Mélanie Péquet – Extreme E engineer: ‘We started with a blank piece of paper’
This is one of a series of interviews with women in key roles in Extreme E, the new electric off-road championship with a stated commitment to equality as well as the environment.
Mélanie Péquet, 32, works for Spark Racing Technology, developing high-performance electric vehicles. It has been her dream “to make cars go faster” since watching Formula 1 as a young girl. Now she designs and project manages the development of cars for Formula E, the motorsport championship for electric vehicles, and latterly for Extreme E. She lives just outside Paris with her husband and two children.
What is your background in this industry?
I always wanted to do what I am doing at the moment! When I was really young I wanted to make cars go faster, so I did engineering school and then specialised. I started as a mechanic, then became a data engineer, and then a designer.
What did you do on the Extreme E project and what is your current work?
For Extreme E, I was the development engineer at Spark. As we are a small team, we need to be flexible. My first job was to design the mechanical parts like the chassis and suspension, and the second was to oversee the production of each part with the suppliers. Finally, I was the link between the design team and the workshop during the car assembly.
The project was really interesting because we started with a blank piece of paper, with only the approximate dimensions data and proposed bodywork. We were not used to working on this kind of vehicle as our experience is mainly in Formula E. The dimensions of the Extreme E car – the Odyssey 21 SUV – are huge, and we had to adapt our design to make sure we would meet all the targets.
We started in 2018 and presented the car at Goodwood in July 2019. It was really intense.
Now I’m the project manager for our next project: the next generation of Formula E, called Gen3, which will run in 2022.
Spark Racing Technology: the build of the Odyssey 21 SUV
What were the main challenges with the Extreme E project and what could it achieve?
We don’t know where the track would be or what the conditions would be – whether the car would be running on sand, rock, ice, or water – so we had to be prepared for every condition. With Formula E you just have track.
I’ve always been concerned by the environment and sustainability, that’s why I joined Spark. So I hope we will be able to prove that the vehicle will be capable of doing things in lots of environments and in every condition.
I don’t want to be considered as a ‘woman’ – or a man! – but as an engineer.
Have you faced obstacles as a woman in this field?
I have thought a lot about this question. When I was younger, for example as a mechanic, when I wanted to learn a lot, maybe I had to prove that I was capable more than a man – maybe. But now I don’t want to be considered as a ‘woman’ – or a man! – but as an engineer. I’m doing the same job as my colleagues who are men. I don’t see the point of differentiating. If you are doing the job and you know what you are doing, it doesn’t matter.
What about in your studies – were there many women?
Maybe 10 women for every 100 men? But I think it’s starting to change; women are coming into motor sports and engineering, a bit more than a few years ago.
What drove your interest in cars when you were young?
Watching Formula 1. My dad is interested in cars, but not as much as me! While watching, I wanted to make the car faster to make it win. I was eight. I never wanted to do anything else. My parents were quite pleased! I was focused. I was doing all my studies. It made it easier.
How do you see the future of motor sports in terms of becoming more sustainable? Is there still resistance to electric vehicles or is the tide turning?
I think there is resistance from older people. The younger generation will get used to it. The technology will be electric.
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Photo credit: Extreme E and Charly Lopez