Bengaluru man on pole at F1 team Alfa Romeo

In essence, Rithvik is in charge of designing his team’s entire race
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 16:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 16:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 16:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 16:38 IST

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It wasn’t easy being Rithvik Dhananjay Reddy at the Sishu Graha School in Bengaluru.

Besides the fact that he wasn’t the brightest of students, he also happened to aggressively hold onto a dream so absurd, most found him and his vision un-relatable. He wasn’t an outcast, but he wasn’t an insider either.

Also, who takes the dreams of a boy seriously when that boy wants to be in Formula One?

Most every kid would want to be a driver draped in the luxury that comes with the profession, but no one really follows through. As for Rithvik, he didn’t really want to be a driver. He dreamt instead of being behind the scenes and running the race - a conductor without the baton.

Cut to now, Rithvik is now the Race Strategy Engineer with Alfa Romeo.

What that means is: “On Sundays, I choose what tyres we put, I decide when we make a pit stop, how much fuel goes in the car. Also, I decide what our plan of attack is and what our plan of defence is.”

The rest of the time, Rithvik has to keep his eyes and ears peeled for any and all information he can gather, discreetly of course, from other teams. From tapping into the radio stations of competitors to studying visual data sets for hours on end, he does all this and more in the days leading to Sunday.

“We are always looking outward, and at every point, during the race weekend, we look to maximise our potential on Sunday,” says Rithvik from his offices in Switzerland. “Sometimes we have to think as far back as Thursday to see if we need to take an engine penalty for the race. If so, does it benefit us or not? Are our competitors taking an engine penalty? That information is not public so we need to go out and find any set of data available.”

In essence, Rithvik is in charge of designing his team’s entire race. Quite the responsibility for someone who isn’t 30 years old yet. Also, he comes from a family with no attestable pedigree in racing.

“Every decision I make affects me, and it also affects the livelihood of 600 people who work at the factory. There are also two drivers who have put their faith in this team. They have given us their careers so it’s quite a big responsibility.”

Born to Karunakaran Gurunathan, who works at a venture capital firm in Bengaluru, and Thanuja Reddy, a homemaker, Rithvik had an affinity for automobile design growing up. Stoked by his grandfather and family at large, he took up an internship at Red Rooster Racing in 2011.

He wasn’t allowed to legally work with the rally team of such high repute, obviously, but the then 15-year-old wanted to learn the work nevertheless. Eventually, he landed the role of Data and Design Engineer with the same organisation.

“I realised I had to put myself in the best place to be accepted by Formula One teams so I decided to move to the UK and study in Oxford at Oxford Brookes University,” says Rithvik. “We don’t come from a wealthy background but the folks really bent over backwards to ensure I would go to college.”

In picking up a Master of Engineering in Motorsport Engineering, Rithvik had added a million gigabytes of theoretical knowledge to his experiential nous. Teams, they came calling.

As he had done his final year project with now-defunct Marussia racing, he was known enough for Scuderia Toro Rosso to sign him as the Aero Systems Placement Engineer. Basically, he was working design and such at the wind tunnel.

“I told them I wanted to move to the race team, and I wanted to move to Italy at the time. They moved me there and gave me a job in the race team and with strategy,” says Rithvik about his graduation to race strategy engineer at Scuderia Alpha Tauri.

Nearly four years into his gig with Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo brought him over in 2021.

“The biggest thing here is to perform under immense pressure and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can never crack and you can never have an off day. Every moment you’re awake, you’re at the track or at the factory, and the decisions you make are going to affect your championship.

"You cannot sit back and think for one point that you’ve quite good at this. Ten other teams and 20 other strategists are possibly vying for the best position. They’re all possibly better than me so I need to find something that sets me apart.”

Frankly, Rithvik doesn’t need to go in search of what sets him apart. Here’s the answer: drive.

Published 16 February 2023, 15:52 IST

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