Formula One is known for its competitive racing and action-packed Grands Prix, but adding to the spectacle of the race itself is the glamour brought to the sport by those that attend. Crucial to expanding the sport, famous fans and celebrities are often invited along to bring F1 to the attention of those who may not usually have any interest. For race weekends to be desirable events to be seen at, organisers must make sure there is more than just the GP itself for special guests to attend. Amber Lounge is known for creating exceptional events attended by F1 drivers and VIPs alike, but for its founder Sonia Irvine, there’s more to her interest in F1 than just parties and glamour having previously worked in the sport. I spoke to her about her career and raising millions of pounds for charities every year.
As with many who work in the sport, Sonia’s childhood was dominated by racing. “Growing up I was totally immersed in the world of motorsport, so it was in the blood and a passion of mine from a young age. My father used to race FF1600 and then my brother Edmund competed for many years,” she said. “His career took him to the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, for almost a decade, driving for Jordan, Ferrari and Jaguar. I was mesmerised watching Eddie excel in F1, then when he called to say he was about to sign for Ferrari and did I want to join him as his Physiotherapist it was a dream come true. Now having forged my own path in the industry, through Amber Lounge, bringing glamour, excitement and the VIP edge to Grands Prix for over 15 years, I feel I’ve made my mark.”
With physiotherapy her first role in the sport, this area was also something she was passionate about, having studied the subject at university before working both for the NHS and then at her own private sports injury clinic. “I worked long days and I loved all aspects of Physiotherapy, I had a deep thirst for learning everything I could to be the best I could. I wanted to specialise in sport but to be honest, I never thought there would be any opportunity to access F1, that was until my brother invited me to join him at Scuderia Ferrari F1 team as his personal physio. I’ll always be very grateful to him for providing me that first step into the sport,” Irvine explained.
Although Sonia loved her role working with patients recovering from sports injuries, when her brother offered her an opportunity she had always thought was out of reach, she had no hesitations. “Being given the opportunity to experience my brother’s F1 journey with him and being able to assist his performance was something I didn’t think twice about. I jumped at the chance and started immediately. I already had a lot of experience so I felt confident I was prepared for the challenge. I think for any physio, working at such high level of competition with an elite athlete, it’s a dream come true,” she told me.
However, after working as a personal physio, it wasn’t long until she was working for the entire Ferrari team, including more than just the drivers. “Edmund has always been a good business man and so he sold my skills to Jean Todt and I became Physio to the Ferrari team. I learned so much but I’ve always been very ambitious, so it wasn’t enough for me just being a physio. There was a lot of just sitting around all the time and I wanted to do more,” Sonia said. “(my role) involved travelling with the team to every Grand Prix and looking out for the wellbeing of each person, not just the drivers. If team members needed treatment I had to be available. Working with the drivers as a physio I had to do my bit to make sure they were in the best physical shape before a race, then treat any injuries or aches after to enhance recovery.” There was not so much waiting around when Irvine was working with the whole team having to be ready to treat any member whether they be a driver, engineer or mechanic.
After her brother Eddie left Ferrari for Jaguar, Sonia re-evaluated her role in F1. Although she still loved physiotherapy, another area of the industry had begun to intrigue her: sponsorship. “The F1 paddock is a hive of activity, always full of excitement and everyone working to their limit. Being in the paddock you are involved with people from many different fields, including sponsorship. This was an area that really interested me with my business mind. I became more attracted to this side of things than physio. Then when Eddie moved to Jaguar, motorsport sponsorship lured me in and made me want to look into this side of F1 more seriously,” Sonia described.
Working as Ferrari’s physio had lead Irvine to socialise with other F1 drivers, sponsors and Team Principals. All those in the paddock worked extremely hard for the duration of the weekend, but Sonia had noticed there was never a communal place where all teams and their members could enjoy themselves afterwards. “The idea of setting-up a classy, fun place to party and celebrate the races all together came to me. I decided to give it a try in Monaco in 2003, which turned out to be a huge success, and so Amber Lounge was born. The demand was there from the F1 fraternity and soon celebrities, so our parties continued, becoming world-famous, and here we are today,” she told me. Over a decade later and Amber Lounge parties are a staple on the F1 circuit, especially at both the Monaco and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix. The aim of its creation was never to be a celebrity filled party, but a place for the F1 family, with Sonia having been part of this for so long. “I wanted to create a place where the F1 fraternity could enjoy themselves after the Grand Prix weekend. Having big names attend means that they have appreciated the work and dedication we have put into Amber Lounge being the ultimate F1 after party. I guess word spread quickly that Amber Lounge was the place to be,” Irvine explained.
Amber Lounge is much more than just glamourous events for VIPs, raising several millions of pounds for charities since it’s creation in 2003. Having previously managed a physio department for stroke and Alzheimer patients, Sonia knew there were many causes in need of more awareness and funds. Wanting to give back to these causes she valued so deeply, Amber Lounge Fashion Shows were formed. “Since 2006, the first of our Fashion Shows, the prominent Amber Lounge brand is used to raise awareness and much-needed money for noble causes. It also allows the global media to see a glimpse of what Amber Lounge is as we don’t allow any media into the parties. Creating the Fashion Show is the thing I am most proud of because I see people willing to help our cause and donate funds for the different charity campaigns we have had in the past, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Special Olympics. This year we supported Sir Jackie Stewart’s Race Against Dementia charity and raised an enormous amount of money again,” she said.
With the Amber Lounge brand now being so well-known with events all around the world, Sonia now has a dedicated team of professionals to help bring the world-class events to life. However, she is keen to make sure every detail is up to her extremely high standards, and so remains an important figure in all stages of the organisation process. “I am involved in every step of the planning with all Amber Lounge departments. It’s so important to me to always make sure every small detail is done to perfection with every event we do. This is not just for our VIP parties and Fashion Show but the Celebrity Yacht, race viewing and Grand Prix hospitality packages we offer as well,” Irvine described. This dedication to making sure their events are to the best standard they can be is surely one of the factors that has made the brand so successful, with Sonia’s knowledge of the F1 world combining seamlessly with her smart business mind.
In the 15 years Amber Lounge has been running, they have expanded from the original party in Monaco to cities and tracks around the globe, and although maybe not the intention in the beginning, the team are hoping to bring the celebration to as many people as they can. “From the very start our guests loved our parties, loved what we were doing and always enjoyed themselves, so I thought it was necessary to try to expand and bring this unforgettable experience to other destinations and more people. Throughout the years we have brought Amber Lounge to Barcelona, Valencia, Shanghai, Mexico City and Austin. We want to make sure for the future that the party never ends,” Sonia told me. With it’s large amount of success and an increase in demand for such unique experiences, Amber Longue will continue to provide high-class events for Formula One’s biggest names, but behind all the glamour there is a strong desire to raise money for exceptionally deserving charities and this will hopefully be the brand and its founder’s legacy , along with their infamous parties and hospitality experiences.
You can find out more about Amber Lounge on their website: https://amber-lounge.com/
(all photo credits: Amber Lounge)