Deborah Lyall: “You'll have to make sacrifices, give up weekends and work late nights"
Deborah Lyall is the Assistant Team Manager for Jaguar Racing, competing in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. Her role mostly includes operational tasks where she has to get the freight, cars, equipment and people to and from the races that take place around the globe. When they’re at the events, her role is to support every team member to allow them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
"The technical team normally fly out in two groups - so I fly with the first group and the engineers fly with the second group which is usually with the commercial team," Deborah tells Females in Motorsport. "I make sure everyone gets to the airport, gets on the flight, gets to location and has their visas ready.”
On the first day at the track, Deborah will assist the set-up of the garage where they’ll begin work in the morning and carry through to get the cars out of the freight and get them in the first stage of what she calls “weekend preparation”.
“Thursday is scrutineering prep day, so my job is to attend the right meetings, ensure everyone knows when and where lunch is and get the drivers kit in order and ready for scrutineering. It's more just making sure everyone is doing what they need to do and if there is any fire fighting that needs to be taken care of then that is my role - just making sure everything is set up, for a smooth running on Friday and Saturday.”
Saturday is typically the busiest day for the team as that’s when racing will be held.
“It’s a full on long day, and again it's just making sure everyone is doing the right thing at the right time,” she says. “I do all the radio calls, all the shout outs before each session begins, so everyone has a 15, 10, five, two and one minute countdown. It’s also supporting the commercial team with their guests that they’re hosting. We do tours for the guests - they come into the VIP area and the garage and I support them whenever necessary.”
Deborah’s role is extremely varied and that’s just one of the reasons why she loves it so much. There is no job too obscure for her and she’s even had to go to the supermarket for ice cubes for the drivers to have ice baths to cool down in.
“My role includes everything that isn’t to do with the physical running or touching of the car.,” she says. “So that may be ordering in air conditioning units because it's too hot - the computers are getting too hot or the guys are getting too hot. In this scenario, I may need to run off to the supermarket to buy a fan.”
Formula E travels to some spectacular places across the world and with this comes an added challenge of different climates and environments that Deborah and the team will have to familiarise themselves with.
“If we go to a new location, for example Seoul, I’ll need to do a bit of research to find where the best hotel is and then book it with our travel office,” she says. “I will get up a map and find the location of the circuit and the hotels in the area. We often stay as close to the track as possible because of the late nights and early mornings, but we also need to look for the nearest supermarket, the restaurants around and even a B&Q or Homebase type store. It’s pre-planning and identifying those shops and facilities in the location before I arrive, so I’m prepped and ready to go, to get ice or something!”
Before joining Jaguar in their very first season of Formula E, Deborah started her career by studying sports science at university with the goal of going into sports psychology.
“I got a job as an event manager and worked on World Rugby, Wimbledon, Ascot, and different football and cricket matches in the UK,” she says. “Then I did the first year of A1GP, did one season in that and was hooked. I have always been interested in racing but it’s the buzz that got me hooked. After that, the company I was working for stopped working with A1GP on the hospitality side.”
After this, she secured a position at Arden Motorsport when they were competing in what was GP2 and started in 2007 as a Team Coordinator.
“Having languages certainly helped me there as they were keen to have someone who could speak French and a tiny bit of German because that is mainly where we were racing,” she says. “I was there for nine years, so the team grew hugely - from GP2, to GP3 and then a 3.5 team and then a F4 team. I left there in 2016, and joined Jaguar for the inaugural year of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, so I have been at Jaguar since the start.”
Coming into a brand new sport, Deborah was sceptical at first but she began to see faces in the Formula E paddock that she recognised from GP2 or Formula 1.
“I had been in the same team as Mitch [Evans] for many years, so when I walked through the door and he was in the garage at my first day at Donington, I asked ‘are you following me or am I following you’,” she says. “It was super refreshing; everyone was super keen, a really nice atmosphere in the paddock. Everyone in this team was keen to get on - obviously we had joined the championship very late on in the second part of the second season so we had a very short turnaround to get the car ready for season three. Everyone was hard working, motivated, and the level of professionalism in this team when I joined was incredible. I was very impressed.”
When asked what advice she would give to people wanting to get involved in the motorsport industry, Deborah suggests to start at grassroots level as that is a great place to get a good understanding.
“In a small team you have more exposure so you will understand how it operates,” she says. “Volunteer - if you are willing to sacrifice a weekend to a team, do it because it shows your commitment and willingness to sacrifice. It's not 9-5, you will have to make sacrifices, give up weekends, work late nights and early mornings but reward balances it out.”
Read more about Deborah's role.
Imagery courtesy of Jaguar Racing.