Chasing My Dream through Commitment and Sacrifices

Ning ‘Angela’ Liu is the Partnership Coordination Officer with Alpine F1 Team, one the the Formula 1 dream chaser hailing from China. We had the opportunity to chat with Angela about how she kicked off her career in motorsport and Formula 1. Let’s hear her story.

Photos © Angela Liu

Motorsport didn’t take its roots in China over 100 years ago. It was in this millennia, when nation-wide broadcasting of Formula 1 became available, that the younger generation started getting to know motorsport and falling in love with it. Among this generation, is Ning ‘Angela’ Liu, a middle school student back in the early 2000s, who influenced by friends, started her regularly scheduled Sunday evening prime-time television viewing of Formula 1 races. “Many of my classmates were watching Formula 1, one of my friends really liked Kimi Raikonnen. They recommended Formula 1 to me, telling me how Kimi was young with a lot of potential but was a bit unfortunate in the races. I was into sports overall, especially international sports events. So I started following Formula 1. I would always tune in to GSports (五星体育) on Sunday for the race.”

Before streaming was a thing, it would be difficult for college students in China to follow the programming on TV as most dorms in China would not come with a TV set. So when Angela went to Shanghai Jiaotong University for her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, it became more difficult for her to follow the Formula 1 season. Back then, Formula 1 was not something she would consider for her career either. Coming from one of the top 4 universities in China, becoming a managing consultant and joining a top-tier consulting firm was more of a natural career path for Angela in 2012 when she graduated. “When I went to college, as I need to return to school on Sunday nights, I couldn’t always watch the race. But I still cared about what was going on in the season occasionally. My first job out of college was the ‘normal’ job for students from my school – I did my summer internship with BCG and secured my return offer to join full-time. But to be honest, after joining BCG for 6 months, I realized I wasn’t sure whether the consulting life was what I wanted for the long term.”

It was March 2013 when Angela started her soul-searching in ‘what do I want in my life’, a month before the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix. Even though she didn’t particularly want the consulting life, her consulting skills did help her land a job in the Paddock Club. “I’m good at researching stuff, so I found this gig in the paddock looking for volunteers. It was for the Paddock Club, they were looking for students who can speak fluent English to wait tables. I was thinking, even though they were looking for students, I could actually do that too. I just want to experience it. So I went for it and got my first experience in the paddock, in hospitality.”

Getting a taste of the paddock did encourage Angela to try out more possibilities around the Chinese Grand Prix. In 2015, she landed another job working with the teams, she became one of the interpreters and coordinators for Pirelli, helping them with their logistics while the engineers and staff were in Shanghai. “This time I really got to see how the paddock works. You see on TV that each team got two cars, two drivers, and a bunch of people working on those cars, but behind the scenes, there are so many people working in marketing, hospitality, admin, and so on. It is a small world in the paddock, and it’s strictly off-limits if you don’t have the right pass. I realized I want to find my place in this small world, that became my new objectives.”

While soul-search for the purpose of her life, Angela’s path in BCG was still going forward, and it reached the time for her to go to business school for an MBA. Before even starting her time at London Business School, she was already quite clear about what she really wanted to do post-MBA – doing what she was really passionate about. “I’ve got to a turning point at the time. Before that, it was a path millions of people have followed – be a straight-A student, find a well-paid job, and that was it. Now I know life is short, I need to live in the moment, and I want to do what I truly love. So I started researching again, trying to find what I can do in the paddock. I can’t be an engineer or mechanic, I can’t be a chef, but I could work in marketing and comms.”

With a new career goal in mind, Angela took a pre-MBA internship in a sports marketing agency in Shanghai, gathering experience before departing for LBS. Going in with the intention to experience the agency life and getting to know sports marketing, coming out of the internship, it actually led Angela to her MBA internship and post-MBA job, as it turned out. “The agency I interned at before leaving for my MBA was acquired by CSM. JMI, the leading sports marketing agency in motorsport, was also acquired by CSM. So I got a referral to go talk to them in London, and they actually had a department for strategy consultancy. It was different from the type of management consulting I was doing at BCG, but it still revolved around research, drawing slide decks, and working with spreadsheets, so I can still apply my skills. I interned with them for 6 months, and that was the beginning of my career in motorsport in Europe.”

As the pinnacle of four-wheeled motorsport, F1 could be the ultimate goal for people dreaming to work in motorsport. Through her hard work, good reputation, and patience, Angela achieved it in 2019. She joined Renault F1 Team as Business Development Manager, and is currently Partnership Coordination Officer with Alpine F1 Team as the team transitioned. “Motorsport is such a small circle of people, there aren’t a million opportunities lying around, so patience is essential. You can’t expect to try for two weeks and find the thing you dream about. I met the Marketing Director of Renault back in 2016. I joined the team in 2019. It took me three years. For me, before joining Renault, it was all about gathering experiences, building up my reputation. If there is something that can help me move forward, even if it’s not directly working on F1, I’ll still do it.”

Chasing her dream takes patience, it also requires trade-offs and commitments, no job can provide everything for you. For Angela, growing up in a big city like Shanghai, going to business school in a big city like London, moving to a small town like Enstone is a completely new chapter in life. Before even joining Renault, giving up the consultant salary at BCG was also a big sacrifice for chasing the dream. “When I first moved to Enstone, because it is a small town with not much around, I had to learn to drive to go to work. It took me four times to pass the driving test. I really wanted to give up, but it was a must if I wanted to work there, so I had to get through it. I also didn’t choose motorsport for the money. If I work for money, I’d stay in consulting or even pursue investment banking after LBS. So I’ve thought this through.”

At the very beginning of her experience in the paddock, Angela was leveraging her bilingual skills. In her first job in a Formula 1 team, Angela was relying partly on her background from China. To explore more opportunities, grow her own potential, and see what she can do without the Chinese label, Angela took on a new challenge this season. “When I first joined Renault, I was leveraging my Chinese background, working on business development in China. That is one natural path for Chinese who want to work in Formula 1. But I also wanted to see what I can do without the China hat, so when my current job as basically chief of staff for the partnership team presented itself, I decided to test my complete package. I don’t want to limit myself to just being a Chinese working in motorsport, I want to see my true potential in the sport. I’m responsible of building our team, preparing meeting materials, as well as liaising with other teams for information. Of course now because I moved to Paris, I need to start learning the language and fitting in into a new culture. It didn’t scare me. This is a new opportunity and experience I couldn’t say no to. I spent my entire Christmas holiday last year working on my French, but it’s worth it.”

In the two and half years in Formula 1, Angela’s highlight is related to another proud Chinese currently working his way into Formula 1 – Zhou Guanyu, Formula 2 driver and Alpine F1 Team Test Driver. “My best memory was during the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix, which was 1000th GP, and Zhou Guanyu drove the Renault-powered E20 car on the streets of Xintiandi at Heineken F1 Shanghai Festival. I helped put the events together, there was a real team spirit at the event.”

There are highs like the 1000th GP, then there will obviously also be lows in everyday life. But for Angela, difficult moments will always come and go, the important thing is to move on from the difficulties and be your best self. “I could sometimes ask too much of myself, or dwell on some small mistakes that others might just give it a shrug and let it go. I think one of the important soft skills is to do the best you can, take a step back, and be in a positive mindset, don’t let the negative things get in your head.”

As always, we asked Angela to give some advice for young kids who want to get involved in motorsport. Besides patience and commitment from oneself, in a small world like motorsport, making friends along the way is always important. “Starting from the things you can get your hands on, just like when I started in the paddock and the agency. It may not lead directly to your goal, but you are building your own profile and reputation through those experiences. I also can’t emphasize enough that motorsport is a small circle. Be nice to everyone, no matter what their functions are. You never know how one day they may help you or hurt you. Make friends, don’t make unnecessary enemies.”

Angela is living her dream, at the moment she doesn’t have any grand goal 10 years down the line, she is just taking every day as a gift, making small pivots to try out new things in this sport she’s passionate about, and pushing boundaries and growing every day as she goes. We wish Angela all the best at Alpine and enjoy every moment of her life in Formula 1.

Next month on the 5th, we will continue with our Extreme E Drivers Series.

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