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
- Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication
- Don’t believe the hype
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.
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.
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.