Maserati MSG Racing: James Rossiter & Liz Brooks on championing Diversity, Inclusion & Mental Health
Mental health has been, and continues to be, an extremely taboo subject, not only in our day-to-day lives but in motorsport. Discussing mental health – whether that be more generally or on a personal level – can be difficult. Everybody has different ways of approaching the discussion of their mental health, and we must remember how valid that is. It’s no easy feat, to be totally open and vulnerable about our feelings.
In motorsport, diversity, inclusion and mental health have been more common topics of conversation over recent years. As times are changing and more people are open about these issues and their personal experiences, the world as we know it becomes more accepting of talking and listening. Talking and listening in sports is becoming easier. It’s not perfect and there is still a long way to go, however, slowly but surely, we are breaking down these barriers. We are championing safe spaces. We are becoming more human.
Current Formula E Vice-World Champions Maserati MSG Racing are not only a competitive team on the grid. With a number of wins, podiums and Pole positions to their name, they have been a competitive force on track in Formula E, especially since their breakthrough fifth season. Off-track, the team are working tirelessly to make a difference in motorsport and in the wider world we live in. Maserati MSG Racing are all about racing with purpose.
Diversity, Inclusion and the topic of Mental Health are vital values for the team.
James Rossiter is the Team Principal, having joined Maserati MSG Racing in October 2022 and Liz Brooks, Director of Strategic Communications, has been with the team since before the start of Season 5. They both recognise the importance of the team’s values for motorsport, for the world, but for them personally, as individuals, both with different backgrounds and experiences in motorsport.
James entered the world of motorsport at a young age, starting out in karting before climbing the ranks to Formula Renault and Formula 3. After just two and a half years of racing, he reached Formula 1 in 2004, as a test driver.
“We won the World Championship with Brawn and Jenson Button in 2009, where I played a role in developing the car,” James says. “I almost made it onto the Formula 1 grid with USF1 in 2010, which fell through at the last hurdle.”
James has worked at Le Mans with Lotus and as Test and Reserve Driver for Force India in F1. He moved his career to Japan and has raced in Super GT and Super Formula, before heading to DS Techeetah in Formula E, where he was a Development and Reserve Driver. It was at DS Techeetah where James moved into management; he spent three years as their Sporting Director.
“I made a decision midway through 2019 that my goal was to become a Team Principal,” James says. “Moving into management from the end of 2019 allowed me to gain the knowledge to then be dropped in the deep end as Team Principal at Maserati MSG Racing.
“The goal wasn’t just to become Team Principal, it was to become Team Principal and then take my time to create the dream team, one that every driver would love to drive for – and a team that everyone would love to work for.”
With his experience racing all across the globe, James recognises how fortunate he has been to learn how different cultures work and how different teams operate. All of these factors tie together in his role at the helm of Maserati MSG.
As a racing driver, James has first-hand experience of dealing with his mental health in a high-pressure environment. His honest truth is that he didn’t look after his mental health in the ways he knows he could’ve now. In the past, mental health has been a difficult topic to approach and address, particularly in the professional sporting world. Athletes, like James, can have years of success where you’re on top of the world but you can also have years filled with struggles.
He realised how much he was sucked into the ups and downs as a driver and how he struggled to separate it from his day-to-day life. That comes down to the fact that racing was – and still is – his life.
“It wasn’t really accepted as a professional athlete to have mental health issues,” he says. “If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it [look after my mental health] differently.
“It’s put me in a position where I can really see the drivers who race for me. It was something that I saw very clearly in my role with DS Techeetah.”
James’ experiences as a driver himself, and working in management with DS Techeetah, has changed how he looks after his mental health now. It has changed the way he behaves when he switches off from Formula E.
“Being able to take that step back,” he says. “Take a deep breath and take a look at the bigger picture of what’s going on… if you can do that on a daily basis, you’re in a much better place to ensure that everyone is in the right place mentally, including yourself.”
As Director of Strategic Communications, Liz joined the team ahead of Season 5 in 2018 alongside former Team Principal and CEO Susie Wolff and from the offset, diversity and equity was important to them and to the team.
“Susie made it really clear when she spoke to me about taking on the Communications for the team that we were going to do things differently,” Liz says. “I would have carte blanche to use our unique platform to make a positive impact.”
Through gender empowerment and gender equity, the team connected with the FIA’s Purpose Driven campaign in Season 6 and from Season 7 onwards, they ran with their Pride campaign. Their dedication to these values and causes are ongoing today, in Season 9.
“We don’t want to just be known as ‘the car with the rainbow’ or ‘the team with lots of women,” Liz says. “That’s not the vibe for us at all.
“It’s a much wider theme that we acknowledge; our sport picks from a very small talent pool. There is a pipeline issue when it comes to connecting talent from under-represented groups with opportunity and we want to widen the pipeline.”
Maserati MSG Racing are working to show that these issues exist in motorsport and how these career pathways – whether it be in aerodynamics, engineering, driving or communications – are viable options for all.
In previous campaigns ran by the team, Liz has spoken about her role in the team as well as away from it, as a parent and how this aligns with her mental health. She recognises how important it is for her to work with a team who are fully understanding of her role away from the track, as a single mum.
“There is a really open dynamic in our conversation and when I need to take time away because I’ve been away for five or six days and I go home and need to be with my son,” Liz says. “The team completely understands and respects that.
“For me, being a good mother makes me far better at my job.”
Maserati MSG Racing’s values as a team align with those shared by James, Liz, and other members of the Monegasque outfit. Diversity, Inclusion and Mental Health are just some of these values; like other teams on the Formula E grid, green sustainability is a top priority on their list.
“We are all trying to do our best to leave behind a better world than we arrived into,” Liz says. “We race with purpose– but as an electric championship every Formula E team can speak to this goal. Where we like to make a real difference is in our education and efforts in social sustainability and looking at how we can foster serious social change for a better, more progressive working environment too.”
Maserati MSG are dedicated to using their platform for good to raise awareness of the underrepresented communities within motorsport. It’s a work in progress, but by working with their partners who share their values, the team are trying to do things better in the industry.
Already, Liz believes they really are making a difference.
“When people come up to us in Jakarta because of our Pride campaign and they’re crying as they tell us that for once in their lives, they’ve seen a motorsport entity that represents them and who they are,” she says. “That feel good factor and realising that we are making progress on this level is really important to me.”
Alongside this, James recognises how important it is to use their platform to share important messages across the sport that some people might shy away from, or are scared to talk about. When it comes to mental health in such a male dominated industry, this might be more common than we think.
“Something that’s very important to me is that we’re open and we do share our values,” he says. “Being able to transmit that on a global scale is very, very important and a very moving part of our team strategy.”
Maserati MSG work closely with their ownership group, who put their faith and trust completely in James from a management perspective, Liz from a communications perspective, and the rest of the team in their different roles, and empower them to work hard.
“There are risks in everything we do when we take such a strong stance on things, but the reward in terms of doing good is really important to us,” Liz says. “We can engage with our audience and get across these important messages that you’re not alone and we are for everyone, everywhere, at any time.”
Motorsport, for generations, has been perceived as a very macho, male dominated sport.
James highlights that it’s okay to have down days and accept them, and not pretend that they don’t exist; they do, and everyone has them.
“It’s our job to challenge the status quo and, having been a driver in this very male-dominated, machismo environment definitely helps me see the depth of the work that needs to be done,” James says. “Changing that perception and really blazing a new path to being open and showing that it’s okay not to be the strongest one in the world all the time is a big task, but I love a challenge.”
Liz explains how when we are at our most human, we can bring everything to the table and take greater risks. At Maserati MSG Racing, there is a very open culture of making sure that if people aren’t feeling great, talking about it and being supported with it is the number one option and priority.
“There’s a massive strength that comes from being vulnerable,” Liz says. “By talking about perceived weaknesses, we’re actually so much stronger.
“It just so happens in sport and in particular in motorsport, mental health seems to be something that people really shy away from. But we don’t.”
Image credit: Maserati MSG Racing