Recently, a charming American told me how once upon a time, he handed his business card to a figure that he admired within the auto industry. 

A seemingly innocent act at the time, it soon sparked a union which - years later - resulted in a significant personal achievement for them both and gave the aforementioned chap a driving seat on a career-changing journey which is still going full-throttle to this day.*

Now, my short-term memory is shockingly bad but consequently, most events which occurred more than five years ago are almost crystal clear in my recollection - so I was more than happy to share my own career-story with him.

(Let’s be honest, being able to remember clearly the first time you drove a car/ kissed someone/ got horribly drunk in a field is far more interesting than being able to name ten items that you need to put in your shopping basket. Just get yourself a notebook.)

So, my story goes: ten years ago whilst studying for my Travel and Tourism Management Diploma at college, I made a phone call that undoubtedly influenced the course of my life. 

Answered by Claire Williams - then Press and Communications Officer at the famed Silverstone circuit and daughter of Sir Frank - she kindly accepted my offer of assistance in the months leading up to the 2002 British Grand Prix. 

Having been lucky enough to grow up within earshot of the track, I was keen to spend my college placement doing something that I was genuinely enthusiastic about and I can honestly say that it was one of the best work-related experiences of my life - even a decade later.

Whilst my college friends worked extra shifts at their existing hotel and travel agency jobs to tick off the mandatory days before the summer break began, I spent the next five months in the little ‘temporary’ office that still sits at the entrance to the circuit today. I also cancelled a month-long trip around Europe with my motorsport-loathing best friend, who was understandably less than impressed. I’ve since made it up to her, honest.

Now you might be thinking, ‘Why would an 18-year old opt to spend the summer in a pre-fab on a glorified airfield instead of exploring the sights and sounds of Amsterdam with her mates?’. 

I don’t doubt that there were moments when I was of the same opinion but even on the days when my friends were jetting off into the sunshine, I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. 

I wasn’t wrong.

Anyone who followed F1 at the turn of the millenium will know that it was a pretty crucial time for Britain’s flagship motorsport event. Octagon Motorsports, in association with circuit owners the BRDC, had just signed a lucrative 15-year deal to ensure that when the F1 circus came to our little island, it would be held at Silverstone.

That’s not to say that Octagon had it easy - they were in charge through some tricky F1 events; most publicly the traffic chaos and ‘mud-gate’ affair which coincided with the event being moved from its usual slot in July to the Easter weekend in April 2000.

After it promptly pissed with rain on qualifying day and hundreds of fans got gridlocked on the surrounding B roads on race day, the lucky ones who got to see Coulthard take his second consecutive home win promptly found themselves paying smart local farmers to be pulled out of the mire by a Massey Ferguson.

According to a farmer friend, he thought ten quid per car was reasonable but “charged BMW owners double for being stupid enough to drive into a muddy field in the first place.”

The following year they tried their best to relieve the access issues, proudly declaring after the event that the average speed on the main access road was a nippy 6mph. “That is double what we have achieved in the past,” said a spokesman. Presumably as he boarded a helicopter transfer back to his motor which was stranded in the world’s largest temporary car park nearby.

In 2002, it was almost inevitable that something travel-related would scupper Octagon’s future plans. After Bernie’s chopper got grounded by poor visibility in a nearby aerodrome on race day - resulting in him missing an important meeting at the track - his negative post-event comments were the final straw for Octagon’s then CEO, Rob Bain. He formally resigned the day after the race and I can tell you from first-hand experience; you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

A matter of months later, before the 2003 British Grand Prix took place, Octagon’s parent company decided to extricate themselves from the loss-making motorsport arm of their business, making a number of people redundant and the F1 event looking for a new promoter.

Whilst I was quietly assisting where I could in the run-up to the big event and beyond, I quickly began to understand how the wonderful world of motorsport operated - and I was hooked.

Securing my first post-grad job in the motorsport industry was undoubtedly influenced by my experience at the track and I will always be grateful to Claire and the many others who kindly gave me some of their precious time whilst I was there.

On the occasion that I’m contacted by people who are looking for their first step into the industry, I’m always conscious of how lucky I was to be given such a great opportunity early on in my career and my advice is always the same - offer to get involved in any way you can, keep your head down and develop your contacts.

Obviously I will never know how different my career would have been if I hadn’t made that call ten years ago - nor can my new American buddy say that he would have followed the same path without his own chance meeting.

But, it’s entirely possible that if neither of us had made those split-second decisions all those years ago, we would never have experienced working in one of the most fascinating, fast-paced industries out there.

It’s just that I will have to wait at least five years after each event to remember exactly what happened.

Or, I’ll just have to get myself a bigger notebook.


*I’m not even going to apologise for that sentence


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