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How to become an Aero Design Engineer in F1 – Qualifications, skills & more

Formula 1 cars are some of the most aerodynamically complex machines in the world. With every single aspect of the car pored over to ensure it’s as slippery through the air as possible, it takes a team of aerodynamicists to ensure that a car is ready to compete in F1.

To find out more about the role that aerodynamics plays in F1 we spoke to Adam Ludgate, an Aero Design Engineer for McLaren.

What is an Aero Design Engineer?

An aero design engineer works alongside an aerodynamicist to design parts to test within the windtunnel. We work with a scaled model of the car and use it to create various configurations to review our aerodynamic performance.

How did you become an Aero Design Engineer? What did you study at school and what qualifications do you need?

My A level choices were Physics and Product Design. I also carried out an advanced diploma in engineering as part of my further education.

At university, I studied Motorsports Engineering as a master’s degree (MEng). If you are in higher education, I would highly recommend looking to gain some industrial experience. Although F1 works quite differently to most other businesses, getting some experience in an engineering background will really help to develop your skills and build important connections.

McLaren Aero Design Engineer Adam Ludgate

McLaren Aero Design Engineer Adam Ludgate

What other skills are useful?

You typically work on the boundary of legality which can present challenges, often requiring unique solutions. Being able to problem solve is a key skill for this role.

Time management is another very useful skill in this role, although this is something which develops largely with experience.

How can I get work experience?

The McLaren graduate scheme and internship are great ways that you can gain some experience to help you get a role in the aero department. The scheme works with several departments including aero which helps to show how the team runs in all areas. I have worked alongside previous graduates who have enrolled on the scheme, I can’t think of a better opportunity.

Do Aero Design Engineers go to races?

Aero Design Engineers don’t go to races as we are fundamentally a development role. We do sometimes visit the windtunnel as engineering support.

What does a day at work look like for an Aero Design Engineer?

A typical day usually starts with a review of work/results from the night before. From that, we decide which parts we need to design next; design direction can change very quickly. The work is predominately CAD based. I work closely with the Additive manufacturing department and the machine shop to produce our parts. We also liaise with an inspection team to ensure parts are manufactured within the specification and the model shop who handle assembly and prep work.

The core hours for a typical working day are 9am-6pm but the reality is the hours can be very fluid and it is quite common to work beyond the core hours.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

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

It’s very exciting, I have personally been a long-time F1 and McLaren fan, so to be part of that team is very fulfilling. We get a lot of feedback from the travelling race team which feeds directly into the parts we make, sometimes while during a live session which feels very surreal at first.

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

Having started my role towards the end of the previous era, a lot of the models I worked with were very mature and any changes I made were minimal.

The new regulations were very much a blank sheet of paper which meant almost everything we used was obsolete. The initial development phase of the new regulations has and continues to be fast evolving. Though the role is the same, we have found that we are forced to work in slightly different ways to overcome both new challenges as well as old challenges but with a new set of tools.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

There is a buzz about the team both internally and externally. Within the team, you are part of a small group working in a particular area, development rates are very quick and you don’t often have to wait long before you feel a sense of progress.

That progress translates to the external buzz surrounding the team; it provides you with a sense of ownership over parts (a front wing, for example) which you can often point out while actively competing on the world stage, it’s very exciting.

In a lot of ways, your career integrates with your social life in a way that I haven’t seen in any other industry.

Sparks fly from Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Sparks fly from Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / 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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