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The Genius Behind Red Bull's Success: Hannah Schmitz

Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Meghana Sree

Credit: Getty Images

Red Bull Racing is the team that’s dominating Formula One currently. With a two time World Champion and a 6 time Grand Prix winner, the team looks unstoppable. But it’s not only the drivers who make the team seemingly unbeatable, there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes that we don’t see on broadcasts.

Strategy is the key to winning Grands Prix and championships in F1. With the rules dictating an obligatory pit stop, the strategists need to decide the perfect time to pit. Tyre management is also a crucial aspect of strategy. Each tyre performs differently and degrades at different rates. The strategists on the pit wall are in charge of making these decisions relating to pit stops, tyre usage, and more, which are all done based on huge amounts of research and data analysis, as a single choice made could be the difference between winning or losing.

Hannah Schmitz has the role of first strategy engineer for Red Bull Racing which makes her the co-author of many of the team’s victories. She is known for being adaptable, reacting to real-time situations quickly and most importantly, calmly.

In an episode of the podcast ‘Beyond the Ordinary’, Schmitz said: “I like to work according to a plan, to be as prepared as possible for any situation. When my family and I plan to go somewhere, I collect everything I need the night before. That’s how it is in racing. I study many different scenarios and think about all the possible consequences. I always have a schedule of what the result may be depending on the development of events in the race and some unexpected situations.

“Working as a strategist has taught me to adapt, change my approach depending on the events that take place in the race, without getting bogged down in my plan. And the more races I spend, the more experience I build. I meditate a lot – it helps to stay calm, which is very important when the situation gets tense in the race.

“The strategist’s job is to remain calm when everyone else is excited about something. I was once told that simply holding your hands upside down makes your words and decisions feel more confident. Sometimes I do it in the middle of a race to get my focus back. I believe calmness is one of the most important qualities of a strategist.”

Schmitz has been working for 13 years with the Austrian team. She started as a model and simulation engineer for Red Bull after graduating from the University of Cambridge. A year and a half later she became senior strategy engineer and was finally promoted to the role of first strategy engineer in 2021. She has worked with a majority of the drivers in the team’s history. Current Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez have even said they “race easy knowing the strategy team has their back”.

One of Schmitz’s greatest performances was in Brazil 2019. She made the call to pit Verstappen for a third time even though this meant he would initially lose the lead to reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton. This move gave Verstappen the victory at the end and Schmitz was asked to get on the podium alongside Verstappen to collect the Constructors trophy.

Another perfect example of Schmitz’s brilliance was Hungary 2022 where Verstappen started 10th on the grid after facing a power issue in qualifying. This Grand Prix was a mixed session, which meant both the dry and wet compounds had to be used by teams. This can be tricky and can lead to strategic errors like what happened to the Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in this same race. Even after seeing the other drivers struggle with the hard tyre compound, Leclerc was given the same, which made him slower. He had to pit again which took away the hopes of a win and even a podium.

But Schmitz analysed the conditions flawlessly and made both Red Bull drivers start the race on the soft tyre, go for an undercut, and finish the race with a medium compound which turned out to be the right decision. Verstappen ended up winning the race and Pérez managed to go from P11 to P5 thanks to Schmitz’s well executed strategy.

After the race, Verstappen went on to say to the media: “Today, I think Hannah, our strategist, was insanely calm. Yeah, she’s very good. You can’t afford many mistakes. It’s of course very hard to always be on the good side, let’s say it like that. But I think we have a lot of good guys and girls in the team”.

Schmitz’s strategy was so well executed that she even got accused of cheating, thereby receiving hateful comments on the internet. Conspiracy theories were formed, stating that Schmitz deliberately made Yuki Tsunoda crash to bring out a VSC (Virtual Safety Car). Fortunately, these statements were quickly dismissed by a majority as baseless and nonsensical. These conspiracies obviously had no foundation, and Schmitz is just a strategic genius.

So, every time you see Schmitz on the Red Bull pit wall holding her hands upside down, you know some race-defining decisions are being made by this mastermind– the woman behind Red Bull Racing’s success.


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