A Chat with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s Trackside Aerodynamicist, Kim Stevens

Mercedes AMG F1 Team Trackside Aerodynamicist Kim Stevens on the podium with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi, 2015.  Photo credit:  Sutton Images (@suttonimages)

Kim Stevens is the trackside aerodynamicist for Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team, responsible for collecting and measuring the effectiveness of the latest aero upgrades and improvements at each race weekend.  With 850 team members at the team’s UK headquarters in Brackley and 550 at Mercedes’ Brixton facility, each acts in concert with the 60 team members each race weekend. The measurements she helps collect provides some of the first real world data that the team can use to understand the cars’ performance on the circuit and improve upon in future car development.

A graduate of Ohio State University, Kim’s path to Formula 1 began with a passion for speed and motion where she was part of the engineering school’s ‘Buckeye Bullet’ team.

I had the chance to meet with Kim at the USGP in 2016, where she sat down to talk about her love of cars from a young age and a love of Formula 1.  Her journey to the sport is an example for more others who are interested in creating their own opportunities in racing, and her enthusiasm and passion for the work and the sport are truly remarkable:

So I’ve always been into fast cars, not necessarily racing cars, but exotic cars like Lamborghinis, since I was very tiny.  Nobody knows why, really. Nobody else in my family is, but there is just something that just really draws me to cars, going fast, and the sound.

I’ve always been passionate about cars, and airplanes, always been quite interested in airplanes. When I was little it became clear I was pretty good at math, so the aerodynamics thing was kind of a natural choice, really. I didn’t really have kind of an epiphany moment, it was more well, that sounds like a good thing to study in school.

Whilst I was learning, I started to learn CFD (computational fluid dynamics, a method of studying how objects move through a medium) because I was involved in a student project in school called the ‘Buckeye Bullet’ [video], an electric land speed record car.

It’s a project that’s been ongoing for over a decade now, with various iterations of the car, and two of the vehicles I worked on set land speed records both over 300 mph on salt flats. So, in order to design the body of these cars I needed a bit of help, with practical knowledge and not just the theoretical stuff you learn with a normal degree.

In learning CFD, that’s when it became super clear that there was a good opportunity to apply this to motorsport. It all just happened kind of serendipitously. I got my BSE in aerospace engineering, so once I was there, I worked on the land speed record car while I was in school. I also did a student co-op program at Honda R&D in America, so that’s actually where I learned a lot of the practical applications of aerodynamics, through my job with Honda.

I took a quarter off from school to work at Honda, and I liked earning a living there and they liked me working there so much that I ended up working with Honda pretty much for 3 1/2 years straight just a few days a week while I was still in school. It was pretty natural for me, because Honda was still in Formula 1 while I was still in school, so there was that link to the sport.

Honda had a subcontractor for their CFD department that worked closely with the Buckeye Bullet who knew that I loved working in motorsport. It wasn’t just watching the races that I liked, I was actually getting amongst it. It was all pretty natural. It was through my work with Honda that I got my first job at Sauber F1 Team.

There was an engineer that we worked with that my boss ended up knowing very well from Honda CFD who started to work at Sauber. That was my most direct link to F1, so when I was graduating, my CV was sent to Sauber with a note from my boss at Honda explaining that I was super keen on F1, and to ‘give her a look’. The rest is kind of history.

I interviewed for Sauber in November of 2007, signed a contract within a month, then graduated in June and three weeks later started working in Switzerland.

Kim’s trajectory was fairly swift to the sport, so of all the motorsport opportunities here in America, especially Indycar, what was it about Formula 1 that drew her to live so far away from home?

For me it was about Formula 1 because it became quite clear through working with the folks at Honda F1 that the sport had the best resources, the cars are the fastest, they go all over the world, it was always going to be F1 for me, if it could be. So it was really quite cool the way it worked out that it did.

As one of few visible Americans in the sport, how did it feel to be racing in front of a home audience?

I really like it, it’s always nice to come and see Americans that actually understand what it is that I do and why I might do it, because there were a lot of people questioning when I was at Ohio State and packing up my house to move to Switzerland. My friends were like, ‘Why are you going to move to Switzerland to work on racing cars? Why don’t you go to California?’

I told them ‘No, you don’t understand, you don’t have Formula 1 in California. They look like Indycars, but no, they’re not Indycars. Yes they are open wheel cars, but they are not [Formula 1 cars].’

So I really do like coming here, and the fans that have embraced F1 here properly get it, and they know why.

It is super exciting, and I wear my cowboy boots when the cars are running, which is quite nice – I get a little bit of a pass to be super American, and for once we’re surrounded by people that talk like me rather than like all the other English people in the team. Yeah, it’s good!

For other Americans interested in getting involved in the sport, Kim had a few thoughts:

To be honest, in this business, especially to get in the first time, it’s all about who you know.

What I’ve told people, and students have asked me, is just get involved with anything you can that’s motorsport related. If you work hard enough, and show enough passion, somebody somewhere will notice, and try to help you out.

Programs like Formula SAE and Formula Student are one way young engineers can gain valuable experience working towards a career in motorsport, but with so many participants in these, Kim mentioned it always helps to be involved in something a little special to help stand out.

At Ohio State there were 60 people working on the Formula Student team, and it was hard to stand out as doing something special with so many teams and people involved, I’m sure in Formula 1 they get a lot of CV’s that list Formula Student experience.

What I would actually recommend is to try to find something special. There were 12 of us on the Buckeye Bullet at a time. When I had my interview at Sauber, the head of CFD and the head of aero were really impressed by that project, and I think with Formula Student, [Formula 1 teams] have seen it all before.

Whilst there is some really interesting stuff happening there, unless you do something to spectacularly stand out there, it’s hard to get noticed. Nothing against that program, it is really cool, and you learn a lot, but again, so many people try to get jobs in Formula 1 that you’ve really got to find something special, and the more you get involved in something, the better your chances are, especially finding links in industries that might somehow feed into Formula 1.

Kim went on to explain:

Let’s look at which companies represent other companies, for example: There’s some aerodynamics consultancies I know of in Columbus, Ohio that whilst they don’t necessarily work for someone in Formula 1 right now, they have a lot of Formula 1 personnel. So it’s about trying to find anything you can that’s motorsport related that interests you that you think you might excel in, and then trying to use that network to find your way in.

Formula 1 cars are the fastest in the world, you can show so many statistics on how quickly a Formula 1 car can go around a corner. You can compare that, for example, to [the Formula 1] safety car, which is a fantastic sports car. Most people would kill to have an AMG GT (Formula 1’s current safety car), but then you look at how that goes around circuit of the Americas compared to a Formula 1 car – it doesn’t come close. I think that’s a great way to sell Formula 1 to Americans, just how amazing the cars are, but also, its a super dynamic, global fast-paced sport.

[Americans] love sports like basketball, whilst many Europeans comment that American football is a bit of a slow game. It’s not, when you actually understand the game it’s quite quick. They slow it down a little bit to give the guys a chance to catch their breath, but it’s a cool, fast-paced game. To sell some of that speed and intensity, I think, blends well with the American style with what Americans like.

That speed and intensity isn’t just what fans see on the track, either, as Kim explained:

I heard from an old friend at the circuit today who texted me and wanted to know if I had some time between 10 and 3, and I had to let them know I was working flat out. Pretty much between when we land on a Tuesday night and fly out on a Sunday or Monday, I’m busy. I think if Americans can see the behind the scenes stuff, that would help also.

Everyone sees a fast pit stop, but they don’t necessarily know how much intensity goes into it. You hear a lot about how often NBA and NFL players practice in training camp, and we have a lot of the same stuff. For me Formula 1 is the professional sport that a lot of people can participate in who don’t need to be physically gifted, so for me this is my NBA or NFL, which I think you can sell, and market the hell out of that to the American people, I think.

It is such an exciting industry, and that goes beyond how quick the cars are or how quickly we can change the tires or what superstars the drivers are, it’s really intense to the core. It’s super American, I would say.

Kim shared the podium with Nico and Lewis in 2015 (pictured above, courtesy Sutton Images) when she accepted the winning constructor’s trophy on behalf of the team in Abu Dhabi, and had some thoughts on the aftermath after getting doused in the celebrations with Lewis and Nico:

I lucked out in Abu Dhabi because its a Muslim country and they use rosewater, so my eyes didn’t sting quite so badly, but to be honest after the podium you’re on cloud nine, but you do smell bad, let me tell you what!

You’re just soaked in it, and of course the team packs up and we stay around to help the guys pack up the garage, so it’s not like you go grab a shower. So you’re just sticky, and hot and a bit smelly for a while, but it’s great. That’s part of it. It’s just so extreme, that we cover ourselves in champagne and then get back to work until the job’s done.

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Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei on CNBC

Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey highlighted some key areas for the sports growth with Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei as the two spoke on CNBC’s morning business report today.

With the past several seasons as a springboard for change in Formula 1, Carey gave credit to the newly appointed CEO Emeritus Bernie Ecclestone and outlined some areas for change.

“I think first, Bernie deserves tremendous credit for the sport that’s been built over the past decades…he should be recognized and we certainly do appreciate what he built here.  But that being said, when you look at last four or five years, the sport has really not grown to its potential.  We have an opportunity to really grow this sport in a new and exciting way, and I think there are two fundamental parts:  One, put an organization in place that lets us make these events everything they can be, [one that] reaches out across digital media that we’re not connecting to today, build[s] a marketing organization that connects to fans, enables fans to connect to the sport.  And on another level, to really build a spirit of partnership with our teams, promoters, sponsors, broadcasters that enables us to work together with a common vision.”

In the past, the sport’s deals have consistently been done over one desk, Ecclestone’s, and it’s clear the days of autocratic rule have been set aside as Formula 1’s new guard prepares it for more profitability.  The key areas of broadcasting, sponsorship and promotion were highlighted, with sponsorship front and center according to CEO Carey:

“The one that grows the fastest is probably sponsorship, realistically today we have a one man sponsorship operation.  There are many categories we’re not even selling into.  We have signage at tracks we’re not selling, so in many ways, putting an organization in place that enables us to execute on that is probably is the most immediate impact.”

In response, Liberty Media [Formula 1’s owner] President and CEO Greg Maffei added: “I know that [Major League Baseball] has something like 75 or 80 people on sponsorship, and that contrasts with you said Formula 1 having one?”

Speaking from a remote studio, Carey continued:

“We have one… In TV, there’s no question.  There’s a lot of growth there, we just did a deal recently in the UK that increased our annual revenue by more that two times.  We are not yet really even a player in the digital media landscape, so thats an opportunity for us to add some digital dimension to our traditional broadcast media.  I think for the opportunity on the events side is really creating more making our events bigger, broader, better.  I’ve talked about having 21 races, [so] we have 21 Super Bowls.  Realistically we only have one race in every country, and we should make these races week long extravaganzas, with entertainment and music…events that capture the whole city, not just events at the track, and that is an opportunity for us to really over time to continue to grow the dimension a bit.”

21 Super Bowls require some star power, so who are the stars in Formula 1, and what is the sport doing to promote itself to a wider audience?

“We have great stars…Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen was an 18 year old who broke out in a great way this year.  Today I said we have one person in sponsorship and we have zero in marketing, and we don’t have a connection on the visual media.  So we’ve got to do a better job enabling fans to connect to our stars.  We have wonderful stars, we have incredible cars, and we’ve got to create the vehicles that are available today…to enable those fans to connect to them, to understand and relate to them.”

As Formula 1 is looking for growth in the United States, so in addition to the race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, where could the next race take place stateside?

“The US is clearly a real opportunity for us.  We didn’t acquire the business…depending on the US success, but there is a real upside for us in the US market.  What we’d like to add is a race in a destination city:  New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas, a space that really people would come to for a week long event that has multiple dimensions with the race at the center.”

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The 2016 Mexican GP Report: With Documentation

A beautiful fall afternoon in Mexico City provided the backdrop for the second race at the newly redesigned Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in front of 135,026 fans today for a 1pm start, but the official results would change twice after the checkered flag waved, and take over 5 1/2 hours to confirm from the time the lights went out on the grid.

After a good start off the line the Mercedes front row was ready to enter into turn one unhampered until pole sitter Lewis Hamilton realized he was carrying too much speed, locking up his right front tire trying to brake too late for the right hander. Missing the entry, he careened across the grass to rejoin the track at turn 3 ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg who was busy making contact with Max Verstappen as slippery track conditions caught most of the grid out. Farther back, the Manor of Pascal Wehrlein made contact with Esteban Gutierrez’ Haas into turn two, launching Wehrlein into Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber, spinning Ericsson off the circuit facing backwards and ending Wehrlein’s race.

Farther along on lap 1, Carlos Sainz, Jr. made contact with the McLaren of Fernando Alonso along the back straight, forcing Alonso entirely on the grass at speed. In an impressive save, Alonso put the car back on circuit, and Sainz would later be penalized 5 seconds for his unsafe maneuver on the circuit.

The majority of teams employed a one stop strategy, opting to complete the majority of the distance on the Pirelli medium tires, which were rated for the entire race distance. Ericsson, who dove into the pits on the first lap after Wehrlein’s contact, was released after a long stop to examine his Sauber for damage, going back out on a Pirelli medium tire compound which he made last for 69 laps to finish 11th.

Hometown favorite and Force India driver Sergio Perez spent much of his race battling Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, initially for 5th position, and later for 10th, ending up behind the Williams drivers for a point.

Both Haas drivers struggled this weekend with slow speed grip, as well as electrical and aerodynamic issues, and finished 19th and 20th, while Jolyon Palmer finished 14th ahead of his teammate Kevin Magnussen after starting from 21st on the grid with a new Renault chassis after a crack had been discovered in his car over the weekend.

Lewis would lead most of the race, trading off with Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel briefly as they came in for medium tires, and in the closing laps a battle ensued for the final podium position as Vettel’s Ferrari was held up by Verstappen’s Red Bull. Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was on fresher tires and applying pressure from fifth position when Verstappen outbraked himself 4 laps from the end at turn 1, going off onto the grass where Hamilton had done earlier to rejoin ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo. The incident was put under investigation by the race stewards, and Verstappen continued on in 3rd place, refusing to give up a place gained against the advice of his team.

Vettel, who had been pleading with his team to ask the race stewards to allow him past the Red Bull driver, became enraged at a lack of response from the race stewards, and proceeded to have an heated exchange over team radio prompting team principal Maurizio Arrivabene to call for calm at one point after Vettel began to invoke the FiA Race Director Charlie Whiting’s name in a verbal tirade. (Penalties for race incidents are issued after the finish if they occur during the final 5 laps.)

Hamilton and Rosberg took first and second handily, and shortly after crossing the line in 3rd ahead of Vettel, Verstappen left his car in parc ferme, continuing on to the podium staging room. He was then asked to leave after a 5 second penalty was applied by the race stewards, giving the position to Vettel. Timing and scoring was immediately adjusted before the champagne was opened, placing Verstappen 5th behind his teammate Ricciardo. At about the same time, Vettel was said to be out of his car and apologizing to the race director for his comments on team radio, and upon hearing the news of Verstappen’s penalty, Vettel then ran to the podium to join the Mercedes drivers for his 3rd place celebration.

That would have been the end of the story, normally, but yours truly was still here later this evening, when at 5:53pm local time, media was alerted to a report from Mr. Whiting regarding statements from team drivers and representatives in the following memorandum:

In short, Vettel was deemed to have driven in a ‘dangerous or erratic’ manner approaching turn 4 while moving under braking during his battle between the two Red Bull drivers, and the FiA stewards announced that Vettel was discovered to be in breach of regulations, given a 10 second penalty as well as two penalty points for his actions on the circuit. The net result has now put Daniel Ricciardo in 3rd place officially, and word is that the trophy was delivered to the Red Bull team.

This sequence of documents shows the final outcome as determined by the race director, and the official results were announced at 6:40pm local time:

Race winner Lewis Hamilton still trails points leader Nico Rosberg by 19 points, Rosberg (329) has two more races in which to seal his title hopes, with 50 total points left to be decided between Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Hamilton’s win has broken AMG Mercedes F1’s own 2015 record for most race wins in a season with 17, and ties Alain Prost’s record for all time Formula 1 victories with 51.

Current driver’s standings:

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