Work / Life: Engine and ERS Technician

A day in the life of…
Gaelle Le Hir, Engine and ERS Technician

What’s your job responsibility?
I am an engine and ERS (energy recovery system) technician, based in Viry-Châtillon.

What are you responsible for in your job? What does that involve, what do you do, who with?
At the factory I am an ERS technician. I assemble and oversee the maintenance of the race batteries and also those currently in development. I also look after prototype batteries, which may or may not be used in race conditions, dependent on the outcome of the tests. From time to time I also deputise for my manager in software meetings and train new recruits.

At the track I am an engine support technician, meaning I work on the Power Units of both cars. I help to prepare the PUs ahead of their installation in the chassis, check them over, apply the latest hardware solutions developed at the factory and then prepare the spare parts. When the car is out on track, I am there to help the engine technician allocated to either car in case of any issues. In some sessions I am also at the end of the pit lane in the FIA garage – a standard procedure on the occasion the car stops.

Due to the dual nature of my job I work with lots of different people in many different situations. On any given day I deal with mechanical parts, electrical, electronic, software, have contact with Enstone on different chassis parts, engineers, car designers and technicians. It’s a real pleasure as I am always learning something new; it’s a very enriching role. At the end of the day, my job allows me not just to understand the engine but rather the entire Power Unit.

Describe a typical day in your job.
Each day is very different.

I get to the factory around 07.30 as I like to have a little quiet time in the morning. Generally I have a plan with deadlines, either for the development batteries or the race-bound ones. The battery actually combines electronics, electrics and also a good deal of very precise mechanics, plus a number of control systems as it is a high-risk part. The fact we are a small team of just six people allows a certain amount of responsibility.

Whether at the track, or at the factory, I know when I arrive but I won’t know when I leave. Typically I am home by 18.30 but it can often be later if there is a need to work late.

At the track there isn’t a typical day either, but there is a standard week. I will generally arrive on the Tuesday before the race to set up my area and start work on the engines. The engines need to be ready by Wednesday as the first fire-up will be on Thursday. When the race engines are prepared I then look at the spare engines. Friday is a very busy day as we have a lot of checks to do. Saturday is less so, as the cars are under parc ferme conditions after qualifying and we can’t work on them. On Sunday, we do two fire ups, pack up the spare engine and start to tidy our work area. Once the race has finished, we wait for the cars to come back from the FIA, check the engines over and then wait for the FIA to seal them for the next race.

How did you get the job? What is your background and why did you take this job?
I grew up in motorbike paddocks, with the smell of two-stroke engines. I got a qualification in car mechanics and then went to a specialised school (Ecole de la Performance) to study race mechanics, specifically motorbikes. I was able to follow this passion by working in several different disciplines, including FSSP, FSBK, CEV and Moto2.

One day a former engine engineer colleague of mine called me about a role in the workshop of Renault. I was 23 years old and thought that working in Formula 1 would be a great challenge and opportunity. From a technical point of view there is nothing better. I was interviewed and everything after that went very quickly. I started in the engine build workshop, then went to the battery department two years later. Now I still work with the batteries but I have kept in touch with engine build thanks to my work on races.

What is your most memorable moment…
The moment that still gives me goosebumps, even after several races, is the grid formation before a race.

Otherwise I still remember the Moto2 race in Brno in 2013: it was our first world championship race with a 100% French prototype that had only done one race before, with a driver who was unknown at the time, but is now a world champion in WSSP (Supersport World Championship). We managed to qualify and finished in tenth – scoring points and finishing ahead of more experienced teams was incredible! I remember having a few tears when we got to the chequered flag!

And the worst part of your job…?
At the moment I don’t have one as I love my work and everything it involves. I think that you have made, and continue to make, a lot of sacrifices to do this job, but I am very lucky to be able to do something I am passionate about. The only frustrating thing is that you don’t always get the results you want on track. But I am sure one day it will pay off!

The best part of your job then…
The team work; seeing all this hard work, but always for the same goal. Everyone makes a contribution and gives his or her all. I also enjoy the challenge of constantly trying to do better, improve and not letting your head down when things don’t go your way. I like working with different people; it’s very stimulating.

What do you do after work? How do you unwind?
After work I try to spend time with my friends over a good glass of wine or cooking food: I love doing this. Otherwise I I was born in the South of France and I try to go there as much as I can. And of course I love shopping!

What do you do before going to sleep?
I read and look over social media.

Plan B… If you weren’t doing your job, what would you have done instead? I would have liked to work in the high-end jewellery industry. After all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.