Understanding the motorsport industry

F1 Testing – Working Behind the Scenes

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 F1 testing and one of the most critical jobs going on behind the scenes on the test team.

The start of testing has marked the real start of the 2013 F1 season for the F1 teams and the fans and journalists are watching every minute of the new cars’ development unfold on track. Behind the scenes is a team of people working tirelessly to ensure that their new car fast enough and reliable enough to make a competitive showing at the first race. As an example, the opening 2 days of the life of the Mercedes W04 were far from successful and the Mercedes top management must have been tearing their hair out in frustration and embarrassment. 10 years ago this kind of teething trouble would have taken place at a far off circuit where nobody else was invited but now, every mistake, breakdown and crash is broadcast to the world and there is no hiding place!!

To try and avoid this kind of embarrassment each team has a reliability engineer whose job it is to track every single problem, breakage and mistake that takes place during the life of the racing car. The “faults list” is a daily report generated by the reliability engineer which records all breakages, mishaps and operational errors at the track. The list would typically highlight 20-30 problems a day whilst the car is in testing, possibly more, each of which is electronically logged in the database with photographs, mileage logs and emailed back to the factory. A “fault” may range from something simple such as a missing tool in the toolbox, an IT problem or a sponsors logo being in the wrong position on the car to the all together more serious such as an engine failure, an electrical fire or mechanic being run over in the pit lane!!

The majority of faults come under the category of component failures on the car which would affect race reliability and may cause the dreaded ‘did not finish’ or DNF. Each part on the car has its mileage logged during running so that any premature failures can be quickly identified. Parts are often deliberately run on to failure as this provides the team with valuable information about its service life which is then used to generate replacement schedules for each component of the car. Not all breakdowns in testing are bad news despite appearances.

Each fault, be it big or small, will be assigned to a particular person, either the designer, assembly technician or manufacturer of that particular part. It is this person’s responsibility to provide a fix for the problem as soon as possible. It is often with much dread that a “fault assigned” email arrives in your inbox…

Once the failure has been analysed a resolution is proposed, which could be a work around as simple as changing the parts more often or an urgent redesign and remake. If the situation is really desperate, new parts can even be made and flown out from the factory overnight for the following days running! That is real Formula 1 stuff!

This faults logging process, and the discipline needed to address every little issue with car during testing is incredibly important homework if the team hope to have a reliable car during the season. The teams which do the best job at this early stage will reap the benefits later in the year. The reliability engineer has a very, very busy job, both at the track and the factory but is exposed to every different aspect of the car and the team during the process. No particular experience is required to run the faults list and it is often a quite junior member of the team who carries out the task. It is however a great way of quickly learning how the car works and getting to know a wide range of people in the team. It is very much a case of in at the deep end but this is very often the best way to learn.

Team members who have spent time as a reliability engineer will have a good understanding of the team, the car and the design process and can put this broad experience to good effect in whatever specialism they choose to progress into. It’s rare that a relatively junior position can hold such a pivotal role in the car’s development but the reliability engineer certainly earns his/her money at this time of the year.

As F1 testing continues I hope to describe more of what goes on behind the scenes and some of the job roles that keep the car developing towards its race debut in March. Feel free to comment on my blog or ask me a question via Twitter @Work_in_F1 or my Facebook page if you want to know more.

Roll on Barcelona.

Join the team!

Get on the startline

Join 6,267 other subscribers