The Brazilian Grand Prix saw a rare site on the podium after the race, however, I’m not referring to the incredible performances of Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz. With Red Bull’s Max Verstappen taking victory, the team sent up a representative to receive the constructors’ trophy. After making a crucial decision during the race, Senior Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz was given the opportunity to appear on the podium. Following this, there was a large amount of support and praise on social media for Schmitz and other women working in motorsport, who are often overlooked. So, who are the females making key engineering and strategy decisions on the pit wall and in the garage that make the difference on track?
Red Bull’s Hannah Schmitz joined the team after graduating from Cambridge University in 2009. Having studied for a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, she started in the role of Modelling and Simulation Engineer. Tasked with developing new techniques, keeping all simulation tools in working order for analysis, using sophisticated programming and importantly gaining experience in the environment of F1, after a year and a half, Schmitz moved into the team’s strategy department. Currently, she is Red Bull Racing’s Senior Strategy Engineer meaning she, along with a team, are responsible for making key strategic decisions during the race, whilst assessing both their position as well as that of the other teams on the grid. Along with her work in developing ways to help the team better their race strategy predictions and analysis, both live within a race and for future races, Hannah also helps the team to review their decisions to see if there is anything they can learn from.
Following the Brazilian Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner was keen to praise Schmitz for her decision and also her commitment to the team. “Hannah has been with us in the strategy team for several years. She took maternity leave last year and then returned to work on a full-time basis. She has a significant commute to work, she drives for hours every day, but she has that commitment and that passion for her job,” Horner said. Having made a crucial decision during the race that could have ultimately secured the victory, it was Schmitz who accepted the team’s trophy on the podium. “She made the strategy call today and I felt it was right to reward her with going to get the trophy. And I think it’s a great fillip (boost) for working mums that she’s an important member of our team,” he added.
Rosie Wait is Mercedes-AMG Petronas’ Head of Race Strategy, though unlike Schmitz has worked for several different F1 teams during her career. Having also graduated from Cambridge University, Wait achieved a Master’s in Engineering in 2009, joining McLaren F1 in the same year. Initially working as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer focussing on aerodynamics and developing tools for analysis, after almost 3 and a half years, she became a Strategy Engineer. Working on race simulations and making strategic decisions during race weekends, after another 3 years, Rosie became the team’s Simulation Development Engineer. Following 11 months working with the simulator, she left the team joining Williams Racing, spending just over a year as the Performance Projects Team Leader.
In 2017, Wait moved to reigning World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, where she clearly impressed. Originally joining as a Race Strategy Engineer, after less than 2 years she was promoted to the team’s Head of Strategy. With this being an extremely important role, it’s clear that Mercedes value her greatly. As the end of her first season in the role fast approaches, the team have again won both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, with key strategic decisions again playing a role in their success.
Possibly the most well-known, Ruth Buscombe has been involved in motorsport since even before she graduated. Much like Schmitz and Wait, Ruth studied at Cambridge University, leaving in 2012 with a BA with a Masters of Engineering in Aerospace and Aerothermal Engineering. Her Master’s focussed on the use of DRS (Drag Reduction System) in Formula One and its effect on the spectacle of the sport. Having done this in conjunction with the FIA, Buscombe had ambitions of working in F1, which she soon did.
In 2012, Ruth joined the Scuderia Ferrari team as a Simulation Development Engineer. Working on improvement and development, she was involved in designing algorithms and the implementation of them. The following year, she moved to the strategic department reporting to the Head of Race Strategy. As a factory-based Race Strategist, she worked on Felipe Massa’s car in 2013, and then Kimi Raikkonen’s in 2014 whilst remaining in Maranello. The following year she took up a trackside role with Haas F1 team. Working as a Senior Strategy Engineer, she was part of the team for their first few months in Formula One, with their debut F1 season in 2016. In September 2016, Ruth joined her current team Sauber Motorsport AG F1, now Alfa Romeo Racing. Her role is again as a Senior Strategy Engineer, meaning she is responsible for analysing different strategic decisions and deciding on the best one for the team compared with their rivals. Despite Alfa Romeo not often being towards the front of the grid, over the last few seasons they have had many impressive performances, making key strategy choices, and even taking a ‘gamble’ when necessary to give them the best chance of scoring points. For example, in her first season with the team, it is believed that Ruth led Sauber to create a strategy that allowed Felipe Nasr to finish in 9th in the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix, scoring the team 2 all-important points.
Bernadette (Bernie) Collins
Racing Point F1’s Senior Strategy Engineer Bernie Collins began her career in motorsport after she secured a place on a McLaren Racing Graduate Scheme. Having studied in Northern Ireland at Queen’s University in Belfast, she graduated in 2009 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. However, whilst there, she also took part in the Formula Student program in which teams from universities around the world compete to design and build formula cars on a small-scale. Following this, she joined McLaren F1, with the graduate scheme allowing her to rotate around different departments every 3 months.
After work in the Vehicle Design department where she focussed mostly on gearboxes, Collins was offered a role with the McLaren GT program. In this position, she worked with the team on their emission control, aiming to help them manage harmful gases produced. In 2012, Bernie became a Performance Engineer, before joining the United Autosports GT team in 2013. However, towards the end of the season, she was offered a role with the McLaren F1 team. For the 2013 Grands Prix in India and Abu Dhabi, Collins became the team’s Performance Engineer reporting to the Race Engineer. The following season, McLaren retained her, with Bernie working in Jenson Button’s side of the McLaren Racing garage. In 2015, she moved to Force India (now Racing Point F1) becoming their Performance and Senior Strategy Engineer tasked with preparing and predicting in the build-up to the race what the team’s strategy may be, and then continuing to reassess this throughout the weekend, including during the race. In the week after the Grand Prix, she and the team will then analyse their strategy. Force India, or Racing Point F1, have often taken podium positions when others have made mistakes, with brave strategy calls and a little bit of luck allowing Sergio Perez to achieve 4 podium finishes since 2015.
Hannah Schmitz, Rosie Wait, Ruth Buscombe and Bernie Collins are just 4 of the hundreds of women working in Formula One. Between the 4 of them, these incredible women have worked for 8 of the teams on the current F1 grid, in roles that are key, crucial and that can make all the difference out on track. Although there is a growing proportion of female employees in each team, looking to the future there will surely be more, and seeing women in these key decision making roles is hugely important for inspiring others.
Heading photo credit: F1.com