Dr Kathryn Richards
Wind Tunnel Test Technician, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
What do you do in your job?
My primary responsibilities are to ensure the wind tunnel runs smoothly and efficiently so that the aerodynamicists can develop and improve the performance of the race car. My duties also include monitoring and reporting on the performance and health of the wind tunnel itself, so it always remains in tip-top condition.
What did you want to be when you were younger/When did you know you wanted to work in Formula 1?
When I was at school I wanted to be an airline pilot. I tailored my studies towards this goal. However during my early years at college studying Aerospace I discovered aerodynamics and learned about wind tunnels. It was also at this time that I had started to follow Formula 1 more closely. I blame the brilliance of Michael Schumacher for this! I then became aware that you could put a Formula 1 car in a wind tunnel and my fate was sealed. I wanted to work in F1. I went on to obtain a degree in Aerospace Engineering, a PhD in Vehicle Aerodynamics as well as working in the field of environmental aerodynamics for a few years. I have now been in my current position for 12 years and would not change it for the world.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Everything! I love that I get to play in an amazing wind tunnel with a model F1 car and make a contribution to winning races and championships. There is no better feeling when your car crosses the line in first place to know, in your own way, you’ve done your bit to make that win possible.
What subjects and courses did you take?
GCSE’s were a long time ago for me but I did maths, physics, chemistry and geography (among others.) For A-levels I took maths (pure and applied), physics and geography. Remember I was working towards being a pilot at the time. I then did an HND in Aerospace studies with the aim after the 2 years to go to flying school. However as I changed my mind on my career path I then progressed on to the degree course concentrating more on aerodynamics. After this I had the opportunity to do a PhD also in aerodynamics but road vehicles this time. This gained me further experience working with wind tunnels.
Did you do any work experience?
I did work experience with British Airways at Heathrow Airport working on check-in and the boarding gates. I did enjoy it very much.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I have faced a few personal challenges over the years but through the support of friends and family have always managed to find my way. Life is never straight forward but often the setbacks just make us stronger and more determined.
What other jobs did you have before your current role?
I worked at the University of Hamburg for three and a half years looking at wind flow around heated buildings in an urban environment. This was part of a larger European project aimed at gaining more insight in the complex mechanisms taking place in the exchange processes between higher and lower atmosphere as well as between buildings and their micro-environment. My contribution was to conduct wind tunnel experiments to obtain data that could not only be used as boundary conditions for the numerical modelling of these exchange process but also provide correlation data for the validation of numerical models.
What was the best thing you ever did to help you get to where you are today?
When I was at college I wrote a letter to what was then the Benetton Formula 1 Team to see if it would be possible to go on a factory tour. I had a reply from a man named Willem Toet who invited me to join a tour he was doing for some friends. To cut a very long story short I would not be where I am today if it was not for that letter and Willem Toet. He became my mentor and close friend. He had the faith and belief in me and supported me through all my studies and beyond.
If your younger self could have asked your current self anything at all, what would it have been?
I guess it would be …’how did you get into F1’. I would then recount the story of writing the letter and tell my younger self to work hard and keep focused. F1 is a notoriously hard business to get into. You have to be bold and make the first move. If I had known at an early enough age what I wanted to do I would have done work experience.
What would you say to inspire someone to follow their dreams?
Follow your heart and don’t give up.
Any other comments or advice?
Always be true to yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can’t. Be bold and ask. You never know where that question will lead you.
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