After the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, which the Red Bull driver won for the third time in four years at the end of May, Helmut Marko has hardly spoken of its drivers. For almost every camera, Max Verstappen’s Formula 1 team CEO named Hannah Schmitz.
During a difficult race full of rain and turbulent situations, she was the one who “keep calm and make the right decision at the right time,” said beaming Marco. So Verstappen finished ahead of his faster Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc. This shows Schmitz’s share of Verstappen’s big lead in the World Cup position (63 points) he has already built ahead of the Formula 1 summer break, which begins in Hungary after the race next Sunday.
This wasn’t the first time Schmitz had been mentioned. In 2019, the Brits were already allowed to take the podium with Verstappen after winning in Brazil. A spontaneous decision by the team, because Schmitz dared to put Verstappen as race leader in the last leg of that race. He temporarily gave up the lead, but this move turned out to be crucial to victory.
Decisive in adversity and chaos
These are the competitions in which Schmitz can distinguish himself. You come into the picture during adversity or when things go wrong, and in those moments you decide things like cut off (Winning one stop after another), undermining (Position gained due to extra early pit stop) and hole stop window (The best time to change the tire type).
Schmitz gets help from a dozen colleagues at Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England, who watch the race live in a room resembling the space in which NASA oversees missions.
They are constantly calculating, simulating the racetrack using sophisticated software and monitoring the 150 sensors in Verstappen’s car. They also watch and listen live with other drivers. They bombard Schmitz, who was seated in a chair next to team boss Christian Horner at the pit wall, with an endless stream of information.
Palm flat on the desk
Schmitz had to improvise regularly. For example, if it turns out that Verstappen tires wear out faster than simulated, the competition is faster than expected or the race is disrupted by rain or a crash. She hardly had time to think. Decisions must be made within seconds, otherwise the potential advantage is already gone.
On the Red Bull website last month, Schmitz said that during those moments she puts her hands on the table against the wall of the pit. “Someone once told me that you sound clearer and more persuasive when you say something.” It takes an average of twenty seconds before you know if you made the right decision. “That sounds very short, but in a race it sometimes feels like an eternity.”
As a young girl, the British already had a penchant for cars and technology. She earned her MSc in Mechanical Engineering from the prestigious University of Cambridge before joining Red Bull in 2009 as an apprentice.
I slowly climbed up in the sneak ranking. As a woman, it wasn’t always easy, she says. “I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t think you’re a good fit for this job at first. As a strategist, you have to tell a lot of people what to do and they have to listen to you too, so it’s about building trust. Unfortunately that was more difficult as a woman.”
Formula 1 has always been a stronghold of males. Lilla Lombardi was the last woman to drive a Formula 1 race in 1976 and mechanics, technicians and team bosses still dominate the stables.
US ESPN conducted a survey last year about the number of women in Formula 1. It was an indication that only five out of ten teams wanted to reveal the information. Mercedes reports that it employs 117 women out of a workforce of about 1,000 people. Most of them worked in the factory. There were four women on the permanent team of 65 people who travel to the racetracks. McLaren and Haas provided similar numbers.
Women in crucial positions, such as Schmitz at Red Bull, are even rarer. So Schmitz – a mother of two – hopes to set an example for others. “Because I have gained respect now and I hope that young women who want to work in this sport will see that it is possible.”
One of these women is aspiring racing strategist and data scientist Claudia Solsters (27). She wrote a thesis on racing strategies in Formula 1 and did an internship as a data analyst at Van Amersfoort Racing, the team Verstappen led a season in Formula 3. She is currently working on projects in the port of Amsterdam, but she wants one day working in the royal class.
She admires Hannah Schmitz for her offensive style, apart from being a woman in sports. So you think it’s an exaggeration to call her a role model for this reason. We have really different backgrounds. I come from applied mathematics and didn’t really get involved in cars as a little girl. I will first have to gain some motorsport experience in the lower racing classes, where they are a little less complicated.
She walks her own path to Formula 1, which becomes smoother for her with each strategic milestone by Schmitz.
Three times Hannah Schmitz
Schmitz had just returned from maternity leave when she helped Max Verstappen win at Brazil in 2019 with a strategic blockbuster. Team Leader Christian Horner said: “She’s back straight into full-time work and is a great example for working moms.”
Alfa Romeo is the only other team in Formula 1 that also employs a top-level strategist. Ruth Buscombe started in 2012 in the First Division as a Ferrari Strategist. Boscombe, like Schmitz, studied mechanical engineering at Cambridge.
Schmitz’s decisions are based on data flow. Over the weekend, sensors in Max Verstappen’s car send about 400 gigabytes of data to the team’s factory. Moreover, the latest simulation software helps it to calculate countless racing strategies and scenarios.
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