Unlocking Performance with Race Engineer Julien Simon-Chautemps

February 3, 2023

Ignition Human Performance is pleased to announce that another fantastic member of the grid joining its Motorsport Speakers roster, Julien Simon-Chautemps, who was most recently Kimi Räikkönen’s last Formula One Race Engineer.

Julien is a race and performance engineering specialist with over 22 years of experience in Formula 1, Formula 2, Formula 3 and multiple other motorsport series. He has travelled to over 265 F1 Grand Prix, completing 14 seasons in F1 working for teams like Toyota, Caterham, Lotus, Renault and Alfa Romeo Sauber. During this time Julien worked closely with drivers like Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Robert Kubica and Jolyon Palmer to name a few. In 2022 Julien has launched JSC7 Engineering ltd, a motorsport consultancy service that provides Julien's extensive expertise to clients wishing to engage specialist race engineering advice.

The growth of JSC7 Engineering since launched less than 12 months ago has been very strong and has now developed into a multi-skilled motorsports consultancy, delivering a range of diversified services. Now working in sectors including on-air TV technical expertise (with Canal Plus, the French broadcaster), providing leadership in the technical direction of single seater operations, technical support and new client research for cutting edge data analysis and strategy software, F1 technical podcasts, investor research for a brand new iconic high-end mobility company and lifestyle brand, and also head-hunting highly skilled motorsport individuals.

As part of our new “Unlocking Performance with…” series IHP Managing Director Nick Butcher went and sat down with Julien to discuss his career and the lessons he has learnt during his time in Elite Motorsport.

Julien was Kimi Raikkonen's race engineer for his final seasons in Formula 1. Pictured here with Kimi and fellow Motorsport Speaker Mark Arnall (Photo Credit: Alfa Romeo F1 Team)

NB: Hi Julien, it is great to have you as part of our Motorsport Speakers roster. Tell me how did you end up working in Motorsport?

JSC: Hi Nick, it's good to be part of Ignition's Motorsport Speakers. My first memory of racing is when my dad brought me to watch Monaco GP in late 80s, I was 10 years old, the sound of the engine revving was absolutely fascinating to me and this is how I got hooked up.

I graduated from IPSA in Paris as an Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineer in 2002 and then started my journey to reach Formula 1. I worked in various categories from Rally, Formula Renault, F3, GP2 before finally arriving in F1 in 2007 when I joined Toyota F1 team as Performance Engineer for Jarno Trulli. I genuinely gained so much experience and knowledge through working in all these categories and especially working for Prema Racing gave me a solid foundation.

I continued working as Performance Engineer for Trulli in Lotus Racing, before moving to the Lotus F1 Team where I worked with Vitaly Petrov and Kimi Raikkonen in the same role.

In 2015, I became Race Engineer for Romain Grosjean, followed by Jolyon Palmer and finally I joined Alfa Romeo/Sauber as Senior Race Engineer for Marcus Ericsson and Kimi Raikkonen.

In 2022, I created my own business, JSC7 engineering (www.jsc7engineering.com), offering various consulting services to motorsport and automotive structure, using F1 know-how and expertise.

Whilst all this experience undoubtedly helped me to become the best engineer I could be, I believe it was so important for me to be constantly watching and listening to everyone else around me. It is amazing how much you can learn from all members of the team and how much they can improve your knowledge, communication and abilities.

NB: As mentioned in the introduction, you worked with Kimi Raikkonen as his Race Engineer at Alfa Romeo. How did you go about getting the best out of and work with someone who famously told his previous race engineer “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!” during a race?

JSC: Kimi was, and I'm sure still is, an exceptional driver. He is the most talented I worked with and has an incredible feel on car behaviour. In this sense, it was easy to work with him because he knew exactly what a car needed to be fast and if I could fix the specific issue he mentioned, he was going quicker immediately. His steering feedback was particularly impressive. He could feel exactly the car's behaviour through the steering wheel but for this he needed some specific power steering settings that not all drivers could drive and handle.  

His race awareness was something I never came across before, he was brilliant in race situation. His understanding of race strategy and what was happening around him during the race, then what he had to do to perform better was simply phenomenal.

It is true that there have been some amusing moments, where I may have been on the receiving end of some frustrated remarks, but I never took them personally. Kimi is a professional, a legend and someone I thoroughly enjoyed working with.

My job was to keep him calm and give him the information he needed, no more, no less, and also to still be able to direct the job of other engineers and the mechanics at the same time. So you must keep a cool under all situations if not you cannot perform. You must be able to multi tasking and take decisions in highly stressful situations. There is nothing worse than someone taking no decision or being frozen by stress!

NB: When working with a driver you obviously have to support them with how they unlock their own performance during a race weekend, but how do you unlock performance within yourself?

JSC: The ability to work in a fast paced, highly stressful environment without much sleep is a must! Added to this, you need to be able to make split second decisions, which can have big repercussions and then be strong enough to share the glory when things go well but take responsibility when they don’t. As I said before - a bad decision is better than no decision!

NB: You were Race Engineer for Romain Grosjean at Lotus during the time the team went through a difficult period financially in 2015. You tell a fascinating story about the Belgian Grand Prix that year, when Romain finished 3rd in the race and when you went back to the motorhome to celebrate it been locked following a court order. How did you keep you, Romain and the team around you motivated during that period to go racing every weekend with so much uncertainty?

JSC: This was certainly a very difficult time. Lots of uncertainty and worry about the future. I remembered opening a magnum of Champagne in the pitlane to celebrate the podium but not being able to go back to the office in the engineering truck because it was locked up by bailiffs! To stay motivated, you need to keep focus on why you are here and your objectives - which is to make the car fast! So don’t change your approach, focus on the future and leave behind the past. You have no control on the past but you do have control on the future. Focus on performance and performing, what do you do next to help performance and do your best to not change your approach because of a bad situation. Be consistent in what you do and hard work will always pay off!

NB: Communication is key in any role or business, but in particular the communication between the driver and a race engineer is the key between success and failure. With all the information going on in a race, how do you decide what to communicate and what not to communicate to a driver?

JSC: This is a fundamental point. As Race Engineer, I had up to 20 different radio channels open at the same time and sometimes it was difficult to keep everything under control. But clear communication within your team is essential, focus on the essential message, what will bring performance and leave behind the superflux. Go to the point! This is what I always said to my young engineers. Few words are better than long sentences, especially on the radio. My job was to filter all the information I had. I knew what my drivers wanted, so my job was to gather and give them only what they needed. This is how you find performance. Some drivers like Kimi are not interested in information on his driving but want to know what is happening around him, in terms of traffic, car pushing behind him or overall strategy. Some other drivers prefer to also have information about which steering wheel button to press in specific situation or suggestion to improve on track. This is entirely dependant of the individuals. They all are different individuals, so focus, adapt and understand the people. Best race engineers are the ones adapting quickly to the different drivers and building this trust in the relationship necessary to do this job.

NB: What are the 3 behaviours from a team or driver that you insist on when unlocking performance?

JSC: Communication, commitment, perseverance.

Julien has also worked with drivers, Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson (pictured) and Romain Grosjean (Photo credit: Alfa Romeo F1 Team)

NB: What is the best high-performance behaviour you have ever observed in someone else that you have either taken on yourself or wished you could do?

JSC: Resilience. I worked with Marcus Ericsson in 2017 and 2018 in Sauber as his Senior Race Engineer. When I arrived, the team was facing huge difficulties and uncertainty about the future. Marcus was even doubting about his capacity as a driver. That year the minimum car weight increased so all drivers had to make huge effort to lose weight to reach this minimum car + driver weight. At this level, it is not an easy task as they already are athletic. But he did it through dedication. Despite adversity and thanks to his commitment, we even managed to gain lots of competitiveness and in the first part of the season in 2018 and we were even in front of his highly talented teammate: Charles Leclerc, now Ferrari's star driver! This was an incredible achievement for a driver not many people were rating. We have seen that last year Marcus won the 500 miles of Indianapolis in IndyCar, one of the most iconic race in the world. So never give up!

NB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

JSC: Don’t do tomorrow a task you can do today! You can apply this to every industry and lifestyle, this has been a major piece of advice for me.

NB: What is your favourite motorsport memory?

JSC: Definitely in the win in Abu Dhabi in 2012 with Kimi. It was my first win in F1 and I still remember it now. The feeling was incredible. Having contributed to this win was a great proudness moment for me too.

NB: You have recently founded JSC7 Engineering. Why don’t you tell me more about that and how have you taken the lessons you have learnt in motorsport and transferred them into your own business?

JSC: Being a part of F1 and motorsport in general was always a dream and I can honestly look back at my career so far, the highs and the lows and say I loved it. I have met some brilliant people, worked with some great drivers and have had some fantastic moments. I loved the challenge of the job, finding solutions to problems, the fast pace, the adrenaline rush.

I'm very pleased with the growth of JSC7 Engineering since we launched less than 12 months ago. After an initial period of buildup of the company where I learnt new skills like creating my own website (www.jsc7engineering.com), managing cash flow and accounting, I am proud to say that JSC7 engineering has now developed into a multi-skilled motorsports consultancy, delivering a range of diversified services. We are now working in sectors including on-air TV technical expertise, providing leadership in the technical direction of single seater operations, technical support and new client research for cutting edge data analysis and strategy software, F1 technical podcasts, investor research for a brand new iconic high-end mobility company and lifestyle brand, head-hunting highly skilled motorsport individuals and now as a speaker for Ignition Human Performance. The goal for this year is to continue our exponential growth and become a leader in motorsport consultancy services.

NB: As part of this you are now also working with French Broadcaster Canal+ on their F1 coverage. Has it been strange being on the other side of the pit wall?

JSC: Yes definitely, but I believe I adapted quickly. I loved coming back to the paddock in a different role. The F1 paddock has been my entire life for the last 15 years so I knew where to go and who to speak to, so in this sense I felt at home already. Working with Canal+ is an incredible experience and I absolutely loved it. I have taken part in several Grand Prix last year (Montreal, Silverstone & Monza) where I was doing Free Practice live commentary in the cabin, pitlane reporter during the sessions explaining the What and the How of F1 techs and interviewing F1 team members after sessions. I have also commented live from the Canal Plus HQ in Paris during the winter testing in Bahrain and the Melbourne Grand Prix.

I have had a huge positive return from fans on social media and they really loved my input on explaining complicate F1 technical matter in lenient words. My biggest challenge was actually to speak French (!!) and finding the translation of all technical terms from English to French.

Julien is now working on the French Broadcaster Canal+'s Formula 1 Coverage. Here interviewing former Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto in the paddock

NB: Live television is another high-performance environment, what lessons have you learnt whilst doing this?

JSC: Absolutely, there is a lot of improvisation. You must be a quick thinker and avoid silence. You must be entertaining as well and avoid being monotone. There is no script so you must constantly find new stories! You must constantly be aware of what is happening around you in the paddock, to catch the latest news and hopefully be the first one to announce it live on TV!! You have to also be able to explain in lenient terms why teams are bringing some upgrade on the cars and what is the expected effect on performance. You arrive in the pitlane and your colleague puts a microphone under your mouth and you are live on TV in front of millions of persons watching so it is quite stressful but again, I loved it and looking forward to continuing this adventure with them this year.

NB: In your opinion, what one area from motorsport can business learn the most from?

JSC: The quick reaction time and reactivities to issues and problems in general in something that every business can learn from. This can be applied to production as well. When an issue arises or new parts are needed for performance or as reliability fix, it needs to be fixed “yesterday” - not a month later - if not you rapidly fall behind the competitors. In motorsports, you are chasing the thousands of seconds so every little detail count.

NB: You join our Motorsport Speakers roster for 2023, how can our clients and partners benefit from your experience and knowledge if they are looking for you to join them at their next business conference or training event?

JSC: I will bring over 2 decades of experience in motorsport. I have plenty of funny stories obviously, but I can bring you my all experience in communicating with people, how to solve conflicts, how to take the right decision in highly stressful environment and also how to get the best out of the people around you.

NB: Thank you so much for your time today Julien, and I’m sure everyone reading this will agree your experience and knowledge from Formula One is extremely valuable for anyone looking to unlock their own performance.

To find out more about Julien please visit his YouTube and Instagram pages and check out his work on the Canal+ F1 coverage below

If you would like to book or enquiry about Julien speaking at your next business conference or event, then please visit MotorsportSpeakers.com or email nickbutcher@ignitionperform.com

Nick Butcher

Managing Director of Ignition Human Performance
Get in touch >>

Nick Butcher

Managing Director of Ignition Human Performance
Get in touch >>
More from the blog >>More from the blog >>