In any motorsports race, the drivers are always the focal point, but the other personnel who take part in the race are just as important. You have the pit crew who make sure that the cars are in good working order during the race, the race marshals who play a vital role in track safety, and of course the race engineer.
So what is the role of the race engineer exactly? Essentially, the race engineer is a little bit like the coach of the whole racing team. The race engineer relays messages between the driver and the rest of the team, evaluates race data gathered from a variety of sources, and determines what performance settings the race car will use, among other things.
Today, we'll be talking about everything you should know about being a race engineer, including what they do and what it takes to be one.
The role of the race engineer can be a little tricky to understand, even if you've seen a few races at this point. You might be wondering, for example, what the difference is between the race engineer and the race mechanics. Put simply, race mechanics are responsible for the car in a hands-on capacity, while the race engineer is more of an overseer.
If you've ever seen a Formula 1 race, you'll definitely have seen the race engineer before; they're the guys with the headphones who you see staring at screens and communicating with the drivers during a race. In Formula 1 at least, each team has two race engineers, one for each driver.
During a race, the race engineer's main job is to communicate with the drivers and transmit messages from other team members to the driver and vice versa. This helps keep things streamlined since the driver doesn't have to keep track of input from multiple team members; everything has to go through the race engineer first.
The race engineer is often also responsible for dealing with the media during a race. Outside of the race, the drivers are usually interviewed directly, but obviously during a race, the drivers are totally inaccessible. It is therefore up to the race engineer to field any questions the media might have.
Outside of a race, the race engineer is responsible for gathering data from the driver and from the car's various sensors and relaying that data to the factory. This enables the factory to make whatever adjustments to the car that are needed to increase performance.
The race engineer is also the individual who is ultimately responsible for deciding what strategy the team will use for any given race, and is responsible for ensuring that the car's setup doesn't violate any of the established race regulations.
EKSRX, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
As you can imagine, not just anyone can be a race engineer. It takes a lot of time and experience to work your way up to such a position from within a race team, and some academic credentials are usually expected as well.
Specifically, it really helps to have some kind of engineering degree. The exact degree doesn't matter too much, as long as it's in the general field of engineering; you'll find race engineers with degrees in motorsport engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering, among others.
If you want to try becoming a race engineer at some point, you'll want to be knowledgeable in the areas of math, physics, and computer science, as those will all be things you'll need to be successful in this position. Data analysis is an important aspect of being a race engineer, so you'll need to demonstrate that you have a good eye for detail.
Strong people skills are also a very necessary requirement for being a race engineer. Don't forget, the race engineer is essentially the center of communication between all of the team members during a race, so it's important that the race engineer has a good rapport with all of the other team members.
People skills are also very important to have as a race engineer when dealing with the media. During a race, the race engineer is the real face of the team, so they need to conduct themselves well and ensure that they're representing their team in a favorable light.
The effectiveness of a race engineer is going to be determined in large part by their ability to remain calm under pressure. The race engineer is the lynchpin of communication between all the team members, so there's a pretty big burden of responsibility on them to make sure the race goes smoothly. Being able to do your job under such pressure is a huge asset.
And, of course, it helps a ton if you have a lot of previous experience with cars and working on a race team.
Becoming a race engineer isn't the easiest thing in the world, but it's certainly something that anyone can achieve with the right experience and credentials. For starters, as we've mentioned, you should have a degree in some kind of engineering field, and it also helps to have studied things like math and physics.
In terms of work experience, you're probably only going to have a real shot at becoming a race engineer if you have prior experience working on a race team. A lot of race engineers started off their careers as race mechanics and worked their way up over the course of several years.
A lot of race engineers for prominent motorsport teams got their start working for small, local teams. Any experience you can get in this field will be helpful, so if you really want to become a race engineer, your best bet might be to look around for any local race teams that are hiring mechanics.
That being said, if you tend to have a greater appreciation for the more hands-on aspects of working on a race team, you might want to consider remaining a mechanic. The race engineer's duties fall more in line with strategy and development than physical labor, and it's the sort of thing that's the best fit for people with analytical minds.