Is Ruth Buscombe the Most Underrated Formula 1 Figure?
She’s among the most skilled of strategists in Formula 1…and among the least known, too.
There are more important names to remember in the current world of Formula 1 than there are stars in the sky. Maurizio Arrivabene, Ross Brawn, Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Newey...the list is longer than the birthday list of Dudley Dursley. It's easy to understand why a name like that of Ruth Buscombe, race strategist for Sauber's Formula 1 Team, could be missed. Nevertheless, she has been one of the most significant people that most people have heard nothing about in the last few seasons. This may be down to the fact that much of her influence has been on teams less headline-worthy than race winners like Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari. Her effect instead has been more prominent in three smaller teams: Haas, Sauber, and Manor.
According to magazine F1 Racing, 2013 saw Buscombe getting her real start with Scuderia Ferrari, as a race strategist that operated from the team's headquarters. She oversaw the strategy of their two different number two drivers during her stay there, formulating strategies for Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen respectively.
She stuck with Ferrari through 2015 before moving to the rookie outfit that was the Haas F1 team for 2016. There, she earned the team a jaw-dropping P6 finish in their debut race, and followed with an even more astounding P5 the following race weekend.
In the middle of the 2016 season, Buscombe migrated to Sauber, and in the rainy crucible that was the Brazilian Grand Prix, she put together a strategy that had the Sauber of Felipe Nasr finish in P9. This finish had critical effects on two teams—Sauber and Manor. Sauber, strapped for cash, may have needed the prize money from their 10th place Constructors' Championship finish to stay afloat, and with the two points they earned, they were put ahead of Manor, who had only a single P10 finish and one championship point. Manor, which had barely been able to save themselves from bankruptcy after 2014, were now without a bargaining chip with which to leverage sponsors for more cash—not to mention out of the prize pool. Earlier this year, the team shriveled up and closed its doors for good.
This past weekend, Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein started 15th. Backed by Buscombe's one-stop strategy, which banked on the car's wake of dirty air and minimal time spent in the pits, paid off. Wehrlein finished 8th, as faster competitors fell behind during numerous long pit stops, and found themselves unable to overtake on the fast Catalunya track. All this, accomplished with a car that is both down on power (Sauber cannot afford 2017 engines) and has a weak chassis.
Where will Buscombe be taken in the future? God only knows. Going by her recent interview with The Guardian, she may be content to stay at Kaltenborn-lead Sauber; or, she may go to Williams, which will likely be taken over by Claire, daughter of Sir Frank Williams himself. Anywhere her talent is appreciated is probably fine for Buscombe.