Rachel Brookes, an inspiration to many women and young girls who watch the pinnacle of motorsport week in, week out. Her journey into Formula 1 started with a passion just like you and me and is proof that if you work hard, you will eventually be in the right place at the right time. I was extremely fortunate to sit down and ask Rachel a few questions about her current role and her experiences from working within motorsport.
Please could you tell me about your role within the Sky Sports F1 team?
I am a presenter and reporter for Sky Sports F1, working primarily at race weekends but with other work and shoots outside of race weekends. I present the F1 show and all F2 and F3 sessions when I am on-site, as well as filming features and interviews for our shows. I also do the post-session interviews with drivers.
Have you always wanted to be a presenter? If so, was Formula One always a dream of yours?
I never planned to be a presenter. I kind of fell into it. I don’t think anyone should plan to be a TV presenter. Find something you are passionate about and work towards your goal of working in it. I have always loved Formula One and watched it with my brothers when I was younger. I never dreamed I would work in it one day as I never really saw any women in the coverage when I watched it unless they were grid girls or drivers wives/girlfriends. Because of that, I don’t think I ever thought it was an option open to me, so I never even considered it. I did want to be a radio presenter, though, and I am sure that is because there were women on the radio when I was growing up.
Was the road to becoming a presenter tougher than you thought it would be? Was there anything you had to sacrifice?
As I hadn’t thought about being a presenter, I didn’t really have any expectations. I went from step to step until I ended up presenting, so it wasn’t that tough for me. If you work in sport, sacrifices come with the territory, unfortunately. Sport usually happens on the weekend, so you learn early on that you will be missing out on a lot of things, from birthdays to weddings and everything in between. It also means that after a while, the invitations stop coming because people assume you will be working or away. It’s funny because I thought I was the only one who felt like this until I spoke to my friends in F1 about it, and they all said the same thing. So, yes, there are plenty of sacrifices, and you need to be prepared for them.
Do you need to be signed up to an agency or talent space to become a presenter?
I still don’t really consider myself a presenter. I am a broadcast journalist, which means I weigh heavily on the side of journalism as opposed to being a “presenter”. You don’t need an agent or talent space to be a broadcast journalist; in fact, it is usually better for you not to have one. There is a difference between a broadcast journalist and a presenter. I would say broadcast journalists usually get work on merit, on experience or on achievements made along the way and, as such, don’t need an agent to get them to work. Presenters quite often have agents because they are looking for a variety of presenting work. They don’t necessarily want to concentrate on one thing or specialise. I have an agent now because as a result of the work I have done, I get offered various other work, and I discuss with him whether I should do them and use him to negotiate the fee, as I am terrible at that! Agents definitely have their place, but you need to work hard in the first place to be an attractive proposition for an agent, as they need to be able to make money off you, and you need to decide which direction you are going in.
What is it like being a female reporter in a male-dominated paddock and sport?
It has changed a lot in the nine years I have been working in the sport. There are a lot more women working in the paddock and in a huge variety of roles. We all support each other, and some of those women have become my closest friends. There are the odd incidents of sexism but are becoming few and far between, and we have a duty to be vocal when those incidents occur to try and stop them from happening in future and to the next generation.
Is there anything you think could help get more women interested in working in the sport?
I have always said ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and as such we have a duty to highlight all those women who work in motorsport now in all their many varied roles, so that young girls coming through know about all the opportunities available to them. As I said earlier, I didn’t see women presenting Formula One when I was little. Hopefully, young girls now will see me, or Lee Mckenzie for Channel Four or Nicki Shields presenting Formula E and realise it’s an option for them. Perhaps more importantly, I want them to see Ruth Buscombe, the Alfa Romeo strategist, or Michelle Creighton, the composite technician at Aston Martin Racing or any other women who work in motorsport.
What advice would you give to those wanting to work in Formula One?
Don’t want to work in Formula One, want to work in motorsport. Very few people ever walk straight into Formula One. You need to have a passion for motorsport first of all, and that means maybe working in some of the other series first to get your knowledge and understanding up to scratch before getting to work in Formula One.
What does a typical F1 race weekend look like for you?
My race weekend starts much earlier in the week when I do all my prep. I read up on the previous race, check for any lines or stories that have come since then and make my notes on each driver ahead of speaking to them. I want to know that if, for example, Max has an engine issue in a session, whether he has had it before that season or even if his teammate has, or maybe even another team using that engine manufacturer. Once at the track, Thursday is all about driver interviews, pre-records for the weekend and preparing for the F1 show, which is now on a Thursday evening. For that, I will listen to all the driver interviews from that day as well as adding my own input according to what I have read that week or found out in the paddock that day from chatting to people.
On Fridays this year, I am lead commentary for the first practice session. This is something totally new for me and requires a lot more prep than anything else. If you can imagine talking for an hour with nothing scripted for you, that is what it’s like. I have to react to what is going on our screens, which is provided by F1 and called the World Feed. I have one or two pundits alongside me who I bring into the conversation, and we try to make it as interesting and informative as possible. Saturday is a lot of driver interviews in the pen but also some pre-recorded links for our qualifying show. Sundays are very busy with track parade interviews, pre-records and more post-session driver interviews. Also, across the weekend, I present the F2 and F3 sessions as well as doing the post-race interviews for them so you can see why I do so much prep!
If there is one, what’s one thing you would change about your job?
I really don’t think I would change anything right now.
Your most memorable interview?
I would say that is my recent interview with Lewis Hamilton. The question I get asked most frequently when people find out I work in Formula One is “What is Lewis Hamilton really like?” Normally his interviews are very racing based, and you hear very similar answers from him. So I recently pitched to my boss that I wanted to do the next sit down interview with him for Sky Sports F1. I had to send a full pitch and question topics to him and luckily persuaded him to let me do it. My only interviews with Lewis for the last six years have been in the interview pen, and they are now limited to just two questions. So this was a rare opportunity to talk about other things, and I really wanted to show the other side to Lewis in the hope that people would feel like they knew a little more about him after watching it. He was really open and generous, and I enjoyed the interview. So did he luckily, even saying as he took his microphone off, “I enjoyed that, I hope your bosses see it and let you do more,” and so do I!
For those of us who aspire to work in the world of motorsport, getting our foot through the front door can seem almost impossible. We’re hoping for this to become a series, to share the stories of those who have made it, and to inspire us, and the next generation who want to continue in their footsteps. On behalf of the team at Grid Talk, I would like to thank Rachel for taking the time to speak to me about her experiences in the paddock.