I’m often asked which is the best university to go to if you want to work in F1. The right education and qualifications are clearly very important but is it just about knowledge or do teams favour certain courses or universities over others? It is a complex question and one which many people agonise over. This post attempts to explain my thoughts on the subject and to pass on recommendations on choosing the best university if you want to work in Formula 1.
A big subject
I’ve got quite a lot to say on the subject of universities. I started writing this post way back in October 2013, and have written and re- written it countless times. Initially I thought the post would be pretty straightforward but the more I’ve written, the more I’ve realised how much there is to write. Too much for one post that is for sure so this is likely to be the first of several, hopefully each of which will help you decide whether university is for you and which course and institution will serve you best.
The best university
If you are considering a university education to boost your chances of a career in F1 then you are most likely looking to be a designer, race engineer, vehicle dynamicist or aerodynamicist. A degree can also be important if you want to work in marketing or team management. If you want to be a mechanic, a technician, machinist or other manufacturing practitioner then it’s important to understand that you don’t NEED a degree. For certain jobs you may be better off without one and gaining experience in the workplace. To decide whether or not it’s for you , you may want to read this post first.
If you are certain that the university route is for you then the next question is how to choose the university that will prepare you best for your career.
What is the best university for Formula 1 then? Straightaway I’ll be honest and say that I can’t answer that question!! There is no best way, or best university to get into F1. It’s just not that simple. If you ask people what the best university in their own country is then you will probably get different answers and opinions and for F1 it is no different. It’s certainly subjective and often even an emotive question. What might the best from one person’s point of view will almost certainly be different from another’s. There is no rule.
There are 11 teams and hundreds of people interviewing candidates for positions so ask yourself, why would they all have agreed on a ‘best university’ to take employees from? F1 is a very capitalist open market and rarely has structure or fixed way of doing things and so the idea of a single best university across all teams is actually absurd. Even if there was one, the first thing any thinking team would do would be to break free and hire people from another different university to gain an advantage over its rivals. In many cases the ‘best’ university comes down to an opinion and I cannot speak for my own team never mind all the others.
How will I know where to study then?
The fact that there isn’t a single best university to attend which will guarantee you a job in F1 is actually very good news rather than bad. It may mean that you may have to do more research rather than just reading this post but what it really means is that you have a decent chance of working in the sport coming from a whole range of different backgrounds. It should be clear if you have done any research into existing F1 people that they have come from a wide variety of previous employments and academic backgrounds and in many different countries. It should be clear that no-one will be excluded because they did not follow the “right” path. Having done that research however you can be sure that those institutions would not harm you chances of getting into the sport. It’s a start and well worth the time spent.
Does it matter at all which subject I study in that case?
It is of course not entirely random. Certain universities will have good general reputations and others bad. Formula 1 is not unique in this respect as universities will have the better or poorer reputations in the wider world not specifically in motorsport. Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK for example are very famous and renowned institutions worldwide and anyone with a good degree from these universities is likely to be regarded as well qualified by another member of the public. This will also apply to a lesser extent to other universities on a sliding scale but the real question is whether or not these reputations differ or matter within F1? Not an easy question to answer.
Put yourself in the team’s shoes
I always tell people to try to put themselves in the position of the person who will ultimately be reading their CV or resume when they send in their application. If you worked at an F1 team what would you look for from an applicant’s university or other qualifications? F1 engineers are often talented but they don’t know everything and are in most respects just very normal people like you or I. Are you likely to know the relative quality of every university across the world and the different courses that they run? No, of course you wouldn’t and neither do many people working at F1 teams! They don’t have the time!
What is more likely is that they will have a very similar view of what is a good university and what is a bad university as anyone else. They will make their judgements based on something that they readily understand and is familiar to them. The university that they attended is likely to be near the top of the list (this works, as my first boss in motorsport hired me partly because of it) but as we have already seen, F1 people come from a wide range of backgrounds and so this doesn’t really help unless you happen to be lucky. An individual may hire from the same institution more than once if they are pleased with the quality of people they have already recruited. If you used personal research or something like LinkedIn, this might offer you more information on the academic background of junior engineers but only if you have very specific team in mind and if your target is that narrow then you are artificially limiting your chances anyway. These trends change too and so by the time you graduate, another university may be in favour and the research was largely wasted.
Who am I ?
To help you envisage the process a little more I’m going to use myself as an example. There is only a very small chance that I will be the person who receives your resume if you apply to an F1 team, but I am probably quite typical of the person that does. There is a high percentage of F1 workers from the UK and so there is a high percentage chance that the person that receives your CV was born in, or has worked in the UK at some point. If I use myself as a model therefore, I was born and brought up in the UK, English is my primary language and I have a degree education from a UK university and I graduated around 20 years ago. This might not cover every team leader across F1 but there will be some similarities at least. The following are what I might be influenced by when judging what a good unversity for an F1 applicant might be :
1) The university that I attended for my degree (assuming I had a good experience there)
2) The university that my last successful recruitment attended to get their degree
3) Universities that I or my team have dealt with for research or collaborative development
4) The top 10 universities by general reputation in my home country
5) Universities based in major cities that I recognise from foreign countries around the world
As I mentioned, the individual looking at your application may not fit my description exactly but the scope of what they know and what they understand to be a good university will probably fit the above 5 factors quite closely.
What if I do not live in the UK?
As I have mentioned, many F1 recruiters will naturally hire from universities which are known and familiar to them. Given that the largest majority of workers in F1 are European, and a large percentage of them are from the UK then degree qualifications from UK universities are most likely to be recognised and understood in F1. This is not to suggest that UK universities are better than institutions in other countries (statistics do not bear this out anyway) but it is inescapable that they will be more familiar to many of the people who recruit for the teams and so potential candidates in the UK, western Europe or other English speaking countries are most likely at an advantage over other people when it comes to working in F1. This is simply the result of the majority of teams being based in this part of the world.
If you are determined to work in F1 then I would seriously consider coming to the UK to study. This has 2 advantages as it means you will have a qualification which is more readily recognised by the teams and also it shows that you are prepared to commit to leaving your home country and happy to travel. As I have discussed elsewhere, commitment and the right mindset are extremely important in any application to an F1 team but demonstrating it can be difficult. A move to a UK university will instantly make you stand out and say something very positive about you to the teams. If you want to work in F1 you will have to move to Europe/UK eventually, it might as well be now and is potentially easier at this stage.
I understand however that this kind of move may not always be possible. Financial restrictions are a big consideration for many and visa and passport issues can make such a move difficult for some. If you choose to study in your home country then it will not completely exclude you from a career in F1 (far from it) but you should consider the potential issue of familiarity when it comes to choosing your university. You need to consider once again the person who is likely to be receiving your application.
If I use myself as an example again, I would be looking for an overseas applicant to have good grades (I may not understand the grading system in your country so consider explaining it in your covering letter) in a relevant subject from a university which I have heard of or from the university of a major city in the country of your residence. For example, I know very little about universities in India, but I would recognise University of Delhi or University of Mumbai as being potentially reputable institutions as they are based in major cities which are internationally recognised. I am less likely to to have heard of Vishwakarma Institute of Technology however, even though it may excel in its field, and so there would be a big unknown and inevitably some doubt about that application in my mind unless there were other more favourable points in that individual’s application. To compare that person to an applicant from a UK university, I would need to understand their relative strengths and it would be difficult for me to do this without any knowledge of that person’s qualifications. You could consider a short summary of your university’s background and any information that may show its reputation more favourably but do not assume that the reader will know much about where you are or have studied and they are unlikely to take the time to research it unless you have other stand out qualities in your application.
There is more to it
Given the apparent importance if this choice in a young engineer’s life and career, choosing a university is something I wanted to talk about at more length and in multiple posts. In the meantime however you can also consider some of my discussion on degree subject here which may help you narrow down your search of institution.
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Best of luck and here is to a good result in the next Grand Prix.