How to get a job as an F1 race engineer

Posted on Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Join the team!

Get on the startline

Join 4,738 other subscribers

25 thoughts on “How to get a job as an F1 race engineer

  1. Volunteering to make tea to Le Mans! That’s how I imagine it. 😉 Just need to know who to ask for now! 😛 I’m starting marshaling this year(hopefully), possibly a fantastic opportunity to get to know team personnel?

    1. Marshalling is really good – you get paddock access and can legitatemately walk up and ask questions to team members. You’ll learn a lot and it’d look great on your CV. Most teams respect it as a job because they couldn’t go racing without the marshals.

  2. Could you give an insight into how one can land that first crucial job in motorsport? What direction of study/courses – e.g Automotive/Aerospace/Mechanical/Metallurgy etc. are best?
    In my case, I have done B.Tech in Metallurgical and Materials Engg., so what path should I follow for my Masters degree for getting my dream job?

    1. Hi Sid

      Thanks for the message. It sounds like youve made a good start with your B Tech. Do you know what it is exactly that you want to do in F1? Do you want to design/do aero or work at the track or be a mechanic? Or even work in engines?

      A lot depends on that choice.

      1. I want to be involved in the design/aero side. With my experience in composite materials( 2 research papers), I think I will be able to contribute in the composite design area. As experience in motorsport/racing is crucial for improving my CV, I would like to pursue my Masters degree in such a way that I get exactly that kind of experience (e.g FSAE)- I have not had something similar till now. So in what area should I pursue my masters degree? – Automotive/Mechanical/Metallurgy, with what specializations?

        1. To work in design, either mechanical or composites, I would specialise in Mechanical or Automotive Engineering. I think Mechanical is preferred unless you wanted to go into a real speciality such as engine design or vehicle dynamics which are more academic subjects. Mechanical design is what I studied and would keep your options open as much as possible. Sub-specialisations such as FEA theory, materials and dynamics are well worth looking into but I dont think this is quite as crucial a choice.

          To work on aero side is actually quite different. In most teams there is not a huge cross-over between the aero side and what we might call “full size design”. The aero team concentrate on the model scale car and CFD, looking in detail at the test data and computational data that they generate. The design of the model car is very different as they concentrate only on the shape and are not concerned with mechanical efficiency or good design techniques for mechanisms or weight and such like. The 2 disciplines are quite separate. Perhaps they ought not to be but they certainly are at this present moment in most teams.

          For me, ensuring that any project work that you do in your study is centred on motor racing is very important. Many teams will sponsor masters degree projects if they get to chose the area of study as it is essentially free and low maintenance research that they typically dont get the time to do. Most heads of departments will have projects that they want to do and if the individual seems right then it is very possible to form a relationship here. If you do a good job with that research and provide the team with useful data / ideas then your job prospects are enhanced greatly. If you can try to predict what types of research you might do in your project areas then contacting teams asking them if they need a student to carry out work for them would be a fantastic idea. I would write directly to department heads rather than to the HR departments. You can get these people’s names from the team websites or from general web search terms or from publications such as “Who works in F1”.

          FSAE is very good, but I would give a word of warning. The popularity of FSAE is beginning to be its undoing in that a huge number of candidates now will have “FSAE” on their CV’s. It becomes less impressive to F1 teams unless you have really contributed in a big way. It is more difficult but if you can make a relationship with a real competition team, at any level, then I think that this would make you stand out more and give you greater understanding. Its clearly more difficult but that extra effort will stand out on your CV above the FSAE candidates.

          I hope that gives you some extra ideas. As I say I am hoping to expand on these types of ideas a bit more in my blog when I get time as I have a lot more to say on the subject !

          Keep in touch

      2. Thanks for the advice! This will be of great help to me in deciding what to do next. Another thing- as I am from outside Europe, so I would like to know which universities in UK – am I right to assume that UK would be the best place for studying as most of the teams are based there? – provide the best chances for projects related to motorsport? Or from another angle, as a recruiter for an F1 team which universities would you prefer?

        1. Hi Sid

          Yes, most teams are based in the IK and even those elsewhere in Europe have many English employees so UK universities tend to be better known and therefore more accepted by recruiters. Institutions elsewhere are probably just as good but they may not be appreciated as much.

          Again, it very much depends on the individual recruiters view but I tend to see a lot of good graduates from Cambridge, Brunel, Imperial College, Loughborough, Bath & Warwick. Oxford Brookes University do a good Motorsport course which has produced quite a lot of graduates who now work in F1. I dont think it is as academically heavy as the mechanical courses at the other institutions but they certainly seem to have success in placing students in F1 teams.

      3. hello my name is Nicholas im 17 year old i live on a small island in the Caribbean , over the years i have been following formula one and had alot of hand on work with road-cars, but only recently i have been studying and now come to the full appreciation of formula one engineering.I have a main interest in engine design, building and performance and coming up with new ideas. After graduating high school this year, i Plan to do A levels maths and physics but im having troubling understand what at degrees to fulfill.I want to do mechanical engineering but not sure what else i should do and if there is any other minor courses that would apply in the formula one world or would mechanical engineering cover most things and good university to apply to.
        P.S im reading the comments and what is CV?

        1. Mechanical Engineer will cover most things in F1 and is definately the best choice of course.

          CV is a curriculum vitae (its Latin) and is basically a history of your qualifications and work experience. I think its called a resume in America.

    2. Getting that first job is really the absolute key. Once you have built up some CV experience in racing then getting interviews is much easier – there is no escaping that fact.

      A lot of teams take on placement workers however and even armed with a few months of this, your CV looks 10times better than the average one. Getting that placement is not easy either but given that isnt permanent and wont cost the teams a lot then they are much easier to get. Anything Motorsport related on your CV will help you stand out. I’m hoping to post about this soon but I’ve only just started this blog and finding the time is proving tricky, especially at this time of year!! Please bear with me and follow my blog and I’ll try and help you.

    1. Hi

      Getting to Formula 1 is incredibly difficult as a driver. Even it you are very talented then it is no guarantee that you would make it. Today’s drivers are really exceptional.

      Might I ask how old you are? If you haven’t yet started racing and are over 18 yrs old I would say you are too late. You need to start as young as possible and race in karting and junior formulas to gain experience and see if you are good enough.

      It’s a whole different game compared to being an engineer or mechanic so I can’t say much more than that.

      Good luck.

      1. i am 22 but i drive from i was 17 old but in egypt were is not any racing in it and know to you i am mechanical enginering in alexandria univarsty and i work in cars since 4 years so i know many part in car and driving so if there is any test for talent in driven i will by glad to show you.

        1. I would not be able to make any decision on drivers or such like, it’s not my thing. The only test is several seasons of racing in lower formulas, you would need to move to Europe and race there for several years. You can’t go straight into Formula 1.

          1. thanks form you to answer my but the last thing for working in the team of engine that development it how can i join them or to them and what is the steps to do
            that and thanks again.

          2. I plan to write something about this shortly but look at the video on my latest post about Mercedes AMG HPP. There are only 3 engine manufacturers, Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. They are based in England, Italy & France.

  3. Hi,

    First of all I would like to thank you for this useful website. I think motorsport engineering is quite unknown in general, F1 in particular, and I am really surprised (and also thankful) that anyone took the time to explain it. My goal is to be a race engineer in F1, so I find this article especially helpful. I have a professional decision ahead of me and I could really use your advice.

    I have a BEng in mechanical engineering with specialization in automotive mechanics; meanwhile I took several part-time jobs in several automotive suppliers. Regrettably I could not add a motorsport related experience. Now I am working in the simulation department of a large car manufacturer.

    I think this could be a really valuable experience that could open the doors to be a vehicle dynamicist in F1 but also there is a huge disadvantage. I’m lacking motorsport experience and the weekend shifts in my current job prevents me from gaining it right now. I have thought about undertaking an MSc in UK and trying to get a placement in a F1 team. In your opinion, which option will look better in my CV?

    1. Hi Sam

      I know that plenty of people have taken a motorsport specific MSc at your stage of career and used it to get into motorsport, its defiantely a better option than staying long term in OEM type automotive companies.

      I would at that but also try applying to wider motorsport firms. Have you tried companies like Ilmor, Williams Hybrid Power, Flybrid, Zytek and such like. There are loads of motorsport companies out there is you know where to find them.

      Look at autosports companies directory.

      http://business-directory.autosport.com/

  4. Hi,

    First off, I really like this website and I find it extremely helpful. I would like to know how difficult it actually is to be a race engineer and I assume that many people do go for this and I’m guessing there is one for each driver so 22 race engineers in Formula one? It seems like such a small number compared to the amount of people who want to become one.

    However, no matter how hard it is, I’ve got the determination I’ll try my best to become one.
    Also, I am aged 15, living in the UK and what can I do to start developing knowledge and skills to achieve this job? I am looking for work expirances that are to do with cars and engineering. I hope you can reply and thanks again.

  5. Hi, My name is Sophie (yes im a girl!) im 16 and ive really got my heart set on working in formula 1 hands on at the races, my dream job would be Race engineer. I was wondering f you had any advice on University courses and how to get to be race engineer. Im doing Maths, physics, Chemistry and Engineering ALevels.
    For the past 3 years ive been part of my School Formula 24 racing team for which a year i was a driver and the other two I was Pit Boss and ‘face’ of the team I also helped make decisions about the race with assistance of teachers. I was wondering if this would mean anything to a formula 1 team leter on.
    Thanks
    Sophie:)

    1. Hi Sophie

      Sorry for taking so long to reply. I am mega busy at work !!!

      First off, your A-Levels are exactly the right things, no problems there. Getting involved in racing at school level is great, I like the sound of the Formula 24 team. This kind of thing looks great on a CV, it will mean something to a F1 team because a) it shows you have been enthusiastic enough to get invovlved b) it shows that you have been interested in a motorsport career for a while (amazing how many people just watch one race and then expect to work in F1 a few weeks later…) c) it will give you a great impression of what being a race engineer is like. F1 is actually just the same as any other form of motorsport, all the feelings and skills are the same, it just costs more money and comes with more pressure 🙂

      I would aim for as good a set of A-Levels as you can get (obviously) and then a university that will let you study vehicle dynamics ideally, or any kind of mathematical modelling such as MATLAB or SimPack etc. These are the real tools of the vehicle dynamicist. Loughborough Uni has a great Automotive Engineering course which is well respected and covers all the material you would need. I’d then aim for a vehicle dynamicist or data engineer position, either in F1 or touring cars, GT, WEC, rallying, IndyCar or NASCAR etc. You can work your way up from there. It might be worth contacting teams and/or constructors for a university project as early as you can – make some contacts and then offer to do some modelling as a final year project for them. They will probably have a range of projects that they never get the time to do which are ideal for students to pick up and carry out for them. If you can do this, it’ll look great on your CV and/or may even lead directly to a job offer.

      Oh, and as you are a girl(!) this WON’T hold you back at all these days. In fact you might even find it an advantage as you will immediatley have something different about you compared to all the other applicants !!!

      Best of luck, stick at it, it seems you are already on the right path and know what to do.

  6. Hi
    First of all thank you for putting in the effort to create a this site, it is a huge help and inspiration.
    I am 26 and currently a mechanic but have a goal of one day becoming a race engineer.
    I have been reading through a lot of the posts and comments and have found a huge amount of useful information but I was hoping you could let me know what would be the preferable path to become a Data Engineer.
    Would it be better to study Mechanical Engineering or an Automotive Engineering degree such as the one Loughborough offers?
    I have just completed the Physics and Mathematics entry requirements ( I left school early to begin my apprenticeship), passing with marks around 95% for both.
    Your help is much appreciated
    Thank you

Comments are closed.