Understanding the motorsport industry

Life on the road – what it’s like to follow the F1 circus

The sight of a Grand Prix grid full of high tech machinery, millionaires and movie stars is one of the definitive images of international glamour. One of the first questions I get asked by people who learn that I work in Formula 1 is “Do you get to go the races too?”. It looks glamorous but what is it like if you have to work there for a living?

First thing is first, I don’t generally go to races. I, like the vast majority of people who work in F1, am factory based. The images of Formula 1 on television are what most people associate with F1 but this is not the reality for most of the people who work in the sport. Racing is actually only a small part of what we do. I travelled early on in my career so I do have some experience of what it’s like to be on the road.

Being on the race team is a very different existence to the rest of the factory but it is the very heart or epicentre of the racing team. Travelling with the team is a very dynamic, high paced and demanding lifestyle which many people thrive on but it’s not for everyone, and certainly not made up only of champagne parties and movie stars.

Off to join the circus

Travelling to Grand Prix and visiting different countries is the biggest single thing that attracts people to working in F1. The idea that you can get paid to go to a Grand Prix seems to good to be true. It is what I wanted to do before I started working and even though many people in the industry say that they have no interest in travelling, it’s likely that a great number of them wish that they could. It has a magnetic draw about it which few can deny.

The reality is that being on an F1 race team is hard work. You’ve got to really want to do it. I’ve said this already but it’s not how much work you have to do at the circuit but the work that comes from travelling that makes it tiring. There are 19 races in 2013 (there were meant to be 20) so nearly 1/3 of your weekends for the year will be at Grand Prix. The ‘weekend’ probably starts on a Wednesday and unless you are technical director or a similarly high ranking general you probably won’t get on one of the coveted Sunday evening flights home. You might make it back to the factory in Monday afternoon and then home that evening. The race weekend can often be nearer to being a week long. That is a lot of time that is not your own.

Which country are we in?

Airport-Hotel-Track-Hotel-Airport. It’s a routine that can start to dominate your existence. When you are on the race team you don’t need to do a great deal in order to get to the race circuit as you don’t need to make any of your own travel arrangements. The race team secretary will have done all of the hard work for you and you will have been provided with an itinerary which you may or may not have read. The only detail which is actually important is what time the minibus leaves the factory. As long as you make that then you’ll be herded along to the airport, put into a hire car and driven to your hotel. Its not uncommon to wake up in the morning and have no idea which country you are in. In fact, even when you get to the circuit, the inside of the garage looks almost the same as it does in any other country and you are surrounded by the same people. You don’t need to speak a foreign language and you don’t spend any currency so it doesn’t really matter where you are. Only the weather and the jet lag vary. Its no wonder that many people get disorientated.

Tourism time is limited but that’s not to say that you don’t see anything of the country you are in. You will probably get a few hours to get into the city or go and have a drink or two but that’s probably about it. Travelling to that many different countries, in some very different parts of the world will definitely give you a flavour of what these places are like and that is certainly more than any normal job would give you. One thing is certain, travelling with an F1 race team is never boring. Many people get fatigued over a number of seasons but none of them will ever regret the time that they spent with the F1 circus. You may not get to go to many champagne parties but if you are determined to get a job on an F1 race team then it is unlikely that you will regret the experience.

Keep in touch

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, check out my FAQ’s or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on my home page to be kept up to date by email. I hope to shortly post a series of job role descriptions, detailing what the day to day duties of a designer, aerodynamicist, data engineer and many other people who make up an F1 team really are.

Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.

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8 thoughts on “Life on the road – what it’s like to follow the F1 circus

  1. What kind of jobs for a female are there? Even in catering and things! I strive of travelling and would love to have this job!

  2. Does the experience vary much depending on the team? Will less funded teams have tougher situations when it comes to travel arrangements and itineraries?

    1. Hi Wayne

      Definately some difference between teams in terms of atmosphere / working conditions but not necessarily that winners are best and losers are worse. Depends on what you are after.

      Most teams stay in similar places, even the same hotel but maybe share a room etc. not many mechanics(ie none) travel business class doesn’t matter what team you are in…

  3. This post was much more informative than i was expecting, thank you! I really didn’t understand how so many people could travel all the time with their teams and this makes much more sense. I was wondering how people in F1 handle family life, if they have much time for one at all?

    1. Hi Sophie

      Thanks for your great comments!

      Family life is tough there is no doubt. It’s one of the reasons I don’t travel but plenty of people do it and have happy home lives.

      It’s a young man’s(or woman’s) game generally, especially for the mechanics but there are plenty of people older than me who travel to every race.

      A true lifestyle choice!!

  4. Hello! I went to college for photography and journalism. I love following the races and writing about the teams. What kind of PR opportunities are there in F1? I read your earlier article about “not needing a degree in F1”, but since I already have one…might as well use it?

    Thanks,

    Zach

    1. Hi Zach

      Yes lots of people have degrees in F1, it depends on what job you want to do.

      Most teams have small PR groups, 2 or 3 people plus marketing departments which try and find sponsor then look after them and give them the value that they require.

      Other than that I think you’d be looking at specific motorsport press journalism or perhaps working at the event promotion for the circuits.

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