Dehradun to Vienna, Monisha Kaltenborn brings a welcome change to male-dominated F1 world

By | January 31, 2015

In the series of articles on Indians and India’s contribution, we begin with Dehradun-born Monisha Narang, who migrated to Austria and married Mr Kaltenborn. She became the Sauber F1 team principal in Jan 2010 and her many witty exchanges with Force India team principal Vijay Mallya apart, the teams headed by these two principals fought closely and are in the midfield.

Here are Excerpts from Sauber Motorsport AG interview from Hinwil:

As a child her ambition was to be an astronaut. When she made her first acquaintance with the world of motorsport, she was determined one day to compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally. Monisha Kaltenborn had no time for minor aspirations. She plotted her career path early on: law was what interested her, and she also had an executive position firmly in mind. Now aged 43, Kaltenborn’s career trajectory led her from the Fritz Kaiser Group straight into Formula One. In 2010 she was appointed CEO of the Sauber F1 Team – the first woman to head up the business operations of an F1 outfit. On 11th October 2012 she also took on the role of Team Principal.

She was still a child when her family decided to emigrate from their homeland of India and settle in a different part of the planet. “Back then it happened not out of necessity but more out of curiosity,” she recalled, “and in the end my parents opted for Vienna.” It was there that Kaltenborn completed her law degree and took on Austrian citizenship. She was to continue her law studies at various internationally renowned universities, worked for the United Nations as well as for German and Austrian law firms. When she joined the Fritz Kaiser Group in 1998, Kaiser was a shareholder in the Red Bull Sauber F1 Team. The group’s legal and corporate affairs became Kaltenborn’s responsibility. When Kaiser sold off his shares in the team at the turn of the millennium, she moved to Hinwil to run the Sauber Group’s legal department. She has been on the Board of Management since 2001, which she now heads after her appointment as CEO in 2010.

Negotiating contracts with drivers, sponsors and suppliers was her daily fare over all those years. She also dealt with relations with the FIA, the commercial rights holder FOM, and FOTA. Prior to 2010 she rarely appeared on the public radar, though she was well known to company directors and key figures such as Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt. Unlike a former team boss: “For a whole year he assumed I was Peter Sauber’s interpreter,” Kaltenborn recalled with a laugh. She has no problem in graciously allowing a man in a man’s world to believe what he wants and will occasionally conceal her razor-sharp mind behind a smile. “Being underestimated can sometimes be an advantage to be exploited,” she said.

Kaltenborn is involved in the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, founded in April 2010 and headed by Michèle Mouton. At Hockenheim in 2010, she was the first woman to attend an FIA press conference, where she was representing the team’s top management. It attracted a good deal of attention at the time, but since then much has become routine.“However, the truly exciting part of my job,” she pointed out, “takes place behind the scenes.”

Strict management structures are also de rigueur in her private life. Kaltenborn, with her family, lives in Küsnacht, just a 20-minute drive from the factory. When a rare window of leisure time opens up, she will usually make the most of it on a yoga mat, on the tennis court or on a rare visit to the opera.

As the new 2015

File photo of Monisha Kaltenborn by Sauber F1 team

File photo of Monisha Kaltenborn by Sauber F1 team

season begins, we wish all the best to Monisha Kaltenborn and the Sauber team.

eom/David