Formula 1 is generally seen as a man’s world but that is not so at Panasonic Toyota Racing, where women play a key role behind the scenes in the team’s push for Grand Prix glory.
Traditionally, the pit garages have been an exclusive club for men, from mechanics working on the most high-tech racing cars on earth and engineers pushing the boundaries of physics to drivers enjoying the most intense motoring competition in the world.
But that exclusivity is a thing of the past at Panasonic Toyota Racing, which employs the very best people for the job, whether they are male or female.
HR general manager Rob Leupen explains: "Ever since I joined Toyota in 1995 women have been working at our organisation. So they are a part of our culture and I don’t see anything exceptional about it."
Indeed, women have worked at Toyota since the very start of the team’s Formula 1 project. In both technical and administrative roles, women have played an important role in Toyota’s rally success and the first female engineer was employed at the Cologne factory back in the team’s Le Mans days of the late 1990s.
Now, three managers within the team are women, in the PR, HR and logistics departments, and of around 650 employees at the Cologne headquarters, approximately 13% are female.
Regulars at our pre-season testing will have seen some of the team female staff in action as they got down to the serious business of extracting the maximum out of the TF107, whether that is as data engineers or electrical engineers.
Fans may not see our female contingent much on television, with the most visible members of the team being the drivers, top management and pit stop crew, but that does not mean the fruits of their labour are not on show.
Without Panasonic Toyota Racing’s female contingent, the cars literally would not make it to the track.
Karin Gartner plays a key role in ensuring everything runs smoothly for the team as the staff, cars and equipment fly around the world for races and tests. That is no small task when you consider a typical Formula 1 team travels around 160,000kms every year, racing and testing.
Karin says: "I very much like to work with both women and men but in my department I prefer to have women on the team. I find they are more flexible and do the job a bit more accurately – which is very important to ensure all the shipments come in and go out on time."
Before Karin can even think about dispatching car parts around the world, the team’s latest challenger needs to be designed and that is where another pivotal figures step in.
Susana Ruiz is a designer in the engine department, doing her bit to ensure Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher have the power to succeed.
Susana says: "I enjoy my role not because I’m a woman but because I’m respected as an equal member of the team. There’s only positive feedback from my colleagues."
Once the car is designed, the team needs to know how it will perform before it
even gets to a circuit and that is where Marion Franchini can help.
As a senior simulations engineer, she works on simulating how a car will perform in various conditions, enabling the rest of the engineering team to maximise its potential.
"There are clearly a lot of men working in Formula 1," says Marion. "But I’m sure that F1 is not strictly just for men!"
At the track, the entire team gives 100% to extract the maximum possible performance from the TF107 cars. When it comes to electronics, this is a key part of Margret Geisert’s role as electronic track engineer.
Maggie admits: "We women do seem to be treated a bit more politely at the start, and one or two did treat me more like a lady to begin with. But they soon get used to you and the effect becomes less."
The very act of bringing staff into the team is the responsibility of Dagmar Ziebell, who as recruiting manager is charged with maintaining Panasonic Toyota Racing’s high standards when it comes to the people who will take the team forward.
Dagmar explains: "As an organisation we have grown very quickly and the amount of people we have is now a lot bigger. But new people quickly feel integrated into the team, the mentality to work for each other here is still very good and we are very close to each other."
Dagmar’s role is a crucial one, but one very much out of the public gaze. That cannot be said for the responsibilities facing Fernanda Villas-Boas as PR manager.
Fernanda and her team must keep the world’s media happy by arranging interviews and photo opportunities so when the team is in the public eye, she is usually not too far away.
As well as responding to the media, she looks for new ways to increase interest in Panasonic Toyota Racing within the media, gaining recognition for the hard-working team and increasing the value for sponsors and partners.
Fernanda says: "In this team we are open for every kind of good professional and it doesn’t matter whether they are wome n or men. The workload means we don’t have much time for family or friends and you need to see the team exactly as it is, like a family."
For a rights-free video feature on Panasonic Toyota Racing’s female contingent, please visit www.thenewsmarket.com/toyotaf1 where footage can be downloaded or ordered on Beta SP or DVD format, free of charge for TV stations and websites.