Exclusive: Insight into working in F1 - Part 2
30 October 2013 – What is it really like to work in F1? Here, GPUpdate.net goes behind-the-scenes to find out with help from the Caterham F1 team and in part two, we catch up with Juan Pablo Ramirez, Race Engineer for Giedo van der Garde...
Juan Pablo Ramirez
What does your job involve exactly?
I am responsible for Giedo’s car from a technical point of view. I am the leader of the engineering group working specifically with him - we have an engine engineer, we have a parts engineer and we have a performance engineer and so on. So, I manage the people on his side of the garage and take an overview of all the work that is going on. I am basically the link between him and the rest of the team for technical aspects about his car. Of course set-up is one of my responsibilities and we have people working specifically on items around this. Also I do the planning of the sessions and work out what we are going to do on track, plus I talk to him during the race. There is quite a big group of engineering support around too, not only specifically for Giedo, but also in terms of race strategy. It is quite an integrated job.
What do you say to Giedo over the radio in the races? Are there ever any disagreements?
We don’t really have intense radio communications. We try and keep it [talking over the radio] to the minimum. We try to provide information he needs to know but not be too excessive. He is relatively polite with his comments and is easy to communicate with. There haven’t been any issues. Obviously there have been cases when he is fighting with his team-mate [Charles Pic] and things get a bit heated up. But it is not really a problem. He has always reacted well in those situations.
What is your influence on the on-track performance of the team?
One of the biggest influences a race engineer can have is in qualifying. You help determine when the driver goes out and you look for gaps – that is very important. It is probably the session where you can have the biggest effect, really the driver is in your hands. You release him and you discuss the strategy.
You also set the direction of the car in terms of set-up. Obviously the driver has very strong input – he is the one giving all the feedback. But, at the end of the day, I am the one that needs to find the technical solutions for the problems we are having, be it oversteer or handling issues with the tyres or the aerodynamic set-up of the car – all these things. We have a very big group of people analysing all these different aspects and I am the one trying to extract all that information and apply it to Giedo’s car.
How did you get involved in F1?
It was approximately 13 years ago that I went to England to do a Masters degree in Automotive Engineering with the aim of going into motorsport. That has been my interest since I was a teenager. I was quite fortunate because after finishing my degree I was able to join a small F1 team at the end of 2000 - Arrows. I started as a junior aerodynamicist and eventually moved up to become a test and performance engineer. I stayed there a couple of years and then did seven years with Toyota on the F1 project. When Toyota stopped that I moved here and this is my fourth year with the team.
What makes Caterham different from the other teams?
Obviously Caterham is one of the smaller teams, very similar to Arrows in a way. In fact we are now based in the same factory. It is the same type of philosophy. There is more flexibility in terms of doing things. Toyota was very different. It was a large team and was very corporate orientated with a lot of resources. There was good support in all areas and there were a lot of experienced people covering all the different positions. In a small team you cannot afford this. But small teams do give the opportunity for young people to get started. It is the same with the drivers. They normally start in the smaller teams and it is a similar situation with engineers. Also it is more challenging in a way being in a smaller team. You have less people doing the same job and you have to learn a lot - that is very important and was what happened when I was at Arrows.
Why did you join Caterham?
I wanted to stay in F1 and the opportunity came basically because there were three new teams joining the sport [in 2010]. It was pretty much straightforward to go to one of them. It was quite an interesting challenge to go to a completely new team. But also it was quite tough because there was a lot of work involved that in a big established team you more or less take for granted.
What would be a good end to the 2013 F1 season for Caterham?
If we manage to recover and take tenth place in the Constructors’ Championship – that is our most important goal. Also we need to put in a consistent performance and be in front of Marussia all of the time. Furthermore we need to maximise opportunities like we had at Spa in Belgium [during qualifying when Giedo made it through to Q2 and qualified in P14].
What’s your relationship like with both drivers?
They are a good pair of drivers. They are quite friendly. Giedo is very easy going and I obviously work with him a lot. He is a positive guy and is always in a very good mood. That helps with the working relationship. I know he is an experienced race driver in the sense that he has spent all of his life, all of his career, in the lower formulas. He understands all the various technical aspects of the race car. That’s important.
Do you think he has got what it takes to succeed in F1?
I do think so, yes. Today it is very difficult to get into F1. It is not just about talent. The way the whole sport is going it requires a huge amount of money from everybody. You get all this criticism for paid drivers and so on. But it has been like that all the time basically. It is just that now because the costs are so high and because the economics are poor you have to rely more and more on people like that. But I think to give Giedo his respects, although he brings funding, he has done his years in the lower formulas. He has shown, if you allow for growth in the team, and understanding of a F1 car, he can deliver good results.
What advice would you have for people who want to work as an engineer in F1?
My advice would be to get the best preparation possible in terms of an engineering education. It is a lot like any other activity in life too, you need to have a high level of motivation. You need to be prepared to make sacrifices and to dedicate a lot of time. One way is to get an engineering education - to degree or post-degree level - and then try and make your way in or you can start like most drivers do in the lower formulas, F3, GP3 or GP2, and try and work your way up to F1. That is a good option as it gives you experience. That is the other important point, to get as much experience as you can as early as possible, even when you are still studying. Getting experience of racing at various levels is very valuable.
Part 1 of our insight, with Head of Communications Tom Webb, is available here