How To Become A Senior Aerodynamicist In F1 – Qualifications, Skills And More

It’s an aerodynamicist’s job to make sure the car they’re working on is as efficient and fast as possible, but what is a senior aerodynamicist and what do they do to help an F1 team ? We spoke to Rebecca Wilson of McLaren to find out.

What is an Aerodynamicist?

The primary role of an aerodynamicist is to add performance to the racing car. We achieve this through detailed conceptual design of surfaces (such as the floor or the front fender) to achieve a targeted improvement in flow physics. Experiments are carried out in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and in the wind tunnel to validate the performance of these conceptual studies and identify additional optimization steps. The best performing of these test items are then put on the track to directly improve the lap time.

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

In school, I discovered that I had a strength for mathematics, physics and technical drawing, which suited me perfectly for a career as an engineer. I successfully applied for the MEng course in Aero-Mechanical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde where I had many opportunities to put the theoretical learning into practical applications such as designing formula students and scale models of planes.

Throughout my studies, I also pushed myself to gain industrial experience, with two summer internships and a year in industry, which gave me new opportunities to grow and develop my skills in the solving real engineering problems. It was this experience that encouraged me to apply for the graduate program at McLaren Racing in 2014, which ultimately led me to become an aerodynamicist.

Rebecca Wilson, senior aerodynamicist at McLaren

What other skills are useful?

Outside of your chosen field of study, there are several skills that can give you an edge when applying for an F1 job, including teamwork, coding and the ability to think outside the box. A passion for motorsport certainly doesn’t hurt either. !

How can I gain work experience?

I strongly encourage summer internships and/or a year in industry to gain work experience as an engineer. Do your research on the companies you’d like to work for – explore online, keep an eye out for job fairs and the school/university career services bulletin board for engineering companies that offer opportunities of work experience.

Don’t rule out opportunities that are in slightly different engineering fields, as any experience solving real engineering problems is valuable. My internships have for example included mechanical, chemical and aeronautical engineering.

Be sure to apply for opportunities that catch your eye – everyone has to start somewhere!

Do the aerodynamicists go to the races?

While most aerodynamicists don’t travel to the races as standard, we have on-track aerodynamicists who focus on analyzing the aerodynamic performance delivered on the track and feeding it back into the development direction of future concepts. Most aerodynamicists, however, will spend a lot of time in the wind tunnel, managing the testing of aerodynamic concepts through 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 footage

What does a working day look like for an aerodynamicist?

A normal day for an aerodynamicist usually starts with reviewing the results of all CFD, wind tunnel or track tests that have been run in the previous 24 hours to decide on the next steps. These next steps could include:

• Other geometric modifications of the concepts to be tested in CFD
• Sending the concepts to the wind tunnel for testing
• Release of the designs to be made for the race car following a positive test in the wind tunnel

Throughout this, solid data analysis, presenting results and working with teammates to identify next steps is a key part of the day as an aerodynamicist.

What’s it like working as a team on an elite sports team?

Having worked in several industries, what stood out to me the most when I started in F1 was the frenetic pace of going from an idea to an actual part on a race car. Projects are measured in days and weeks rather than months and years.

This results in a truly dynamic and collaborative work environment that pushes everyone to give their best, 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 footage

Has the job changed at all since the new regulations came into effect and what do you need to do differently?

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

• Design a car from scratch with all new regulations and different aerodynamic challenges
• Maximize the performance we can deliver within a cost cap

As an aerodynamicist, the opportunity to participate in the design of a car from scratch was incredibly challenging and interesting. From a practical perspective, this has led to an abundance of new ideas to explore, better collaboration between groups, as well as new creative energy as a team.

This extends not only to aerodynamic concepts, but also to how we achieve them as efficiently as possible from a design, manufacturing and reliability perspective.

What is your favorite part of the job?

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

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

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

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport footage

We at McLaren Racing are delighted to be developing a new state-of-the-art wind tunnel in our Woking MTC, which will add more agility and capability to the Aero department and closely linked teams. It will have a fantastic impact on the performance of the team and the car.

To find out more about the professions of our Aero department, see our latest job offers.