Driven to succeed! SA engineer to work with Lewis Hamilton

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Shau Mafuna will be working alongside his idol Lewis Hamilton for the upcoming season of Formula One. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Shau Mafuna will be working alongside his idol Lewis Hamilton for the upcoming season of Formula One. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Lewis Hamilton needs no introduction – he’s one of the finest Formula 1 drivers in the game, a seven-time world champion and a sportsman so exceptional he was knighted by the queen.

But Sir Lewis couldn’t do his job if he didn’t have a top team behind him, honing his cars into the lean, mean racing machines they are. And he now can count a South African engineering whiz among the specialists who keep his engine firing on all cylinders.

Johannesburg-born Shau Mafuna recently joined the Mercedes-Benz AMG High Performance Powertrains team in the UK as a mechanical engineer in the F1 division and he describes it as an incredible opportunity.

“Joining the leading F1 manufacturer has always been a dream of mine and the fact this specific manufacturer is behind the success of my idol, Lewis Hamilton, made me want to be part of this team more than any other F1 team,” Shau (29) tells YOU.

He is one of a team of engineers responsible for the design and maintenance of the intricate components that make up the best F1 power unit, the assembly components that thrust F1 cars into motion.

“The team ensures the parts perform the way they should and try to understand how to optimise them and make them even better to give our driver the best package out there,” he explains.

“I’m really excited to be in this position and I’m relieved – permanent roles in F1 at Mercedes don’t come by that easily and it’s been a stressful and challenging few months trying to prove myself worthy.”

Shau is also hoping to inspire other South Africans to dream big and aim high. “F1 may seem like Hollywood back home, but that shouldn’t deter young talent from aspiring to work in this industry.

“South Africans are often much better than we think. Don’t doubt your skills.”

F1, Shau Mafuna, engineer
Shau will be part of the team of engineers responsible for the design and maintenance of the intricate components that make up the best F1 power unit. (PHOTO: Supplied)


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Shau dreamt of becoming a F1 driver growing up. The racing bug bit when he attended a friend’s motocross racing-themed birthday party in Midrand.

While many of his peers were mad about football, rugby and cricket, Shau was glued to the small screen watching legendary race kings such as F1’s Michael Schumacher and rally drivers Sarel van der Merwe and Gugu Zulu.

“I learnt from them that if your name is on a product, a service or anything then you have to try your best to ensure it’s represented to a high level,” he says. “I’m not one to go around bragging about ‘Oh I did this or that’. I would rather my work speak for itself.”

Shau’s dad, Eric, who was the founding president of the Black Management Forum in the 1970s and is a successful businessman, recognised his son’s passion for racing and bought him a go-kart when he was a boy.

“Being a racing driver was my main goal and I had the opportunity to race karts at a young age for many years,” Shau says. “Being a driver is a dream that remains, but the financial demands of becoming a successful professional driver are quite high and trying to make it without sponsorship is extremely difficult.

“Sadly, my dream came to a halt as I was finishing high school. I was told by my father to ‘go get a degree’ before trying to continue this journey. I was angry about that as all I wanted to do was race.”

F1, Shau Mafuna, engineer
Shau grew up racing go-karts and dreamed of being a professional driver. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM_SHAU_M)

Nonetheless, Shau listened to his dad and went to Wits, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering before fulfilling a dream his dad was denied: studying abroad.

As a young man, Eric won a scholarship to Princeton University in the US but the apartheid government refused to issue him with a passport, blocking him from studying there.

Shau says he later realised the importance of his father’s insistence that he gets a degree.

“I realised I could use an engineering degree to still reach F1 even though I may not be the driver. I’ve always said if I’m not going to be driving the car, I want to be part of the engineering behind it.”

He moved to the UK in 2019 to do his master’s degree at Oxford Brookes University.

The university’s engineering school – and the Mercedes AMG team – is in Motorsport Valley, a vast cluster of firms based around Oxfordshire and the Midlands which supplies cutting-edge technology to F1 and many other motorsport sectors. They design and manufacture components used in most of racing categories worldwide.

While studying, Shau was part of the Oxford Brookes University’s Formula Student team and after completing his studies he worked as a product engineer at Mercedes’ Work Experience Academy for a year.

He then applied to be appointed as a mechanical engineer and, after a gruelling interview process with some of the best brains in the business, he was accepted.

F1, Shau Mafuna, engineer
When not working in the Mercedes factory, Shau does competitive weightlifting. (PHOTO: INSTRAGRAM_SHAU_ M)

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The young engineer credits his dad for helping him get to where he is today.

“He is my biggest supporter but at the same time he’s the one I have to make proud with every move I make. He has given up a lot for me to be here, and all I ever want to do each day is show him how grateful I am by being the best I can be each day. I cannot wait to come home and see him and the rest of my family.”

Shau has been living in the UK with his partner, South African Tamara de Jong, a showjumper and brand manager, since moving to the country to further his studies.

“Tamara has been my rock – she’s what I get to call my tiny family on this side. I would not be where I am today without her, as we have been carrying each other through the tough times while trying to restart our lives on this side and chase our dream careers.”

F1, Shau Mafuna, engineer
Shau and his partner Tamara de Jong moved to the UK in 2019 to pursue their dreams. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM_SHAU_M)

In his spare time Shau is an avid weightlifter, which helps him to disconnect from work “and take any stress and frustration out in a controlled manner”.

“When I’m not lifting weights in the gym, I’m either exploring this country or trying to expand my network within the motorsport industry.”

Shau and his team are now preparing for the start of the F1 season, which kicks off in Bahrain in March.

“What’s kept driving me to get where I am today is how badly I want to achieve my goals,” he says. “You will always come across failure, disappointment and barriers along the way, but the most important thing is to ensure that giving up is never an option.

“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”


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