It’s Race Week in Formula 1 and we’ve got a treat for you before lights out in Azerbaijan! Our latest Industry Insider works in the world of Formula 1, we sat down with Thomas Pickup and I’m a Trackside IT Systems Technician for MoneyGram Haas F1 Team!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m Thomas Pickup and I’m a Trackside IT Systems Technician for MoneyGram Haas F1 Team. I’m currently travelling the world in my second season working for the team.
Before I joined Haas, I worked in everything from the IT department in an engineering firm to leading the Hospitality Box service at Northern Ireland’s biggest theatre the Grand Opera House Belfast. The role I had directly before I joined Haas was as an IT Infrastructure Security Analyst at Carson McDowell, a law firm based in Belfast.
What do you do in your current role?
My role mixes both IT infrastructure and support, taking both sectors to the extreme. I work as part of a team of three. Our team also works alongside the wider IT Team at Haas based across our sites in England, Italy and the US.
The main part of the role is to take the IT infrastructure that allows the car to operate from country to country. We set this up at the start of the week, maintain it throughout, and then pack it up at the end of the week ready for the next event.
The most important part of this is the maintenance, making sure that the network and servers are operational with minimal downtime. Even a second of downtime can cause significant consequences, even the retirement of a car. This is because almost all of the car data – be it telemetry or driver communication – flows through our systems.
It’s a fantastic role allowing me to apply the standard IT fundamentals to such a fast-paced environment. We also get to use the latest and greatest hardware and software which is an IT technician’s dream!
Of course, the other side of the coin is providing IT support service to our colleagues and guests at the track. This is similar to the kind of IT support you’d find at a traditional office job, the only difference being the office changes week in week out.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
On a race week, we’d start the week off by flying out to an event. The next couple of days after this are devoted to setting up all the IT infrastructure at the track for Haas. Whilst this is going on we also have other members of the team putting together the garage and surrounding areas.
After we’ve finished setting up the garage and offices we go straight into support and maintenance mode. Usually, the engineers will arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday ready for the race weekend. During the sessions we are monitoring the critical systems and reacting proactively to any issues that may arise. It’s exciting as you never know what may happen.
After all is said and done, the dust has settled on the race and the winner is crowned, it’s our turn to say “it’s lights out and away we go (to the next track)”.
How did you end up where you are right now?
From an early age I’ve been interested in computers. I worked at the local engineering firm WEC Group during the summer holidays in their IT Department.
After this, I studied computer science at Queens University Belfast. As part of my work experience, I joined an IT department in a legal firm. Eventually once my studies had been completed, I was invited back to join Carson McDowell in a full-time position. From there I was able to work my way up from IT Support to leading the majority of the IT Infrastructure changes and operations. This was the role that was crucial to teaching me how an IT department operates as well as how to work with various sections of a business to support their needs.
When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
Watching Formula 1 with my dad as a child made me fall in love with that sport. So, I always knew that I would love to work in Motorsport, I just didn’t think that I would find a job that would suit me. Never being good with a spanner ruled out being a mechanic. When I saw the job at Haas advertised though I knew this was for me. The role combines my love of IT with my love of motorsport.
My passion for the industry I work in certainly helps, whether that is the latest tech offerings or being a self-confessed F1 nerd. I love to learn about the technical side of the sport. Being able to see a car built up from scratch is a fascinating experience. Car build at the beginning of the year is one of the best times for it, as our server racks are right next to the area where the cars are being built. You can see the cars go from a tub where the driver sits to a fully built F1 car over the course of a few weeks.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
My number one focus is to make sure the IT operations on track are running smoothly. As mentioned previously, downtime must be kept at a minimum. But we also need to provide the best service we can to our colleagues whilst operating in the harshest environments. Servers and IT equipment aren’t meant to be shipped around the world then placed in the baking sun and bathed in carbon brake dust. Managing this is one of the biggest and toughest focuses of my role.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
To be honest I can’t really think of a time that I failed. It might sound crazy, but the way I see it, every failure is a new lesson and you never stop learning. It’s how we react to these failures that makes the difference.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
I think Formula 1 is at an all-time high in terms of excitement and seeing the pecking order change is exhilarating. It’s fun to bring along a new cohort of fans as well, Drive to Survive has been integral in this, attracting fans who may have never given F1 a chance before.
Technologically though, F1 teams are always making massive advancements. It’s interesting to see how other teams are employing new and emerging technology into their cars, garages, and pit walls etc.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
If I could change one thing it would probably be highlighting the Sustainability efforts of the sport while noting much more can still be done.
As a sport, Formula 1 looks to achieve Net Zero by 2030, and MoneyGram Haas F1 Team has recently been granted FIA Three-Star Environmental Accreditation – the highest level of accreditation focused on sustainability created by our governing body, the FIA. Even though we have received this acknowledgement, as a team we know we must continue and look at all areas of the business to minimise our impact, reduce waste and find efficient ways to power our team.
The sports focus on the transition to using sustainable fuels which is key in helping not only F1s longevity as a sport but allowing manufacturers to develop the processes and technology to allow consumers to use more environmentally friendly fuel sources.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Ironically, it’s travel. You’d think that someone who spends upwards of twenty weekends a year out of the country would like some respite back home. But, it’s quite the opposite, I love heading to new and exciting places, experiencing different cultures and ways of life.
Photography is also a passion project of mine. I’m always taking photos and love sharing them. Thinking further down the road, it will also be a good way to remember where I’ve been on my travels.
Of course, on a day-to-day basis, the best way to unwind is chatting on the phone to friends and family, as I’m away for a bulk of the year. It’s a great way to stay in touch with everyone back home and afar.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Just do it! Sometimes these opportunities can arise from nowhere, if you see a job that you think you’re suited to, then apply for it. Even though you might not match the profile exactly, you never know what will happen. From my own experience, the risk has been well worth it.
How to connect with Thomas Pickup…
Thanks for reading our chat with Thomas Pickup! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.