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Inspired by…Applying the right formula to F1 racing

Posted on 04/09/2013

Katie at the track in her role as Race Operations Engineer for McLaren

As racing team McLaren celebrates their 50th anniversary this week, we caught up with Royal Holloway graduate and Race Operations Engineer Katie Lawrence, to find out how her Mathematics degree has helped in her career, what inspired her to get into the industry and how she finds life in the fast lane!

What does a typical day look like?

I have an unusual job in Formula 1 in that I get to work on many different projects and with many different teams. I also have a large part to play with McLaren GT for 2013 which is very exciting, as they are still a growing company.

This does mean that I don’t have a ‘typical’ day. I could be in the simulator, at a race or at a test, or even at my desk! Though, my work does predominantly revolve around analysing data. At the circuit with GT, I am often involved in car performance from the systems side, checking that pressures and temperatures are all OK and diagnosing any issues I might spot. I also go through overlays with the drivers to help determine where they could gain more time through a lap. Back at the factory, this year I have been helping to develop the simulator GT car database, taking data from track and rig tests and implementing it into a realistic driveable car.

In what ways has your Mathematics degree been useful in your career?

I used most of my degree during my graduate placement in the Computational Fluid Dynamics department where I worked on optimising car performance through modelling of the aerodynamics of the car. In general, a mathematics background has helped me with logical thought patterns, a good eye for data analysis (especially spotting patterns and anomalies) and a good work ethic.

What inspired you to work in Formula 1?

A bit of luck! It was actually a friend I met while studying fluid dynamics that introduced me to the world of Formula 1. I also have an incredibly competitive streak, so working in an industry where I could win a world championship played a major part in my decision! I took an MSc in Aeronautics after my degree to cement my knowledge, and was then fortunate enough to gain a place as one of two graduates on the scheme at McLaren Racing.

The scheme provided a fantastic overview of the company.  I worked across many departments including Systems Engineering, Vehicle Dynamics and Strategy, as well as a period working in Manufacturing and Car build. I followed the car through from concept to race track and that was something quite rare. It also meant I met a lot of people, so I generally always know who to go to if I’m stuck!

Have you found it challenging working in a largely male-dominated industry?

Working here at McLaren, there are women working in various areas of the business, so I never really notice it and it has never been an issue. There are fewer women than men but nobody should be put off by that. The number is continuously growing and will continue to do so.

What does the future hold?

I am not quite sure, which is both terrifying and exciting all at the same time! I am studying part time for my second Masters, this time in Business Management in the hope to add to my skillset. I’m very ambitious and would like eventually to have an engineering-based management role, but for the short term I am hoping that next season will lead to further GT racing. Being at the track is like nothing else – especially when you see one of your cars come up from the back of the grid, to gain a place on the podium at the end of the race. Working together with a close team to achieve that, gives you an incredible boost.



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