Getting up and Holding on – Interview with FIA Championships Manager Claire Dubbelman

Featured cover © FIA

Claire Dubbelman is the Championships Manager for the FIA Single Seater Department. Prior to joining FIA, Claire worked with Formula Renault NEC for six years, and was a consultant to the Dutch motorsport federation (KNAF, Knac Nationale Autosport Federatie) supporting them in setting up TCR Benelux. Besides working for various motorsport organizations, Claire is also an entrepreneur, running her own event company Ocius Events before joining the FIA, which had worked with motorsport clients including Acceleration 2014, Renault Sport, and the FIA. We had the great honor to have a Q&A with Claire and learn more about her incredible journey in motorsport, here is how she gets into the sport and has thrived in the paddock for the past 12 years.

Paddock Sorority (PS): What was your first exposure to motorsport?

Claire Dubbelman (CD): My first exposure to motorsport was through my dad. He was a motorsport journalist and has written many books on cars and the sport in the 80’s and 90’s. From a young age, we woke up early to watch Formula 1 in Australia on TV, and I joined my dad at race tracks whenever I could.

PS: What made you decide you want a career in motorsport, and how did you pick what you want to do (communication and event) in motorsport?

CD: I got my Bachelor’s degree in International Communication Management at 21 years old, which was relatively young to start working after university. Looking ahead, with the perspective of starting a career that needed to last for the next decades, I thought I’d better choose something I would very much enjoy and naturally looked at motorsport being one of my passions. I didn’t get into motorsport directly, I was communications/marketing manager for a small car brand in the Netherlands, and took the first opportunity I got when I was considered for a job in motorsport shortly after.

PS: Was there any challenges and difficulties in getting the first opportunity in motorsport?

CD: Obviously, having my dad in the same industry was a major help with regards to the network that was available to me. He set such an example to many people in the business, that it very much helped my start in the sport. After my arrival, though, it was up to me to make sure people knew I was there because I belonged there and was the best possible person to do the job I was hired to do. In addition, being young and female presented its own challenges – I needed to fight harder for my credibility than anyone else, and to some extent I still do. The only remedy I’ve ever used was to work harder than anyone around me, to learn more and to always deliver on promises made. Step by step that gave me the credibility I needed.

PS: Could you please describe your role at Formula Renault as a coordinator and as NEC project manager?

CD: During my time with Formula Renault NEC, the scope of my responsibilities was very wide. The way I often explained it to friends was that it concerned everything about racing that was not technical. I took care of the contract negotiations with race tracks, dealt with entries, licenses, and race teams, travel arrangements for my own team, invoicing, published press releases in three languages, took care of trophies and I had many more tasks on my list. Whilst I took care of all these practical matters, I have been very lucky to learn from great teachers, such as Werner Aichinger, who I definitely owe the foundations of my sporting career to. He taught me how regulations work, how race control operates, and to always put the interest of the sport before anything else.

© Essay Produkties

PS: How did the experience at Formula Renault build your skills and relationships that helped to get you where you are today?

CD: The six years I worked with Formula Renault and different Clio Cups in Northern Europe helped me get a very deep understanding of the sport, as I was involved with so many different aspects of it. It gave me an understanding of what a championship needs to prioritize to be successful and what factors are important to keep it in good shape. Obviously motorsport is a small community, so when you do 30 race weekends per year, as I did in those years, and organized events in more than 15 different countries, it expands your network rapidly. I still benefit from that network today, as in a way, a lot of us of the younger generation grew up together.

© Essay Produkties

PS: What was your thought process in deciding to join the FIA, the governing body?

CD: Having most of my background in single seater racing, I felt that was the discipline I could contribute most to. Obviously I was not the only candidate for the job, and to this day I consider it an incredible honour to be representing the FIA.

After my work with the various Renault Sport championships, I worked as a consultant to the Dutch motorsport federation and helped them to set up a TCR championship in the respective zone. After that, I became team manager for Black Falcon in Germany. I think, that having seen so many different sides of the sport gives me a very complete overview of all stakeholders and therefore provide an interesting profile to the FIA. I am now in a position to take all perspectives into consideration when the FIA has to decide on the future of its championships, which I hope adds value to these decisions.

PS: Could you please describe your role now as Championship Manager at the FIA, who are the people and organizations you mostly work with?

CD: As the Championships Manager for the FIA Single Seater Department, I report to the Formula 1 Race Director. That in itself is hugely beneficial for the work that I do, as it is my task to strengthen the pathway the FIA has created to reach Formula 1. To make sure the best drivers get to the highest levels of motorsport, I support our Formula 4 and Formula Regional Championships with regulations and other sporting matters. The best of those drivers should eventually arrive to FIA Formula 3, and FIA Formula 2. Together with the promoter, it is my task to make sure those championships are the strongest and healthiest championships available, to make sure the best drivers can find their way to the FIA Formula One World Championship. 

PS: What is the usual career trajectory for someone in this role or in the championship management team?

CD: The role of championship manager is relatively new, so I guess it is up to my colleagues in the different disciplines and myself to define where we go next. Personally, I have always believed in making the most of the opportunities that were presented to me. My mother always taught me to research all, and keep the good, so that is what I will try to keep in mind moving forward.

Claire at 2019 FIA International Stewards programme © FIA

PS: Are you involved in the Women in Motorsport Commission? If yes, what is your capacity as a member?

CD: I attend the Women in Motorsport Commission as a guest when I have the opportunity to do so. With responsibilities covering more than 20 championships, unfortunately I do not always get to contribute to the meetings as much as I would hope. In any case, also outside of Commission meetings, I do my very best to support the work of the Commission and try to help out each and every promising girl in motorsport that I meet along the way. Sometimes it’s small things, like sharing an email address, sometimes more significant and more personal. I think it is important all talented women in the sport do the utmost to help each other forward.

PS: What made you decide you want to have your own business?

CD: I decided to run my own business to find more challenges outside of the work I was doing with Renault at the time. It allowed me to broaden my horizon, and when I eventually left my responsibilities with Renault, I had enough options open to continue working in the sport and develop my skills and network further.

PS: What was the biggest challenges in running your own business comparing to holding a job at an agency or at the FIA?

CD: One of the biggest challenges of my own company was definitely all the administration that comes with it. I was lucky enough to have a great accountant, but it definitely is something that is easy to underestimate.

PS: What would you like to say to young girls and young women who would like to be involved in motorsport in any capacity at all?

CD: I think the most important thing I would have to say to young girls and young women is, that if you have your mind set on working with your passion, then don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Yes, an environment, and especially motorsport, can be challenging for young girls. Even now that I am over 30, I unfortunately still encounter prejudice and discrimination because of gender far too often. The only thing that will get you through is to get up every time and hold on. Work hard and deliver. It’s what my friends tell me they admire most, that I pull through when it is easier to give up. That is not a skill or talent you need to be born with, it is just something you need to keep in mind at all times and definitely true outside of motorsport as well.

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