Strategists in Formula 1 are responsible for creating the perfect plan for a race, and are often pivotal in making or breaking a good result. This complex role is tough to find, so how do you find one and how do you make sure you’ve got the right skills and experience to get it? We spoke to Mike Caulfield – Haas F1 Team’s Senior Strategy Engineer – to find out more.
What is your role?
My job title is Senior Strategy Engineer, leading the Strategy group in Race Engineering. I’m in charge of deciding the race strategy during an event, when to box, what tyres to fit and analysing our performance relative to competitors. Outside of race weekends, I manage my group in terms of what analysis to look at, reviewing the work we have completed at an event and how we can develop and progress the tools that we use.
What are your responsibilities and main jobs?
One of the best parts of being a Strategy Engineer is that it covers a wide range of areas within an F1 team. The main focus is providing a clear understanding over a race weekend of what the optimal strategy in a race will be and then focusing the engineers and drivers on what we need to achieve over the course of an event to increase our knowledge and data and try to answer any unknowns that the team may have.
This all comes together during the race when the job requires putting all the data gathered into action and making quick decisions based on this info, how the race unfolds and what competitors do. This work, however, starts weeks before. As we approach the race, a Strategy Engineer will do pre-event simulations, building on the data from the tyre choice selection and running updated simulations based on any further information that has been sent. This then helps define the run plans and aims as we go into an event weekend.
During a race weekend, the role of a Strategy Engineer is to collate all the data we receive from practice sessions, in terms of tyre performance/degradation, competitiveness and general understanding of the weekend.
Outside of a race weekend, the job generally requires some form of analysis or development. With the strategy group requiring an in-depth knowledge of the relative competitiveness, the group can also help other areas of the company such as aerodynamics and mechanical design, to highlight where others might be gaining performance, so highlighting overall the direction the team potentially needs to go in to help improve performance.
How do you become a Strategy Engineer?
A Strategy Engineer role is rarely advertised and if it is, it usually requires some experience in the field. However, some teams have started recruiting Graduate Strategy Engineers, which is a good entry position. As the role requires a broad understanding of the performance characteristics of an Formula 1 car, the transferrable skills from working in vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics are usually a benefit. If already part of an F1 team, gaining work experience in strategy by volunteering to help over a race weekend would help massively if wanting to follow the strategy path.
What qualifications do you need?
A Master’s degree is ideally required in a STEM subject.
What should you study in school?
As with most engineering roles, mathematics and physics are a key skillset to have. Building on this, having computer science and/or programming experience is a benefit.
What other skills are useful?
One of the key skills a Strategy Engineer requires is an awareness and understanding of what is going on at any point in a race weekend. This develops with experience but having been a fan of F1 before entering the series aids the development curve, so it is important to have some knowledge and enthusiasm for the role. The role also requires long hours and working weekends so having an interest in motorsport beforehand is desired to be able to cope with the intense hours required. However, a recent past knowledge is more than acceptable. Knowing every world champion since the 1950’s is not required for the role and while interest in other motorsports may come into some use, having knowledge outside of F1 is not necessary. The best candidates also have some interest in sports away from motorsport providing a more rounded approach overall. With data analysis and sports data performance becoming highly sought after in many areas, understanding other sports passionately also may open up areas of how to apply new concepts to Formula 1 that are being used elsewhere in places like football, rugby, cycling, etc.
How can I get work experience?
As mentioned above, work experience in a strategy role is difficult to come across, with most junior formulas not having this as a dedicated role due to lack of information they receive. However, getting any work experience as a data engineer would be beneficial and then asking to help out with whatever they currently do in terms of strategy.
If still at university, gaining this network and trying to develop your own strategy software for these teams would be useful. If working for an Formula 1 team currently, volunteer to help out in race support over a weekend. Finally, write to Strategy Engineers such as me on LinkedIn and ask questions. You might not get an immediate response but finding out what areas to look at is a good step.
Do you get to go to races?
As the senior member, my role requires going to the races. Being involved with conversations with the engineers, drivers, and Pirelli is important as I’ll reiterate the point above that the understanding of what is going on at each point of the weekend is what makes a successful Strategy Engineer. Before this role, I worked back in race support for seven years which allowed me to build my understanding and experience in a lower pressure environment. That prepared me for the increased demands that are required trackside. Working with a broad scope of people across the team, trust is a big factor in my role and it is the understanding and experience gained in a factory role that takes a number of years before allowing for the transition to a trackside role.
What does a day at work look like for a Strategy Engineer?
There is no normal day. The majority of work is computer based but if working with the pitcrew on pitstops, then some time is required talking and working with them. Once a season starts, the general work revolves around preparing for the next event or analysing the previous one. Once a race weekend comes around, Thursday usually involves making sure everything is prepared. Friday is a long day with two practice sessions and analysis after that, usually taking us right up to curfew to complete. Saturday is another long day for a Strategy Engineer as we have a night of work ahead, looking into all possible scenarios, planning for the race and making sure they are prepared for the race the next day. Sunday is a stressful but exciting day, with quick, alert decisions often required, and hoping that the homework done on Saturday night has been enough!
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