Claire Williams: “We’ll keep fighting until we get there”

Growing up, Claire Williams – deputy team principal of Williams Racing Formula 1 team –  spent her weekends knocking the pens from the stationery cupboard at the Williams factory, her father’s place of work. Her and her brother would swing from the chains suspended from the ceilings in the race bays, creating a zip wire from one end to the other. Little did she realise that she would be running the very same team a couple of decades later…

“My dad was very clear that nepotism wasn’t a word in his vocabulary,” Claire says, thinking back to her childhood. “I had no thoughts about even coming into Williams or Formula 1. It was very much my dad’s world and so my parents made that very clear to their children. It wasn’t on my radar that I would end up having a career in motorsport.”

Claire grew up in a world that was heavily orientated around Formula 1, with her father, Sir Frank Williams, being the owner of one of the most successful F1 teams in history. Subsequently, she grew up around the driver, although was still starstruck by Ayrton Senna.

“When I was in my teens, dad decided that I could choose one race a year to go to by myself with him, which was such a treat,” she says. “I chose Hungary and I’d gone into my dad’s room in the hotel one night to say goodnight to him. I was in my pajamas and Ayrton Senna was standing in the room.

“First off, I was horrified because I had a major crush on him. Secondly, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I rather embarrassedly said goodnight to my dad and scuttled off out. I’ve had a number of experiences fairly similar to that and I am very lucky to have grown up in the world that I have grown up in.”

will-frank-clai-inte-2013-4.jpg
Claire and her father, Sir Frank Williams. Credit: RaceFans.net

After studying politics at university, Claire was stuck with what to do. A meeting with the CEO of Silverstone Circuit proved successful and Claire secured a job as a junior press officer. After a period there, she joined the Williams team where she has remained ever since. After managing the communications department, she has now been the deputy team principal since 2013.

In that time, the team has had its ups and downs and Claire isn’t afraid to talk about the situation that they’re in at that moment. She isn’t proud of it – that is evident – but she is optimistic that they will recover.

“I think people feel a state of shock as to what has happened and how and why it’s happened,” she says. “But, there is still a really strong fighting spirit within this team. We’re very lucky in that we’ve got some very clever and hard working individuals here, that all have that Williams spirit – continuing to fight and push, and not letting what is happening on the race track stop their hard work or downplay their determination to turn things around.

“We have to remember that yes we’re in a pretty terrible position right now, but last year we were fifth, the year before that fifth and before that we came third two years in a row. Sports teams go through troughs. If we allow ourselves the pity party of feeling sorry for ourselves, then we aren’t going to get out of this. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and have an absolute focus and determination to resolve the situation that we’re in at the moment.”

Regardless of the results this season, Claire is adamant that the highs make all of the lows worthwhile. In 2014, the team had some of its best success in recent years, and finished third in the constructor’s standings.

“We did an enormous amount of work in 2013 when the team was in really bad shape to turn things around and we left no stone unturned to do it,” Claire says. “And that was my first year in that role, and for whatever reason, it all miraculously came to us. We were going to the podium regularly and celebrating, seeing Valtteri and Felipe up there and that was fantastic. We ended the season on the double points scoring race in Abu Dhabi, where we were still fighting with Ferrari for that third.”

Claire-Williams.jpg
Claire signing autographs for fans

Claire was one of the team principals who voted in favour of the double points scoring system  at the last race of the season, a decision that fills her with mixed emotions.

“When I got on the plane, and for weeks before, I was like why on earth did I vote for that now that we’re in the situation?” she says. “If we weren’t in that situation, we would have taken P3 at the race prior to that one.”

“I remember the nerves, I remember feeling sick that we could lose this – P3 is a massive achievement from P9. It was a really big deal for us and we did it. It will only be usurped by a championship win, a race win as well, but that seems very far off these days. I try and keep that in my memory, so that it reminds me how success feels and why you need to keep working towards it.”

While the team aren’t where they’d like to be out on track, they are working hard to ensure that they are supporting females in motorsport.

“When I first started 16 years ago at Williams, there was only literally a handful of us,” Claire says. “Even in the jobs that are traditionally thought of as jobs for girls, a lot of blokes were doing them. Now, we have a hundred or so of our staff, which is a seventh of our team, as female. That’s a significant turn around in what’s been a very short period of time.”

f1-italian-gp-2016-claire-williams-williams-deputy-team-principal.jpg
Credit: Motorsport.com

Williams run a number of successful apprenticeship schemes and placement opportunities, and last year, the number of female applications outweighed the number of male applicants they received.

“The only way to keep achieving that, and to keep inspiring those people, is to have role models across all different disciplines within Formula 1 and our team,” Claire says. “We have ambassadors within Williams that go out and talk to girls in school, secondary schools and in tertiary education to try and encourage them to take the STEM subjects required to go to university and then to take the engineering degrees. We take our role in that really seriously.

One of the initiatives that I’m involved in is Dare To Be Different, which is a fantastic campaign that Susie Wolff set up with the MSA. it specifically targets females and tries to inspire them to think about motorsport as a career. That’s important. We are seeing a lot of success from the initiative. A lot of girls are now seeing and thinking seriously about motorsport as a career.”

In 2014, D2BD founder Susie Wolff made history for Williams when she became the first female to participate in a grand prix weekend since 1992. This was a moment that filled Claire with pride, despite the criticism that the team had received for their decision.

“I actually shed a tear which is very unlike me; I felt really proud,” Claire says. “We had people suggesting that it was a marketing ploy. I’m very clear on that: motorsport is dangerous and we’ve lost drivers in this team. We take our driver safety extremely seriously. I would not put a driver in our race car that I didn’t feel was competent at driving it and driving it safely. That would just be lunacy.

“Women are risk averse, so I am the last person to make that kind of decision. I was enormously proud and I think that she did a fantastic job. Susie is a real trailblazer for women in motorsport.”

If the opportunity came up again for a woman to fill a Williams race seat, Claire “wouldn’t think twice if the woman had the track record”.

2807d66b0aa544121b71ab67b206c785.jpg
Susie Wolff, Felipe Massa and Claire Williams. Credit Keith Barnes Photography

Ending on the future for the team, Claire knows the hard work required to get Williams back to their heydays.

“You don’t get to 10th in the championship without having a lot of issues to address,” she says. “We are slowly and methodically working through them to make sure that we repair the weaknesses that we have in the team. We still have huge ambitions within Formula 1. We have to get the team back to where we need it to be and where we want it to be – that’s winning races again and that’s not the work of a moment. We are all realistic.

“Formula 1 is a very different environment to even two to three years ago. It is very difficult to win these days. To get us back to that level underneath the top teams of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes, that’s our ambition for the next two to three years. It’s going to be a hard piece of work to get us there. But we will, because we won’t give up. We’ll keep fighting until we do.”

Jamie Howe: “You have to love it and be prepared for the lifestyle that comes with motorsport”

F1 is hugely popular in Europe and we often hear how the new owners Liberty Media are keen to expand it’s fanbase in North America, however this doesn’t mean they don’t have an interest in motorsport. The USA boasts many championships and series in which drivers from all round the world flock to compete in such as IndyCar and NASCAR. Jamie Howe is one of the America’s most famous motorsport broadcasters and so we spoke to her about US racing culture and her career in the sport.

Many people who now work in the motorsport industry often speak of being brought up watching the sport, but for Jamie, that wasn’t the case. “I didn’t grow up around racing and my family wasn’t into cars when I was young,” Howe told us. It wasn’t until later that she became more familiar with the sport she would go onto work in but did admit “once I was introduced to motorsports, the bug bit me hard!” She had actually grown up intending to work in television, a vital part of her role now, though sports TV was never something she considered, having wanted to work in News. “Being in Atlanta I always thought it would be news-based television as CNN is here and I worked with their student bureau in high school,” she said.

@CapnSteve19
credit: @CapnSteve19

Her first role in motorsport came completely by chance when she was coaching a local swimming team. One of the parents worked in the industry and knowing Howe’s interest in TV offered her an opportunity. “A Dad with kids on the team worked in racing television and knew I was going to school for broadcast television. He hired me as a runner to come and work and see what really happens in TV,” Jamie explained. Starting as a runner, Howe worked extremely hard to impress her bosses and over the years managed to earn promotions and be given more responsibility. “I worked as a runner, then a stage manager, then a field producer, then a feature host, then a tape delayed reporter, then a live-to-tape reporter then eventually a live radio/PA reporter then a live television reporter!” she exclaimed. Jamie is proof that getting your foot in the door is crucial to achieving your dreams, especially if they are big dreams.

The way Howe describes her rise through the ranks may seem easy and straightforward, but it hasn’t always been the case. “The early days were the most challenging,” she described, “I was trying to prove myself as a worker and gain respect, all while trying to better my skills at the same time.” Though this journey has allowed her to experience all areas of the television industry including on-screen, production and content creation. Speaking of some of the roles she most enjoyed, she said: “I love the production side of the field and getting to see a story go from an idea to air, that is very rewarding. But there is nothing quite like live television and finishing a show or race with so much adrenaline,” Jamie told me.

twitterHaving not had an interest in motorsport as a child, throughout her career, Howe has had to learn a lot when it comes to the series she has worked in. To perform her role to the best of her ability she likes to make sure her knowledge is up to a good standard and believes this helps her when interviewing. “I have learned about each series as I have gone. There is so much behind-the-scenes that the viewer never knows but it’s all important to telling the story the right way. It’s an on-going learning process as the rules change and the technology advances,” Jamie explained to us. Learning as she goes helps, but she also has to study and make sure she has all the notes she needs. “I am a good student, I keep my work organized and take notes. I love talking to people and all of that helps me cover different series in the same season. The vernacular (language) is different but being there and being in the moment helps to keep it straight,” she said.

As an interviewer on site at races, many interesting people are competing and attend to watch the live event. Jamie has been able to speak to many interesting people saying: “I’ve truly loved interviewing almost everyone. If I have to narrow it down, I would say two people: Mario Andretti and Patrick Dempsey, both for the same reason: they bring so much notoriety to the sport but their passion is so clearly evident when they talk about racing. They truly love the sport, its people, and what it has done in their own lives. I get to talk to and interview so many interesting people and feel very fortunate for that,” Howe described.

twitter3Having worked her way up from a runner to her centre stage role now, Jamie was keen to share her advice for those hoping to work in the sport. “You have to love it and you have to be prepared for the lifestyle that comes with it,” she advised. “Being on the road is not for everyone and if you don’t think you can handle that or you don’t love it, then move on to another passion you have.” Jamie Howe is one of the US’s leading motorsport reporters despite not having an interest until early in her adult life. She is proof that you can work your way up the career ladder having started from the bottom as a runner. She fell into motorsport but has taken every opportunity and from those a successful career has blossomed. She is an example to everyone that getting your foot in the door can make a world of difference.

(all photo credits, unless specified, @ReporterJamie)

Amna Al Qubaisi: “I feel so proud to be the first female driver from my country”

Written by Giulia Scalerandi

Amna Al Qubaisi. This name be beginning to sound familiar, for a number of reason.

Not only is the 18-year-old making a name for herself on the race track, but Amna holds the accolade of breaking down stereotypes as the first female competitive driver from the United Arab Emirates. 

Currently, Amna races in the prestigious Italian Formula 4 Championship for the prestigious Prema Powerteam. This is her first championship in racing cars after karting and she is already racking up impressive results.

At the latest round at the infamous Monza, Amna secured a P16 and a P17 after starting 27th on the grid in both races, showing her speed and ability to overtake.

Females in Motorsport caught up with her to see how she was fairing in her first season of cars and where her drive comes from.

Amna, how are you preparing for the rest of the season?

Unfortunately, I didn’t race at Paul Ricard, however I’m always ready. I do lots of training in the gym. Then there’s some testing at my home track (Yas Marina Circuit) to keep the rhythm and the feeling of the car fresh in my mind.

Before taking to the Italian F4 grid, Amna raced in the second round of the UAE X30 category Seniors and in the Dubai O-Plate category Shifters finishing in third and fifth position in the races.

The 2016/17 season saw Amna competing in various countries and in various categories of karting: Italy, Arab Emirates and Germany. Amna scored a spectacular podium in the 5th round of IAME X30 and in 11th round of UAE RMC in Yas Marina Northern Circuit. 

Back to cars, Andria was her first round competing in a single-seater.

amna04.jpg
Credit: Prema

Adria was your first race in the Italian series. You had a 12th and a 16th place finish with over 26 cars on the grid, how did you find the weekend?

The race weekend was very good since I had the pace and I was forth in Rookies and second before I ran out into the run off area at a fast corner. However, I was on the podium too. It wasn’t expected, but Adria’s results gave me an extra boost, experience and confidence for the next one.

You come from karting: how it’s been difficult to drive a kart, then a racing car?

Comparing the kart to the car, it took me a while to adapt to the car, because it’s a whole new world. Moving up from karting to single seater is a natural shift in motorsport and I’m enjoying every moment behind the Formula 4 wheel.

amna02

Credit: Prema

Why did you choose an Italian championship as your first car experience? You are driving for Prema PowerTeam: how did the agreement come about?

Choosing the Italian championship was a big decision, since it has the biggest grid, but it came naturally. Italian F4 visits some of the most prestigious circuits, so it’s brilliant to race there.

Abu Dhabi Racing and Kaspersky Lab have a long term partnership and I would like here to thank Kaspersky Lab for giving me the opportunity to make it from karting into Formula 4. Prema is the best team in the championship and I am so blessed and honored to have the chance to drive for the team.

amna03
Credit: Prema

Although you’re the only girl in the championship, what is the relationship like with your male colleagues?

It’s quite normal to be fair and I haven’t been treated differently. We get along very well and I’ve got used to being the only girl in a race track.

You’re also the first female driver of your country: how do you feel about that?

It’s never happened before so I feel so proud and I’m completely satisfied and happy to make this step as the first and hopefully not the last.

Where does your passion for racing come from?

It’s all come from my dad, supporting him in his races, hearing him talk about different race tracks around the globe and meeting different drivers was a complete awe inspiring to me. Now I live and breathe it!

Final question for you, what is the goal for this season?

The goal is to always keep the pace since it’s my first time and to always finish in a good position.

Alexandra Legouix: “it’s just a case of knocking on millions of doors, one will open with hard work”

Many people grow up dreaming of working in motorsport, hoping one day to make it to whatever their desired series may be. However, for some, they fall into the sport through other career paths. Alexandra Legouix never intended to work in racing, but now wouldn’t change it for the world. She herself says working in the sport is “pure fluke” so I spoke to her about her career and her interests outside of motorsport.

Having grown up watching F1 and preferring to play with cars over barbies, Alexandra always had an interest in the sport, but never to the extent that she would class herself as a fan. “I also grew up riding horses and competed to a professional level in show jumping and I was a performer. Until I got to 18 and became more interested in boys and going out, I just assumed I would always be a professional horse rider or West end star,” she said. Although now motorsport is a passion of Legouix’s, as she said there was no intention to work in the industry, with her saying: “I never imagined a career in it or an involvement that extended further than a Sunday snoozy F1 watch, so it is fairly random to be so heavily involved now.”

twitter2
credit: @Legouix

However, her first presenting role came in an industry that is very different to her role now. “I had a phone call from Liz Fuller who owned the Miss Great Britain franchise. She had called and asked me to enter the pageant in the past but I had declined as that had never been my cup of tea,” Alexandra said. Though this wasn’t the nature of the call with Fuller actually offering her the opportunity to host the final of Miss Great Britain to be broadcast on TV. She accepted, despite having no presenting experience and so her career started. A year later, McLaren’s technology centre was looking for a presenter for their tours and Q&A sessions. “I auditioned and got the job,” she said. There was a lot of learning for her to do, which prepared her for future roles, as she had to learn everything from the carbon fibre process, to gear boxes and wind tunnels. “The people I was presenting to were mostly stereotypical motorsport chauvinist types who hated the fact I was a woman educating them and so I was grilled on a daily basis,” Legouix explained, meaning she had to know incredible amounts of detail, in order to prove to people she could do the job.

Whilst working at McLaren, she produced and wrote a documentary showing what it takes to be a professional driver. After speaking to people such as Rob Collard, Andy Neate and Tom Onslow Cole for the project, she had learnt a lot about the World Touring Car Championship, which came in very handy for her next role. At the end of 2013, following stints in several UK club championships and World RallyCross, she approached the Head of Production for WTCC, who were conveniently looking for a presenter. She jumped at the chance and began presenting the championship.

lat
credit: LAT IMAGES

She first watched F1 as a child, and has worked in the series a little, though her other commitments limit this. She has previously presented the driver’s parade, as well as coverage on the big screens around the circuit. “Calendar clashes cut out my F1 fun this year sadly but I’ll go and watch a couple of races. It’s a fascinating paddock and an entirely different world to WTCR. I enjoy it when I work in it so if the opportunity arose then I wouldn’t turn it down,” Alexandra described. But she has managed to do a few related events in the recent years, having worked with both Formula Student and F1 eSports. “Formula student is fantastic, I love working on that. The talent of the students is insane and the machines they create are so impressive. It’s great to meet the engineers of the future. F1 eSports was another great experience. Again, the talent of the racers is remarkable and the whole concept is good,” she told me.

twitter
credit: @Legouix

This year, she will be working in the World Rally Championship for the first time and is already enjoying it, with her saying: “It’s a whole different world in every way to anything I’ve done. The job itself is very different as I act as anchor of the live show so I’m not running around the Service Park interviewing, but the team and my co-hosts are a lot of fun. I don’t claim to be an expert in rally at all so I had an awful lot to learn and am still learning each time. I love it so far and cannot quite get my head around the courage of the competitors.”

website
credit: alsunflowers.com

Although motorsport hugely dominates her time, Alexandra also has several areas she enjoys working in outside of sport. Her original aim was to work in the West-End, and music is still a massive part of her life. “I probably sang before I could speak and danced before I could walk,” Legouix explained. “Music is one of my biggest passions and it dramatically affects my mood. I perform with my band ‘Al and the Sunflowers’ and only wish I had a little more time to do gigs these days.” She also presents festivals and shows of varying genres allowing her to get close to fans and what they are passionate about. “You can’t beat the energy and atmosphere of a music festival so that is always great to be part of,” she said, “The boat shows are always great fun. The pet shows are the cutest things ever, and I enjoy motor festivals because you get to meet so many passionate petrol heads.”

Alexandra Legouix’s route to working in motorsport was by no means conventional. Intending to work in the entertainment industry, her first role came by chance with an events company, and she’s been hooked on the sport ever since. Although many people use social media as a pathway, for Legouix this doesn’t hold a huge appeal. “I feel that the vlogger world is saturated now so it’s hard to make an impact and very tough to make a living that way. I think from a TV presenter angle you still cannot beat a more conventional route of contacting the production company involved in whichever championship and sending in a showreel proving your worth, passion and knowledge. Then it’s just a case of knocking on millions of doors, one will open with hard work,” she explained. Her interests outside of motorsport have been pushed aside, but this year she is determined to sing more, write more and race more.

(heading photo credit: @worldxseries)

Amy Dargan: “Sport for me, is everything that I really like about life”

With a worldwide fanbase, motorsport is one of the most popular areas of sport. However, it is more than just cars, with several forms of motorbike racing being just as popular as the famous car racing series. Amy Dargan has been a reporter in the Motocross World Championship, Speedway and MotoGP, so we spoke to her about working with bikes and how a young girl from a football household became one of the go-to presenters in MotoGP broadcasting.

Sport was always popular in Amy’s family, but her love of motorcycle racing came from a friend. “My passion for bikes came from my friend’s dad. He owned a tyre garage in Nottingham and he was really into it. He had 2 Hondas in his garage and would watch the World Super Bike Championship, MotoGP and British Super Bikes. That was really where my first contact came with motorbikes,” she told us. However, her first contact in-person with any of these championships came when she was in her late teens, and in order to get closer to the sport, she became a grid girl. “I decided the best thing for me to do was work around it and try and get involved. I was getting to meet the right people, and it was an opportunity to be where I wanted to be in the end,” Dargan said.

IMG_3447Amy went on to study Broadcast Journalism at university, with a particular interest in sport’s journalism, citing Suzi Perry as an idol of hers at the time. “Suzi Perry was a big inspiration of mine. When I was younger I thought she was really cool, she knew exactly what she was talking about, and just the way she carried herself,” she explained of her fellow MotoGP presenter.

Following her studies Dargan continued to work as a grid girl, and her first proper role in the sport actually came through this. “My first job came off the back of one of the companies I used to grid girl for, Monster Energy. Their main series was the World Motocross Championship, where I was working as a ‘Monster Girl’ and the woman who did the reporting moved to the US. It was all quite last-minute and they found themselves without a reporter and about 1 month to go until the start of the season. It was suggested that they should consider me because I had a broadcast journalism degree and that was what I was looking to go into. I knew the series and the riders and that’s how it all started really,” Amy explained.

2017_pre_press_cat_1.big

After 3 years working in Motocross, in 2014 Dargan began working in MotoGP. This year she will cover MotoGP solely and will no longer work with Speedway after covering the series for the 2017 season. “Last year I was doing Speedway and MotoGP. I had a pretty hectic schedule, but this year I’ve got some breathing space and can focus on MotoGP. When I’m there, my role is reporting for FoxSports, and also for MotoGP’s rights holders, Dorna, so I get the rider interviews after the sessions, film features and on a race day I do a preview of what to expect,” Amy told us. An important part of her role is ensuring there is a relationship and trust between herself and the riders as this allows her to do her job to the best of her ability. “I think the important thing is I always try and be as empathetic as I can be, and the best way to do that is to put yourself in their shoes,” Dargan said, “normally if you show empathy, and you both celebrate and commiserate with them, that gets you on side with them. They know we’re not trying to set them up and that our job is to get the information from them, but I don’t think you can build relationships with the riders if they think you’re trying to lead them down a path to say something.”

Amy will this year go into her 4th season of MotoGP and she’s still fulfilling a dream working with one of the riders. “One of my main targets was that I just wanted to get a job in MotoGP before Valentino Rossi retired. If he had and I hadn’t managed to interview him, I would’ve been so disappointed,” she said. But one of her favourite interviews has been with another motorsport figure, this time from 4 wheels. “I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Webber twice now when he’s come to MotoGP. I watch Formula One and he was always someone that I really liked. He’s got a fantastic personality, and it’s fantastic that he’s into bikes,” Amy added.

IMG_3603Having originally grown up in a football household and her starting aim being to work in football journalism, Dargan would still like to work in other sports. “If I carry on working in MotoGP until I retire, I’ll be happy because I absolutely love it. It almost feels like it’s a part of me now. I would also really love the opportunity to cover different sports like the winter Olympics. Sport for me, is everything that I really like about life. I really like celebrating other people’s triumphs, and also then when you see the raw human emotion. I just love sport in general,” Amy told us.

Having studied Broadcast Journalism at university and being involved in motorsport even before her studies, it was always clear for Amy Dargan which direction she wanted to go in. Despite the recent debate over the use of grid girls in motorsport, it is unlikely Amy would be in the job she has now without having done this role initially which helped her to meet the right people. “I would say get in there any way you can and just be around the sport,” Dargan said of the advice she would offer those wanting to work in the industry. “It’s always best to have a good idea of what area you think you might like to have a go at. There’s so many roles from marketing to data analysts and engineers, all the hospitality crew, it’s a massive industry with so many different opportunities.” This year, Amy’s full focus will be on MotoGP so the features and interviews she will work on this year will surely be bigger and better than ever before.

(all photo credits: Amy Dargan)

Suzi Perry: “You can be saying hello and welcome and the whole show changes in your ear”

“I’ve loved motorsport since I was a child,” says Suzi Perry, reminiscing on how her passion first evolved. “It was always on at the weekends at home and I loved it. The passion for getting involved came in my early twenties when I took my bike license and my friends at the time were all bikers.”

Suzi Perry is a household name as far as presenting motorsports go. Her impeccable knowledge and love for all things two and four wheeled has enabled her to work in the MotoGP and Formula 1 paddocks for well over a decade.

“We used to go to British Superbike races and we used to watch it obsessively on TV,” she says. “It became ‘why don’t we do this’ and ‘why don’t we do that ‘and my friends would say ‘why don’t you go on television and do it yourself!’.”

Suzi-on-the-grid
Photograph credit: SuziPerry.com

And that is how it happened. Having discovered this immense love, Suzi acted on it and made a phone call of a lifetime. “I called Sky, who at the time had the rights to the World Superbike Championship,” she says. “I called them for a chat, ended up going in and walked out with a reporter’s job in 1997. It was an extraordinary start to a career!”

Like anyone who has landed their dream job, Suzi remembers the immense feeling of joy and excitement.

“I remember walking out of the Sky offices in Middlesex and I just couldn’t wait to get on the phone and ring my parents,” she says. “I was beside myself with ecstasy. I just couldn’t believe that they’d offered me a job and that I would be working with bikes and on television. It was like someone had just told me that I’d won the lottery, but it was better than that. It’s gone on for 22 plus years.”

Since then, Suzi’s career has gone from strength to strength and even meant her hosting the most popular motorsport in the world for BBC 1.

“The moment I got a call asking me to do F1 was another defining moment,” she says. “It’s an enduring love that will never go away. It’s hard work, bloody hard work, but I love it. A lot of energy and work goes into a broadcast, despite talking about something you love.”

_73562320_73562319
Suzi with Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard, her two co-presenters for BBC F1. Photo credit: BBC

Although Suzi has worked in motorsport for over 22 years, the rush of excitement never disappears and that is the “beauty of live sport”, according to the presenter .

“It’s a combination of, I wouldn’t say nerves because I’ve done it for a long time, but there’s certainly excitement before and few deep breaths before the ‘hello and welcome’,” she says. “It’s great to have that buzz. I never turn up thinking ‘oh gosh, here we go again’. It’s always my life.”

One of the highlights for Suzi now is presenting with friends, which is a dream scenario for most people

“I’m at a stage where I’m working with my friends, the guys that I interviewed twenty years ago,” she says. “It’s heaven, it really is. No one has an agenda. I can honestly say that I’m in a team that pulls together, instead of one that pulls apart.”

5860862-high_res-formula--477733
Photograph credit: Peter Fox

But, of course, there is always the tricky moments live on air. As Suzi explains, live broadcasts rarely run as planned despite rehearsal.

“You can be saying hello and welcome and the whole show changes in your ear,” she says. “Sometimes you haven’t even got to the end of your sentence and something has happened. That’s the beauty of live sport.”

Suzi compares her job to news broadcasting, because of its ever changing nature: “There’s nothing like doing live sport, except, now this might sound strange, but news broadcasting. You have to be instinctive and have your wits completely about you and be a hundred percent. You try to be completely switched on all of the time when you’re broadcasting because anything can happen.”

7-464x600
Photograph credit: Mike Lawn

One of the most spectacular MotoGP races to date was in Argentina which took place in April. Although Suzi wasn’t there that weekend, she watched it unfold on television. Races this that are the ones where you bring all of your previous knowledge together to make a seamless broadcast for the viewers at home.

“It was something you don’t see very often, so you have to pull on all of your knowledge and wisdom,” she says. “As a presenter it’s not your job to give opinion, it’s your job to ask the right questions to your experts who are standing next to you. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what you feel, you just have to contain the passion in those situations and ask the right questions. That can be tricky sometimes, but when you’re surrounded by the right people, it’s good. It’s a wonderful job and I love it, but there are times when it’s quite difficult. “

Ellie McLaren: “I remember telling my Dad that I’d be one of those people that wore overalls in the pit lane”

Behind the scenes of every Formula One team there are hundreds of employees working night and day to ensure their team perform to their greatest potential. Even once the season begins, there is no rest for those back at the factory who are continuously working on new updates and developments to improve their team’s cars, and therefore their chances of podium and points finishes. Ellie McLaren is a Production Planner at Renault Sport F1 and having worked for Force India has a lot of experience in the paddock, so I spoke to her about working in F1 and how she started working at Enstone.

6

Having loved motorsport as a child, Ellie even raced, following in the footsteps of other members of her family. “When I was 11 years old I started racing a Short Oval Junior Rod, following my brothers, father and grandad. I grew up around race cars and most weekends were spent at a race track. I remember telling my Dad that one day I’d be one of those people that wore overalls in the pit lane when watching an F1 race one Sunday afternoon,” McLaren told me. Although the sport had been part of her life for a long time and having always said she would work in it, it wasn’t until her early teens that she actually decided how she planned to do this. “I wanted to be a vet until I found out that motorsport college was an actual thing! I googled ‘Motorsport College’ for fun and I found Oxford and Cherwell Valley college in Bicester, Oxfordshire. I showed my parents and at first, they weren’t keen on the idea of me being so far away, but nevertheless my mum took me to an open day and I started in September 2009,” she said.

After studying for a BTEC National Diploma in Motorsport, and failing to find an apprenticeship in F1, she decided to begin a Foundation Degree in Motorsport at Oxford Brookes University. In her first year she needed to complete 40 hours in a work placement and after contacting many teams, managed to secure work at Sahara Force India. “It was a great experience,” Ellie explained, “I worked in various departments learning about the different procedures. In June 2012, I applied for a Trainee Composite Technician role that became available at the team and I got the job! I chose to leave university and start a full time working career at Force India.” McLaren spent 5 years working with the team, graduating from Trainee Composite Technician to Race Team Composite Support and spending over a year travelling the world with the team. “I travelled for 18 months, visited several races and finally got to wear my overalls in the pit lane! This was a proud moment for me, I’d achieved everything I wanted,” Ellie described.

4

Wanting to progress further in her career, McLaren left Force India to join Lotus F1. Although the they were struggling financially at the time, she still decided to take a chance on the team. “In September 2015 I became a Production Planner. It was more responsibility and I felt there could be more opportunities for me to progress my career here. This all paid off in January 2016 when it was announced Renault were going to take over and we would become a works team,” Ellie told me.

“I am responsible for planning the manufacturing schedules for new design releases for the car. My main areas of focus are the front and rear brake drums, the fuel system, the hydraulic system and the engine and exhausts. I process a new drawing and progress that part to ensure build and development targets are reached. I enjoy working to tight deadlines and its rewarding when new parts get to the circuit on time. After an event, I manage the turnaround for my parts, brake drums will need repairing or replacing so orders need to be raised and any race team usages will need to be actioned to ensure they aren’t short for the next event. Every day brings a new challenge and that’s what I enjoy.”

1

McLaren’s role no longer allows her to travel with the team, however she hopes this will change saying: “my role as a planner is completely factory based, however I have recently started my engineering degree again so there may be more opportunities in the future.” But for the moment, Ellie’s role as a Production Planner means she is based in Enstone with the off-season being her busiest time of year. “Car build is the busiest period in the whole F1 calendar! My working hours can be demanding and the number of new drawing releases and orders can double in comparison with during the season. The deadlines become harder to achieve, but when the car performs well in winter testing and reaches the track in Australia it makes it all worth it,” Ellie explained.

But as she says, when the team is successful it makes the hard work worthwhile, and during her time at Force India they had a fair amount of success, achieving multiple podiums. “Bahrain 2014 (was my best moment). It was my second race with Force India so still very exciting. Sergio Perez finished the race in 3rd place and the whole experience was so surreal! I can’t explain how happy and proud I was of everyone in the team. Being under the podium having a driver wave and thank you all was something I’ll never forget,” she described.

5

Having worked for several years in F1, never giving up is what Ellie believes has helped her to reach her dream roles. “It was a big decision to leave home at a young age and progress to working in a male orientated industry but I don’t regret it at all,” McLaren explained, “some days were difficult but you have enough good days to outweigh this. I don’t get treated any differently to anybody else and feel very well respected in my job.” Having left Force India for Renault, wanting to continue progressing in her career, it is clear that Ellie McLaren has a hunger to get better and improve. She has now returned to her university studies with the aim of completing the engineering degree she left behind when joining Force India, so who knows which job she may end up doing in the future?