Laurel Hill Racing
Genevieve Bachelet, Sophie Coleman, Alannah O’Connell, and Margherita Ní Fhlatharta of Laurel Hill Racing

Sophie Coleman, Alannah O’Connell, Genevieve Bachelet, and Margherita Ní Fhlatharta are all 6th Year students at Laurel Hill Secondary School in Limerick. The girls have formed a team ‘Laurel Hill Racing’ and entered it in the F1 in Schools competition. Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing them about this very special project, which is pioneering in their school.

F1 in Schools is a global competition where teams of students under 19 years of age are asked to design, build, and race their own miniature F1 cars. It starts out as a national competition, with the winning team going on to represent Ireland at the world final. Students use CAD/CAM software to design and manufacture their creations. The teams must raise sponsorship and manage budgets to fund their project.

It’s the first time a team from the Limerick all-girls school has ever entered the competition. With no Engineering classes available at the school and Technical Graphics only added recently, the girls are entering the competition against the odds, watching videos and online tutorials to teach themselves how to use the software to create their F1 car. And after meeting them, I’m convinced that they are absolutely thriving at it!

“Sophie and Alannah were already really interested in F1 and we’re all interested in the engineering part,” says team project manager Margherita. “So when we heard about the competition from our Maths teacher we were excited about the idea we could make our own F1 car.”

“During the first lockdown I was looking for something new to get into. I watched Drive to Survive on Netflix and I was so excited by it,” says Alannah. “With Formula 1 there is so much going on – the physics of the car, the intrigue of racing against one another – it’s not just about how fast your car can go; it’s also about your engineering and your teamwork.”

The girls began their project in October and now they are working on a proposal and looking for sponsors.

“We’re really focusing on our car designs at the moment and how we can improve them every step of the way so we can build the fastest car,” says Sophie, who has taken the role of social media and marketing manager in the team.

“Everything is a learning curve at this point,” says Alannah, who is leading on the technical side and getting to grips with the software they need to create their car.

“We’ve studied the air flow going over the car, we’ve looked at aerodynamics, we know about the drag and thrust of the car. We’re figuring out how to apply all of our science to the actual car right now and how we can use those to improve it and then we can see how fast we can get our car to go.”

The girls with their early prototypes!
Sophie, Margherita and Genevieve with the team’s early prototypes for the F1 in Schools project

The main objective of the F1 in Schools competition is to help change the perceptions of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by creating a fun and exciting learning environment for young people to develop an informed view about careers in engineering, Formula 1, science, marketing and technology.

“Before the competition I always had a sort of interest in STEM but after doing this and experiencing a STEM career with this project, it’s definitely something I would include in my college choices,” says Genevieve, who looks after graphic design for the project team. “Now I feel I have a good idea of what to expect.”

The girls reflect on the importance of role models in this space and where they draw their inspiration and motivation from. All talk about family who have set a great example, but also those in the public eye who draw attention to minorities and pave the way forward for them.

“In Formula 1 my idol is definitely Sebastien Vettel, he inspires me in every way – environmentally and in human rights, supporting the LGBT community,” says Sophie. “He’s also really fast and I just think he’s great!”

“In motorsport, it’s Lewis Hamilton,” says Margherita. “He’s the only black driver in Formula 1, paving the way for minorities in the sport.”

“For me it’s probably the first female F1 driver, Maria Teresa de Filippis,” says Alannah. “She was the first woman to ever drive a Formula 1 car. She went out there and said I’m not going to be a housewife. I’m going to sit in that car and race against you all and prove that women can be here too.”

“Michele Mouton is one of my big inspirations,” says Genevieve.  “I’ve seen her interviews and how she empowers women.”

“I love the fact that we are an all-girls team from an all-girls school,” says Alannah. “A lot of the teams we are competing against are all boys so it’s nice to know girls can do it too.”

The girls are clearly really breaking through barriers and they hope to inspire other girls in their school with their project and women in general.

“Regardless of how far we get in the competition, I hope that us as 6th Years in our school will prove to the other girls below us that you can go that bit further. Maybe it will open up more resources and bring Engineering into the school,” says Alannah. “It would open the doors to girls who might be more interested in that.”

Laurel Hill Racing are already changing the world just by entering F1 in Schools and representing their school for the very first time in the competition. Their teachers and school have been very supportive, which means a lot to their project.

“It’s really great to know there are people behind us, supporting us every step of the way,” says Alannah.

It’s clear that the girls are relishing this challenge and having loads of fun while doing it. In that way they will always be winners.

Laurel Hill Racing

Thanks to Sophie, Margherita, Genevieve and Alannah for taking part in this interview! I’m so excited to be following your journey in the F1 in Schools competition.

You can support Laurel Hill Racing by following them on Instagram here.

For more on F1 in Schools, click here.