The Challenging and Rewarding Journey to Victory

Cristina Mañas is the Performance Engineer working with Mitch Evans on the Panasonic Jaguar Racing team. During a race weekend, she is responsible for analyzing the data from the car to make it go faster, to help Evans and the team fight for victory. We had the opportunity to talk to Cristina and hear her story of an engineering student maturing into a motorsport engineer on a top-level team in Formula E.

Cristina’s journey with motorsport began as the daughter of a Fernando Alonso fan. While Papa Mañas was more interested in following the driver, Cristina was more interested in the machine and the technology behind it. “My father would follow Alonso as a fan, and I would sit down with him and watch the races with him. I’ve always been interested in everything in science. Watching those machines was interesting to me. I was always keen to know more about it. I wanted to be one of the people I see on TV working on those cars.”

The simple thought of ‘being one of the people working on those cars’ led to her field of study in the University – Industrial Engineering – and like many aspiring motorsport engineers in the University, Cristina participated in Formula Student to get hands-on experience in building a racing car. “By the time I went to university, I knew I definitely wanted to do something motorsport specific. We don’t have anything in the university that was motorsport-focused alone in Spain. But the engineering principles tought in Industrial Engineering – the principles of physics and maths – are really applied to all running machines. Formula Student is a really great platform for students to get on to doing something practical in the sense that it’s not about calculating things on the paper anymore. There is a trial and error process where you realize what you designed on a computer doesn’t really fit on a car. You also get a bit of the flavor of racing funding and getting partnerships. I think in many respects, for someone interested in motorsport, it’s definitely a great project to be involved in when you are in the university.” 

When Cristina first joined Williams Advanced Engineering (Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s technical partner), she was working as a Simulator Engineer, which is a more factory and lab-based role focusing on R&D. Now she is a Performance Engineer, working trackside every race weekend. The two jobs sound different, but according to Cristina, they are quite linked. “In a simulation, it’s a virtual car model that has to be a complete model. It has to behave like a real car. It is a lot more theoretical and the basic engineering principles go into it. The Performance Engineer’s role has more data analysis aspect to it. Your focus is on understanding how to make every area of the car to work its best and ultimately all areas work in sync and make the car faster. There are differences in between, but in my day-to-day, I do a bit of both. It’s not like I’ve completely left aside the R&D side of things.”

As everything, including the Performance Engineer’s input, goes into the Race Engineer during a race weekend, one might assume, from the outside, that the career goal of a Performance Engineer would be to grow into a Race Engineer. However, as Cristina explained how in her day-to-day she still does a lot of R&D work, continuing with an R&D path is a more natural progression in the longer term. “The skills between the Race Engineer and Performance Engineer are certainly quite different. Race engineering is more about the orchestra of everything. I’m not targeting the Race Engineer role to be my next step. I would like to progress into something related to more data analysis, something in the line of R&D.”

The best memory of my career is any time we’ve won a race. That moment when your car crosses the line first, ahead of everyone else, it pays off for all the work and effort we put into making that car.

Formula E is unique and iconic for its venue – cities around the world, rather than permanent circuits in the middle of nowhere. Visiting an amazing city and watching an exhilarating electric car race is obviously attractive to the audience. But would it be a nightmare for engineers when they test their car on permanent circuits but can only race it on the far less ideal surface? “I wouldn’t necessarily say that there is anything completely out of the window or unexpected when we get to a new track. But definitely, there is a lot more reactivity required from our side to react to last-minute changes. The surface certainly could be a bit unexpected, and we may not have the track layout very clearly defined well in advance for us to prepare for it in the factory. There is always uncertainty that you have to deal with. We try in our testing to be able to build up our toolbox so that we are ready to react to any changes. Something may not be what you expected, but you have tools enough to react to it and get your car where you need it.”

Cristina with Jamie Chadwick during Formula E Rookie Test on March 1st, 2020

Reacting to changes during a race week used to be the task. This year, however, reacting to what has been happening in the world, and certainly, our small motorsport world, becomes the real trial. When the season came to a halt, the team went home and used the long break to work on things they didn’t have time for before, and to prepare for a better fight when racing comes back. When racing finally came back in the most intense form, the team was ready to tackle any obstacles lying in front of them. “When this long break came along, all of us could focus more on the list of things we wanted to do in the past but didn’t have time to do. We come up with new tools, new systems, new ways of analyzing things or doing things on the car. The three double-headers in Berlin were a great effort from the organization so that we could get the season finished. We reacted to everything as in every other race. I think the whole team tried to prepare in advance mentally for the fact that we are going to have races in so many days one after another. We made a big effort to make ourselves as aware as we could of the workload to come, so that we could be as prepared as possible.”

I really like what I’m doing, if I don’t, I’d be doing something else. I’m still doing this, that only means it’s because it pays off in the end. It’s a good thing in Formula E that it’s relatively small teams. You are free to come up with ideas. That’s challenging in itself. It’s giving you the freedom of coming up with things, but then you have to work harder to prove that they are worth being put on the car. It’s good learning for us as engineers. It’s more rewarding.

The new season of Formula E, which will now be a World Championship, kicks off in January in Santiago. We wish Cristina and the Panasonic Jaguar Racing team have more and more great results to come!

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