F1 takes all sorts. Adrian Newey and his boffin like compatriots might get a lot of the headlines but in order to make a team function properly and get a competitive car on to the grid you need people with all kinds of skills and attributes. You may not have a PhD but you could be an essential part of the team behind the scenes. Where do you think you might fit in?
Just do it
It amuses me sometimes when I hear people talk about Formula 1 and how it all works. At the end of the day, F1 is a show and TV coverage is there to make the sport and the participants look glamorous and exciting. Often what is portrayed is very different to the reality and what people assume is all ultra efficient and high tech. It is anything but.
If you get the opportunity to work in racing or in F1 you’ll probably realise pretty quickly that the whole sport exists in a constant state of panic and lack of preparation. It’s what gives F1 much of its character but it really is constant chaos behind the scenes. Parts shortages, mistakes, unforeseen mishaps, crashes, things not working as they are meant to, cars being illegal, failing crash tests, I could go on and on but they are all part of the day-to-day normality in F1. Team principals are great actors when it comes to hiding the stress and chaos of reality when the TV cameras arrive.
In this kind of environment, Adrian Newey and his PhD friends are not best placed to keep the show going. They might be inventive and analytical but these sorts of people tend to be slow and methodical too. Not always what is needed.
In our team, and most others up and down the pitlane we have a wealth of people who are just brilliant at getting us out of sticky situations and seemingly pulling us out impending disasters. These people are not called Ross Brawn, Eric Boullier or Christian Horner. They are called Dave, Bob, Dibber or Tricky. Ordinary folks doing extraordinary jobs. F1 teams desperately need people who “just do it”. They are real do-ers behind the scenes.
Australia is a long, long way away
The first race of the season is always a tough time as there is so much in the way of new things to deal with. In 2014 that was more the case than ever. Throw into the mix the fact that race 1 takes place about as far away from base as is physically possible without leaving the surface of the planet and you have a real recipe for disaster. This is where the real heroes of F1 earn their money.
Imagine it is Tuesday, a few days before free practice begins. The chief mechanic calls you from Australia and tells you that a critical part of the fuel system has broken and won’t fit on both cars. There are no spares at the circuit and the car won’t start without them. Deep trouble.
First thing to do, check in the factory stores. Nothing.
Are there any nearly finished in the machine shop? No such luck.
A few calls later and you find that a subcontractor has some part finished but it’s 4pm and they knock off at 5. It’ll take 5 hours minimum to get them completed. You’ve got to call them and ask their guys to work into the night to finish them. Never an easy conversation. They do it because you know them and sent them a bunch of free team gear last Christmas but someone still has to go and get the finished parts. You need the team’s van driver back in but he has already done a full day’s work and gone home. Another favour from a friend and he’s on his way but doesn’t get back to the factory until 1am with the parts. You’re there to meet him.
In the meantime, you’ve had to organise getting them out to Australia. Regular air freight would never make it in time but all of your race crew have already gone. Only one option and that is to buy a ticket to Melbourne and hand carry them out. One of the apprentices is super keen to go so 30mins later you’ve got a ticket and she has been home to get her passport. Back in at 4am, she picks up the parts and gets a taxi to the airport. You finally get to go home 12 hours after the original phonecall. A long day.
The apprentice on the other hand doesn’t get to Australia until Thursday night with the time difference and the car build is well behind. The curfew has to be broken and the car isn’t finished until nearly 6am, just a few hours before practice starts. The mechanics catch 2 hours sleep at the hotel if they are lucky, before a full day of track running and then another long night at the track. If you turn on the TV all you’ll see is the car out on track just as you expect, but the very fact that the engine has even fired on time is a minor miracle. The work done behind the scenes by those ordinary people.
What has this got to do with me?
That story might sound far fetched but this kind of thing happens constantly in F1. Whether it’s shipping parts, assembling them, making them or designing them, when things are not going to plan an F1 team needs people it can rely on to get them out of sticky situations. You need calm but fast and methodical reaction from your team and the right sort of people are critical for that. You can’t get a degree in this kind of thing.
When you apply for a job at an F1 team, the interviewer is probably trying to imagine how you will react under pressure, will you stay late and sort things out when they need you to or will you leave it for someone else to pickup the pieces? Does this applicant give me any evidence of them being a quick thinker, resourceful or have they been in situations already where they can demonstrate that they have the right attitude? Anyone can say they do but can you convince me of that?
That interviewer will be looking for reassurance that you will fit in, looking for someone they can rely on and depend upon when the next mini-crisis hits. They’ll be asking “Have they gone out and done things for themselves, have they sourced and arranged their own work placement, have they volunteered somewhere or approached a local racer and offered their services?” Too many people have just toed the line, followed the crowd and expected the “system” to provide them with a career. When I get these sorts of CV it’s nearly impossible to distinguish one person from another because they have all followed the same route. Even if you have good grades then F1 teams won’t be interested in you if you can’t demonstrate initiative and drive. They need forward thinkers not followers. No grade or degree in the world can teach you that skill, which is just as well because not everyone can have a PhD but just about anyone can make a difference with the right attitude.
Keep in touch
I’ve been quite poor at keeping up the blog over the winter but something had to give whilst we were getting the new car ready. I’m hoping to have bit more time over the next few weeks so expect a good many more posts on various topics. There are lots of things I still want to talk about but feel free to leave a comment and ask about something specific.
If you want to keep up with those future posts you can follow my blog using the box just below this post, and join my ever increasing band of merry followers ! I’m amazed how many people have been keeping up with my ramblings, we might have enough to start our own team soon ! Why don’t you join in?
Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 where I post my tips and tricks or links to job postings and relevant articles around the web.
Best of luck and here is to a good result in Malaysia!!