Jobs in F1: How to Become a Formula 1 Trackside Aerodynamicist

  • What is a Trackside Aerodynamicist?
  • What does a Trackside Aerodynamicist do?
  • What skills do you need to become a Trackside Aerodynamicist? 

Introduction

Disclaimer, if you have already read our “How to Become a Formula 1 Aerodynamicist” article, much of this content will be similar, as the roles are very closely connected. Nevertheless, there are some specific intricacies to the trackside role included within this article. 

Aerodynamics is a common phrase heard when watching Formula 1. To the uninformed, aerodynamics can seem like witchcraft, 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 into a performance-enhancing asset. 

As part of the Aerodynamics department within F1, there are multiple branches and sectors that you can find yourself a member of. The Trackside Aerodynamicist is usually one of the more senior roles and carries a large percentage of the vehicle performance responsibility. 

Within this article, Motorsport Engineer will guide you as to what a Trackside Aerodynamicist does, as well as the qualifications and paths you will need to take to get there. Be warned, this is not an easy sector to get into and favours the mathematically minded.

What is a Trackside Aerodynamicist?

An Aerodynamicist, as described by a top-level space programme, is an engineer that investigates the interaction between solids and the air around them. With reference to F1, it is the relationship between airflow and the car body. 

The objective of an aerodynamicist is to create a car that will aerodynamically stick to the ground through corners but will also have the ability to glide through the air on straights. This constant battle between downforce and drag requires intricate designs and an eye for finite detail.

A trackside aerodynamicist is at the top of the aerodynamics ladder, attending all test days and race weekends. This unique opportunity allows for worldwide travel with long working weekends. Within the F1 team, the trackside aerodynamicist will sit alongside the race and strategy engineers, advising on ways to improve vehicle setup.

During off weeks, the trackside aerodynamicist’s work will be largely simulatory, creating models using CAD (computer-aided design) and then testing these models using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools. 

Wind tunnel development and testing is an essential part of working within the aerodynamics department, as it allows F1 teams to test features of the car in controlled environments. Creating detailed and accurate reports that can later be used on the real-world car. 

What does a Formula 1 Trackside Aerodynamicist do?

As an F1 Trackside Aaerodynamicist, you will:

  • Support race and test events including a significant amount of travel to and from test days and race weekends whilst staying abreast of current car development philosophy and inputting key track observations

  • In a nutshell, develop aerodynamic ideas and solutions for the racing car that create an on-track performance.

  • As mentioned before, CFD and wind tunnel test processes will be commonplace within this role. This includes creating your own CAD geometries, submitting CFD cases, and defining and implementing wind tunnel tests.

  • Continual research of aerodynamic structures and behaviours around the car. Contributing to collaborative discussions and efforts that improve whole-car performance, offering ideas and taking on board a lot of feedback from other teams.

  • Be able to communicate effectively as a leader with other groups such as model design, model shop, aero technology group, CFD group, aero production and wind tunnel systems group.

What are the Requirements Needed to become a Trackside Aerodynamicist?

First things first, for this type of role, you will need significant aerodynamics experience either in F1 or in other high-level motorsports, such as LMP, Formula E, WRC, etc.

Usually, the trackside engineers work their way up through the team, starting from a junior aero position based in the factory before the transition to a trackside role. Generally, 

                                                                                  teams will only take one trackside aerodynamicist to events, 

so the position itself is closely fought.

Previous experience can also come in the form of wind-tunnel development positions with substantial experience in testing and simulation for vehicle OEM’s.

To move into other Aerodynamicist positions, you do not necessarily need motorsport pedigree, for example, the aeronautical and astronautical experience can also provide good base knowledge for Formula 1 applications.

Do you need a Degree to be a Trackside Aerodynamicist?

In almost all cases yes. A STEM-based degree with a bias towards fluid dynamics is almost always required. With masters degrees and PhD’s preferred.

A job advert by Alpha Tauri for a Junior Aerodynamicist position stated that the right candidate would need a “strong aerodynamic academic background of minimum degree level” accompanied with “solid relevant working experience”. 

Many F1 teams do offer graduate programmes for the aero department but candidates are warned that these can be fiercely competitive. Applicants with a strong bias to fluid dynamics and CFD projects are preferred. 

The Best Skills and Experience Needed to be a Trackside Aerodynamicist

Like with all roles in F1, confidence and the ability to work well within a high pressure, team environment is critical to the role. 

The success of the car and team is largely reliant on the aerodynamics department. As a trackside engineer, all responsibility will fall on your shoulders and it will be up to you to make calculated snap decisions for vehicle improvements. 

To accompany fast-paced decision making, you will need to have a strong understanding of race car aerodynamics and setup, including tyre optimisation methods and mechanical tuning.

The role, of course, can be hugely rewarding but also very demanding. Alongside this, the ability to be flexible with your work life is essential due to the dynamic nature of Formula 1. Many careers in F1 require an ‘on-call’ mentality and should be prepared to work until the job is done. The ability to manage home life and work life is often a tricky skill to manage. 

As well as the socially demanding side of work, your academics need to shine, showing proficiency in maths and science-based courses and projects. 

Previous motorsport experience is not always required for junior positions but will be hugely beneficial to an application. With wind tunnel experience further boosting your proposal. 

Being able to demonstrate examples of projects that required fast-paced problem-solving skills in a leadership position will help you rise above your peers and/or including references to a passion for motorsport will also help your application. 

As mentioned before, the Trackside Aerodynamicist role can be hugely rewarding when done right. If you are thinking about a career in F1, it is advised to get in any work experience you can to show an aptitude and willingness to learn.

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