F1 is one of the most famous motorsport series in the world, but before drivers can get to the championship, they must first impress in the junior categories such as GP3 and Formula 2. PR and Communications in such series could almost be considered more important than in F1 with those working in the championships having to generate interest in younger racers who don’t necessarily have the fanbase or fame that those at the top do. Leandra Graves worked as a GP3 Press Officer for 5 years and saw many drivers come and go, several of them going onto bigger and better things. I spoke to her about her role in GP3 and how it came about.
As with most people working in the industry, Leandra always had an interest in motorsport. “It’s in my blood, I’ve always loved the sport. One of my earliest memories when I was 6 or 7 years old was watching F1 races and being excited when it was a race weekend. My Mum and Dad were big fans as well, and so it always felt natural to have a passion for motorsport. It’s all I ever wanted to do,” she described. Even at the slightly older age of 8, Graves wanted to be involved, admitting she would write qualifying reports on her computer at home following the session, and would even time herself, saying: “I’d always try and time myself because that’s what I thought journalists had to do.”
Initially it was journalism that Leandra was interested in, having not had much knowledge of PR when she was young. “All I really knew back then was the people who wrote the articles in the newspapers and magazines. I knew my skill was writing and so thought that was probably my best shot of working within the sport,” Graves exclaimed.
Leandra’s first role in the industry came through attending Speedway events around the country. “One day Pete Ballinger came up to me who ran a DVD company called Clean Cut Sports. They filmed all of the speedway meetings and needed someone to interview the riders. I didn’t have any interviewing experience, but I thought ‘hang on, you love motorsport and bikes, why not put yourself out there’. I did that for 3 years and I would go all round the UK, interviewing international speedway riders,” she said. This offered her the opportunity to gain experience in motorsport and also build up a portfolio of interviews that she could use to demonstrate what she could do. Having not come from a journalism background, following this Leandra went on to complete a diploma in the field before deciding to become a freelance reporter. “I would write about World SBK, MotoGP and Speedway, and one of the first things I did was interview James Toseland, the world superbike champion. It was probably the best interview I could’ve asked for. It got published in a paper which I was really shocked about and once I’d seen my name in print, I just wanted more,” Graves told me.
After experiencing many different series, mainly in the world of motorcycle racing, Leandra wanted to go back to her first love in motorsport, Formula One. Knowing that securing a job in the championship would be a challenge, despite her previous work, Graves approached many of the junior series for work experience. After being unsuccessful, she got in touch with several websites about covering F1 testing for them, and this was how she got her first shot. “At F1 tests I knew the accreditation might be a bit more relaxed, and maybe there’d be a chance. I contacted what is now racefans.net and Keith Collantine from the website got back to me. I wrote a piece for him about why I would like to interview Andrea Stella, who was Alonso’s engineer at the time,” she explained. Although Leandra didn’t hear back immediately, only a few days before testing in Barcelona began, Collantine called her to say he had organised accreditation and she was ready to go.
Following her trip to testing, Graves managed to secure work with the official Dorna MotoGP website writing all of the English content from home for all three categories: MotoGP, Moto 2 and Moto3, when one day she received an email offering her an exciting opportunity. “I checked my old email account that I hadn’t looked at in 10 months. I had an email from Alexa Quintin (Head of Media and Communications for GP3 and F2), who I’d previously contacted offering to do some work experience at testing. At the time she said they didn’t need anyone, but they would keep my details. She’d said that they had an opportunity for a GP3 Press Officer, and would I like to send my CV in,” Leandra explained. She got the job and began working in the series the next season.
Talking through her role working in GP3, she said: “Wednesday I would fly out and so be at the track in the afternoon. We would set up, have a wander around the paddock and make sure we knew everything that was going on. On Thursday I did the Insider magazine, so I would do lots of interviews with the drivers as they aren’t on track and generally have some free time. Over the weekend I would look after the media as well and make sure they are in the right place and have everything they need. If we wanted to do a previous race winner photoshoot, we had to sort everything logistically as if you want to do it on the other side of the track, you can’t expect the drivers to walk around for 40 minutes, especially in 40 degree heat. Also, you’ve got to make sure the drivers are there promptly because it’s easy for them to get distracted and be doing their hair or having a nap. The rest of the weekend we had other events as well, so I would take the drivers to meet the fans, compete at the F1 Game Zone and then when the sessions are on I would be doing the tweeting, writing press releases, making notes for the video edits, uploading photos, generating stats and so forth. Following qualifying and the Feature Race we had to find the drivers that would be needed at the press conferences and make sure they’ve got their Pirelli cap and ensure they look smart for the official photos and media.”
GP3 and F2 are proving grounds for young talent with many drivers in the series being part of F1 teams’ young driver programmes. It is crucial that racers performances are consistent and impressive in order to keep them in the minds of F1 team bosses who are always on the look out for future talent. Leandra worked with many drivers in GP3, some of which have gone on to F1. She was keen to praise Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat but choose 2 other young drivers as the ones who really stood out. “Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc really were impressive. Ocon was so consistent, you just knew he was going to do the job every weekend. Leclerc really is special, after GP3, to watch what he did in F2 and now in Formula 1, I do think he can go all of the way. I hope he gets a chance with Ferrari. Both Ocon and Leclerc were always relaxed and friendly, but they could just switch and do the job on the track. It’s been a joy to see them both progress, they’re really fun guys and just deserve all the success in the world,” Graves told me.
Leandra Graves demonstrates the spirit of taking every opportunity that comes your way. Making contacts was crucial for her as well as putting herself out there. At the time she knew it would be a risk, but by taking these chances she covered F1 testing and became a GP3 Press Officer. Her advice to those wanting to work in motorsport would be: “believe in yourself and never give up! I was told by a lot of people that I would never make it to a career such as this because I don’t have a degree. From my side, I felt it was important to gain hands-on experience and show people I was passionate and knowledgeable. I was very lucky, but you need to have a lot of perseverance, if not you won’t make it.” Despite opting to leave GP3 and continue with PR outside of motorsport, her passion will surely take her back at some point, whether that be in the near or distant future.
(heading photo credit: GP2/GP3 Media Services)