The job of the Race Engineer is a serious one. You know, the guys who huddle around screens in the pits, or trackside with serious expressions and industrial headphones? The Race Engineer is whose neck is on the line come qualifying and race day if the set up is wrong. They are the Spock to the driver’s Kirk, the Jules if the driver were Vincent. We’re not saying that the drivers are without decision making capabilities, but they lack the years of experience and engineering know-how of the mighty Race Engineer. A driver may do fine on their own without a Race Engineer in a lower-tech series’, but when it comes to cutting-edge, top-tier motorsport, you’d come nowhere without one.
To understand the job of the Race Engineer we’ll start with the following question…..
What’s the difference between a race mechanic and race engineer?
To the uninitiated, the two terms are interchangeable. Both are motorsport engineering roles but the two job functions are entirely different. In the same way that you wouldn’t expect a builder to be responsible for the planning and structural design of a complex building, an architect would probably be useless at the hands-on construction stage, despite understanding the basic principles of the building trade.
Simply put, the job of the Race Mechanic is a hands-on engineering role, dealing with the moving parts of the vehicle. A Race Engineer deals with the set-up, data and performance of the vehicle – from design and testing, through to qualifying and race day. A Race Engineer will work between R&D, the Race Mechanics and Driver to engineer the best performance out of the vehicle. They’ll set up testing, ensure homologation rules are met and crunch the data from each test, qualifying session and race to improve both the performance of the car and driver.
Where a Race Mechanic is a highly skilled position which requires heaps of physical energy, the role of the Race Engineer is highly analytical – cause and effect data crunching. Race Engineers are expected to multi-task as where in most top teams, mechanics will specialise in one area of the car or bike. You won’t find a Race Engineer getting their hands dirty during race day. They’ll be glued to a screen with their eyes on the live data feeds.
What does a Race Engineer do?
To paraphrase a recent Race Engineer job advert posted on Racestaff.com, the role of the Race Engineer covers, but is not limited to, the following:
- Managing and optimising all aspects of the car at all race and test events
- Driver communication and performance development – briefing and coaching to get the best performance out of the car, depending on the track and conditions.
- Tyre management and strategy.
- Legality and reliability of the car set up.
- Run planning.
- Coordination of other engineers and race mechanics
- Data analysis or all sensor-gathered information to develop and improve systems and driver performance.
- Involvement in simulations
This brilliant video from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team explains the importance of the role better than we ever could. We’ll let Peter Bonnington and Riccardo Musconi explain the role of the Race Engineer in F1:
What qualifications do I need to become a Race Engineer?
Your average Race Engineer will have at least a degree in an engineering discipline. Whether that be mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or motorsport engineering in the pure, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree at the very least.
Working backwards for a second, this will mean that at A Level/Post 16 (or international equivalent) you’ll want to be studying all the good subjects – Physics, Maths, Computing/Computer Science and getting as much experience under your belt as possible. The sooner you start, the more you’ll learn. The more you learn, the further ahead of the competition you’ll be. You’ll want to focus on the detail and that’s in the data. If you’re already involved in motorsport in some capacity, start getting involved in the data analysis. There’s some great entry-level tech that you can play around with, or contact teams to see if they mind you tagging along to race meetings to get to see the data being gathered and analysed first-hand. The more experience you can get, the easier the learning curve too when you get to degree level and above. You’ll have the practical, real-world scenarios to relate to your studies.
Usually, a Race Engineer will have taken his or her learning to the next level, with a Master’s. Many also have a PhD. A motorsport specific Master’s will help you to hone in on areas critical to the role of a Race Engineer, where a general Mechanical Engineering Master’s degree may not. The NMA MSc Advanced Motorsport Engineering covers all the key topics – Race Strategy, Driver Coaching (that’s you coaching the driver, not learning to be one!), Advanced Vehicle Dynamics and Multi-Physics Analysis. We’re not the only institution to offer a Master’s degree specific to motorsport but we are the only online offering where you can fit your studies in around your work and family life.
Safe is Fast have put together this great Career Development video. Find out from recruiters and race engineers what’s really needed to make it to the top as a Race Engineer. Clue: it always involves a degree!
How much does a Race Engineer earn?
As with most sports, those who get to the top of their game in the world of motorsport earn the most money. Also, the higher your education goes, generally your expected salary will also increase. The salary difference between a race engineer and a race mechanic is vast – some may say unfairly so! This is generally because most race engineers have a Master’s degree whereas many race mechanics don’t have a degree and came through the ranks from an automotive or non-academic route. A degree helps you earn more money in motorsport – FACT!
The other reason that the mighty race engineer earns more than your average race mechanic is that their involvement in a race team is so far reaching. The race engineer needs to understand all the moving parts, the driver and their style, the homologation rules, the financial ramifications of development, the data. Then they need to turn all that intelligence into a race and championship winning strategy. The responsibility is immense and it’s not a job for those who wilt easily under pressure.
The ballpark starting salary for a Race Engineer is around £30-35k. This will assume that you have a degree in motorsport engineering, mechanical engineering or another relevant discipline. It’s also unlikely that you will be successful in securing a position at this level without any motorsport experience so get some track time under your belt.
With a Master’s and 3+ years experience in the field you can expect your salary to boost up to the £50+ mark depending on the team and series. The sky’s the limit once you end up in the top flight though – a recent Formula E senior race engineer was appointed on a salary of £120k, and successful F1 race engineers have been reported to earn in excess of £250,000 a year.
How do I become a Race Engineer?
As we said above, you’ll need decent A-Levels (or equivalent) in Maths, Physics and Computer Science to become a Data Engineer.
If you’re already involved in motorsport or the automotive world then you already have a good basis to start from. Some motorsport mechanics make the jump from race mechanic to race engineer, but generally they are already an analytical person, enjoying crunching the data and getting more involved in development and strategy. This is the biggest learning curve for those coming from the more hands-on side of motorsport.
Whether you already have motorsport experience or not, getting a degree in a relevant field is not just suggested – it’s required. A degree teaches you things that self-guided study would take years to accomplish.
If you already have a degree, the next step up in your career and learning would come with a Master’s degree. This is where you tend to be able to specialise, rather than just choosing a Mechanical Engineering Master’s, look for a Master’s which allows you to hone in on the areas specific to the Race Engineer’s role.
We may be at risk of repeating ourselves here but race engineer’s jobs are coveted positions and competition will be high. If you’re determined to make it, the more expereince you can get under your belt the better. Volunteer your time with teams, push the boundaries and do you own research, immerse yourself in your dream career and you will prevail!