In conversation with a motorsport role-model

Employees are integral to the successes that a Formula One team achieves, and things are no different at Mercedes F1. Their results have been phenomenal and that is significantly down to their strong workforce. 

To put their achievements into perspective, in 2017 Mercedes have scored 668 points, 15 pole positions, 12 wins and their forth consecutive constructors’ championship.

Often hundreds of people work long into the night, devoting their life to F1. It wouldn’t be fair if it was only the drivers that were celebrated.

With that in mind, we spoke to Dr. Kathryn Richards, a wind tunnel technician at Mercedes about her role in the team and where her passion stems from.

“I got into F1 originally because my dad took me to Silverstone on the Friday in 1989. I can’t remember why he had hospitality tickets, but he did. I thought it was really interesting, so then I watched races on and of,” Richards said.

“This chap called Michael Schumacher then came along, and I thought ‘ooh hello, he’s a bit good’ and that was it, I started watching it. I was at college and wanted to go to the Benetton factory for a tour, so I wrote a letter, and went on the tour and met a chap called Willem Toet and that was it really. It was a combination of his support and faith in me, Michael Schumacher grabbing my attention and my interest in wind tunnels that have got me where I am today.”

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards is currently working for Mercedes F1 Team, credit: Kathryn Richards

 

Dr Richards’ responsibility is to run the wind tunnel, a vital component when it comes to car design.

“It’s so we can do the aerodynamic development of the car, the wings and all the add-ons, making the body work more streamlined – minimum drag, maximum downforce,” she said.

“I run the tunnel, make sure it’s working, and all the data is coming through properly. Essentially, I’m providing a service so the ‘aeros’ can do their job. I also do diagnostics, and keep an eye on the tunnel itself with maintenance and cleaning of parts.”

But just how did Kathryn end up in such a niche position?

“When I was at school I actually wanted to be an airline pilot, so I did maths and science because I wanted to go and fly,” she said.

“As I wasn’t yet tall enough and needed to bridge a gap for a couple of years after my A-Levels before trying for flight training school I went to college to study a diploma in aerospace studies.

“I then I discovered you could put an F1 car in a wind tunnel and that was it, I wanted to do that instead. So, then I did a degree and it went on from there.”

 

With the curtain closing on the 2017 season yesterday, all thoughts are now focused on next year’s competition.

“It’s going to be tough, we knew it was going to be tough, with Red Bull and Ferrari really fighting with us now, we’re just going to keep our heads down, and do what we do best,” Kathryn said.

“We have to focus on our own jobs, and not worry about anyone else. We just concentrate on what we do, and it pays off.”

dare to be different
Dr Kathryn Richards at a Dare to be Different community event, credit: Dare to be Different

 

Kathryn is also an ambassador of Dare To Be Different, an initiative championed by Susie Wolff.

Dr Richards stresses the importance of giving young people the chance to follow their dream, and that is why she joined D2BD.

“I want to give those opportunities to somebody else the way he did for me,” she explained. “I want to give them that chance to follow their dream. It is a difficult sport to get into, you do either need to know someone or have a good route in, so that’s why I’m doing it.

“Don’t worry what people think. Do what your heart tells you, not what your mind is telling you is the right or wrong thing to do. If you’re really interested in something and it’s the thing that makes you want to wake up in the morning and go to work or study, then do it. Don’t follow something because that’s where the money is, follow something that you want to do and if that is engineering, do it.”

The reality of F1 is often a stark contrast to the glamour that is shown to the public eye, yet above all there is still a gender inequality among the sport’s employees.

“I think it’s a sport that needs men and women, you need that combination, it’s really important. Women will find their place, if they’re strong enough and skilled enough they’ll find a position that fits, whether that be aero, mechanics, or HR,” Richards said.

“Men and women work really well together, because we’ve got different skills. Men can’t multitask! I’m always having to organise these guys!”

 

 

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