Formula 1 is the self styled pinnacle of motorsport but how much do those in the industry value experience from other forms of racing? This weekend’s Le Mans 24hour race is one of the most famous events in the world for racing enthusiasts but how relevant is it to F1? In this post I’ll tell you why you’d be stupid to pass up opportunities in endurance racing and how you can easily get involved in this type of racing and use it as a stepping stone to Formula 1.
The religion of motorsport
There is something very, very special about Le Mans. The popularity of endurance racing has varied over the past few decades and for a time it looked as if this category of racing may fade into the history books. In recent years however we have seen a resurgence in the popularity and spectacle of this most classic of races and it is once again a firm fixture on the world motorsport calendar.
To go to Le Mans is something of a rite of passage for die-hard fans of motor racing. Along with the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix it has a certain must-see aura about it that draws in spectators from far and wide. I keep a secret list of races I want to see before I die and Le Mans was very close to the top. Having been lucky enough to go I can see exactly why fans are drawn there year after year and how it has become a near religious pilgrimage for many to make the journey to La Sarthe at least once in their lifetime. There is nothing else quite like it.
A race for all-comers
Whilst the very front runners at Le Mans have always been some of the most professional teams of their time, one of the key attractions of an event like the 24hour race is the diversity of cars and teams down through the lower orders. In years gone by you would have seen gentlemen drivers (non professionals) occupying many of the cars through the grid as enthusiasts were allowed to take part in the race provided they could help to finance a car to complete the event. Cars in the lower classes would be run by very small groups of amateurs with everyone mucking in to help keep the car running, many of whom would be volunteers rather than paid employees. This is still the case today with smaller outfits needing to draft in extra help for the big event even though the level of professionalism of the big teams is arguably on a par with Formula 1.
One of the most common mistakes made by people seeking a job in F1 is to just look for a job in F1. From outside the sport F1 can appear like an impenetrable club where no one ever hands out invitations. You can wait an awful long time for a job advert to appear which says “no experience necessary”, in fact I doubt whether you will ever see that at all. Typically, people will become despondent and disenchanted as they see no way into the club and will walk away and get a job elsewhere blaming the sport rather than themselves for the failure. Paralysed by tunnel vision, they will have failed to see the wealth of openings and opportunities that were presented to them because they simply looked straight ahead rather than turn their heads and open their eyes to look for a way in. Reading this however you will not be making that same mistake.
The WEC or World Endurance Championship is currently a very popular and successful form of motorsport. Factory teams such as Toyota, Audi and Porsche are spending significant sums on this form of racing as they believe it to be much better value for money than the drastic expense of Formula 1. Porsche’s return to the sport this season was preceded by a large recruitment drive in Stuttgart and no doubt it has significantly increased the number of people working on its WEC program since.
Such is the technology of these endurance hybrid cars that Formula 1 teams would be extremely interested in employing people with relevant experience in the WEC. Indeed, the Williams F1 offshoot company Williams Hybrid Power (now GKN Hybrid Power) provides the flywheel regenerative braking system that Audi has used to win the event many times in recent years and so there is already a large crossover between the 2 sports. Whilst it is not easy to get a job at this level of the WEC it is not nearly as competitive a job market as that of Formula 1 and in this form of racing you may well find that elusive “no experience necessary” vacancy that you crave. Once you have a foot in the motorsport door then Formula 1 is not very far away and you have every chance of making that transition which had previously looked so unattainable. What to many looks impossible is in fact achievable with only the very smallest of detours. Once involved, you may even enjoy endurance racing enough that F1 no longer appeals but at least you will have the choice and a long and successful career in motorsport can be a reality for you.
Look further down the order
The factory LMP1 teams may steal the headlines but in 2014 no fewer than 55 (yes you read that correctly) cars qualified for the race. A full range of road car manufacturer backed and small motorsport specialist entries are evident all the way down the order and for someone wanting to break into racing they represent a golden back door into the industry. Rebellion Racing, Zytek and Prodrive(Aston Martin) to name but a few are all highly respected motorsport specialist companies which design and manufacture their own Le Mans and WEC cars and yet will not feature of the target list of 90% of F1 job seekers. Companies such as these struggle to attract candidates of sufficiently high calibre and qualifications and yet they can teach you every one of the necessary skills that are required in modern day Formula 1. If you cut your teeth in an environment such as this then F1 teams will take notice when your application arrives and you will sit far and above fresh graduates or those working in general automotive or other industries. The opportunities are golden and it is here where you should be spending your research time and watching the job market because for 90% of F1 workers this was the place where they got their break. I like many of my colleagues started my career at an “unknown” engineering firm, not a racing team, but a company which was well known and respected inside the industry. I did my research and when I got my job I was one of only a handful of applicants because so few people knew the opportunity existed.
Looking beyond F1 and understanding the wider motorsport industry is critical to your chances of getting a job in F1. Endurance racing and the Le Mans 24 hour race is only one of the many ways to break into the industry but given the popularity and current health of this area of the racing then it represents one of the best and you would be crazy to ignore it.
My recommendation is to research, research and further research the companies and race teams that make this amazing area of racing work and target every one of them for work placement or permanent jobs as soon as you can. It is always wise to keep an eye on the opportunities coming up in F1 but the WEC, Le Mans and other race series like them are far more likely to provide you with your way in to racing and those who understand that and act upon it are the most likely to succeed in their quest for a job in F1.
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 followers ! You’d be joining a group of nearly 1000 other F1 hopefuls in getting the latest and most relevant advice when it comes to making your career in F1.
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 the next Grand Prix.