A F1 Press Officer is a dream job for many, but behind the glamour of the sport, it is an incredibly difficult role. Having to juggle requests from journalists, fans and the team, as well as writing press releases and organising the driver’s sponsorship responsibilities, can result in a busy, yet fun day. Someone who has spent the last decade in the F1 Paddock as a Press Officer is Tabatha Valls. I spoke to her about why she has decided to leave her role and start her own video production company, and how she ended up working in the sport.
Growing up in Barcelona, Tabatha always had an interest in sport with her father being a journalist in the field. “I grew up loving all kinds of sport, especially football,” she told me, but her love of motorsport came from another member of her family. “My mother is English, so we’d always have family coming over to visit us. She’d (her grandmother) come over for a few weeks at a time. I remember always asking when lunch was going to be ready and the reply my mum would always give me would be the same one: “As soon as your grandmother has finished watching TV.” I decided to sit with my grandmother and see what made her glued to the TV and not let me have my lunch! It was an F1 race!” Valls explained. Continuing to watch the Grands Prix, both together and separately, Tabatha soon fell in love with the sport and developed quite a rivalry with her English Grandmother who supported Damon Hill, yet Valls herself supported Michael Schumacher.
Knowing she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps, Tabatha studied journalism at University, and it was only there that she began considering working in motorsport. “I took part in the 2008 Bridgestone e-reporter competition, the entry had popped up on the university website,” Valls told me, “I sent my application form, without thinking I’d ever hear back as it was held in the whole of Europe. A few weeks later they called me to say that I was one of the finalists and that, as part of the prize, I could attend the Valencia GP and cover the weekend for the Bridgestone website!” It was this experience of a day in the F1 paddock that changed everything for Tabatha, with her saying: “that weekend in Valencia really changed my priorities!”
After the competition, Valls decided to continue pursuing a career in motorsport with a new-found confidence. She began writing for motorsport publications, such as the Spanish version of F1 Racing magazine and attending all events at the Circuit de Catalunya, which had always been her local track having grown up in the area. However, her first real taste of a journalistic career in F1 was an internship she secured. “During my last year at University I did an internship with Spanish TV Channel TV3 who, back then, had the F1 rights, and I worked with the motorsport team,” she said. This allowed her to spend more than one weekend behind the scenes of Grand Prix and get a taste of what the next 10 years would hold for her.
Tabatha’s first role for a F1 team came shortly after finishing her internship, when Hispania Racing announced they would be taking part in the following season. After searching for a contact, a friend gave her the phone number of one of the owners. “I called straight away, they answered, I explained my situation and they asked me to send my CV in an email. I did, but there was no reply. It wasn’t until the week of the Spanish GP that my phone rang, asking if I was free to work with them in a Press Officer role just for that race weekend,” Valls described. Though the decision to take up the role wasn’t an easy one, as she was also offered a FIFA Beach Football Press Officer job starting the same weekend, turning it down for one weekend in F1.
Fortunately for Tabatha, after that weekend the team asked her to continue with them until the end of the season. Having learnt a lot and gained all-important experience, she moved to Virgin Racing. However, it wasn’t all simple from there with her saying: “unfortunately, motorsport isn’t always easy to work in, especially when you’re part of small budget teams. Just as I was about to start my second year at what was then Marussia Virgin Racing, myself and another 5 colleagues were made redundant. At the time you feel it’s the end of the world, but now, when I look back, I see it as something that made me stronger.” Valls continued to attend races as a freelance journalist as well as working with PR agencies, and after a brief stint at Caterham F1, saw an opening at Toro Rosso. “I really wanted to move to a mid-field team,” she said, “I applied for it, got the job and moved to Italy!”
At all of the F1 teams Tabatha has worked for, she has always been a Press Officer, meaning she became the link between the drivers and their media commitments. But this encompasses a lot more than just writing press releases, “it goes from planning their day-to-day calendar to scheduling interviews and events, to smaller things like making sure they’re on time, that he’s drinking water, wearing his watch or the right team polo,” she explained. Though what has made her role slightly easier is that she has always been roughly the same age as the drivers she is working with, with Tabatha telling me: “the more you get to know the driver, the more you can tailor your work to what he likes.”
The greatest challenges Valls had to deal with would involve juggling requests from fans, journalists and sponsors as well as dealing with the driver’s already arranged commitments. “I think the biggest challenge is keeping cool, organised and calm,” she told me, “you might be walking somewhere to do something and, on the way, you get a phone call from a journalist, a fan stops you, another press officer bumps into you, while your driver turns up at the track earlier than expected. You need to be ready for last minute changes and know how to react to them.” But it’s the good times that Tabatha remembers fondly saying: “I always liked to joke and have a laugh, play jokes on other colleagues, the drivers themselves or the journalists. It got to the point that I also filmed these and, at Toro Rosso, I edited an end of season video each year with all the fun things that happened.”
However, this season Tabatha won’t be working with Toro Rosso as she has now left the Italian team to start her own video production company, Press Play Productions. After wanting a new challenge and always having been passionate about video production, Valls saw now as the right time to start her own company, especially with Liberty Media opening up video on social media. “It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for a very long time now and I don’t want to look back one day and think ‘what would’ve happened if I had tried?’,” she told me. Yet, within the first few months, they have already worked with Carlos Sainz Jr, Toro Rosso and Race of Champions, which has reassured Valls that she made the right decision. “It gives me a big boost to start off straight away working with them and it gives me confidence to carry on,” Tabatha explained, and she is looking to further this success by expanding into other sports, such as football in the future.
Following a decade of attending every race on the F1 calendar, Tabatha Valls is looking forward to spending some time with her family, though admits it will be strange to watch the races on TV. She would advise anyone wanting to reach their dream job, regardless whether it is in motorsport, “if you want it, if you really want it (and you need to want it because if you don’t you won’t last a week in the job!), just keep pushing and never give up, even if you think it’s impossible.” Her production company continues to grow and we could soon see it being the go-to for all top-class sportspeople and teams. With her long list of contacts in F1 and wealth of experience, she can surely only have a long career ahead.
(all photo credits: Tabatha Valls)
Read more about Press Play Productions here: http://pressplay-productions.com/