In Conversation with Grid Clique
After meeting in a Formula 1 room on the Clubhouse app in 2021, Sarah Levenson and Samantha Manto joined forces to host and manage their own space to talk all things F1 with two other friends, under the name of Women of Grand Prix. Women of Grand Prix brought fans together to talk about Formula 1, as well as introducing listeners to those working in the industry through dedicated interview sessions. To break out of the women-only focused narrative, widening the lens to people of all genders, ethnicities and walks of life, a dedicated community was born in the form of Grid Clique.
Sarah has an educational background in Marketing, and Samantha’s is in Public Policy. Now, Sarah works in Corporate Communications, running her own agency and working across motorsport, automotive tech and AI, whilst Samantha is a Marketing Manager in an investment shop, providing strategic direction and managing external communications.
Despite spending her freshman year at Indiana University, where the Indy500 was a big thing but more like a party weekend than people actually caring about the racing, Sarah didn’t find motorsport until she transferred to Boston University. Her roommate was the only woman in a group of men to watch Formula 1.
“She was like, ‘I’m going to indoctrinate you so you can come hang out with us’,” Sarah says. “This was pre-Drive to Survive, so she would show me YouTube clips of highlight reels of past races so I could try to get to know the drivers.
“I was a very casual fan. I’d watch it with them but I wouldn’t watch it on my own, so if I wasn’t around on a weekend, I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Having fallen away from F1 for a while, Sarah’s love for the sport was reignited when friends of hers started hosting watch parties, and even more so when she met Samantha online.
Samantha, on the other hand, was born and raised in a Tifosi household in Montréal, Canada, a city with a huge Grand Prix culture, with the Canadian Grand Prix having been held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the city since 1978.
“If I think back to my childhood,” Samantha says, “the thing that’s most memorable is hearing the sound of the cars on the television.”
Like Sarah, Formula 1 also fell to the wayside in Samantha’s life. However, she returned to the sport in 2018 and her passion only grew from then onwards, and through the COVID pandemic.
“When parents tell you not to meet people on the internet and then you do… you take that chance and it works out,” Samantha says. “Our friendship grew out of managing this chat room and then I flew out to Miami from Toronto to meet Sarah for her birthday.
“It’s a very easy relationship.”
Together, the Women of GP managed their Clubhouse chat room for everyone, but wanted to emphasise that it was a place for women – who potentially felt intimidated to speak out about their passion for motorsport and Formula 1 – to talk freely and to make friends in the process.
“If you see a room full of ten guys and you’re the one girl who wants to talk about it, that’s intimidating,” Sarah says. “Creating a space that people feel comfortable in is part of our ethos.”
In 2021, Women of Grand Prix was the initial space created on Clubhouse by Sarah, Samantha and two other women. They all either worked full-time jobs or were in full-time education, but they still wanted to come together to create this dedicated space.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day in 2021 and with exciting content planned between the four of them, Women of Grand Prix first launched on Clubhouse. However, not being able to record or archive conversations on the Clubhouse became a problem, especially when Women of GP amassed a great community of people who wanted to join, but if they were unavailable for the scheduled talk time, they wouldn’t be able to catch up with it afterwards. Thus came Grid Clique.
“Our main focus is still women because we think it is such a huge untapped market but we don’t want to be limited,” Sarah says. “The name ‘clique’ has a traditionally negative connotation and we really wanted to try and break the stigma of that. We wanted this to be a space for everyone who watches motorsport and whoever wants to get involved.
“A lot of our interview focus is still on women but we have some really exciting talks coming up with a lot of men and allies, people who are doing really important things in the diversity and inclusion space in F1.”
“Women of GP was a space where we highlighted women who work in motorsport,” Samantha says. “The freedom in the change to Grid Clique allowed for us to expand our mandate to include individuals of any gender. We really wanted to shine a light on anyone doing innovative and socially minded initiatives and amplify different perspectives. It was very important for Sarah and I, because growing up, we didn’t see any women represented within the sport and that experience extends to people of colour as well.
“You could say that about a lot of sports, but here we are talking about Formula 1 and it seems with motorsport there is an extra layer of protectionism for tradition.”
With Grid Clique, Sarah and Samantha host regular Instagram live interview sessions with key figures in the motorsport industry. Additionally, they discuss the importance of diversity and visibility for women in motorsport, by providing statistics, opinions and information about diverse roles in the racing landscape.
“There are choices that women could be making as far as career paths, interests and passion projects that we don’t know about,” Samantha says. “It’s a little different in North America as it is in Europe - you’re a lot less exposed to motorsport. I mean I didn’t know there were these options as far as careers. It seems much more catered to men as you only see men, even if that is not what motorsport is representing, it’s what they’re unconsciously telling us.
“By having these conversations with amazing women, they get vulnerable, they talk about their career choices, where their more personal choices led them, and sometimes, we find that the common denominator is that there are other women there helping them.”
Sarah and Samantha share a common goal of having conversations that aren’t already being had in the industry by highlighting women’s stories and getting their names out in the sphere among fans.
“We’re really trying to create original content about vital conversations that should be had which aren’t yet being had,” Sarah says. “We will talk about new stuff as it comes, but we don’t want to be posting daily news, or what the gossip is. There are many other content creators who are doing this, and doing it well. We feel what we offer is unique to add to the overall discourse."
As well as working with different women in the motorsport industry, Sarah and Samantha have also worked with the W Series team, CortDAO, at the 2022 Miami Grand Prix after getting involved with their Instagram page.
“When CortDAO was announced, we just started talking about it and tagging them. Every time we tagged them, they would thank us,” Sarah says. “They then followed us and we reached out, wanting to get to know more about the team.”
After chatting with Michael Livingston, who founded and runs CortDAO, Sarah was invited to join the team in the W Series paddock in Miami. During her time there, she worked with the team’s drivers, Marta Garcia-Lopez and Fabienne Wohlwend, to create a series of recorded interviews.
“The worst thing you can do is not put yourself forward and the best thing you can do is go out of your comfort zone so you can land experiences like we were able to land,” Sarah says. “For the most part, people want to help out so everyone to be involved.
“That is so unique and special so for me, my mindset shifted from ‘I’m just watching a bunch of guys driving cars in circles’ to ‘wow, I have this community and support system of people who just truly want all of us to thrive.’ That’s super special about motorsport. If you can find that group and community, there is nothing like it.”
Originally, Sarah wasn’t going to post anything onto her Instagram from the paddock, but her friends persuaded her otherwise because she has a following of people who should see that the paddock can be accessible if you get involved with the community.
“I hope to be relatable in that sense; this started as a passion project before I became professionally involved,” Sarah says. “I wanted it to seem relatable because it can be accessible. Obviously, you have to meet the right people, but it’s not impossible.”
For both Sarah and Samantha, having female visibility in the motorsport industry is so important. It’s important so that it can help society break away from stereotypical ideas of career trajectories. In Samantha’s words, “no one tells women that they can become mechanics. No one tells women that they can change tyres. No one really informs women on their options because in male dominated spaces, it’s a non-entity. We are looking to hopefully help curb that mindset.”
In their early Clubhouse days, Sarah and Samantha interviewed Ariana Bravo, who studied Economics at university and worked within motorsport as a passion project. Now, Ariana is working full-time in motorsport with Formula 1 and Channel 4 as a presenter.
“Watching those people grow in the world of motorsport,” Sarah says, “has been something super special.”
Through Grid Clique, Sarah and Samantha are helping to show people from all walks of life that it is possible to begin in the motorsport industry with a passion project and it can grow into something more.
“It’s important for us to see women in this space just so we know that they exist,” Samantha says. “Careers in motorsport aren’t general knowledge. How are young women supposed to know that this is something they can explore?
“If it’s not spoken about, then people don’t know, so it’s about bringing light to all of the incredible work that these incredible women are doing. If we don’t talk about it, nobody else is.”
Although Sarah expresses how she wants to move away from the fact that women have to seek safe spaces in the motorsport and seek community instead, both her and Samantha acknowledge that this is a challenge out of their hands.
“As much as we want that to be normalised, we don’t know if or when it ever will be normalised, so the point of Grid Clique is to be a safe space,” Sarah says. “We want to make sure that people feel comfortable talking about what they love without backlash or without feeling like they have ‘stupid’ questions.
“It’s never a stupid question because for a lot of this stuff, we didn’t have anyone to teach us and without the people we did have, we wouldn’t know it.”
Sarah and Samantha have also been able to make connections with men who are in the sport and all of them are fully embracing the fact that this change is needed. The importance of having allies like this is outnumbered.
“We are very thankful that a lot of the men in this industry that we have met are trying to tell people the same things that we are through our platform,” both Sarah and Samantha highlight. “All of us can be part of this game. There is room for us all.
“We’re here, as women. We’re a community. We all share, highlight and praise. We’re not in competition with you. We’re all doing something we enjoy.”
Image Credit: Sarah Levenson & Samantha Manto