How to become a Senior Aerodynamicist in F1 – Qualifications, skills & more

Aerodynamicists are responsible for designing F1 car parts, improving the performance of the car. We find out how to become one here.

How to become a Senior Aerodynamicist in F1 – Qualifications, skills & more

It’s the job of an aerodynamicist to ensure that the car they work on is as efficient and quick as possible, but what is a Senior Aerodynamicist and what do they do to help an F1 team? We spoke to McLaren’s Rebecca Wilson to find out.

What is an Aerodynamicist?

The main role of an aerodynamicist is to add performance to the race car. We achieve this through detailed conceptual design of surfaces (such as the floor, or front wing) to achieve a targeted improvement in flow physics. Experiments are carried out in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and the windtunnel to validate the performance of these conceptual designs and identify further optimisation steps. The most performant of these test items are then released to track to directly improve lap time.

How did you become an aerodynamicist? What did you study at school and what qualifications do you need?

At school I found I had a strength for maths, physics and technical drawing which made me well-suited for a career in engineering. I was successful in applying to the MEng in Aero-Mechanical Engineering course at the University of Strathclyde where I had many opportunities to put theoretical learning into practical applications such as formula student and model aircraft design.

Throughout my degree, I also pushed myself to gain industrial experience, with two summer placements and a year in industry giving me further opportunities to grow and develop my skills in solving real engineering problems. It is this experience which encouraged me to apply for the graduate scheme at McLaren Racing in 2014, which ultimately led to me becoming an aerodynamicist.

McLaren Senior Aerodynamicist Rebecca Wilson

McLaren Senior Aerodynamicist Rebecca Wilson

What other skills are useful?

Outside of your chosen field of study, there are several skills which can give you an advantage for applying for a job in F1, including teamwork, coding and an ability to think outside of the box – a passion for motorsport certainly doesn’t hurt either!

How can I get work experience?

I would highly encourage summer placements and/or a year in industry to gain work experience as an engineer. Do your research on what companies you might like to work for – explore online, keep an eye out at careers fairs and the noticeboard at school/university careers services for engineering firms that offer work experience opportunities.

Don’t rule out opportunities that are in slightly different fields of engineering, as any experience of solving real-world engineering problems is valuable. My placements for example encompassed mechanical, chemical and aeronautical engineering.

Make sure you apply for the opportunities that catch your attention – everyone has to start somewhere!

Do Aerodynamicists go to races?

While most aerodynamicists don’t travel to races as standard, we do have trackside aerodynamicists who focus on analysing the aerodynamic performance delivered at track and feed this back into the development direction of future concepts. Most aerodynamicists will however spend plenty of time in the windtunnel, managing the testing of aerodynamic concepts across the car.

Mechanics on the grid with Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Mechanics on the grid with Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

What does a day at work look like for an aerodynamicist?

A normal day for an aerodynamicist usually starts by reviewing the results of any CFD, windtunnel or track tests which have run in the previous 24 hours to decide on next steps. These next steps could include:

• Further geometrical modifications of concepts to test in CFD
• Sending the concepts to the windtunnel to test
• Releasing designs to be made for the race car following a positive windtunnel test

Throughout this, robust data analysis, presentation of results and collaboration with team-mates to identify next steps are a key part of the day as an aerodynamicist.

What’s it like to work as part of a team within an elite sports team?

Having worked in several industries, the main thing that stood out for me when I started in F1 was the sheer pace of turnaround from an idea to a real part on a race car. Projects are measured in days and weeks rather than months and years.

This results in a really dynamic and collaborative work environment which pushes everyone to achieve their best both individually and as a team – we all succeed together.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Has the job changed at all since the new regulations came in, and what do you have to do differently?

The new regulations posed two big challenges for all F1 teams:

• Designing a car from scratch with brand new regulations and different aerodynamic challenges
• Maximising the performance we can deliver under a cost cap

As an aerodynamicist, the opportunity to be involved in designing a car from scratch has been incredibly challenging and interesting. From a practical perspective, this has led to an abundance of new ideas to explore, enhanced collaboration across groups, as well as a fresh creative energy as a team.

This extends not just to aerodynamic concepts, but also in how we realise those as efficiently as possible from a design, manufacture and reliability perspective.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part of the job is that everyone who works here can point to something on the race car and describe how they contributed to it whether they work in aero, design, manufacturing, finance or people – every single person in this team makes a difference to how we perform on track.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, 1st position, takes victory to the delight of his team on the pit wall

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, 1st position, takes victory to the delight of his team on the pit wall

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

We at McLaren Racing are excited to be developing a new, state of the art windtunnel at our Woking MTC which will add more agility and ability to the Aero department and closely related teams. This will make a fantastic impact on team and car performance.

To find out more about jobs in our Aero department, see our latest vacancies.

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