Stepping Stones to Formula 1

Posted on Posted in Understanding the motorsport industry

Formula 1 is normally regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport and in many respects it stands head and shoulders above all other racing categories. I know from the phenomenal response to this website that a huge number of people want to work in F1 and they are desperate to find out how they can get a job there. One of the best ways to get job in F1 however is to get a job which isn’t in F1 at all. This post explains exactly what I mean by this and why it is potentially the best piece of advice I can give you.

The problem of popularity

F1 is beamed into our living rooms every few weeks and is covered by at least one major TV channel in most countries around the world. Its popularity as a sport is truly staggering. As the apparent pinnacle of motorsport many hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people would like to be part of Formula 1 and have that dream job that they see on television.

That popularity however causes a big problem for potential F1 people. The competition for jobs is huge and Formula 1 teams are bombarded with lots of poor quality applications or enquiries from people who want to work in F1 just because they like watching it on television. Even if you are a genuinely good prospect for an F1 team it’s very difficult to get noticed amongst all of the poor quality applications that they receive. It becomes very difficult to get a foot on the ladder without motorsport experience.

The good news is that it’s very possible to separate yourself from this majority of others but you might have to look slightly further afield than just the limited Formula 1 grid.

F1 Tunnel Vision

One of the biggest mistake that Formula 1 job seekers make is getting stuck in the mindset of “How do I get a job in F1?”. They believe that it’s all or nothing and they can only see where they are now and where they want to be on the F1 grid. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to change the question that you are asking to “How do I get a job in Motorsport, with an ultimate aim of getting to F1?”. If you do this it can open up your eyes to a far greater number of opportunities and once you do this the path from where you are now should become much clearer.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t get a job in F1 right away. Despite my best efforts I had a very ordinary work experience year within my degree at an automotive consultancy. I graduated with a good degree but still struggled to get any response from F1 teams (I presume this sounds familiar to many people) and so I got ordinary job at an OEM automotive company in the UK. It was well paid but far from the excitement and glamour of F1 and I hated every minute of it. Many of my university course mates had similar F1 ambitions to me but once the pay check started to arrive each month from their steady jobs they soon became comfortable, forgot about their dream and have stuck at their careers in general engineering. I however decided I had to leave and set about on a mission to get into motorsport in whatever capacity I could.

After a few months I spotted a small advert in a engineering magazine for a graduate engineer position for relatively unheard of motorsport design company and decided to apply. This company didn’t have a racing team and I wasn’t going to be working on Formula 1 projects but I had done my homework and knew that it was well regarded in the motorsport industry and would help me gain some valuable experience. From what I understand, not many people applied for it because it was not high profile but I got the job and at last I had a toe (if not a whole foot) on the motorsport ladder. I left a big, well established company to go to a small, risky company but it was the best move I have ever made in my career and even though it was several more years before I first worked in F1, I’ve never looked back. It was a vital stepping stone to Formula 1.

A huge industry

Globally the motorsport industry is enormous. F1 is big business but it is still a relatively small part of the industry as a whole. It is important to realise that motorsport is not just racing and race tracks. When I have spoken before about volunteering and getting experience in racing I have talked about lower formula teams but in terms of a career path for engineer and technician level people, the wider motorsport industry offers a far greater number of opportunities. Motorsport is not just about the people who go to the race track.

Have you ever wondered where racing cars and racing engines come from ? Your average GP2 or F3 team doesn’t manufacture its own racing car, they are generally very small operations that run a car which they have bought in and service between races. Even WRC, Indycar and Le Mans operations buy in their chassis, engines, gearboxes and potentially their suspensions from specialist motorsport companies.

The cars and components themselves are produced by the wider motorsport industry and it employs far more people than the race teams themselves. It is at these types of companies that many F1 people (including me) started out their careers.

A little bit of research

I know quite a lot about the motorsport industry, particularly in the UK but I’m not familiar with every company and exactly what they do and how others in the industry view them. I can’t name every company that might lead you to F1 and I am not going to try. What I aim to do here is just to open your eyes a little bit, to try and pull you back from thinking only about F1 and to show you where the path to F1 might begin. As always, it depends on exactly what it is that you want to achieve in your career but getting your foot on the ladder and being able to show an F1 team or another motorsport company that you have worked in the industry should put you far above the majority of ‘F1 job seekers’. The beauty of this route is that it can get you the relevant work experience that F1 teams are after, but the jobs themselves have much lower levels of applicants or competition and they exist in far greater numbers than jobs which are directly in F1. I’ll say it again but it’s truly a stepping stone to your ultimate career ambition although you’ll probably find it just as fulfilling and rewarding as an F1 career anyway.

As a little bit of a starter, go away and research these companies and see how they fit into the motorsport world and what motorsport series they support and contribute to. You might well have heard of some, others not but this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more like them if you are willing to spend the time looking. Look away from F1 just for a while and see what exists around the outsides as you are far more likely to find an opening if you can get rid of that F1 tunnel vision.

Cosworth
Ilmor
Xtrac
Prodrive
Hewland
Penske
Honda Performance Development
Swift Cooper
Dallara
Lola
Wirth Research

If you want to know other ways of getting closer to that dream F1 job you can also read my post on Breaking down the barriers to F1.

Keep in touch

If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, take a look through my list of frequently asked questions or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on the 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. If there is something specific you want to know, add a comment to this post. Just bear in mind that I get a lot of comments on the site now and I can’t guarantee to answer all questions. Please check my frequently asked questions or other people’s comments as your query may have already been answered.

You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1.

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8 thoughts on “Stepping Stones to Formula 1

  1. I’m at the end of my junior year of high school. I love racing ,it’s truly my passion and I’m willing to sacrifice and devote my life to motorsports, but I live in America and where I live there isn’t much related to racing near me. So where should I start, being that I’m so young and with limited resources?

  2. Hi I know you get a fair few of questions and comments, but I would really love it if you had a quick look at mine because I think it would answer the questions of few others as well.

    I have found your blog posts about working in the Formula 1 industry extremely helpful and would just like to let you as a young hopeful who wants to one day work in the much coveted industry, the different types of information you have provided has been invaluable. Recently a few people like Monisha Kaltenborn and Clare Williams have been rising to prominence in the industry despite not having a solid engineering backgrounds and I was wondering if you could talk a little about the non-engineering based roles in formula 1 teams both those attached to the race team and those based at the team HQ.

    Thanks for all your help

    1. Hi

      As I am sure you are aware, then the vast majority of F1 is technical so there are only limited opportunities outside of this. If you dont want to work in the technical side of the job then you are probably looking at the following.

      1) Media, PR & sponsorship.
      You can study media or business to follow these paths. Working in sports sponsorship is quite a specialised area but its so important for each team’s survival. An understanding of business might be useful but you can learn on the job and become involved through events and sponsor functions of any sort. The teams often use sub contract companies to look after guests locally and impress the sponsors.
      2) Purchasing & Procurement
      Background in any purchasing role would be relevant but you would still need some engineering knowledge to find the best supplier and sub contractors to produce the parts of the car etc.
      3) Accounting and general business roles
      F1 teams are working companies so we have normal roles in accounting, human resources and facilities management. There is generally nothing specifically motorsport about these role but if you have some experience or demonstrable background in racing then it can only help. We obviously have receptionists, cleaners, security and on-site catering and all those ordinary jobs too !
      4) Team management
      Tough one this. Most/many team managers have a background in racing, either as drivers or team owners in lower formulas. Recently the like of Monisha & Toto Wolff have come in through other senior roles and taken over the teams. This is a new trend but to do that you need a track record of driving success in other businesses or in racing. It probably even harder than getting a technical job !

      The teams are limited in the number of people who go to races now. 90% of these are technical, either engineers or mechanics. The vast majority of the rest are marketing people. Any other role such as catering, etc is generally bought in or hired locally.

      I know thats not a great help but its really quite limited outside of technical areas. I’ll try and write more about this soon in a post

  3. hi!
    This is a great blog,provides so much information about various careers in f1! I am an avid f1 follower & im currently studying environmental sciences at university and i know of recent there has been a lot of focus on environmental management in f1, like the change to v6 engines etc. I wanted to know what is the scope of jobs in the field of environmental management and engineering? I especially would like a travelling job with the teams, but im open to jobs in the factories etc as well! Also what furthur studies should be needed or howcan one break into the industry?
    thanks so much

    1. Hi

      Thanks for your comment

      I dont think F1 teams worry about the environment too much !!! I know that the new rules suggest that the new engines should be more efficient but this has come from the governing body and not the teams so they only do it because they have to !

      I would not think that there would be too much opportunity for environmental sciences at the teams themselves unfortunately but the FIA are the drivers behind the new rules and so you could contact them if you are interested in that field.

      I would think you need to study Mechanical Engineering or Aeronautical engineering if you want to work in F1.

      1. Thanks for the info!
        I will look into what opportunities exist at FIA in regard to this fields.

  4. Hi,
    I would like thank you for your blog which is really good idea, I appreciate it. I also have one question. Now it is a time when I must choose my faculty and I don’t know which one is better: Mechanical engineering or Mechanics and Machine Design. I don’t know because there is only bsc of mechanical engineering and for mechanics and machine design there are bsc, msc, and phd, where I want to go.
    I look forward to your response, thanks in advance.

    1. Hi

      Thanks for the kind words about this blog – I appreciate it.

      Mechanical Engineering is generally accepted as the more normal course. I dont know which faculty you would go to but I would think you would be better off doing Mechanical Engineering. Would you consider going to a different institution which offered MEng / Msc in Mechanical Engineering. This is the best approach I think but again, I dont know your circumstances so please just consider this my opinion.

      Thanks and good luck

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