Dr Kathryn Richards: "One letter changed my life"
Team bosses often speak after a victory of the team back at the factory and thank them for all their hard work. With several hundred highly skilled employees, each one is integral to the performance of the team. Mercedes AMG Petronas have enjoyed massive success over the past four seasons and one of those working at their Brackley factory is Dr Kathryn Richards, a Wind Tunnel Technician. Recently she spoke to Females in Motorsport about her career and why she is proud to be an ambassador for ‘Dare to be Different’.
Firstly, were you always interested in Motorsport? Was it something your family watched?
“No not really, 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 off. 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.”
As a Wind Tunnel Technician, what does your job involve?
“So, my primary role is to run the wind tunnel, so that 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. 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’ (aerodynamicists) can do their job. I also do diagnostics, and keep an eye on the tunnel itself with maintenance and cleaning of parts.”
You work with diagnostics, so were you always interested in maths, science and engineering?
“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. I never really liked maths, and still don’t really like maths, but it was a necessity that I needed to do it. 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 HND (higher national diploma) in Aerospace studies. This was at a similar time I was getting into F1. I then 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.”
Currently is you focus fully on the 2018 season?
“Oh yeah, fully on next season as all teams will be!”
Are you confident?
“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. 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.”
Why did you feel it was important to get involved in D2BD?
“Purely because of that one letter all those years ago. The guy who replied to my letter, Willem Toet, has been a really big influence on me. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in my job today. He had the confidence to say ‘OK we’ve got a job going, come and have an interview’ which I did and I got the job and that was 12 years ago. If it was not for him, I would not have my job and be who I am today. I want to give those opportunities to somebody else the way he did for me. 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.”
What advice would you give to young people?
“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.”
If you could change one thing about F1, what would it be?
“Probably not a lot! 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. I think the community is helping and will help it (the sport) to evolve further. 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!”
Finally, if you had a team, which 2 drivers would you choose?
“Lewis. Definitely. Valtteri’s good… but I think I would have Max, but I don’t think they would work well together. If I could and they would, I think that would be an unbeatable combination. Lewis and Valtteri get on really, really well and Max and Daniel Ricciardo get on really, really well so sometimes you have to think about the personalities as well, otherwise it can make a really awkward working environment if they don’t get on.”
As a D2BD ambassador, Kathryn Richards is a brilliant role model for young people wanting to pursue a career in Motorsport Engineering. Her reason for getting involved with ‘Dare to be Different’ is to give the advice and the chance that she was given over 10 years ago to someone else. If you are a community member and would like to know more, we’re sure she would be willing to help.
(heading picture credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas)