots of control hardware and software to be designed. I am not an electronics person but as you are obviously aware then most of the car is controlled by electronics but particularly the engines. I would look at jobs at Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari & Honda.

  2. Hi

    I am very interested in becoming an f1 mechanic but I am not sure how to get there. I would just like to know what would be the best ways to become an f1 mechanic on a f1 team?

    • Hi Michael

      To be an F1 mechanic you would need to either complete an apprenticeship with an F1 team or work your way up through lower formulas learning about mechanics and gaining experience of the pressure of racing as you go. Its not easy.

  3. hi, i am from india..amazing articles first of all..great job..as you know there is no scope of anything related to f1 in india, i want to get into this industry,probably as an engineer..in a few months i am going to join a college to study mechanical engineering..i just want to ask what is the scope from me as i am from india, how would it be possible for me to become a part of a team

    • Hi

      Its difficult to come from somewhere like India where the motorsport scene is only beginning to grow. I would say that the best route would be to try and come here to the UK to study a further MSc or something similar and see if that can open some doors for you.

  4. Hello, I am José, I am from Madrid and my dream is to be a F1 Engineer. Next year I am going to university and I don´t Know if I must study Mechanical Engineering or Aerospace. Being a F1 Engineer is easier if you study Aerospace than Mechanical? Thank you very much.

    • Hi José

      You can study either Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering and make it to F1. To be an aerodynamicist you must really study aeronautical or aerospace engineering but if you want to be a suspension designer or engine engineer then mechanical engineering would be more suitable. Only you can decide that difference.

  5. Hi,

    First of all I want to say that the blog is amazing and I really appreciate that you share your experience and thoughts to the people interested in the F1.
    I’d like to ask you for advice about how to approach people those already work in F1. For example I have quite some second connections who already work in the business, however I have no idea how to approach them properly to get a foot in the door, since I don’t really know them personally.
    Also do you think the MSc Motorsport Engineering course at Oxford Brookes University would be a proper step to get closer to the racing business? Since the course cover several subjects (i.e. vehicle dynamics, aero, composites etc.) and not focus on one single thing like aeronautics for example. Some people say, it’s better to specialize as late as possible, but how the HR department will treat your application when they see you’re not specialized?
    Hope you can give some advice.

    Thanks in advance,
    Yuriy

    • Hi Yuriy

      Thanks for the great comments about my blog – I appreciate it.

      Tough one about approaching people but it can help you so you should try and take advantage of it. How do you know them ? It depends on how you know them and what kind of people they are – perhaps your 1st level connection can help you in this. I have been approached by several of my friends and family asking for help for other people. I managed to get 1 person a permanent job in F1 but that person was very good and really did most of it themselves once I made an introduction. I eventually refused to help the other person as I did not think they had what it takes to work in F1 and I didnt want to waste anyone else’s time. It was difficult.

      Oxford Brookes is a good course for sure, see some of my other comments about it around the site. If you want to do something very academic such as aerodynamics or stress analysis I wouldnt recommend it but for general motorsport it can be very good, especially for getting work placements. It would be recognised by HR departments.

      • Hi,

        Thanks for the detailed reply, really appreciate it.

        I know the people through my ex-colleagues from an internship last year and also some from the company where I currently write my thesis. Also have direct emails from some. Would you recommend a certain time to apply? I can imagine some periods might be quite hectic?

        Thanks.
        Yuriy

  6. It can clearly be seen what your impression of the F1 industry changed to after getting in but could you elaborate on what you thought about the industry before you entered? When you say, “When I left college and started work I thought I knew pretty much everything about racing and engineering but I couldn’t have been more wrong”, what did you think F1 racing and engineering would be like? Was it the impression given by the media and the glamour of F1 circus or something more?

    • Hi

      I’ll try and answer your question as follows. My university education was pretty good, I went to a well regarded university and I got a first class honours degree. I also raced as a teenager in karting, raced single seaters for a while and worked for various motorsport companies during my weekends and holidays. I worked hard and thought I was well placed but when I finally got a job in F1 I realised there was so much more to learn. Its a cliche but actually the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. My education was merely a warm up.

      I was incredibly impressed by the knowledge and skills of the people already working there. Their understanding of mechanisms and their ability to invent was incredible to me. This is a skill that my university education taught me nothing about. I had understanding of physics etc, but to create and invent and to draw components was something I knew nothing about. It was a real shock but thrown in at the deep end I learnt a huge amount and now I would like to think I have this skill too, at least enough to hold down my job.

      I would be a bit wary of the media projection of F1. It’s not very accurate on the whole but you can learn things as long as you don’t take everything your hear / read as gospel. Inevitably the real F1 is a bit different but it is very similar to working in another race series, its not really anything special. If you want to know what a career in F1 is like, go and speak to anyone who works in racing anywhere and learn from them. To win in F1 only takes the same skills as it does in any other race series.

      I hope that helps.

      • Thank you very much for your reply. I do realize that one of the qualities to enter (and succeed) in F1 is the ‘will to learn’. Due to the very nature of the sport, one would be learning new things all the time. I am happy to have cultivated that quality.

        Would you agree what you mention in the second paragraph above comes from experience in F1? I too know my theoretical concepts well but unless and until they are applied to the real world, my knowledge would be limited. Studying the basic principles from an Aerodynamics text book and applying them to understand a real race car CFD simulation are worlds apart!

        Best,
        Manu.

  7. Thank you its very usefull…hope that I can make my dream come true of being a staff or crew in F1 industry

  8. Hi. I love this website and have found it very helpful for advice. I am currently in my last year in sixth form and want to do mechanical engineering at Uni. What kind of things can I do in order to try and get on some work experience programme or experience what it’s like at the teams factory? I think this may be vital for me in wanting to work in F1. My dream is to have a job in the paddock one day but I’m not sure what I specifically want to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Omar

      Thanks for your great comments about the blog, I appreciate it.

      Mech Eng is perfect, a good choice. Work experience opportunities vary team to team but many only take school level people from their local areas so it would be lucky if you lived nearby. For Uni work placements, they are not advertised but almost every team does them and they are golden opportunities. Best thing to do is to call the HR departments of each team and just ask them what their policies are and when you can apply. Don’t leave it too late as the competition is intense.

      Get as much ‘motorsport’ on your CV as you can. Go to races. Are there any teams based near you? Pay them a visit, ask if you can have a look around. Small F Ford or GP3 teams might be happy to show you round. Offer to help, you might get some voluntary work!!

      Best of luck.

      • Thanks for the reply. I live in Bradford and don’t know of any teams based near me, do you know of any? Also which universities are looked on as the best for Mech Eng by teams?

      • Hi

        There are a few around there (not F1 teams but lower formula). Most significant is probably Manor’s GP3 team which is based in Dinnington near Sheffield. The original Virgin / Manor F1 team was based there before Marussia bought it and moved to Banbury. You had an F1 team on your doorstep for a few months….

        Any well regarded engineering university would be viewed well by F1 teams. There is no golden rule as it is very much down to the individual person recruiting. Many people give preference to applicants from the university they attended for example.

        One of the biggest factors is probably a universities industrial links. Several teams have agreements with certain universities to supply placements students. Some of these people then get full time work on graduation. It’s a great route in.

        I don’t want to say “Go to this university, it’s the best”. That’s unfair and given that thousands of people read this blog each month then any such university would be overrun. What I will say is do some research. Find high ranking universities for general employment in engineering. None of these will be a bad place to study. All of this data is published.

        Ring up the admissions tutor of institutions you like and ask them how many of their placement students work in F1 or other motorsports. How many graduates do they have in F1? If their past students have been successful, they will be more than happy to tell you about it. If they don’t, make up your own mind about whether you want to go there.

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