Every Formula One race weekend sees three drivers take to the podium following the end of the Grand Prix. With the first, second and third placed competitors awarded for their achievements, a fourth trophy is also handed out, with in fact four steps on the podium. As many motorsport fans will know, the winning team sends up a representative to collect the constructors’ trophy. In 2019, Formula One celebrated their 1000th race, with the Styrian Grand Prix the 1020th. However, in this time, very few women have appeared on the rostrum. So who are those that have, and why is it so important that we see diversity on the podium?
1986 BRITISH GRAND PRIX: Lady Ginny Williams
The first woman to appear on a Formula One podium was in fact Virginia ‘Ginny’ Williams, wife of Sir Frank and mother of Claire. The 1986 British Grand Prix was a rather successful one for the Williams Racing team with Nigel Mansell finishing first ahead of teammate Nelson Piquet. However, four months previously, Frank Williams had been involved in a car accident which would eventually leave him needing the use of a wheelchair. With him unable to be on the podium and receive the constructors’ trophy, it was Ginny who accepted the award on his behalf. Although not technically an employed member of the team, she was on hand to be a representative of the Williams team and family, and therefore became the first woman to appear on the F1 podium.
2013 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX: Gill Jones
It would be another 27 years before a female representative would accept the constructors’ trophy again. The 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix saw reigning champions Red Bull Racing secure their 36th race win in Formula One. Team Principal Christian Horner requested that Gill Jones, the team’s Electronic Support Group Leader, take to the rostrum alongside race-winner Sebastian Vettel. Her role entailed heading the team that analysed and worked on trackside electronics, a crucial area of engineering that can be the difference between winning a race and not finishing it at all. It was also significant, whether planned or not, that this happened in Bahrain, a country with a questionable human and women’s rights record. With Gill Jones becoming the first woman since Lady Ginny Williams, her presence on the podium was widely publicised with many people praising Red Bull for making a statement in support of women in the sport. However, it is also important to note she is in her position through her talent, experience and value to the team, not because of her gender and therefore made the podium due to her expertise.
2015 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX: Kim Stevens
In 2015, at the season finale Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport secured yet another 1-2 finish, their 12th of the year. Having already won the constructors’ title at the Russian Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton having won the Drivers’ Championship in the USA, there wasn’t much at stake for the team. However, there was still a battle between the team’s two drivers for the top step on the podium. With Nico Rosberg victorious, Mercedes chose to send Kim Stevens as their team representative. American Trackside Aerodynamicist Kim had been with Mercedes for two years at the time, and remains with the team in the same role now. Previous to this, she had worked with Sauber Motorsport for four and a half years developing their BMW Sauber F1 car as a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Engineer, responsible for external aerodynamic development, brake cooling, and component cooling. Now with Mercedes, her role as a Trackside Aerodynamicist entails advising on the aerodynamic configuration of the car on track, monitoring performance and supporting work in the wind tunnel.
2016 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX: Victoria Vowles
The 2016 USA Grand Prix again saw Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport triumph, with the team securing a 1-2 finish. Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to take the win ahead of team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg. Although the team had already secured the Constructors’ Championship, there was still all to play for in the Drivers’ Championship with Rosberg heading into the race weekend with a 33-point lead. With Mercedes the Grand Prix’s winning constructor, it was Victoria Vowles who went onto the podium to collect the trophy. At the time, Victoria was the team’s Partner Services Director. Her role involved managing their partnerships both commercial and otherwise, to optimise the success of these relationships. Victoria remains with the team as the Director of Marketing Operations.
2019 CANADIAN GRAND PRIX: Margarita Torres Diez
The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix was one of the most controversial races last year after polesitter and race-leader Sebastian Vettel was handed a five second penalty on lap 57 (of 70 laps). Following a mistake, Vettel re-joined the track in a way which the stewards deemed unsafe, with Lewis Hamilton being forced off-track. Although Vettel crossed the line first, with Hamilton only 1.3 seconds behind, the British driver was handed the victory. With this being a win for Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport, the team chose to send one of their Trackside F1 Power Unit Engineers to collect the constructors’ trophy. Margarita Torres Diez has been working at the team since 2014 with her being based at the Mercedes AMG HPP (High Performance Powertrains) factory in Brixworth. However, this isn’t the first F1 team that Margarita has worked with, having spent three years at Renault Sport Racing. Joining the team as an engineer, she went on to focus on engine testing, before moving onto her current role with Mercedes.
2019 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX: Hannah Schmitz
Later in the season, at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing achieved their third win of the season with Max Verstappen winning from pole position. The race was mostly contended between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, however, following a penalty for causing a causing a collision with the second Red Bull car of Alex Albon, Hamilton was given a five second penalty losing his podium position to Carlos Sainz. Needing a team representative to collect their trophy, Red Bull Racing chose to send their Senior Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz up to the podium. With the race possibly having been decided through key strategic decisions, Team Principal Christian Horner said he wanted to reward Hannah’s “brave” strategy. After graduating from Cambridge University with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, Hannah joined Red Bull Racing as a Modelling and Simulation Engineer. After 18 months in the role, she moved on to her current job as a Senior Strategy Engineer. Her position involves live race strategy and competitor analysis, development of software to aid live strategy analysis, as well as reviewing past races to help with future strategy prediction.
2019 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX: Britta Seeger
The 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton win his 50th race when starting on pole. The British driver took his 11th win of the season ahead of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, continuing Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport’s winning streak at the Yas Marina Circuit, having taken victory there in every Grand Prix since 2014. Despite this being the last race of the season, Hamilton had already secured the Drivers’ Championship at the US Grand Prix, with Mercedes having won the Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix. To collect the constructors’ trophy on the podium was Britta Seeger who acted as a representative of both Mercedes and Daimler AG. Britta is a member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG with her role involving her being responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing and Sales. She has been in the role since 2017, having worked with Mercedes Benz and Daimler in various positions since 1992.
2020 AUSTRIAN GRAND PRIX: Holly Chapman
Just last weekend, at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, it was again Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport who made it to the top step of the podium. With Valtteri Bottas taking victory ahead of Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, Mercedes chose the Finnish driver’s Trackside F1 Power Unit Engineer, Holly Chapman, to collect the constructors’ trophy. In a role much like Margarita Torres Diez’s, Holly is responsible for monitoring the performance of the Power Unit, as well as working with the team who help to develop it further.
2020 STYRIAN GRAND PRIX: Stephanie Travers
Finally, yesterday at the Styrian Grand Prix, we saw Mercedes take their second win of the season, and were represented on the podium for the second week in a row by a female employee. With Lewis Hamilton leading the race from pole, he finished with a large margin over teammate Bottas and third place Verstappen, who had looked to challenge for the lead in the early part of the race. Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport achieved their first 1-2 finish of the new season, and chose Trackside Fluid Engineer Stephanie Travers to collect the team’s trophy, with her becoming the first black woman ever to stand on a Formula One rostrum. Stephanie has been with the team since 2018 and works with Petronas to provide analysis and technical support. With her role being as a Fluid Engineer, she mostly focusses on engine oil, gearbox oil, transmission oil, and fuel (all of which are produced by Petronas) to ensure they are in accordance with the FIA’s regulations. She also monitors the health of the car over a race weekend.
But why is any of this important?
We know that the number of women working in Formula One is lower than the number of men, and although there have been great strides made over recent years with the female proportion of the F1 workforce continuing to rise, there still remains a gender gap. In order for this to change, and for young girls and women to believe that the sport is a place for them, they need to see people like themselves in the roles they aspire to. This is particularly relevant in reference to appearances on the podium, with team representatives often having a STEM-based background. For young girls to believe that industries such as engineering are for them, they need to see that it is normal for women to work in such roles.
Though it is important to say that none of the women mentioned here were hired or chosen to take to the podium because of their gender. They are in their position because they are extremely knowledgeable, talented and valuable to the team. The constructors choose these employees to represent them because they have been critical to the success of the team.
It is also significant to note that three women stood on the podium during the 2019 season, Margarita Torres Diez and Britta Seeger for Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and Hannah Schmitz for Red Bull Racing, and in just the first two races of the 2020 season, Holly Chapman and Stephanie Travers have taken to the rostrum. From this we can take hope that we will see more diversity in Formula One in the coming races and seasons, whether that be more women, more BAME employees, people with disabilities, or any other area of society not yet represented in the sport.
At the beginning of the 2020 season, Mercedes reiterated their intention to increase diversity and inclusion, and it seems they are already proving this, even if it is just in the small way explained.
Visibility is key when it comes to inspiring others as we know to BE IT, you have to be able to SEE IT!