Females in Motorsport spoke with Stephanie Maldonado, Research and Development Motorsport Engineer at Pirelli, at the 2023 CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa to learn more about both the technical and human aspects of her role.
Maldonado's journey with Pirelli begins in 2018. While still a student at Universidad Nacional de La Matanza, Argentina, she began interning for Pirelli's Research and Development (R&D) department. For the year and a half-duration of her internship, she made tyres for both the original equipment and replacement sales channels. However, her special interest in Pirelli's work with motorsport led to her asking her Motorsport Leader to bring her to the trackside.
Looking back on that fateful day, Maldonado believes that watching the company work at the track for the first time was a catalyst for committing to Pirelli entirely.
“It was amazing,” Maldonado recounts to Females in Motorsport. “One of my dreams was, ‘Okay. One day I would love to be in that position.’”
She would fulfil that dream when she joined Pirelli as a full-time R&D Motorsport Engineer in 2021. Now, she describes the studies she completed for her Industrial Engineering degree—which she would earn later that year—as crucial to her entry and development as a Pirelli.
For one, it was at university that Maldonado learnt the fundamentals of teamwork.
“You stop [being] the only one person working for yourself,” she says. “You are carrying for yourself, of course, but you start to take part for the team, and preparing what is not only for you.”
Most crucial to Maldonado, and Pirelli as a whole, is knowing that “as a professional, you stop being yourself”.
“You start to be a Pirelli,” she says. “So you are representing an enterprise. It's a huge responsibility.”
But professionalism is only one of her many responsibilities as an engineer. Based in her home city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Maldonado takes part in the development and production of motorsport tyres across the whole country. Furthermore, she conducts trackside follow-ups of the performance and integrity of said tyres on tracks, working alongside both Pirelli and racing teams' engineers in Argentinian and international competitions alike.
Fortunately, Maldonado finds that her soft skills render her well-equipped to juggle such responsibilities.
“I consider myself a very persistent person,” she says. “I never give up on anything—so I insist… I always try to have the answers we need for a complete analysis. Maybe that's one good goal, because I never leave things without a solution. I need to solve everything, every time.”
Still, there must be more than a meticulous and diligent nature to thrive in a cut-throat, fast-paced industry. According to Maldonado, her team's support is key.
“My team in Argentina, particularly, is amazing,” she says. “And all of them, when I started [at] Pirelli, were able to teach me when I needed it, showing me [what to do] all the time [when] I needed to start working properly. And then I met the Italian team, and the Brazilian team, and the British team. All of the Motorsport team is amazing.”
What she affectionately refers to as the people part of her job naturally bolsters her love of the technical work she does.
“I like very much to see [how] the product we produce—or the product I develop or someone else has developed in the past—works on the trackside, and how the car and the tyre connect to make a performance,” she says, before quickly adding, “And how we exchange information between each other. For [the motorsport teams], information about the tyres, and I receive information about the car. So we make a ‘working’ with the teams and the carriers—we are like a huge family.”
Maldonado particularly appreciates the solidarity and harmony her family-like team shares both on and off the track.
“When the times are tough, we always try to keep fun,” she says. “When we have to give an answer or need to phase an issue on track—the key is to understand that we have to analyse before answering ‘faster’ just because you have to give an answer.
“Maybe I am alone on track, but I am not alone when I have an issue. Because I have the Motorsport team, which is always paying attention. If we have a problem, I need to make an analysis. That's the key: keep calm, try to make an analysis. We are not there just because we like tyres. We are there because all of us are professionals, people working there, and need to think about the issues.”
As a result, she can easily say: “I feel comfortable wherever I go. If I go to any part of Argentina, I will feel comfortable. If I go to Italy, now in Spa, I feel great, in Brazil. So, I feel welcome everywhere I go.”
And Maldonado certainly goes everywhere. As her presence is required in Pirelli's Argentinian office, production factories, and the track across the year, travel is practically synonymous with her work. Thankfully, Maldonado doesn't mind.
“I love travelling around Argentina and around the world,” she says. “I love my country. The people are very nice. We have beautiful places, so it's not a problem for me.”
While Maldonado loves to travel by plane, she does relish driving to the track. Despite these trips' potential to last more than eight hours, she—as always—finds joy in the presence of her team-mates. When travelling, she especially gets to enjoy it in a non-professional setting.
“When we are on the track, we don't have [much] time to go, ‘Okay, I will take a few minutes to see the city.’ You usually don't have that time,” she says. “So we take that opportunity to see the country. In the meanwhile, we are not speaking about the trackside work. And the other thing is, we have dinner with the guys… you meet the people, really, in your personal life. So that's why I say we are like a family.”
So what would a non-race week look like for Maldonado? According to her run-through of it, still as busy as ever.
“After the races, I have to go to the office—the office is inside the factory. I start with a coffee with my team,” she says. “We have our localised operations [in] the factory, and then we make a map of the last week. Then, we start working—depending on the issues we have to deal with this week.”
Maldonado splits her week into two parts. First, there's what she calls the “trackside part,” in which she makes reports on her trackside weekends, and communicates those reports to the Italian and British teams. Second, she has “the factory part,” during which she and her team produce motorsport tyres every day.
But that's far from all. “I also have to think of the race the next weekend. So I'm preparing the team to work there, with a recommendation for the [next] week,” she says. “Or making the trackside follow-up. We also prepare the tyres we will supply for any carrier… And if you have an issue with the production, I have to be there to solve the problem—and apart from that, be working for the next development.
“It's a quiet, busy week—but actually, it's quite entertaining.”
Overall, Maldonado stresses the importance of optimism and passion in staying not only afloat but motivated through the whirlwind of motorsport.
“It's not always happiness, you know?” she says. “But I am patient and positive, and always trying to find a way to connect with all the people I meet.”
She uses this interview's backdrop—the 24 Hours of Spa—as her perfect example. To remain awake and alert throughout the entirety of the race, she repeats this mantra to herself: “I am working for something that I love, so it is not a problem. With the guys and the people around you—we will keep you awake all the time, guaranteed without problems.”
That's her ever-positive approach to tackling the extremely technical and gruelling work at Pirelli R&D. Or, as she sums up with a laugh, “trying to keep the good vibes around”.
All imagery is by Emma Ridgway for Females in Motorsport.