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Hannah Schmitz: Red Bull’s Star Strategist on Balance, Fame, and Staying True to Yourself

This season, Oracle Red Bull Racing has stormed to the finish line with considerable gaps to their rivals—and many, many records in hand. One of the masterminds leading the charge is Principal Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz.

Hannah Schmitz loves the uncertain.

“That’s the really exciting thing about strategy,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “It’s never a right or wrong answer.”

After all, one of her fondest memories was born from the pinnacle of uncertainty: Red Bull’s triumph at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix. Schmitz, then a Senior Strategy Engineer, was perched on the pit wall as Lewis Hamilton hunted her team’s driver, Max Verstappen, for the lead.

Then, on lap 52, Valtteri Bottas retired with a hydraulics issue. A Safety Car was deployed. And for the first excruciating seconds, the Red Bull pit wall was at a loss.

“It’s quite rare for it to be that situation where it’s such a grey area,” she says. “Usually, you know what you’re going to do in a Safety Car before it comes out. And that particular time, we had been talking about it, and no one had committed either way.”

That is, until Schmitz stepped in. “Right,” she said. “I think we should pit.”

So, under Schmitz’s orders, Verstappen relinquished his lead to pit for fresh soft tyres. By the Safety Car restart, Hamilton led from Verstappen—but on lap 66, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc collided, bringing out yet another Safety Car. Hamilton pitted for softs, but emerged fourth. And crucially, behind now-race leader Verstappen.

Once Verstappen flew past the chequered flag in first, Schmitz departed the pit wall for a place of higher altitude: the podium. There, she would collect the Constructors’ Trophy, raising it high above her head for the world to see.

“When you watch the podium, you think it’s quite a quick ceremony,” Schmitz says. “But actually standing there—trying to take in that you’re up there because of a decision you made… It was an incredible honour. It was an incredible feeling.”

But Brazil was hardly the first time Schmitz converted uncertainty into a certain victory. After all, her entry into Red Bull came far earlier.

In 2009, Schmitz had just graduated from Cambridge with a Master’s in Engineering—a school and degree traditionally favourited by Formula 1 teams. Unfortunately, her graduation also coincided with the 2008 recession, and those same teams had turned against hiring new personnel.

Still, Schmitz would not be deterred. Despite being a graduate, she applied to and joined Red Bull on a student placement. When another member left the team, she clinched a full-time job and, as she puts it, “It just all went from there”.

For one, it was during her first years as a Modelling and Simulation Engineer that Schmitz learnt that her calling lay elsewhere. Though she originally specialised in vehicle dynamics, her craving for a closer connection with racing led her to strategy engineering.

By 2011, she had “trained up” to Senior Strategy Engineer. For the next decade, she and her team would prepare for every race by pouring over the data gathered from Red Bull’s previous visits to the circuit. By analysing historic patterns in the most important circuit-specific elements—such as car and tyre performance, track evolution, and weather—the team would construct every possibility and its corresponding race strategy. By reviewing the season’s previous races, the team would gauge the car’s strengths and weaknesses in the upcoming race—and again, mould their strategies to cover for both.

But a strategist’s weekend could never end with just off-track preparation. Upon entering the track, a host of other unmade decisions awaited Schmitz. During practice sessions, there were qualifying set-ups and tyre allocations to determine. Throughout qualifying, there were plans—how many laps to run and when to exit the garage—to tweak. There were other teams’ race day performances and strategies to predict.

And on the actual race day?

“Then, it’s all the unexpected events,” Schmitz says. “I always think if you could see the future, then you would be definitely the best strategist.”

In 2021, Schmitz graduated to Principal Strategy Engineer. Now, Schmitz alternates her race weekends between heading Red Bull’s Operations Room in Milton Keynes and handling strategy trackside. In the Operations Room, she combs through incoming data from the track and resends the numbers that will best help the pit wall decide on a strategy. On the pit wall, Schmitz receives those numbers—and decides the strategy in a matter of seconds.

So, while Schmitz may not be able to see the future, she makes up for her lack of psychic powers by balancing a strategist’s most essential possessions: technical ability, adaptability, communication skills, and a level head.

“It’s about bringing all that together,” Schmitz says. To excel on the pit wall, you must be open to listening the voices around you, but resist being too swayed by them when you don’t need to be. You must make the right decisions, but ensure that everyone else feels on board with them as well.

But the pit wall is also a mishmash of others’ passion and excitement, flurries of incoming data, and, as Schmitz notes, “no air conditioning”. To perform that strategist’s balancing act in the thick of such chaos is no easy feat.

Fortunately, 14 years at Red Bull has taught Schmitz two ways to optimise her performance. The first: “It’s all about having confidence, and belief in what you’re doing and that you are the best person to make those decisions. That’s your job. Fundamentally, it comes down to knowing that you’re in the right place, and that you feel confident and happy in your role.”

The second—and more concrete—one is a technique she learnt “quite early on” when she started out in strategy. “If you place your palms downward, it helps you communicate more clearly and succinctly—almost lowers your voice as well when you’re talking. When you go into this mode you’re calmer, and you kind of have almost more authority when you speak.”

And under her downturned hands, Red Bull has soared to immense heights. Verstappen’s 2021 Drivers’ Championship was only the first; in 2022, the team delivered with both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships. Now, in 2023, Red Bull has embarked on a record-breaking run of dominance, winning all but one race so far in the season to secure the title of double champions yet again.

Her strategic contributions have gone far from unnoticed. After Schmitz orchestrated a three-stop plan that propelled Sergio Pérez to win the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko declared that “if we won it was mainly due to Hannah”. Six rounds later in Hungary, Verstappen applauded her for being “insanely calm” as she helped him climb from 10th to first through various undercuts. At the end of the year, McLaren Applied crowned Schmitz as the inaugural Female Engineer of the Year.

Countless praises and accolades have thrust her into the limelight as one of F1’s leading female faces. Schmitz, who considers herself “quite a private person—maybe slightly introverted”, admits that she found the attention a bit “strange” at first.

Besides, Schmitz has always believed that the thrill of her work lies not in the victories she sweeps, but the work itself.

“This year’s obviously been incredible,” she says. “But I’ve also enjoyed all the years, all the seasons that I’ve worked here… For a strategist, even when you’re not the team that’s always winning, it’s still really interesting. We’ve still always had the opportunity each season to win races, and sometimes being the underdog is still quite an exciting and different way of thinking.”

But above all, Schmitz is an avid champion of diversity in F1. Citing Females in Motorsport’s slogan—See it. Be it.—as an example, she stresses the need for female media representation to increase women’s interest and involvement in motorsport. And though she is still coming to grips with her new role as a public figure, she recognises—and embraces—the responsibility that has come with it.

“This See it. Be it. movement is really taking more and more shape now,” she says. “People are proud to show what they do and to help encourage women, young girls to stay in STEM. And there’s so many exciting careers for them… There’s so many incredible women across motorsport. I’m really happy to help represent that.”

After all, representation and recognition were not gifts that Schmitz was accustomed to in the beginning of her own career.

“It was difficult to be one of the first women to sit on the pit wall,” she says. “You have to tell people what to do—they have to trust in what you’re saying and have faith and belief in you. So, it probably did take a bit longer because of that. Not because of anything personal, but more because of people’s perceptions of how women are and whether they think they can deal with those environments.

“And I think that was the main thing of concern—of whether you’d be able to deal with the pressure.”

But Schmitz always has been and always will be firm in her refusal to cave to the doubts.

“People often feel women are maybe more emotional,” she says. “And I can be emotional. I’m not at all when I’m on the pit wall, but I can be in other things in life. That is a strength. And as more and more women get into positions of responsibility, we can show how good that is. Empathy is so important, and a really valuable trait for a leader.”

Still, those doubts and unwarranted criticism haven’t exactly disappeared. After last year’s Dutch Grand Prix, online conspiracy theorists took to Twitter to accuse Schmitz of fixing the Virtual Safety Car that supposedly aided Verstappen in beating Hamilton to the win. Hamilton, Verstappen, and Scuderia AlphaTauri—Red Bull’s sister team and another Twitter target—swiftly condemned the abuse.

However, Schmitz dismisses it all.

“With social media, everyone’s going to have an opinion,” she says. “You don’t have to listen to all of those. They’re not all right.”

It’s her commitment to authenticity that renders her so capable of keeping external pressure at bay. Though her journey with Red Bull may have consisted of seeking and exploring uncertainties, Schmitz speaks with great certainty about the value of finding and uplifting your true self.

“I had a fair bit of that at the start of my career—being told how it should be,” she says. “You do have to act in certain ways to get where you want and for people to respect you, but I think it’s also really important to always be true to yourself.”

What you want should align with who you are, she advises. “If you’re just constantly in a place where you don’t feel like you fit in—where you’ve got to be someone else—then that’s also not great… You don’t need to be someone that you’re not.”

When you’re certain that you are in the place where you fit in—where you and your dreams belong—don’t waver in your pursuits. It’s something that Schmitz wishes that she could’ve told herself earlier. That, and “to not worry about what other people think”.

“I still sometimes do,” she says. “But I think that’s the main thing—just don’t worry about what other people think. Believe in yourself.”

This profile was adapted from our podcast episode with Schmitz.

All images are credited to Red Bull Content Pool.


D. K.
D. K.
Jun 02

Great read. Hannah Schmitz is a big inspiration for many women out there in maderoterapie and whole world.


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