• The Inside Line

It's all about the passion

Kate Walker November 16, 2013
© Sutton Images

Sometimes at a race weekend, it's the peripheral experiences that you know will be the memories you take home. Practice sessions tend to blur into one amorphous blob by the end of the season, and one Vettel victory is much like another.

Race report template, 2013 [updated from 2011]: Sebastian Vettel dominated the XXX Grand Prix from lights to flag, opening up a XXX-second lead over the opposition by the end of the first lap. By the first round of stops, the Red Bull driver had enough of a margin that he was able to pit without losing track position…

On Thursday in Austin I was privileged to take part in an event that will remain with me for many years to come. The F1 in Schools world finals took place in Austin on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday Sauber invited the female participants to come to COTA for a tour that culminated in a Q&A session in the pit lane with Monisha Kaltenborn and Swiss IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro. It was my job to field the questions.

Living and working in the F1 bubble, I don't spend much time around the youth of today, unless it's teenagers being surly on the tube and speaking in what I swear is a foreign language. [Side note: I am old.]

But meeting the fifty or so girls who had fought their way to the F1iS world finals was inspiring. They'd turned up with questions prepped for Monisha and Simona, and the standard was very high. High enough that I'd be very surprised not to find myself fighting some of those young women for journalism gigs at some point in the next 10 years.

As a woman working in motorsport, I'm keen to see other women get the opportunity to live the life of challenge and adventure that I enjoy so much. As a late convert to motorsport, I regret the fact that my 'science sucks' attitude in school narrowed my F1 employment options down to a choice of journalism or PR.

But the F1iS participants of both genders have learned a valuable lesson at a (fairly) young age. The programme requires students to get involved in all aspects of running a motorsport effort: as well as designing, building, and testing their cars, teams need to develop PR and marketing strategies, create a brand identity, and hunt for sponsors. It's motorsport in miniature, and an excellent way to introduce young people to the wide variety of skills needed - and opportunities open - in the world of motorsport.

It's also a truly international programme. I fielded questions from Bahrain, Qatar, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Greece, Austria, China, and many (many!) more. Last year's world finals included a number of teams from Africa and South America. Over the years, every continent has been represented more than once.

As the F1 calendar expands and we find ourselves staring down empty grandstands at white elephants around the world, it's easy to blame the paucity of local interest on "the lack of grassroots motorsport in [insert country here]". I've been guilty of doing it myself, on more than one occasion. But it's lazy, and it's wrong.

What Thursday afternoon taught me was that there is grassroots motorsport taking place in more countries than we have grands prix. And not local rallies, or club events - although many countries have both - but an affordable educational programme taking place in schools around the world that is proactively seeking out the engineers, marketing managers, and PRs who will make up the future of motorsport.

This next generation has been raised on an ethos of sustainability, of efficiency, and in an era of rising fuel costs and declining car ownership. Despite that, however, motor oil runs through their veins with the same fevered passion it does in mine, in ours. They're racers, fighters.

Whatever technological challenges motorsport faces in future, the passion for racing that I encountered in the young women I met on Thursday proves that the sport will be in very capable hands in the years to come. Intelligent, enthusiastic, international hands - much as it is right now.