Claire Dubbelman has been working in the motorsport field for 14 years now but has shown an interest in the sport since she was just four-years-old. Starting her career as a Sport Coordinator and Project Manager for the Formula Renault North European Championship (NEC) at the age of 21, she now works as a Championship Manager for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) where she has been working since 2017.
Claire came into contact with motorsport when she was very young. Her father was working as a spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz in the Netherlands and has a long track record in the sport.
After being so close to cars throughout her life, Claire decided to turn this passion into a career when she finished her degree at the age of 21.
“I thought: if I have to work until I’m 65, then I’d better find something I really like,” she tells Females in Motorsport.
She started her career journey in motorsport for the NEC where she took on many different roles: press releases writing, finances, writing regulations and so much more.
“I had 20 different jobs at the same time, but I learned so much and that actually helps me a lot to this day,” she says.
The arrival of the European Formula 3 Championship meant the FIA started managing Championships themselves which prompted them to hire a number of people and Claire was one of them.
Since her job at Formula Renault, she has worked for several federations, race teams and drivers which gave her great insight into the different roles and perspectives that are present in motorsport. This insight was of interest to the FIA.
“When I applied for the Championships Manager job, it didn’t say which category it would be for,” she says. “Then it turned out when I arrived at the office in Geneva that they were recruiting for two positions: one for F3 and one for the World Endurance Championship. As my background is mainly single-seaters, Formula 3 was a better fit for me.”
Over time, Claire’s job as a Championship Manager for the FIA has been expanded as more championships were added to her responsibilities.
“The Formula 4 championships were added in 2018,” she says. “In 2019, Formula 2 was added to my list and somewhere in between the international series, for example, W Series were added. I’m now supervising 26 championships which is a lot.”
Managing those championships seems like a major task, but Claire admits that most of her time is taken up by F2 and F3.
“About 70% of the work I do is related to F2 and F3,” she explains. “That’s because together with the Promoter we write the regulations. Also, we put together the team of officials working that weekend ourselves."
In the office, she is assisted by two great women.
“This year Diana joined, who helps me with the F4 and regional championships," she says. "We don’t organise those ourselves as we do with Formula 2 and 3, but we support the federations, organizers and promoters around the world to do the best job possible.
“The international series like W Series are different as they do not use the FIA framework. That means that our work differs from championship to championship. Some of them just want to call us when they have an issue and others appreciate it if we help them throughout the process.”
Claire's role as a Championship Manager can be varied, but this is something she enjoys immensely.
“It’s my job to make an F2 and F3 weekend run as smoothly as possible. On those weekends, which are always together with Formula 1, I’m responsible for the whole FIA team which means the race director, assistant race director, stewards, and technical people.
Some weekends are easier than others - the number of crashes that happen or the number of track limits that need to be monitored play a part.
“Everything that happens on track is the responsibility of the race director,” she says. “We just need to make sure that’s the only thing the race director has to deal with.
“In race control, we don’t decide who’s guilty. We report to the stewards, who will investigate if anyone has made a mistake and if so if they deserve a penalty for it.”
When a crash does occur during a race weekend, several processes happen at the same time. In this, Claire is the one that feeds information into the system so that everything else reacts to it.
The FIA has a clear task as soon as an incident happens: to make it as safe as possible as quickly as possible.
“The most important thing is that we try to get the track as safe as possible as quickly as possible through the necessary means,” she says.
Not every decision that the FIA and stewards make about an incident is received with happiness and praise. They sometimes need to deal with critique, not only from fans but also from drivers themselves.
“You need to learn to grow thick skin,” she says. “The sport exists by the grace of the fans, drivers and competitors. We value their input and we’ll always take that into account when possible.
“If a fan, driver or a team doesn’t agree, I listen to them first. I like to explain to them why we decide certain things. When someone makes a good point, we’re not shy to take that onboard and review with an eye on the future.”
But there are also things that the FIA cannot negotiate on. The most important one is safety. Safety will always remain the most important element of the sport.
“Things should always be safe and that’s a thing we can’t argue about,” she says.
An aspect of her job that she enjoys is getting new concepts approved, which allows her to make a real contribution to the sport.
“The FIA administration works with commissions, so I work with the single-seater commission,” Claire says. “All the plans I make for the championships go through the commission and if they support the idea then the World Motorsport Council will vote on it, which takes place every three months.
“If they agree with my plan, then I can start working on it. The plans I make are made to make the sport better and if the Commission and Council have supported our concept then I really feel honoured. I then feel that I have contributed to the sport and that’s what gives me the most joy.”
Certain skills are required in her job as a Championship Manager. Some of these she already had and others she had to learn.
“I’m a filter so to say,” Claire says. “If you make rules for the whole world, you can be sure that there are a few people who won’t agree. I listen and then it’s up to me to be able to filter it and see if it’s important for the general interest or just something this one individual person disagrees with.
“Especially for our first steps on the ladder of championships, you need to be customer-oriented; you try to help everyone in the best way you can. If you work for the world, you have to accept that you’re doing your best for the common good but that this isn’t always the best for each individual. I had to learn that sometimes the answer is just ‘no’ soon after I joined the FIA.”
Another important asset she needs in her job is a calmness to be able to focus on the job at hand.
“We all have headsets and are connected to each other through different channels,” Claire says. “I can only hear the race director and assistant race director. We try to keep it as peaceful as possible so that if something does happen, all the energy is purely focused on resolving the incident.”
Her journey to becoming a Championship Manager wasn’t easy. Unfortunately, Claire has had to deal with discrimination and prejudices throughout her career.
“I’ve always had the attitude: I work too hard to let anyone else get in my way,” she says. “I’ve always worked 60-80 hours a week and I won’t let all of that work go to waste because someone puts me in a difficult position by not respecting me.”
Claire has worked for many different series in multiple countries and admits that Formula 1 is the most accepting of women working in high positions.
“Formula 1 is the furthest along in accepting that,” she says. “In that respect, I have an easier and better time now than I did in the early years of my career.”
To this day, Claire tries to help other women in her field as much as she possibly can, be it with advice or by just listening to their stories and experiences.
“If they have a problem, I point them in the right direction to do something about it and if they want to talk I’m there for that too,” she says. I’m always willing to share my own experiences and share how I’ve dealt with it in the hopes that I can help them with that.”
Not only does she help other women in the field in this way, but she is also very supportive of organisations and initiatives that promote women in motorsport, such as FIA - Women in Motorsport.
“There’s a need to bring attention to it,” she says. “These programmes are important to assist people and encourage people. In that respect, they’re extremely valuable and I’m committed to helping organisations like these where possible.”
“There is an increase, but it’s not enough yet. We need to focus on making women aware that it could be a choice for them. I’m not the exception, you can do it too. If you’re convinced this is what you want, apply for that job! That’s how we get the numbers up – by giving women the right experience and confidence.”
Talking about her inspirations throughout her life and career, two names pop into her head.
“One of the most important ones is Charlie Whiting. He was such a British gentleman and I learned a lot from the way he handled the confrontation.
“The other is Stefano Domenicali. He was the president of the single-seater commission before he started working for F1, so we worked closely together for four years. He is so clever, achieves his goals and takes good care of his people at the same time.”
But Claire never stops learning from people, because she argues that there are always things you can learn from others. Michael Masi is someone that she still learns from every single day.
“One of the things I admire about Michael is that everything he does is a team effort,” she says. “He never puts himself first but instead works hard to be able to do it as a team and shows his appreciation. That’s how I want to treat my own team.”
Claire is already part of the FIA Formula 1 team but admits that a full-time position in the sport is something she’d like to achieve. When or how this happens is not a concern for her, because she loves the work that she does now.
“I like to take on every challenge that’s given to me and what the next one should be is none of my concern right now,” she says. “I’m happy with the job I have and I put all my energy into it. The day that someone knocks on my door providing me with an opportunity, I certainly will consider it.
“That’s how I’ve done it throughout my career. I’ve always focused on what I was doing until someone provided me with another opportunity or if I saw something like the vacancy at FIA that made my heart beat faster. If there’s a challenge, I’ll take it.”
Her advice for women that want to work in motorsport is to persevere and not compare yourself to others.
“Perseverance is important, whether it’s in motorsport or any other field of work,” says Claire. “Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged and don’t compare yourself to others. Do what is right for you at that moment in time and what you believe in because that is good enough. But even I still have to remind myself of that sometimes.”
One thing is certain, Claire loves her job.
“I’m very happy to be here,” she says, smiling. “It’s really a place where I can make a difference in the sport that I’m so passionate about. For me, that’s the best place to be.”
You can find out more about the FIA here.