One of the most important staff members in a Formula 1 team is the race engineer. A race engineer does much more than just talk to the driver during the race and inform them of what is happening. Many new fans may wonder what exactly F1 race engineers do and why they’re so important.
An F1 race engineer relays information between the drivers and their crew in order to keep the driver up to date with race progress and make setup changes during the race. Race engineers also review data to compare performance, keep an eye on the vehicle condition, and communicate with the driver.
Race engineers hold one of the most important positions in a Formula 1 team and oftentimes they can be the key to a driver’s success. Below, we go into more detail about what exactly F1 race engineers do, and we discuss the process of actually becoming an F1 race engineer.
What Do F1 Race Engineers Do?
Formula 1 race engineers are some of the most important staff members of the entire F1 team. You can normally find them sitting on the pit wall next to the strategist and team principal, communicating directly with the driver.
You can always hear their voices on the team radio, and many race engineers have become famous. From Bono to Rob Smedley, some race engineers have become pop culture legends who are well-known in the Formula 1 community.
F1 race engineers do much more than just chat to the driver throughout the course of a race. In fact, race engineers have some of the most complex and difficult jobs in the team.
Communicating With The Driver
Their first responsibility is probably the most obvious one, and that is communicating with the driver. From letting the driver know what position they are in to giving them updates on the weather and even telling them how many laps are remaining in the race, the race engineer needs to be in constant communication with their driver.
However, this is no easy task. The race engineer is bombarded with constant information, and they need to choose which parts of this wall of information is the most important for their driver and filter that out to their driver at the right time.
They can’t just talk to their drivers at any time, either. Many drivers get distracted when their race engineer talks to them in the middle of a corner, which could send them spinning off the track. Race engineers need to carefully and quickly deliver a condensed piece of information to their driver to make sure they get the message loud and clear.
Working On Setups
When it comes to driving a Formula 1 car, it’s important for the car to be set up correctly. Formula 1 cars rely on having the perfect setup in order to be able to perform well at a specific track and suit the needs of the driver.
Each circuit requires a different setup on the car. Sometimes the car needs a higher top speed. Sometimes the driver prefers to have more oversteer than understeer. Setting up the car is tricky, and drivers only have three practice sessions to get it right before the race weekend fully gets underway with qualifying.
However, there are some aspects of the car setup that can be changed during a race. The front wing can be adjusted during a pit stop for example, and there are various electronic systems on the car that can be altered to ensure the car is optimized not only for the specific track, but even for the specific conditions throughout the race.
The race engineer is the one who communicates this to the driver, or from the driver to the team. For example, if the driver wants more downforce on the front wing, they can relay that to the race engineer to pass it on to the mechanics to tweak it during their next pit stop.
The drivers may not be fully clued up on all of the many technical aspects on the car. This is where the race engineer comes in, as they know what needs to be changed on the car in order to achieve what the driver wants from their vehicle. Essentially, the race engineer becomes the translator between the driver and the mechanics who make the changes on the car.
Reviewing Past Data
In order to make sure that the team is always moving forward, the race engineer is also responsible for poring over pages of data and telemetry on the car. Whether it’s working with data on a setup or identifying whether a new update is working, the race engineer studies a lot of past data to get the information they need to help the team.
In Formula 1, looking back is sometimes the best way to move forward. Having the previous data and carefully analyzing it can show the race engineer and the team where they are losing time with their car and what they need to improve.
Reviewing Current Data
Formula 1 is very much a data driven sport. Much of the sport revolves around analyzing data and using that information to make progress. This is one of the reasons teams need three practice sessions before the Grand Prix.
On the Friday and Saturday during their practice sessions, teams will run a number of tests. They will run several laps to see how the circuit affects the tire wear of the car, for example. Reviewing this data will allow the race engineer to plan their tire strategy for the race.
Teams will also load the car up with fuel and do race simulations to see how that affects the car. They will use their lap times to determine how much fuel is burnt throughout the course of a lap and how that impacts the tire wear on the car. The race engineer works with all of this data, the other engineers and strategists, and the driver to create the optimum strategy for the race.
Keeping An Eye On Competitors
Throughout the course of a race, a race engineer has to keep an eye on the cars around their driver. If one of the cars around them is going faster or slower, they need to make a decision on whether their driver needs to go faster, or instead go slower and preserve their tires, and they need to inform their driver quickly.
A race engineer must be able to monitor their competitors and inform their driver of their movements during the race. If their driver’s position is under threat from another car they must be able to understand how their driver can avoid being caught and overtaken by that car.
A race engineer has to be able to multi-task in order to do this. They will work with the chief strategist to form the best possible scenario for their driver, and they need to be able to inform their driver as to what kind of pace they need to be driving at.
Monitoring Vehicle Condition
Formula 1 cars are extremely sensitive machines, and if a driver keeps pushing their car without keeping an eye on the condition of the car, they could end up with a mechanical failure which would put them out of the race.
The race engineer has several screens in front of them that tell them about the current condition of the car. From oil temperature to tire temperatures and various other data points, the race engineer must be able to use this information and tell their driver when a part on the car is in the danger zone.
For example, if the brakes become too hot, the race engineer has to communicate that to their driver, telling them to perhaps move out of the slipstream to better cool the brakes, or there is a risk that they could have a brake failure. To be able to do this, the race engineer must understand how each part works and what each part’s ideal operating temperature range is.
Instructing The Driver
The race engineer is not only responsible for communicating back and forth with the driver, as they must be able to give their driver instructions as well. This is why the chemistry between the driver and their race engineer is so important.
For example, a driver might be told to let their teammate past them. Most racing drivers will not agree because of how competitive they are. However, a good race engineer will be able to get through to their driver and the driver will follow their instructions.
This is also important when it comes to keeping the right pace, as the race engineer understands the bigger picture. For example, if a driver is told to keep a specific pace, it might mean that the car behind is able to catch them. However, the bigger picture is that the driver won’t have to pit for new tires before the end of the race whereas the car behind will have to.
One of the most important roles of the race engineer is therefore to get through to their driver when it matters most. It’s easy for the red mist to descend on the drivers in the heat of the moment, and it takes a skilled race engineer to keep their driver cool, calm and collected in these situations so that everyone can make the right decisions.
When it comes to a Grand Prix, planning is of crucial importance. This is another one of the race engineer’s responsibilities, and although the chief strategist and the team principal will also play a key role in the plan for the race, each race engineer has to be a part of it as well.
The race engineer will bring their key findings from the practice sessions to the table and together the team will form a plan based on the fuel loads on the car and the tire strategy that will be used throughout the course of the Grand Prix, along with myriad other factors like track conditions and ambient air temperatures etc.
The race engineer will then take that plan and communicate it to their driver to make sure they are all on the same page. Throughout the Grand Prix, the race engineer must be able to stick to the plan, but they must also be flexible enough to come up with a new plan and communicate that to their driver when required.
Debriefs are an important part of Formula 1 and they happen after just about every session. A debrief is a meeting where the events of the session are discussed by the race engineers and other key team members.
During a debrief the team will often discuss the data that they gathered during the session and what it all means. This is also where they plan on what they will be doing in the next session, discussing things like setup changes.
Following a qualifying session, teams will debrief and begin to plan for the Grand Prix the next day. Teams will also debrief after a race to go over what they can improve on and where they made mistakes that are avoidable in the future.
How Do You Become An F1 Race Engineer?
The race engineer is one of the most important positions in a Formula 1 team. Becoming a race engineer is no easy task, and there’s a long road ahead if you’re aiming for Formula 1. Most Formula 1 race engineers have years of experience before they even reach Formula 1 level.
There are only 20 race engineers in Formula 1, so it’s a position that is just as scarce as the driving seats are. Teams aim to get the best possible race engineers because it is such an important position.
This means that you need to take all the right steps to make sure that you are best suited for this position if you want to make it to Formula 1 and become a race engineer on the pit wall. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a Formula 1 race engineer.
What Do You Need To Study To Become An F1 Race Engineer?
In order to become an F1 race engineer you need to have a good understanding of vehicle dynamics. This is the where the key responsibilities of a race engineer lie, as the name would suggest. However, there are other important studies that could help you too.
The primary subject you want to be studying is engineering of some form, whether automotive or mechanical. Anything that will help you understand the mechanics of a car will be of benefit here. Other than engineering you could choose to study mathematics, physics, or even IT.
You could boost your application with several short courses too. For example, if you study automotive engineering you could supplement your CV with aerodynamics and physics. This will boost your chances of landing a position as a race engineer.
Key Skills Needed To Be A Race Engineer
Race engineers have a few key skills that they must possess if they are to be considered for a job in Formula 1. The first is problem solving and the ability to do this quickly. Formula 1 is the fastest sport on earth, and things can change in a split second, which means you need to be able to make a decision that will benefit your driver in a matter of seconds.
This can often mean doing quick calculations based on where your rivals are on track. You also need to be able to communicate clearly to your driver while they are out on track and while explaining the changes you are making to the car.
Race engineers must be organized and have all their data in order, especially during debriefs, when teams have limited time to discuss their findings and decide on their next move. Overall, this is a high-pressure working environment, and the ideal candidate would thrive under this pressure.
Experience As A Race Engineer
If you want to be considered as a race engineer for a Formula 1 team, you must have previous experience. You might have all the qualifications, but no team will hire an inexperienced race engineer at Formula 1 level.
Just like the drivers, a race engineer must work their way up the motorsport ladder. If you struggle to find a job right after graduation, karting is always a good place to start. Acting as a mechanic and race engineer for a young driver will help you gain real world experience.
From there, you could move up into junior single seaters such as Formula 4, Formula 3 or Formula 2. Alternatively, there are also other branches of motorsport, such as endurance racing and sports cars, that could help you get to Formula 1. Whichever route you take, the more experience you gain, the better.
How Much Do F1 Race Engineers Earn?
F1 race engineers can earn anywhere from around $80,000 per year all the way to $150,000 or more per year. How much an F1 race engineer earns largely depends on how much experience they have, and of course which team they work for.
With such a high-pressure position in the team, many race engineers earn good salaries in Formula 1. It’s a key role in the team and they spend a lot of time away from home, which means that they are compensated well.
There are differing statistics for how much race engineers are paid in Formula 1 teams. The lowest salary for Formula 1 race engineers is reported to be around $80,000 per year. This would be for teams towards the back of the grid.
When it comes to the top teams like Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, race engineers are paid more as the quality of the candidates goes up, and the team can just afford to pay higher salaries. These teams also have more at stake when they are fighting for the championship, so they tend to pay more on average. Race engineers at these teams earn around $150,000 per year or more.
F1 race engineers do a lot of complex and difficult jobs, often working in a high-pressure environment during a race. They are responsible for relaying information to and from the driver, and they are the main line of communication between the pit wall and the driver out on the track.