The F1 circus now travels to 18 different countries with recent years seeing huge expansion in the number of races taking place outside of Europe.
Large international markets such as China, India, Korea & the Middle East now get their annual dose of exposure to all things Formula 1. An enormously successful return of F1 to the USA in Austin, Texas has also brought about hope that the sport’s popularity there and in neighbouring Mexico has the potential grow further too.
It’s a small world
It’s incredible to think however that despite the huge global appeal of F1, every team on the grid is still based in Europe and 75% of those are based within a 50mile radius of each other in south-east England. McLaren, Red Bull, Lotus, Mercedes AMG, Force India, Williams, Caterham & Marussia all have their bases in this area, despite many of the parent companies being based elsewhere in the world. The term Motorsport Valley is often used to describe the general area around Oxfordshire & Northamptonshire where this majority of F1 teams and other motorsport related companies and suppliers are based. If you want to work in F1, this probably the place you need to be.
This phenomenon of clustering is quite common with many high tech industries, most notably Silicon Valley in the US where many of the world’s most successful technology corporations are based. Also in North America, teams and suppliers in the sport of NASCAR are concentrated in the area immediately north of Charlotte, NC. The ever expanding town of Mooresville, NC is made up almost entirely of race shops and engine tuners and is known as ‘race city’.
Why do teams setup so close together?
F1 teams come and go but many of the teams you see on the grid today will have some historical DNA from another team which competed years or even decades earlier. Expensive facilities such as wind tunnels are not available in many areas of the world and many of the newer teams have bought the assets of an older team as their starting point. The current Mercedes F1 was, as many people know, previously the championship winning Brawn GP team. Prior to that however, it was also Honda F1, BAR and actually even that team was formed by purchasing the remnants of the famous Tyrell team which Jackie Stewart drove for in the 60’s & 70’s. The 2 remaining new teams (Caterham & Marissia) have also moved into premises previously occupied by other racing organisations but they actually rent their windtunnels from larger teams under negotiated technical agreements.
As well as their own facilities, F1 teams buy many components from external suppliers. The fast moving nature of Formula 1 means that components are often required at very short notice, even the same day and so being geographically close to suppliers is a huge technical advantage. This reasoning works both ways and so new suppliers are more likely to setup nearer to the teams in the first place, increasing the clustering effect further still.
Effect on Recruitment
One of the primary reasons for the F1 teams clustering in this way however is personnel and recruitment. The Formula 1 and motorsport industries require very specialist skills and experience, mainly gained from a career background in racing. To start and run a successful Formula 1 team, more than anything else you need good people who you can trust to deliver a competitive racing car. Specialists in design, race engineering, aerodynamics and manufacturing are hard to come by and so the easiest way to get those people is to “steal” them from other teams.
Staff transfer between teams is a constant process and so if you want to setup a new team you should go to where those people are already working and living. It is much easier to persuade someone to come and join your team if they don’t need to move home or face a huge commute in order to get to your headquarters. Many people who work in F1 have moved to the UK motorsport valley area and it is quite common for neighbours or friends who work at rival teams to socialise together outside of work. Many of the jobs offers that are made through “knowing people” take place over a pint of beer in the local bar, as does a certain amount of technology transfer if someone has a few too many and talks too much…
In terms of getting a job in F1 this news is quite positive. If you live in the UK then you have a huge percentage of the Formula 1 industry on your doorstep and your native language is the chosen language of the whole sport! UK educational institutions have good industrial links to many of the teams and in terms of numbers, UK citizens make up the majority of the work force in Formula 1.
If you don’t live in the UK however, and I know many of my readers live elsewhere in the world, then you do start with a disadvantage compared to your UK colleagues BUT the very fact that you know where you need to aim to be gives you many more career options in that one place rather than having to divide your efforts across many points across the globe. Many of the team owners and investors are not UK citizens and most have an international make up to their technical teams. Each F1 team is very used to receiving applications from outside their home country and are used to dealing with visa issues and relocation from further afield. If it means getting the best people available, recruiting from outside the UK is no issue whatsoever.
Exceptions to the rule
Whilst the UK dominates the grid by numbers in Formula 1 there are obviously some very noticeable exceptions. Ferrari have been based in Maranello in northern Italy since they were founded by the great Enzo Ferrari in 1929. As part of a similar clustering, the same area is also home to the Torro Rosso team, formerly Minardi F1, based in Faenza, very close to the Imola circuit where Ayrton Senna lost his life back in 1994. A number of F1 suppliers are also based here or in nearby Milan making this part of Europe another concentration of motorsport companies and people
The Sauber team which has been in Formula 1 since 1991 and has a long history in sportscars prior to that is based in the town of Hinwil near Zurich in Switzerland. This is probably the most unusual location as motor racing is actually banned in Switzerland but the success of the team shows that this is no barrier.
I hope to talk about each F1 team in turn in future posts, comparing the competitiveness, budget and atmosphere of each team to give a flavour of what it means to work there. Each team is very different and some might suit a particular individual more than others. It isn’t simply about working at the ‘best’ team at any one time.
Please follow me or leave a comment on my post if you have something to say or go to my Facebook page where you can comment or discuss your experiences with others. I’m also on Twitter @Work_in_f1 where I am happy to answer questions. I’d really like to hear from you about what you want to do in F1 so that I can give you the right advice and point you in the right direction.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Good luck and see you on the grid someday.