27 January 2021
27 January 2021
When Stephanie Travers became the first black woman to stand atop the Formula 1® podium, it was the realisation of a lifelong dream and love of motorsport. As a child growing up in Zimbabwe and the UK, Stephanie would join her family around the TV on weekends to watch F1. Years later, her family would be watching as she joined Lewis Hamilton on the podium after his win at the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria in July 2020.
PETRONAS has been the title and technical partner to the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 Team since 2010 and provides the Fluid Technology Solutions™ that power the Formula 1 car.
In her role as a PETRONAS Trackside Fluid Engineer, Stephanie works alongside the Mercedes-AMG racing team to monitor the health of the fuel and lubricants used during a Grand Prix. In the PETRONAS Trackside Lab, she analyses small samples of fluids from the racing cars, which is crucial to monitoring the performance of the vehicle throughout the weekend and ensures compliance with race regulations.
It’s not often that someone in a trackside support role is thrust onto the world stage, but that’s exactly what happened after Lewis Hamilton posted a lengthy tribute to the moment he shared with Stephanie on the podium. We caught up with Stephanie to talk about her career achievements and how it felt to make motorsport history.
You started working in the PETRONAS team after you beat more than 7000 applicants in a global talent search. What was it like to realise your lifelong dream of working in Formula 1?
It was a very surreal moment. I felt like I just wanted to scream when I found out I’d been selected! To be honest, I was so shocked and I even asked the team to repeat what they had said as I could not believe it. An important piece of advice I was given by my parents was to focus on myself and my journey throughout the process. I believe that helped me put the best version of myself forward at every stage.
Your first big race was the same day it was announced that you’d won the position. What do you remember about that day?
My first experience working alongside the team was at Barcelona pre-season testing in February 2019. That first day was a very special one for me and something that I will always remember. Being introduced to the team and welcomed with open arms from everyone, including Toto Wolff and the drivers. Being able to see these high-speed machines that I had always dreamt of working on, right in front of my eyes, is something I cannot put into words — even to this day.
A little over a year later you became the first black woman to stand atop the F1 podium. How did that feel?
It was such a momentous moment. And such an honour to be asked to represent the team and PETRONAS on the podium. I was celebrating with the rest of the team on the pit wall at the end of the race when I was told that I would go up on the podium — I thought they must have made a mistake! I didn’t have time to tell my family and friends that it was happening, but fortunately they watch every race so they saw it. It was a bit of a blur, but a moment that I will really treasure.
Lewis Hamilton has been vocal about improving diversity in motorsport, including calling out your own achievements in a social media post. What are some of the barriers facing women and people of colour to enter the sport, and what sort of action do you think teams and F1 could be taking to overcome them?
It still feels a little surreal when I think back to being given the honour of standing on the podium, and Lewis’ social media post. The response from all around the world to that moment was incredible and my social media really went crazy! It was amazing for Lewis to recognise my hard work, positivity and passion for my job in his post. That’s reflective of this whole team. It really is like a family, and Mercedes and Petronas give us an environment in which we can thrive.
I was very fortunate that the inaugural global talent search launched in 2018, it was the golden opportunity to get into Formula 1. It was the perfect opportunity for me, but also the result of a lot of hard work and dedication. I followed a STEM career because that’s where my passion is. I think it’s so important that others with a similar passion are also inspired to pursue their goals. It’s a very competitive sport and there are a limited number of jobs and opportunities available, but if you work hard and really have a passion for what you do, that will shine through.
I think there’s been fantastic progress from F1 and the teams this year and I look forward to seeing how this continues to develop.
What would your advice be to the next generation, particularly young women and people of colour, who are dreaming of a career in motorsport?
My advice to the next generation who dream of a career in motorsport is to work hard and follow your passions. I’d encourage any young person with a goal to just go for it.
By Mitch Parker