Maria Rubia Vazquez
Formula Careers takes a deep dive into the world of Women in Motorsport. We shine a light on the amazing work they are doing, and the route they took to get to where they are today.
Interview by Izzie Holman
Wait? Girls Like F1 Too?
Can you tell me your job title and summarise your responsibilities?
I am a Composites Design Graduate Engineer and what I do, or what my department does is, we receive the ‘simple surfaces’ from the Aero Department and we decide where a part starts and finishes,
how that part is going to be joined with the rest of the components in the same assembly, how all those parts are going to be manufactured (all the tooling and jigs), we design the internals that go inside those parts, and we design the jigs those parts need to pass all the required tests.
Our department is the middle of everything: we receive everything from Aero, but to be able to do our work properly, we need to work together with Stress, Manufacturing, Race Team, etc.
What are you working on at the moment?
So the way that we are divided in Renault, which I guess is what happens in most of the teams, is front, middle and rear of the car. I’m part of the Front Team and I’m currently working in the design of the floor. But if there’s another department or area that needs help, we normally move to support them. This season I’ve been helping in some areas with the tooling of the barge boards and some laminates.
What does a working week look like for you?
Normally the first thing we do is, after receiving all the information from the aerodynamics department, define and scheme the parts. Once you have all the parts more or less defined and you know how you are going to join everything, you start designing the tooling for those parts.
Depending on the work you need to do you might have some other people joining you. After defining the tooling, you move to the internals. We use CATIA as a software to do all our work. That’s usually what I do every day, if I’m not designing the part, I’m just designing some of the tooling or the internals.
What did you study at school, college and university?
The way that the UK schools and universities work is a little bit different from Spain. So in High School I did study everything related to science and technology. After I finished that, I did my degree in mechanical engineering at a university in Spain. But I had the chance of doing my internship, its known here [in England] as placement year, in a company in the UK called Zytek Automotive.
During that year I realised that opportunities in the motorsport area here, in the UK, are much more than the ones that we have in my country or in another country, so that’s why I decided to come here. But, at the same time, I thought that I needed to have a masters in motorsport specifically, so I decided to study the motorsport engineering masters at Oxford Brookes University. I finished that a couple of years ago and then, after finishing that, I just joined Renault.
What was Formula Student like?
Some of the students when they come here [England] to do their masters they already have had two, three or even four years of experience in Formula Student. In my case I never had that before, so I joined because I wanted to have that experience of having the possibility of manufacturing, of designing a race car, because that was something I didn’t have before.
When I joined, I was not feeling very secure because I thought ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be good at this’, or ‘I might not be able to do what they are asking of me’. But then when I started doing it and realised how we were working with the rest of the people, I quite enjoyed it. I think that, at least in my case, that year of formula student, was the key to getting the job I have at the moment and to the opportunities that have come after that.
At the beginning I just joined the aerodynamics department because, although I did a little bit of powertrain before, I wanted to learn something new and I thought that was the moment. So I joined the aerodynamics department but then by the end of the year, I think it was in December or January, I joined the statics group as well to try to help with statics advancing in competition and that year I got a lot of good experience and good memories from that.
Did you do any other extra curriculars?
When I was doing my degree in Spain at the university where I was studying, we had the possibility of working part time. To be able to pay my studies I was just working as part time student. When I came to the UK to do my masters, I had enough with all the work in the Formula Student team. I didn’t have time for anything else.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Since I was like 6 years old, I had some idea that I wanted to work in Formula 1. But at that age, of course, I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to do. Everything I remember is watching the races at home with my parents. They never watched Formula 1 and I think in my country it was not something that people used to watch until Fernando Alonso started winning races. So, when I started watching it, I was like ‘okay I really want to work there’, and I didn’t care if it was as journalist or engineer or mechanic or whatever. After a few years thinking on it, it was when I decided ‘okay, I’m good at painting and designing so maybe I can combine both things’ and I started thinking of doing a degree in engineering.
Where does your love for motorsport come from?
My case is a little bit strange because none of my parents or family were watching motorsport before. But the memories I have is; I was in school when I was 6 years old and we needed to give a talk in front of the class, and we needed to choose a topic. Because of my surname, I was always one of the last ones choosing the topic and basically I was not given a chance to choose – it was just like okay this is the last one and I remember that that last topic that was available for me was about motorsport and I don’t know I just fell in love with it, after working on that and learning about it, it was something that I really enjoyed, and that was how it started.
How did you get the job with Renault?
It was during my masters at Oxford Brookes. I think it was March or February and all the Formula 1 teams started to open their internships and graduate programmes to the students, so everybody was applying to all the teams and all the possible positions, and I did apply to a few teams. I always applied to something related to design or aerodynamics, but I could see the level of the people that they were hiring and the people that were applying so was not feeling very confident.
I need to say that I didn’t have any answer until August and it from Renault saying that they were interested in offering me an interview. It was also quite a special because the night that I received the message saying that they wanted to have an interview with me, it was the night of the final ceremony of Formula Student Austria, so it was all the team, which I consider my family.
It was that last night, we were there in the campsite and I read the email and everybody started celebrating it for me as well because, as I say, we were like a family, so if something good was happening to one of us we were all happy. But then I didn’t have the interview until September, and I know there were a few other applicants that were quite good, so it was like ‘okay I might not be the person for this’. I thought that was not going to happen but at least it was going to be a good experience to do an interview in Formula 1. But two days after doing the interview they just called me to tell me the position was mine and I took it. So that’s how it happened.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that challenge?
I think it’s been probably this year, which is my second year at Renault. During my first year, I spent it as an Intern doing laminates all the time and basic stuff, as you are still learning. Despite I’m still learning, this year I have been working on the floor and dealing with such a big thing. It is really cool and crazy, and I do appreciate that they let me do it, but as I say it’s something really challenging.
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
I’m not sure, but I probably have two moments. The first part I actually worked on was last year’s front wing main plate, I worked on the laminate. For the first race in Australia seeing your part that you have worked on, it was like this is really cool, it was really special.
Unfortunately, Daniel Ricciardo just smashed it after the first five seconds and that was like ‘what’s going on’, but the first five seconds that the front wing stayed on the car I was happy about it. I guess the second moment has been this year in the first race of the season in Austria. It was because the floor was the first one I worked on, so it was like oh my god I’ve been doing that as like a massive assembly, so it’s like this is amazing.
What has been the best thing that you did to get where you are today?
I would say that year that I had in Formula Student was for me the best thing I did. Having the possibility of doing a car form zero; designing it, manufacturing it, testing it, competing with it.
We were also second in FSUK overall, so the combination of all of it was really great. It was really challenging, we worked really hard, we put in countless hours, but then the result was really worth it. For me it was my first car, so seeing it running was like this is great, I can’t ask anything else. So, I think for me the key was that year of Formula Student and also having the possibility of sharing it with a bunch of really good people that now there’s a lot of them from that year working in Formula 1 or doing placements in Formula 1 teams.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to work in F1 or in motorsport?
The first one is just don’t listen to people that tell you you cannot do it. If you want to do something you will need to fight for it and work really hard for it, but if you really want it go for it because you’re going to get it. Nothing is easy and if you really want something you just need to fight for it and don’t listen to people that are telling you that you are not good enough or that you won’t be able to do it because you can do it in one way or another.
The second one is that, for example, in my case I was not the smartest person and I was probably not the best candidate they had, but I worked really hard, put countless hours in and didn’t give up. Especially don’t give up, because I’ve seen a lot of people giving up on the way even if they start really strong at the beginning trying to show that they are the best in the world. That’s not the important thing, the important thing is being constant, don’t give up and show to the rest of the people that you can do it, just work ‘in silence’ and let your work prove yourself.
What would you say to students worried about opportunities not being there because of Covid-19?
I know that people are worried about that and I completely understand it because at the end of the day, if you think about it, motorsport is not an area that is a really important one like for example the doctors, so I understand that they are worried about that. But at the same time, I know F1 teams that have been keeping their internship and their graduate programmes in the same way.
Unfortunately, I know that there’s one that they needed to cancel at the last minute, so all that I can tell them is don’t give up, if they think that for any reason they that they cannot apply to this position or they think that there’s not going to be any other positions available just to try to do something else in the meantime but continue applying as soon as there’s something available, just don’t think oh I’m not going to be good for this or I don’t know.
What has been your experience as a woman in motorsport?
So in my case I never had a really bad experience but it’s true that the problem of motorsport and Formula 1 is that it’s a world that’s difficult to get to for both women and men. But then it’s true that there’s not a lot of us [women] when you just study your degree or your masters you can see that there’s only two or three of us, and I think that’s not coming from universities, I think that’s coming from previous studies and in the way that unfortunately all societies work. So, as I say, I never really had a bad experience, but I stood up for someone.
There’s always a couple of people that didn’t get in and they start asking you about your work, or how do you get this, or they ask you for a commendation and then they start talking to you in a way that’s like, okay no. But otherwise it’s been okay, I haven’t felt like I have been looked at in a different way for being a woman or that people needed to help me more for being a woman or think that I could be less than someone else. My Formula Student team in Oxford Brookes last year, I think there was four or five girls and those four or five have finished in different Formula 1 teams, so we are valid for this and we are good at this.
Any other advice?
I think, and this is for both women and men, the important thing is not to give up. Working in motorsport in general is difficult to get in to and you might need to sacrifice a lot of things and there’s going to be like a lot of moments where you are just going to be really mad and crying and asking if it’s really worth it. I can tell you it’s worth it, but you really need to work hard for it, push for it, and just don’t give up and don’t listen to the people that say that you cannot do it because I’m not coming from a family that loved motorsport or understands about motorsport, I’m not coming from a rich family either. I needed to work to pay for all my studies, so it’s not about money either, it’s just about the effort you put in and all the work you do.