We all know that F1 cars cost a lot of money and that many of the top F1 drivers live the playboy lifestyles of the rich and famous. How much does the average F1 engineer earn though ? Do many F1 designers have apartments in Monaco and supermodel girlfriends…?
Engineering is not known for being a high paying career. Despite there being a real shortage of qualified engineers in many European countries, the industry average salary is relatively modest in comparison to many other professional sectors. Formula 1 is exceptional in many ways however and the competitiveness of the sport means that F1 engineer salaries are considerably higher than the industry norms. There is no doubt about it, you can earn a fortune in Formula 1.
So just how much can you earn as an F1 engineer ? Well, if your name happens to be Adrian Newey then you can command a multi-million dollar wage comparable or better than half the drivers on the grid. If you have another name then you could earn anywhere from Mr. Newey’s salary all the way back to the minimum wage… It’s all about your worth or value to the team.
Formula 1 is a capitalist driven business. The rewards for success are large but the penalties for failure are very harsh indeed. Salaries for engineers are very similar in that the very top engineers can earn telephone number wages but very junior employees may be paid quite poorly. There is no pay structure or prescribed pay scales in F1, every employee is paid whatever they are able to negotiate and in many cases there is a large difference in salary between 2 similar people doing a similar job. This puts many people off but I personally believe that this right for Formula 1 and is the way to get the best out of people. Some may disagree with that especially in times of austerity but as I said earlier, F1 is an exceptional business and exceptional people need to feel that they will be rewarded for going the extra mile.
Its important to understand that this isn’t about fairness or equality, nothing in F1 is about equality, but it is more about reflecting a person’s true worth to a team. If you are reading this blog you will probably know that getting started in an F1 career is very difficult because a great many people want to work in the sport and are willing to do so for little or no financial reward. Teams therefore have the luxury of being able to pick the best people and have little motivation to pay high salaries if they can easily replace them with another willing volunteer.
How much does a Junior engineer earn ?
In truth, starting salaries for graduates in F1 are actually pretty good and comparable with other engineering sectors. There is no pay structure in the majority of teams and as team policies vary it is difficult to put a single number to it but I would suggest that the average graduate engineer or one with only a year or so of work experience would earn somewhere between £20,000 and £30,000 depending on the position and their qualifications.
As your experience increases however, so does your value to the team and to prevent you leaving and taking what you have learnt to a competitor you will probably get a payrise. Middle ranking engineers may earn significantly more than a junior engineer after just a few years of work. It is definately a case of working hard and being patient in the early years of your career even if you feel that initially you could earn more elsewhere. It’s a cliche but part of the reward of working in F1 is the involvement in the sport and enjoying what you do and so even if you don’t earn Newey money then there is still a lot to be taken from a career in F1. If you do it just for the money then it is unlikely that you will enjoy it or stick at it in the long term.
Salaries as you become more senior
As your career develops you should become increasingly valuable to your team. One of the great things about the pace of F1 is that you will be exposed to a vast amount more in your early years in comparison to ‘normal’ industries. You might work on brakes one week and then steering the next or develop front wings, floors and barge boards all in the same year. You might be the only person in the team with significant experience of some particular aspect of the car and so if you leave, the team stands to lose that knowledge and expertise. Suddenly, your negotiating position is a lot better…
Many senior engineers are on multi-year contracts with their teams in order to ensure that they do not leave and take valuable information with them. Salary ranges for these types of people range are several times those of the junior engineers particularly those with a unique expertise or experience. With such reward however you will need to take on increased responsibility and handle the pressure of expectation. Senior engineers are typically responsible for complex areas of the car such as chassis structure, suspension design or aerodynamic performance of the front or rear wing assemblies. Each F1 team may have around 20 senior engineers, depending on the size of the company, so it is a competitive level to be at.
Managerial and Chief Engineer positions
Beyond the realm of senior engineer, many people move towards managerial roles such as a department head or potentially chief designer or chief aerodynamicist. At this point there is certainly no form guide for salaries but six-figure retainers are not uncommon in very demanding roles. To reach this level you need to be a very capable individual who is able to stay on top of a number of different projects and issues under pressure. This is the big time of Formula 1 and many engineers in upper reaches of this catergory are now household names. The role of technical director is probably still the pinnacle of F1 engineering, taking overall responsibility for aerodynamics, track performance and car design. Salaries are seldom revealed but during Williams F1’s flotation on the stock market, the IPO prospectus showed that the then technical director Sam Michael’s income was £469,000 per annum. This is still likely to be short of salary of the technical directors of the bigger teams such as McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes but clearly it is still a substantial sum.
If you reach those heights in your career then you are probably talented and confident enough not to be reading this blog ! Good luck and think about the start I gave you! Remember that none of this is a promise or a guarantee. As with everything in motorsport, reward goes to those that work hard and commit to their goals. Working in F1 is not an easy path to riches and is not for people who expect a 9 to 5 lifestyle.