‘From the Pit Lane’ is back but this time ‘stoodonthepodium’ is delving deeper into the behind the scenes life of Motorsport PR. With over a decade’s experience in the industry, Emma Bearpark has a wealth of contacts to her name and has worked across many racing platforms, including the Super Aguri F1 Team, the British Racing Driver’s Club, the Force India F1 Team, and PR commitments for the likes of Caterham F1 Reserve Driver, Alexander Rossi, and Jenson Button MBE.
I wanted to discover how Emma transformed herself from a racing fan to one of the best in her field. “I was relatively late to the motorsport ‘party’. I was completely hooked on Damon Hill at Williams and when he crossed the line at Suzuka, I was teary eyed”. Much like Murray Walker, and fans everywhere, Emma recalled how the sentiments of that day solidified her passion for the sport – a definite ‘lump in the throat’ moment.
This kind of dedication is needed; the days are long and the season never ending. “For me now the only downtime is around Christmas” she reveals. It is soon clear that life in team PR is hard work and sometimes contradicts the sport’s glamorous surroundings.
“Everyone thinks that the winter is quiet, but it’s not. There is a lot to prepare for”. Emma lists her pre season commitments, which include writing and producing the media kit, new publicity material, driver announcements, packing for long-haul freight and ultimately, preparing for life on the road. I was staggered by her non-stop lifestyle.
For Emma, the challenges this brings have been intensified following the birth of her daughter, affectionately known as “Pickle”, three years ago. Whilst she admits she is “relishing that challenge”, she, rather honestly and sincerely, accepts that the transition was initially tough. “I had to adapt very quickly and turn down opportunities that would have been more financially secure, for example, but they were full-time roles with extensive travel and impossible for me to do with a very small baby”.
Following this admission, Emma was quick to reflect on the happiness being a mother has brought her. “I have led a charmed career I know, and I am thankful every day. But I also have the other best job in the world – being mummy”. It seems this was a sacrifice she was all too willing to make.
Without question, she admits, the hardest part of her job involves “keeping contacts up to date and relevant, but also making sure that a genuine and professional service is provided”. In Motorsport PR, work never really stops.
Emma took me on a trip down memory lane, to where she started in Fashion and Music PR, a position she held for eight years. Sponsorship links between MasterCard US and Jordan Grand Prix immediately gifted Emma with an opportunity in 2000 that would define her personal and professional future. “I was the only one in the office with an interest in Motorsport so I put myself forward to look after these two clients in addition to my own”.
Emma was quick to take these opportunities whilst she could, a lesson she wanted to share. “Gain experience and make all the contacts you can whilst working your way up the Motorsport ladder.” This, she advises, combined with perseverance, “will definitely give an advantage”.
Emma’s first taste of an F1 event came when she was asked to devise and execute a media introduction evening for one of the sponsors of Jordan Grand Prix. This was the beginning of a close friendship between her and Takuma Sato; a photo of the event is “framed, signed and proudly displayed at my house”, she admits with a smile. There is no doubting Emma’s appreciation for the opportunities she has been gifted over the years.
To travel so extensively is a challenge. When working in Formula 1, Emma found herself almost always on planes. Amongst her favourtie places to visit: “Canada, a place that envelops itself in F1, Magny Cours for the scenic, tranquil location, Sepang for the spa facilities and spacious rooms in all of the hotels; Monza for the fantastic food and iconic track and of course Suzuka (also probably my favourite track) as I used to couple it with a stay in Tokyo – one of my favourite cities on the planet”.
I then asked Emma if she had ever been star struck. Having worked at the very pinnacle of the sport, I was curious to see whether this had an impact on her. I was surprised by her answer. “Once”.
Working in the Super Aguri garage and on the pit lane, Emma had often watched Michael Schumacher and his entourage walking through the F1 paddock. “It’s just not professional, when you are working, to go up to a driver from another team and ask for an autograph, so I never did”.
Michael Schumacher was in his final year for Ferrari and the sport was preparing to say farewell to a legend. “I was at a Bridgestone media event during the Japanese GP; Michael had already announced his retirement and the only two teams present in this huge hotel conference theatre in Tokyo were Ferrari and little Super Aguri F1!” I could hear the excitement as she recalled the moment, she knew her chance had come.
“I was escorting Taku and Aguri-san and Michael was with his Manager, Sabine. I approached Sabine to ask if I may possibly have a photo taken with Michael after the presentations”. Thankfully for Emma she graciously said yes, but could not guarantee the timings. “I really didn’t think it was going to happen”. Emma admits that she did not think much more of the loose agreement.
A couple of hours later and Emma’s moment to meet the legendary driver had arrived. Sabine had not only remembered, but she had made it happen. I will allow Emma to tell you the rest of the story; her memory of the event was so vivid that when she described the events of that day to me, I felt for a moment like I was there myself.
“Michael was sitting alone, relaxed in his red kit but with a grey hoodie over the top – I’ll never forget it. He beamed a huge smile as he stood up and walked toward me. I stretched out my hand and said “Hello. I work for Super Aguri.” He said, “I know, I’ve seen you around!”
“My voice was shaky, but I ploughed on, determined not to sound stupid as this was going to be my only chance to meet him, and on my own.
“Whatever you decide to do next, F1 shall be poorer without you. Congratulations on all your championship wins and I am so sorry to bother you, but may I have a quick photo? I would never ask normally but…”
For Emma, this was it, her big chance.
“Sabine took my camera; Michael stood next to me, looked in to my eyes and with a massive smile took my hand in his, said “Of course,” and put his other arm around my waist!”
I am the only one currently green with envy?
“Sabine took the picture, Snap! And that was it. Sabine stepped forward to give me my camera and I knew that was my cue to go, I did not want to out stay my welcome. I turned to say goodbye at the door and he gave me a wave. Once the door was shut behind me I nervously looked at the one photo that had been taken – what if she’d wobbled and it was blurred? Or our eyes were closed? Taku’s manager (at the time) came running over.
“So? So? What did he say?” I showed him the photo – it was brilliant, although I look terrified! “Oh, don’t show Taku,” he said giggling, “he’ll get jealous that you wanted that!”
For Emma, understandably, this was a great moment. “Whatever you think of Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, and its wins – the guy is seven times World Champion. A man who carries himself with grace and who, after a day packed full of media interviews and stage presentations for several hours, still made me feel special that day”.
Her story was incredible and very humbling. Despite all the hard work and all the people she now knew, the child within Emma re-emerged that day in Japan – a real perk to the job. I then wanted to know what impact these encounters had on her life all these years later.
Of all her friendships, it is still Taku who remains her closest. “He is a wonderful, kind and generous man has become a dear friend. I worked with him at Jordan, B.A.R. Honda and Super Aguri F1” she recalls with a laugh.
Now Emma’s career is spent working with the talent of tomorrow. “Most of the young drivers I have worked with give me a text or call every now and then and if I can help them with contacts or advice, I try”. And like most of us, Emma finds Twitter to be a useful tool when following their progress. It is clear that Emma is held within high esteem amongst her peers, which in an overly competitive field, is staggering.
She is the first to admit how lucky she is to “dip in and out of the F1 world” despite the demands of raising a young family. Emma is now concentrating on emerging talent, including Jack Aitken (British Driver in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC), “working for the only World Champion on two and four wheels, John Surtees OBE” and the Henry Surtees Foundation, founded in memory of his late son.
Emma has also discovered a new love since her change in career, sports cars. “It’s fantastic and extremely thrilling – on both sides of the Atlantic – and the people are so nice!” All these years on, the world of Motorsport still excites her. It is now clear to see how the passion she feels for the sport she loves has helped her rise to the top. This has also, she insists, been beneficial in helping her “learn new skill sets” which push her every working day.
And for those of you, one day hoping to make it in her profession, please remember one piece of wisdom she so kindly shared with me. “Motorsport is a very, very small world!”
I would like to personally thank Emma for her time. It was an honour to gain access to her life in Motorsport; a perspective not yet seen here on ‘stoodonthepodium’.
If you would like more information on Emma, see her website. All images are courtesy of Emma herself.