Hazel Southwell: “It’s incredible how much talent is in the motorsport field”

Before she made the switch to motorsport journalism, Hazel covered music, politics and humanitarian issues – a far cry from the Formula E paddock and other motorsport circuses that you’ll find the Londoner following.

If you’ve read any number of motorsport journalism pieces, then there’s a good chance that you’ve read something by Hazel Southwell. Her journalism is exciting, captivating and has you clinging to every word. She writes in a way that allows you to see topics in an entirely different light and explains concepts through original methods.

Why the switch, then? Well, Hazel had reignited her passion for all things fast and furious. Yet, there was an element of despair there. No one was writing the way she wanted them to write. So, she decided to have a go herself.

“In 2016 I took myself to the Marrakech Eprix during what was a pretty terrible period of my life, not really sure what I was doing if I’m perfectly honest,” she says. “I’d never been to Morocco, I’d never gone away totally on my own, and I had never gone overseas to a motorsport event before.

“I wouldn’t say it was trivial – I did things like having to walk from Menara airport across the city to the hostel I was staying in because every hotel, riad and cupboard was full of UN employees there for the COP22 conference. But I did it and I enjoyed it and I thought ‘fuck it, I’m going to do this, I’m actually quite good at this.’”

Hazel is a freelancer now, covering all things motorsport for a number of websites including Drivetribe and RaceFans.net. One of the things that makes her so inspiring is the raw account she gives to the reality of her career. Just because it’s motorsport, it doesn’t mean that it’s glamorous. For the majority of the time, it’s very far from that.

“I hate being forced to write pieces I know are objectively bad or boring,” she says. “Having spent so much money and time and effort barging my way into motorsport, I’m not going to let anyone shove me around. I know I can write, I know I understand digital editorial, I know I understand fans and how to make content for them and I’d loathe anyone breathing down my neck telling me what to do.

“It’s also extraordinarily badly paid. But I can swear in interviews and wear ball gowns at race tracks and to be honest neither of those are movable character traits, for me.”

Hazel documents her travels to all four corners of the world as she flies to cover Formula E. Ryanair and hostels were on the agenda once again, and that’s all part of the freelancer experience.

“I would say it’s really annoying having to pitch everything. I would love an editorial role – but there aren’t many of those and this way I get to write a huge number of pieces for a huge number of places,” she says. “This month I’m writing one for a sci-fi magazine, for instance, which is the sort of thing that having a diverse background gives me an advantage in.”

So why do motorsport journalism? It’s simple. It’s Hazel’s “lifeblood”. When Formula E came along, it quickly meant more to Hazel than it did to most – and that comes across in her beautiful writing.

“I’ve said this a few times but there has never been a moment in the history of motorsport, of any sport, where something so pivotal is happening,” she says. “Formula E’s technology has to transform the automotive industry or there won’t be one and we’ll all be screwed.

“If you’re the same as me or younger, so basically all millennials and post-millennials, then we’ve all been taught since primary school that the world’s ending and a decent chunk of that is down to cars. You’re told it so often it’s almost numbing. And it’s just delivered with this blase, ‘write it down in your copy books, we’re all going to die in about fifty years’ but without an answer.

“Formula E is, to me, for the first time, something that bucks that narrative. This is fast, dangerous, exciting hope. Hitting the streets and proving something in this fantastic dog fight – this sparky little upstart that dares to offer the chance of a future, if we can be brave enough into turn one of history.

“I get all teary-eyed talking about it because I’m a fucking nerd but honestly, I think this is an extraordinary moment and my god I hope it works.”

At the end of 2018, a once unthinkable event took place in Saudi Arabia – Formula E visited the capital for a race. Hazel was openly cynical about the sport she adores going there. She was familiar with their human rights situation, and she knew that – as a female journalist – it was going to be “beyond difficult” to take herself there. But, looking back on it now, she considers it as one of her favourite motorsport events that she’s covered.

“I get that a lot of people said it was a PR exercise but to be honest, it really wasn’t; it’s not like Formula E is the Super Bowl in terms of people suddenly changing their opinion of the country because it hosted us. It also wasn’t a compromised event – like when WWE went and only took male wrestlers and only men could watch.

“It was a mixed event, with the crowds full of teenage girls running around screaming about Jason Derulo (who played a concert, one of the first Western concerts in Saudi Arabia) and families and young men in Ferrari jackets over their traditional clothing. Westernisation isn’t always, by default, a good thing but this was a crowd genuinely enjoying the event and excited by the first event in their country of this type.

“There were so many women there and they’d spot I had a media lanyard and come over and we’d talk to each other through google translate. For the Saudis, it was a huge event – and I was really happy for them. Riyadh isn’t rich (Jeddah is the centre of commerce for Saudi Arabia) and it was just normal people enjoying normal things they’d never had access to. Again, I kind of tear up a bit about the whole thing.”

Hazel believes that we should be optimistic about the future of motorsport journalism and what it has to offer. While she’ll continue to give her readers a unique spin on races and stories, Hazel is adamant that there’s lots out talented writers out there.

“There’s some tremendously interesting stuff being done in new mediums like my friend Stuart, who does great videos explaining F1 as Chainbear,” she says. “I have so many friends who are brilliant this would rapidly turn into a list of shout-outs. But I do think it’s amazing, for a niche sport, it is incredible how much talent is in the motorsport field. Really, I am so proud to be part of it. “

Header photo credit: Lou Johnson

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