Understanding the motorsport industry

What makes F1 people a different breed?

I’ve written elsewhere about the “Formula 1 Mindset” but it’s something that I wanted to talk about a little bit more.

From the comments on the blog I know that several people have asked whether they should go and work in general industry first in order to build up experience. This post outlines the differences between large mainstream industries and the racing industry and why I don’t recommend you spend too long in general industry if you are serious about getting to F1.

What’s wrong with big business?

As I have detailed elsewhere, I’ve worked for a few large businesses and corporations and didn’t enjoy it. In the automotive industry, new car projects take around 3 years to complete to production and involve coordination of many different groups of people. Communication is difficult and so good project management is essential. Attitude to risk is very cautious as one failure can damage a company’s reputation and can lead to large losses. It is similar to being on the crew of large container ship which is an impressive vessel but takes huge effort to stop or change course.

In racing, the deadlines and timescales are much shorter. F1 teams produce a new car every year and bring updates and developments to nearly every race. Fast turnaround and the ability to react to problems with your car or a development brought out by another team is essential. Instead of years to develop something, we work in weeks or even days.

If a car breaks down in F1 the process to fix it starts almost immediately. The data engineers can probably predict what has happened from the telemetry so when the car is recovered back to the garage, the mechanics will be able to dismantle the affected area and find what has broken. The designers have probably gone to the factory while the race is still on so when photos of the broken parts are emailed through they can see them almost as quickly as the engineers at the track. A fix can be in place even before Monday morning has arrived.

The ability to react to problems quickly is critical to a racing team and is essentially what sets it apart from a normal business. When a working day is 24hrs instead of 8hours and you put your blood, sweat and tears into it, it’s incredible what can be achieved. In racing, if you don’t do it nobody else will and so it’s unusual to see individuals dodging responsibility. This attitude is usually missing in larger industries as there is often a system or procedure in place to relieve you of responsibility. Someone or something will often pickup where you left off and it is easy to hide and put off work to later.

The reason I recommend you NOT to pursue a career in larger industry as a route into F1 is because these slow and system led working practices are the polar opposite of the work ethics required by F1 teams and will normally put off a potential employer from interviewing you. From experience of hiring people with more than a few years experience of larger industry, I would say that they are less adaptable and find the fast changing world of F1 difficult to handle. Many stay only a short while and return to their former company or industry for the ease of the 9 to 5.

If you need a job (who doesn’t ?) and get the opportunity then you can take it but start looking for an alternative immediately. Don’t stay more than 2 years if you can help it as even if you are still enthused by the idea of racing, your CV will start to look stale and boring and F1 and other race teams will overlook you in favour of those who work in the wider motorsport industry or other high tech areas.

What is the alternative?

If big business and the general automotive industry is a bad idea for getting into F1 where can you gain suitable experience outside of F1/racing?

High technology small and medium sized businesses of any sort are good experience for F1 especially in the automotive or high performance sector. I know someone who worked for a company developing high end mountain bike components with just a few employees who made the switch to F1 and fitted straight in because he was used to carrying responsibility in a number if different roles and pushing to meet impossible deadlines.

An individual who can demonstrate that they have innovated, pushed, taken the road less travelled will always win over the individual who has only followed the system, done what they were told and followed the system or procedure. There is no fixed route to winning in F1, you need to find it. Likewise there is no fixed route to getting a job in F1 and demonstrating individuality, showing determination and standing out from the system, from the crowd and from the background is the way to show that you can succeed where others fail to see the way. If you can do this, you can probably find winning ways in F1 too and so you will be just the sort of person that the F1 teams want to employ.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I worked at a Motorsport supplier in the UK before moving to America to work in IndyCar before I got the chance to work in F1. Not a direct route by any measure but it showed that I was determined and resourceful and that counted for a lot when I eventually got my chance to apply to an F1 team.

This blog aims to help you in your own personal quest but ultimately it is up to you to find your way to F1.

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Best of luck and here is to a good result in the next Grand Prix.

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9 thoughts on “What makes F1 people a different breed?

  1. It is interesting to read your comparison with traditional big corporation. The last ten years within my field, IT, has been adopting a different view, called agile. It is very much about embracing change and release every 1 – 4 weeks. Of course to get an competitive advantage. However, old structures and thinking still prevail and speed and agility is not such well understood arguments as in your business. 🙂

  2. I’m in my 12th with PCM and computer science. I really need your advice as to where should I apply for college, and what courses are best to become successful in F1.
    I want to do top jobs and I’m very much passionate about F1.
    I just love it .

    P.S: your blog is awesome.

    1. Hi

      I have part written some posts on university choice so keep in touch with the blog to read then when I get time to finish them

  3. I was thinking that some large automotive companies have sectors just for motorsport (VW for WRC, Renault for F1, Toyota and others). Of course I think being part of the motorsport sector of a large company is a lot faster pace, and if it’s about F1, it’s F1 pace.
    I have in mind that making my way to f1 through the motorsport division of a large company (specifically with the engines manufacturers, because of my interest in engines) might be a good idea…but i’m not very sure and need a second opinion. What do you think of this “strategy”?
    Thanks in advance, and have a good summer shutdown :).

    1. Hi

      Thanks for the question, it’s a good one. It sounds like a sensible strategy on the face of it but I would advise a word of caution.

      The racing divisions of many car manufacturers are often separate companies based in a separate place. In fact it is more common that not for car companies to outsource their racing operations to third party companies and then brand them under the car company name. You mentioned Toyota in your question, they are probably the best example as their racing division is/was based in Germany as a company’s which originally ran private rally cars. It went on to develop its rally, Le Mans and ultimately it’s F1 operations and was bought by the parent Toyota company. The company has remained separate however and there is very little transfer between it and Toyota headquarters in Japan.

      Looking closely this is typical of many F1 operations. Mercedes engines was a firm called Ilmor based in Northampton. Renault F1 is based heavily on a private company called Meccachrome in Viry and BMW F1 was formed largely using employees of Cosworth.

      In summary there may be opportunities but beware of how separate and distant racing operations may be from the production companies whose names they carry. The route in may still be easier from outside than it is from within.

  4. I am a final year Mechanical Engineering student from India. I have taken up special projects in CFD, FEA and also worked a lot as Team Captain of my Formula Student Team. I am planning to come to Cranfield University in UK for my Masters, but getting a work visa is very difficult in UK. The companies therefore prefer UK grads as compared to international since they don’t have to sponsor them. If I have 2-3 years work experience in IndyCar , would I be in a very good position to be sponsored?
    Do you recruit fresh international post-grads in your F1 team?

    1. Hi.

      Thanks got the question and please accept my apologies for taking so long to reply.

      Firstly your work so far seems very suitable so that’s a good start. As I’ve mentioned in reply to some other comments, the course at Cranfield is very good and well regarded so that’s a good direction. It seems to be a good way in for many overseas students and has strong industrial links that you can use to build relationships.

      Work history in IndyCar would be perfect. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere this is exactly what I did despite me being from the UK originally anyway. I’m planning to write a post about that very soon

      We have definately taken on international post grads in our team, we have several but most have studied in the UK at some point

      Hope that helps!

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