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Verstappen and Pérez race easy knowing the strategy team have their back
Meet Principal Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz – part of the team making real-time race winning decisions for Oracle Red Bull Racing.
If Hannah Schmitz is talking with her palms facing down, you know a number of race-defining decisions are being made that could change the outcome of the FIA Formula One World Championship.
It’s a technique used by the Oracle Red Bull Racing strategist to help her remain focused and on point during the excitement of a race.
As Principal Strategy Engineer, Schmitz and her team calculate and analyse billions of data points alongside simulating scenarios that will define what will happen across a race weekend.
Find out more about Hannah Schmitz in the Beyond the Ordinary podcast:
Take the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, where their quick thinking under pressure was put to the test and evident for all to see with Max Verstappen starting from 10th on the grid and making a last-minute switch to begin the race on soft tyres instead of the hard as planned. The Dutchman hailed Schmitz as “insanely calm” as she instantly adapted to deliver an inspired strategy that helped him undercut his rivals and claim an unlikely victory to extend his lead in the drivers’ championship.
At the Monaco Grand Prix in May they also orchestrated the pit-stop plan which ultimately led to Sergio Pérez taking the chequered flag and Verstappen clinching a podium place. It 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
You sit on the edge of your seat when you’ve made that split-second decision
And 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.
It’s a vocation that requires maximum concentration at all times. “I think staying calm is one of the most important attributes of a strategist,” says Schmitz.
“A tip someone told me once is if you turn your hands over, so your palms face down, it helps you be clearer and more commanding in what you’re saying.”
On the morning of a normal race day, Schmitz will attend meetings that are purposely shaped to feel more like discussions with the drivers, race engineers, Adrian Newey and ultimately Christian Horner to consider the race plans.
Then it depends on 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.
As a strategist you have to tell a lot of people what to do and they’ve got to listen to you
Back at the Operations Room, a team of strategists are running all the live calculations and simulations before providing all the actionable data to the team member 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 on-board 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 she’s 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.
The conclusion to another unmissable season will see the team aiming to fight at the front for more victories and extend further their leads in both the driver's and constructors’ championships.
Schmitz and her colleagues have already started preparing and refining strategies for the upcoming circuits and with unpredictable racing expected once again, there’s only one thing we know for certain.
With Hannah Schmitz and her team calculating decisions, Oracle Red Bull Racing will have all the information they need in the palm of their hand.