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

Megan Gilkes: “I want to be a Formula 1 driver”

From a tiny town in Canada to being on the brink of making it in the motor-racing history books, Megan Gilkes’ career currently hangs in the balance. Girls like her, simply haven’t had this shot before.

As one of the 28 remaining hopefuls in the all-new women-only W Series, Megan’s working all hours of the day (and night) to make the final cut.

With the prospect of an all-expenses-paid-for drive in one of racing’s most exciting new adventures, 18-year-old Megan is pushing harder than ever before.

“I want to be a Formula 1 driver one day,” she says with certainty. “It’s always been my dream to race at the top of motorsport.”

She fell in love with life in the fast lane thanks to her dad who was a semi-professional driver in America. Megan used to cheer him on at the track when she was “just a little girl”, and she quickly got hooked on the adrenaline.

“Growing up, I used to see some of his races and when I was nine, I had the chance to try out a kart for the first time,” she says. “As soon as I drove, I loved it.”

From that point on, there was no stopping an enthusiastic Gilkes.

She admits that compared to other racers she’s inexperienced. Although that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had success. In her first year of single-seater racing, Megan walked away with two second place finishes in two separate championships in a male-dominated environment. Not bad for someone who’d driven nothing other than a kart until this point.

“In 2017 I was second in the Sports Car Club of America and the South East Majors. Last year I was runner up in the Canadian F1200 series, despite not having done all of the rounds,” she says. “I’ve won five races in single seaters.”

Now, Megan continues to chase the motorsport dream thousands of miles away from her hometown, where she’s studying towards a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. If she doesn’t make it as a professional driver, then the brown-eyed youngster is insisting that she’ll still call F1 home.

“My degree is challenging, especially trying to balance everything with the racing as well,” she says before admitting that she still hasn’t got used to the dreary British weather. “I find it quite difficult, but I keep pushing. Engineering is applicable to the racing but I don’t have too much trouble at the moment with balancing the two. Let’s hope it stays that way.”

Until that chance is ruled out, Megan is putting her all into the W Series selection process. At the end of January, she and 53 other qualifiers from around the world headed to Austria to participate in 10 intense challenges.

She found out about the new initiative from her brother, while travelling to university lectures in London. With the W Series’ aim to promote women in the industry, Megan eagerly jumped at the chance.

“He gave me a call and told me to look on the internet at a new European series that was only for women,” she says. “It was going to be a free ride for anyone that got into it, and he said that I’d be interested in it. When I saw it, I knew it was for me. I applied as soon as I could and they accepted my application. They mostly asked about my racing experience to date, and my results to see who would be qualified to race a Formula 3 car. I got an email from them to say that I’d been chosen to go through and I was so excited.”

When she received the good news, she put her head down and grafted hard to ensure that she was ready for the most “important days” of her life to date.

“The test in Austria was being carried out in road cars, so I tried to get as much seat time as possible,” she recalls. “All of my racing so far has been done in single-seaters so I spent two half days at a race track in the U.S. just getting some laps in.

“One day it was wet and one day it was dry, so it was good to get some experience in different conditions. I also drove my mum’s Mini Cooper at a local circuit while I was back in Canada for the Christmas holidays and I actually wore out the new winter tyres that she’d just had put on.”

In Austria the hopefuls were judged by four giants of the sport, including ex-F1 driver David Coulthard, Le Mans winner Alex Wurz and – Megan’s ultimate idol – female IndyCar racer Lyn St James.

Megan will head to Spain in March for the final part of the W Series tests, where she has her heart set on a race seat for 2019.

“St James was talking about how the passion for racing comes from deep within all of us and that really stood out,” she says fondly. “It’s absolutely true. I was there because I love racing and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

How to break into motorsport journalism

The media industry is a notoriously tough place to break into, and motorsport journalism is not an exception to that rule in the slightest. While there are no set formulas to getting your foot firmly in the Formula 1 paddock, we’ve spoken to a budding Spanish journalist to find out how she managed to get her first couple of FIA accredited races.

Sofia Tera has been determined to call the Formula 1 paddock her home for several years now. Since the age of just seven, she can recall watching racing on the television at home. Back then she preferred two wheels to four, but she says that the tables have turned now.

Writing quickly became a hobby of hers as she entered her teenage years, and it all stemmed from there.

“I cover mainly Formula 1, but one of my favourite motorsport series to cover is Formula 2,” Sofia tells Females in Motorsport. “I have always liked Formula 2. The racing is close and there are a lot of hungry young drivers that could become the future of Formula 1. It’s a very interesting and fun series that deserves attention.”

Sofia writes for a Spanish motorsport and motoring website, where she can be called upon to write anything from in-depth features to breaking news stories. During her time at CarandDriver.es, she has learnt to be versatile in her approach, a skill that she considers key when it comes to motorsport journalism.

 

Credit: Roksana Cwik

 

“It’s a very demanding job,” she says. “You have strange working hours since the racing activities take part mainly during weekends and you need to stay alert during the rest of the week waiting for news to create content. Therefore, you have to be versatile. Motorsport media consumes a lot of time every day and you don’t have a clear departure time because a big story could happen at any hour of the day. Also, you need to take care of your contacts and sources. Networking needs a lot of your time too.”

When looking at the key skills a journalist should have, she feels that it all comes down to being a good listener.

“A journalist needs good communication skills because you need to know how to ask the right questions to receive the answers you are looking for, but you also need to be a good listener,” she says. “People usually focus on how you have to talk, but it’s very important to know how to listen. Good knowledge of what you’re reporting about (motorsport in this case) is essential. Curiosity and interest are two very important features of a journalist too. And this might sound very basic, but a journalist needs to have a passion for the job.”

Being an international member of the press, Sofia strongly recommends being able to speak a second language – it has certainly helped her on her road to success.

“Speaking several languages is crucial in our lives, not only in motorsport,” she says. “Media is essentially all about communication, and you need to know languages to build relationships or simply ask questions. A lot of people think that speaking English is enough, but the need for speaking more than two languages is increasing everywhere. Motorsport is no exception with the big number of nationalities involved in racing all around the world. It has helped me to communicate and be more confident in general.”

 

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Sofia in the Formula 1 paddock

 

With the highs that come from landing your dream job, there are – of course – struggles on the way. Many people who work in the industry describe what a tough and challenging road it can be to getting recognised. But, it is important to not give up on your dreams.

“There were some critical moments where I was close to giving up,” Sofia says. “I felt I had nowhere to go and my situation wasn’t improving at all. I really thought all my effort wasn’t worth it. Media is a very difficult job, especially for young journalists because people usually don’t take us seriously. And I said, motorsport consumes a lot of your time. It’s really tough to make a living from racing. One day, I convinced myself that I had to keep on working. I am fortunate enough to write about something I like so much. Even if it’s demanding, I love motorsport. I can’t see myself having another job. It’s my passion and I really want to be in the motorsport world. I feel like that’s where I belong.”

With Sofia’s role, she has now attended three grand prix as press and two pre-season tests. Her favourite thus far has been the Italian event last year, and she describes the weekend as “magic”.

“The fans are great, the track is amazing and the last race had a lot of action and drama,” she says. I had the chance to see the podium from the media center and it was one of the most beautiful experiences. The fans on track, with all their flags and banners, the drivers celebrating, the atmosphere… It’s unique.”

Sofia has great advice for those wanting to break into the industry. She says that having your own blog is a good place to start. There you can find your own style while writing about things that interest you.

“A blog is good because you are the one who decides what to write about,” she says. “Once you have found and improved your style, you can write for websites as a volunteer. This may create bigger exposure for you as a writer. With hard work, people will begin to recognise your writing which can lead to the chance of writing for bigger websites.”

In order to be constantly improving your writing, Sofia says it’s paramount to read the work of other journalists who are already successful in the field.

“You need to read lots of articles and analyse what structures and tones they’re using,” she says. “You can analyse what works and try to add that to your skills. Of course, don’t copy, but create your own twist on things. I still do this, because your writing skills improve with every piece you read and write. You never stop learning, especially in journalism.”

You can follow Sofia on Twitter here.

The art of motorsport perfume

There are many avenues to find a route into motorsport and designing perfume is no exception. A niche idea created by Katie Forman has seen her brand grow with motorsport fans and enthusiasts.

Females in Motorsport got handed a sample of her work at a Dare To Be Different community event before Christmas. From that moment onwards, we fell in love with Petrolhead, a fragrance that promises – and delivers – to be bold and fearless.

“A couple of years ago, I had just had a hip operation from a sporting injury and was recovering on the sofa thoroughly fed up and decided to google: “how to make your own perfume in the UK”,” Katie tells us. “I came across The Cotswolds Perfumery and fired off an email asking if I could make a perfume, thinking it was a long shot and thought nothing more about it. But I quickly got a reply saying yes they could help and did I want to arrange a meeting. When I was up and driving again I hopped in the car and drove to the Cotswolds thinking I would make my perfume and come home again. How wrong I was!”

 

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The face behind the creation

 

By the time Katie got home from that first meeting, she’d turned a small idea into a plan for a big adventure – a perfume brand with a difference. ByKathryn had been made.

Once her niche idea was created, she set about brainstorming for her first product. Soon enough, Petrolhead was born.

“Our sense of smell is one of our most powerful and it can instantly trigger a memory,” Katie says. “When I wear perfume I am creating those memories and I wanted to create perfumes that were all about the vibe, the mood, the memory. Perfumes with attitude.”

With Petrolhead, Katie knew that she would be pushing the boundaries. It was brave, bold and unique.

“I thought it would be fun to take on one of the biggest stereotypes of them all; and because I am a Formula 1 fan and decided to call my first perfume Petrolhead – which means a car fanatic and is usually associated with men,” she says. “I thought: Why not take this and turn it on its head and create a perfume that was for women who write their own rules! But more than that, I wanted Petrolhead to reflect the motorsport world where men and women can compete together – as Petrolhead has citrus top notes and spicy bottom notes, with jasmine and rose in the middle I created a perfume designed for women but men wear it too. My motto is: if you like it wear it.”

Katie has been following Formula 1 for over a decade now. When she was younger, she used to compete in equestrian events. Surprisingly, she noticed how there were many parallels between the two sports despite them seeming very far apart to the naked eye.

“In equestrian, men and women compete together; gender isn’t an issue,” she says. “Although you were the one in control of the horse you relied on teamwork to get you there and months of dedication and preparation. One tiny thing could go wrong on the day and scupper your chances, but when it all came together and you succeeded the feeling was amazing, but it was more than just about you.

“When I discovered Formula 1 there was so much about it that resonated. The adrenaline, the danger, the quick-mindedness of the driver, the teamwork, the setup of the car, adapting to the weather and the circuit. I loved that motorsport was open to men and women – I was just sad that more women weren’t competing. But in the time since I have been following Formula 1 and started looking at the other classes, more and more talented women are moving up through the ranks. It has been wonderful to see.”

 

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Katie’s two perfumes: Padstow Rocks and Petrolhead

 

Her creation Petrolhead is all about writing your own rules and with that, Katie hopes to play a part in empowering women to achieve their dreams.

“I would like my perfume to inspire women to think “yes I can do that!” if they want to,” she says. “Even if there aren’t many women doing it. To question when someone tells them they can’t and to dig deep and see what they are made of – to dream big! 

“I have always worked and competed in fairly male-dominated worlds, but it has been important to me to keep my identity and femininity. I worked as a groundskeeper for a tree surgeon for a couple of years and I did all the heavy lifting and jobs the boys would do but I had long blonde hair and I wore perfume and makeup – not that it lasted long! I didn’t try to be a boy, I was simply me doing a job. Why make it more complicated?”

In terms of who inspires Katie to be pushing her own boundaries, she says Susie Wolff is an important role model to her.

“I was sad to see her hang up her racing boots but what she did, and indeed is doing with Dare To Be Different, for women in motorsport is brilliant,” she says. “In fact, I have started collaborating with Dare To Be Different and Petrolhead as we have very aligned missions although from very different start points.”

With that in mind, 2019 will see Katie working hard to design a new perfume creation.

You can take a look at Petrolhead and Katie’s other creations here.

Jess Shanahan on how to get paid to race

Jess Shanahan is the ultimate definition of a female boss. At the age of just 30, she’s run magazines, edited several blogs, ran a successful racing team and – to top it all off – created a brand that is going from strength to strength.

Racing Mentor is a tool that is designed to help people from all backgrounds of motorsport. Whether you’re a budding PR or wanting help with sponsorship, Jess draws on her own experience to deliver you results.

Having gone from writing books at a very young age for fun, Jess now has a work of her very own published.

“I wanted to give drivers a more well-rounded view on what it takes to get sponsorship,” Jess tells Females in Motorsport. “It’s not just about sending a really pretty proposal document to a business that‘s relevant to what you’re into; it’s about building a profile for yourself and creating a status as an influencer.”

‘Get Paid To Race’ is the one-stop guide to become the best marketable racing driver you can become.

“The books starts by showing a driver how to build their profile – mainly by using social media and press coverage,” Jess says. “It then helps you to establish your niche and explains how to develop that. The book then goes into how to identify your sponsors and how to pitch to them.

“It also looks at how to maintain a sponsor, so you can hold onto them so they grow with you. The whole idea is to build such a big brand for yourself so companies eventually come to you.”

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The cover of ‘Get Paid to Race’

With all of her experience working in motorsport media, Jess understands the importance of getting the sponsorship process right. It’s not just about sending a well-designed proposal document; you have to build a reputable brand for yourself.

“When you take that proposal document to someone, they already know who you are, they’re already rooting for you, and they already think that you can do great things for their business,” Jess says. “It’s about teaching racing drivers the same business skills they may use if they were trying to sell a product.”

Racing Mentor was founded just over two years ago with one goal in mind: to help people become the most successful versions of themselves. It all started when Jess was running Turn Eight Racing. She had drivers approaching her asking if she could help them source sponsorship. Having found success for a few people, Jess realised that she couldn’t help everyone.

“I set out to create something that would help more people and teach them the business skills needed for them to pick up that sponsorship,” Jess says. “I just want to have more people think like businesses, get sponsorship, and get on track.”

As Racing Mentor blossoms, Jess has ambitions to run another racing team in the future.

“I want to maybe dip into that in 2019, and then do something bigger the following year,” she says. “I have a big vision of running a multi-car race team where I can subsidise talented drivers with the sponsorship that I’ve brought in and teach them to do the same.

“When they get to the level of where they need to bring in big sponsorship, they’re able to do that. It needs to be a process of the driver looking for sponsorship – however large – and I want the team to be able to do that.”

Jess understands that this is a big project but knows that it could be very successful.

“In the first instance, it would be at a grassroots level to test the concept and bring some sponsorship onboard,” she explains. “From there, we can maybe gain a Racing Mentor foothold higher up the ladder and keep on climbing. It’ll definitely be a progression rather than an all at once thing. I love the idea of the drivers progressing through the ranks and teaching them as they go.”

And the championship she’d like to run a team in? Well, the Citroen C1 series has caught her attention.

“The grids are massive and the cars are cool,” she says. “The Mazda championships generate good racing too. The next year coming is going to be a big research year with me working out what works best with my audience and the drivers.”

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Jess at the Motorsport Days Live event where she launched ‘Get Paid To Race’

Jess is also very knowledgeable when it comes to social media. She’s utilised her own expertise to make sure people in the industry are making the most out of the likes of Twitter.

“You need to get excited about using social media,” Jess says. “So if you only have time for one, then make the most of it and maximise your activity. If a driver knows that their target market is based on Twitter, then you should try there. It all depends on what works for you and how you can utilise each platform.”

While it may sound daunting at first, motorsport is renowned for being a tough industry. That’s why Jess thinks that you should never give up on your dreams.

“Motorsport is an incredibly competitive world, although there are avenues out there that people don’t necessarily look at,” she says. “If there’s a series you want to aim for, never give up and never let anyone tell you no.”

Whatever the future holds, Jess just wants to keep on reading the success stories that have happened.

“It’s amazing that the book is helping people and I can’t wait to see what happens next,” Jess says. “I started this because I wanted to see people succeed. I want to share my knowledge to help people. It’s lovely that I’ve been able to turn it into a business, but the best thing is reading the feedback.”

You can buy the book here.