Formula E is good. It’s unpredictable, competitive, inclusive, and attracts lots of fun people to work in it. We found two lovely persons, Hazel (@HSouthwellFE) and Amylia (@amyliahilda), in the media center at the pre-season testing, and we had a spontaneous little round table in the howling wind at Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Here it goes:
You know how they all look like, in the Formula One media center?
Hazel Southwell: Formula E when it first starts, they basically had this policy that if people want to write about it, if they want to be interested in it, they would encourage them.
Paddock Sorority: Is it the same till now? Because we use to get the accreditation for the fan site, but now it’s impossible because they’re selecting or filtering the media for accreditation now.
H: The fan site and some other publications, it’s not like they… They’re not much of the use now. Basically, I think Formula E got moved away from that, for whatever the reason. But I think it’s the way social media is changing whatever. But Formula E’s core is to encourage people in, particularly because when Formula E started, most people would say it’s rubbish, totally dismissive, that the car sounds rubbish…
PS: They still say that now.
H: Yeah, you can’t stop them. But they sound like jet planes.
PS: I like this sound.
H: I know, it’s amazing! So, as a consequence, they’re sort of selecting people who’re willing to cover it, willing to give it a chance, who would think it interesting. Formula E has basically a much more diverse group than traditional motorsport people. And because it was a diverse group and they didn’t feel gate-kept, it’s not like in Formula 1 when you walked into media center, everyone is the same man like they all look exactly the same.
PS: Now I can picture it in my mind.
H: Compared to that, when I walk into Formula E, I could be like “Well, it’s fun, I could belong here.” So as consequences, it generates a more diverse media center, and it just gets more and more of us, so once you get a few women who write about Formula E, people will go like “well, I can get to Formula E” if people want to be journalist, or into comm team or PR, whatever. And I think that’s quite significant. I don’t know if it is all designed, I think it’s something they wanted it to have happened, but it’s not something they put a huge amount of effort to do. But it is something organic.
PS: Have you been to other series as well?
Amylia Hilda: I’ve covered F1 for a well. I can feel the difference, when I come back to this paddock I can feel that I belong here. In F1 it’s so segregated, the teams are locked away, you’ll never see the PR unless you’re allowed to. And it depends on what media (publication) you’re from, so it’s like if I’m from (a famous media publication), they’ll be like “oh yeah I’ll give you a few minutes”, but if you’re running, like, an independent website, no chance.
PS: So it’s maybe because they’re too big to… Maybe too old.
H: Yeah, too old. They have so many rules. Formula 1 is so past-based, so it’s very strictly aligned to the European upper-classes. It’s like European private schools. It’s definitely a factor, I think that has given it the attitude it has, given it the people who cover it, because there are people who go to private school. It’s really disappointing because it could be much more open… there’s an intent to change that. Then again F1 tries to maintain this way. It makes sense that you can’t send anyone in.
PS: Is it because that Formula E is starting up so that they’re so welcoming and friendly?
H: I think there’s this element in that.
PS: They’re like in the different developmental phases.
H: Yeah, I think initially, especially at the testing at Donnington in the first 3 seasons, it was very very easy to get accreditation. Honestly, there’s no bar, you can just say “I might write something on the internet”, and they’re like “ok, cool, pass.” But now we have many more manufacturers, we have lots of sponsors and investments in this series, it turned to profit for the first time, it’s incredible, for only five seasons. And last year at Berlin, which was the most popular race, one of the best-attended races in terms of media, it was easy to have been told that there have been no more spaces. But they were accrediting people who were never accredited before, who were just starting out. Or like, one of my friends, she does really good social media, but she doesn’t actually write for a website, but they would be like, ok I see you do something interesting, so sure (you’ll be accredited). And I think they have maintained an openness because it works. Ultimately, the more people talk about the better. Because it’s always designed to be on digital, Formula E is designed to be on social media, on websites and broadcast on YouTube, etc., it has given it a totally different feel to those older series who always trying to get control of who gets the exclusive. Exclusives are kind of a dead concept in Formula E.
The Girls’ thing, is it a thing?
PS: The girls’ thing. Can journalism really help bring awareness of girls in motorsports, by focusing on drivers or management level? Is there any focus that can move this faster, for more women working in the field? Because for now, for us, we can only write articles, talk about it and maybe educate people about it. But are there any other things we can do?
H: I think just existing, basically, as women in motorsport will do. Or normalizing women in motorsport and publishing interviews particularly with other women in motorsport which are not another Susie Wolff interview. I think they’re a lot of different attitudes because there are lots of things that put women off being in motorsport, say when there are no women around. So just by existing, there’s this sort of positive effect.
A: to be honest, I’d never felt like, I’m a girl and I’m working in motorsport, I don’t feel like I’m out of place. In the beginning, I’m a bit cautious because I’m in a new environment, but I haven’t seen they really care if it’s a girl or a guy. As long as you do a good job, and you can overlook what gender you are.
PS: I think a lot of female drivers have this same opinion, that we’re just doing our job, it doesn’t matter if we’re a girl or not.
A: Working in a media center full of guys doesn’t put me off, but you know it’s not like that I’m constantly conscious in my mind that I want to see more girls, not really.
PS: But meanwhile, once you realized it… you know. Can we use that to gain more, you know, girl power?
A: As Hazel said, when you interview a woman who works in motorsport, talk to them like they are a normal human being. I think that kind of question makes it even more… odd. Just talk to them like how you would talk to a normal engineer or team principal, it just shows that it’s not something out of the ordinary. Maybe in a couple of years, people will start to realize that, it’s nothing odd about having a woman as an engineer or so. The only thing matters is to get your job done and get it done well.
PS: So being a female journalist, does it bring you advantages or disadvantages?
A: I think it depends on how you see it. If let’s say, I ask for an interview, and because I’m a girl and they slot me in, I’ll feel flattered and be thankful, rather than offended. I’ll think it’s very nice of them. So it’s how you perceive it. Maybe some people might get offended.
H: I think I get a quite big advantage because I write technical stuff. I write a lot of technical articles. People often assume that I don’t know anything, they’ll let me talk to people I shouldn’t talk to, without a PR by our side, because they assume that I’d ask “What’s an electric vehicle?”, but instead I’m like “so, the detail of your powertrain…”
A: I think that’s one of the best parts of being female. You’re proving that this girl knows what she’s doing, and gain that respect once a little, that’s a fun part.
PS: I’ve also learned another aspect quite recently, you know, some female journalists in motorsport will hold back from competing with other guys on the technical knowledge. Instead, because they’re female, they choose to focus more on lifestyle or behind the scenes content. Not to be judgmental, but I think it’s just another way you choose to make a living.
H: Right. Definitely. I think the drivers are often much more in motive or willing to be open with me. Some of that is because they know me, but they know other journalists, so I don’t think they would get the same thing. I think part of it is because I’m not gonna do a hit piece, so it’s a lot of trusts. But there is this element, it’s stupid, it shouldn’t be this way, but they’re more comfortable saying thing that makes them seem vulnerable to me than they are to a man. Which is silly. It’s a shame for them. But it’s great for me.
No hazard. Just being journalist.
PS: This is quite exclusive. So how do we earn trust from the drivers?
A: I think it might not come immediately, but after a while, they’ll realize that you know what you’re doing, and you earn your respect sooner or later.
H: I think it’s also important that they know you’re not gonna say weird things to them, or you’re not gonna misuse their words. Because we think them as “omg it’s jev he’s so famous I must talk to jev…”. It feels intimidating to us, these successful drivers. To them, we’re like people who are gonna ask them stuff about things they need to be careful not to release anything, they don’t want to create a headline like “JEV said his whole team is useless” although he didn’t say that, he means the simulation is useless. I think them knowing that they can trust you is super important. They need to feel that they’re not being caught out. Weirdly, the less nervous you get around them, the more they’re relaxed. It’s not like they’re in a job interview every day, but if they say totally weird things they would lose their jobs. You have to remember that they’re scared of us as well. Perhaps not as scared as we are. It goes both ways.
A: They’re just as nervous, we can tell.
PS: So I’m thinking of the interview I did yesterday with Lucas because he said something like “You paid to drive F2 and you get paid to drive FE”, I’m not sure if I could put it out there. (I just did.) I don’t know if this is gonna do good for him.
H: I think it’s fine. Especially with somebody like Lucas who constantly runs his mouth. Lucas is not afraid of saying controversial stuff.
A: But sometimes I feel like you also need to protect the person you interview. Because sometimes they mean it differently, but when you write it down, it can sound a bit more brutal. So you have to word it in a way that won’t get them in trouble. It’s about respect, you don’t want them to get into trouble.
PS: Normally how do you choose your topics?
H: I think sometimes stuff will be spontaneous, say in Santiago, the road ripped apart, because it was so hot the cars were pulling the tarmac off. I didn’t know that was gonna happen, but that was, in the end, a big story. Another example is that people would be curious about how Mercedes’s gonna end up at their first race in Riyadh, inevitably. So sometimes you know ahead, sometimes it’s a bit more like you’ve already got this idea but something else happened. But for those back to back races or if there are only one or two weeks in between them, to be honest I don’t have to prepare or worry about it, because you don’t get time. Also, it depends on what my editor told me to do.
Not born to know everything, but I can try.
PS: This one is for Hazel, so you talked about how you write technical stuff, were you into this stuff before or did Formula E get you into the technical stuff of electric racing, so you started to learn about it?
H: I’m always quite interested in engineering in general, but I don’t have any engineering qualification, I didn’t study in engineering. When I first started looking at Formula E, I basically had questions like how to do the cars work, and how does the battery remain stable. No one could answer them because there weren’t answers out there, so I just started out quite naturally, going asking the things that answer my own questions. It’s self-taught. I now think that I probably have the best technical knowledge of any Formula E journalists, which makes me sound really cocky but it’s true. It was a conscious choice and it has taken me two years. You only have to read and be able to understand Wikipedia articles, to know enough to be able to explain what people asked about things. I’ve gone beyond that for sure, but people are still curious about and want to know about the very basic things. I would say don’t be scared of this technical stuff, even stuff like how much power is there in a Formula E battery, people are still googling that. Because the championship is new so people are definitely gonna ask questions like that, and those are what brings people into it. So, I did teach myself, hopefully, I’m not wrong.
PS: That brings me to another question, so obviously, some of your audience is probably just starting to know Formula E or even motorsports, and there are also those hardcore motorsport fans who know everything, do you have a target when you write an article or do you write whatever you wanted?
H: Of all the publications I write for, one of them is a super traditional motorsport publication, as far as I’m concerned. I now write qualifying report, I write race report, and I write them in the style of motorsport press which I never do. It’s the only place I do it for, and I honestly think that’s the most boring thing I write. But it is quite successful on the site so I think it’s fine. But to me, I would much rather and I’m much more interested in speaking to new audiences, to people who don’t know it. To be honest, traditional motorsport audience, the hardcore motorsport fans think they know about Formula E but they actually don’t anyway. So most of them wouldn’t lose anything by reading an article that was intended for new audience.
PS: They might find it boring or below them?
H: Emm, they might. There definitely are different levels, because there’s so much new information. You know, in the Formula E broadcast, before every race, they always go through the format of the race with a little video, and I think the audience will probably save it by heart by the end of the season. It’s not offensive, it’s just reinforcement of what you already knew. And a lot of people actually quite like being told of what they already know of and having some re-emphasis. Because there’re only 14 races a year, it’s quite easy to forget things between races. You could go pretty basic. I once did something where I write about how the qualifying decide the order of the grid and things like that, it’s basic explanation of race start and race finish, and someone was like, “who the hell would not know things like this?”, but sorry, there’re people who don’t. It’s basic, I can’t remember on which site I wrote but it’s one of my most read articles, it reached about 1.5m hits, for how does motorsports work.
PS: So that’s the problem we found in, like, basketball broadcast. The commentators are assuming that their audience are all max level hardcore basketball fan, and it’s not easy for new fans to understand and follow the game. So what we have in China with Formula E, is that we have this unification feed on all platforms with Chinese commentators who really know about the championship, so that the audience can learn about it and learn it correctly.
H: That’s good. Seeing that the core media team and the commentary team of Formula E are quite stable, I think it’s a very important part for it continues to bring more people in.
W Series, it’s destined to not exist.
PS: Before we end this, let’s talk a little about W Series. What do you think of it?
H: I know them quite well, I’ve worked with Penny who does the PR there, and Matt Bishop. I was very cynical about W Series when it was first announced. I was really concerned about the fact that it was run by men, and I was like hmmm I don’t think I like this. And then as it emerged, it actually has what is clearly a good standard of drivers in it, like they found a good field. Meanwhile, if this is not broadcasted, if there’s no visibility, there’s no way I would watch it. But actually, they’ve managed to get really good broadcast packages for it. They got a good promotion. Because they are a really experienced team. I think people were right to be cynical, I still think some questions should be asked to W Series, but I think it has also done its job. The attitude of the series is that they want it to not exist. They want it that, in 5-6 years, you don’t need to do a W Series because there’re enough women in every level in motorsport. So I know they understand what their task is, that it’s not to segregate in motorsport or to get women into Formula 1, but to use this asset to make sure that women are considered incredible within wider motorsport and then they find roads within wider motorsport and have people support them like the rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s a series to exist until it’s done its job.
H: I mean, people have reason to criticize it, but it’s done a good job, helped people who fell out on the way. Alice Powell, for example, was fixing plumbs before this happened. When I first spoke of W Series, they said that with the same amount of money this whole series is taking, we could have funded maybe one person for a few years of junior series. But it would be one girl on her own again, we’ve seen that before, and it would put all of the pressure on her in the one series. Instead, we’ve got 20 girls, and we got opportunities and chances for them, instead of being on their own and representing all women with her own results. It makes sense with the strength in numbers. And also they could get much more PR like this and so they could find sponsors in the junior team. They’ve tried other things in the past, and they didn’t work. Maybe this one would work.
Read about Hazel’s trip alone to Riyadh here
Learn about Amylia’s new project Alt-Drive Magazine