Atlas F1   Into F1:
the Route to the Top

  by Will Gray, England

In a new series of articles, Will Gray analyses the different jobs available on the technical side of Formula One, finds what skills are required, and suggests ways for budding engineers to get their foot in the door

Many dream of working in Formula One. The glamour portrays an exciting picture of the sport, but it is the challenge and rapid analysis that spurs on the lucky and dedicated few who work there. The engineers' designs are tested against the opposition every other week, so you soon know where you are and which direction you're heading. Formula One design never stands still. The engineers working in the eleven teams are considered to be at the top of their profession, and they have to be dedicated to the cause. It's a tough world out there - you have to be prepared to work all hours of most days, striving to get a team to the front and then make it stay there. It's no nine to five by any means, but if you can put all your soul into it, the rewards are worth it - especially if your car crosses that line in first place.

With teams ever growing, they are gaining a larger infrastructure, and that can only be good for prospective engineers. For example, Jordan's drawing office in their debut season (back in 1991) struggled to reach double figures - a team like that simply could not survive in the current F1 environment. With more money coming into the sport teams have more funding for personnel in areas such as design and development, and with the current influx of manufacturers to the sport, there is growing potential for more dreams to be satisfied than ever before.

An engineering team is made up of a large range of specialist areas, each of which interact to design, create, and run the car. Top job on the team is, of course, Technical Director. This requires an overall knowledge of the workings of all areas of the car, good problem solving abilities - and a lot of experience! There is no set route to get there, but generally it is from climbing up the ladder. Here are some of the steps:

Aero Engineer: Here you will be required to prepare, run and analyse wind tunnel tests. You will also spend a lot of time designing parts for the scale wind tunnel model, and be constantly asked to find more downforce. As most gains come from working on the wind tunnel model, the position is generally wind tunnel and factory based, but there is also some full-size aero work.

CFD Engineer: Computational Fluid Dynamics is the next big thing. It is a virtual wind tunnel on a computer screen, so if you have good computing skills and interest in development, this is the place for you. Teams currently use these packages to test ideas before creating expensive parts for the wind tunnel model, with wing design being of particular consideration. You will therefore have to work closely with other Aero engineers in the department.

Materials Engineer: With weight critical, you never want too much material. It is your job to have just enough to pass the ruling requirements on strength and rigidity, and to set up structural tests to prove it. Factory based, a good knowledge of carbon fibre design and lay up is important, and as Formula One is at the cutting edge of materials development, constant investigation into new materials will also be part of the job.

Mechanical Engineer: This title covers a broad range of areas, and makes up a large proportion of any drawing office. Being one of the less specific positions, you could be involved with suspension, gearbox, chassis - anything to do with the full size car. This is a factory-based position covering most of the design on the car, and for that reason, there is great integration in this area. It involves mainly design work, but can also be a stepping stone to becoming a race or test engineer.

Electrical Engineer: This mix of race and factory based jobs demands the design and maintenance of the electronic systems on the car - a complex and important task, as almost everything on the car needs the electronics to work! It involves designing and testing systems at the base, as well as providing the knowledge required to make them work at the track. If your system fails in the middle of practice, you have to know how to fix it - so problem solving in no time at all is an essential quality!

Data Engineer: Telemetry data is sent from the car whenever it is out on the track. By analysing this information, you must be able to spot tell-tale signs suggesting ways to change the set-up in qualifying, and ensure any problems during the race are found before it is too late. Working alongside the Race engineer and the drivers, this post demands good people skills, and also requires the ability to work under pressure at high speed, but for that reason is one of the most exciting on the team.

Race/Test Engineer: Dream job for many, this position sees you at all the races or tests, talking to drivers, engineers and mechanics. You will be responsible for the overall set-up of the car, so a methodical attention to detail is required, as well as a flair for knowing just what change to make at what time. This comes with experience and knowledge of the car, and is why most race car engineers come from data acquisition or from the design room. When not at the circuit, you will be preparing for the next visit, running computer simulations, and analysing data from past races or tests.

Research and Development Engineer: As more teams become flush with cash, this area has seen a recent growth. It sees you involved in more long term work, and can involve integration with any area of the engineering team. Not all long term, however, you may also be involved in testing back at the factory. Most teams have hydraulic rigs which move the car in a manner mimicking each racetrack (similar, in principle, to a simulator you would find at a fairground). It is your job to receive the data from whichever track the team is racing on, and continue testing different set-ups through the night.

It must be noted that there are many other technical jobs on an F1 team, and these are more considered by people with a higher education degree. Further jobs in Formula One, along with routes to get there, are detailed in next week's article.

Next week: Starting Out in F1

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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