Motorsport Engineer Careers

How to become Motorsport Engineer

What does a Motorsport Engineer do?

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.

What's the working environment like working as a Motorsport Engineer?

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 bikes.

Design, test and production engineers are more likely to be based at one site, although long hours may still be required.

What does it take to become a Motorsport Engineer?

As a motorsport engineer, you should:

  • have a strong interest in motor vehicle engineering and design
  • have excellent analytical skills and an innovative approach to problem solving
  • be committed and very determined to succeed
  • have excellent technical knowledge
  • be able to analyse and interpret data
  • have good communication skills
  • be able to prioritise and plan effectively
  • be able to work under pressure
  • keep up to date with new developments
  • be able to work as part of a team and take responsibility.

Motorsport Engineer Career Opportunities

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.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Motorsport Engineer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Motorsport Industry Association
Federation House
Stoneleigh Park
Tel: 02476 692600

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers
1 Birdcage Walk
Tel: 020 7222 7899

Motor Sports Association
Motor Sports House
Riverside Park
Tel: 01753 765 000

Automotive Academy
2410 Regents Court
The Crescent
Solihull Parkway
Birmingham Business Park
B37 7YE
Tel: 0121 717 6655

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