I signed up to be a part of Dare To Be Different at the Autosport International Show back in January of this year. As soon as I was informed that a personal hero of mine, Susie Wolff, was creating an initiative to inspire and motivate the female community within motorsport, I was sold. Yes the initiative might not be for everyone, but for a young woman hoping to embark on a long career in motorsport journalism, the idea of a community that supported me and offered advice and gave help when I needed it, seemed like Christmas had come early.
As well as offering members a strong online community, the team also organise ‘community connect’ events throughout the year. These events allow members to meet at fantastic locations across the country and listen to guest speakers, as well as offering the perfect networking opportunity. With the first community connect event being held at Silverstone in June, it was the turn of Mercedes Benz World in Surrey to host the next event.
The second community connect event was held on Sunday and the 5am wake up call was most definitely worth it. With fantastic guest speakers including the like of Wolff herself, the event made for a motivating reminder that if you truly work hard at something and you believe you can do it, you will.
“Performance is power,” Susie stated during the stage talk. “If you’re good at what you do, the opportunities will come. If the opportunities aren’t coming, get yourself out there and network.
“Just focus on being very good at what you do, because if you are good, you will stand out and it will help. Sometimes you just need that tiny little door to open, then you go running at it full belt and open that door very very wide.”
After hearing from Dare To Be Different Founder Susie Wolff, the audience were soon treated to more fascinating stories and inspiring tales from some of the best motorsport had to offer.
Maria Costello MBE is not only one of Britain’s best solo motorcycle racers, but very much a woman in a man’s world. Her list of achievements from 2016 alone is incredible and her passion to encourage and support more women into motorsport is evident and inspiring.
“I’m really pleased to be a part of Dare To Be Different, it is an amazing initiative,” Maria starts. “It’s great to be here today and having things like D2BD is so important. You can find other people to talk to, to get advice from and we are all learning from each other.”
Maria was introduced to her first race bike after she was knocked off her bicycle on her way to work. The money from the compensation was invested into a race bike and the rest is history.
“I qualified as a veterinary nurse, so I completely changed jobs and started working in a motorbike shop. Then I started doing a bit of journalism in motorcycling and that went hand in hand with my racing. It then snowballed really but I have been doing it such a long time and it has been a massive learning curve.
“When I started racing, you couldn’t even get a leather suit that fitted a woman so I had to get a men’s suit and have it altered. Now of course that is all improved and women are getting better opportunities in motorcycle racing and that is great to see but it has taken a long time.”
It is with these struggles of being a woman in motorcycling that Maria founded Woman on a Motorcycle.
“I wanted to provide a different environment for women to learn and gain more confidence and grow on two wheels. It’s worked really well. I’m also on the FIA Women in Motorcycling commission which I feel really thankful to be part of the future of the sport. I also do mentoring for the European Junior Cup which has a women’s class within the championship.
“Part of me wishes I had [Dare To Be Different] earlier in my career and that you could have other people to talk to during our journeys because my family had nothing to do with motorcycle racing. This was something I did on my own and I learnt as I went along. Yes, I did follow my heart and looking back maybe my decisions weren’t the best decisions.”
Next to share their story was Liz Elward. A current employee of Williams Martini Racing, Liz has been working with the British Formula One Team since the Silverstone Grand Prix. Her story is a tale of ‘if it is meant to be, it will be’.
“My background is probably quite different to many of you here,” Liz began. “I come from a media background. I went to university and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my future. I knew I wanted it to be around business and marketing because those were the subjects I enjoyed the most when at college. I also knew whatever I did I wanted to work hard at it and I knew I wanted to get a good degree.”
Liz continued and explained that she ended up at the University of Portsmouth to study Marketing. Early on when at university, she decided she was interested in completing a sandwich year which would see her in an industrial placement. She completed her placement with Microsoft in their London offices, specialising in online advertising and continued to work with the brand part-time until her degree was completed.
“Soon I found more opportunities came my way and each one was more interesting than the last. I realised if I just said yes to jobs that excited me and I was proud to tell people this is where I worked then that was a great strategy to have whilst I figured things out.
“Where motorsport and Formula 1 comes in to this is about ten years ago I had a boyfriend that liked Formula 1. He would hog the television all the time watching it and after a while instead of just going ‘ergh, I don’t get to watch what I want’, I started paying attention. Soon I thought ‘okay it’s not just about fast cars, it’s about technology and there are other sides to this industry that are part of it’ and I fell in love with it.
“I remember about eight years ago thinking to myself, I wonder how I could work in Formula 1 and I wonder what I could do and how on earth it could be relevant. I started looking at Red Bull because at the time they were beginning to do really well. I couldn’t quite figure it out what I could do for them so I just parked that idea there. I thought to myself, I have no idea how I’m going to do this? I know nobody in F1.
“Back to current day and I was working with Apple. I was fortunate to be moving jobs and going to work at Google. As great as the job was, I was thinking to myself ‘there are so many people that would love this job’, but I’m not actually sure this what I want to be doing anymore.
“After that, and just by pure coincidence, the phone rang and it was the people behind the hiring at Williams. I had no connections there whatsoever. They said to me ‘we are currently looking for someone who doesn’t do what we currently do, we want someone that operates in a different world to us’.”
Liz now works for Williams Martini Racing as their commercial manager.
Last to speak was enthusiastic Italian Christiana Pace. Discussing her love for learning, Pace told the group how she always knew she wanted to work in engineering but stumbled across Motorsport on a trip to an iconic Italian race track.
“I was about eight when I decided I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to fly jets and be an aircraft engineer and design jets for the army – but in Italy, you were not allowed to work in the army if you were a woman. Nowadays you can, but back then you could not. You weren’t allowed to be an engineer in the army if you were a woman at that time too.
“I thought, well, if I can’t be an engineer in the army, what could I be?
“I then did an engineering degree in Bologna, which is one of the top universities for engineering. When I was in Bologna, in my second year of university, one of my friends said to me, ‘let’s go to Imola’. The Italian equivalent to the MSA were having an open day and letting people try different things out.
“I fell totally in love with motorsport.
“I went for a placement in England and that was when I realised you can actually work in motorsport as an engineer. I was very excited about being with a lot of people who knew more than me about motorsport.
“I was told by someone very knowledgable in F1 that I had to do a masters degree, which I didn’t quite grasp at that time. They told me that ‘as a woman, you can get there, you have a brain but you need to have a qualification. The first thing they are going to read on your CV is your qualification and experience and if you don’t have that, there is no chance you can work in motorsport.’
“So I did just that, I applied for a masters degree. About 800 people applied for 21 places. I got my place, I finished my masters degree and a few months later I was in F1.
“That’s how I got into Formula 1, which was a coincidence as I should have gone into GT but the company that employed me subcontracted me to the FIA and I actually went to every test, every race for five years.
“After the FIA I went to a company as Head of Sales and Business Development and after a few years I was recruited by Williams. They called me because they wanted me to help them.
“Again, they were a great bunch and I learnt a lot. The role was still very technical but with a bit more business involved in the role. I worked there until a few years ago when I decided to do a PhD. This may seem a strange choice but I love technology and if I’m not learning enough I need to find another challenge.
“After I started my PhD I got a call from the FIA and they asked me if I wanted to do some consultancy work now I was back at university. It would still be to do with car crash test and research and development and I thought it was a good compliment to what I was doing.
“The piece of advice from me is if you really know what you want, just persevere. Go round knocking on doors and don’t be afraid to ask! Make sure you get advice and follow your heart. Just don’t be afraid to ask – people prefer you asking than you to get something wrong.”