What is the magic Formula for F1?

Since I started this blog in January I have been overwhelmed with amount of comments and questions I’ve received about how to get a job in Formula 1. Answering each of those questions individually has become quite difficult but several questions keep coming up over and over. In this post I am discussing whether there is a magic formula to follow to get a job in F1 and when you will know that you will have done enough to get noticed by the F1 teams.

To set the scene for this post I want to ask a common type of question that people have been posting on my comments section. It has been something such as :

“I’m about to go to college ‘X’ and study engineering. Will I get a job in F1 with that qualification? Will that course be enough to get me a job?”

Choosing the right university or college course is clearly important and it’s a perfectly understandable question to ask but unfortunately it’s not a question that I or anyone else can answer and here’s why.

It’s never enough

Imagine you decide you want to run in the Olympics and win a gold medal. You might find a local running club who have coaches to help you train. You ask one of the coaches “If I join this club and train 3 times a week, will I win the gold medal ?” It isn’t impossible that you would win but unfortunately the answer is almost certainly no !

Most athletes dedicate their entire lives to training and racing. They will deny themselves pleasures, they will diet, weight train, endure pain, control their sleep patterns, purchase the best equipment and generally do everything in their power to reach the goals they have set themselves. Champions do not just decide one day that they want to be winners and take home a medal the next. Training lasts for years to build up the strength, endurance and skill required to compete at the highest level. Even despite all of this training there can only be one winner of course and so the sad truth is that the majority will still come away empty handed. This is hard to bear for the losers, but it is life.

Many, many potential athletes start out on the path to the Olympics but one by one, more and more will drop out as they find that they don’t have the required level of dedication and that the sacrifice needed is too much for them. This is part of the natural selection process. One thing you can be sure of however is that the athletes who did NOT do everything they could to be the best will never win. Ask the question again “is it enough ?” In the case of the Olympics, you can never do enough and only those who will not give up have even a chance to win the medal.

There is always more you can do

The Olympics is perhaps an extreme example but essentially the same rules I describe above will apply to Formula 1. The dedication required to win in F1 as a driver is perhaps similar to that of an Olympic gold medal winner but this drive for excellence will also spread out to the team itself and then to the individuals that work in the team. Competitiveness is evident in all aspects of F1 and so team owners are looking for only the very best people to work on their cars and to run their teams. Even to get a job in F1 you will be competing against many thousands of other people who want to do the same. There are not many jobs out there to win.

If you want to be a designer for example, then it’s likely that you will need to go to university and get a degree. Its not 100% necessary but it will put you in the best position. There are however over 100 universities in the UK alone, and the majority of these will offer degree courses in engineering. The UK produces some 23,000 engineering graduates each year and so even if you work hard and get the degree you want then you will still find it hard to make yourself stand out in this crowd. You will only be as qualified as those around you. You can assume that not every engineering graduate wants to work in F1 but it is likely that a reasonable number of them would be interested in the chance and so you will be competing against hundreds, if not thousands of well qualified people like yourself for just a handful of openings in Formula 1.

If you believe that going to school or college and watching races on TV is ‘enough’ to get a job in F1 then you are unlikely to be the ‘winner’. It is almost certain that someone else with the same qualification as you has also spent time at his/her local race circuit, been working a data logger for amateur Formula Ford racer or spent a season competing in their own kart. They not only have a degree but also have some practical experience to show for it, and most importantly the extra work they have done demonstrates how much they want to work in racing. That person will be the one getting the job, not you.

You will not stand out from the crowd unless you go that extra mile, train harder and dig deeper that the other competitors. In many ways it is not what you do, it is how you do it that counts. To work in F1 you do not need to give up absolutely everything, but it is perhaps closer to being a lifestyle than it is to being a normal job and only those who really want it will reach that goal.

The magic Formula

I would love to be able to offer a magic formula or a foolproof ‘How to’ set of instructions for working in F1 but in this game there are no guarantees. There is no set path or answer, no foolproof methods or structured training. F1 is a bit like the wild west, it’s a competitive, innovative sport and getting a job in F1 is very much like competing in the sport itself.

I can’t sit here and tell you that you will get a job in F1 as long as you do X, Y & Z. Life does not work that way. I can recommend what I think it is best to do, and what is likely to be most useful to you in terms of qualifications and experience. The lesson I really want people to take from this post is that there is always more that you can do, that there is something else you can read about, talk to someone about, take part in, another way to show that you have initiative and dedication to racing and are willing to learn. Maybe it is working part time at a race team, but equally it could be just buying up old bicycles and restoring them in your bedroom. Either way it shows that you have an interest, that you have done something not just because your school or college course told you to do it but because you thought of it and went out of your way to get it. These are the personal qualities that you need to work and compete in Formula 1.

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 recent posts. This blog has a lot of useful tips and information waiting for you.

The time pressures of my job in F1 mean that I cannot update the site each day but I aim to post regularly. You can keep checking the blog for new articles or alternatively you can use the follow form at the bottom of this page or on the home page and I will keep you up to date with new articles as they are published.

If you have read the blog but there is still something specific you want to know you can always add a comment to this or any other post. Please bear in mind however that I get a lot of comments on the site now and I can’t guarantee to answer all questions, particularly if they have been asked before or have been discussed in previous posts. 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.

Best of luck and I hope to see some of you in the paddock or on the grid someday !

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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.

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.

More and more women are Working in F1

Danica Patrick’s historic pole position for last Sunday’s Daytona 500 attracted a huge amount of publicity and comment, both positive and negative.

danica
Photo Credit: curtis palmer via Compfight cc

Despite a great number of people trying to put her down, it’s hard to deny that she won that pole position on pure merit and in doing so fought against a huge tide of tradition and opinion to beat the guys at their own game. Being a successful racing driver is difficult enough for anyone but I am full of admiration for her achievements both this weekend and in IndyCar. Good for her.

Women in F1
Even ignoring Danica, the subject of women in motorsport and F1 always generates opinion. This blog post is not about drivers however, it is about women working in management, engineering and marketing positions within F1 teams. Formula 1 is so often considered a sexist and male dominated sport but times are changing and the good news is that a woman who wants to make a career in Formula 1 should have just as many opportunities to do so as her male colleagues.

As a spectator sport, Formula 1 is now very popular with women, some estimates suggest that 40% of the spectators at Grand Prixs are now female. On a Grand Prix grid however, the vast majorty the mechanics & engineers will still be men and any women team personnel may well still be outnumbered by grid girls. This statistic however is changing and the presence of Monisha Kaltenborn as the new team principle of Sauber team has given women who want to work in Formula 1 a real boost. Monisha has worked as a senior member of that team for many years and was hand picked by Peter Sauber to take over the reigns when he stepped back from running the team himself. She has forged ahead to show that women can be successful at the very top of the sport.

kaltenborn2
Monisha Kaltenborn (left) with Sergio Perez, Peter Sauber and Kamui Kobayashi
Photo Credit: f1photos.org via Compfight cc

Women in the ranks
Practically every Formula 1 outfit now has female design engineers and aerodynamicists on their staff and many are in increasingly senior positions too. Until very recently, the Head of Aerodynamics at Caterham F1 was Marianne Hinson, one of the top jobs below Technical Director, directing all of the aerodynamic design and windtunnel testing. Women are also now commonly found working in many of the practical roles too, such as composite laminators, hydraulics technicians and electronics assemblers.

Sportscar race engineer Leena Gade made history in 2011 by becoming the first female race engineer to win the world famous Le Mans 24hour race with Audi. Gade studied aeronautical engineering and volunteered in several different race series before making the switch to Audi in sportscars. Read her story here.

Outside of Engineering
Away from the technical side of Formula 1, plenty of women find work in marketing & media. Team branding, image and public relation is undergoing something of a revolution at present with traditional sources of funding such as tobacco sponsorship being replaced by younger more dynamic brands such as energy drinks and computing. Increased use of social media and online marketing means that opportunities in these areas of the teams are growing and could certainly be an area where non-engineering people can thrive. Many teams marketing groups are female dominated and good opportunities are available to those not from a technical background.

Any woman who wants to work in Formula 1 only need show that she has the right academic, personal and motivational qualities. In a performance driven sport, you will soon realise that nobody cares whether you are male or female as long as you get the job done properly. That’s not to say that women will not find the still male dominated environment difficult at times, or come across some sexist or prejudiced attitudes. These things will still exist but other women have paved the way ahead already and if you want to work in F1 then the foundations are there for you to follow in their footsteps.

Please take a look elsewhere on this site for other help and guidance on what you need to do to work in F1. The FAQ section is now up and running and should be the first port of call to answer many commonly asked questions.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 or on Facebook.

Best of luck and see you on the grid someday.

What degree do I need to get into F1?

One of the prime reasons that I started this website was because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked “How do I get a job in F1?”

I wanted this website to be an answer to the question and many more of the common questions that people have about working in F1.

What degree do I need to work in F1?

This post is going to concentrate on the question of degree qualifications and suggest which types of courses are best for those wishing to get a job in F1. Firstly, you DON’T need a degree to work in F1. Motorsport has a huge number of different roles within the industry and the majority of people who work in F1 don’t have degrees. Read my earlier post here as some background as to why.

For those wishing to be designers, aerodynamicists or engineers, a degree will almost certainly be required as academic qualifications count for a lot in this type of job. This is an unavoidable fact.

Mechanical Engineering

The good news is that you don’t need a specialist degree to work in F1. The vast majority of engineers and designers will have solid degrees in quite standard subjects like Mechanical or Aeronautical Engineering. A good grade in a traditional engineering subject from a reputable university is exactly the background that teams are looking for. A candidate who can mix this academic background with practical experience and demonstrate that they have used their initiative to learn about racing has the ideal background for F1. Easier said than done of course, but this is what you should be aiming for.

What about specialist Motorsport degrees and courses?

An increasing number of institutions are offering motorsport specific degrees as an alternative to the traditional general engineering courses. Should you take one of these instead?

A difficult question but in general I would advise some caution. There are a number of very good courses of this type on offer but they are nestled amongst several gimmick type courses which neglect the fundamentals of engineering which are so important. A good engineer with a solid fundamental understanding can apply him or herself to just about any technical issue in Formula 1 with just a small amount of learning time. A candidate who has learnt from a specialist course at the expense of the fundamentals may struggle if the subject or problem strays too far from their course matter. The latter type of candidate is of much less use in F1 than the former.

I would say you should research your course and your institution fully before making a decision. Where have previous graduates gone after leaving? Is the course new or does it have a long history? Does it have strong industrial links? The course entry requirements may give you the best clue, if they are lower than other courses you should be suspicious!

A degree of specialism does however have advantages. Many degree courses are long and an element of applied motorsport project work or modules may keep you motivated towards your target and help maintain the link between what you study and what you hope to do. Many people lose sight after 3 or more years of exams.

It can also make your CV stand out from the crowd but many teams are skeptical unless they recognise the university name which has run the course. It’s a fine balance.

I hope to list Motorsport courses which I recommend elsewhere on this site or in a future post.

Aerodynamics

A big exception to the above is for those wishing to be aerodynamicists. Aeronautics is a relatively new discipline and not every university will offer a course as it requires specialist staff and equipment to teach the practical elements. If you do want to be an aerodynamicist however I would recommend that you study an aeronautical engineering degree if at all possible. Mechanical engineers can ‘convert’, particularly if they are very bright but the subjects are diverse enough that in this case the specialists will have an advantage.

There are a number of post graduate courses in aeronautical engineering for those who wish to keep their options open in their first degree but it will mean extra study and time before you can start work and earning a living.

Further reading

Please take a look elsewhere on this site for other help and guidance on what you need to do to work in F1. The FAQ section should soon be up and running and be the first port of call to answer many commonly asked questions.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 or on Facebook.

Best of luck and see you on the grid someday.