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Audrey Vastroux: “We’re always looking for new skills and new people”

Formula 1 pits the most experienced and fastest drivers against each other in cars that defy all speeds. But there’s another competition in F1 - the constructors' championship. And, to win, it requires a team effort. Every member of the outfits are important in this fight, whether they are present at the track or back at the factory.

Females In Motorsport spoke to Audrey Vastroux, Director of Testing and Operations at BWT Alpine F1 Team, to learn more about this little-known yet vital role in the team's success.

Audrey began her career in F1 in 2006. She joined Renault Sport as a Test Engineer during one of the team's most successful periods; in 2005 and 2006, Renault won the constructors' and drivers' championship titles with Fernando Alonso.

“It was my first job - I’d just come out of school and I got hired as a tester on the V8,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “Alonso had just won his first title and was about to win his second. It was great to start in those circumstances.”

In F1, the rule is that each team builds its own car, but when it comes to engines, only some teams manufacture their own. This is the case with Alpine, Mercedes and Ferrari.

Not so long ago, Renault was still supplying engines to Red Bull Racing - before they joined forces with Honda. It was with a Renault engine that Red Bull won all four championships between 2010 and 2013.

“I worked quite closely with Red Bull when we put the V8 in their car,” Audrey says. “I was involved in all the calculation and development phases of the exhaust system, which was a major contributor to Red Bull's performance in the V8 era when they won the championship with us.

“It was a really exciting period which made us progress and pushed us to the limit. We did some really good things with them.”

Since joining the Renault Group - now Alpine - Audrey has risen through the ranks and seen her career take a number of exciting paths.

“I’ve taken over as the head of all the tests again,” she says. “Plus the track and the engine reliability part - everything that has to do with expertise and analysis of engine reliability incidents.”

Audrey, who started out in Formula Renault, now has over a decade of experience under her belt. This longevity in the same team is both impressive and inspiring.

“It was a childhood dream,” she says. “I started watching F1 in the early 90s and getting into it had been a dream for a long time.

“I stayed because I moved up the ladder - I changed jobs often. I was lucky that way as I never got bored.”

To get where she is today, Audrey has worked hard. Although she doesn’t come from a family of engineers, she was lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time.

“At high school, I had a French teacher who could see that I was doing very well in maths and physics and she said to me 'you'll make it and you'll fulfil your dream, you'll get into F1 one way or another. You're going to be an engineer’,” she says.

“Then I went to the best engineering school in France. I graduated from École Polytechnique with a specialisation in thermal engines and then I entered F1.

“It was mainly the contacts I made during that time that helped me get into F1. Meeting people who helped me to meet other people and who made my CV land at the right place at the right time.”

Since 2006, the various changes in engine regulations have presented significant challenges - in particular the switch to the turbo-hybrid V6s.

“We didn’t take the turn of the era as well as our competitors,” she says. “We had a lot of reliability issues over the years in various areas and we were slow to catch up in terms of performance. We are more or less at the same level now but it took us eight years to get there.”

In 2026, a new engine regulation will come into effect. While not all aspects of this regulation are clear, teams are already working on the upcoming changes.

“We’re starting to work on it to simulate what can happen and to decide the architecture of the next engine as it’ll be very different without the MGU-H,” she says. “We - and Mercedes and Ferrari also - influence the rules of the next regulation by pre-studying systems and looking at what can be done. One, to be sure we’ll have what we think is important to have in the rules and two, to forbid some elements.

“We don’t want another manufacturer to do something too beneficial if we think we won’t be able to be as good as they can be or because it would be too expensive or too crazy if some doors are open.”

In order to do their job as well as possible despite the constraints of limited track testing, Audrey and her team have at their disposal dynos - or test benches - that allows them to replicate what happens to the engine during a race.

“All engine manufacturers have dynos,” she says. “A dyno is able to faithfully replicate what goes on in the car and accurately reproduce laps that have been done in the previous weeks or, with simulations, reproduce what we think will happen in the following grand prix.

“If you close your eyes and the engine is running, it's like being at the racetrack. The engine does exactly the same thing as if it were in the car driven by Esteban [Ocon] or Fernando.

“This allows us to fine-tune the engine, to be able to get the most performance out of it. We also adapt the way we use the engine to ensure the reliability of certain engine components.”

The work done on the dyno is crucial to the success and performance of the team during grands prix weekends.

“The main job is to anticipate everything that's going to happen and to have tested as many things as possible before we take it to the track,” she says.

“It’s the objective of every team to be able to arrive at the track with the minimum of things to do and to be there to manage the unexpected and to fine-tune the elements of performance.

“The driver doesn't do everything exactly like the machine. A Fernando or an Esteban won't brake in the same way so we'll readjust some small things to their own specific way of driving. These are important details to get the last drops of performance, but that's it. The rest needs to have been seen on the dyno so that only the small details are left to be worked out at the track.”

Audrey often goes to the track during a race weekend, which is mainly filled with meetings and technical briefings.

“I go to about one out of three races,” she says. “An F1 grand prix is very much dictated by sessions during which the car is running. Then, there are all the sequences of starting the engine and checking that everything is fine. There are a lot of meetings, especially with the drivers, to finalise the chassis and engine set-up.

“On Sunday morning, when there are no problems and the engines are well prepared, we have to determine the fuel quantities and the strategy for the race.”

As a leader, Audrey has the heavy responsibility of keeping her teams motivated to do their best, even when things aren’t going so well.

“Maintaining the team's motivation isn’t always easy,” Audrey says. “Managing people in my current position is a very important aspect. We’re always looking for new skills, new people - it's a never-ending circle. It's part of the game.”

And whether it's at the track or in the factory, every member of the team is fighting for the same goal.

“We know that fourth place in the championship is our target and we know what we’re capable of achieving and we’re driven by that,” she says. “Esteban’s victory last year put everyone in line to push. To have both drivers in the points does the same.

“If we manage to do that, if we achieve this fourth place, the team will perform even better and will be even more motivated.”


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