Natalie Pinkham on balancing motherhood and working in Formula 1
Natalie Pinkham is an integral part of the Sky Sports F1 presentation line-up, having joined the team in 2012. Since then, she’s become a mother to two children, the first woman to commentate on an F1 session on UK television and has devoted her time to several charities, including Flack Stock, in memory of her late friend Caroline Flack.
“I did find it surprising that we’d got to 2021 without a female voice in commentary,” Natalie tells Females in Motorsport. “I felt out of my comfort zone and I asked myself why. Why was I feeling this imposter syndrome?”
This year, Natalie’s debut in the F1 commentary box made history when she became the first woman to commentate on British TV. Having worked in the sport for 10 years, this was a different type of role to what the broadcaster had been used to.
“I realised that they weren’t asking me to be the next David Croft - they were asking me to just initiate a conversation and be a conduit for the fans, asking questions to the two ex drivers that I had in the box with me,” she says.
On the first occasion, those two ex-F1 drivers were Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok.
“I couldn’t have hoped for two better people alongside me,” Natalie says. “As a fan of the sport, I wanted to ask the questions that I and the fans would like answering. As soon as I started doing it, I wondered why I’d been so worried. It was just a conversation about the sport I love.”
The response Natalie received in the aftermath was overwhelming, with men and women praising her for the brilliant debut.
“I was blown away by the response from, not just women, but men as well,” she says. “It emotionally moved me; this does matter to people and we do need relatable role models. We need more gender, ethnic and sexual orientation diversity in the sport. This is another step along the way to achieving that.”
Natalie isn’t just a role model for breaking down gender stereotypes but also, on a very personal level, for how open she has been about her decision to start a family.
Natalie’s first child was born in 2015 and the choice to have a child wasn’t as straightforward as people may assume. The reason behind the initial apprehension of how her workplace would react was down to the fear of the unknown - how would her employer digest the news?
“You’ve got a man and a woman on a similar trajectory,” she says. “Suddenly, the woman - and this could apply to anything in life - feels under pressure and wants to have children.
“She breaks away, makes that difficult decision because they think it’ll change everything and their career will suddenly spiral...all the while her male counterpart is still going on this trajectory.”
The fear is the career will either plateau or fall away altogether.
“The truth is, there’s never a perfect time to become pregnant,” she says. “But the minute you do it, you realise it’s the best decision you’ll ever make and it’s the best journey you’ll ever go on.
“If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll find a way of marrying the two. You do need the support of an employer to do that and a good partner in life.”
Thankfully, this is exactly what Natalie has with Sky and her husband. Despite this, she vividly recalls the day where she had to go into the office and tell her boss that she expecting a baby.
“My editor said that’s brilliant news, we’ll support you however you need to be supported and I was immensely grateful, feeling this huge weight off my shoulders,” Natalie says. “I remember in the build-up to trying to get pregnant, feeling very nervous about it.
“But, when I looked down at that positive test I just felt full of joy and I remember thinking, just remember this moment. If you ever have any wobbles, just remember the rush of joy that just filled my body when I saw I was pregnant.”
One of Natalie’s biggest inspirations in life is her mum who worked as a barrister full time whilst raising a family.
“Nothing is easy in life, but there are ways of achieving it,” she says. “I’ve just felt incredibly proud of my mum, and she’s acted as a great role model and instilled a great work ethic in me and my brother.
“I hope that I can do the same for my two kids.”
In 2021, Natalie has worked numerous grands prix on the F1 calendar and one of the hardest things has been having to say goodbye to her children before she leaves.
“My daughter gets so upset when I go away and it breaks my heart, but we do little things. She gives me bracelets or she’ll paint one of my fingernails,” Natalie says.
“I’ll be on air and I’ll wiggle my finger or I’ll just touch my ear so she can see my bracelet. We’ll have little codes.”
For the Belgian Grand Prix, her daughter Willow gave her a rabbit toy and Natalie snapped photos of the teddy all over the race track.
“I took the picture of Bluebell the Bunny and she’s like there’s bluebell in the Pirelli tent!” she says.
“You just keep having to talk to your kids and reassuring them, showing them that you always come back.
“It’s a part of building their confidence as little people and helping them recognise they can build strong secure attachments with more than just their mother. I’m not saying I’ve got all the answers, but I’m living it and I’m trying. Really trying.”
Being open and honest about her journey into motherhood and managing her work-life balance has encouraged a number of women in the F1 paddock to take strength from Natalie’s experiences.
“It’s about helping each other and supporting other women who are going through a similar thing,” she says. “You’ll never ever regret having babies and, if I can weave in a bit of F1 around it, it’s the dream.”
In addition to her busy Sky Sports F1 duties, Natalie devotes her time to two charities that are very close to her heart.
Flack Stock, a festival in North London, will celebrate the life of Caroline Flack who sadly passed away in 2020 whilst raising money for the Samaritans and Choose Love - a refugee charity that Caroline herself supported.
“We’ve got some really cool acts performing, and I just had a call just before I came on with you,” Natalie says. “There are some really big names that have agreed to perform.
“It’s bloody hard work but it’s really rewarding and hopefully it’s a fitting tribute to our friend.”