Behind the scenes of every Formula One team there are hundreds of employees working night and day to ensure their team perform to their greatest potential. Even once the season begins, there is no rest for those back at the factory who are continuously working on new updates and developments to improve their team’s cars, and therefore their chances of podium and points finishes. Ellie McLaren is a Production Planner at Renault Sport F1 and having worked for Force India has a lot of experience in the paddock, so I spoke to her about working in F1 and how she started working at Enstone.
Having loved motorsport as a child, Ellie even raced, following in the footsteps of other members of her family. “When I was 11 years old I started racing a Short Oval Junior Rod, following my brothers, father and grandad. I grew up around race cars and most weekends were spent at a race track. I remember telling my Dad that one day I’d be one of those people who wore overalls in the pit lane when watching an F1 race one Sunday afternoon,” McLaren told me. Although the sport had been part of her life for a long time and having always said she would work in it, it wasn’t until her early teens that she actually decided how she planned to do this. “I wanted to be a vet until I found out that a motorsport college was an actual thing! I googled ‘Motorsport College’ for fun and I found Oxford and Cherwell Valley college in Bicester, Oxfordshire. I showed my parents and at first, they weren’t keen on the idea of me being so far away, but nevertheless my mum took me to an open day and I started in September 2009,” she said.
After studying for a BTEC National Diploma in Motorsport, and failing to find an apprenticeship in F1, she decided to begin a Foundation Degree in Motorsport at Oxford Brookes University. In her first year she needed to complete 40 hours in a work placement and after contacting many teams, managed to secure work at Sahara Force India. “It was a great experience,” Ellie explained, “I worked in various departments learning about the different procedures. In June 2012, I applied for a Trainee Composite Technician role that became available at the team and I got the job! I chose to leave university and start a full time working career at Force India.” McLaren spent 5 years working with the team, graduating from Trainee Composite Technician to Race Team Composite Support and spending over a year travelling the world with the team. “I travelled for 18 months, visited several races and finally got to wear my overalls in the pit lane! This was a proud moment for me, I’d achieved everything I wanted,” Ellie described.
Wanting to progress further in her career, McLaren left Force India to join Lotus F1. Although the team were struggling financially at the time, she still decided to take a chance. “In September 2015 I became a Production Planner. It was more responsibility and I felt there could be more opportunities for me to progress in my career here. This all paid off in January 2016 when it was announced Renault were going to take over and we would become a works team,” Ellie told me.
“I am responsible for planning the manufacturing schedules for new design releases for the car. My main areas of focus are the front and rear brake drums, the fuel system, the hydraulic system and the engine and exhausts. I process a new drawing and progress that part to ensure build and development targets are reached. I enjoy working to tight deadlines and its rewarding when new parts get to the circuit on time. After an event, I manage the turnaround for my parts, brake drums will need repairing or replacing so orders need to be raised and any race team usages will need to be actioned to ensure they aren’t short for the next event. Every day brings a new challenge and that’s what I enjoy.”
McLaren’s role no longer allows her to travel with the team, however she hopes this will change saying: “my role as a planner is completely factory based, however I have recently started my engineering degree again so there may be more opportunities in the future.” But for the moment, Ellie’s role as a Production Planner means she is based in Enstone with the off-season being her busiest time of year. “Car build is the busiest period in the whole F1 calendar! My working hours can be demanding and the number of new drawing releases and orders can double in comparison with during the season. The deadlines become harder to achieve, but when the car performs well in winter testing and reaches the track in Australia, it makes it all worth it,” Ellie explained.
But as she says, when the team is successful it makes the hard work worthwhile, and during her time at Force India they had a fair amount of success, achieving multiple podiums. “Bahrain 2014 (was my best moment). It was my second race with Force India so still very exciting. Sergio Perez finished the race in 3rd place and the whole experience was so surreal! I can’t explain how happy and proud I was of everyone in the team. Being under the podium having a driver wave and thank you all was something I’ll never forget,” she described.
Having worked for several years in F1, never giving up is what Ellie McLaren believes has helped her to reach her dream roles. “It was a big decision to leave home at a young age and progress to working in a male-dominated industry, but I don’t regret it at all,” McLaren explained, “some days were difficult but you have enough good days to outweigh this. I don’t get treated any differently to anybody else and feel very well respected in my job.” Having left Force India for Renault, wanting to continue progressing in her career, it is clear that Ellie has a hunger to get better and improve. She has now returned to her university studies with the aim of completing the engineering degree she left behind when joining Force India, so who knows which job she may end up doing in the future?
Photo credits: Ellie McLaren