F1's Ella Clarke: "The main goal for our team is to elevate the fan experience at each circuit"
Attending a Formula 1 Grand Prix is a unique experience. From the spectacle on the track to the atmosphere that surrounds the event, spectators leave with a wealth of unforgettable memories and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To find out more about what goes on behind the scenes at some of the world's biggest sporting events, Females in Motorsport spoke to Ella Clarke, an F1 Events Experience Executive.
“I studied Philosophy at the University of Leeds, which wasn’t something that I thought would lead me to F1,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “Throughout my childhood, I was always interested in sports and wanted to continue this into my career.
“My first internship out of university was with IMG, a global sports agency working on the Macau golf open. After working on this, I knew I wanted to pursue a role in sport.”
To enter her chosen field full-time, Ella landed a job at Sport Industry Group, which holds the annual Sport Industry Awards. By then, Ella was well aware of an essential thing: the importance of networking.
“I accepted a job at Sport Industry Group, which is one of the best jobs starting out in your career as it allowed me to network with the whole industry and work on the biggest commercial sports awards in the world,” she says.
Her role allowed her to meet a range of people as she was in charge of the Sport Industry Award entries as well as the Sport Industry Breakfast Club, where people like Jamie Chadwick would come and talk about women in motorsport, how she got to the position she is in now and her focus on becoming the first female F1 driver in the future.
After a couple of years at Sport Industry Group, Ella took one step closer to motorsport when she joined an agency called CSM Sport & Entertainment.
“This is where my motorsport career started,” she says. “My main account at CSM was Castrol, the oil company for the Renault F1 Team.
“The great thing about working for Castrol was that I got to experience all kinds of motorsports not just F1 but also M-Sport rally and MotoGP.
“The job with CSM allowed me to start travelling abroad. I worked on events in Germany and the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2019. These opportunities led me into the world of motorsport.”
But life can take unpredictable turns, such as the COVID-19 pandemic which hit the world in 2020. It brought many industries to a standstill, not least the events sector. As a result, Ella was made redundant by CSM.
“That was quite a shock to the system,” she says. “I wanted to stay in motorsport and sports events, but they couldn’t take place during COVID. It was really hard to get back into it.
“It was a difficult time for the events sector, and I felt like I may never get back into doing what I loved.”
Although the motorsport industry is a complicated scene to get into, Ella didn't let that deter her and in spite of the hardships she persevered and pushed on to stay in sports.
“When I was made redundant, I was constantly messaging people on LinkedIn to ask for advice, to see what their career moves were and how I could get back into it.”
During this period, she managed to do some freelance work in the sports world, although not in motorsport. It was only at the end of COVID did she find a full-time position.
“I finally got a job with PUMA Group, at the end of COVID,” she says. “This job gave me the confidence to show that I could come back into the industry and was able to work on motorsport accounts with Mercedes and Red Bull Racing working in the partnerships team.
“It was a great job, but I knew I wanted to get back into the events world. That’s where the job with F1 came up.”
Ella started working for Formula 1 in November 2021, covering maternity leave, and this new role combines everything she loves about events.
“The best thing about my job is definitely the people I work with and the specific criteria of my role means that I work closely with every team in the paddock.”
Despite having only been on the job for a year, Ella has already made some great friendships, which is key when you are travelling to around 15 races a season.
“I’ve met a lot of lovely people and made really great friends,” she says. “Having that team around you when you’re travelling is so supportive because it can get very intense and it’s always fast-paced.”
The main element of Ella’s job is driver engagements at each circuit. Working with each team to make sure the fans get a chance to see the drivers throughout the weekend in the form of a Q&A or autograph sessions in the Fanzone.
“The main goal for our team is to elevate the fan experience at each circuit. We know that the fans want a chance to see the drivers and interact with them as much as possible, so our aim is to utilise the time we have with them and make it an experience of a lifetime for the fans.”
Fans are at the heart of Ella’s and the team's mission. They work to ensure that everyone who comes to a race leaves with the best memory possible.
“As well as driver engagements, our team looks after the Fanzone where we have activities for the fans, these include; esports, driver performance - to see if you have the reaction speed of an F1 driver and fans can take part in a pit stop challenge.”
All of this work calls for strong organisational skills and a great attention to detail. But you must also have good interpersonal and communication skills to work in the events team.
Although fans get a glimpse of the work done during the race, in the Fan Zone or elsewhere, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Much of the magic already happens during the winter break.
“I started last year in November which was perfect because I got to see some events before the season finished and how everything works during the off-season,” she says.
“There’s a lot of planning, talking to the teams about what’s best for them and what they want to do throughout the season.
“We need to work out what we’re going to do for the year, which interviews we’re going to have, what kind of different activities we can have in the Fan Zone at each race. One of our big focuses for next year is to elevate the support series such as F2, F3 and W Series and make fans more knowledgeable about these amazing drivers.”
This hard work pays off. Race weekends are special events and attending them is always a fantastic experience. At the end of the day, it's the fans who make the experience so memorable.
“The number of fans who come to each GP is amazing,” she says. “My favourite memory was in Silverstone. It was one of the most intense races I’ve done but one of the most exciting.”
“We interviewed Lewis and Lando in front of a huge crowd. I remember Laura Winter interviewing Lando on stage and it was such a surreal moment.
“I was thinking at the time ‘Woah I can’t believe I’m doing this’. I get that feeling every time I go to a race, as I did in Singapore when I had a moment where I looked around and thought ‘I can't believe I am here and I get to do this for my job’.”
After speaking to Ella about her role, she's just become a permanent member of the F1 team so you will continue to see her around the paddock more next year!