By Rebecca Whitlocke
As part of the FIA Girls on Track UK programme, Motorsport UK highlights the inspiring female figures working in motorsport. One such role model is Isla Mackenzie, who started out as part of the Girls on Track community and now works as a Dyno Technician at Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team.
In this interview with Rebecca Whitlocke, Isla talks about the importance of role models and women in motor racing, her journey to F1 and latest achievements.
Q: Hi Isla. You’ve had an interesting journey getting to where you are today – could you share with me how you got into motorsport? What inspired you growing up to pursue a career in this field?
A: Hi. I grew up on a dairy farm just outside Stornoway on a little island called the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, which at the time felt like a million miles away from Formula 1. My grandfather Hamish was a great influence for me growing up in a remote area. I was driving from around the age of 12 and always had an interest in mechanics and how things worked. As soon as I could drive legally, I had my own project cars, and that’s where my love for motorsport started. From there, I studied and got a degree in Motorsport Design Engineering and I landed my first job with Williams F1 in 2017 as a Prototype & Test Technician.
Q: How do you view the impact of initiatives such as Motorsport UK’s FIA Girls on Track programme and how it has helped you along the way?
A: I searched on social media and joined Dare to be Different (now GoT in 2020) around 2015, having no contacts or females to connect with in the F1 industry. The community has given me support and the chance to connect with other girls but also more awareness of the opportunities available in motorsport.
I believe it was those things, alongside volunteering with car clubs and small race teams, and even starting my own engine tuning business to gain as much experience as possible for my CV, that helped me stand out when it came to applying for jobs.
Programmes like this encourage members to ask advice from each other and share their successes to inspire others. It’s been a surreal experience where I first started attending networking events, and now I am invited as a speaker! In particular, I love the STEM and educational approach for young girls to foster their interest in motorsport.
The support and advice I’ve received from the Girls on Track UK community, particularly through the Facebook Group, have been amazing.
Rising Star in Motorsport: Behind the Scenes with Isla Mackenzie
Q: What advice would you give to young women looking to pursue a career in motorsport?
A: I was the only girl in engineering class – it wasn’t easy but you will integrate! I would say, first of all, find a community of like-minded women who share your goals and interests. When you have that supportive network and guidance from women already working in the industry it’s invaluable.
Also, don’t be afraid to get involved and get your hands dirty – take baby steps by giving it a go, such as volunteering with car clubs or small race teams. This can give you practical experience and make you stand out when applying for jobs.
Q: As a Dyno Technician at Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team, could you tell me more about your role and what an average day in the job looks like?
A: Essentially, my day-to-day role involves testing the power units and car systems (Lewis Hamilton, George Russell etc) to ensure they are reliable, operating as they should, and bringing as much performance as possible to the car.
It’s a really hands-on job that combines data analysis with technical skills. You need to have engineering and mechanical knowledge.
Q: Can you share with me your latest achievements – I’ve heard you’re transitioning to car racing?
A: Although I achieved my goal of working in Formula 1, the Girls on Track UK community has been instrumental in helping me chase my dream of becoming a racing driver. I started karting for IMC Motorsport, and now I’m working on progressing my car racing career with exciting opportunities in the Monoposto Formula 3 championship.
Q: We know that women are still underrepresented in motorsport. Let’s discuss sponsorship opportunities, media relations and what can be done to increase diversity and inclusivity in the sport?
A: One of the biggest barriers is a lack of role models and visibility of women already working in the industry. That’s why programs like Girls on Track UK are so important – they provide a supportive network and exposure to role models that young women might not otherwise see.
There are still challenges to be overcome, such as increasing funding for female drivers and addressing bias and discrimination in the industry. Ultimately, the more diverse and inclusive motorsport is, the stronger and more exciting it will be.
For sponsorship, you have to keep trying; you develop a thick skin so you don’t take rejections personally. I’m grateful to sign with Athlete Media Group too as dealing with media and client confidentiality is a learning curve for me.
Q: Lastly, who are your role models or mentors either in the motorsport industry or otherwise? Who do you admire that pushes you to follow your aspirations and make it happen?
A: Susie Wolff is a huge role model for me. I met her at a Connect event in 2018 and asked her for advice on how to deal with being the only female in my department at Williams. Her advice then still helps me today. Also, every female I have met in the industry has been a role model to me as they have shown me that you don’t have to be a man to succeed in motorsport.
Thank you to Isla for speaking to our writer Rebecca and shining a light on the crucial roles of women in racing teams, management, engineering, and other technical positions within motorsport.
Isla is an inspiring example of the importance of ongoing support, recognition, and equal opportunities for women in the industry.
Isla’s journey to single-seater racing will be told in a future BBC One documentary series, ‘Our Lives’ filmed and produced by MacTV at locations in Lewis and on the mainland including a number of the UK’s most famous racing circuits. Isla’s episode is 1 of 12 in the series, and her journey carries an empowering message about the potential for future generations of female motorsport professionals.
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