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How Raikkonen's former race engineer became F1 TV's latest pundit

F1 TV has added engineering firepower to its line-up with former Formula 1 race engineer Julien Simon-Chautemps. The Frenchman tells all about his career change and working with Kimi Raikkonen.

Julien Simon-Chautemps

Photo by: Julien Simon-Chautemps

In 2021, Simon-Chautemps called time on a 14-year stint in F1. But through his JSC7 consultancy he's still heavily involved in racing. He's lending his services to French team Sainteloc on its switch to single-seaters, as well as German race data provider Paceteq. In addition, he is involved in motorsport engineering recruitment and in public-speaking gigs on leadership.
He has also been sharing his technical insight with F1 viewers, starting with French broadcaster Canal+ in 2022. And, after a test run last year in Brazil with F1 TV, he was recently confirmed for more appearances in 2024, including at last week's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
"I always wanted to create my own motorsport consultancy company," Simon-Chautemps tells Autosport about his career change.
"I worked nearly 15 years trackside in F1, and then Kimi decided to retire around September 2021. I don't want to say that was a trigger, but that was a big part, and then on top of that, I had been living in Switzerland with Sauber for five years with COVID-19 in the middle.
Simon-Chautemps has now embarked on a new career with F1 TV

Simon-Chautemps has now embarked on a new career with F1 TV

Photo by: Julien Simon-Chautemps

"I had a family back in the UK, so I was commuting back and forth to Switzerland. And then the team wanted to make some changes as well, so it happened and a new chapter started."
In his role, JSC - as he is known in the paddock - is having to distill the processes that teams are going through over a grand prix weekend into clear and concise language for the viewers, which makes the task not that dissimilar to that of a race engineer.
"There are a lot of parallels between communicating with the driver and a team and expressing what you want to say on TV," he adds.
"On TV, the challenge is to explain very technical matters in a way that casual viewers would understand it.
"F1 TV has a huge database of pictures and videos, and the team is fantastic, so I am really enjoying my time with them. There is a steep learning curve but the support I have had from Canal+ and F1 TV has been priceless and I am very grateful for the opportunity."
First presenting opportunity for Simon-Chautemps came with Canal+

First presenting opportunity for Simon-Chautemps came with Canal+

Photo by: Alpine

Engineering, communication, resilience

In addition to Raikkonen, Simon-Chautemps served as a race engineer at Renault and Alfa Romeo for the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer. He has identified three main pillars a good F1 race engineer needs to master.
"You don't really need to be an expert in a particular field, but you obviously need to have technical knowledge," he explains. "You need a strong understanding in many areas because you have to speak with people in charge of engines, aerodynamics, tyres, mechanics, battery and so on.
"The most important quality is you need to be able to communicate. For me, a great engineer is a great communicator, because there's often a lot of stress and you need to make the right decisions and often some pivotal calls in a very short timespan.
"It's not always easy, but often a bad decision is better than no decision. You can see a lot of people completely freeze under stress and not even able to operate.
"There are some tense moments on the radio when the driver is quite vocal. If someone is shouting at you on the radio, you still need to operate and direct the mechanics, the engineers and tell them what to do.
"And the other point is resilience. You need to not let mistakes or poor results get you down. Just dust yourself off and focus on the next race. You need to be fairly stubborn as you are always looking for improvements to make the car better."
Julien Simon-Chautemps

Julien Simon-Chautemps

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

Spending Valentine's Day with Marcus Ericsson

People skills are the overarching theme here, as all drivers operate differently and race engineers need to quickly uncover what makes them tick.
"Kimi was not someone to give driving advice to," says Simon-Chautemps. "But he's someone who tells you: 'Listen, the car is doing that, I'm not going to change my driving but if you improve the car there, I will go quicker.' And when you did, he was going quicker immediately, which was very rewarding.
"On the other hand, you have a guy like Romain who was an extremely quick driver, especially in qualifying, but was much more fiery.
"Some drivers need more information on the radio, some need less, but it's part of your job to be able to read them, what they need and want, so you can get the best out of them. Sometimes that matches and sometimes it doesn't."
Race engineers also tend to become close confidants, and when their driver experiences a difficult spell then that bond becomes even more crucial, which is what happened when Ericsson went through a rough patch alongside wonderkid Charles Leclerc at Alfa Romeo.
"I remember inviting Marcus into my house because he was a bit down, he was on his own," Simon-Chautemps remembers. "I had forgotten it was Valentine's Day, but luckily my wife could see the funny side of it! So, we all spent Valentine's Day together in my flat...
Simon-Chautemps helped Ericsson when he had the daunting task of racing alongside Leclerc

Simon-Chautemps helped Ericsson when he had the daunting task of racing alongside Leclerc

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

"You have to create this bond and convince them: 'Listen, we know we have this problem, but we are here to do this job and you can do it'. You need to communicate, you need to be their friend and listen to them when they have a problem."

"Kimi could have been a really good race engineer"

Working with the mercurial Raikkonen for three years was arguably the most demanding stint, but while the taciturn Finn had the image of being difficult to work with, that reputation couldn't be further from the truth, Simon-Chautemps says.
"He was putting on a front of the 'Iceman' and a guy that's difficult to talk to, but I remember Kimi calling me on a Sunday talking to me about how we could improve the development on the dampers," he recalls.
"If that's not commitment, I don't know what is. On the technical side, he is incredibly knowledgeable and knows what needs changing to get the most out of the car. He could actually have been a really good race engineer himself and he really enjoyed trying to improve the car.
Raikkonen had many of the attributes needed to be a race engineer

Raikkonen had many of the attributes needed to be a race engineer

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

"He was there because he loved racing. Everything else for him was an annoyance; marketing, communication, talking to sponsors and the media, I'm sure it was not his favourite thing in the world to do.
"Kimi was extremely talented and probably could have won many more world championships but, like Max Verstappen, he's not someone who looks at the statistics and says 'could have, would have, should have'. He was here to race, and he enjoyed it."
Simon-Chautemps' effusive praise for the Finn doesn't mean there weren't any tense moments between the pair. One flashpoint came at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello, when Raikkonen got frustrated during a red flag, and again when he was handed a five-second penalty for crossing the pit entry line.
"In Mugello we had three red flags in a row, and I think it was the first time we had a red flag in the race for a long time. We were a bit rusty on that," he recalls.
"Cars were aligning in the pitlane and then you have to go back to them with all your pit equipment and Kimi shouted: "Where are the blankets, you have to bring the blankets!" After that we put a procedure in place where we were literally the first ones to have the blankets ready after a red flag...
Simon-Chautemps enjoyed his time working with Raikkonen, despite a few terse radio messages

Simon-Chautemps enjoyed his time working with Raikkonen, despite a few terse radio messages

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

"And then I told him he had a five-second penalty and he yelled: 'For what?!' I remember coming back home and seeing a message from Kimi saying: 'Sorry, I was maybe a bit harsh on you, so I apologise for that'.
"There was plenty of funny communication like that. The only thing I can say is that I always had a good time working with Kimi and that's something I will remember all my life."
But it’s not just the world champion's famous 'I know what to do' win in the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP, which Simon-Chautemps worked on as his performance engineer, that was a satisfying moment.
As anyone working in the series is well aware, it's rare for more than one or two teams to challenge for the top step. That makes it key to set your expectations accordingly and find motivation in achieving what's possible on any given race weekend rather than get frustrated about not having the quickest car.
"The podium in Spa with Romain in 2015 while the team was facing huge financial difficulties, or the first points we scored with Jolyon and Marcus, were really proud moments, too," he concludes.
Getting a podium with Grosjean for Lotus was a highlight

Getting a podium with Grosjean for Lotus was a highlight

Photo by: Lotus F1 Team

"You can't always win, so you need to set your own level of expectation and find happiness in achieving your own objectives.
"If you can’t win, you have to try and score a podium. If you can't score a podium, you have to score points. If you can't score points, you try to get in front of your main competitors.
"You always have to strive for the best you can possibly achieve, never get too downbeat, and be a team player that encourages those around you to achieve their full potential for the benefit of the team.
"That's how you stay motivated in F1. And that's also what I love about F1; those are the lessons we can all learn from, which I also try to instill in my kids."

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