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Formula 1 Engineering

An F1 carThey may not get to stand on the winner's podium, but engineers are what keep F1 going.

In Formula 1 racing, the engineering of the car is at least as important as the skill of the driver. In an interview with The Engineer, driver Adrian Sutil said that improvements to the car can boost his chances without him driving differently: "You didn’t do anything different from driving and the car feels the same, you just go 1km/h faster around every corner".

Making these innovations involves all aspects of engineering:

  • Engines need to be tweaked for maximum speed and performance.
  • Materials need to be designed and selected to cope with the stress of racing.
  • Airfoils - the 'wings' on an F1 car - are designed to force the car down against the track to improve grip. (F1 cars can produce enough downforce that they could theoretically drive upside-down on the ceiling.)
  • Electronics are used to control many elements of an F1 car.

These are just a few of the things F1 engineers work on - so there are opportunities for engineers of every kind. There are also opportunities for mechanics, preparing the car for races and maintaining it during pit stops. These jobs require fewer qualifications, and there is a possibility that you could move up the technical ladder from them, but this is rarer now than it used to be. Almost all F1 engineers will have an engineering degree, while mechanics might have completed an apprenticeship or diploma. Both need plenty of experience.

Getting experience

In the past, it was possible for enthusiasts with no formal qualifications to find their way onto an F1 team by designing, building and racing cars in their spare time. Today, one hobbyist would find it hard to understand every component of an F1 car, let alone design it, and racing teams look for graduates rather than amateur enthusiasts - but amateur racing can still be a great source of experience. Details of motorsport clubs can be found on the MSAUK website, and many universities have motorsport societies of their own.

When it comes to a career, it's rare for anyone to go straight into an F1 team. While lots of different experience can be useful, the most direct way to get into F1 is by starting out in another area of a company with an F1 team, such as another class of racing or road car engineering. F1 engineers also often work on the F1 test team before moving up to the racing team.

However, the world of F1 is very competitive: there are no guarantees, and it takes a lot of hard work to reach the top - and to stay there.

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