The most difficult hurdle to forging a career in Formula 1 is getting that elusive first F1 job, that breakthrough step into the often closed world of professional motorsport. In this post I’ll describe why work placements are now the best opportunity to get your foot in the door, where to find them and how to make the most of them if you are lucky enough to be chosen.
A rare open door
As I discussed in my post on “Breaking down the barriers to Formula 1”, motorsport can often seem like a closed door and only open to those with prior experience. Getting a job in F1 or other types of racing can be difficult, but it’s not hard to see that as people move on or retire from working there must be a intake of new talent to the sport to stop the teams from shrinking and collapsing. In truth the number of people working in F1 is now expanding again and so there must be a way in. It is just a case of finding it.
For university students, predominantly those people studying engineering but also for management and marketing students the single most likely way to break into the sport these days is through work placements. Almost all of the current F1 teams take on undergraduates on long placement programmes (normally a full 12 months or more) and this is for a number of reasons :
- Students are a source of relatively cheap labour
- The programme allows a team to develop relationships with universities for research purposes
- Student placements are lower risk than a graduate recruitment programme
The first two in that list are genuine plus points for the teams but it is really the last and final point that is the most relevant for those wishing to break into the sport. I am often asked where graduate vacancies are advertised, or where those jobs are that say “No experience necessary”. Bad news really, they are few and far between. Its all about risk and taking on inexperienced people carries significant risk.
Imagine a team wants to take on a graduate, or perhaps several. They might post an advert on autosport.com or on racestaff.com and receive hundreds of applications from interested people. Firstly they will have the not trivial task of sorting through those hundreds of applications and selecting the 5 or 10 resumes that look promising. They then have to invite each for an interview and they then have just an hour or so to find out everything about those people and decide whether or not they have a future with that team. Its a very difficult process (have you ever considered what it is like to be on the opposite side of the table during an interview?) and carries enormous risk. I was involved in choosing a new graduate at a previous team and the candidate I chose performed very well in the interview but was lazy, over-confident and a poor engineer when it came to working full time. A big mistake which we could not undo easily.
A 12 month job interview
The biggest advantage of a work placement scheme for an F1 team is that they get to see potential recruits working and developing their skills in the right environment over long period of time. It is in effect a 12 month long job interview and it’s normally pretty clear to a team after that period which candidates will make good F1 engineers and which will not. The students who are not suitable will go back to university finish their degree and will probably not hear from the team again. Those who performed well however are likely to be invited back to take up a full time job once their studies have been completed. This is the magic, or unseen graduate recruitment process in F1 and why the places are seldom or never advertised. Some teams do still recruit graduates fresh from university but this is the exception rather than the rule.
For university level people, this is as good an opportunity as you are going to get. Do as much homework on this as you possibly can by contacting the teams early and asking for details of their program. Leaving it until the months before your year out begins is much too late and will be a clear sign to the teams that you are not organised and not a serious candidate. Williams F1 for example are advertising for their work placement students now (September/October 2013) who will begin work in July or August 2014. This text is taken directly from the advert on their website.
As part of Williams’ ongoing commitment to support Universities in supplying the talented engineers to the Formula One industry in the future, we operate a 12 month student placement programme.
Student Placement Opportunities Available
The Company receives many applications from students who would like the opportunity to undertake student placements. Due to such high demand along with limited availability due to our company size, resources and racing commitments we are only able to accommodate the following opportunities each year:
Maximum of 10 paid student one year placements
Students will work under the mentorship of an experienced team member, gaining significant experience, as well as invaluable information for final year dissertations / thesis. Along the way students will pick up a diverse range of new skills and competencies that can be universally applied in an environment that is constantly changing.
Throughout the duration of the placement, the student will have regular performance evaluations with the nominated manager to aid professional and personal development. The Company’s informal working culture will also allow the student to network with the full spectrum of people working within the team.
Only students taking part in the student placement programmes can be accommodated in our Aerodynamics, Design and Test Facilities Departments. We do not offer student placement opportunities on our Race or Test Teams.
Student Placement Application Process
When shortlisting student placement applications the Company generally expects students to be studying relevant subjects at university in subjects such as Mechanical Design and Aeronautical Design and have a minimum of two years experience at University before the placement starts. It is also essential that you should return to your course for a minimum of one year following completion of the placement. We are unable to accept applications from students in their final year of university studies.
In addition to the above, active participation in programmes such as Formula Student, F1 in schools may be an advantage as well as demonstrating an active interest in leisure activities such as go-karting, restoring or working on cars, building working models of cars and planes.
When applying for student placements opportunities, all students are expected to submit a covering letter along with a curriculum vitae containing the following information:
• Your current career aims and how you plan to achieve them
• Subjects that you are currently taking and plan to take
• Relevant leisure pursuits and activities
• Why work experience with the Company would be beneficial to you
• Demonstrate that you are the best person to be selected
Applications for the student placement programmes should be uploaded through our website by visiting www.williamsf1.com. Your application will be acknowledged within two weeks of you sending us the application. We will not accept applications which are not submitted through our website, any paper-based applications will be returned to the sender with a copy of this policy.
Too good to be true ?
When I was at school and even when I studied at University, opportunities like this barely existed. I wrote to every team asking for a work placement but without success. To have such an ordered and structured programme advertised with such a large number of placements available is a golden opportunity. This is exactly the kind of opening that you need to be ready for.
In the next part of this post, I’ll look at making the most of a work placement should you be lucky enough to be chosen, plus what to do if you are unsuccessful as there are potential many more open doors around, you just need to look a little bit further…
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 recent posts. This blog has a lot of useful tips and information waiting for you.
The time pressures of my job in F1 mean that I cannot update the site each day but I aim to post regularly. You can keep checking the blog for new articles or alternatively you can use the follow form at the bottom of this page or on the home page and I will keep you up to date with new articles as they are published.
If you have read the blog but there is still something specific you want to know you can always add a comment to this or any other post. Please bear in mind however that I get a lot of comments on the site now and I can’t guarantee to answer all questions, particularly if they have been asked before or have been discussed in previous posts. 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.