Darcey Lingley is a Senior Hospitality Manager at Formula E - the world’s first all-electric single-seater international racing series - and has spent the last few years working at global events and executing strategies to the highest of standards.
When you think of hospitality, you may just think of assisting VIPs during their experience but Darcey’s job requires many more aspects than just that: from trackside experiences to offsite gala dinners, after parties and catering functions, the job is demanding, versatile and exciting.
“We’re still an up-and-coming championship in comparison to more historic series, in terms of personnel and delivering the events in these city centre locations," she tells Females in Motorsport.
"We operate a facility called ‘team and crew catering’ which is literally for teams and crew to all come together and eat in one venue during the set-up, running and de-rig of an event, this is part of the DNA of Formula E and vital in creating a familiar atmosphere and bringing everyone together.
"We operate that as nearly its own hospitality product even though it's for all of the crew on the ground, all operations through to commercial and budgeting, pricing, all the doing and all the planning.”
Over a three or four day race event period - no matter where they are in the world - they can produce up to 5,000 meal covers alone for the teams and staff. As big as that number may be already, it’s only increasing as the all-electric championship grows.
“We're on a steady incline,” she says. “The series is just growing at a rate of knots and for VIPs typically around 2,000 [covers] would be our average, but anything between 1,000 and it could even be 5-6,000 in VIP experiences across the event venue.”
With Formula E comes many exciting challenges for the hospitality team. Differing to the likes of Formula 1, the race locations predominately take place in city-centres due to its electric-powered DNA. This requires thinking outside the box when delivering experiences as there isn’t a panoramic view of the circuit for the guests.
“It's complex in the sense of actually trying to find operational venues that give the guests the quality of the experience and the connection to the racing itself, which is actually quite difficult,” she says. “It’s about really trying to find that balance of not just finding an amazing museum venue like Musee Rodin in Paris or any of the amazing venues that we've used, but actually trying to still connect it to the racing.”
With this additional challenge comes perhaps something that fans wouldn’t expect at first: permits to operate in these spectacular locations. These differ from country-to-country and can include local government officials, health authorities and the police.
“Permits are complex, considering residential areas and listed buildings, national monuments,” she says.”
Despite the difficulties, Darcey has been able to successfully deliver some incredible events at stunning locations.
“Possibly one of the most jaw-dropping clubs that I've delivered was in Bern last year in Switzerland,” she says. “We delivered an experience inside a tent that was on an eight metre high platform, which was on top of a bridge that was 30 meters from the river level.”
The event is even more spectacular when you discover that Bern as a city is in fact a UNESCO world heritage site which introduced many operational and planning hurdles to overcome.
“Short build time and difficult circumstances,” she says. “But the view that we had from that point: the panoramic view of the track itself with coming down the hill and up the hill, the river, the mountains and the backdrop of Bern itself. We had the old city with the cathedral and the clock tower. If you didn't like heights, it wasn't the place for you, but it really was something quite special.”
Darcey’s career in hospitality began after she completed her A Levels. Just like Kat Farmer - Partner Manager at Williams Racing - Darcey also chose to withdraw her university application and follow a different path.
“I didn't go because I started working at Silverstone when I was 16, just ad hoc, and then I got a full-time job there at 18 and just thought I'm enjoying it, I'm earning a bit of money, it's close to home, let's see if this is really for me,” she says. “I worked specifically in catering. I saw loads of huge events: MotoGP, Formula 1 and was involved across various track days, conferences and banqueting events which kept us busy between race meetings.”
Once Darcey had gained a few years of experience, she decided to think about where the next steps in her career would take her. She got referred for a job that was advertised at Formula E and Darcey was hired as a catering coordinator.
“It was very quickly realised that after one year in the role we changed our model and decided to use a global caterer so I joined this wider hospitality team, just learning on the job and basically,” she says. “I used every opportunity I had. My line manager went on maternity leave and I just seized the moment to actually lead the events myself. It's just kind of carried on, sort of self-taught on the job and obviously just absorbing from everybody around me.
“It's the most amazing thing about Formula E - you're surrounded by so many different types of people and you're meeting so many local teams. It's fairly easy to learn because there’s just so much to be able to absorb, which is brilliant.”
Although she was nervous about taking those leaps initially, Darcey believes that it’s so important to take the opportunities you get offered.
“My first event leading was in Malaysia, back in season two and I was petrified,” she says. “The hospitality suites flooded two days before the event because I hadn't ordered the doors to be put on in the right order. That's the thing with opportunity, there's risk with it and you have to be sure.”
Another important thing to consider is the network of people you have around you to support you through the twists and turns and this is exactly what Darcey has had throughout her Formula E journey to-date.
“I had a lot of people who came with experience who didn't know what I had to do, but they knew to support me and I had a lot of people who could help have tough conversations with suppliers when I was junior and inexperienced,” she says. “You just have to [take the opportunity], because otherwise you're never going to start breaking through, and that's the fortunate thing of whether it's startups or innovative businesses, is that it's about people who are willing to do that.
"That's what Formula E is, it's about being disruptive, it's about innovating and being the new thing, the future and the development. You've just got to take the opportunity where you can and it's the whole don't ask permission, just ask forgiveness situation, but you just got to go for it.”
All photos are credit to Darcey Lingley.