Apart from being a solid motorsport journalist, Jess Shanahan also works in motorsport and runs Racing Mentor. Through this, she coaches racing drivers, and anyone looking for a career in motorsport, on how to be a success and open up as many opportunities as possible. Jess is also a former Porsche race team boss, so it’s a true pleasure to hear her insights about Formula 1’s role in the racing world.
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After Formula 1’s management has changed, how did that influence other racing series you’re working with?
It certainly has brought the importance of social media more to the forefront. Now that Formula 1 drivers are allowed to use social media more freely, drivers in other series are starting to see exactly how powerful it can be. We’re also all suddenly exposed to different sides of Formula 1. While we might have once only seen sponsor plugs and post-race thank yous, we’re now seeing into driver ready rooms, getting track tours and so much more.
This is giving drivers across all series ideas on how they can supercharge their own social accounts, something that needs to be done now if they have any hope of reaching the lofty heights of Formula 1.
With Formula 1 becoming more accessible to the fans, that can only be a good thing for other series, which by their nature are much more accessible anyway. If a new Formula 1 fan starts to get a taste of what it’s like to be in the paddock, it’s down to other series with open paddocks to encourage those people to go to races.
Talent is still a big factor but if a driver is going to make it to Formula 1, the best way to get there is to be picked up by a team’s young driver programme as early as possible.
We’re aware that not all drivers still think about the “ladder up to Formula 1”. But talking about those that do, has climbing up that ladder become easier or more difficult?
While it may have become harder to climb the ladder to Formula 1 because there’s so much money involved, there are now lots of paths to that end goal. The problem is that motorsport, in general, is much more accessible at the lower levels. This means that pretty much anyone who has Formula 1 as their goal can hop in a car and start on that journey.
The driver market is very saturated and those drivers near the middle and then at the top of the ladder are battling for a handful of seats. It’s typically the drivers with the most money who can buy the best seat that win out here.
Talent is still a big factor but if a driver is going to make it to Formula 1, the best way to get there is to be picked up by a team’s young driver programme as early as possible. Otherwise, unfortunately, it’s the drivers with the richest parents or biggest sponsors that are going to have the best chance of getting to where they want to be. Even then that’s no guarantee they’ll get a drive in the sport.
There was a lot of discussion about pay-drivers this year in Formula 1, what’s the situation in other series?
At club-level, pretty much everyone pays for their drive, be it from their own money or through sponsor backing. Most club-level championships are very affordable so many people treat it as a hobby, much in the same way people do with golf or cycling. Once you start to move through the ranks, the picture is very similar. Most drivers pay a team for a drive, while a handful of drivers might own and run their own car. If a team really likes the look of a driver, they might do a hefty discount on car hire for the season but they will still have to pay.
That being said, there are some salaried drivers in the mid to top tier formulae. Works teams tend to pay their drivers and you’ll occasionally find a team sponsor that’s willing to cover all of the driver’s costs.
As a professional, what would you predict 2018 will bring to the lower series in general?
I’m coming up on the year anniversary of Racing Mentor so I’d hope that by next season we’ll see more drivers becoming sponsorship savvy. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a more commercial element to the lower series, especially if we see more talent coming through and more opportunities opening up. If drivers can think more like business people then they’ll be better placed to approach sponsors, work with them effectively and secure more funding in the future. I hope that I’ll be able to reach enough of them that it’ll be a domino effect.
I also predict that more racers will start to get creative with their social media. Partly because of the influence of Formula 1, but also because it’s another important element in any driver’s career.
What are you personally looking forward to the most in the near future?
I’m really looking forward to the UK TCR Series and the opportunities it will bring to drivers and sponsors. There’s also so much going on with Racing Mentor that I can’t quite tell you about yet, including a new circuit base for group coaching and media training, as well as partnerships with a number of racing series.