“I can’t wait to get back out in the car,” Sarah Moore tells Females in Motorsport. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
And, Sarah has great reason to be excited.
This weekend, the 25-year-old is heading to Hockenheim to compete in the inaugural round of the all-female W Series. She describes it as the “biggest opportunity in her career to date” and hopes that it’ll take her to the “next level of professional racing”.
Sarah grew up with racing being engraved in her everyday life with her three brothers and sister all involved in motorsport. Naturally, Sarah took to racing at an early age by starting out racing karts. She says herself that racing feels normal to her as she was “born into it”.
“I’m lucky enough to have grown up within a racing family on an airfield with a karting Circuit and a race team,” she says. “So it was easy for me really, it’s all I knew growing up. It’s in my blood!”
After karting, Sarah climbed the ranks to become the Ginetta Junior champion in 2009. This success was recognised in the industry, and she was named Autosport’s young driver of the year.
Fast-forward to the present day, and ahead of the W Series selection process, Sarah hadn’t set foot in a single-seater formula car since 2011.
“To get back in a formula car is so important for me to gain knowledge and further my driving skills to help achieve my goals and dreams,” she says. “I’d say the F3 cars we’re lucky enough to be racing is probably the best car I’ve driven to date. I’m just learning more and more about the car and improving my driving with every lap.”
The W Series drivers will all compete in identical Tatuus Formula 3 cars, to allow an equal playing field from the get go.
Over 100 women applied for the first season of the series, and now only 18 successful competitors remain. Sarah is one of five British drivers to have made it to the starting grid, something she sees as a representation of how strong the talent from the UK is.
“Just to be part of the 18 chosen to be on the grid is an amazing achievement for myself, but it also opened our eyes as to how much more work we need to be putting in,” she says. “For all five Brits to get through just goes to show how strong our drivers from the UK are on track. It’s definitely going to make for an interesting battle at some point!”
With the weekend fast approaching, Sarah is targeting a top eight finish in the series’ first outing.
Supporting the DTM calendar, the W Series will also be broadcast live on Channel 4 throughout its racing year. Viewers will also be able to catch the action on demand.
“My main focus going into the first race weekend is to finish inside the top eight, but as with all drivers our ultimate aim is to win so I will always be giving it my all,” she says. “A win at this level would definitely be the highlight of my career, but as always it’s all about consistency.”
In terms of her main competition, Sarah is adamant that there isn’t one particular person at this stage.
“All the drivers on the grid are there for a reason, they are all fantastic drivers and I think it’s going to be some really good, close racing,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the lights out on the first race!”
And, thankfully, Sarah won’t have to wait much longer. The first qualifying of the W Series season will get underway on Sunday at 10:55 (BTS).
“I’m a big believer in the power of dreams,” says Charlie Martin. “If you don’t have dreams or things like that, then you’re never going to get there. You have to aim high and dream big.”
Charlie is a remarkable racer aiming for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Faced with ups and downs throughout her career, this is the story of how she is fighting for equality in motorsport.
Charlie has been a familiar face in motorsport paddocks for a number of years now. She started out in hillclimb where going to the events was just a hobby. But then Charlie decided to become the person she was always destined to be, and transitioned.
For a while, she considered giving up motorsport for good, crippled with the fear of the unknown. How would people react? What would people say?
Thankfully, Charlie found the strength to continue on her motorsport journey and, now, she’s a role model for many facing some kind of adversity in their life as well as being no stranger to scoring points and a podium in this year’s Ginetta GT5 Challenge.
“When I was growing up and getting into motorsport, I really loved the whole romantic idea of Le Mans,” Charlie says. “It’s the original one, and the most special out of all of the races. I went several times in the early 2000s and it etched itself in my memory. It’s a motorsport spectacle for me and the idea of racing there one day is incredible.”
The idea of racing at Le Mans itself was just an abstract idea, but now Charlie has raced there – on the Bugatti Circuit – coming third in her first ever endurance race. The goal is the 24 hour race and it’s beginning to feel like a possibility.
“Each time you go back you feel further towards the idea of going and competing there one day,” she says. “You do reach points where you think ‘wow, I never thought that I was going to do that’. So then you have to set new goals and look for what’s next. While I’m still a long way off, the dream feels like it’s more than just that now.”
After completing a graphic design degree at university, Charlie’s lifestyle changed. Each day was about living a healthy and balanced approach. The gym became a frequent place to hang out instead of spending nights at the pub. Now, everything she does “leads into the time that you spend into the car”.
While motorsport is a key positive in her life now, it was a daunting place when she began her transition in 2012.
“I nearly gave up motorsport all together to transition,” she says. “It feels crazy to me now, given how important motorsport is to me. But that’s how I felt back then. I’m a hell of a lot more confident now.”
After her transition, the first paddock she went to was in hillclimbing.
“I was absolutely terrified,” Charlie admits. “ I couldn’t look at anyone. It’s an older kind of age group and it was my perception that younger people would perhaps be more in-tune with the idea of being trans. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what I thought.”
Now, Charlie is leading the way in promoting equality for the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year she provided stickers for racers to wear on their cars to showcase Pride.
“I found that nobody was never unkind to my face,” she says. “All stigmas went away and people were really friendly. I came out to everyone in France on Facebook – nobody knew then and everyone was lovely. I was worried that people would look at me different.
“This year doing it in England was different again, trying to judge people’s reactions in the circuit racing paddocks. I was scared. Naomi, my PR, has been brilliant – I really value her judgement. We were talking about what we were going to do – I felt like it was going to go wrong, but I just didn’t know. I didn’t know if I’d get trolling.”
While Charlie’s experience has been largely positive, she still feels that there’s always more that can be done.
Danny Watts – an ex racing driver who has competed in 24 Hours of Le Mans – came out as gay last year. Charlie supports Danny’s decision to come out to the public, as it could help support someone else.
“People said it shouldn’t be a story,” Charlie says. “ We shouldn’t have to have a thing about this – but yes, we do. It’s an environment now where they feel like they can come out, and people need to see that in order to know that they aren’t going to be laughed at or abused online.”
Charlie knows that her brave move to come out as transgender was, and still is, important for the motorsport community and beyond.
“No matter your sport, we should be free to do the sport we love, be who we want to be, and be who we want to be with,” she says. “We shouldn’t be judged by that. The more people who are visible, the more people will feel less at risk to come forward and be who they are.”
Her own story has translated into more confidence when it comes to competing on the track and it’s made her “bold” in terms of what she’s set out to achieve.
“I’ve gained so much confidence after transitioning,” she says.” I never thought that transitioning would be possible for me. If I can do that, what else can I do? Maybe it’s just not being afraid of failing, but I’ve succeeded so far. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end of the world.
“Transition isn’t an easy ride. I’m lucky to have had the way things have gone. There’s a lot that needs to change in terms of society’s treatment of trans people. I’m in the position where I can play a part in that. It’s a small part, but it all helps.”
Her slogan “your mountain is waiting, so get on your way” is also another way of helping. Although she didn’t coin the phrase herself, it was on a piece of jewellery she purchased when she was a year into her transition. It resonated with her and grabbed her immediately.
“With hill climbing at the time and my situation, it was how I felt about life,” she says. “Everybody has their mountain and you just have to give it a go. You have to get out there and try and climb it.”
With that in mind, Charlie is continuing on her incredible journey to one day reach LMP3 after testing a Ligier JSP3 during summer.
Tatiana Calderon is breaking down gender barriers in motorsport, with the Colombian-born racer holding the test driver role for Alfa Romeo Racing Formula 1 team.
Recently, it was announced that she would drive in Formula 2 this season, becoming the first woman to line-up in the series’ history. Competing with BWT Arden, Tatiana takes the step up from GP3.
In addition, in October of last year she made history by becoming the first female Latin American driver to drive a Formula 1 car.
She had her first taste of F1 machinery with Sauber at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City in a promotional event. Two months later, she had another outing at Fiorano in a two-day test event.
“I’ve always dreamt of racing in F2 because it’s so competitive,” Tatiana says. “The races are sometimes even better than F1 because you never know who’s going to win.
“It took a while to get the budget together and to get the team in place. I’m really happy that I managed to secure a seat with BWT Arden, and I look forward to the start of the season.”
During her time in GP3, Tatiana admits things didn’t always go her way and she has been open about the F2 car suiting her driving style more.
For 2019, the 26-year-old will partner the reigning GP3 champion – Antoine Hubert. He is someone that Tatiana is keen to learn from, despite having never been coupled with a driver who has “those credentials”.
“I like the extra power,” she says. “What we have is 300 more horsepower than in GP3 and we have carbon brakes. I like to push the engine a little bit more, and with the brakes I’m quite good. I really look forward to my first race to really be able to confirm if it suits me better.”
“There are many drivers who have been there for a while, so that makes it obviously more difficult,” she says. “There’s also a lot of people coming from GP3, so the level will be high.”
She knows that it won’t be an easy task ahead of her, but she’s ready for the challenge.
“The teams here are very professional so everything is going to be tighter,” she says. “With the pit stops and the strategy, it’s going to be a tough year. I’m expecting it to be challenging, but I can learn and benefit from it quite a lot.”
Ultimately, she sees F2 as a chance to continue progressing onto her goal “a seat in F1”.
She hopes that she’ll be “regularly scoring points” this year and sets that as an important objective in what she labels as her most important year to date.
“Every year you think so but this is a very important year with step up to F2 and keeping my relationship with Alfa Romeo racing – that really means a lot to me,” she says. “I hope that I can pull it together and show that I deserve to get more chances in the future.
“The team appointed me as the driver because they wanted me in that role.”
Tatiana also broke into Formula E towards the end of last year, testing with DS Techeetah in the post-Ad Diriyah E-Prix in-season test.
“There’s nothing similar to a Formula E car,” she says. “You don’t have that much downforce. The power is very instant because they’re electric cars and it’s a lot more complex than what I imagined. There’s a lot you have to do as a driver to be competitive in one of those cars.”
She recalls being surprised by how difficult the Formula E car was to drive, but she will not rule out the series of her career.
“My dream is to race in F1, but I think Formula E is very interesting,” she says. “They have great drivers, really good engineers, and it’s developing. It’s definitely something to look at for the future.”
Like any driver, she has received her fair share of criticism. Tatiana, however, insists that she is in her position because of her talent.
“If you are in F1, it’s not because of your gender but because of your performance,” she says. “Fred Vasseur trusts me and he’s giving me the opportunity because I’ve responded. I’m there because I’m capable of doing the job.”
She also admits that the W Series approached her and invited her to apply for a seat in the all-new women-only championship. Tatiana declined because her career is “going in a different way”.
“Throughout my whole career I’ve always competed against the boys and against the best,” she says. “I’ve never thought that I couldn’t beat them or that I couldn’t be at the highest level. It would’ve been a step back in my career.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be showing girls and boys what you can achieve if you want something and if you find your passion.”
From a 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.”
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky’s road to success has been full of twists and turns. After a difficult couple of years, a last-minute drive in the 2018 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship – STCC – saw the Swedish driver bounce back. With a race win this season and a top 10 championship finish, Mikaela is more determined than ever to achieve her goals while maintaining a happy and healthy state of mind.
Despite being from a motorsport-orientated family with both of her parents, her grandfather and brother all drivers, Mikaela recalls having no interest in racing when she was growing up. In fact, she “resented it”.
“I didn’t want to go with my brother to the karting races he had or go to the rally in the town where I grew up in Sweden,” she says.
However, this all changed when her brother went to sell his kart.
“As his little sister, I was used to getting his old stuff,” she says. “I remember sitting at the table saying “hey, I should get the kart!” – I don’t know why I said it, but I know that I protested to get it. In the end I got it and went karting. I also liked it, after all!
“I was never pushed or forced to start motorsport, so the passion that I have for it has been founded by me. That’s important.”
Since discovering that she was fast in a kart, Mikaela decided to follow the path that led her to touring cars. While it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make, she felt the cost involved in single-seaters was too high.
“It was quite obvious for me as I knew that if I wanted to go racing I would have to finance it myself with sponsors,” she says. “Looking at the prices in single-seaters going all the way up to being a paid driver is huge. Touring cars are expensive, but it’s not on the same level in my eyes.”
2018 has seen Mikaela flourish with PWR Racing. With one retirement out of 12 starts, she has proven her ability to be consistently quick under race conditions. To top it all off, she won the second race at Sweden’s most prestigious track – Karlskoga Motorstadion.
“It’s been my best season to date,” she says. “I wasn’t certain that I was going to race this year and it really was a last-minute call that I would be the fourth car in the team. Up until March, the plans were all up in the air. I’d had two tough years previously, and I just wanted to have some fun this year. If I didn’t enjoy it, I knew that I would stop at the end of 2018.
“I had a fantastic time with my team and we worked with a step-by-step plan for each weekend. I wanted to finish in the top 10 and I finished 10th overall. I do wish that it would’ve been higher. I never dreamed of a win, though.”
After months of uncertainty, Mikaela’s win has been made official. After the race back in August, an appeal was made by another team about the exhaust system on her PWR car. Two weeks ago, the appeal was dropped and Mikaela’s win stands.
“I knew from the start that I deserved that win,” she says. “There was nothing wrong with the exhaust system and I knew that there was no advantage to be gained from it. From my side, I knew that on that day and in that race, I was the quickest. I had the most consistent laps and I didn’t make any mistakes – I had a great race. I’ve always seen myself as a winner in that round, despite what the ruling could’ve said. Now it’s all finalised, it’s relieving and I’m happy that I have the win back.”
Although nothing is confirmed for 2019, Mikaela is adamant that she will be back out racing again, with the end goal of making it to the World Touring Car Championship – WTCR – when the cars make the switch to electric powered engines.
“My goal is to continue in the STCC with PWR,” Mikaela says. “In the future, I want to go into the WTCR when they make their switch to electric cars.
“They will be different as they will be rear-wheel driven, but if I continue with PWR then they know what I’m like as a person and how I work so they will support me. If we get a plan together then I’m 100 percent certain that we’ll make it.”
Mikaela headed to Spain a couple of months ago to take part in the first FOA women drivers assessment programme test.
Ran by the FIA Women in Motorsport initiative, Mikaela tested two types of machinery, including a single seater. Accompanying her were 14 other drivers, including Tatiana Calderon, Jamie Chadwick and Christina Neilson.
“I loved how supportive the other girls were,” she says. “We had lots of chats about our experiences as we’re all in different forms of racing and it’s not that often that we’re able to talk to each other. A few of my friends back home try their best to understand what my life is like, but they never get the full picture. It was fun to be able to discuss racing with other girls and exchange our different experiences.”
Mikaela also maintains the importance of programmes that the FIA is working on in the bid to try and get more females involved in motorsport.
“The work that they’re doing – in particular the Girls on Track – to get more females into motorsport is so good,” Mikaela says. “I always get asked why there aren’t more girls in motorsport, and media campaigns and initiatives have a big impact. They show that women can be in motorsport and we can be as good as and if not better than the boys.”
However, Mikaela’s opinion is more divided when it comes to the new female-only W Series that will take to the track next year.
“It’s a good way for women to get into motorsport if you don’t have the budget or means to get into a mixed series,” she says. “You can show your potential in a single seater too.
“In my opinion, it won’t solve the problem of getting a female F1 driver. There’s so much more to racing than just winning one race and one championship. That’ll take you one step closer but that isn’t necessarily enough. You need to physically prepare for a big series and you need the full package, equipped with a good mentality and the right contacts.”
2016 and 2017 were difficult periods for Mikaela, and she isn’t afraid to admit it. A constant source of pressure meant that racing became too much and a step back was needed. However, the 25 year-old has learnt from her past experiences to ensure her mental state is on par with her physical.
“I lost myself during those two difficult years,” she says. “Things got very big in such a short amount of time. I got lots of partners and it all got incredibly serious. It got too much for me to be able to handle. When I got stressed, I lost the joy of what I did. Like in all disciplines, you need the time to rest – I didn’t have this. I was constantly on the go. I’m a lot stronger now and, more importantly, I’m a lot happier.”
Her journey means that she knows motorsport isn’t always an easy ride and, despite the difficult times, she doesn’t want people to “feel sorry” for her and instead wants people to learn that it’s okay to “lose sight of your passion”.
“The road to success isn’t the same for everyone,” she says. “For some people, just having motorsport all of the time is their route. I learnt that this method wasn’t mine as it didn’t work out. For me to succeed, I need the balance and to have down time with friends and family. It’s okay to have a different way of living your life within motorsport. The same method doesn’t work for all of us.”
Now, Mikaela is a member of the Red Bull Family and they work together as a partnership. She speaks highly of them, and describes Red Bull and her team PWR as being a family.
“With Red Bull and my team, it feels like they’re my family,” she says. “I enjoy coming into each race weekend or event because I can be myself. I feel so comfortable. It’s vital to me to have fun otherwise I won’t produce the results. It’s all about balance.
“When I was really down last Autumn, I didn’t think that Red Bull would continue their partnership with me. They told me that they believed in me and my strength and talent. It was Red Bull and PWR who kept me going in those times. Red Bull are doing some amazing things that are really out there. If you have a crazy idea, they listen. They may change some things but they’ll always try and make it happen.”
As her plans for next year get finalised, we look forward to cheering her on!
“I love driving a car as fast as possible on a closed road with no oncoming traffic or distractions – there’s no feeling quite like it!” Emma Gilmour, one of the world’s fastest female rally drivers, tells us.
“Add into the challenge of gravel and slippery surfaces and the feeling of dancing a car through acceleration and braking is unbeatable…”
New Zealand-born Emma Gilmour made her rally debut in 2002 at the Targa Bambina. Since then, she has been impressing with her skill and determination to take on some of the toughest rally stages in the world.
Through competing in FIA (the International Governing body for Motorsport) sanctioned events like the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, she has been able to net some excellent results while running her very own car dealership.
In 2009, she finished second in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship and has been recognised as the ‘top female rally driver’ at World Rally Championship events.
“I started co-driving for my sister, and then I finally had a go at driving and was hooked,” she says.”I think people are still surprised when they find out my passion. I think it’s regarded as a dangerous sport, but the horse riding I did before motorsport is much more dangerous.
“Our cars are built very safe and we take a lot of safety precautions. Driving every day is probably more risky!”
Emma has lots of brilliant motorsport memories and she has so “too many great rallies to choose from”. However, the WRC Finland will always hold a place close to her heart for “it’s truly special because of the nature of the roads and the passionate spectators”.
She competed in the Finnish event in 2006, where her and Claire Mole won stages in the Ford Fiesta – it was also the first event that they had ever competed in together.
“It was a very special event and I really hope to compete there again in the future,” she says.
The rally driver also regards desert racing as a favourite of hers, especially competing in Qatar, a place far from her home on the other side of the world.
“Desert racing in Qatar is has to be a highlight,” she says. “It was hugely challenging and so different to what I normally do. I can’t not mention doing the X Games in America as part of the Red Bull Global Rallycross series as a fantastic moment too. It was also hugely special.”
But, like with all sports, rallying can have a downside too. The engineering that goes into the cars is complex and a simple fault can spell out disaster for a competitor.
“Having to rely on a mechanical object to show your true ability is tough,” she says. “It can be so heartbreaking to be having a great event and then for something to break on your car.”
Emma also points out that the smallest of mistakes can lead to big repercussions, as you can pay a “big price for making a tiny error”.
Aside from this, Emma is adamant that women can be as competitive as men when it comes to rallying – Emma herself is a great example of this. “We need more women starting out in motorsport,” she says.
Despite being in the rallying game for over a decade and a half, she’s certain that there’ll be lots more motorsport adventures to come.
“I still want to compete in the WRC again – ideally in an R5 car,” she says. “I know I am a much better driver than the last time I competed in the WRC.”
This year she has been one of only two women competing in the New Zealand Rally Championship, where she is currently sixth in the standings with one weekend to go.
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.”
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 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.”
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”.
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.”