She “Drives” Me Crazy: A Red Bull Controversy

As the famous one hit wonder by the Fine Young Cannibals suggests, Hannah Schmitz is of no doubt driving not just a lot of men and other teams in the Pit Lane crazy, but causing quite a stir among the fans too…

Principal Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz has been working for Red Bull since 2011, initially as their Senior Strategy Engineer before finally being promoted in May of 2021 –  the year of Max Verstappen’s first World Championship. This is no coincidence. Many had never heard of her before – as with most strategists, Schmitz remained under the radar. It wasn’t until Red Bull had another World Driver Championship under their belt that people started to hear her name, realise who this brilliant woman was. Not only does she play a vital and integral part of Red Bull’s race team, strategizing with the likes of Adrian Newey and Christian Horner every race day, but she strikes fear into her peers and rival counterparts. Someone as talented and proficient as Schmitz should inspire, but alas, after the Dutch GP, an obnoxious and ugly view emerged.

Zandvoort, a glorious atmosphere awaiting Verstappen fans and F1 fans alike. Red Bull were not expecting as dominant a display of victory as was seen the week before at Spa. After a shaky start on Friday, with Max retiring the car in Practice 1 due to suspected gearbox issues, the weekend wasn’t looking all that promising for the Bulls. But, in a surprising turn of events, qualification on Saturday was another masterclass from Verstappen, showing fans and peers alike just why he is the reigning World Champion. He pipped pole by 21 milliseconds, with Leclerc missing out by the smallest margin. It was an awesome exhibition of getting every little bit out of the car and maintaining composure, as people are now growing to expect of the Dutchman.

It wasn’t all good news, however. Soon, the conspiracies started to surface. Pérez spun out on his final flying lap of Q3, pushing the car to try and secure a top 3 grid spot, but underwhelmingly causing the session to stop and end. Of course, this hindered other drivers on their final attempts, causing frustration. But as soon as Sergio spun, it was immediately posted online, across all social medias. Rumours and hearsay that he had spun deliberately, that it was ‘team orders’ so Max could keep the pole and not be threatened by the likes of Lewis Hamilton or George Russell spread like wildfire among the fans. As far-fetched as these false narratives were, a storm was brewing, the thunder of which would be heard the following day.

As with every race day, there was a certain anticipation leading up to ‘lights out’. Ferrari had shown promising speed, but of course were still under scrutiny for questionable strategies for both Leclerc and Sainz. Mercedes were the surprise, showing a pace everyone was familiar with, a pace that could potentially challenge for the win. The two Silver Arrows were starting on medium-compound tyres, a strategy both experts and fans alike know could potentially be an aggressive one-stop. This immediately made for an interesting start, with Hamilton starting 4th on the grid and Russell not far behind in 6th. This wasn’t a race built for the cars themselves. For the top three teams, this was a battle of wits, a strategic masterclass from the boldest and bravest.

The race start gave no surprise – the grid remaining near enough the same upon the first lap. The homegrown hero was in a comfortable lead over Leclerc from the offset, unseeing the slight chaos unfolding behind him. Noticeably, all eyes were on Mercedes, whose medium tyre strategy was starting to pay dividends as the race went on, especially when other teams began pitting sooner than expected. Verstappen soon retook his lead and again, was charging onwards to what looked like a fair and well-earnt victory. It wasn’t until Lap 44 that Tsunoda stopped at the side of the track, worried one of his tyres were loose. After a quick pit stop to check, the young Japanese driver went back out. Four laps later, Yuki stopped again between Turns 4 and 5 and is told, this time, his race is over. During a Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen pits for hard tyres, retaining his lead over the Silver Arrows. The race continues as normal, with some exciting midfield battles, particularly from Alonso. Lap 55, just when everything is calm, we see yet another car stop, this time on the Main Straight – it’s Bottas. The Safety Car is deployed and with the quick diligence of Schmitz and her knack for intense circumstances, Verstappen pits for an old set of soft tyres. Immediately, fans are reminded of Abu Dhabi 2021, especially when we see Hamilton not opting for a tyre change whilst taking the lead at this point.

Once the Safety Car withdrew from leading the pack, Hamilton was left with a hungry Red Bull right behind him, ready to charge. Max timed his overtake to perfection, up the main straight once Lewis tried to get away as rapidly as possible, but there was no escaping the power of the Bull. Getting the tow from the Mercedes and comfortably regaining 1st position until the end of the race, Verstappen showed a near flawless drive. Hamilton’s luck, however, went from bad to worse, eventually losing 2nd to his teammate Russell and the 3rd place podium to Leclerc.

Hamilton being left in 4th place wasn’t taken well; by himself, Mercedes and his fans. It is now the Brit’s longest known winless streak, 11 races without a victory. Before the podium had even finished, rumours and conspiracies erupted onto social media platforms, with the most prominent regarding Red Bull ordering its sister team of Alpha Tauri to deliberately make Yuki Tsunoda stop and then stop again so Max could breeze to triumph. The bitter aftertaste of Abu Dhabi 2021 is still clearly lingering for some fans, with many Twitter accounts in particular looking to draw random conspiracies about Red Bull, before launching personal attacks on drivers (Tsunoda and Russell). These in themselves are and continue to be an absolute disgrace. No driver, no matter the incidents on track, deserve any form of obscenity like this. What followed next wasn’t expected by anyone with a shred of common decency, abuse aimed at Hannah Schmitz.

Fuelled by the idea that team orders to Alpha Tauri were implemented spread far and wide, appearing on every social media news feed and quickly gaining traction on F1 fan sites. A quick glimpse of Schmitz grinning after Tsunoda’s second stop only caused more uproar, with the onslaught of abuse becoming personal, worryingly close to threatening. What was most concerning, is that it was mostly women starting these threads of hate, reeling in more and more attention with their venom. It didn’t help certain parties in the F1 paddock were stirring such rumours, only adding fuel to the already extensive blaze. Not only are many of the current F1 drivers supporters of more women in STEM positions, but not one of them would wish this on a member of their team, or another in the profession. Schmitz’s name was being slandered, and overshadowed the fantastic job she had performed on the day and continues to exceed at in a male-dominated sport.

Hannah Schmitz is an integral member of a now well-oiled Red Bull machine. She has proven her skill, her immense aptitude and drive to succeed with the team, as well as become an inspiration to both male and female fans alike. To have such a gifted strategist has enthused young women, especially those aspiring to start a career in STEM fields that were once so taboo. For years, F1 has been a male-dominated sport, but with the likes of Schmitz, Naomi Schiff, Angela Cullen and others, female fans are able to see that this isn’t just a boys club anymore.

No matter what team or driver a fan supports, surely everyone can take time out to recognise the amazing and inspirational jobs these role models continue to execute, week in and week out. Leave the unwarranted abuse untyped and unsaid. Leave the racism, sexism and misogyny – based on nothing more than nonsensical frustration – as thoughts that don’t need to be spoken. Leave the abuse behind. After all… it’s only Formula 1.

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