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Maria C. De Juana: “There are many ways to work in motorsports”

In a recent interview with Maria De Juana, the Head of Communications at Nissan Global Motorsports, Females in Motorsport delved into her experiences and perspectives on the dynamic world of motorsports. Boasting more than 15 years of experience, Maria shared her journey from Formula 1 to her current role at Nissan.


Maria C. De Juana
Credit: Shiv Gohil

The world of motorsport is a thrilling and diverse sector that goes far beyond teams or championships. It provides a wide range of career opportunities where everyone can find their calling.


“Some people think that working in motorsports means working for a team or working for an organiser. But there are actually many ways to work in motorsports,” Maria says. “For example, you have all the suppliers, technical partners, sponsors, agencies.

 

“I'm surprised when people ask for advice that not many think about these avenues as a potential foot in the door or as a potential career in motorsport. 


“In fact, before this job, I've worked my entire life on the agency side and I had a great career in motorsport - it was very rewarding and incredibly insightful. There's so many possibilities if you start thinking about how many companies and how many people actually work in motorsports to make it all happen. There's many doors that you could be knocking on that maybe you're not thinking about.”



In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the presence of women in the motorsport industry. While acknowledging that the motorsport landscape is still dominated by men, Maria stresses that her experience has been generally positive. 


“It's true that motorsports is still male-dominated,” she says. “But I would say it's not a place where I have ever felt out of place. It is male-dominated, but it's not aggressive to women, or not unwelcoming to women in that respect. 


“It’s that difference between being still historically an industry which is male dominated versus being an industry where women don't feel comfortable. I can't speak for everybody but, in my case, I've worked pretty much my whole career in motorsports and I've never felt treated as ‘less than’ or not taken seriously just because I am a woman.”


With a career spanning more than 15 years, Maria has become a seasoned expert who has devoted most of her career to motorsport. Surprisingly, her passion for the sport only began to grow once she joined Formula 1 after graduating from university.


Maria C. De Juana f Nissan
Credit: Adam Pigott

“I was lucky,” she says. “I started straight out of university, I got an internship and I actually started my career in Formula 1, working in a sports marketing agency. I started doing things with Shell Motorsports, Ferrari, Formula 1. I did other things, other sports, like MotoGP, and a little bit of Champions League.


“I knew about Formula 1 from the news and everything, but I was not a super passionate fan. When I started working on it, I got completely addicted to it.”


Maria's career path extended beyond motorsports when she briefly served at the British Embassy in the Vatican City. However, the allure of motorsport proved to be more compelling, drawing her back into the industry. 


“After a few years working in motorsports, I got an opportunity to work somewhere else,” she says. “I moved countries and I worked for the British government for a little while at an Embassy. But I missed motorsports a lot. I missed everything that it represented. Even comparing motorsports with football, which I was involved in at the beginning as well… There's so much to talk about that I started to see football as something quite limited in the amount of things that you could play with, in terms of the competition itself but also in terms of communication.”


Reflecting on that experience, she highlighted the unique challenges of working in the public sector compared to her previous roles in sports marketing. 


“It was not my passion for sure, but going from one extreme to the other actually helped me appreciate many things that I wouldn't have learned if I had stayed all my life in sports marketing,” she says. 


“From a pure communications point of view, it was super interesting because when you're working in a sports marketing agency or in any comms role you're selling a lot, and when you work for the public sector you're not selling anything.


“You're just there and you get phone calls from journalists finding out about things that they shouldn't even know to begin with and you try to manage things, not to get in trouble too much and make sure that speculations aren't taking over, that people are clear on what’s been done.”

 


Maria has been Head of Communications at Nissan Global Motorsports since November 2021. She initially worked for the brand through an agency, before moving in-house. This dual experience gives her a different perspective on agency and in-house roles, and a better understanding of the changing dynamics between these two distinct working environments.


“It's interesting how you don't see the pressures of one or the other unless you have been on both sides,” Maria says. “For example, in-house is a little bit more about the bigger picture and less about the execution. When you’re in an agency, you're always thinking about what else you can do. It's more operational.


“When you're in-house, you have to consider so many people and so many things. Ultimately, you always have to remember that you are the last person responsible for approving or not approving something, so you need to make sure that everything is aligned. You have the responsibility of checking everything, and making sure all makes sense and that you are taking into account all angles.


“It's for the greater good. You know that everything may  be scrutinised, and even challenged, so you try to do that exercise yourself first to make sure that everything that we do is not only great, creative and exciting, but also aligned with everything else, consistent with the brand and, more importantly, bulletproof.”


For Maria, being part of Nissan also means navigating in the context of a company recognised first and foremost as a car brand.


Maria C. De Juana for Nissan
Credit: DPPI PRODUCTION

“Representing a brand like Nissan also means that you're representing a whole heap of colleagues and lots of other people who are in a tougher industry, which is the automotive industry,” she says. “They face a lot of criticism and they’re under scrutiny all the time. 


“There are a lot of people in Nissan that work really hard to make sure that the brand is protected and is regarded in the best possible light.


“We have a much more relaxed approach in motorsports, but we have to remember that there are also these people behind that brand and that their reality is very different to ours. We need to make sure that all the work they're doing in a much tougher environment than the one that we have is not destroyed overnight because we were careless or that we're not jeopardising anything or getting anyone in trouble, just for the sake of a fun piece of content.”


Motorsport is a global sport that is not confined to just one place. A world championship like the ABB FIA Formula E visits many countries over the course of a season. Therefore, Maria stresses the importance of cultural awareness and collaboration between the automotive and motorsport parts of the brand.


“We work together quite a lot and it's interesting how we collaborate because my colleagues on the car side of Nissan, they're the experts in their territory, and they deal with every single thing related to the brand in that one particular territory” she says. “In France, or in Mexico, for example, every car launch, model update, dealership convention, media interview, etc., will be dealt with by Nissan France, or Nissan Mexico, and so on. For me it's the opposite. I only take care of one single aspect of the brand (motorsports), but I do this all over the world. 


“We always have to adapt. You can have a global strategy, but you have to take into consideration how people think in every country, their preferences, the local culture, how people see or perceive things, or how people react to things. So working with each of the countries or each of the regions, it helps us better understand the media, the customers, and the mentality of that particular part of the world. The local teams help us a lot with this adaptation process, and I personally find it very mind-opening and one of the most enriching parts of my job.”


Maria C. De Juana in the Nissan garage
Credit: Shiv Gohil

As season 10 of ABB FIA Formula E approaches, Maria provides insights into the behind-the-scenes preparations. Contrary to common misconceptions about the off-season being a time of rest, she explains how it’s one of the busiest periods. Maria details the extensive planning and considerations involved in adapting to new regulations, drivers, and logistical challenges.


“You finish a season, and then you start from zero all over again,” she says. “Everything can change from one season to the other. You're going against the clock to be ready for the first race or even the pre-season tests. There is a lot of work in terms of thinking about what's going to make this season different from the previous one. 


“It’s an important time because when the races start, you're not going to have time to think. You're only going to have time to execute. All the thinking time has to happen between August and the beginning of January. Of course, you still can come up with some new ideas and some things can be implemented in the middle of the season, but you have to have a clear idea of at least what you want to do and how you're going to do it. 


“I always say the beginning of the season is harder than the end of the season, because by the time the last race comes, yes, you are more tired but, on the other hand, you've already gotten into a rhythm. The first few races are a bit harder because you're implementing new things and you're trying to change things a little bit. At the end of the season you're knackered, but it's easier in that respect.”


This upcoming season promises to be particularly intense for Maria, as it will mark Formula E's first ever visit to Tokyo in the history of the championship, and Nissan will be the only Japanese team on the grid.


Make sure to watch the Tokyo E-Prix, Nissan's home race, on March 30th!

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