This week, we’d like to introduce you to Isla MacKenzie, a 27-year old from Stornoway on the Island of Lewis,who now lives in Oxfordshire and works in Formula 1 as a Technician, testing engines for Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains.
She’s already made us very proud of her achievements in engineering and motorsport.
Isla is about to compete in a major competition called ‘Formula Woman’, designed to select and fast-track six women racing drivers into top-level competition where they can compete against their male counterparts. ishga are delighted to sponsor her on her amazing journey.
Lewis isn’t really known for it’s fast cars! How did you become interested in engineering and motorsports?
I grew up on a farm and I used to love the freedom of driving quads around the croft. I’ve known how to drive since I was about twelve years old! Funnily though, neither my dad nor my brother were really into motorsports, but I loved watching them on television. I’ve just always been fascinated and I really enjoy driving fast!
My first car was a Ford Fiesta (my dad’s choice), but within nine months I had sold it for something faster, and I’ve always been interested in engines and working on cars and machinery.
When you were at school, was it a career you considered?
It wasn’t initially! I also had horses on the farm, and I loved animals too. I headed to Aberdeen University to study zoology when I left school, but I dropped out quickly after just two months. I hated letting anyone down, but my brother had studied engineering at college on the island, and so I thought I would do the same.
It was a great place to start, and I left with an HNC that enabled me to join a course at the University of the West of Scotland in Motorsport Engineering in the second year of an Honours degree.
What would you say to young girls who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I’d say go for it! You won’t be the only girl these days, and even if you are, you’ll make friends with the guys. There are so many initiatives now to encourage more diversity and women in engineering and motorsports. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know what you want at first – any time is a great time to do what you love.
Your job sounds very exciting! Can you tell us more about it?
I started applying for jobs as I approached the end of my degree, and was very lucky to be offered a job at Williams before I graduated. I just packed up with my little dog and headed to Oxfordshire, to the hub of the motorsport industry, close to Silverstone, and a place they call ‘The Motorsport Valley’.
At Williams I was lucky to work within an amazing team. I learned so much and made some great friends and contacts. At Williams I tested everything on the car except the engines, which were supplied by Mercedes. However, two months ago I moved to Mercedes where I’ll be testing the whole power unit. It’s my dream job really – I’ll be testing Lewis Hamilton’s engine!
Are there many other women working in Formula 1?
Both Williams and Mercedes are great at encouraging women into the industry. Claire Williams (daughter of Sir Frank Williams) was the Deputy Team Principal at Williams and when I was there we celebrated International Women in Engineering Day and Women’s Day and I was in a small group asked to deliver presentations to local schools (they came to the factory) and encourage the children’s interest in what we do.
Are there many other female racing drivers?
Not really! The only other female driver that I can think of is Susie Wolff who worked in Formula 1 until 2015. Susie is Scottish too, and she launched the Dare to be Different initiative in 2016 to encourage women into motorsport. She’s a great ambassador for women in sport.
The ‘Formula Woman’ competition sounds very exciting; can you tell us more about it and how you became involved?
Formula Woman was run once before in 2004, and was televised on ITV. It’s being run again to find six new female racing drivers and it’s open to anyone who loves driving, regardless of experience.
There will be about 600 competitors from all over the world, and through the competition, they will select six winners. Five slots will be for complete novices, and one will be for drivers with some experience. McLaren have donated two cars and the six winners will form two teams to compete in competition with the men next year.
What format will it take and what are they looking for in their winners?
We’ll be assessed in four areas, fitness, karting, driving and in our appeal commercially. Being a successful driver now is as much about your appeal to the media, and your ability to attract sponsors. I’m hoping that my experience in the industry, and my journey from the Island of Lewis to where I am now will really help!
You have to be light, fit and strong to withstand the G-forces involved in racing, and react and drive well. I’ve just started working with a personal trainer to help with that.
How will ishga’s sponsorship help?
It’s fantastic! I wanted to work with ishga right from the start, and they were the first people I asked to sponsor me. They are such a lovely company and held in such high regard at home and elsewhere. I love their products and their values.
I could have pursued sponsorship closer to where I live, but I’m still Isla from Lewis! I’m so proud of my background, and ishga reflects that so well. I’m just really happy to be able to promote something that I love so much too.
The competition will be televised - when can we expect it on our screens, and how can we follow your journey and support you?
The first assessments will be held in September – I’m actually involved in the very first assessment day! I think by November, the competitors will have been reduced to 50 people, then down to 16, then finally to the winning six in January.
In February or March the final six will receive intensive training to drive the two McLaren racing cars in competition. The winners will compete in the GT cup against the men, racing at the top level with the best coaching, cars and equipment.
I think the journey will be televised later next year as they watch the women compete! It’ll be really exciting.
At ishga we’re extremely proud to sponsor Isla and follow her journey! If you’d like to join us, follow her on social media - you can find her on Facebook and Instagram at Isla MacKenzie Racing. She’s a fascinating young lady with so much charisma and we’re sure this is just the start of a fantastic future! Good luck Isla!