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  • Ellie Mae

Liz Brooks: 'It would signify real progress, it would show that there's change.'

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Women in Motorsport is a constant topic of discussion on almost every social media platform these days. And, it’s definitely a subject we need to talk about openly. Encouraging discussion about diversity itself within the paddock is a must and the introduction of my brand-new Women in Motorsport helps me, as a writer, signify its importance to me. I have witnessed what people say to women who work in Formula 1 or other series, and similarly to those who aspire to work in the sector. That’s why this series is important; if you are a female content creator reading this, speak up – use your voice and your platform to do something similar. Let’s talk about this!


Recently, we’ve seen sixteen-year-old Maya Weug promoted to the Ferrari Driver Academy, of which she is the first female member. She competed in the FIA Girls On Track Rising Star programme and came first to gain her spot. FIA Girls On Track is ‘a competition model for the promotion and development of young women in motorsports at grassroots level’. There’s also the Formula Woman competition which has been relaunched, and I am lucky to be part of the media team there – we are trying to promote the idea of accessible motorsport for all women. Register your interest, get involved! You don’t need any previous racing experience. The W Series is a new, yet well-known, all-female single seater championship, launched in 2019. The 2021 season is their first in partnership with Formula 1. Change is ongoing in such a fast paced industry. Change is needed.

 

I was lucky enough to speak to the wonderful Liz Brooks, Head of Media and Communications for Rokit Venturi Racing (Formula E). I wanted my chat with her to be the first part of my new series, as she truly is an inspiration not only to me, but to many who aspire to work within Communications. We had a great discussion about her journey to motorsport, working with Susie Wolff and her role at Venturi, plus what seeing women in motorsport means to her.

 

ELLIE: You said previously that it was a case of being in the right place at the right time regarding a job offer from Eddie Jordan – what was it like receiving that offer?


LIZ: To be honest, it felt completely surreal, because I wasn’t expecting it at all and I hadn’t been looking for a job in Formula 1. At the time, I was working for a PR agency and at the start of my career; I was pretty young, I think twenty or twenty-one. I was working for a PR agency on the Kawasaki account and my responsibilities were road bikes, off-road and they were doing world superbikes, so I had a bit of motorsport experience, but only on two wheels, not four. Whilst I enjoyed going to those races, I think, for me, the priority was understanding how to do brand communications, so I wasn’t like, ‘it’s motorsport or nothing for me’, it wasn’t my frame of reference at all. I just wanted to make the most of every moment and setting up a photoshoot at the Jordan factory, which is now Aston Martin, is right opposite the entrance to Silverstone. Sure, it was great to be there and my main priority was obviously making the most of the moment for Kawasaki, it wasn’t in any way trying to impress Eddie Jordan or make an impression on the team at all. I just wanted to do a really good job for my client. I think that’s a really important point because I think people can get a little bit blown away and perhaps lose sight of what they’re trying to do.


Ultimately, in any situation, you want to make the very best first impression and if you’re panicked about potential career opportunities, I think that can unsettle you. From my perspective, I wasn’t trying to pitch myself to anybody, or trying to impress him or get him to notice me or get a job, I was literally there doing my job and he saw me doing my job. He really liked what he saw and we engaged in a conversation; I was just my normal self, completely relaxed, but just my normal self, polite and relatively calm but enthusiastic, and then, getting a phone call from him. Ten days later, I had a phone interview with him and then getting the job offer a couple of weeks later was surreal. I felt incredibly lucky, but I also felt like, this is just the way life is, I guess. I’ve been really, really lucky because even at the start of my career, I worked with people who could see that I had potential when it came to communications, and I don’t mean that to sound in any way arrogant, I was just lucky that I worked with people who recognised young talent and wanted to encourage it and grow it. I’d already had a lot of positive feedback, so it wasn’t the most unusual thing to get a phone call with a job offer, but the fact that it was from the team boss, which to me didn’t seem like a normal way of recruiting, you wouldn’t imagine it to be the team boss, you would imagine it to be the head of marketing and communications, so that part was pretty surreal. I felt really flattered and I felt like it was a really good opportunity to see where it goes – that’s what I felt.


"Universities didn’t really offer PR degrees, or communications and media degrees."

ELLIE: Did it take you a while to make your decision, or was it an easy one?


LIZ: Because I was being recruited by him, he didn’t really explain what the job was, so whilst I knew I would be working on the communications side and I already had that role in the job I was doing as a press officer, I assumed it would be a similar type of dynamic. I’ve always loved travelling, I’ve travelled from a really young age and as soon as I could go to Australia when I finished school, I went; that’s in my nature, I just have a real travel bug. I was in quite a serious relationship at the time and I think the only hesitation I had was not from a career perspective, it was ‘will this be okay for my relationship?’. He was really supportive, but that would’ve been my only hesitation. I soon decided it was absolutely fine.


ELLIE: Before Jordan offered you a job, what areas had you worked in?


LIZ: I was quite lucky, I went to school in Scotland and in my fifth year, we had something called Young Enterprise, which was something you could volunteer to be part of, and it’s where a group of you would set up your own company. It wasn’t pretend, but it was an exercise where you would set up your company, you’d create your product, you’d come up with a communications campaign, you know, everything you’d need to do to have a successful company. I was the head of communications and I loved that role and the opportunity to create a perception around something. I just really enjoyed that dynamic.


I knew already, way before I left school, that I wanted to do something in communications but at that time, to my knowledge, universities didn’t really offer PR degrees, or communications and media degrees, so I went for business. Had I really known, or had the situation been different and there was the possibility to study communications, then I probably would’ve gone more in that direction. Now, I think it’s really important to emphasise that if the opportunity from a university or college perspective isn’t there for you, for whatever reason, I would say, don’t panic. Get creative. There’s always another way to get into what it is that you want to do. The most important thing is trying to understand what it is that you want to do and the reasoning behind why you want to do it. Sometimes, it’s equally important to know what you don’t want to do.


Working with Susie [Wolff], obviously is inspiring for lots of reasons and it’s an incredible situation, but one thing that she’s always said is that if you find your passion and you can find work through your passion, it’ll never feel like a job. Yes, it’s hard work, it’s long hours and it’s nowhere near as glamourous as people perceive, but when it’s your passion and it’s something you naturally have an aptitude for, it doesn’t feel like a job.


"Within two weeks, we'd agreed to work together."

ELLIE: Did you ever imagine yourself working in motorsport?


LIZ: As soon as I was working with Kawasaki and I experienced the different sides of their business, like the consumer side and the motorsport side, I enjoyed the motorsport side because it was a lot more factual – you either win a race or you don’t. I wasn’t actively looking to do more of it, but I could definitely see that my nature was a better fit, for sure.


"It's my job to define how we talk to people."

ELLIE: How did your position with Venturi come about?


LIZ: One of my very dear friend’s works for Mercedes in Formula 1 and he properly introduced Susie and I before it was announced that she was joining Venturi. A couple of weeks later, Susie and I jumped on a phone call, ten days after that we met up in person in Oxford and within two weeks, we’d agreed to work together. It really goes back to that basic of relationships, staying in contact, making clear when you’re available and building up a good reputation. We are now two and a half years in and Susie and I are working incredibly well together, I feel very lucky. In my mind, it didn’t really feel like there was a big decision to make. As soon as I spoke with Susie, I felt like it was a really good move for us to work together.


ELLIE: You are Head of Media and Communications – for those who aren’t familiar with this sector, can you briefly explain what that means and involves?


LIZ: Basically, it’s my job to define the tone of voice for the racing team with the general public, with our audience, with the sport, and with our commercial partners. Any written communication, any online content, any social media content – it’s my job to define how we talk to people, how we engage with people and how we build our fanbase. In addition to that, I’m the first line of contact between the team and the media, so any journalist, any TV station or broadcaster that wants to talk to our drivers, or our Team Principal, or any of our technical team, they have to come to me first and it’s my job to decide whether or not they should be talking to our team. There’s a million other things that fall under that, from writing the race report, press releases to selecting the right imagery to go on our website after a race weekend, but the top line of it is that I’m responsible for the public perception of the team.


"Every team us unique and special and has its own dynamic."

ELLIE: Do you feel like there’s any added pressure that comes along with your job?


LIZ: To be honest, I think it’s in my nature anyway to put that kind of pressure on myself no matter what I’m doing. I want to be the best at what I do, that’s really important to me. So, if I was working for Formula E or if I was working for my local corner shop, for me, I would still want to do my best. It’s an ego thing, definitely, and that’s not a bad thing, either.


"If you want to work in motorsport, you need to be really open minded."

ELLIE: What is so special about working with Rokit Venturi Racing and what have you learnt from other team members?


LIZ: Every team that you work with, and bearing in mind that my background is predominantly Formula 1 and I’ve worked with every single team now one form of another, if it’s been interviewing their drivers or embedded with the team… I’ve worked with a lot of teams. Every team is unique and special and has its own dynamic. I think, what makes Venturi special, is that in the grand scheme of Formula E, Venturi is really quite a small team, but we don’t have a small team attitude. We’re quite punchy, ambitious, very passionate with very talented and dedicated individuals and that’s been driven by Susie. So, Susie is what makes the team unique. The people are what make Venturi unique. Susie made it her mission when she first arrived at Venturi to put the right people in the right jobs, and that takes time. Culturally, when you work with a Monegasque based team and the majority of the personnel are French, it’s different to working for an English team. There’s a different culture so you have to adapt to that, too. I would say the things that make Venturi special are definitely the people and the ambition versus the size.


ELLIE: What has it been like adapting to the different culture while working with people from France or Monaco?


LIZ: If you want to work in motorsport, you need to be really open minded when it comes to different cultures because even if English is the international language of motorsport, you’re still surrounded by a very international community. When you work for a team, for example, you will have partners who have different territories as their priority and it’s important for you to have a good understanding of different cultures and what appeals to them, so that you can make sure your team and your commercial partner are engaging with your audience in the right way. I came in with Susie at a time of change for the team; it’s a small team and you can imagine that there would be some type of discomfort. It’s quite interesting when you come in during a period of change because you see that people are a little unsettled. The important thing from my perspective was to be really open, to make it clear what my role was, and my role did change from the first six months to a year to encompass more things.


"It's diversity full stop that we need to see in motorsport."

ELLIE: Is there a particular stand out memory you have from your time so far with Venturi?


LIZ: I would say definitely our first race win in Hong Kong in season five. That was incredible and for such a young team, and no Formula E team has been in it longer than six seasons because we’re only six seasons old, and all the teams are relatively young. For Venturi, it was a real moment of hope. I think that’s definitely a stand out moment for me. That and Felipe [Massa]’s podium at our home race in Monaco in season five. That was also fantastic, the energy in the garage was just incredible and it was such a happy, happy moment. My stand-out memories aren’t just on track, performance related; working with Susie has led to some incredible moments where I’ve felt phenomenally proud to be working with her. The way that she’s blazed a trail for women working in motorsport, I think she’s the only female Team Principal and co-owner of a co-gender motorsport team, not including the W Series. I think she is phenomenal and when we work together on things like interviews, and when I listen back, I am so proud of her and what she has achieved, her vision and her relentless tenacity to achieve. It’s great to work with somebody who is such a source of inspiration.


ELLIE: What do you think is the most important aspect of seeing women working in motorsport?


LIZ: I think it’s fantastic. I think if the next generation don’t have people to look up to, that they can identify with, then they won’t consider it as a realistic job opportunity. I think the more women we have, the more people from different background we have – it’s not just a female issue – from my perspective, as someone who has worked in this industry for nearly twenty years now, it’s not just women. It’s diversity full stop that we need to see in motorsport. It’s all different faces, different backgrounds, different nationalities. I think we need to be a much more diverse environment, so yes, when I see women in great positions across the board in motorsport, I think it’s fantastic because it gives the next generation real role models and people to look up to and feeling like it’s achievable and realistic – ‘if they can do it, I can do it’. I think that’s really important, but it needs to be across the board.


"Is it because you believe motorsport has the power to unite people?"

ELLIE: What would it mean to you to see more women working in motorsport?


LIZ: For me, it would signify real progress. Really simply, it would signify real progress, it would show that there’s change. At Venturi, we’re a third female, and not just a third female, but in senior positions. Not just our Team Principal is female, but our Team Manager, obviously there’s me as Head of Media and Communications, our Head of Brand Partnerships, our Head of Head of Logistics – all women. From a female perspective, yes, I would see it as a massive sign of progress.


ELLIE: Do you have any words of wisdom for young women who may be looking to pursue a career in motorsport?


LIZ: Yes, absolutely. I would say go for it, if it’s what you really want. Think hard about why you want it, first and foremost. Work hard. Show up, be in the room, I think that’s really important. I think some people want to work in motorsport just to say they work in motorsport because it seems exciting and cool. That’s what I mean about think hard about why you want to work in this dynamic. Is it because you come from a background in motorsport? Is it because you believe motorsport has the power to unite people? Is it something like Formula E, where it’s exciting because it’s about sustainable mobility and change in the way the world thinks about electric mobility to help create a better environment for all? What is the real reason why you want to get involved in motorsport? If that reason is a good and true reason, and it’s really your passion, then look at the different roles within motorsport.


Identify where you think you would fit into that puzzle and then start to network. So, look on LinkedIn, look at team websites, don’t go direct necessarily to Formula 1. Look at different Formulas, different series, look at your local motorsport authority in the country you’re living in. Maybe you don’t have a Formula 1 or a Formula E race in your country, but there will be a karting track somewhere, so have a big vision, but have a realistic way of activating it. Start somewhere that’s accessible to you. Go online to network. If it’s about Media and Communications, start writing. I think that’s a really good place to start because then you’ve got something to show people, which is really important. It demonstrates your knowledge and your style. Read as much as you can. Find journalists whose writing you like and understand why you like it. Do your research, that’s what I mean by work at it. Network, and try and find an access point, which might not be the obvious place. Volunteering, as well, I think is a fantastic way of getting access into motorsport, so find your local race track, find out what events they’ve got going on. You know, things like the FIA Girls on Track is a fantastic place to start. Volunteer, and when you’re there, really be in the room with a big smile on your face, introduce yourself with confidence – all of those are really good places to start.


 

The seventh Formula E season begins in Saudi Arabia on February 26 and February 27, 2021. After the postponement of the first race, supposed to be in Chile, the teams travel to the middle east to start the first FIA recognised World Championship of the series. Venturi compete as the only Monégasque team in the series, with Edoardo Mortara and Norman Nato filling their two seats. An exciting electric racing Championship, featuring ex-Formula 1 drivers including Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes Benz EQ) and Pascal Wehrlein (Porsche), Formula E is set to be #PositivelyCharged in 2021.

 

My focus on Women in Motorsport remains prominent, and with this series, I hope I can bring an even further insight to the industry for many of my female readers in particular. If there is a particular female figure, or even a male working in a category like W Series, that you'd like to see an interview with, get in touch with me through my contact form here.

 

Photo Credit: Rokit Venturi Racing | @VenturiFE


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