Continental is a founding partner and premium sponsor of the Extreme E racing series. The Hanover-based technology company equips all vehicles in the series with tyres for the different and very challenging terrains.
In the interview, Catarina I. Matos Silva talks about the unique challenges that the tyres are exposed to in this off-road racing series, her work in product management and Portuguese passion has helped her get ahead within the company.
Catarina, what’s your job at Continental Tyres?
I head up the Product Management team responsible for our summer, off-road or 4x4 and van products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We are in close contact with the production units and the development department on the one hand, and with the marketing and sales organisations in the European markets on the other. We receive feedback on our products from all relevant parties and therefore serve as an important hub for internal communications. There’s never a dull moment and you never know what’s in store for you the following week.
And how, in this function, did you become involved in Continental’s Extreme E project?
Actually, Extreme E came to me. Last year, I was additionally assigned the technical support team for the Off-road Tyres group. This involves coordinating various projects, including from Tires the areas of development, service and various integrated technologies. Continental Tyres’ sustainability activities also formed part of this, including our commitment to the Extreme E racing series, which was already at an advanced stage at the time.
So you also attend the racing weekends personally?
Yes! It’s really amazing, isn’t it? But also necessary. After all, we’re the tyre specialists. With the CrossContact Extreme E, we’ve developed a tyre that is used by all the teams on the track. We also know what counts better than anybody. For sustainability reasons, we attend with a very small service team and contact personnel for all the new teams to support on all questions relating to the tyres. We also receive the immediate feedback from the drivers right after the race. That’s hugely important for us to correctly evaluate the quality of our development as well as identifying new potential improvements and enhancements where necessary. The events take place mostly in regions where motorsport races have never been held before. Accordingly, no tyre tests were conducted there during the development stage. Every one of the five races are therefore really exciting for us – regardless of the actual racing action and the outcome.
What makes tyre development so important for this competition?
The ODYSSEY 21, with which all the teams line up on the grid, is truly an “electric monster” – developed for extreme accelerations and extreme speeds in extreme environments. The electric drive delivers the full output of around 550 hp almost without delay. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are racing situations in which the drivers can activate an additional speed boost, the so-called “HyperDrive.” Absolutely nothing compares with it. And this incredible power must be transferred to the track one-to-one – during acceleration, overtaking, cornering and, not least, during braking. These aren’t high-speed oval tracks or courses on standard asphalt. This is “off the road” with all the associated difficulties and pitfalls. At the start of the season in Saudi Arabia, we saw some spectacular jumps over many meters. And also, unfortunately, some equally spectacular crashes where, thanks goodness, no one was seriously injured. Anyone watching close up knows that the drivers really push the vehicle and tyres to their absolute limit from the first second. The forces acting on the tyres during the individual phases of the race are truly incredible.
Plus, the Continental CrossContact Extreme E has to work in five different regions of the Earth. These are five completely different climate zones with routes and surfaces that couldn’t be more different. My colleague Anuj Jain, who so successfully managed the development of the tyre, said in an interview that Extreme E is by far the greatest challenge that tyres have ever faced in motorsport. And I’m one hundred percent confident that he’s right. I was there, live. I saw it and I’m already looking forward to the forthcoming races when the series continues in Greenland.
Could you please tell us a little more about your contact points with the sustainability activities in Continental?
Because my team and I are responsible for product development – for both the product roadmap and the portfolio planning – the company has very clear and ambitious goals with regard to sustainability, we provide the relevant roadmap to achieve them.
Sustainability is not just an empty word, it’s extremely important for the entire organisation and for our own wellbeing. For example, we work with Research & Development and Material Development on an ongoing basis, defining new approaches and possibilities, while also constantly working on improving our recycling solutions. We have exciting years ahead of us just around sustainability!
What motivated you to specifically seek out professional challenges in the tyre industry?
In my early days, I would probably have said it was simply a coincidence. Today, I say it was pure luck. I studied mining and environmental engineering in Portugal. Some 15 years ago, I heard of a “Research and Development Trainee Pool” at Continental in Hanover and decided to apply without really being sure what I was actually getting myself into. In Hanover, I met international teams of developers and engineers, who were excited about their work and the product. They were all immediately ready to share the projects they’re working on and their findings. And they were seriously interested in my opinion. Even then, they were following a special corporate culture based on exchange and communication where everyone was important. I immediately knew that I wanted to work in those teams.
Did the fact that the industry was dominated by men at the time not hold you back?
Not for a second. I think I’m really privileged in this company because we’ve made great efforts to create incentives and show ambitious female talents that they can make a career at Continental if they so choose. Of course, nothing’s automatic. But I’ve always felt I’ve been treated equally and I always had the same opportunities as my male colleagues. I’m female, Portuguese, very passionate and I don’t hesitate to say what I think.
What can be done to encourage more women to enter the tyre industry?
Continental is very committed to this aim because we believe that diversity will always help us move forward. The spectrum of customers has diversified, long gone are the days when only 50-year-old men, i.e. fathers bought the tyres for the family car.
We also have many activities, campaigns and promotional programs that enable women to progress further or to remain in their job, particularly if they have families. It’s also our responsibility to reach young women who, like myself 15 years ago, are still unaware of how much fun it can be to work here. We organise proactive initiatives at universities for this purpose. If a woman is inquisitive and enjoys challenges, this is a fantastic industry.