Most people know that Formula 1 is all about aerodynamics. Low drag is what makes the cars go fast on the straights and high downforce is what makes them go fast round corners. What people might not appreciate however is that a Formula 1 car has much more in common with a plane than just its reliance on aerodynamics. If you want to get a job in F1 it might be an advantage to look to the aerospace industry rather than the motor trade.
Planes on the ground
The aerodynamics around a Formula 1 car are extremely complicated, in many way they are even more complicated than those of a passenger airliner or a fighter jet. The interaction with the ground and the numerous other forces acting on a Formula 1 car make it an incredibly complicated aeroplane that just happens to have 4 wheels attached to it.
In one of my previous and most important posts, I talked about Stepping Stones to F1 and how important it is to think about the road to F1 as a slightly longer journey where it is often unrealistic to think that you can get to the final destination in one big step. The motor racing industry is quite unique, and F1 teams will always look to people who have experience in motorsport as they know that these people are most likely to have the right skills and attitude.
Many people have asked me whether I think it is a good idea to get a job in the wider automotive sector, working for a road car manufacturer or consultancy. My normal answer might surprise you as I generally recommend against this route as the F1 and racing community do not respect the experiences that you get in this industry. Road car development can often be high technology but development is slow and the companies are generally very large. It may be car related but it is not very relevant to F1.
The aerospace industry on the other hand is much more closely related to Formula 1. As I said earlier, it is not just a reliance on aerodynamics that makes this so. Formula 1 teams use many aerospace derived materials, analysis techniques and softwares in their design process and the complexity of the cars systems are much more like a fighter jet than a family car. It is very important in the aerospace industry to design lightweight components that are often delicate and require great skill to manufacture and assembly. They are generally very expensive to produce and require regular maintenance, checking and servicing by very skilled technicians. An average road car however is very cost driven, using much cheaper materials that can tolerate being damaged, abused and repaired by cheap corner garages and the owners themselves and yet still continue to function.
If you are looking for relevant experience for Formula 1, the aerospace industry actually has very similar skills to the motorsport arena and there are numerous people throughout F1 that started their careers in aerospace, either civilian or military. The areas of stress analysis, design, assembly, inspection, NDT or non destructive testing and maintenance in Formula 1 all follow what is done in aerospace companies and we are constantly looking that that industry for new ideas and technologies.
This post was inspired just an hour or so ago by my stumbling across a couple of websites who provide information about aerospace and manufacture. The “Take Off In Aerospace” campaign in the UK is a non-profit organisation which is aiming to encourage young people to consider manufacturing and aerospace as a career, and have provided a wealth of relevant information. As I have said above, many of the lessons provided for aerospace will be relevant for F1 and so it is well worth a read through. If you do land a career in aerospace it might well be a great stepping stone to F1 and other motorsports and I would definitely recommend it as a good route to F1.
Best of luck.
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