When I studied for my degree, the choices were blissfully simple. Looking at the range of courses available to aspiring F1 engineers now, in particular with the advent of Motorsport degrees, things look significantly more confusing. They emergence of these industry specific university and college courses has brought the motorsport industry into the mainstream but many young potential F1 engineers are unsure about whether they should be studying one of these Motorsport degrees or stick with traditional institutions and subjects. Just what is the real world viewpoint on motorsport degrees?

Oxford Brookes Motorsport degrees

To continue my series on a University choices I’m going to be discussing which is better, a traditional degree course in mechanical or aeronautical engineering or one of the newer motorsport degrees that many more institutions are now offering. The choice may heavily influence whether or not you can make a successful career in F1 or motorsport.

Before we get into this discussion properly, and this goes for all of the recommendations I have made on choice of university not just whether or not you choose motorsport degrees, what follows is purely my opinion and not necessarily the opinion of everybody in F1. I am sure many will disagree with what I have to say but it’s a discussion and this is my take.

Get out there and get involved

A running theme throughout this blog has been the need to get out and to get involved in motorsport as early and as much as you can. There is no substitute. As everybody knows, F1 teams are much more likely to employ people who have previous motor sport experience as they know and understand what is required by the job and will have built up skills and knowledge that are essential to meeting the needs of the team. If you have no work experience, a background in karting, marshalling or helping with another driver’s car preparation will have taught you a great deal about what racing is all about and demonstrates that you have the initiative to go out and make something for yourself rather than sit back and take the ride. When it comes to motorsport degrees, the university of real life is always the best institution.

In the past you would have done your degree in the week and have to go out and get your racing experience in the evenings or at weekends. Candidates who applied for jobs with “just” a degree or college qualifications and no racing experience would probably be overlooked because it’s impossible to separate theme out from all of the other identical candidates who have just followed the path that school has led them on. The ones who had made the extra effort would stand out and they are the ones who got the jobs.

Getting racing experience isn’t easy. Competing is expensive and even helping out or assisting someone else is time consuming and can cost money. Not everybody is fortunate enough to live in Silverstone or Monza where they can go to races and take in the atmosphere. Privilege or luck, whichever it is, means that not everyone can get involved as easily as the next person. This is tough but a fact of life.

Without something motorsport related to add to your CV or resume you are destined to join the masses who leave school or graduate from university with nothing other than exam grades and passing interest in Formula 1 to show for it. You might have done well at school but when I receive your application there is little to distinguish you from every other candidate who has done well in their exams also. Why should I pick you over another person who has taken the same exams as you and got the same grades? With nothing more to show you are simply putting your career destiny down to fate or luck.

Motorsport Degrees

The advent of motorsport degrees has changed things a little and for the better if you are someone who doesn’t have a prior background in racing.

When I pick up a CV from a candidate who has studied a motorsport degree I know straightaway that this person knows something about motor racing and has taken their career intentions seriously enough to commit 3 or more years of their life to studying for a job in this industry and this industry alone. That makes you stand out as a more serious candidate.

Being successful in Formula 1 and motorsport is only partly about being clever or inventive. So much of what we do in this sport is about being proactive, dependable, self motivated and dedicated. Your personality is just as important as your qualifications but your exam grades don’t tell me anything about your attitude and your work ethic. People can get top marks at school and yet still be totally unsuited to working in F1. When I look at your resume I have no way of knowing anything about your real personality except from your extra-curricular activities. Without a credible list of outside interests and achievements you are unlikely get chosen for an interview.

If I see that you have studied one of the numerous motorsport degrees available then it tells me something about you straight away. I know that you really are interested in racing and that you have gone out of your way to commit to it as early as you could. If you have stuck at that choice, got good grades and are now applying for a job in the industry then you clearly still want it and have ambitions to make it. As a recruiter I have something more to go on and can separate you out from the pile of otherwise identical CV’s I have from other university leavers.

There is no doubt you will be more familiar with racing, how the industry works and you may have done courses or modules with content very similar to the actual job content that you will get involved in with a real team. This is all a bonus.

Here comes the but

I’ll let you into a secret however. I’m not a fan of motorsport degrees. Good though they can be, I don’t think they are as good as more traditional courses. Confused? Well let me explain.

First of all, motorsport degrees are starting to be a victim of their own success. At first they were relatively scarce and so competition existed to get onboard and the number of candidates who completed those courses was small.

With so many institutions now offering similar courses, the individuality of the Motorsport degrees is being eroded and the pile of CV’s we get from candidates with motorsport specific qualifications is now very large. It’s no longer making you stand out from the crowd because now you are just the crowd again. It’s unfortunate but motorsport degrees no longer make you stand out.

Secondly, and this is perhaps controversial, the quality of the institutions that offer motorsport degrees is often not as high as the more traditional engineering universities. If you look at universities rated in the top 10 for engineering in the UK, the vast majority do not offer motorsport degrees. These colleges tend to stick to general mechanical and aeronautical degrees and this still carries a great deal of weight in the eyes of many F1 recruiters. In fact, I know several people in the industry who firmly believe that motorsport degrees are no good and that candidates who study for them are generally of a lower standard than those who attend the better regarded institutions.

This of course is not true in every case and I have personally worked with a number of very very good engineers who have gone down the route of motorsport degrees. Whilst I and many others have reservations, it cannot be denied that there are a great deal of F1 engineers working in the sport today who have gone down this route and it certainly can work. Recruits from Oxford Brookes and Cranfield in particular seem to have a great deal of success and were generally the institutions that paved the way in this arena and forged the closest ties with F1 and other motorsport companies.

What is the best choice then?

If you are faced with making this choice between a traditional engineering course and one of the increasing number of motorsport degrees in the near future then what should you do? The choice is yours but this is my advice :

If you have been lucky enough or pro-active enough to collect your own experience in racing and motorsport at school and outside of the classroom then I would recommend that you go to the best university you can and choose a traditional mechanical or aeronautical engineering course. For me, this is the best type of candidate as they have a high quality degree in the fundamentals of engineering and yet they have shown that they have the drive and determination to get experience of racing outside of the normal schools system. This is the ideal route.

If you haven’t had that opportunity however or if you have come to motorsport later in your academic life then you risk being anonymous if you get a traditional degree and don’t collect motorsport related knowledge as part of your eduction. The opportunities that the motorsport degrees offer are very good and will gave you a real taste of racing before you enter the world of work. For me, it is second best but it is the easiest option for many. Bear in mind however that you will still be in the crowd so it is important to try whatever you can to get yourself ahead of your peers and make yourself unique. Having one of these motorsport degrees will not guarantee you a job in F1 and it would be foolish to rely on that.

There is more to it

Given the apparent importance of choosing a university in a young engineer’s life and career, this discussion on university has been something I have talked about at some length and in multiple posts. I would still like to talk about postgraduate courses and how they can allow you to combine the strengths of a traditional degree with a motorsport specific course that gets you close to industry. That post should be coming up very shortly so don’t forget to follow this blog in the box below to receive the latest updates as soon as possible. You’d be joining a group of over 1300 other F1 hopefuls in getting the latest and most relevant advice when it comes to making your career in F1.

In the meantime however you can also read back through my other recent posts or search under university to find the relevant posts.

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.