5 common myths about working in Formula 1

Working in Formula 1 is hard work but incredibly rewarding. A lot of people think they know what Formula 1 is like but a lot of myths exists about the sport. Here, I try and dispel some common myths that I hear about working in F1.

1) You can’t get a job in F1 unless you know someone at the teams
Nonsense. Networking is part of every industry and people often call upon ex-colleagues, friends or contacts to get references for potential applicants but this only accounts for a very small number of jobs that are taken in Formula 1. For junior or first time jobs this is rarely the case and jobs will go to the most suitable and best qualified applicants.

2) You have to work 7 days a week
You have to work hard in Formula 1 but very few people, if any, work 7 full days a week. The majority of shop floor staff will work a normal 9-5 type day, 5 days a week with overtime being expected during busy production times. Design office staff and engineers are expected to work long hours and some weekends during the winter car design and build period but during the season the demand is much less. The majority will tell you that they would far rather work hard in a job they enjoy than short days in a dull job that they hate.

3) You don’t get paid well in Formula 1
When breaking into Formula 1, many people will volunteer or work for low wages to gain valuable experience. Until you can prove that you are a valuable team member then pay in Formula 1 teams is generally only in line with industry norms. As you gain experience and become more senior you can expect your salary to move well ahead of the average and the pay is actually very, very good. Many top Formula 1 people will earn well above £100,000.

4) You need a degree to work in Formula 1
This is a very common misconception and it is certainly far from the truth. Certain technical jobs in aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics will always require degree qualified candidates but a huge number of other roles at the teams will not, including the majority of race team positions. Read my full post on this subject here.

5) You never get to meet the drivers or see the cars
One of the great things about working Formula 1 compared to normal industry is how close you are to the cars that you work on. Most Formula 1 factories are still very small and you can walk through and see the cars being built and the individual parts being made in the machine shops. Drivers will often visit the factory for meetings or to use the simulator and you will pass them in the corridor and sit with them in the canteen. You will often know who next year’s drivers will be well before the press do if you spot them in the car park…

My “Job in F1” blog aims to offer advice, tips and motivation on how best to go about getting a job in Formula 1. If want to make a career in racing you can look at my list of frequently asked questions, follow me or read through my archived posts. This blog is still a work in progress but if there is something I haven’t yet covered or you have a specific question then feel free to add a comment and I will respond personally. Formula 1 is a fantastic career and is not certainly beyond your reach if you are determined to work for it.

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5 top tips for getting a job in Formula 1

Getting a job in Formula 1 is not easy. There are however a great deal of things you can do to improve your chances of being one of the lucky ones ! Follow my 5 top tips for how best to increase your chances of making a successful career in Formula 1.

1) Research exactly what it is that you want to do
Many people say “I want to work in Formula 1” but there are so many different jobs within the sport. You need to consider your strengths and experience, work out exactly what you want to do and then focus on developing the knowledge and skills that you need to fit that job role. Understanding the different roles within a team will help you narrow your focus into a specific area, keep you motivated towards that goal and hugely increase your chances of landing your dream job.

2) Learn about and immerse yourself in motor racing
Formula 1 is an entertainment business and the side of F1 that you watch on television is very different to the business that runs behind the scenes. To be successful in any business you need first to understand it. If you arrive at interview with a good understanding of what the team needs and the pressures that it is under then you have a much better chance of offering yourself as a solution to that need. Try reading some books on racing such as the The Piranha Club or The Mechanic’s Tale and build up a background of valuable racing knowledge.

3) Look beyond F1 at back door routes into motorsport
It is not impossible for graduates and school leavers to get a job at an F1 team straight after their studies but if this doesn’t work out there are ways in via the back door. Competition for jobs in other race series is much lower but they still offer valuable experience that would greatly interest F1 teams. Alternatively, working at sub-contractors and suppliers can not only gain you experience but also let you build priceless contacts by letting you work directly with the teams and even designing parts of the car. Successful relationships built this way can provide some of the best routes into Formula 1.

4) Get involved and volunteer
Many successful racing people found their passion and a lot of their knowledge of racing by working on lower formula cars and in club racing. The budgets may be lower but a car is a car and many of the problems you will come across at this level are the same as you might find in Formula 1. The adrenaline of competition and the satisfaction you get from being directly involved is likely to harden your resolve and motivate you to reach Formula 1. F1 teams attach great importance to the practical experience and attitude you develop having been directly involved in racing.

5) Never, ever give up
If you get the first job you apply for then you are the exception and not the rule. Be prepared for setbacks but do not be discouraged. I had 2 separate rejections from the first racing company I worked for before I finally landed my first job in motorsport. Once you have a foot in the door then life becomes much easier but you must stick to your ambition when times are more difficult. The successful people in racing are the ones who work hard and will not accept defeat.

My “Job in F1” blog aims to offer advice, tips and motivation on how best to go about getting a job in Formula 1. If want to make a career in racing you can look at my list of frequently asked questions, follow me or read through my archived posts. This blog is still a work in progress but if there is something I haven’t yet covered or you have a specific question then feel free to add a comment and I will respond personally. Formula 1 is a fantastic career and is not certainly beyond your reach if you are determined to work for it.

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
Photo Credit: Tom Kempers via Compfight cc

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
Photo Credit: p_c_w via Compfight cc

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.

A little bit about Work in f1 – my blog

A Quick Introduction :

I only started this blog a few weeks ago. I have been thinking about it for quite a while but only just decided to ‘put pen to paper’. I’ve been encouraged by my own thoughts on the subject and also by other people that I have shared some advice with in person. I might not be very good at it. There might not be many people interested in it. Who knows, but I’m writing about it as I couldn’t find anyone else on the internet who I felt was doing a good job of it already !

Some background

I’m an F1 engineer. I decided I wanted to be a racing driver aged 10. I was ok as a driver, but soon I realised I wasn’t good enough and my racing career was very short… Many people have the same story.

I still wanted to work in racing though as I just loved the sport and the idea of earning a living whilst doing what I loved was too good to be true. I desperately wanted to work in F1 and asked all sorts of people about it, including teachers, friends and my family. Not many of those people knew much about motorsport but they still advised me that I should go and get a sensible job somewhere else and to stop dreaming ! Only 1 or 2 people encouraged me to find out more and to stick with my interests. Luckily I listened to them and not the other people !!!

When I look on line I see quite a lot of discussion about F1 and I also see a lot of people asking about how they can get a job in F1. The industry is quite large now and even though its very competitive, there are thousands of people working in the industry and its perfectly realistic for others to want to do the same.

Many people who comment on the subject seem to know very little. I see all sorts of negative comments about why you shouldn’t, why you can’t and why you won’t. I don’t understand this! I’m not going to suggest that getting a job in F1 is easy, it isn’t, but I want people to make up their minds for themselves about whether it’s the life for them and whether they want to keep on pursuing their dream of working in racing.

My idea

An online resource about what its like to work in F1 (and other motorsport), and the many different types of jobs that racing requires is what I think people need. I also want to share some advice about different routes to get into the sport and what I believe are the best ways of breaking through and getting that all important first job. I would have given an arm and a leg to have that kind of advice was I was aged 10 so hopefully anyone reading this blog will have a better start than I had.

Best of luck and please let me know what you think of this once you have read a few of my posts !

Please note : This is very much a personal blog and whilst I do work for a current F1 team I don’t want to use their name or reputation in any way to enhance what I say. I do not intend to share any technical secrets or give anyone any direct access to my team via this blog as that is not what this is about. I hope that people can understand that as the confidentiality of my team is very important to its competitiveness and I will not compromise that. I hope you can understand my point of view on that but I genuinely believe it will not detract anything from the advice that I can give.

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.

BRAWN_GP

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.