Inspirational, Interview, Women In Motorsport

Donna Law, F1 CFD Engineer

Hello! Today, I have a special post for you all! It’s about Formula 1 CFD [computational fluid dynamics] engineer Donna Law. Computational fluid dynamics is defined as “the analysis of fluid flows using numerical solution methods” by Femto Engineering. This article marks my first interview with someone who works in a STEM field! Enjoy!

Donna’s fascination with Formula 1 began at the age of 13. During her childhood, her father followed racing and she described motorsport as being often on her family’s television.

“And then for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to watch it – not just because it was on in the background – but because I really enjoyed it. Even the support series piqued my interest. And I just tried to watch as much of the highlights as I could. TV was a bit harder back in those days!”

While her love of Formula 1 came at a relatively early stage in her life, Donna’s initial desire wasn’t to pursue F1 engineering. Donna told me that at first, she wanted to become a motorsport journalist instead. However, at 16, Donna discovered the Formula Student* challenge. Over her lunch break, she chose to join the competition and pursue engineering. The very next day, she changed her A level subjects in order to study engineering at university. 

Donna was accepted into Brunel University in West London for a degree in Motorsport engineering. During her time there, she participated in Formula Student. When we spoke, Donna pointed out that Formula Student also has several non-technical aspects, including a marketing side of things.

Donna is two from the right on the top row.

In Donna’s third year at Brunel, she did a year of industrial placement at an F1 team – a year she says greatly helped her with experience for future positions. Below is a bit more about her role that year, in her own words:

“Some teams have different kinds of development schemes – both their graduate and industrial placement schemes – where you might spend three months each in different departments, moving around. The role that I did meant I was in the aerodynamics department the entire year doing various bits and pieces. I did a lot of CFD when I was learning in my first year.”

After graduating from university with a degree in Motorsport Engineering, Donna joined the team in which she had spent her industrial placement year. She’s been there ever since, spending three years as an Aerodynamics engineer before transitioning into CFD engineering.

Donna in the simulator

“My current role is a CFD engineer, as well as running our car development in the wind tunnel, we’ve also got our virtual wind tunnel environment. So, the designers are looking to us to find products, which physics models we’re using, and how we build the grid structure that we use.” [Donna later explained grid structure to me “as like building a 3d jigsaw puzzle, where we’re solving equations for velocity and pressure for each piece of that puzzle to predict the overall aerodynamic loads and flow structures (e.g. vortices generated by the front wing, or the wake generated behind the wheels).”]

As to what she finds most rewarding about her job, Donna replied it’s solving problems, that she’s always asking herself ‘how can I do this better?’.

“It’s also a case of ‘how do we get ourselves a step forward with new technologies that we’re trying out?’ I get to do a lot of coding, so for me, that’s something I didn’t do during my degree. I work with our software developers; we get to learn things to improve what we’re doing. I find it satisfying to go ‘yeah, this situation has been made better for the aerodynamicists to get to the results they want’.”

When reflecting on this interview, I realised one of the things I really admire about Donna: her confidence in her own abilities. Throughout our chat, her attitude of cracking on with the job at hand and constantly pushing herself stuck out to me. Her determination and perseverance are a lesson to us all.

That’s all this week, guys! I hope you liked this piece! Massive thank you to Donna for your time & for allowing me to interview you! Stay tuned for more posts & be sure to follow @otpwblog on Instagram for updates and site news!

* I’ve written about Formula Student before on my blog, as many F1 engineers have taken part in the challenge. In my ‘Celebrating Women in Engineering’ article for Females in Motorsport, I wrote, “Formula Student is a competition in which contenders produce and test their own small-scale racing car against schools from across the globe.” If you’d like to read more about it, head to this link.

Cover Image credit: SimScale