Category Archives: Americans working in F1

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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A talk with Andrew Frankl at Stanford University

Last month, F1 author and journalist Andrew Frankl spoke to a full house at Stanford University’s Engineering school in front of faculty, students and F1 fans alike about his career in the sport with anecdotes from his travels and thoughts on the current state of the sport.

Frankl, now living in Northern California, is the Grand Prix editor for FORZA magazine, and recently published a memoir of his time in F1.  Originally filmed for a periscope broadcast, enjoy a few minutes of this engaging and warm presentation with Andrew, followed by his son Nicholas, who has a few thoughts on Formula E after having returned recently from Long Beach.  An hour well spent.

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American F1 Sponsorship: An Interview with SunCore Solar

This year’s race at Circuit of The Americas will be a landmark event in the history of F1, and while the venue and fans will help form a new home for the sport, a significant part of what will ultimately drive the sport’s growth in America will come from the partners and sponsors that use F1’s global reach to brand and market their products and services.

Formula 1 is typically a closed shop, meaning the business of F1 isn’t usually open for discussion with outside parties, but it is important to hear some American corporate perspective and testimonial to the value F1 brings business. We rarely get a view of F1 from the companies whose investment creates the necessary finance for the sport, but recently I enjoyed an informative and enthusiastic interview with Jane Johnson, Director of Communications at SunCore Solar, a privately held mobile solar technology company, and a sponsor last season with Lotus Renault GP (now Team Lotus). Your thoughts and comments are appreciated below.

Special thanks to Jane Johnson and SunCore’s CEO and co-founder, Steve Brimmer, for their contributions to this interview.

I appreciate your time to answer a few questions for ‘F1 in America’. Can you tell us about SunCore and the goals it had in mind when choosing F1 as a marketing platform?

To our targeted audience Formula 1 easily represents the pinnacle in motorsport, the foremost of sports. It is understood F1 leads in the development of superior automotive science and technology, with a continuous advancement of high performance aerodynamics and material utilization which commands respect by fans and casual observers alike. By associating with a progressive F1 team, SunCore believed it would increase its own global visibility, brand credibility, marketing & business development opportunities.

Was there something unique about F1 that set it apart or were several other types of platforms (including motorsport) considered?

F1 is widely recognized as the most technologically advanced motorsport series in existence, in addition to it commanding the largest global broadcast and print media audience, thus it was the logical choice for us, given that we see ourselves as equally advanced in our technology development.

Could you describe SunCore’s involvement with Lotus Renault GP and F1 in 2011?

Our involvement was limited to five races due to budgetary restrictions although we had hoped for a much longer involvement. We found the team to be of the highest caliber in every aspect and we had a great experience with them before, during and after the races.

How did you rate and measure the benefit of SunCore’s participation given the large financial involvement F1 is known for requiring?

We learned that to fully benefit from F1 involvement, one needs to pre-plan a full season in advance, in order to fully derive the maximum available benefit. Once the season starts, things move very fast, so clarity of what each race can provide for exposure and hospitality benefit is absolutely necessary, before you arrive at the circuit. As such, we were honored to receive the exposure we did through our association with the team.

NovaCell™ SunCore's High-performance light-powered charger

Were there any intangible or latent benefits you weren’t expecting?

Yes, direct contact with race fans was a pleasant surprise. We received many emails from fans who sought us out, which we appreciated a great deal.

Do you feel there is anything Formula 1 as a whole could do to increase the value for American corporate sponsorship?

Television coverage in the U.S. market is still lacking. The Speed Channel F1 race coverage team do an excellent job of educating viewers about the sport and covering the races, but the fact is that the races are poorly promoted by the networks including FOX when they broadcast a select few races each season. SPEED Channel is 90% dedicated to NASCAR and thus F1 suffers from trying to squeeze in between the NASCAR events and daily feed of NASCAR promotions and sin-off programs. We were amazed at the high profile F1 has in global broadcasting including new markets such as Korea and India. U.S. viewership simply cannot mature until one of the networks make the commitment to carry and promote the series…much as did ABC in the 60’s and 70’s with its Wide World of Sports weekend series. Most of today’s baby-boomer generation knows F1 only as a result of ABC’s coverage in those decades.

I understand SunCore is taking a break from Formula 1 this year, but now that the sport is coming back to the US and with two races scheduled for 2013, how does that affect the company’s decision to reengage with F1? Keeping in mind that Austin has developed into a hub for green businesses and the New Jersey race next year has been billed as green-friendly with the exclusive use of public transportation to and from the track.

We intend to be back in F1 in 2013, not solely due to the Texas and NJ races, but because it is good for our brand and Company identity. Of course, the Texas race in particular provides us an excellent opportunity to maximize our benefit, as we have relationships with the Texas State Officials as well as with Rice University and we can resonate with renewable energy programs in Austin and elsewhere in the State of Texas. Having home Grands Prix is a bonus for a sponsor, but certainly not the singular motivation for being in the sport.

American Alexander Rossi is currently linked with SunCore on his website and appears to be headed for a drive in F1 in the near future. How do US companies like SunCore value American drivers competing in the sport?

We sponsored Alexander for the 2011 season in the World Series By Renault 3.5 where he finished 3rd. Our intention and motivation to becoming involved with Alexander was rooted in a desire to support an American driver who we see as having the skill set to attain a ride in FI. Of course, while we are presently team-centric in our F1 sponsorship plans, with Alexander it was purely him and independent of the team he was with, in this case Fortec. We realized a considerable amount of exposure with Alexander in 2011 per dollar invested, as the Series is vastly more economical than FI, we had a great experience overall. We would like to stay with Alexander as he migrates upward to F1 as we see him as an extraordinary talent.

Thanks again for your time to answer these questions, Jane. In an earlier conversation you mentioned that you’ve become a big F1 fan in the last year, what was the highlight for you last season?

Everything! Our team involvement led to many opportunities that the general fan cannot access. At each circuit the energy generated by all the F1 teams is nearly overwhelming, an immediate simulation of all your senses. Suddenly you’re welcomed as a team member enabling a very personal bond, even a link to other F1 team drivers. At home I continue to feel a personal association with our team, enough to make me stay-up all night. An extremely important component in the puzzle of becoming a true F1 fan is the ability to share the experience with others. For me it’s my brother. He’s the only person I knew that doesn’t mind a 3am phone call because he’s also up watching F1 qualifying or a race.

Lastly, Will you be going to the race in Austin in November?

Are you inviting?


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