So many people want to fulfil the glamorous life of F1, hanging out with the drivers, making pitstops and being on the grid before the start. Who are these people and what is the difference between an F1 mechanic and an F1 engineer ? Its a common question and so this post runs through what each of these people do and why they make it to F1 and how you can do the same.
A privileged bunch
The start of a grand prix is one of the biggest and most compelling spectacles in motorsport or even in all sport worldwide. The crew who get to stand on the grid and work on the cars as this most dangerous of events draws nearer are generally the mechanics and engineers of the teams involved. What is the difference though and how would the career paths of an engineer and a mechanic differ to bring them to this same envious place ?
The term engineer is widely used. It can mean both the guy who comes to mend your washing machine and also the guy who designs the space shuttle at NASA. That’s a big difference. In truth the guy who mends your washing machine is not an engineer at all. He has a great many skills and probably a great knowledge of how things work but to make the distinction between these two sets of people would you get on a plane if you did not think the person who designed it was fully qualified? I should hope not !
Not everyone who works in a hospital is a doctor and similarly not everyone who works with machinery is an engineer. In F1, there are lots of engineers who perform different roles, not all of whom will go to races and stand on the grid. The engineers are the people who design the car, the ones who analyse the data from the loggers and the ones who study the computational fluid dynamics that dictate the aerodynamic development. The engineer will calculate the stresses in the suspension and judge whether it is strong enough for the wheel to stay on through the fastest corner. They are the boffins of F1 if you like. At races, a small number of engineers, normally called the race, performance or data engineers, will oversee the running and setup of the car, using the computer simulations and data from the cars instrumentation to make setup decisions and decide the strategy that they will use during the races. Engineers are the number crunchers, the men at the computer screens and the ones who will be closest to the drivers to respond to their demands. They will not generally be getting their hands dirty (but often do) or taking part in pistops and putting fuel in the car. They decide which tyres to use and HOW MUCH fuel to put in if you see the difference.
Mechanics on the other hand will be right at the coal face, carrying out the physical work at the car. The mechanics in F1 are incredibly skilled. They work under an enormous amount of pressure, assembling the car and setting it up exactly as the engineer would like. They will be the ones doing up the nuts and bolts, adding the oil and fuel and repairing the damage when driver crashes. They will have great experience in putting together complex machinery quickly and accurately with an vast knowledge of how a car works.
F1 mechanics also get to perform one of the most iconic jobs in racing – the pitstops. It is the guys who worked into the night to get the car ready who will put on the overalls and the helmets and wait patiently for their driver to arrive. It takes a nerve of steel to stay calm and focussed as a racing car and racing driver approach you at 80km/h, on the limit and to still stay composed enough to change the wheels in less than 3 seconds. This is an incredible and well practiced skill which many of the engineers, including myself, could never do. This is where the guys earn their money.
Away from the circuit, the mechanics will be responsible for stripping the cars down for checking and then rebuilding them in time for the next race.
Brains and the Brawn
In summary, if you are a thinker, an inventor or a boffin then you are most likely to want to be an engineer in F1. If you are practical person, someone who can make things work or fix them where other fall short then you are likely to be a F1 mechanic. Each role has their privilege and glamour but they are generally 2 distinct groups of skill sets who complement each other to produce a working race team.
The engineers will normally be degree qualified, studying at university whereas the mechanics will have a more practical background, often having been to college but will normally have to build up their experience in other companies or race series prior to getting involved in 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 have started to publish a full list of F1 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.
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