Being one of the most well-known women working in motorsport, Jennie Gow is the perfect person to advise those hoping to have a similar career. Having not come from a journalism or motorsport background, she has had to work her way up from the very bottom of the ladder, hence making her a brilliant role model and a great ambassador for Dare to be Different. I spoke to her about this and why she is looking forward to the 2018 F1 season so much.
Having grown up with parents who weren’t interested in sport, Jennie unexpectedly “fell in love with it (motorsport)” and soon became enthralled by “anything with a motor”. This lead onto an extremely successful career in motorsport, and although she had always wanted to work in journalism, Gow had no intentions of working in the sports side of the industry.
“When I started, I wanted to be a war correspondent,” she told me. “That was what appealed to me until I realised the realities of being a war journalist. I covered a court story when I was a trainee journalist, unfortunately, someone died and that actually put me off . I thought being a sports journalist would be a safer option.”
But how did Jennie go from working as a trainee to BBC TV and Radio? Well, she confesses she’s had several ‘big breaks’, one being whilst she was studying for her qualifications. “Part of my work experience was to go to Chelsea Ladies and do a story for Match of the Day Magazine,” she explained. “I got chatting to a guy who was also at the press conference and he asked where I worked and I said ‘Oh yes, I work for the BBC’ and it turned out he worked for the BBC, so I looked like an idiot.” Fortunately, he saw the funny side, phoning Jennie the following day to offer her more work experience and as she put it: “I guess the rest is history.”
Her current role as a pitlane reporter allows her to explore her favourite part of the sport. “I’m driven by the human stories of sport, so for me being a pitlane reporter is fantastic because I basically get to represent to the people at home what is happening in the pitlane,” she said. This is also what many people love about the F1, the driver’s stories and the human emotion that is captured by those in the pitlane and in parc fermé immediately after a Grand Prix.
Gow is fortunate enough to do this role for radio, TV and print, so I asked which of them is her favourite. “That’s like trying to pick your favourite child,” she replied, “It’s impossible!” Though she does admit that each medium has their own pros and cons, “with radio I get a lot more freedom because it’s a really small team,” Jennie told me, adding: “I’m involved with creative input all the way through.”
Although she loves her job, she now has other things that are more important. “It (F1) was totally all consuming before I became a Mum,” Gow explained, saying: “there are things that are sometimes more important than Formula One and more important than your career”. Something that many people realise after welcoming a family, Jennie is also a brilliant role model as she is not only a female working in what is a male-dominated sport, but she is also a working Mum.
At the end of last year, Jennie presented a documentary on BBC Radio 5 Live about Grid Girls in F1, so I asked her about how the show came about. “I have a little melting pot of ideas that bubble away and that one had been bubbling away for about 3 years,” she explained to me, “I kept getting it commissioned and then something would always get in the way of it and we finally got to a point where we looked at the calendar and had a window of opportunity.” Having got the programme commissioned, Gow got the whole show turned around in only 2 ½ weeks, complete with a second producer, experts and grid girls themselves.
“I was really pleased we managed to get 2 grid girls on the programme because so often they are seen and not heard,” Jennie exclaimed, adding: “I was impartial so couldn’t have an opinion, I had to try and be as unbiased as I could, because we had people with different opinions with different angles.”
During the show, many people on social media had expressed their surprise at some of the comments from certain high-profile names, and Gow was no different saying: “I was quite surprised that Daniel Ricciardo was so open with his opinion because a lot of drivers aren’t open to say what they really feel.” This followed the Australian’s comments where he said: “It’s kind of like part of the attraction of the sport, fast cars and fast girls”. This provoked a strong reaction online, because as Jennie said, drivers aren’t often so open. However, this left some fans wishing Daniel Ricciardo and others such as Max Verstappen hadn’t been.
“I think grid girls should stay, but not in their current form,” Jennie told me, “I would much rather see young people coming through (in that role)”, and in fact, F1 has recently taken the decision to do just that, replacing grid girls, with young karters.
Passionate about encouraging female role models in motorsport, Gow is also an ambassador for the ‘Dare to be Different’ initiative. “If I could sit down every week with a group of girls and talk to them about motorsport and generally how I’ve achieved what I have in my life, and at least help a couple of them, I would love it!” she explained. However, due to a hectic work schedule, this is obviously not possible, though she does say: “I feel like I’m really at a point now where I want to do more”.
And what would that advice be? “A lot of time you’ll get a ‘no’ so you have to keep on trying until you can turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. It’s not the smoothest of career paths, so you have got to be persistent, and if it’s what you really want, you should be able to make it happen,” Jennie replied, adding: “there are a lot of closed doors for anybody in motorsport”.
We finished by discussing the upcoming 2018 F1 season, which many believe could be one of the best in recent years. Like many others, Jennie expressed her excitement about the young talent coming through, singling out particularly Frenchman Esteban Ocon and Monegasque Charles Leclerc.
“We’ve seen younger talent emerging with Esteban Ocon who was a standout for me last season. Coming through the Mercedes young driver project, he can only go onwards and upwards, but he’s got to keep on beating Sergio Perez and make sure he doesn’t crash,” Gow joked, continuing she said: “I can’t wait to see Charles Leclerc with Sauber and yes, it’s a Sauber but it’s a different team for 2018 and he is phenomenal. I’ve watched his career over the last couple of years and he looks like a really well put together driver. I’ve spoken to him and he’s charming, polite, clever, he has all the ingredients to go on in the future.”
When it comes to the championship, Jennie spoke of how competitive she believes this year could be. “I think we could have the most open championship we’ve had for a long time. I would like to see Alonso, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel all fighting for it. I think half of those are realistic,” she said, adding: “let’s hope Red Bull don’t have a slow start again to the season, Ferrari iron out their issues and Mercedes turn up again next year with a great car.”
Jennie Gow has had to work hard to get to where she is now as one of the go-to women working in motorsport. With a legion of fans referring to her as a role-model and idol and working with D2BD, she is proud to encourage more and more women into the sport that she loves.
(heading picture credit, Glamour Magazine)