While job titles in F1 appear consistent, roles vary from team to team. In the third instalment of An engineer's life, Manor Chief Engineer Gianluca Pisanello talks to Kate Walker about his life as an F1 engineer and the ins and outs of the role.
After high school, I went to university in Padua for a five-year Masters' in Electronic Engineering. Motorsport was always in my sights, but at the time in Italy nothing more specific to motorsport existed. I was passionate for electronics as well, so I decided to study electronics.
At Italian universities -- at least when I got my degree in 1997 -- engineering was quite theoretical. Despite being a practical discipline, it was very theoretical compared to other countries - they used to say that they were to teach you how to learn things rather than to teach you specific things that would be obsolete in six months. It was a lot of theoretical stuff, a lot of courses about management as well, and that's how I got my first start.
Then I volunteered for one year in one of the police forces in Italy, where I started working as a systems engineer basically. I then worked for one year in an IT company and did pretty much the same role. From the second year, I started overlapping that with some F3 commitments which lasted for three years. After the first year of F3, I dropped the IT company and after three years in F3, I had the opportunity to move from F3 to Formula Renault.
Because of the results we had achieved with one of the Toyota young drivers [I was invited] to join Toyota F1 where I stayed, going up the ladder from Track Engineering to Race Engineering. I stayed there from their first season to their last season, until they closed the project, and then I moved to ... what ended up being Caterham. I stayed there for five years as race engineer, then chief engineer, to Head of Engineering Operations. When that project ended, I did some consultancy before John Booth asked me if I wanted to join [Manor].
My job is basically to take an idea and then try to exploit the maximum from it. You see this idea from the concept stage, to the design, to the validation through simulation, through the validations with aerodynamics, for example, through testing in the wind tunnel. And then it comes to track testing it, test in practice, and then it goes in the race. It seems like an extremely long process, but in the end it's stuff that even for complex components will be done in two and a half months. For a simple part it's a matter of very, very few weeks. It's rarely repetitive, because things also tend to go in an unplanned way, so it keeps you on your toes.
The highlight of the job for me is the improvement. That thing when you go somewhere and you see that you have achieved what you were looking for - be it with a part on a car or with a race strategy, depending. You might even say, "Well it depends, because of the reward." What's the reward if you don't win a race? What is it? But this is a little bit of misconception, I think, because we all have a race. For some people, their race coincides with the race. For other people like us, for example, it's the idea of continuing improvement.
Now we obviously have metrics for that: the gap we have from the next guys we're challenging this year, or when we are fighting with other teams. The fact of how far, how much are you opening the gap or if you're targeting the next team, how much are you closing the gap? So there is always a way of saying, "I had a good week, I'm very happy or I had a very bad week and we need to bounce back as soon as we can."
Unfortunately, in motorsport and sport in general, you can never abstract and say, "I have improved like..." For us, unfortunately, that comparison always involves someone else because if in a season you improve by one second, you can look back and say, "Oh well I improved one second, good job." But if everybody else has improved two seconds, then obviously it's different. It's a life full of ups and downs rather than being a bit average.
I'm sure if someone who's never done this spot here would think, "Alright, everybody knows what they do," and think it just works but it is not like that. In fact the team, every team needs to be maintained. It's like a sophisticated machine - it needs to be continually checked, serviced, improved.
Because once the thing works, it doesn't mean that it's working the best possible way, so you need to continue to say, "Okay we're doing this now, let's be critical of ourselves," but every time you want to change something, it's not like changing one person or one part of the car. You need to change processes, you need to change procedures so there's no inertia due to the number of people and objects that we deal with.
There's a lot of psychology, but I think that this is common to management in any company and again, to be able to extract the maximum potential from someone cannot be different from understanding 'how does this person feel? What are his fears? What makes him happy? Why is he behaving differently today from yesterday?' All the usual things.
Feeling that you are part of the team is not only a matter of satisfaction but it's a prerequisite to operate at the level to compete with others. It is something that pushes everybody and as you know, it is a very tough life, it is a very hard life, and these things where they live in a group, they tend to create this camaraderie spirit which is very nice, it's very good. You can have arguments with people but then you know that in a difficult moment, they will be there for you.
I enjoy working in an environment where people are happy to be together and they do things... They push not because they are pushed, but they push because they feel happier doing it - they feel that it's the right thing, not only to make someone else happy but to give them satisfaction and reward for what they're doing.