Isla Mackenzie: "It was just a passion of mine, I think it must be in me."
Isla Mackenzie currently works in F1 for Mercedes AMG HPP, but is now putting herself behind the wheel as a Formula Woman applicant for their 2021 season. The 27-year old from Scotland will be making her FW debut in Anglesey, the track of the first full assessment day, and she is heading into it at full throttle. Isla told me about all her preparations during the interview, saying,
“I’ve got a fitness coach called Claire Johnson, her brand is The Naked Warrior, she approached me and she’s all about female empowerment and helping women reach their goals. And she is now working with me, keeping me right on track and making sure I’m getting the fitness side of things squeezed in whether thats in the evening or on the weekend. She’s given me a diet plan, and before I was doing the bare minimum in terms of fitness, so now she’s working to get my overall strength and stamina up.
"I’m also doing interviews, I’ve got a few newspaper articles coming out and a production company interested in filming my journey. Then luckily for me, I’ve had some interest from BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic BBC channel, to do some filming for some things on there. I think I’m going to try as hard as I can to gain a bit of a following and try and get my name out there so when the time comes I will be more confident in front of cameras and having interviews.
“[Driving training] is the last thing I’ll need, and I am delighted to say that I have now got myself some great sponsors supporting me on this journey - ishga, Neil Mackay & Co, SKC OH, MEPG Ltd, Two Seas Hebrides & Turner Motorsport. ishga are my title sponsor, they are an organic seaweed skincare company from the Isle of Lewis (where I am from) so I am super excited to have them on my journey. And Turner Motorsport are a motorsport shop based in Scotland who I actually worked for during my time at university - thanks to them I have a full race kit now! I've used my sponsorship money so far on some karting tuition and a track day at Goodwood, then I have a few more Formula Woman organised events too coming up next month!”
With all of this in hand, Isla is determined to make a name for herself on track. She will be at Anglesey proving she has what it takes to win.
"It would be amazing to win and [the GT Cup (prize of the FW championship)] would obviously be my 2022 plans. Seeing how I go with it, I think I would actually prefer track racing and I’d love to end up in a single seater series. My goal and dream, even if don’t do well in that, would be to get into some kind of Formula 4 championship, to keep rolling onwards and getting more known to get sponsorships secured.
"I’ve had this in the back of my mind for at least 12 years now. My grandpa was a farmer so we had a family farm, and I was driving from a young age, which I’ve always loved. When I was old enough to pass my driving test and have my own cars I always ended up working on them myself, making them faster. It was just a passion of mine, I think it must be in me. I’ve done a rally experience day and some drift days as well, I started building a rally car during university but that never came through and I quickly learned how expensive that was. I kind of put it to the back of my mind and ended up focusing on my career instead until I saw the Formula Woman opportunity come up.
"I think everybody was a beginner at some point, which I will be in terms of track racing, but I feel I’m definitely more mature now, I know what I want and I’m determined to get it. I finally feel quite settled down south, obviously it was a big move for me away from friends and family. I got my house and my new job and I feel that this opportunity has come up at the perfect time, especially after lockdown when everyones seeing life a little bit differently. I think I couldn’t not go for it, I couldn’t wait another year in case it doesn’t come up again."
Isla will be familiar with the hectic world of formula racing, given her work in F1 with a career path that most dream of. Out of university, she started as a Prototype and Test technician for Williams Racing 3 years ago, then recently moved to Mercedes’ engine testing department.
"When I was at university, I loved the engine side of motorsports. My dissertation was actually on engine performance as well so it’s always been a keen interest of mine. I actually wanted to work for myself, start an engine tuning business, then I thought about working in rallying, ending up in WRC because I really liked rally cars. It was just by pure luck that I ended up with an interview at Williams and it was like a dream for me. Once I started there it was just a complete eye-opener and it really is the pinnacle of motorsport. I’m really grateful to be working now at a company that makes the engines F1 cars run on. One of the highlights was I got to go the Silverstone tyre test in 2019 with Williams working alongside their tyre engineer and that was amazing.
"Now that I’ve worked in F1 it’s exactly where I want to be. I would love to see where the driving myself takes me, but I really do love engineering and I hope to stay here for the rest of my career. I don't think I would [go into my own business] because from the jobs I have had so far, I really like being part of a team and, and I think I’m much happier having lots of people around me. It will also hopefully help me with Formula Woman with being in a high-pressured environment."
"Now that I’ve worked in F1 it’s exactly where I want to be.
Isla is also part of the Dare to Be Different program, which was started by Susie Wolff back in 2016 to encourage young girls to get involved in the motorsports industry. When I asked her what Formula Woman meant to her and what potential it could have, she replied,
"I think it is absolutely fantastic that the entry fee is very low and that it’s open to women of all ages, because the initiatives I’ve seen from other places so far seem to cap at 16 years old. It’s great for young drivers but not really for people my age who’d love to go into racing too. The amount of women who would want to do it surely from back [in 2004] to now will be a lot more, I think the potential is huge and once it's been on TV, that it will grow and grow, and I think that they will genuinely find racing drivers from it.
"It really should be no different being a female in motorsport but as it's so male dominated, you have to have these initiatives, at least until we do get a more level playing field in terms of gender etc. If other initiatives were inspired by Formula Woman, perhaps to focus on maybe people who'd love to drive who maybe have a disability or are lower income, that would be great.
"[Compared to other female-inclusive series,] I think Extreme E is great with the fact that 50% of the grid is female, and of course W Series, because I believe there's no entry fee I don't think I think that's fantastic, but these are all for experienced racing drivers. So Formula Woman's different in the sense that it is a very cost effective way for women to become a racing driver from the start."
Susie Wolff also stands out as one of Isla’s biggest role models in the sport, alongside drivers across F1 and rallying.
"Some of my favourite F1 drivers would be Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, and Sergio Perez. Beyond that one of my favourite people in the paddock is Susie Wolff because she Scottish, I’m Scottish, and two she's she's done a fantastic job with racing. Also she's a Formula E team principal and a mother and wife, so I just think she's a complete all around role model for girls out there. She's done so much with her life already and she's just a total inspiration. Then Molly Taylor, I’ve been following her for years now. She’s probably my favourite from the rallying world (along with Colin McRae) and she’s really fast."
With her experience of working in the pinnacle of motor racing, Isla has plenty of advice to share with aspiring girls looking to go into motorsports.
"I would make sure to have your CV stand out and not put too much pressure on yourself where it doesn't have to be. You don’t have to be going to help some race team every weekend, although that would be fantastic. It doesn't just have to be that, there's so many different ways you can make yourself and you CV stand out, like showing that you can work as part of a team and also be independent, that you’re determined. If I was going to give myself advice if I was still in university it would be to do extras on top of studying.
"But definitely number one would be don't even think about being a minority if you're only one of few females in the class, and try your best not to worry about what anyone thinks and and to just go for it in what you want to do."
This was such a cool interview with Isla, and all of her socials are linked below! Follow my Twitter to keep up to date on my new articles and share if you enjoyed it!