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Hatsumi Tsukamoto: “If you want to stay in this sport, you have to love it”

Having worked in motorsport for three decades, Hatsumi Tsukamoto is no stranger to a paddock. In her current role, Hatsumi leads all marketing operations at Team Suzuki Ecstar, no easy feat when faced with the challenges of MotoGP’s busy global race calendar.

At this year’s British GP, we were lucky enough to sit down with Hatsumi and reflect on a career that has spanned decades and taken her across the world.

“I enjoy being busy - I’d probably get bored if I only did one thing,” Hatsumi tells Females in Motorsport. “Sometimes it’s good to keep the brain active and be doing different things.”

Hatsumi’s preparation for a race weekend usually starts on a Tuesday, and the work doesn’t stop until well after the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoon!

“From Wednesday morning we set up everything,” says Hatsumi. “On Thursday, I distribute the passes at the accreditation centre and give all the information to the guests. From Friday, the guests are arriving, so then we take care of the guests. This usually involves a tour, lunch, and a meet and greet with the riders.

“Sunday is race day, so we’ve got less to do, it's all up to the riders!”

When the race ends, Hatsumi takes on a new set of responsibilities that largely depend on how her two riders have performed.

“Sometimes we have bad weekends, sometimes good,” she says. “If we get on the podium, things are really crazy!

“We usually take a team picture in the box, we go to the press conference and then we write a long press release. I wait for the press release, and then I write the Japanese version.”

However, when the results haven’t gone their way, Hatsumi’s evening is a little different!

“When the results are bad, the riders will be disappearing immediately,” she jokes. “But this is why I like this sport, because even if you have a bad weekend, you know that there’s another race soon after.”

Growing up in a world away from motorsport, Hatsumi never imagined finding herself at the heart of one of MotoGP’s statement teams. All she knew is that she wanted to pursue her love of languages.

“I was just interested in finding work that used English, and allowed me to use other languages,” she says. “I also speak Italian because the team is based there and I used to live in France, so I speak French a little bit.”

Her love of languages led Hatsumi to pursue a career as a translator, a position that eventually took her into the bustling environment of the Formula 1 paddock.

“By chance, I started doing interviews in F1, which I had no idea about!” she says.

“And then, one of the first interviews I had was actually with Ayrton Senna, it was a big one. At the time, I didn't even realise how big he was, but it was still really exciting!

“The interview was really successful and that’s when I got offered a job in motorsport.”

And just like that, Hatsumi was hooked. After a few years involved in F1, she moved across to two wheel racing, initially conducting interviews and writing articles.

“When I made the move to MotoGP, I started to manage the Japanese riders and gradually I met the whole Suzuki team,” she says.

“Eventually, you get a deeper understanding of the sport and what’s happening here. The progression from writing into working with the drivers and the marketing side came really naturally.”

For Hatsumi, it’s hard to imagine herself doing anything different with her career. She loves her job and her team is very much family.

“I like the people and I like the passion here,” she says. “I'm still not so much interested in the technical side of the bikes or how it all runs, but I like the teamwork. We respect each other and it feels like a family, which is great for me.

“Next year, it’ll be 30 years that I’ve been doing this, but I love this job and that's why I’ve continued up until now.”

With nearly 30 years of memories to reflect on, there’s one specific occasion that stands out for Hatsumi.

“A memory that really sticks out is the 8 Hours of Suzuka in 2013, when we invited Kevin Schwantz to join the team,” she says. “At the time, Kevin was 49 years-old and he had been retired for a while.

“It took him about one and a half years to be ready, both physically and mentally, but then when the race came around, we ended up on the podium, it was exceptional and so special.”

However, working in the sport comes with its challenges and tragedies. Hatsumi has experienced loss and heartbreak firsthand in her own career.

“When something bad happens, it’s really hard to accept,” she says. “But at the same time, when I started this job, someone told me that you have to always be stable. You can’t let yourself get upset - you have to control everything and be calm for the team.

“It’s very tough, but it's the sport”

It’s not difficult to see what makes Hatsumi so special. She radiates a calmness that’s embraced by anyone who’s fortunate enough to meet her. A calmness among the chaos that only comes from a lifetime of experience.

For those wishing to follow in her footsteps, Hatsumi is very eager to stress the importance of being multilingual and loving what you do.

“I always say to people, if you seriously want to work in the paddock, you should pick up another language like Spanish, because here [in MotoGP] it is mostly Spanish or Italian that’s spoken,” she says.

“Having a knowledge of the language gives you an understanding of what the mechanics are saying and also helps the team dynamic. In our team we mostly speak in Italian and communicate on the radio in Italian.

“I feel very lucky that I’ve stayed here with the same job for such a long time, but this is what I love. If you want to stay in this sport, you have to love it.”

We wish Hatsumi and the rest of the Suzuki team the very best of luck for the final race of the season.


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