There is often a question over the number of females in high-powered positions within motorsport, but one woman who has done many roles within F1 is Cristiana Pace. Having worked as a Performance Engineer, Research Engineer and Business Development Manager in Formula One she has a wealth of experience and knowledge, and aims to share her passion through her work with Dare to be Different. I spoke to her about how her successful career started and how she aims to change perspectives.
Despite having such a brilliant career, growing up Cristiana never had an interest in the sport. “None of my family watched motorsport, and on a Sunday, we were always out kicking a ball or in the woods playing. Growing up in the countryside near Rome, there weren’t any F1 events nearby. I started to learn about motorsport when I went to university in Bologna. Everybody supported Ferrari there and all of my friends had watched the epic F1 battles,” she told me.
Studying engineering in a region where motorsport is so loved meant she had many opportunities involving the sport, from a university placement and summer work, to attending races at the track to spend time with her friends. “Engineers have a bit of a reputation for not being sociable and not going out much, so going to the races at Imola was the way for me to counteract against such stereotypes,” she added.
Although motorsport was never the plan, engineering very much was. “From an early age I was interested in maths, physics and how things work. My dad used to design hardware for companies such as IBM and we always had computers and electronic games in the house. When I went to secondary school, we studied computer science and algebra which is where I found my passion. I had always loved STEM subjects since I was really little like 6 or 8 years old,” Pace explained. Despite coming from a country often associated with passionate motorsport fans, Cristiana herself had never thought of going in that direction with her love of engineering.
Her decision to pursue this particular route came in 1997 when she was in her second year of university. Together with some friends she attended an event at Imola race-track where they were recruiting for technical scrutineers. She started to go to the track every weekend, for every race, passionate about the technology beyond racing. The following year, she was offered a role as a technical assistant in the Italian Formula 3000 series. Even then though, she still thought of it as “a weekend job”, and ‘hobby’ rather than a potential career path.
Cristiana’s move to the UK, and first glimpse at her future career, came with her work in Formula 3000. The series used Lola Cars’ chassis and Cristiana chose to study this for her university project. “I moved to the UK in January 2001 to study some of the problems with the latest Lola B50/25. Here I met Frank Dernie, Chris Tate, Julian Cooper and Ben Bolby, all very talented individuals. They suggested that I enrol for a Masters after the end of my studies in Italy,” Pace described.
She did, and after studying and working as a Performance and Strategy Engineer in FIA GT, LMP and the 24 hours of Le Mans, was contacted by M Motorsport to work in F1 as a Data Analyst in the F1 Technical Department, monitoring the traction control ban. “I loved technology so this was the perfect job!” Cristiana told me, adding: “we were a small team at the time, only 7 people. My 2 colleagues in the department were great because they knew everything and were happy to share their knowledge and teach me. During my time there I had the opportunity to learn a lot of things and work on electronics, gearboxes, crash tests and accident reconstruction. It was brilliant! I remember spending endless evenings with my dinner and a piece of paper trying to catch explanations from my colleagues. If I still couldn’t understand it, I would go along to an inspection to see the technology first hand!”
One of Pace’s notable roles was working with the FIA Institute for Motorsport Safety and Sustainability. “I was already at the track so it was no problem for me to do a little bit more work, especially about something that Sid [Watkins] was very passionate about: improving safety,” she explained, “there is a big team of people who are working behind the scenes that people don’t hear about. We were the ones behind the glamour finding solutions.”
Cristiana has also worked for Williams F1 with their Advanced Engineering division. “In 2011, I was initially tasked with being a Business Development Engineer, looking at what F1 technology we could transfer in other motorsports and other sectors. We were a very small group, 4 in my department and 15 in total. It was a great job as I already knew the technology in F1 very well from my previous work, but I had to go a step further and think out of the box,” Pace told me.
When she was first asked to join Williams, she was pregnant with her second child. “I told them I was expecting and if they still wanted me on board they would have to wait for me to give birth and come back from maternity leave,” Cristiana explained. They did, and offered her a job which was huge confidence boost. “It was a great thing for me as a woman to know that although I had a little baby, I was still wanted for the job,” she said, “it’s a great thing for people out there to know that it doesn’t matter if you have 1, 2 or 3 kids, if you’re good and committed, you will still have a job in motorsport.”
She also now has a role with Dare to be Different which she is very passionate about, especially coming from a STEM background. After first meeting co-founder Susie Wolff whilst working at Williams F1, the former test driver approached her to be an ambassador for the initiative. “I am an ambassador and STEM leader for D2BD. I supervise the STEM activities when they go into schools. It’s great to see the girls being exposed to it, and building a hoverboard from a shower curtain, insulating board and tape! It is great to see them before and after the activity, their smiling faces as they try the hoverboard, knowing they have built it form scratch! Being exposed to technology at an early age is so important,” Pace explained.
In her role as an ambassador, Cristiana is often on hand to offer advice to the young girls D2BD aims to help. “My advice would be try and persevere. Never give up until you have either achieved it or decide you don’t want to do it. There is a great range of careers in STEM, and the UK needs Engineers, Mathematicians, and Physicists in the future with this new era of mobility and digitalisation. If a young person like STEM subjects, but is not sure if it is the right career path, I would encourage her/him to give it a go,” she advised.
Having worked in many influential positions in Formula One and also being a working Mum of three boys, Cristiana Pace is an excellent role model for many. Working with Dare to be Different allows her to pass on her passion for engineering to the next generation. Her desire is to increase female involvement in the industry, and over the next few years we will see if this pays dividends.