How to become a brake duct design engineer in F1 – Qualifications, skills and more

The brakes are one of the most important parts of a car, and play a huge role in the performance, but how do you design brakes and what qualifications do you need?

How to become a brake duct design engineer in F1 – Qualifications, skills and more

Formula 1 design departments cover every single area of the car, with each section a battleground for development against rival teams, with the outcome ranging from millisecond lap time gains to world championship deciders. But every area of the car can make the difference, while some sections have become even more crucial in recent years and amid regulation changes.

We spoke to Mercedes Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer Mark Stiles to find out what his role involves, how to get into the job and what a normal day entails.

What is your role?

My job title is Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer, reporting to the Head of Mechanical Design. I work as part of the Rear Suspension Design Group and collectively we are responsible for the design of the inboard & outboard rear suspension and rear brake cooling assemblies on the car.

What are your responsibilities and main jobs?

It is my responsibility to design the parts and assemblies for the rear brake cooling on the car. The job is further reaching than that within the team, though. I work closely with the aerodynamicists and CFD to understand their requirements and accommodate them into my designs. They identify and develop the theoretical performance, but it is my job to deliver it to the car with lightweight and reliable designs that can be manufactured to a high level of accuracy and quality. I also liaise with the planning and purchasing departments to agree design and delivery targets, and with the build and race teams to ensure the fit and function as intended. In mechanical design we collaborate with the structural analysis, vehicle dynamics and test & development groups to ensure that our designs meet the required specifications and are fit for purpose.

One of the most challenging parts of my role is working with the manufacturers and suppliers to develop methods by which to manufacture components in the lightest, most efficient way. This often ends up with there being some complex and novel solutions to both the component and tooling design. We are always trying to push the boundaries of the design and manufacturing process to make sure the product we end up with delivers as much performance as possible.

Designers take full ownership of their projects; we are responsible for the initial design of a part or assembly and then throughout its usable life. We are therefore actively involved with the manufacturing, build and testing departments in the factory and stay in regular communication with the race team before, during and after track events. This also involves reacting to feedback or problems that are reported from the track to establish root causes and design fixes or resolutions that are applied to current and future iterations of the parts and assemblies. It’s easy to assume that in working for a big F1 team you don’t get to follow your designs from start to finish but that is not the case here and cross-departmental networking is an essential part of my role.

Mark Stiles, Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer, Mercedes F1 team

Mark Stiles, Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer, Mercedes F1 team

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

What qualifications do you need?

I have a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree in Motorsport Engineering. This is essentially a Mechanical Engineering degree but aspects of it focused on application of the theory to problems and topics relating to motorsport.

What should you study in school?

STEM subjects are obviously crucial for anyone wanting to pursue a career in this kind of field. I studied A-Levels in Maths and Physics (entry requirements for my degree) as well as Product Design. These were subjects I was interested in, but thankfully I was also quite good at them. Prior to this I already had a pretty good idea of what sort of career I’d like to pursue, so that meant that my educational choices became quite straightforward.

What other skills are useful?

A pre-existing interest in motorsport is not essential, but it will aid your development and give you enthusiasm for a role working in F1. The working hours can be long, particularly during the winter car design phase, so if you are competitive and passionate about what you’re doing then it helps drive you on to succeed and push the boundaries at the most critical times.

A good grasp of mechanical principles and a general interest in “how things work” is essential in any mechanical design role. A big part of the job involves applying the knowledge and experience you’ve obtained to solve new problems and tackle previously unseen challenges. In F1 lot of onus is placed upon innovation and creativeness, but in reality innovation usually starts with just an idea. The innovation shines through in the collaboration of people and processes to “make it happen”. It’s never an individual effort, but that of a team.

Some kind of practical experience is also a good feather to have in your cap. Whether it is time spent working on road or race cars, building/making stuff or fixing things, it’s all useful experience that will contribute towards you becoming a better engineer and designing better parts. From a young age I have built and raced radio-controlled model cars; this gave me a basic understanding of racing car architecture and terminology and I have on many occasions referred to RC racing as “Motorsport in Miniature”, because that’s basically what it is.

It’s important to have a life outside of working in F1; interest or participation in other sports and activities is actively encouraged. Pursuits which provide a social setting in which you can gain experience of being in a competitive environment, deal with pressure, collaborate with others or learn about being fair and respectful will all make you a more rounded member of an F1 team and person in general.

How can I get work experience?

Working in and up through the junior categories and in other forms of motorsport can be beneficial in getting an F1 design job; some of the best ideas and solutions have their origins rooted in other motorsport categories or in different engineering fields altogether. I worked in manufacturing engineering and windtunnel model design before getting a job in F1 car design.

A lot of people apply for jobs with F1 teams, so having something on your CV to stand you out from the crowd is essential. Whether that is volunteering in junior motorsport at weekends or having work experience in a well-known engineering company will help. Almost everyone has taken part in Formula Student whilst at university now, so that is becoming less of a differentiator. Any experience is good experience and not having any F1 design experience should not put you off applying for jobs in F1 design.

Mark Stiles, Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer, Mercedes F1 team

Mark Stiles, Senior Brake Duct Design Engineer, Mercedes F1 team

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

Do you get go to races?

Design Engineers do not usually travel to races unless there is a specific need for them to be trackside at an event to provide technical assistance on a car system. The occasional trackside visit may be required if you have a big upgrade or similar being fitted to the car, where being on hand with in-depth knowledge of a new assembly would be beneficial to the race team.

What does a day at work look like for you?

This isn’t a typical 9-5 job and every day there are new experiences and challenges to get stuck into. It is an office job though and most of my time is spent at a desk using CAD to complete design work. More specifically this could involve initial scheming of a large assembly, detailed part design or design of tooling and jigs to enable the manufacture and build of parts and assemblies. Depending on the time of year I will also do work to plan design projects and the use of design resource/support that is allocated to me during particularly busy periods.

If there are new parts or assemblies scheduled to run on the car, then I produce any associated documentation to describe the intended build, operation and servicing requirements before communicating this to the race team and other stakeholders prior to the event. This includes the specification and supervision of any testing and validation procedures that need to be completed before an assembly makes it onto the car. After track or test events I will typically be involved with the strip and inspection of any assemblies that are returned to the factory as well as assisting with determining whether any parts need repair or replacement ahead of future races. This hands-on element is part of the role I particularly enjoy.

Our job as designers is ultimately to provide the race team with the best possible car to do battle with, and it is hugely rewarding to experience the team’s triumphs in the knowledge that I contributed towards making them happen.

This article was created in partnership with Motorsport Jobs. Find the latest jobs in motorsport on the Motorsport Jobs website.

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