Lee Webb, 25, No. 1 Race Mechanic
Job History: My first part time job was at an indoor karting centre. I then chose to go to study Motorsport Engineering and the course involved a work placement within the industry. I phoned around all the F1 teams, Touring Car teams, and F3 teams and was offered a six week placement at Lister Storm Racing.
I was asked to consider working for them full-time, but decided to finish my studies. The decision paid off and after graduating I was offered a full-time job at Lister on the FIA GT team. From there on I built a name for myself within the paddock, first off in Europe and now America. Subsequent jobs have all come mainly from what people have said about me and my experience.
Best/Worst Parts about the job: One of the best things about the job for me has been the variety of like-minded people I have had the chance to meet and work with over the years. I have had the opportunity to travel the world from Australia to South America, and been lucky enough to work on some of the nicest cars while being paid a decent salary to do it!
Some of the worst parts of the job are is the amount of time and dedication it takes to prepare for a race. It's definitely not a 9-5 job as it's a normal thing to do a few all-nighters per month. Although the travelling has been awesome it drastically eats into your social and family to a point where I spent more time out of the county than in it at one point.
Advice for wannabe mechanics: Unfortunately being a race mechanic isn't really like anything else; it relies almost entirely on luck and being in the right place at the right time to get a foot in the door. Studying a course in automotive, aerospace or motorsport engineering definitely helps particularly if you're able to do some kind of internship or work experience within the industry where you would like to work.
CV essentials for the job: You need a basic knowledge of how a car performs under various conditions on the track. You need to be able to learn and work quickly, to make the right decision with little or no notice and listen to others and apply what you have learnt to the situation.
Being a race mechanic involves putting in a lot of hard graft to gain hands-on experience and being in the right place at the right time to get your foot in the door. Motorcar racing is just one area that mechanics could go on to specialise in. Car mechanics can also work in independent or commercial garages, for vehicle manufacturers, and breakdown organisations. Apprenticeships or industry placements while studying are the best lead in to a job as a car mechanic.
In Lee's case the day will typically start at 8am when he's at the workshop although when at the race track it can be as early as 5am. He is responsible for ensuring that all work on the car is carried out correctly, safely and within the allotted time so he could be doing anything from a complete strip down (remove everything down to the bare chassis) of the car at the workshop to changing suspension parts, changing gear ratios or repairing crash damage.
When the car goes out on track for any practice, test or qualifying sessions Lee is responsible for managing the team. He may also have to carry out setup changes, change tyres etc and make sure things have been done correctly before the car goes back out.
A typical day at the workshop will usually finish about 6pm however at the track it's quite normal to be there anywhere up to 2-3am.
There are several different routes in to working as a car mechanic. At base level the modern apprenticeship scheme is pretty popular and involves a defined training program (usually the Automotive NVQ) whilst working on the job. Others may choose to take a fulltime course of which there are two main options: the City and Guilds course in vehicle maintenance and repair or a BTEC in vehicle repair and technology.
For those seeking more involved careers in the field a higher education course may be more suitable. Places like the School of Automotive Engineering at Swansea Metropolitan University where Lee studied offer programmes designed to develop and enhance engineering skills. Good maths and science A Levels are your best bet for entry onto the schemes and you will also usually need a driving license for the types of vehicle you plan to be working on.
Personality/Who would it suit?
To be a race mechanic takes a very dedicated, focused and determined type of person who is constantly striving to win/be the best. Attention to detail is a must - mistakes can easily lead to thousands of pounds worth of damage or worse. In general mechanics need to be physically fit because there is a lot heavy lifting involved. You also need to have a keen eye for detail, and aptitude in maths and science, and extensive technical knowledge. Good communication skills are also required to explain the problems to customers.
At entry level in national motorsport, you could earn £15,000 a year, increasing to £23-24,000 with experience. A number one mechanic in Formula One might be on £40,000, plus benefits and bonuses.
Average salaries for motor vehicle technicians/ mechanics are between £13,000 and £20,000 while the more experienced can earn up to £26,000 a year. You will usually work a 40-hour week.
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Written by Susie Wild