Bernie Collins: Everything you need to know about Sky F1’s new pundit

Thomas Maher
Sky F1 pundit Bernie Collins.

Sky F1 pundit Bernie Collins.

Sky F1’s latest broadcasting pundit Bernie Collins boasts plenty of first-hand F1 experience from her time working in the sport as a team strategist.

For 2023, Sky F1 have introduced Bernie Collins to their impressive list of pundits, with the former Aston Martin strategist joining the broadcaster to offer her unique insight into a team’s methodology when it comes to in-race planning.

What is Bernie Collins’ background, and how did she rise to become one of the most respected strategists in the F1 pitlane?

Here’s everything you need to know about Sky F1’s latest pundit.

Bernie Collins: From farmyard to Formula 1

Hailing from the village of Maguiresbridge in Northern Ireland, Collins began showing interest in the world of mechanics as she would help her father to build and dismantle farmyard machinery.

Attending school at Mount Lourdes Grammar School, Collins was initially unsure about the direction of her future career. She eventually enrolled in a mechanical engineering course at Queen’s University Belfast, citing a keen interest in maths and physics.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do at school, so I decided to do mechanical engineering, because I liked mathematics and physics,” she told the Sky F1 podcast.

“So I thought that’s quite a safe route and there are lots of different jobs you can do at the end. Even through that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a mechanical engineer, but I enjoyed it so it was fine.”

One of just three female students on a course of 30, Collins’ interest in motorsport began to blossom as she became part of the esteemed annual Formula Student challenge. The purpose of the challenge, organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and frequently attracting attention from those with F1 teams, is for university teams to devise designs for constructing and ‘testing’ small scale-model formula racing cars.

Following on from her Formula Student team, Collins applied to join a graduate trainee programme in 2009 with the McLaren Formula 1 team which had been advertised in her university’s Mechanical Engineering department.

“An opportunity came up to join the McLaren graduate scheme and I thought ‘that’s really cool’,” she said.

“It was really interesting, because I went there thinking, ‘Oh, even if I just get to see around McLaren, that’s fine. I’ll go home happy’.”

Despite being unsure of securing a place, she took advantage of her visit to the McLaren Technology Centre and, after completing initial online assessments, she was accepted to the programme in 2009 – kickstarting her Formula 1 journey.

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Bernie Collins begins climbing the ladder to McLaren’s F1 team, and onto Force India

As part of the trainee programme, Collins rotated through various departments of the McLaren factory in order to expand her knowledge and understand the integration of each department with the others.

Transferring into McLaren’s design department, Collins began gaining first-hand knowledge of how to work on the transmissions of different race cars, while also volunteering as an engineer at race weekends in the GP3 category.

An offer to work with the McLaren GT sports car team was eagerly taken up, with Collins also getting involved in McLaren’s operations to reduce carbon emissions at the factory.

Promoted to a performance engineer for 2012, she became a race engineer for the United Autosports GT team the following year. Collins’ big break came in late 2013 when she was offered paternity cover for McLaren’s primary performance engineer in F1, with Collins assigned the position for the Indian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix. Impressing in the role, she landed the job full-time for 2014 and was assigned to work on Jenson Button’s side of the garage.

Having spent the entirety of her professional career with McLaren, Collins left to join Vijay Mallya’s Force India squad in early 2015, becoming a performance and senior strategy engineer for Nico Hulkenberg. By season end, she had helped oversee a team podium, with Sergio Perez at the 2015 Russian Grand Prix, and Collins remained part of the team through until their rebrand as Racing Point and, later, the Aston Martin squad.

It was a move Collins looks back on with amusement, having not had any experience as a strategist when Force India asked her to take some part in the decision-making process.

“That was really interesting move because I moved as half performance-half strategy,” she told Sky F1.

“But, as I moved, I had never done strategy before – the strategist laughed and was like, ‘Oh, can you just do a bit more strategy’? And then since I’ve been there, I’ve only ever done strategy. So it’s been evolving. But, yeah, I was an engineer, which is why I got into it.”

She left her Formula 1 job in 2022, signing up as a Sky F1 pundit for the 2023 season, and revealed why she chose to leave her career behind after a relatively short amount of time in the sport.

“I think maybe like a lot of my decisions has not necessarily been well planned out!” she explained.

“But the 23 races became really difficult. I wanted to achieve more of a home-life balance. Particularly I think, post the COVID years, you sort of had a bit of a reset and a think about things.

“I just thought, I really enjoyed what I did before, I really enjoyed working for Aston Martin, I loved working for the team. It was just an opportunity to have a bit of a reset and try and do something a little bit different.

“So I decided, at the end of 2021, that I was going to step back and then I worked my six months’ notice to bring me to the middle of ’22. I just thought I can’t continue to live life like I’m 21 when I’m not 21! So let’s try and do something different.”

What was Bernie Collins’ proudest achievement in F1?

Looking back over her career as a race strategist, Collins has singled out the race which she’s most proud of after feeling her decision-making had a direct effect on the outcome. Unsurprisingly, she chose the maiden Racing Point victory, also Sergio Perez’ maiden win, taken at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

“There’s the Bahrain [Sakhir] win with Checo [Perez] in 2020, where he actually crashed on Lap 1,” she said, when asked for her proudest achievement.

“Through that lap, the circuit layout is a very quick lap so you’ve got lots of decisions to make very quickly.

“We’d started on the Soft tyre, and we knew the Medium would be a quicker tyre for the first stint. So even though Checo didn’t need to change tyres – his tyres were actually fine after the shunt – we knew that the other tyres were quicker. So we made the call to stop under the Safety Car and change to the other tyres, because we knew it was the fastest strategy. So that’s actually one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. But also one of the ones that had the biggest effect on the race, because he won.

“That was just all planned in advance. I knew which tyre was quicker at that point. I knew that we were last anyway, so it was easy money. I remember his race engineer beside me going ‘are you sure?’ and I was like ‘yeah, so sure on this one’. So that was the one!”

Is Bernie Collins on social media?

Bernie Collins isn’t a particularly prolific poster on social media, although is an active user of Twitter where you can find her under the handle @bernie_collins1. She has over 20 thousand followers on Twitter.

According to her short bio, she is a “two-time marathon runner, lover of tea and most importantly Irish!”

Collins keeps details of her private life under wraps, with small insights into her personal life suggesting she is married and takes in foster dogs to care for.

Collins is also on Instagram under the handle @bernie.collins.1, where she adds to her Twitter bio by saying “Retired F1 strategist” and “No I can’t get free F1 tickets.” She boasts just under 10 thousand followers on Instagram.