Do I need a degree to work for a Formula 1 Team? A common question but there has to be a short answer and a long answer…
The short answer
The short answer is NO ! You definately don’t need a degree to work in F1. The vast majority of people who work in F1 do not have degrees and it should be no barrier at all to getting the job of your dreams. Simple.
A slightly longer answer
The long answer on the other hand however is that it depends on what specific job you want to do. The vast majority of the queries I get about working in F1 are from people who want to be designers, aerodynamicists or race engineers. These are the most technically specialised roles in F1 and yes, the vast majority of people in these roles have degrees. It’s an unavoidable fact.
Aerodynamics now dominates car performance and the very theoretical nature of the subject and the complexity of the fundamental concepts of fluid dynamics means that to be an aerodynamicist you’ll need a degree. Fact. To work in an aerodynamics department however there are just as many opportunities for those without degrees to get involved and contribute. Running a windtunnel requires practical help from technicians both in setting up and maintaining the tunnel and running it. These are hands on roles which take place at the sharp end of a team’s development where you don’t need a degree.
A small army of people are required to design and manufacture the wind tunnel model car(you generally don’t use a real full size car in the tunnel), looking after the various development bodywork pieces and the sensors and instruments which measure pressure and downforce. No degree needed here either. A show of promise in these roles often allows people to progress to being a CAD surfacer for the full scale car too. You could even design the nose shape, sidepods or engine cover, all without a degree.
The car’s mechanical designers will generally also be degree qualified but here there are more opportunities for those who have not been to university. Many of the best designers I know have graduated from the shop floor because they bring with them broad understanding of what it takes to put a car together, something that many graduates lack. It may not be something you can step straight into but design is an area where those without degrees can still excel.
Traditionally race engineers would not have had degrees. In fact, several of the F1 engineers still do not. This trend however is changing as more and more race engineers come from theoretical vehicle dynamics backgrounds. A good grounding in the lower formulas however can still allow a non-degree qualified person to be a race engineer and outside of F1 this is still quite common. If this interests you read my post on how to become a Race Engineer.
The other role that many people aspire to is to be involved in the pit crew of an F1 team. The pit crew is generally made of up the car’s mechanics, truck drivers or anybody else in the race team who shows willing and talent for it. Being a tyre changer is not a dedicated role and certainly doesn’t require a degree.
What about the rest of them?
The majority of the race team(ie the people who actually go to races) will not be from a university background and so if this is your aim then you are in luck! In the factory, most of the manufacturing, purchasing, assembly and research people will not need degrees and you will soon find that people in Formula 1 are valued (and paid) based on their ability and their input not on their qualifications. In my team, we could not do without the experience and insight of a number of people who left school at 16. The number of opportunities are surprisingly large.
So, getting back to the short answer again, whilst a degree is necessary for several very specialised roles in Formula 1, enthusiasm, drive and eventually experience are far more valuable assets for a prospective employee than a university education. No-one should think that not having a degree prevents you from being involved at the sharp end of F1.
Thanks for reading my blog and if you’d like to know more please follow me or leave a comment on my post. You can also 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.
Best of luck and maybe see you on the grid someday.