Don’t Let Anyone Tell You You Can’t

Anna Schwaiger is the Systems Low Voltage Engineer on the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. We had a Q&A with Anna after New York ePrix. Now ahead of R13 of Season 7 in London, let’s see how she realized her dream of becoming a motorsport engineer inspired by her childhood passion for Formula 1.

All photos © TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

Anna’s journey with motorsport started as a fan of Formula 1. Growing up in a family with technical background, Anna Schwaiger has always been interested in technical things. It naturally gives her perspectives in appreciating the technical side of motorsport. “I was surrounded by people working in a technical area – my grandfather is a locksmith and my dad works as a car electrician/technician. At first, I wanted to be a mechanic/electrician like my dad. But then I became increasingly interested in powertrain technology, suspension setup, tyre options, and so on. I certainly had a favorite driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, but becoming a driver was somehow never an option for me.”

Developing your passion into your career is something most people dream of, but are not able to achieve. For Anna, she found a path to put her passion to work when she was 14, and that path led to Audi’s DTM team. “I got involved in Enduro Motorcycle racing and met an engineer who did kind of a dual study programme – a combination of a mechanic apprenticeship and mechanical engineering studies. Although at the time, there was nothing suitable in the motorcycle sector for the training I wanted to do. I applied for such a study programme at different car companies, and that’s how I found my way to Audi.”

“After the second semester, Audi Sport offered me an internship in the Electric Systems department. Then an opportunity arose for me to spend the winter semester abroad in Spain with the SEAT Sport crew, which maintained one of Audi’s DTM test cars at that time. There, I was responsible for the electric measurement system on the DTM car for the winter testing. Ultimately, I joined Audi’s DTM race team as a systems support engineer.”

Starting from DTM, Anna continued in the sportscar world until 2019. She was the System & Electronic Engineer for Audi’s WEC LMP1 team and then Porsche’s WEC GTE team, responsible for all the sensors on the car, as well as the 12V electric and the data acquisition system. “The main task was to ensure that all sensors functioned correctly to provide the measurement data for the performance department, to keep the electric systems like headlights working, and provide the correct parametrization for the lap-distance-based software functions on the car. As the WEC races are between 6 and 24 hours, you have to monitor the telemetry at all times to react immediately should any errors occur.”

8h Bahrain in December 2019 marked Anna’s last race with Porsche’s WEC effort. This season, Anna set off on a new adventure with electric single-seaters and joined the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. New things await Anna in Formula E, and it’s a challenge she’s happy to take on. “Formula E was a new and thrilling project of strategic importance for Porsche. Working in that new area, which many experts consider the future of motorsports, was the challenge that engineers look for. I’m happy that I took the opportunity to join this project.”

In Formula E team, as the Systems Low Voltage Engineer, Anna is responsible for both cars of the team, making sure that all the electronic sensors and data acquisition are working. “Since there is only a limited amount of people allowed at the track, the systems low voltage engineer is the liaison between the systems software and systems performance engineer in the back office at Weissach and makes sure their parametrizations are programmed on the car at the right time. During the race, I have to listen to the radio to hear if the drivers report any problems and to advise the race engineer on what the driver needs in case of any systems-specific errors.”

Coming from years of endurance racing, a 45-minute Formula E race is a real sprint. The race distance is not the only new thing for Anna, tools in her everyday work are also different from what she was used to. “In Formula E, the races are much shorter and there is no telemetry to monitor the car. So, reaction times and decisions need to be very quick to keep the car in the race. When I started in the Formula E team, I had to learn the software tools for car parametrization and data acquisition, as it differs from the projects I worked on before. Additionally, the handling of communications and tasks is always a bit different in each team.”

The race never really stops at the chequered flag. After one race weekend, Anna’s work starts for the next one for that further 0.1s to improve. “As soon as the car software for the next event is finished, to prepare all the settings for each car, we are constantly reviewing and improving our procedures to be even more efficient at the next event. And if there had been a systems-related problem, we work on a solution together with the development department at home.” 

It’s all about bringing the best of your own experience to the team in the way it fits best. There are generally a lot of strong personalities coming together in a race team. The higher the level is, the stronger and more experienced the personalities, so their opinions may differ.

As an engineer, Anna’s work is technical, but she’s never lost touch with the human aspect in the paddock. As she has moved between different teams, respecting what’s already established on the team has always been a good way for her to fit into a new team.  “The key factor for me is to see and learn how other people work and react to different situations. This is definitely an ongoing process. When you are new to a team, you can’t just arrive and say: ‘I’ve always done it like this.’ Generally, if you treat everyone with respect, no matter what function he or she has in the team, that’s a good starting point.”

Beyond just the work, Anna’s best moments and challenges in motorsport also come from the human aspects of the paddock, from the deep relationships she’s built with the teams she’s worked with. “My best moments are not only the big moments like winning Le Mans or becoming world champion. It’s also about standing united as a team after something went wrong and coming back even stronger at the next race. Then at the same time, I’ve always found it hard to leave a team. When you spend so much time with the team travelling around the world it also means having to say goodbye to good friends.”

Motorsport doesn’t just mean travelling around the world, it also involves hard work and long working days. So, it’s better to get used to it. 

As a 24h Le Mans winner, a WEC World Champion, and a successful engineer in so many different motorsport categories, Anna is inspiring young kids to follow her steps. Here is some advice she’d give kids aspiring to be like her. “Pay attention at school. It’s never too late to improve, but it makes things a lot easier if you don’t have to take the long road. Take every opportunity you can to gain experience, to meet people, and make them remember you. Internships, Formula Student, and career days are good ways to start. And my most important advice: Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. If you really want to, you can.”

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