Stepping Stones to Formula 1

Formula 1 is normally regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport and in many respects it stands head and shoulders above all other racing categories. I know from the phenomenal response to this website that a huge number of people want to work in F1 and they are desperate to find out how they can get a job there. One of the best ways to get job in F1 however is to get a job which isn’t in F1 at all. This post explains exactly what I mean by this and why it is potentially the best piece of advice I can give you.

The problem of popularity

F1 is beamed into our living rooms every few weeks and is covered by at least one major TV channel in most countries around the world. Its popularity as a sport is truly staggering. As the apparent pinnacle of motorsport many hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people would like to be part of Formula 1 and have that dream job that they see on television.

That popularity however causes a big problem for potential F1 people. The competition for jobs is huge and Formula 1 teams are bombarded with lots of poor quality applications or enquiries from people who want to work in F1 just because they like watching it on television. Even if you are a genuinely good prospect for an F1 team it’s very difficult to get noticed amongst all of the poor quality applications that they receive. It becomes very difficult to get a foot on the ladder without motorsport experience.

The good news is that it’s very possible to separate yourself from this majority of others but you might have to look slightly further afield than just the limited Formula 1 grid.

F1 Tunnel Vision

One of the biggest mistake that Formula 1 job seekers make is getting stuck in the mindset of “How do I get a job in F1?”. They believe that it’s all or nothing and they can only see where they are now and where they want to be on the F1 grid. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to change the question that you are asking to “How do I get a job in Motorsport, with an ultimate aim of getting to F1?”. If you do this it can open up your eyes to a far greater number of opportunities and once you do this the path from where you are now should become much clearer.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t get a job in F1 right away. Despite my best efforts I had a very ordinary work experience year within my degree at an automotive consultancy. I graduated with a good degree but still struggled to get any response from F1 teams (I presume this sounds familiar to many people) and so I got ordinary job at an OEM automotive company in the UK. It was well paid but far from the excitement and glamour of F1 and I hated every minute of it. Many of my university course mates had similar F1 ambitions to me but once the pay check started to arrive each month from their steady jobs they soon became comfortable, forgot about their dream and have stuck at their careers in general engineering. I however decided I had to leave and set about on a mission to get into motorsport in whatever capacity I could.

After a few months I spotted a small advert in a engineering magazine for a graduate engineer position for relatively unheard of motorsport design company and decided to apply. This company didn’t have a racing team and I wasn’t going to be working on Formula 1 projects but I had done my homework and knew that it was well regarded in the motorsport industry and would help me gain some valuable experience. From what I understand, not many people applied for it because it was not high profile but I got the job and at last I had a toe (if not a whole foot) on the motorsport ladder. I left a big, well established company to go to a small, risky company but it was the best move I have ever made in my career and even though it was several more years before I first worked in F1, I’ve never looked back. It was a vital stepping stone to Formula 1.

A huge industry

Globally the motorsport industry is enormous. F1 is big business but it is still a relatively small part of the industry as a whole. It is important to realise that motorsport is not just racing and race tracks. When I have spoken before about volunteering and getting experience in racing I have talked about lower formula teams but in terms of a career path for engineer and technician level people, the wider motorsport industry offers a far greater number of opportunities. Motorsport is not just about the people who go to the race track.

Have you ever wondered where racing cars and racing engines come from ? Your average GP2 or F3 team doesn’t manufacture its own racing car, they are generally very small operations that run a car which they have bought in and service between races. Even WRC, Indycar and Le Mans operations buy in their chassis, engines, gearboxes and potentially their suspensions from specialist motorsport companies.

The cars and components themselves are produced by the wider motorsport industry and it employs far more people than the race teams themselves. It is at these types of companies that many F1 people (including me) started out their careers.

A little bit of research

I know quite a lot about the motorsport industry, particularly in the UK but I’m not familiar with every company and exactly what they do and how others in the industry view them. I can’t name every company that might lead you to F1 and I am not going to try. What I aim to do here is just to open your eyes a little bit, to try and pull you back from thinking only about F1 and to show you where the path to F1 might begin. As always, it depends on exactly what it is that you want to achieve in your career but getting your foot on the ladder and being able to show an F1 team or another motorsport company that you have worked in the industry should put you far above the majority of ‘F1 job seekers’. The beauty of this route is that it can get you the relevant work experience that F1 teams are after, but the jobs themselves have much lower levels of applicants or competition and they exist in far greater numbers than jobs which are directly in F1. I’ll say it again but it’s truly a stepping stone to your ultimate career ambition although you’ll probably find it just as fulfilling and rewarding as an F1 career anyway.

As a little bit of a starter, go away and research these companies and see how they fit into the motorsport world and what motorsport series they support and contribute to. You might well have heard of some, others not but this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more like them if you are willing to spend the time looking. Look away from F1 just for a while and see what exists around the outsides as you are far more likely to find an opening if you can get rid of that F1 tunnel vision.

Cosworth
Ilmor
Xtrac
Prodrive
Hewland
Penske
Honda Performance Development
Swift Cooper
Dallara
Lola
Wirth Research

If you want to know other ways of getting closer to that dream F1 job you can also read my post on Breaking down the barriers to F1.

Keep in touch

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, take a look through my list of frequently asked questions or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on the 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. If there is something specific you want to know, add a comment to this post. Just bear in mind that I get a lot of comments on the site now and I can’t guarantee to answer all questions. Please check my frequently asked questions or other people’s comments as your query may have already been answered.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.

F1 jobs : How do I get a job on an F1 pitcrew?

F1 pitstops are one of the exciting and adrenaline filled parts of Formula One racing and many people dream of being part of the crew that changes tyres during the race. This aspect of the team is often misunderstood however so this post aims to explain a little more about a team’s pitcrew.

Practice makes perfect

It now takes less than 3 seconds to change all four wheels and tyres on a modern F1 car. You can’t do a lot in 3 seconds. Blink and you might miss it.

Pitstops are probably the most visually impressive part of grand prix racing and are something that separates F1 teams members from mere mortals. At least that is what many people think…

The truth is that the pit crew are actually a bunch of ordinary guys (or girls, but I’m not aware of any female tyre changers at the moment). Contrary to what many people think, there is no such job as an F1 tyre changer or pit crew, the guys that do it all have normal jobs within the race team and the pitstops are just a small part of what they do in their day to day set of tasks.

The majority of the guys who make up the pitcrew are the car’s mechanics, but the crew may also include truck drivers and engine fitters. The role is essentially open to anyone on the race team who does not have a critical role once the race is underway and shows a talent for it. The only fixed role is that of the chief mechanic will normally be ‘lollipop man’, ie he will oversee each stop from the front and then controls the release of the car after the stop is safely completed. This job is still critical even with the evolution of automatic release and traffic lights.

The remaining crew members are then selected based on their physical attributed, jack men tend to be tall and week built as requires physical strength to lift the car. Wheel gunners themselves tend to be lighter and more agile but it’s hard to convey on TV how violent the pneumatic rattle guns can be, it’s still a very physical part of the job.

Man and machine

The machinery of each team is highly developed to minimise the pitstop time. The wheel, the nuts, the axles, wheel guns and even the brake ducts are all designed to make wheel on and off actions as quick and simple as possible. Regular pitstop practice then allows each team member to perfect his/her movements and make the entire process second nature come race day. It should not require any thought.

Most teams will practice equipment failure, cross threads or ‘man down’ drills (if the driver misses his marks!) as well as routine stops so that everybody knows what to do when there is a problem and the delay to the car is minimised. There is normally a designated ‘pit stop’ car (typically a previous year’s chassis) which is used for practice and can be modified for any development ideas that might need trialling. Video is now commonly used to post analyse each stop and see which areas might need improving. It’s a continuous process.

How do I get on the team?

As I mentioned above, you’ll never see a job advert asking for a pit crew member. You can’t just be a wheel changer on an F1 team. To get involved you’ll need to be already on the race team as a mechanic or a truckie as your normal day job and then you’ll get the chance to be involved. This is where many people get confused. You have to take the rough with the smooth.

It’s not a job for the faint hearted either! Whilst the banning of refuelling has drastically reduced the chances of a pitlane inferno pitcrew members are taking great risks in their jobs. I don’t think any of us would want to be involved in something like this which occured during a pitstop in 1994 with the Benetton team. Remind yourself that these are real people with families on ordinary salaries.

Pitlane speed limits are still up there with motorway travel and it takes a brave man to walk out and stand in front of a car braking from over 60mph. One thing is for sure though, anyone who has ever served as a F1 pit crew member will never forget it and the immense adrenaline buzz it must bring.

Keep in touch

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, take a look through my list of frequently asked questions or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on the 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. If there is something specific you want to know, add a comment to this post and I’ll make sure that I get back to you with an answer.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.

F1 jobs : How to become an F1 driver

My blog is mainly about how to get a job in Formula 1 as an engineer or mechanic but many people have already asked me how they might go about becoming a driver in F1. This is a short post on the subject with my advice.

Think carefully before you start

Formula 1 is incredibly competitive. It is also incredibly expensive. Being successful in any professional sport requires the highest levels of dedication and commitment but in Formula 1 it also requires enormous financial backing. You cannot just become an F1 driver overnight, instead you must work your way up the ‘racing ladder’ competing in lower formulae and learning your racing craft. Whilst Formula 1 enjoys huge global television and print media coverage, lower formula racing only gains very slight exposure so drivers normally have to self fund their early racing careers themselves. If you truly wish to be an F1 driver you must be prepared to spend every penny and dollar that you can lay your hands on and be very good at persuading other people to spend their money on you too… Those that don’t make the big time are often left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt that can burden them for the rest of their lives. Be warned !

Where to begin

To get a taste of competitive driving the cheapest and most accessible route is often karting.

Most of the current crop of F1 drivers started in karting including Lewis Hamilton. Take a look at some of this brilliant footage of Lewis in his early racing career in karting.

As you can probably see, proper karting is already a very serious form of motorsport and not for the faint hearted. If you can’t keep up in karting then you probably should go and get a normal job and save yourself a whole load of money !

Another possible starting point is to join a racing school, such as that at Silverstone. Here you can learn the necessary race craft and circuit skills you need to get your first circuit racing licence and start your career.

The racing ladder

As your career progresses you will move up each season into higher catergories of racing and into faster and more powerful cars. There are a number of different routes to Formula 1 and far too many to explain here but a typical junior career might go something like this :

How many years you spend in each category depends on how successful you are but as an illustration the follow infographic shows the junior racing ladder of the current crop of F1 drivers.

F1 driver - path to F1

F1 driver – path to F1

Most countries of the world will have a motoring organisation which is affiliated to the FIA. You can find a comprehensive list here :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_FIA_member_organisations

Contact them to find out about race tracks and racing series in your own country.

A final piece of advice

If you really want to reach F1 and be a world champion then go for it. Please do not however underestimate how difficult a journey it will be. It would be interesting to know how many people worldwide embark on a racing career but I would estimate at any one time that it must run into the hundreds of thousands. Children as young as 6 years old can now compete in karting in the UK, and many successful champions of the past were drivers even younger than that. The great Ayrton Senna began his career age 4. If you are already in your 20’s and have not yet started on that racing ladder then it is probably already too late.

Go ahead and prove me wrong but a great deal more people fail at being a racing driver than ever succeed…

Keep in touch

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, take a look through my list of frequently asked questions or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on the 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. If there is something specific you want to know, add a comment to this post and I’ll make sure that I get back to you with an answer.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.