Strategies make or break a race, they are a crucial part of every race weekend. The people who work behind the scenes or at the pitwall to give their drivers the best weekend possible are called strategists. Don’t be mistaken! It isn’t just one person per car on the pit wall making all the calls, there’s a team of 30-40 people back at the factory analyzing all the data available.
Written by Tanishka Vashee, Edited by Esmée Koppius
Picture of Ruth Buscombe (right) with Tatiana Calderon (left)
Their work starts way before the racing season does, it starts pre-season and advances on 8-14 weeks before a race weekend to make decisions on which tyres their drivers will be bringing with them and a rough idea of what their strategy for the sessions will look like. Strategists are the link between the race engineering and tyre simulation department.
The person who looks over all these strategies and its permutations is called the Head of Race strategy. This week, we’re going to talk about Ruth Buscombe, the Head of Race strategy at Alfa Romeo. She’s been working with them since 2016 and her climb to the top has not been a smooth sail.
STEM careers are very male dominated, that has to do with the fact that a lot of young girls are discouraged from taking them up. Ruth faced that too, her teachers tried to dampen her enthusiasm for taking up a career in the so-called boy’s world.
She was stubborn and determined, she graduated from the university of Cambridge with a master’s in Aerospace and aerothermal engineering. Her subject for her Master’s thesis was the effect of Drag Reduction System, in partnership with FIA, and was overseen by Tony Purnell, who was the team principal of the Jaguar F1 team at the time.
Her grit and determination did pay off, she was taken in as a simulation development engineer by Scuderia Ferrari. She was promoted to being factory based Race strategist for Felipe Massa in 2013 and later for Kimi Raikonen in 2014. She worked with Ferrari for 3 years, in 2015 she moved to Haas and worked as Chief race strategist. She overlooked all the racing tactics of the team from the pitwall and it was her wit and calls that gave Haas their best finishes of sixth and fifth at Australia and Bahrain.
She often talks about how her relationship with the drivers is pretty straightforward, they don’t care who is calling the shots, they just want to remain competitive. However there are certain people, to whom she has to keep proving her worth, it happens way too often and she’s given it a name- The prove it again syndrome.
The dance with Haas didn’t last too long, Monisha Kaltenborn, the team principal of Sauber at the time was keen to have her on board. After all, both of them are inspiring women who were showing the world that Formula 1 was not just a big boy sport. She joined the team around September 2015 and started her job in time for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The strategy she devised helped Nasr finish ninth at the Brazilian Grand Prix, helping them overtake Manor Racing in the constructor’s championship.
Ever Since 2016, Ruth has been working with the Sauber group as their Senior strategy engineer. She has become a familiar face to F1 viewers, the woman at the Alfa Romeo pitwall.
She is part of Susie Wolff’s campaign “Dare to be different” which inspires young girls to take part in the world of motorsport. Now under the umbrella initiative of Girls on track, which holds various community activities to inspire young girls to take up STEM subjects and get involved in Karting.
Ruth Buscombe is an inspiration to women and young girls worldwide. She faced a lot of criticism and prejudice, but became an ace in the world of motorsport and race strategies. Even though she grew up with a lack of female role models in the world of motorsport, she now is one for many young girls who want to have a career in motorsport.
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