Oxford Brookes Racing celebrates first woman Team Lead on International Women’s Day 2023

An image of Tessa Waldron accompanied by staff and students from the University, and also Matt Western MP, Shadow Higher Education Minister
Tessa Waldron (centre) pictured during a visit to Oxford Brookes by Matt Western MP, Shadow Higher Education Minister (second from left) in October 2022.

Oxford Brookes University is celebrating International Women’s Day 2023 by featuring the story of Motorsport Engineering student Tessa Waldron, the first woman Team Lead of the University’s Formula Student team, Oxford Brookes Racing.

Read on to find out more about her journey from a teenager doing work experience at a local garage, to heading up the UK’s most successful Formula Student team. 

When did your love for motorsport begin?

Tessa: “When I was 15-years-old I set up my own week of work experience at a local garage, working with normal everyday cars. I knew that I didn’t want to spend time in an office, making cups of tea and coffee, which is what a lot of my friends were doing.

“I much prefer a hands-on type of approach to working, so I walked to the local garage and asked if they would  have me and luckily they agreed. I had a great week of experience there and the garage environment was a great fit for me. I was involved in working on things like MOTs and changing car tyres. I really enjoyed the week I spent there, and I stayed there for another three years doing part-time work on the weekends.

“It was from that work experience that I really knew that this was an industry that I wanted to go into.” 

How has being a part of Oxford Brookes Racing and Formula Student helped your motorsport career? 

Tessa: “My decision to join Oxford Brookes Racing during my first year of university was one of the best decisions I made in my motorsport career.

“I remember back when I was in school I went along to the Blancpain GT World Challenge at Brands Hatch. The Director from Bentley said at the time that he believed motorsport students that didn’t have Formula Student experience would be at a real disadvantage, and that really stuck with me and drove my desire to apply for a university that had a team. Oxford Brookes has the UK’s most successful Formula Student record, and has excellent connections with Formula 1 teams, so it became my first choice very quickly. 

“After my first two years of studying Motorsport Engineering, I got a placement at Mercedes High Performance Powertrains where I was working on the Project One car and the Mercedes W13. It was a great experience and I learnt so much during my year there. 

“I wouldn’t be half the engineer I am now without being a part of Oxford Brookes Racing and Formula Student. It’s taught me so much of what I know, and it’s made me more well rounded. It’s such an excellent bonus along with my undergraduate studies in Motorsport Engineering.”

Tessa Waldron pictured with colleagues at Formula Student
Tessa (far left) at Formula Student 2022 held at Silverstone, pictured alongside (left to right) Oxford Brookes Racing colleagues Chaitanya Mehta, Scott Ley, and Tor Nielsen.

How easy/ difficult has it been for you to enter this industry as a woman?

Tessa: “The reality is that the motorsport industry is largely occupied by men, but thankfully most people don’t care about that, and if you can do a good job within the team then that’s what is important.

“At Oxford Brookes, and in the Formula Student community, if you’re passionate about motorsport and ready to work hard for the team there’s a place for you here regardless of your gender, ethnicity, or nationality.

“From having spoken with some engineers when I was on placement who have been working for upwards of 30 years, they told me that in their experience there were no women in motorsport engineering back in their studying days many years ago, but they have seen an increase in that time up until today. 

“I would love to be able to see increasing numbers of women, but also ethnic minority groups, getting involved in motorsport engineering.”

Tell us about your journey to becoming the first woman Team Lead of Oxford Brookes Racing

Tessa: “Every Formula Student team works differently, but having had two years of experience in the team I became very familiar with how it works and what the overarching aims were for the team. We just want to build a great car, get it running well, and to be competitive at Formula Student. I wanted to be a part of making sure that happened.

“Additionally, I want to be able to give back to the team what I gained from it in my first two years. I see first and second year students now coming into the team, and I feel very passionate about passing on the knowledge and expertise that I learnt from my peers when I was in their position. There is a great team ethic and morale here, in that everyone enjoys learning from each other.

“During my placement with Mercedes before my third year studying, it was on my mind to potentially apply to become Team Lead for this academic year, and I had conversations with Gordana Collier (Head of School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics and Principal Academic Advisor for Oxford Brookes Racing) about going for the role.

“There was an application process where I had to submit a written letter on why I felt I was a good candidate for the role and thankfully I was given it.

“I’m proud to be Oxford Brookes Racing’s first woman Team Lead, and if it has had any influence on girls coming along then that’s great because  we do need more women in leadership positions.”

What words of advice do you have for young people, women in particular, who are interested in a motorsport career? 

Tessa: “If I could speak to my 15-year-old self now then I’d say to just keep doing what you’re doing. I was always outspoken and I would have advised myself to keep doing that, I wouldn’t change anything about my journey so far. Go after what you want and keep pushing until you get it, you often won’t get things right the first time, but keep pushing and learning until you do get it right. I'm here today from what I've done off my own back and I am proud of what I have done. 

“Likewise if I was speaking to today’s younger generation of women I’d tell them that they are just as capable as the boys at thriving in motorsports. The only road block is yourself, no one will tell you you can’t do it because you’re a woman, and the industry is open to whoever is good enough to be a part of it.”

Gordana Collier, Principal Academic Adviser for Oxford Brookes Racing and also Head of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, said: “We are delighted to have a strong group of women engineering leaders in the School, students and staff, being the role models on our journey to improve gender balance in Motorsport Engineering.”