With the 2019 Formula 1 season getting underway in Melbourne, Overtake had the pleasure of sitting down with ROKiT Williams Racing’s Head of Communications Sophie Ogg to chat about how she got involved in F1, the high and lows of her job and working in a male-dominated field.
In a welcomed detour, the British F3 desk recently spoke with ROKiT Williams Racing’s Head Of Communication Sophie Ogg about her life working in Formula 1 and the peaks and troughs of her role.
I started by asking Sophie how she got involved in motorsport, in particular Formula 1 and Williams. “I have been a motorsport fan ever since my dad took me to a British Touring Car Championship race in the early ’90s. I knew then that I wanted to work in a motor racing paddock,” Sophie began. “After that, I found a local race team and started washing wheels, basically doing anything just to be involved and learn more about the sport and make as many contacts as possible in the industry.” This grass roots hard work was then accompanied by a Public Relations degree at University of Central Lancashire before joining a London-based PR agency to gain practical experience.
On Formula 1 and Williams, Sophie said, “Over the years I worked my way up through a number of motorsport series including Vauxhall Junior, Formula Ford, Formula BMW, British GT, A1GP, and the World Touring Car Championship before finally stepping into Formula One with Williams back in 2010.”
What’s a typical day like as Head of Communications for a Formula 1 team, you might ask? “There is no typical day really, which is part of what I love about the job,” Sophie explained. “We have schedules which constantly evolve, social media to manage, news to monitor and then over race weekends during sessions I’ll be based in the garage. Whatever happens, it’s up to me to decide how we handle it from a communications point of view, whether it’s a good result or a bad one, a positive breaking news story or a negative one” Williams have overall season strategies and the challenge is to balance the proactive work Williams do as a team with the reactive.
With every job there are parts of it we love and parts we find a challenge, and Formula 1 is no different. I wanted to know what elements of Sophie’s job did she love – and loathe. “I love the variety of work, the travel, being part of a team (which is also like a second family) and the racing – the passion for racing is what makes it. Winning or losing, highs and lows, it’s a roller-coaster of emotions”, Sophie explained. Motorsport is a dangerous one and for Sophie losing friends is the hardest part of the job. Having lost friends like Dan Wheldon and Henry Surtees, no matter what your role within a team is you can’t escape that. “Everyone involved knows the risks, but it doesn’t stop it being emotionally tough when things do go wrong”. In particular for Sophie, informing the team about Jules Bianchi in the aftermath of Suzuka 2014 was one of the toughest moments. “Having to inform our drivers about Jules’ crash following the race, and then us subsequently losing him, is something that stays with you. The support everyone gives each other in the paddock is like a family but times like that are really tough.”
Moving on, it won’t have escaped your attention that Sophie is one of an increasing amount of women working in Formula 1. There have been great strides in increasing female involvement in what is traditionally a male-dominated sport and I wanted to get her views on the subject. “Personally, I have never seen this as a problem,” Sophie began. “I always knew that it was a male-dominated industry, but it never once occurred to me that that was strange, or that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to in the sport because of that. I have always been focused on the job I’m doing. Men have made comments along the way, but when I talk about the work I’ve done, my path through motorsport and why I love the sport, any negativity about being a girl quickly disappears. I have also found that once people get to know me and what I’ve done to get where I am, they respect me for that and quickly accept me as one of the team.”
The passion Sophie has for her job and the wider motorsport world is very evident and her work ethic, in my view, is something we should all apply to anything we want to succeed in. “I’m a firm believer that if you put in the work, you will eventually reap the rewards. I never doubted my own ability to achieve my goals, despite numerous teachers and career advisors telling me I was crazy to think I could make a career out of motorsport. I do believe that ultimately Formula 1 is a competitive industry, and every team wants the best person for the job in every role, so all you have to do is make sure you are the best person for the job.”
Sophie remembers the early days, getting awkward looks from the male workforce when packing up the gear at a rainy Snetterton. “I think the boys thought they shouldn’t make me do it!” But Sophie never wanted that and never wanted an easy time. “If I was there, I was there to work,” says Sophie, showing that she had that positive work attitude right from the start. “You have to contribute in every way that you can, and my advice to anyone is to always start at the bottom and work your way up. I think that applies to any industry, I don’t believe anyone should be gifted things in life: you should earn them, male or female.”
During her career, Sophie has looked up to a number of people. People like Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley have always provided great advice and support. “I think secretly I would have loved to have been an engineer and I find that element of the sport fascinating!” However one name stands out and that is Ann Bradshaw, who some of you may recognise from TV coverage as she worked with Lance Stroll for the last couple of years. “When I first came across her, she was the power behind the Williams F1 communications team in the early ‘90s, working with some massive names including Mansell, Montoya, Senna and Damon Hill.” Sophie recalled their relationship and told me that Ann has always been a great mentor. “Ann believed in me and has always supported me, given advice and kept me grounded. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her across a wide range of motorsport including WTCC, Formula BMW, A1GP and most recently back in Formula 1.”
I, too, had the pleasure of meeting Ann at this year’s Autosport Show at the NEC in Birmingham, and she is indeed a lovely and very knowledgeable person and it’s clear too see how working with her has been so important to Sophie’s career.
Finally I asked what advice Sophie would give for someone wanting to follow in her footsteps? “Get experience, make contacts and be prepared to work from the bottom up! Motorsport is more than just a job, it’s a way of life, and so you need to love it to be prepared to work that hard for something I think. Learn your trade, whatever role it is that you are after, and gain experience wherever you can. It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be fun.”
Overtake would like to thank Sophie and ROKiT Williams Racing for their time. Both Williams and Sophie can be found on all the usual social media channels.