F1 jobs : How to become an F1 driver

Posted on Posted in Understanding the motorsport industry

My blog is mainly about how to get a job in Formula 1 as an engineer or mechanic but many people have already asked me how they might go about becoming a driver in F1. This is a short post on the subject with my advice.

Think carefully before you start

Formula 1 is incredibly competitive. It is also incredibly expensive. Being successful in any professional sport requires the highest levels of dedication and commitment but in Formula 1 it also requires enormous financial backing. You cannot just become an F1 driver overnight, instead you must work your way up the ‘racing ladder’ competing in lower formulae and learning your racing craft. Whilst Formula 1 enjoys huge global television and print media coverage, lower formula racing only gains very slight exposure so drivers normally have to self fund their early racing careers themselves. If you truly wish to be an F1 driver you must be prepared to spend every penny and dollar that you can lay your hands on and be very good at persuading other people to spend their money on you too… Those that don’t make the big time are often left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt that can burden them for the rest of their lives. Be warned !

Where to begin

To get a taste of competitive driving the cheapest and most accessible route is often karting.

Most of the current crop of F1 drivers started in karting including Lewis Hamilton. Take a look at some of this brilliant footage of Lewis in his early racing career in karting.

As you can probably see, proper karting is already a very serious form of motorsport and not for the faint hearted. If you can’t keep up in karting then you probably should go and get a normal job and save yourself a whole load of money !

Another possible starting point is to join a racing school, such as that at Silverstone. Here you can learn the necessary race craft and circuit skills you need to get your first circuit racing licence and start your career.

The racing ladder

As your career progresses you will move up each season into higher catergories of racing and into faster and more powerful cars. There are a number of different routes to Formula 1 and far too many to explain here but a typical junior career might go something like this :

How many years you spend in each category depends on how successful you are but as an illustration the follow infographic (courtesy of Get the Latest) shows the junior racing ladder of the current crop of F1 drivers.

F1 driver - path to F1
F1 driver – path to F1

Most countries of the world will have a motoring organisation which is affiliated to the FIA. You can find a comprehensive list here :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_FIA_member_organisations

Contact them to find out about race tracks and racing series in your own country.

A final piece of advice

If you really want to reach F1 and be a world champion then go for it. Please do not however underestimate how difficult a journey it will be. It would be interesting to know how many people worldwide embark on a racing career but I would estimate at any one time that it must run into the hundreds of thousands. Children as young as 6 years old can now compete in karting in the UK, and many successful champions of the past were drivers even younger than that. The great Ayrton Senna began his career age 4. If you are already in your 20’s and have not yet started on that racing ladder then it is probably already too late.

Go ahead and prove me wrong but a great deal more people fail at being a racing driver than ever succeed…

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3 thoughts on “F1 jobs : How to become an F1 driver

  1. Hi there,

    First of all, thanks so much for this blog, it’s got loads of helpful advice! I am seriously considering going to a racing school, but the problem is, I’m 23 and this would be my first step on the racing ladder. I know going straight into F1 just isn’t going to happen (I know it’s very unlikely to happen at all), but would you have any advice on trying to join lower types of racing like GP2, GP3, Formula Renault etc? For example, would the racing school have contacts?

    Sorry if it’s a daft question, just trying to piece it all together before I decide if it’s something I’d like to try.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Dan

      I would try a racing school, it’s a good way to start other than karting.

      They will know contacts in many formulae but bear in mind GP2 & GP3 are very high level series and would be several years away.

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