Jobs In F1: How To Become A Formula 1 Aerodynamicist

Aerodynamics is a hot topic in the world of motorsport. To the uninformed, aerodynamics can seem like magic, used to keep the car glued to the surface of the track. In reality, it is a complex form of fluid dynamics that can be learnt and developed to improve the car’s performance.

The Formula 1 industry offers many career paths and opportunities to join and work alongside the elite. F1 is the highest echelon of motorsport, so you may not be surprised to hear that each path is fiercely competitive. 

While there is no easy way into F1, if you have your heart set on working as an aerodynamicist, this article will help!

What is an Aerodynamicist?

An Aerodynamicist investigates the interaction between solids and the air around them. Within Formula 1, an Aerodynamicist studies the relationship between airflow and the car. 

The objective of an aerodynamicist is to help create a car that will be able to stay close to the ground through the corners but also have the ability to glide through the air on the straights. This constant strive for balance between downforce and drag requires an understanding of complex topics, creative thinking, and an eye for detail.

Within a Formula 1 team, Aerodynamicists work alongside the Aerodynamics Development team, reporting to the senior principals within the aero department. 

As an Aerodynamicist, your work will largely rely on simulations, creating models using CAD (computer-aided design) and then testing these models using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software. 

Aerodynamicists also work with hands-on 3D models, which will be used for real-world testing.

Wind tunnel development makes up a huge part of an aerodynamics role, with teams investing millions into development and analysis.

What does a Formula 1 Aerodynamicist do?

There are many aspects of a Formula 1 Aerodynamicist role, but the main components are:

  • Developing aerodynamic ideas and solutions for the racing car that increase on-track performance
  • Creating CAD designs for testing
  • Running, analysing, and post-processing CFD cases
  • Defining and implementing wind tunnel tests
  • Research of new ideas to improve aerodynamic structures and behaviours around the car
  • Receiving feedback from and collaborating with other teams to improve whole-car performance

In addition to the technical know-how required to understand the aerodynamic concepts needed to succeed in this role, it is also important to know how to work alone and in a large team in a high-pressure environment. 

Because the role is critical to the performance of the vehicle and plays a large part in the success of the team, it is also key to be able to communicate effectively with other groups such as model design, model shop, aero technology group, CFD group, aero production and wind tunnel groups. 

Get the skills you need to work as an F1 Aerodynamicist

Learn from a former F1 Aerodynamicist and develop your problem-solving and collaboration alongside technical know-how: creating aerodynamic designs based on F1 requirements, running them in CFD, doing post-processing of the CFD results, and iterating designs to improve aero performance.

Our course uses CATIA 3DX and Bramble CFD to teach you skills that will help you stand out in the competitive world of motorsport aerodynamics!

Skills Needed to Work as an F1 Aerodynamicist

As this role is highly analytical, a background in aerodynamics, maths, physics, engineering or fluid dynamics is recommended. 

Depending on the seniority of the role, previous working experience in either F1 or other high-level motorsport teams is usually required. Building experience in an aero department can be done in other industries (aeronautical and automotive aerodynamicists are common previous jobs for F1 aerodynamicists, for example). You could also work in motorsport as an aerodynamicist in another championship to get a feel for the skills needed before applying for F1 roles.

Aeronautical (aeroplane) aerodynamicists and astronautical (space) aerodynamicists can both be excellent jobs to gain experience, though additional training in and understanding of wind tunnel development may be needed to move into a role in F1. 

Speaking of wind tunnels, those with significant work history in wind tunnel development (for example, working with vehicle OEMs) may also be considered for an F1 position.

What it's Like to Work in F1

With the different aspects of the role, both technical and soft skills are needed to be successful. 

This video highlighting a member of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team shows exactly how complex – and rewarding – working in this role can be!

Is a Degree Required to Work as an Aerodynamicist?

In almost all cases, yes. A STEM-focused degree with a bias towards fluid dynamics is almost always required.  Increasingly in F1, we are seeing that job adverts list an undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree as a minimum requirement for a role, with many teams also preferring a graduate (Master’s or higher) degree to apply for a role.

Many F1 teams do offer graduate programmes for the aero department, but they can be fiercely competitive. Applicants with a strong background in fluid dynamics and those who have experience with CFD projects are preferred. 

How to be an Aerodynamicist in F1

Landing a job at the highest level of motorsport isn’t easy. To be a competitive candidate, one must show mastery of several skills.

Because the success of the car and team is largely dependent on the aerodynamics department, it is crucial to have a solid background in the technical aspects of the role, including CAD Design, CFD, and wind tunnel performance. Demonstrated experience in these areas, as well as top academic performance in maths and sciences, will be looked at with your application and examined in your interview and portfolio. 

Like with all roles in F1, the ability to work well under pressure is key. Strong soft skills, such as successfully working in groups and humbly receiving feedback, are mentioned repeatedly by hiring managers as desirable in candidates.  

Best of luck with your applications and interviews!

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