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The inside track on Formula One careers!

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Part 2 of our Formula One career guide

Welcome to the second part of our blog about working in F1. We’ve already seen that F1 is an exciting, prestigious and challenging career (missed part 1? Read it here).

This time, it’s over to two of our friends at Honda F1 Racing, Christopher Wright and George Warrington, who offer glimpses of trackside and factory-based life respectively.

Christopher is a Trackside Power Unit Performance Engineer, and George a factory-based Junior Mechanical design engineer, both at Honda Racing F1. Over to you, gents.

What’s the most popular misconception about working in F1?

Christopher: For me, it’s that we spend all night looking at data. We do spend a long time analysing the data and finding areas to improve. But we also make time to have a beer and get some sleep!

George: Probably that you need to know people on the inside to get into the industry. Good contacts help in any industry, but really it’s down to your CV and how well you come across in an interview.

Another myth is that you work 24/7 all year round. We certainly have our peaks. I’m especially busy during the winter but for much of the season it’s a pretty normal working week like any industry. Overtime is perhaps more regular than in other industries but if you are in F1 you’ll be passionate, and you don’t notice it.

How did you come to be in your role?

Christopher: I always watched motor racing with my Dad on Sundays (he usually fell asleep). I focussed on academia at school, then did my degree in Motorsports Engineering at UCLAN. On those types of degree courses it seems lots people want to become a Race Engineer after they graduate. I decided to pick an area that most see as a bit specialist and are scared of; I realised this might help me successfully secure an interesting job after university. I decided I should try to specialise in dampers, electronics or engines. I picked engines and haven’t looked back! I’ve been in the industry now since 2005. I started with motorcycle tuning, then went endurance racing with sports prototypes before moving into F1.

George: I came into my role through a standard A level and university route: I went to the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Swansea, took an HND in Motorsport Engineering on the BSc course and after completing that in two years, took a one-year placement for Force India in the engineering and control department. Then I returned to university where I transferred onto a Bachelors of Engineering course specialising in Motorsport Engineering and Design, which I spent a further two years studying.

My experiences further inspired my passion for F1 and while studying, I also worked with the Formula Renault team in the Monoposto championship, which allowed me to put my skills into practice and go racing – I learned loads doing this. Towards the end of my time at university I got in touch with some recruitment agencies. Paul Frisby at Gerrell & Hard talked to me a lot, and recommended me for my role. And here I am!

Was there an obvious “moment” that led to your career in F1?

Christopher: No, it was a culmination of interest and education which led me here. I didn't ever expect to be working in F1, I just wanted to do something interesting and get as much experience as possible. Looking back it was almost inevitable that I would want to be working in F1 but I'm glad that it wasn't a target I set for myself.

George: It was only when I looked for university courses that I discovered F1 was a career path that I might be able to take. I was always interested in cars and motorsport, but at school I struggled with maths and thought F1 was too lofty for me to access. But when a friend told me about the motorsport degree course I realised I could do it. I was initially considering boat design. From my time at university, everything I have done is about being the best engineer I could possibly be. Coming out of university I had an end goal in sight: getting into F1. To have done so is a great feeling.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Christopher: I like having a direct beneficial impact on the operation and performance of Alex’s (Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon) car. When it all comes together and we get a good result as a team, it makes me very happy to know that I did a good job and contributed to that success.

George: I enjoy everything - I like working in the top echelons of the sport at the forefront of innovation, and I enjoy being part of a team. It takes a whole raft of designers and engineers with incredible talent and skills to make a car competitive, and I just try to learn as much as I can.

To an engineer, the challenges of F1 are what drives you. We’re looking at the latest technology, working with really smart people, at a pace that’s exciting. It’s a privilege to work on some of the most high-tech projects around. I design energy storage systems so I get to see the packs fully built and operational. When you see the work you put in during pre-season testing it’s a welcome sign when everything goes to plan. But when you actually qualify it’s amazing – the job satisfaction is massive. 

What are the challenges of your job?

Christopher: Prioritisation and decision making. I have a lot of factors to take into account when trying to optimise the performance of the Power Unit. Lots of different conditions and parameters can affect the car performance. To be good at this job you have to know which are the most important areas and prioritise those. This comes with experience.

George: F1 is so complex that the big challenge is making all the different elements of the car work together. This is technically demanding. Every team wants the highest power, lowest weight and smallest volume and that’s what the teams are after from an engine supplier. Our big technical challenge is making it work, and there’s a classic engineering challenge right there, of trying to find a solution.

That’s a fantastic insight into F1 from two industry insiders, so a huge thank you to Christopher and George, and to Honda Racing F1, for their kind participation in this article.

If you have any questions about this blog or Formula 1 careers, please get in touch with Nick Gerrell.