Recent headlines have told a tale of job losses and redundancies at the Caterham F1 team and rumour has it that even the competitive Williams team has recently reduced the size of its workforce. Even if you get a job in F1, is there any guarantee of keeping it?
My parents generation often spoke of a “job for life” and in that era it wasn’t unusual for someone to join a trade or firm when they left school and work there until they retired. Sounds secure but is it realistic now or even desirable? A dynamic workforce is a more competitive one and more adaptable as conditions change. It is certainly much less common now to have a job for life and will probably be very rare in a few decades time even in relatively stable industries.
F1 is certainly not a stable industry. Rules, winners, losers and heroes come and go and the ever evolving nature of competitive sport means that nothing stays static for very long. Two weeks is about the maximum as the saying goes, you are only as good as your last race.
Teams come and go and the list of failed F1 outfits is long. The hopes and dreams of the F1 high life have been crushed by reality for a great many hopeful team owners. Even F1 superstars such as Alain Prost have found running their own team a little bit too tough and had to close their doors and lay off staff. F1 is a ruthless business and never more so when it comes to survival.
The troubled rumours surrounding Caterham have existed for many, many months. It came as little surprise to hear that the team had been sold as the previous owner Tony Fernandes had publicly expressed the opinion that he would not continue F1 if the team did not up it’s game. 2014 has been a near disaster thus far.
In times gone by Caterham would have folded and the workforce would be on the street. From what I hear many of those who left were told simply to go back to their desks, get their things and walk out of the factory for good. An abrupt end to their employment and not a pleasant experience.
The fact that Caterham remains on the grid however is a massive bonus. Nobody likes to see friends and colleagues losing their livelihoods but more people have kept their jobs than have list them and this certainly is a change compared to days of old.
In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s F1 teams were small outfits and could be setup in a few short months. Similarly it was very easy for them to fail, be wound up and a replacement team to take their place. An F1 employee in this era may find themselves out a job more than once in a year such was the turnover of teams & jobs. I personally know someone who lost his job then got a new one only to lose it two weeks later. No job security whatsoever.
In recent times however the complexity of the typical F1 team means that they are much more difficult to setup and also to wind down as there is so much more equipment, knowledge and structure required. To setup a completely new Formula 1 team now is extraordinarily complex and expensive, not least getting access to a suitable windtunnel and so more common these days is for a defunct team simply to be sold, bought and rebranded as a ” new” team the following season. The teams currently occupying the first two places in the championship, Mercedes & Red Bull are both former teams under a different name which have been rebranded. The Mercedes team was setup in the late 90’s as BAR, then moved to Honda then to Brawn and now to Mercedes. Red Bull was originally setup by Jackie Stewart and his son Paul before being sold to Ford/Jaguar and then to Red Bull. A form of F1 recycling which have ultimately led to those 2 teams being more competitive and a more healthy employer after the short term pain.
Many Red Bull employees have worked for each team in its various guises and possibly have worked at 3 different teams without even moving desks or car parking spaces. It’s an unstable business for sure but it can still offer job security comparable with many “ordinary” industries.
Whilst F1 will never be an ordinary 9-5 existence it is probably more stable now as an industry and a business than it has ever been. Many people will spend an entire career in F1 and never be out it work. The competitive nature of this sport means that you can never be comfortable or go along just for a ride but if you can build your experience, home your expertise and build a reputation for yourself in the business then opportunities should never be far away. Even if you do find yourself out of a job you can be confident that there are not many people out there able to take your place and that surviving rival teams will want to know what you know, and how you can help them survive on the F1 grid.
Getting into F1 is still the key and this is where this blog can help you get off the ground with past and future posts.
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Best of luck and here is to a good result in the next Grand Prix.