• Stephanie Travers and En De Liow are fluid engineers for Mercedes F1's fluid partner, Petronas.
• Stephanie joined the team in 2019 and En De in 2020.
• Both engineers are 26-years-old.
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While Lewis Hamilton has charged to a record-equaling seventh Formula 1 championship in 2020, we are only confronted with his on-track skill and talent. But what many of us, perhaps selectively, are disregarding, is the fact that Hamilton has an entire team behind him that works towards ensuring he has a competitive car when he takes on a race weekend. From the men and women designing the racecar to the team responsible for the mechanicals, everyone plays a vital role in ensuring that his car is in tiptop shape.
However, did you know that Hamilton and all the drivers in cars powered by Mercedes engines are at the mercy of two 26-year-old engineers? Oh yes, Zimbabwean-born Stephanie Travers and En De Liow are tasked with the all-important job of ensuring that the fluids supplied by Mercedes' fluid partner, Petronas, are up to standard and compliant with the FIA's regulations. They are, quite literally, responsible for the impeccable performance of Mercedes' F1 engine.
Stephanie joined Petronas at the start of the 2019 season, while En De came onboard for the 2020 season. Both participated in Petronas' Global Talent Search program and went through a rigorous five-stage application process, culminating in an 'Amazing Race'. Stephanie's race, in 2018, took place around Kuala Lumpur's city centre where she had to find Petronas' CEO and answer a final round of questions, which she passed, opening the door for her to join the team at the start of last year.
En De says that his race took place in the headquarters building, but it had the same goal as Stephanie's. He officially joined Petronas in 2019 after completing the application process and joined Stephanie as Trackside Fluid Engineer in 2020.
What does the job entail?
As with every technical aspect of F1, being a fluid engineer does come with its own set of challenges. As such, the trackside fluid engineers are tasked with ensuring that all the Petronas Syntium oil and Tutela functional fluids are complaint with the FIA regulations. This includes, but is not limited to, monitoring the reliability of the engine and gearbox throughout an entire race weekend. When it comes to the engine and gearbox, the duo uses a spectrometer to identify excessive wear on these two hardware pieces.
Stephanie says: "The spectrometer works similar to doing a blood test on a human, where we can see all the different metal within each sample. A combination of different metals will raise alarm bells or say that everything is okay; allowing us to detect looming engine failures or gearbox problems. So, it's very important to do the analysis as soon as we get samples so we can see exactly where we are and to monitor the reliability of the car."
When it comes to the fuel, Engen Primax, and other lubricants, the two engineers monitor it using a gas chromatograph. This device is used to analyse fuel samples and ensuring that it matches the fuel supplied to the FIA before going trackside. The process, says Stephanie, is like taking one's fingerprints. The fuel that goes into a racecar throughout a race weekend must match the fuel sample supplied to - and approved by - the FIA ahead of the race weekend. They are also responsible for ensuring that all fluids are not contaminated in any way.
According to En De, this is the "short answer" of their job description.
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Time for work and play
If you understand the intricacies of F1, you'd know that teams are often exposed to long working hours. From arriving trackside early on a Friday morning to leaving late on a Sunday night, there is a lot that goes into ensuring that a race weekend runs smoothly. The trackside engineers are responsible for the fuel and lubricants for every race weekend on the 2020 F1 calendar, which adds to the pressure of ensuring perfection is met.
The two engineers say that Fridays usually are the toughest, as they arrive early on a Friday and leave late that very night. Sometimes they clock out around 01:00 on a Saturday morning, getting only a few hours of sleep before being at the track again for the third practice session and qualifying. Of course, this does take its toll, but they have a team behind them that make working 70 to 80 hours over a race weekend worth it.
The dedication to the sport and their tasks is commendable, and one can take solace in the fact that F1 is in the hands of young, passionate, and capable engineers. These two trackside fluid engineers may be in their mid-20s, but they have proven, as a collective, that they are a championship-winning formula.