F1 is a diverse and wide ranging industry but what is a typical F1 employee like and what is their background? In this short post I want to draw a picture of “Average F1 Joe”, what he(or she) does and how they got to work in Formula 1.
As average as F1 can get
Formula 1 is anything but average but most people who work in the industry have similar interests and backgrounds. I know that many of you are keen to know what subjects to study, what university to go to and what extra-curricular activities to get involved with so I thought I would describe an “Average F1 Joe” character who would be a typical employee of an F1 team. He may be someone who you can relate to in some way. He could of course easily be a she (F1 Jo?) but for simplicity I’ll be referring to Joe only as a male during post. There might even be a little bit of me in there…
F1 Joe’s early days
F1 Joe has been interested in F1 and racing cars since he was very young, perhaps even before the age of 10. He would likely have been the sort of child who enjoyed building things from bricks, Lego or bits of cardboard to make planes, trains & spaceships. A fascination with how things work is normally what drives invention and creation in Formula 1 people.
As Joe grew into his early teens he would probably been good at maths, problem solving and sciences, perhaps opting for woodwork and design classes.
It’s likely that he would have pestered his parents enough (or the parent of a friend) to take him to the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone where a first hand look at racing and machinery will have only strengthened the desire to get involved in racing.
An F1 education
Typically F1 engineers of all kinds study maths and physics to pre-university stage. These are pretty fundamental subjects for engineers of all kinds to understand. They are not special or glamorous and F1 has no more particular needs than any other job would do. It is not exceptional in this case.
At university, F1 Joe would most likely have studied Mechanical or Aeronautical Engineering. Again these are fundamental subjects (Aeronautical being more suitable for aerodynamicist but either is equally valid). He will have likely studied at a top 10 UK university or the equivalent in his home country were he a non-UK citizen. There is no special F1 qualification that he followed, but more likely it is his approach to his subsequent career that set him apart.
Out of school
Away from the classroom most F1 engineers will have been big racing fans, watching on TV and attending smaller club races at a nearby circuit. Joe will probably have had some involvement in racing directly, helping a friend run his kart or helping a friend’s dad rebuild an old car or engine. All this hands on experience is invaluable and will have looked very good on a his CV or resume. He might have even raced himself, many F1 people have done so in some capacity, and so he built up that competitive instinct and that hands on knowledge of what motor racing really requires. The television coverage of Formula 1 portrays most teams to be incredibly organised and confident but normally they will be hiding a number of problems, difficulties and handicaps that must be managed over a race weekend. Handling this pressure and instinctively knowing how best to deal with it can often come from racing yourself. F1 may be the pinnacle but in many ways it is the same as any other race series.
Entering the world of work
During his degree, F1 Joe may well have applied to F1 teams for a work placement. There is every chance that he was not successful. He was not put off however as it is only a very small number of people who get this chance and there are many more ways into the sport than that.
Joe is more intelligent than that and has applied to a huge number of companies which he has researched as being relevant to the motorsport industry. Many people may not have heard of them but he gets a work placement at Zytek working on mechanical design of engine components for their Le Mans sportscar prototypes. He gets thrown in at the deep end, but comes out of it with more knowledge of racing engines that he could have ever expected. He gets to make the trip to Le Mans in June of that year and is hooked on racing more than ever.
After graduating, he again applies for work at an F1 team but even armed with the experience from his work placement he is unsuccessful. Undeterred he applies for yet more jobs in racing and lands a role at Ray Mallock’s (RML) again working on their sports prototypes, this time in chassis engineering. He spends a year developing software for the vehicle dynamics department, building the software models that the race engineers will use to help setup the cars at the race track. This involves a few more trips to the track where he gets to see the car in action and shadowing the race engineers. He is involved in many of the driver debriefing sessions, familiarising himself with driver feedback, with the data and how to analyse it, feeding that back into his model and thus having a positive input in the performance of the cars.
The chance he has been waiting for
After 2 years at RML, a job advert appears at a Formula 1 team for a data engineer on Autosport. It specifies minimum 3 years experience in F1 or other high level motorsport (the usual barrier to F1) but he applies anyway. Luckily, the senior race engineer who is interviewing has also previously worked in sportscars and at RML and has a high opinion of them. He and Joe get along well and the team is very interested in the modelling and software work that Joe has done with tyre life and preservation for endurance racing. Even though engineers from other F1 teams are interviewed, he is offered the job.
Joe accepts and so gets to go to every F1 race of the following season building up a wealth of F1 specific experience. After 3 seasons as a data engineer on the number 1 car, the race engineer of the second car leaves and Joe is the most experienced and well regarded member of staff for that role in the team. He steps up to race engineer and is now well established in that role, one of the chosen few.
Looking back at Joe’s career he has not stood out as a genius at any point, he has not followed a magic lesson or university course and he has not found an easy way in but what he has done is do his research, been patient and realised that F1 is attainable for those who are ready to persist with it. Many of those other people who wanted to work in F1 with Joe will have fallen by the side along the way, become comfortable in another career somewhere and decided that because F1 has not given them an immediate opportunity then it is an impossible dream. They will tell you that it is open only to a privileged few who know people in the business. They will be the ones who tell you that you can’t get a job in F1 unless you follow the ‘right’ path and work for no money at all. They will be the ones that you should not listen to at all.
Joe might be a fictional character, and in this case he works as a race engineer but this kind of career path is not untypical for an F1 employee. My post on stepping stones emphasises how it is not always possible, in fact not generally normal to step straight into an F1 team from school or university. If you wanted to be a professional footballer you would not expect to play straight away as centre forward for Manchester United or Real Madrid would you ? You would build you skills in a lower team of division and take your place at the top when the opportunity arose.
The key is simply to think more broadly, consider how many opportunities exist OUTSIDE of F1 and then gradually build your experience to the point where it is relevant and attractive to F1 teams. I have said elsewhere that I did not get a work placement in F1, I did not get a job in F1 straight from University and in fact it was 5 years before I first stepped through the door of my first F1 team employer. My career path is not exactly the same as Joe’s and in fact I spent some time working in the US in several race series there to build my experience for F1. This was not very typical for someone from the UK but it worked for me and so keeping your options open and working towards your ultimate goal means that you can get there by any number of average ways. You can research some of these by reading my recent post on using LinkedIn.
Keep in touch
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