Oracle Red Bull Racing’s Principal Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz has been working with the team since joining as an intern in 2009. Together with Head of Race Strategy Will Courtenay and a skilled team, they were the strategy architects that were a large contributor towards Max Verstappen claiming his first FIA Formula One World Championship title last season.
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In the cutting-edge technological era of Formula One, outcomes are decided in milliseconds and every single choice made could be the difference between winning or losing. No amount of research can ever fully prepare you for what transpires in a race full of yellow and red flags, crashes, penalties and unreliable weather. When and how many times to pit, what tyres to use, when to attack or maintain pace and when the drivers should work together are all crucial decisions based on data.
The University of Cambridge graduate in mechanical engineering works with a large team of analysts who processes billions of simulations before each race and live at each Grand Prix on car pace, track conditions and tyre degradation to enhance team strategy and work out pit stops.
At the recent Monaco Grand Prix, the team orchestrated the pit-stop plan which ultimately led to Sergio Pérez taking the chequered flag and Max Verstappen clinching a podium place.
Monaco’s strategy was a bold and proactive move that prompted Dr Helmut Marko to say afterwards: “We were all exceptional, but if we won, it was mainly due to Hannah Schmitz.
Being adaptable and having to instantly react to live scenarios is the part of Schmitz’s job that undoubtedly brings her the most pressure, but also the most adrenaline. Schmitz said: “I think it’s incredibly exciting. You sit on the edge of your seat when you’ve made that split-second decision. Then you have maybe 20 seconds, which doesn’t sound like any time, but in a race sitting there waiting to see if your decision has paid off, can feel like a lifetime.”
On the morning of a normal race day, Hannah Schmitz will attend meetings that are purposely shaped to feel more like discussions with the drivers, race engineers, Adrian Newey, and Christian Horner to consider the race plans.
Whether she is on the pit wall at the circuit or back in the state-of-the-art Operations Room facility at Milton Keynes, something that is alternated every race with Head of Race Strategy Will Courtenay.
The mission is the same regardless of where they are positioned, but the roles are very different. On the pit wall, the aim is to keep a clear head and look at the bigger picture of how to win the race.
In the Operations Room, a team of strategists are running all the live calculations and simulations before providing all the actionable data to the team members on the pit wall so they can make the optimum decision alongside the race engineers.
As Schmitz reveals, the NASA-style room has been a game-changer. “We can be listening to every team’s radio, we can be watching every team’s onboard footage, we can be looking at all the numbers in detail and have that passed onto the pit wall in seconds. It’s like being in the same room. There’s no delay.”
Schmitz’s route to the pit wall herself is one of dedication and trailblazing a path to her dream job. Even as a toddler she was interested in cars and how things worked, and that quickly turned into a passion for engineering while at school. A master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cambridge University followed before she joined Red Bull Racing as a student intern in 2009.
It took time to build the confidence and trust needed, something she hopes won’t be the same for the future women following in her footsteps. “I think there’s a lot of people that initially maybe don’t have the confidence in you to do the job,” she says.
“As a strategist, you have to tell a lot of people what to do and they’ve got to listen to you so it’s building up that trust and I think as a woman unfortunately that was harder, but now I have that respect and I hope other young women who want to get into the sport will see that you can do it, can embrace it, and we’ll see more diversity.”
She is certainly a recognisable face to F1 fans after being beamed around the world at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2019 when she made the call to pit Verstappen for a third time despite knowing he would initially lose the race lead. When the move resulted in the Dutchman winning, Schmitz was asked to step on the podium alongside Verstappen to collect the Constructors trophy.
“It was an incredibly special moment and the pinnacle of my career,” she reveals. “I’d actually just come back to work after having my first child so that was quite a big thing for me, to prove I was still here and could do the job well. It was just an incredible experience.”
During her 13 years with the team, Hannah Schmitz worked with the majority of drivers in the team’s history and is currently enjoying collaborating and answering the questions of Pérez and Verstappen, who are both fully engaged and committed to understanding the strategies presented to them.
This weekend the race-winning duo head to Baku in Azerbaijan with the team looking to extend further their leads in both the driver and constructors’ championships. It’s a track they’ve historically had success at, with Pérez memorably winning his first race with Red Bull Racing at the street circuit last season.
Schmitz will be in the Operations Room and Courtenay will be on the pit wall, refining strategies that were prepared even before the lights went out in Monaco and with another showdown with the Ferraris and a race full of unpredictability expected once again Schmitz and Courtenay are up to the task.