top of page

Jess Thomas: “There’s always more we can do to get females involved in this sport”

Females in Motorsport spoke with Jess Thomas, Ceremonies Manager at ABB FIA Formula E World Championship to hear about how she started the championship’s Ceremonies and Events Experience team, and how she brings those iconic podium moments to life. 


Even when at university, Jess dived into the automotive industry during a placement year where she worked at Millbrook Proving Ground, and supported events on behalf of car manufacturers. 


“I started to meet different people within the industry, and when it came to looking for a job after uni, someone who had completed the same placement as me a few years before, was Senior Events Manager at Silverstone,” she tells Females in Motorsport. 


When a job opportunity for an Events Coordinator at Silverstone Circuit Ltd became available, Jess applied and was lucky enough to get a job within the Public Events team. 


“I worked closely on Formula 1, working on the fan zones they have, as well as working closely with Formula 1 on their air displays, the Red Arrows, and the parachute jumps, as well as MotoGP, Silverstone classic, and other events,” she says. 


Jess left Silverstone and moved to London where after a brief stint in freelancing, she joined the Formula E Events Experience team as an Event Experience Coordinator at the start of Season 6.


“I was supporting the Allianz Fan Village, but back then the team was much smaller,” she says. “The Event Experience Manager or Coordinators role spread from looking after and delivering the Fan Village, right through to doing all the ceremonies and podiums and fan entertainment you see on the TV.”


Jess’ team grew and so did her opportunities, and she later went on to found and lead her own function. 


“I was the first person to lead the Ceremonies function of the event experience team, and I acted as a team of one for two years,” Jess says. 


Jess now has a Coordinator in her team to support her, and is operating as a team of two. 


“Having someone full time, reporting to me, has been a new experience and it’s great, it’s been a real learning curve,” she says. “It’s allowed me to take a step back and look at things more holistically. When you’re a team on your own, you’re on the hamster wheel but there’s capacity to step back now and plan more on how we’re doing things.” 


Now a line manager, Jess is learning how to be a mentor and instil confidence in her team whilst working in a male dominated industry. 


“I’m always a cup half full,” she says. “If I'm confident in a decision I'm making, I'm happy to roll with it. 


“In my team a few years ago, there were a few guys but we are more female heavy. The C-suite level is male heavy, and I engage with them a lot to make sure what I’m doing aligns with the brand messaging. It’s not easy [confidence], but it’s something I’m trying to instil in my team.” 


In her role, Jess is one of the most crucial people during a race weekend, but Jess is there long before the weekend to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible. 


“It’s about checking the plans we’ve put in place,” she says. “There’s only so much you can know is correct from looking at a map. We plan routes for cars to get to the podiums, and the drivers. Unless it’s a repeat location, so much is unknown. 


“It’s a lot of briefings, and checking things, especially anything that is going to be broadcast live.”

 

Because a lot of people are involved in a race weekend, Jess works with a lot of different teams across Formula E. 


“We cross over into a lot of different departments, so we work with the sporting team, the FIA, and others to make sure they’re happy with what we try to do on track,” she says. “For broadcast, we sit down with the team to check camera angles, lock in rehearsals, and bring in people on site to be actors to check everything.” 


And on race day, it’s non-stop for Jess. 


“It’s go, go, go,” she says. “We look after anything relating to the podium and ceremonies, pre-race entertainment, any fan and driver activity. 


“With the drivers, we manage their parades, autograph sessions, and ensure all interviews go well, and those on the screens.”


To ensure the day goes as smoothly as possible, Jess leans on different teams for different things. 


“We work hard, but we work with other teams too,” she tells us. “Everything we do would not be possible without all the other teams. It’s all about delegation and sharing responsibilities as we can’t be in a thousand places at once. 


“It’s about assigning roles and making sure everyone is clear on what they need to do. We spend a lot of time briefing and deploying, especially when it comes to the podium. As soon as we see the chequered flag, it’s go time. I should be able to stand there and go through my check list as all the cars come back in.” 


During the off-season, Jess spends her time planning all the podium activations and takes some time to reflect on the previous season. 


“It’s a really good opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what worked and what didn’t,” she says. “I look at what worked, what processes we should and shouldn’t do, and look at the feedback we’ve received from fans.” 


Speaking of fans, Jess’ role is one which offers a say in fan engagement for the sport as she works with the Business Intelligence team to review fan surveys and look at feedback from focus groups to see how they can increase fan engagement. 


“We work really closely with the logistics team and see how we can improve it [fan engagement]. We brainstorm and it’s not easy to make things happen as each individual race has its own challenges, but we look at it on an event by event basis. We’re a team of two delivering 16/17 races a year, and we try to improve the experience every time, and not just repeat what we do year on year.”


And the 2024 Season has already started to increase fan engagement as the FIA Girls on Track announced that a female would be part of the trophy presentation team during each race on the Formula E 2024 calendar. With this being Jess’ department, she’s involved in the rollout of this exciting initiative. 


“We had a meeting about how we could engage them [girls] and showcase the important initiative to a wider audience,” she says. “We threw ideas back and forth on what it could look like, and we’ve got our plan on how it can work and we are in a place where we’re comfortable and we can deliver something at every race, while also adding more diversity to the podium in general.


“It’s a huge achievement and a huge step forward.”


But Jess knows there is always more that can be done to increase the visibility of women across motorsport. 


“There’s always more we can do to get females involved in this sport,” she says. “It’s an open championship, so teams do have the ability to bring in female drivers if they want to, and it’s something all of us would like to see. 


"It’s not easy, and it’s not necessary to force it, it needs to be natural and show that females are just as competitive.” 


Whilst bringing women into the sport can create more of a show, there needs to be a balance. 


“It needs to be a balancing act,” she says. “I’ve been to events where maybe they’ve gone too far on the show scale, and not enough on the sport. Sometimes we can be gentle and sometimes we can be more forceful, and that doesn’t come from a lack of ambition, it comes from a lack of resources.” 


Jess and her team have a big task on their hands to create a show at every race, whilst ensuring drivers are happy, and she most recently put on an incredible show during the most recent Sao Paulo E-Prix. 


“I always say, ‘I’m not going to make you do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself’ and that’s important,” she says. “Drivers don’t have a lot of time to prepare so I’m never willing to ask them to do something unless I really need them to do it, or if it’s going to have a big impact for fans and the sport. 


“The day was incredible. Being part of such a small team, I felt immense pride seeing that come together.”


With over four years under her belt at Formula E, Jess is very grateful for the support she has to help her execute such incredible podiums, especially in times of need, just like during the 2023 Berlin E-Prix. 


“We had a couple of protesters on track which made the podium very difficult as we were bringing cars into the Allianz fan village,” she says. “If more protesters arrived, we didn’t know if we were putting our drivers and staff at risk. 


“We had to come together and come up with a solution, not just about us, but ensuring we were keeping everyone safe. I put a message in the group chat and asked if anyone [not in an operations role] could come and help me. Five minutes later, it was like a scene from a movie as so many people were walking towards me. I had a tear in my eye as I stood there and watched all levels, even directors, everyone, come and help me. Where else can you get that?.” 


With the 2024 Formula E Season now underway, what exactly is Jess looking forward to the most? 


“I’m really looking forward to some of the new races we’ve got on the calendar,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to Tokyo, that will be incredible. 


“I’m also looking forward to going back to some of our new races from last year, and correcting some of the things that weren’t perfect. I’ve got another opportunity to go in and change some elements. We’ve really tried to improve our processes on the podium, and autograph sessions, so it will be better for fans.” 


Jess is also looking forward to spending another year with her teams and seeing the GEN 3 back on track. 


“I’m looking forward to another year travelling with everyone,” she says. “There’s so many exciting things to see this year. We have another year of the GEN 3 car and now we know what we have to play with, it’s on.”


All pictures are courtesy of Jess Thomas and Formula E.


Comments


bottom of page