In 2017/18 Josefine Lissner completed a 13-month Industrial Placement in the Aerodynamics Department of the Mercedes-AMG-Petronas Formula One Team in Brackley/UK. In this article she shares how she first found her passion for motorsports, how the job interviews went and why more women should dare to apply and get into the sport.
Working in Formula One as an engineer and being a part of this insane development cycle has really been an extraordinary experience for me! When I reflect on that time today, it made me personally grow up a lot. By writing this article I will pursue two intentions. First, I will share some experiences I gained along the way with specific regard to how the job interviews went. These might be valuable insights for students who consider applying for a job in F1 themselves. Secondly, and this has become a topic close to my heard, I would also like to pass on some advice and encouragement especially to young women with similar interests in motorsports and technology.
In fact, it feels like I have come a long way. Only late during the last years of secondary school, I discovered my passion for motorsports. Precisely, when I realised how technical the sport was and what master pieces of engineering these race cars truly were! I have always been fascinated by technology and speed. So, it became clear to me that I would try and get a job in F1. Although it puzzles me today, that I did not have a much deeper motivation other than somehow being closer to these racing cars I adored. All I wanted was to let my eyes wonder across their surreal shapes and try to soak up every little detail…
My love for F1 started with pure fascination, but I had no real technical understanding at first. I was determined to change this by reading books and auto-didactically diving into race car aerodynamics. With only two semesters of aerospace engineering under my belt I then heard about student vacancies with the Mercedes F1 Team and decided to give it a go. I had nothing to lose. In fact, I naively applied for all the Industrial Placements on offer. Job applications are just statistical processes where you want to maximise your chance of being successful, right? Well, I did not have on my radar that I would end up writing endless motivation letters, but it was worth it. I got invited to Brackley for three interviews – race engineering, aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics – where I was confronted with very nice people asking very difficult questions. This is not ironic. Everyone I met on any of my interviews was friendly, encouraging and patient. No one wanted to see me fail. I want to stress that in my opinion – although very hard at the time – these job interviews felt as fair and unbiased as they can possibly be. With that I mean, that you will not be judged by your origin, gender, look, hardly even by your school grades and experiences. No one wants to know how great you think you are. Because the only argument that counts in F1 is real performance – here and now! For that reason, the interviews aim to put you under pressure and test your reactions under stress, the way you approach and analyse a problem and how you try and figure out a solution. It is not only about knowing the right answer beforehand. Instead they are interested in your thinking, motivation and problem-solving ability, which comes down to certain character traits. Although this might sound slightly intimidating, in hindsight you hardly ever get a fairer chance to show your potential and prove your technical understanding than when a blank paper is placed in front of you…
No one wants to know how great you think you are. Because the only argument that counts in F1 is real performance – here and now!
I didn’t get a job that year. Clearly, I was still lacking some fundamental knowledge, but I got inspired by the passionate, driven individuals I met and realised that surrounding yourself with this kind of people sparked a strong enthusiasm in me. Besides taking more in-depth lectures at university, pursuing my dream meant also overcoming the embarrassment of applying again for the same jobs the next year. But again, I had nothing to lose. Sometimes “No” is not an acceptable answer. Generally, what is a dream worth when you hung up on it after the first fail? Of cause the second round of interviews was set up completely different to what I had expected and known from last year. It turned out that they made the effort to interview me separately from other applicants. This time I sat in a room with three engineers and we talked aerodynamics, race engineering and dyno testing all in one go. You can image that my brain was hardly alive when I walked out, but surviving these extreme stressful situations help you to grow some self-confidence and deal with pressure more swiftly in the future.
4 Tips for students interested in applying
However, this time I got the job for the Industrial Placement within the Aerodynamics Department and I am sure that the persistence I showed was positively recognised (maybe not so much by the HR Department). Let me summarise my main points to take away from this interview odyssey:
- If an opportunity is presented to you, just go for it! Don’t worry too much about the “if” and “how”. The worst thing that could happen is that you learn something about yourself which will most likely even help you to improve further.
- Don’t give up if it doesn’t work out the first time. To my mind, we should all embrace failure more and focus on the learning curve behind it. Normally people don’t want to work in F1 because it is easy, but because it is hard! Remember J.F. Kennedys famous speech about going to the moon? Same approach.
- Don’t be afraid of the interview procedures. Accept them as an opportunity to show what you can be capable of. Every blank page is a new chance.
- Communicate your thoughts openly. Even though you might not always find the correct answer, it will be very helpful to the engineers to understand your thought process. And if you share the aspects you are struggling with, they might even donate a useful hint…
More women into F1
The work ethics in a Formula One Team would be worth a separate article. But for now, I would let the freedom to you to find this out for yourself one day and see for yourself. Instead I want to use the remaining words of this article to especially encourage young women to dare and get into F1. I undoubtedly believe that the right capabilities and attitude will open a door into the sport. But what does concern me, is that lots of young girls think too conservatively about their own abilities and do not dare to apply. In my opinion, girls are equally capable in the technical fields. In addition to that, they tend to be very gifted at organising and social skills. This is definitely a bonus as working within this well-oiled, fast-moving machinery requires planning ahead, meeting strict timelines and effective communication between different teams. Don’t underestimate that factor!
I realise that girls might struggle to find role models in motorsports, just because there are so few. Personally, I have always been a fan of Claire Williams and Susie Wolff – maybe obvious as their voices are the only female ones to actually give answers during a Grand-Prix weekend (in opposition to the female reporters asking the questions). But I want to encourage you to find such role models yourself. In fact, there are clever, inspiring female engineers in every team. Today, we live in times where it is very easy to follow these people online and get an insight of what they do. Also, I am an advocate of networking. Here, I mean networking in a rather casual way, not something forced like personal branding. Nowadays it is possible to get in touch with people you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Find some engineers on LinkedIn for example. Asked them about their thoughts and advice. My experience is that responses are often very positive and valuable. And again – there is nothing to lose when you show interest and courage. From my point of view, bringing more women into F1 who embrace their passion for motorsports and exciting technology in general will be key to initialise social change. The industry will ultimately profit from more diversity! Let me sum up the main points here:
- Women are good at networking and should also use the advantages of social media to connect with people in the business. Find some role models that inspire you!
- Don’t underestimate your technical skills but explore your strengths and weaknesses and be open about them. Self-reflection is always the best starting point for improvement.
- Embrace your communication and team working abilities. They are not looking for geeks that are difficult to work with!
- If you are still unsure, just give it a go! Since there are so few women in motorsports, you could become a role model yourself and help other girls to find the courage to pursue their dreams!
Ask me questions!
I hope my text contained some useful insights. Finally, I would not be writing this, if I would not wish other students to go on such an exciting journey and make equally transformative experiences that I underwent during my time in Brackley and beyond. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask the wonderful initiators of the Motorsport Engineering Network or find me on LinkedIn!