Hannah Schmitz, from intern to boss: the brain of Red Bull’s success who generates love and hate in Formula 1

Hannah Schmitz is chief strategist and was key to the triumphs of Verstappen and Checo Pérez in 2022 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) (Mark Thompson/)

In recent decades, track engineers have taken a leading role in the Formula 1. They are the ones who put together the strategies and their work can lead a team to victory. hannah schmitz is responsible for several successes of Max Verstappen, current world champion and solid leader of the championship. She entered as an intern at Red Bull and has long since become the brains of the Austrian team. Her profile grew in 2022 and she comes from being the center of an attack on social networks, where she was accused of putting together a conspiracy against Lewis Hamilton in the last race.

The track engineer is responsible for determining when to enter the pits, what tire compounds to put on, and his dialogue with the driver is constant, as if he were a kind of rally navigator. All the time he throws information to the runner with data on how the car is performing and its difference from other competitors. He is that professional who sees things that the rest of the members of a team do not see. Details that his clinical eyes allow him to detect what can happen in a race. With the technological advance of cars, today, to win, you need more than just having a good driver.

Hannah McMillan (uses married name) was born in England, where most of the F1 teams are based. Since she was a little girl, she was a lover of motorsports and was curious about how cars worked and that is why she wanted to study engineering. During her adolescence she lived the best years of Michael Schumacher, who is one of its main referents. In 2004 the Kaiser achieved her seventh crown and she completed her secondary studies at Croydon High School in London. She excelled at water polo, but her true passion was always cars. To be linked to motorsport she studied Engineering and in 2009 she did a Masters in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cambridge, in which she managed the racing team for solar powered cars and participated in the World Solar Challenge in Australia. Soon after, she got an opportunity at Red Bull and entered as an intern.

He participated in all the titles of the energy drink team and worked -among others- with Sebastian Vettel (champion from 2010 to 2013), Mark Webber, Daniel RicciardoOwn Verstappen and his partner, Sergio “Checo” Perez. “I started working on car dynamics, but I quickly felt the connection to racing and a change of departments arose,” said Hannah, who a year and a half after joining Red Bull was promoted to the position of senior strategic engineer.

From that moment the Milton Keynes (England) team took advantage of Hannah’s greatest potential. Known in the world for going to the races, her face transcended the world at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, when she radioed Verstappen on lap 44 to change tires. At that time the Dutchman was the pointer and beyond the possibility of losing the lead to Hamilton, Hannah made a calculation of exact times and that allowed Max to win in the José Carlos Pace Autodrome in Interlagos, in São Paulo. That’s why she was chosen by the team to get on the podium and receive the Constructors’ trophy. It was a day of glory for Red Bull, as its satellite team, Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri), achieved third place on track with Pierre Gasley, who on the finish line withstood the onslaught of Hamilton. “It was an incredibly special moment and the pinnacle of my career,” he reveals. “In fact, I had just returned to work after having my first child, so that was a very important thing for me, to show that I was still here and that I could do the job well. It was just an incredible experience”, he acknowledged in an article published by Red Bull.

Schmitz became director of strategies and is one of those responsible for the area together with Will Courtenay, with whom the position alternates in each race. Both work with a large team of analysts who use computers that process thousands of simulations before each race and in real time for each Grand Prix, which allows them to know what scenario they are going to encounter during a weekend, but everything can change with the development of a competition with its variables such as yellow and red flags, crashes, penalties and unreliable weather. That’s when every decision in a few seconds can define a victory and sometimes a title.

On the Interlagos 2019 podium with Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who was later recharged by a touch to Alex Albon (REUTERS / Ricardo Moraes)
On the Interlagos 2019 podium with Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who was later recharged by a touch to Alex Albon (REUTERS / Ricardo Moraes) (RICARDO MORAES /)

She has been standing out race after race and this year in Monaco she also orchestrated the pit stop plan that finally led Checo Pérez to win and Verstappen to get a place on the podium. It was a bold move and one that led to Dr Helmut Marko (former F1 driver and team advisor) to highlight his work: “We were all exceptional, but if we won it was mainly because of Hannah. Of course she receives a lot of information, but she kept her cool and waited to make the right decision. She not only allowed us to win with Checo, but also put Max ahead of Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)”.

In Hungary he tested his quick thinking under pressure. Verstappen started 10th and made a last minute change to start the race on soft tires (they stick to the tarmac faster, but have more degradation). Hannah chose the opposite compound to the one she used the most for starting, which was hard. This strategy allowed him to overcome his rivals and achieve a victory that was unlikely in the previous one. But Max did it and extended his lead in the championship. He later praised Schmitz and said that he is “incredibly calm.”

About his decision at the Hungaroring, he told the program Any Driven Monday of Sky Sports F1 that starting the competition with the soft compound was not the original plan: “From those positions, one of the perhaps most classic strategies is to start with the harder tire and last much longer, especially because overtaking is much more difficult in Hungary, so that was our plan. But we had also talked a lot before the race about if the conditions were a bit wet and very cold that we might consider the soft tire as the alternative, because it might be better in those conditions.

hannah schmitz
With the trophy and the bottle of champagne in Brazil 2019 (@hannahschmitzf1)

“On the grid, both drivers (Verstappen and Pérez) clearly expressed that they had barely any grip even though they were already on the soft tyre. The track engineers said ‘we don’t think hard tires are a good idea’. We all had a long discussion about it with Christian Horner (Red Bull boss) too and we decided to switch to the soft tyres. Our concern was whether we could make enough progress in that first stint to make it worthwhile, but obviously both drivers made great progress, so it really was.

He stressed that “in reality, it was one of the best races of the season. Just because I think starting 10th in Hungary was not something we expected at all. I was thinking maybe we could get on the podium. Even a third or fourth position was the best thing to come out of the simulations. It was extremely exciting. It really wasn’t until the end of the race that I thought, ‘Wow, we could actually win this!’”

Quick reaction and adapting to various scenarios is achieved with nerves of steel. That pressure framework generates a lot of adrenaline. “I think it’s incredibly exciting. You sit on the edge of your seat when you make that split second decision”, assured the engineer. “So you have maybe 20 seconds, which doesn’t sound like any time, but in a race, sitting around waiting to see if your decision paid off can feel like a lifetime.”, he highlighted.

hannah schmitz
Last month, enjoying the holidays in the European summer (@hannahschmitzf1)

“I think staying calm is one of the most important attributes of a strategist,” says Schmitz. “A piece of advice someone once told me is that if you turn your hands over, palms down, it helps you be more clear and authoritative in what you say,” he noted.

On the morning of a normal race day, Schmitz attends meetings with the drivers, other engineers, Adrian Newey (technical manager) and Horner, who is the one who has the last word, but usually accepts the strategy offered by Hannah and her team.

At each race Schmitz works with his team in a NASA-style room. “We can be listening to the radio of each team, we can be seeing the images on board each team, we can see all the numbers in detail and pass that to the pit wall in seconds (the so-called “kiosk” which is where Horner , Newey, Ella or Courtenay depending on how they alternate). It’s like being in the same room. There is no delay,” she assured.

hannah schmitz
The smile that aroused suspicion during the last race due to Tsunoda’s surprise withdrawal (TV capture)

However, while Hannah is vital to Red Bull’s success today, it took time for her to gain the necessary confidence, something she hopes won’t be the same for the women who follow in her footsteps. “I think there are a lot of people who may not initially have the confidence in you to do the job,” she said. “As a strategist, you have to tell a lot of people what to do and they have to listen to you, so it’s building that confidence and I think as a woman, unfortunately that was more difficult, but now I have that respect and I hope that other young women who want to going into motorsport they see that you can do it, that you can accept it and we will see more diversity.”

In the last race held in the Netherlands, he was under scrutiny due to the sudden abandonment of Yuki Tsunoda, who first suffered problems with the rear wheels when leaving the pits, then re-entered, his seat belts were adjusted, and when he returned to the track the Japanese again manifested problems with the suspension and from the pits they told him to leave. This forced the intervention of the virtual safety car to withdraw his Alpha Tauri (Red Bull satellite team). The race caution worked in Verstappen’s favour, allowing him to make a second stop to put on fresh tyres. While Hamilton and Russell lost the lead they would have been expected to have had the race continued under normal conditions and without an additional stoppage.

It was later confirmed that the driver and the team did not know at the time what was wrong with the car and as a preventive measure they forced the defection. Although the episode drew attention and during the broadcast the cameras caught Hannah smiling. There began a persecution on social networks, especially Hamilton fans, who accused an alleged conspiracy between the Red Bull and Alpha Tauri teams, with insults directed at Schmitz.

hannah schmitz
Lifting the Constructors’ trophy at Brazil 2019 (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images) (Charles Coates/)

This Monday Alpha Tauri issued a statement repudiating those statements and supporting the engineer: “It is incredibly disheartening to read some of the comments directed at our team and Red Bull Racing Chief Strategy Officer Hannah Schmitz. This type of hateful behavior cannot be tolerated, and the accusations of foul play are unacceptable, untrue and completely disrespectful to both Hannah and us.”

“We have always competed independently, fairly and with the highest levels of respect and sportsmanship. Yuki had a fault that the team did not immediately detect and caused him to stop on the track. To suggest anything different is insulting and categorically wrong,” the message concluded.

It’s been 30 years since a pilot has raced in F1 and the last one was the Italian Giovanna Amatti. But more and more women are working and standing out in F1. Hannah Schmitz is one of the champions and her work is key to the point that she inspires other professionals to join the Máxima.


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