We asked a young Pirelli engineer to describe her career in Formula One

Helena Hicks
Helena Hicks
Helena Hicks
Contributor

Meet Hope Cansdale, a long-term motorsport fan and a recent employee of Pirelli Motorsport. Thanks to hard work, Hope now has the role of her dreams, working with Formula 1 teams as a Trackside F1 Tyre Engineer.

I spoke with Hope to get the low-down on what it’s like to work in motorsport, as an engineer.

What does your role with Pirelli entail?

Hope: Okay, in brief; I check the tyres for any defects and abnormal wear, as soon as they come into the garage. I then check the amount of rubber left on the tyres so I can report to the team a predicted forecast for each tyre (how many laps they will last).

How does this fit in with the racing?

I discuss with the team the strategy that could be used for the race, and I help them understand where they are in relation to the rest of the pitlane. I am the single point of contact between Pirelli and the team I am assigned to.

Mercedes AMG Petronas team collecting their tyres in Monte Carlo. (Source/Octane Photographic).

That does sound interesting. How did you land your role?

I had done a year working for three teams as a Data and Performance Engineer to gain as much experience as possible with both working in the paddock but also understanding what sensors are on the car, what they are measuring and what to look out for if there’s likely to be a problem.

I got to sit with Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle in the British GT and see how Joe coaches Lee on his performance by looking back at some data and onboard videos. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to work for an endurance GT racing team where monitoring live telemetry for a 24-hour race kept me on my toes! A job was advertised on LinkedIn with Pirelli and I figured there was no harm in applying. I’d had enough of my Monday to Friday 9-5 job and wanted to get into motorsport full time. I had an interview where they offered me a 12 month contract as an ‘intern’ with the potential of an extended contract. I took a 50% pay cut, but I tried to look at the bigger picture and where this could lead me.

What was your first F1 race day like in Bahrain, then?

Bahrain was pretty surreal. It was so unbelievably hot that the weather just drained you of energy. You step out the hotel and you’re already sweating so, come the evening, you just want a cold shower. Because it was a night race we didn’t leave the hotel until lunch time, so I had the morning to catch up on sleep and catch up on some rays! Race day is always my favourite though; the hard work is done by then and you can actually enjoy the day. We had a great result for Renault with both drivers, so the atmosphere in the garage was really upbeat. It was my first GP and it still felt surreal to be wandering round the paddock with the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and Lewis Hamilton. I even spotted Naomi Campbell in the Pirelli hospitality.

(Source/Twitter)

Can we have some gossip from the paddock?

I’ve heard many a funny story. I believe there may be some form of ‘rich people’ Tinder, and there may or may not have been drivers swiping whilst in breaks on the simulator back at the factory…

I guess drivers are always trying to get in pole position. In your view, how many of the people on the racing circuit are female?

I have to say the number really is increasing. I’ve seen females in every single F1 team. There are females who run the HR and media side of things, and there are female engineers, mechanics, and truckies. There are a growing number of female strategists too. It’s still a sausage party, but it’s noticeable that the number of women is on the up. In Renault, I was fortunate enough to get to work with Helen Makey who is Nico’s Performance Engineer and without a doubt someone I look up to.

Have you ever had to deal with sexism?

All the time. So far in F1 I’d say I’ve been pretty lucky and I’ve been treated brilliantly. Almost to the point where you’re treated as such an equal that people don’t help lift your extra heavy suitcase off the airport conveyer. I’m not the sort of person to refuse to let a guy help me if he offers, but equally I don’t mind being treated like ‘one of the lads’. If I need help, I’ll ask.

In smaller racing series I experienced sexism almost daily, to the point where I wanted to throw in the towel and go back to teaching. I’ve had many a chat with Ruth Buscombe (Sauber’s strategist) about some of the things I’ve experienced and every time she reminds me that if I don’t stick this out, things will not change. We both wish that someone came along 20 years ago and did all the hard work for us, but they didn’t. Now is the time to make the change and I have to remind myself that I’m doing it for my (future) children. Interestingly whilst working for a German team, I couldn’t have been treated with more respect. ‘Engineer’ is a protected title in Germany–and from my experience your career is respected much more than in the UK. It’s the first time I really felt like I wasn’t being judged based on my gender.

Aside from that, what is the highlight of your job?

It doesn’t actually feel like a job! I think because I spent a whole year working a 9-5 job as well as racing, I still feel like I’m going back to an office job after the weekend. I’m fortunate in that although I’m based in Didcot, Oxford, and the number of days in the office are limited–60 days a year for those with a full F1 calendar)–I can almost live wherever I want. There are guys here who live up in Nottingham and just stay in a B&B on the nights that they need to. In that sense, it’s really flexible. Oh and the fact you can extend your stay after a race weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing some pretty amazing places this year.

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