Motorsport engineers are responsible for the design,
testing, building and racing of motor vehicles across a
range of motorsports. These include single-seater racing
(Formula 1, GP2, F3, plus many more), rallying, tour cars,
bike racing (MotoGP, speedway, Superbikes and more),
karting, drag racing, truck racing, stock cars and vintage
car racing. There are many engineering disciplines within
the sector but the work falls into four broad categories:
Design – computer-aided design (CAD) software and modelling programs are used to turn preliminary ideas into working blueprints. Designs may be for a completely new vehicle or modification and refinements to existing vehicles, components and assemblies. Design engineers consider the performance, reliability, safety, commercial viability, environmental impact and aesthetics of proposals. There are strict rules governing the use of technology within certain racing divisions, particularly Formula 1, so engineers must be innovative in their solutions to ensure compliance.
Testing – this stage is crucial in vehicle development. A balance has to be struck between performance, cost, strength and safety. Prior to assembly, all components and bodywork are put through rigorous examinations to optimise performance. A critical role is played by the aerodynamics engineer. Their job is to create maximum downforce, enabling the vehicle to corner at high speeds, and reduce drag caused by turbulence. Wind tunnels, computational fluid dynamics (simulated airflow) and track testing are used to fine tune components, such as front and rear wings and profiles.
Production – engineers are involved in everything from precision machining components to hand wiring control units. A lot of work is done with composite materials such as carbon fibre to reduce weight whilst maintaining strength. Once assembled vehicles are meticulously finished in the team’s livery in the final production stage; important not only for the team’s sponsors, but because of the weight of the paint itself. Components are weighed, sprayed separately, weighed again, and then assembled. As an example, it can take two to three days to complete a full car. Throughout the production cycle, engineering quality control checks are carried out.
Racing - race engineers prepare the vehicle and help devise a race plan before a meeting. They ensure all equipment and spares are ready, gather information about pre-race conditions and carry out circuit tests to determine race strategy. Using telemetry (wireless transmission of data from sensors on the vehicle) and computer diagnostics on the Engine Control Unit (ECU), they fine tune factors such as refuelling timings and tyre choice. The vehicle is set up (defined) accordingly and the driver briefed. During a race, they closely monitor performance, split times, cornering speeds, engine temperature and driver feedback to make adjustments during stops or relay instructions to the driver. After the race, engineers and drivers attend a debrief to decide what worked well and what did not. Further after-tests are also carried out, for example, oil inspections to check for signs of engine corrosion.
Motorsport engineers work for race vehicle manufacturers, designers, testing laboratories and component suppliers.
In larger organisations engineers can specialise further in areas such as composite material research, engine and transmission systems (powertrain), chassis and body structure, electronics and hydraulics.
Motorsport engineers involved with race teams work
long and irregular hours. There is a lot of travel
associated with the job. For example, during a race
season, race engineers will travel to a circuit three or
fours days before an event to make preparations. Some
travel out of season also occurs, circuit-testing cars and
Design, test and production engineers are more likely to be based at one site, although long hours may still be required.
As a motorsport engineer, you should:
In the UK there are between 30,000 and 40,000 people
in motorsport engineering. They are employed by a wide
range of companies involved in the development,
manufacture, supply and operation of motor racing
vehicles. Examples include component manufacturers,
test laboratories, automotive designers, motor racing
teams, race and rally schools and circuit operators.
There may also be scope for teaching and lecturing in
motorsport engineering at college or university. The
largest concentration of motorsport engineering firms is
around the Midlands and home counties.
Engineers often specialise in a particular aspect of the engineering process and with experience, may progress to chief engineer, test or workshop manager, technical coordinator or technical manager. Broader race team management roles may be available to senior engineers. Movement between racing classes and companies may be necessary for an engineer’s career to advance.
Engineering skills in the UK motorpsort industry are highly regarded around the world and opportunities to work overseas may be possible in Europe, the Far East and the United States.
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