Thinking about starting a new career? The world of Motor racing is exciting, unique and connects millions around the world – however, these attributes often lead individuals to believe that the industry is only accessible for the minority of high-skilled, lucky individuals.
VHR’s Automotive recruitment specialists reveal the realities of working as a Motorsport engineer.
Many people see the success of young F1 and NASCAR drivers, and believe that everyone working in the sport is in their 20s or early 30s. This is completely untrue: you don’t have to be young to work in Motorsport.
Drivers are scouted from a very early age – often competing as young teenagers and even as children – Lewis Hamilton famously found his passion at just eight years old. However, there is no age limit for all other positions, whether you work in mechanics electronics, aerodynamics, performance, testing, composites or design. Motor racing is a vocation open to those of all ages, genders and backgrounds, regardless of how many years’ experience you have in the sport or in other engineering roles.
Individuals outside the industry would be forgiven that Motorsport is a glamourous industry: the sport is fast-paced and entertains millions of spectators around the world through a wealth of thrilling race events and online viewing. It consumes significant sums of money and runs exciting global advertising campaigns featuring world-famous car brands and drivers, and those employed in the sector have many opportunities for travelling across the globe.
However, although Motor racing offers an exciting career path, the reality is often different to expectations. Long hours are common to work to busy race and training schedules. International championships can mean that performance and engineering teams spend two thirds of the year on tour. Work can be repetitive and highly challenging: engineering teams will often simulate hundreds of different model builds and race strategies and develop detailed plans for many different outcomes, to prepare for all possible weathers, performance issues, human factors and emergencies on the track.
Individuals employed in the sport have to work hard to succeed – but the rewarding career paths and its many opportunities are worth the investment.
University graduates or former Apprentices may think that their specialist courses will fast-track them into high salaries in the demanding world of Motorsport. However, large starting salaries in the sector are a myth: as with other career paths, everyone has to work their way up, and many starting out in their roles will earn similar pay rates to those in other industries.
However, after a few years of determination and growing success, successful Design Engineers and other technicians can earn phenomenal six-figure salaries every year for their specialist skills, knowledge and experience. Technical Directors in the industry, who are responsible for track performance, aerodynamics and car design, can make over half a million (£500,000) a year.
Our technical recruitment team often speak to candidates who worry that they cannot get into the sport because their skillset doesn’t exactly match that of an F1 technician. Your skillset does not need to be a barrier to entering this industry and building a rewarding career. For engineers and those in technical or manufacturing-related vocations, your skills could be easily transferable into F1, F2, NASCAR and other races.
To succeed in this sector you must be smart, fast and focused – a committed and determined mind can learn most new skills and develop to become highly competent in them. Softer skills and natural personal attributes are far more important in the sport. Resilience is essential to deal with failures, hectic schedules and last-minute changes, problem-solving skills lead to innovative new technology and racing strategies, and teamwork and communication skills are vital for ensuring driver safety and success.
An easy move from specialising in the Automotive sector into Motorsport may seem a natural career progression – however, although both involve building and maintaining cars and working in teams to drive performance and safety, the two industries are very different.
Automotive jobs offer more regular work, with stable shift patterns and long-term targets. Car manufacturing and repair is usually held to strict budgets, output requirements and arrangements with suppliers and retailers. Motorsport, on the other hand, prioritises performance first (with safety also being of paramount importance) and can often be unlimited in terms of cost and innovation potential, due to significant investment and the involvement of fewer stakeholders.
Working in F1 or NASCAR means exceptionally high standards and bettering your work each day: drivers must meet and exceed the standard of their competitors in each race. Each driver has the best possible team working for them, and each team of highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals are constantly analysing race standings and performance to become more innovative – and fast.
Although most skills are transferable from those employed in many industries, Automotive specialists will not receive an advantage when moving into Motor racing. Passion is the most important factor in success in this career, closely followed by determination and grit to persevere through hard work.
Many avid fans can only dream of meeting the stars of Formula One, Formula 2 and rally and stock races. However, whether you’re in the pit or on the design team, most people working in Motorsport will get to meet their heroes.
Unlike Automotive workers, Motorsport technicians don’t have to wait for market feedback and sales reports to find out whether their new models have been successful with the people driving them. From those who design seatbelts, to technicians who manage hydraulics and engineers who calculate speed and efficiency, racing drivers need close communication with their teams to ensure that every aspect of their cars, strategy and journey are the best possible and all in sync for the best possible racing experience, and to stay safe.
Teamwork is essential to auto racing: a team is only as good as it’s weakest element, and the driver needs the best possible support from everyone involved in designing, building and managing their car. Over 100 people can be involved in preparing for just one race.
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