Formula Student is a tremendously success initiative. Since its introduction in 1998, the number of participants and the profile of the competition has increased exponentially with the event now attracting wide press coverage and a paying crowd. In terms of being a training ground for future F1 engineers however, is it now a victim of its own success ? In this post I’ll explain why I think you need to be very careful about Formula Student and how to avoid the same trap as so many aspiring students of F1.

Photo Credit: RMIT Racing via Compfight cc

Formula Student – A great idea

Formula Student has its history, like so many things, in the United States following in the footsteps of the hugely successful Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). It is essentially a competition between universities and colleges where teams of students design and manufacture single seater racing cars to a strict set of rules. Those same teams then run their cars at a Formula Student event, putting it through a variety of different tests in order to find the overall winning vehicle. There is a considerable amount of prestige that comes with winning Formula Student.

Formula Student was not around when I studied for my degree but I remember feeling very jealous when I learned that university students would get to design and compete with their own single seater car as part of their studies. What a perfect way to learn and demonstrate your skills to a potential motorsport employer!

Many engineering degree courses are heavily theoretical and mathematics based (for good reason mind you) and so the opportunity to “get your hands dirty” is, or was quite rare unless you were lucky enough to know someone who owned a racing car. Formula Student has changed things and brought that opportunity to great numbers of students who would not otherwise have been involved. Formula Student has no barriers to entry and is open to anyone who chooses to attend a university or college which enter the competition. Formula Student may be small scale compared to Formula 1 but the process, mindset and competitive aspects are incredibly similar. There is no doubt about it, Formula Student is great preparation for working in F1.

The problem with Formula Student

Formula Student may be a great idea and a great competition but unfortunately there is very one big drawback to it. The experience and training it provides might be great, but I and many other F1 recruiters are not always 100% convinced about Formula Student anymore. Why is this you might ask? Well, to put it bluntly, so many people are doing it that it just doesn’t make the big difference that it used to. A little harsh perhaps but let me explain a little more.

When I recruit, I’m looking for a standout individual. It is one of the most important decisions I make in my job. I look for people who do well at school and in university examinations but as well as that I look for someone who has the initiative and drive to work without supervision and to innovate without being told. Many people say that they can do this, but in truth only the very few actually can and it is this skill and personal attribute that often sets apart an “F1 person” from a more ordinary recruit. The difficult bit of recruiting is finding those people amongst the pile of otherwise ordinary CV’s.

If I advertise for a graduate, I will get a lot of applicants responding just because it is F1. It is a lot of applications to get through and so I have to skim read just to save time. Of those I read I would estimate that somewhere between 50% – 75% will have been involved in Formula Student in some way during their studies. Many base the majority of their application on it. The problem with that is that by the time I have read the 100th application about Formula Student I tend to get a little bit bored. It might be good training and a good experience but the plain facts are that if you don’t make the most of it and show me how you have learnt from it then I just won’t pay that much attention to you. If everyone is doing it there is a danger that there will be nothing unique or interesting about it and that unfortunately reflects on the applicant too.

This might be a harsh assessment of the situation but I think it’s pretty close to the truth. The facts are that you cannot simply rely on Formula Student to make you a standout candidate for F1 without showing me what it has taught you and why you made more of it than other candidates. Just being an anonymous member of a Formula Student team does not mark you out as an innovator.

Standing out from the crowd

I was lucky enough to go along to the Formula Student competition at Silverstone a few years ago. Students get to use the (old) F1 pit garages to work on and display their cars & project material with visitors able to walk around and talk to the students when they are not competing.

Some of the cars and displays are truly impressive I must say. I spoke with several groups to ask about their cars and how they worked. Some students were clearly 100% involved and very eager to explain why there cars had been built the way they were and why they believed this to be an advantage. It was great to see.

In contrast however, a great number of students seemed rather disengaged from the whole project and did not show the same enthusiasm. It was rather disappointing. One group in particular had a great display about how they had developed their engine and worked with external suppliers to maximise its performance but in person were unable to explain even the simple fundamentals of their design. This experience left me wondering how many of the students are simply along for the ride and don’t actually get involved a great deal. The average Formula Student team is quite large these days and I imagine that it must be quite easy to hide in the shadows and let others do the work. The cynical part of me thinks that many students do it just to add to their CV and don’t really make the most of the opportunity it presents. When I see Formula Student on an application these days I am not easily impressed unless that candidate can really tell me what they have contributed and why.

To stand out from the crowd, to rise above the mediocre you have to do something special. Formula Student can easily be the platform to let you do that but only if you have put something special into it and made it your own. Some FS teams can have 30 or more members so even within that team you need to stand out never mind when you consider that you are competing against so many other teams at the same time. I keep coming back to this theme but you need to get out there and do something out of the ordinary and make me or another recruiter sit up and take notice if you want to get into F1. Formula Student itself is so common now that it has served to simply raise the bar and lift the standards that we expect and so you also need to move further and push yourself further as a result.

Don’t rely on others – get out there and make it your own.

Keep in touch

The 2014 season is well underway now and despite reservations about the sound of the new cars and doubts about the new technologies I think F1 has proved that it can still provide as much thrill and excitement as it has at any time in its history. I’m already working on our 2015 car (can you believe it?) but should have time to keep the blog up and write about some relevant topics.

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 Spain in a few weeks time.


  1. You do raise some valid points, but i beg to differ. I started Formula student in my school back in 2010 and we worked relentlessly to be able to travel to the UK in 2012 (we are from Egypt), true that maybe from the 25 team members only 15 did most of the work, but those 15 were very, very good engineers. Formula student is not bad, but maybe like most things, you have to look a bit deeper to find the Gems you need. even after graduation i worked with some friends on making an offroad racer in our free time and money!

    As a side question which you raised in another topic, I now have offers to do Msc. in the UK either Motorsports Engineering at Oxford Brookes or Mechanical Engineering at Hertfordshire. i really like the general nature of the Hertfordshire course rather than the much detailed nature of the Motorsports engineering course as i agree with you that knowing the fundamentals is much better than knowing the specifics as you can then adapt the general concepts to your needs. But i am tempted that the course at Brookes has very good industry ties including several F1 teams, so maybe this will at least show a path to get into Motorsports?
    P.S both schools have excellent FSAE teams which i am sure will join.

    Mohamed Nader
    1. Hi
      Either course is good but there are more Brooke’s graduates working in F1 than Hertfordshire I would estimate.

  2. i want to become a formula1 racer,so please help me to know about that topic.
    Age-18 years

    Abhishek kumar
  3. Hi,

    thanks for the a great article. I wonder if you are aware about the fact that even if you as a student you do everything that you are suppose to become a great engineer. Unless you were born in the EU, you willl NOT going to be able to get a job in F1. UK teams will not hire you unless you have at least a Tier 2 working visa on hand. But you cannot get that type of visa unless you have a job on hand that is willing to sponsor you in the first place, so here it is the catch 22. I was offer a job in McLaren F1 as a dynamics race engineer about two year ago. I shot down as soon as the human resource specialist learned that I live in the states. I hold two bachelors degree one on aeronautics and another on mechanical engineering, I have a master on aerospace engineering and I’m currently working on my second master on engineering management. I worked for The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin Corp. I have applied to probably all the team on F1 for last 4 to 5 years. Recently, became apparent to me that as an US citizen I’m not going to be able to get a job on any team due to visa issues. I wonder what you think about this issue with F1? it is advertise as an international sport but yet you cannot contribute to the sport unless you were born on EU.



    1. Hi marcel. I know several americans who work in f1 so how can that be? I know japanese, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Argentinians, Indians. I don’t know your situation but it can be done.

  4. Hello, my name is bryan herrera, I am 19 and Living in the US, Texas. I have a very high interest on F1, especially in being a chief engineer. What would be the best way to start, I currently want to get a mechanical engineering degree and study very im depth every aspect of formula 1 vehicles and performance. I really hope to make it to such a high position, I know it will be next to impossible with me being in the US and seeking such a limited and prestigious position. Hopefully with work and some advice I can. Any advice?

    1. Why impossible? There is a US based F1 team on the grid in 2015

      1. Any advice on how to get in the door at my age? What course to take?

        1. Hi Bryan. Not sure how old you are but undeniably it gets harder as you get older. Depends a lot on your experience too

  5. Sorry if this comment is irrelevant to the post; the comments had closed on a lot of the more relevant ones.

    I’m 15 years old and still considering whether an engineering job in F1 is right for me. I have found your blog extremely useful, but I have one question: you mention in various posts that engineers in F1 have to work very long working hours, especially in the winter, but what kind of hours are you actually talking about? The occasional few hours of overtime, or working long into the night 7 nights a week? I’m talking specifically about design engineers and aerodynamicists as these are the careers I am considering.

    Also, do these workers (design engineers and aerodynamicists) go out to races?

    Thank you very much for any help.

    1. Designers & aeros rarely if ever go to races there is nothing for them to do

      My average week is about 50 hours, it’s not THAT bad. Sometimes 60 or 70 hours but it is the very long individual days that are hard work. Sometimes I have worked for early 24 hours straight if it has been a big deadline. The other thing is the work rate, F1 engineers get a lot done in an 8 hour day

  6. Good article. Can you say what sort of abilities/expierence/else had candidates which impressed you and then got employed? Does motivation letter has any significant meaning to you?
    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    1. Motivation letter very important as it tells me about who you are and how you see the world ather than just what grades you had. So many people now just dint send anything and that is a big mistake.

  7. Good point! I am with you! There are some teams that almost 90% of the car is made in the university, with basic troubleshooting, day to day problems. Some of the teems do not have the backup of big companies. Some teams just have determination and skill, they may not be top teams, but their students cut the mustard.

    Best of luck!

    Sergiu Cornea
  8. Hello sir,
    I am Abhishek, from Bangalore, India. I have been an formula 1 fanatic ever since I was 7 years old. It is over the past few months that I have developed a keen interest in race engineering. I am about to graduate as a mechanical engineer in june. I firmly believe that race engineering is my least by going through your earlier posts. Now that I have begin from scratch, how do I go about pursuing race engineering?

    Abhishek Murali
  9. You have no idea how important this information has been to me, as I was about to enter this program next fall.

    So my question is, what should I do instead? Work at a low-level race team over the summer? Where should I do an internship?

    jonathon hollis
  10. First of all thank you very much for giving us a clear idea of the most missunderstood concept that being a part of a Formula SAE team is a doorway to Formula 1. I am a Master student in Germany and I joined your pool of buddy F1 aspirants just a couple of weeks ago. I am going through almost all of your posts since beginning and I just cant stop reading them.
    Like many other kids I was the captain of a Formula SAE team back in India. I was not sure if Formula SAE was going to help me to secure a job in Formula 1 team or related to it. Thank you very much for making the issue crystal clear in this context.
    I would like to ask you about the Short guide book that you mentioned in your post ´Breaking down the barriers of F1` dated March 20, 2013. Did we late comers miss it? Can you send it once again as per your convenience?
    One more thing I would like to say, as you mentioned about the Formula student Team who made the entire new Engine, they have become really famous 😀 :D, I have heard it from another motorsport stalwart like you Claude Rouelle (Optimum G) giving the same reference on the involvement of the students in the sport.

    All the best for Spain!!!
    Best Wishes and Regards

    1. Hi man

      I am afraid I never finished that guide. It is started but very very long and I have not found the time to get it dine yet. Someday!

  11. Hello I am currently studying Mechanical Engineering from India. I am quite interested in race car engineering and involved with the formula student team of our college. I plan to do my masters from US/UK but I don’t quite know which specialization would be the best to get me into F1. Also what course/ career path would you suggest to me not being a resident of Europe to fulfill my dreams of working in F1. Please elaborate a bit on the career path especially. Thanks a lot and its an excellent thing you are doing sir especially for people like me .. Hats off to you…

    1. Hi Bryan

      Thanks for the comment

      I hope you have been able to read my latest post of reaching F1 from outside of Europe. It should shed some light on your plight and give you my thoughts.

  12. Love your site and posts. They are very helpful. I grew up with both parents racing and so did I. I went on to work for Mercedes-Benz and became Master Certified. I continue to work on cars and racecars on free weekends. Starting mechanical engineering school. With having mechanical background and being in school is there a better path to take to get my foot in the door so to speak either starting as mechanic for an F1 team or go towards engineering?

    1. If you can get the grades it is better to go to university and study. That I snows you want to be a mechanic in which case you need to start building ecperience asap

  13. Thank you for this great post . but,can you please elaborate more ? ,I mean you say you have to make your own signature in formula student and you have to be more unique ,but how I can achieve that ?,can you give me some ideas ?.Thank you for your help and support .

    1. Use your imagination. What is good bad about your FS team? Sort something out, improve it. Go out and get a sponsor. I don’t know. Use what you have learnt there to contact a real race team and offer them that expertise for free. Build on your ecperiencesc and something good will come. I would recommend finding a weekend hobby racer and offering to sort out their data logger or just do a bit of bolting for them. They will tear your arm off for that chance

  14. Hi there,
    I have been an absolutely fanatic follower of f1 for half my life (I’m 15). What would you reccomend for someone of my age group? I am particularly interested in the engineering side of motorsport,I live in the UK and i would consider one of the top 5 students in my year group. I just want to know what would make me stand out when I apply to universities in terms of work experience, are formula ford ect. teams be interested in someone of my age? Where should I start and what subjects should I chose to take in my a-levels?
    Thanks for all the help.

    1. A levels maths & physics plus another of your choice. Further maths is good but hard. FFord could be interested, what have you got to offer them? Don’t expect paid work, just start by offer to help packup and “make the tea” etc. could you offer help at a racing school or somewhere similar?

  15. This is the exact reason I chose not to do Formula Student this year, despite being offered the role of team leader (engineering). I guess our university is quite unique in that we run a race team, which competes in race series. Do you think this is a better prospect for universities, allowing students to analyse data, develop cars as well as running them on event? I’m currently on the race team (we ran a Formula Renault last year, a Sports Car this year) as a Vehicle Dynamicist, and also supplementing this work with a professional rally team. Would you say I’m on the right track to work in F1? Thanks in advance. Steffan

    Steffan Williams
  16. This is the precise reason that I chose not to do Formula Student this year (despite being offered the role of team leader). I suppose that our university is unique in that it runs a race team which competes in race series, which is student-run (other than driving). Would you think that this would be a better alternative to universities? Getting people involved in development whilst also running cars on-event, analysing data etc? Thanks in advance.

    Steffan Williams
    1. I would say it is better in my view as it is much less common and organised than FS

  17. I understand what your saying about formula student, I’ve never really thought of it like that before but you are correct. Would you say it is the same for F1 in school?

    1. Less so but no f1 will give you a job just because you did F1 in schools. It’s a great starter as is FS but it should not be all that you do

      1. Thanks for the reply really appreciate it! I’m guessing working at your local Karting center would be a good place to start? I was offered a job there after work experience.

        1. Hi David. Yes that would be a good start. The important thing would be to build on that experience, get involved with a proper race team, a customer who races at the weekend to help the boss out with his race car. Whatever comes your way just keep building on it

  18. I will be attending college (university) this coming fall where they partake in Formula SAE and have already begun getting involved. Before, I viewed it as a great opportunity to get “F1” experience but seeing how many students do it it appears to not carry the same significance to an employer. Living in the U.S. proves challenging to acquire adequate experience seeing how many teams are located in Europe. I was thinking about doing a study abroad in the UK to try and gain more exposure and experience beyond Formula SAE. I was wondering what you would suggest as a method to go about doing something like that? Also, if in addition there are things you as a recruiter like to see in particular besides just involvement in Formula SAE? Thanks for the help and keep up the good work on the blog.


    1. If you get the opportunity to study in the uk I would. Lots of US nationals do this successfully and there is a lot of information and advice available from uk universities about that.
      You could get experience with a us race team couldn’t you? There is probably more grass roots racing there than there is in europe


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