Laura Winter: “Every twist and turn has shaped me into the person you see today”

*Interview completed before Coronavirus Lockdown in the UK*

In the past few years, F1’s online presence has grown rapidly with the creation of F1TV, along with more emphasis on the sport’s social media accounts and YouTube channel. After covering the Belgian Grand Prix in 2019, this year sees Laura Winter take up a larger role presenting coverage from 8 Grands Prix. With previous experience in cycling, particularly showcasing women’s cycling, Laura has a love of sport generally. I spoke to her about her long-held desire to be a sports presenter, Voxwomen, and joining the F1 digital team.

Many children love and enjoy sport, but for Laura, her childhood revolved around it with her competing in swimming events for over 10 years. “I have always loved sport. Growing up I was a competitive swimmer from the age of seven to 19, and I simply lived and breathed it,” she said. “If I wasn’t in the pool, training up to 20 hours a week, I was watching it. I never saw my gender as a barrier to me doing or talking about sport. I didn’t see myself as abnormal, or in the minority either. I grew up believing sport was every woman’s and girl’s right.” Despite this love of sport, the presenter grew up wanting to work in the veterinary industry. “I loved watching vet programmes on TV, but I soon realised I was not naturally ‘gifted’ at maths and science. I was much better at drama, theatre studies and English, and despite a brief flirtation with becoming a lawyer, a desire to be in the media, and ultimately in front of camera, grew. Hilariously I initially wanted to be in fashion journalism, but at university, I soon realised the two things I had always loved – sport and English, should be combined,” Laura explained.

Whilst at university studying for her English degree, she looked to continue being involved in sport competitively, taking up rowing. Following her graduation, this experience came in very handy. “When I left university, while getting work experience in radio, TV and regional newspapers, I was offered a role as communications and social media coordinator for the World Rowing Federation (FISA). I lived in Switzerland for two years, and worked at international regattas all over the world, including the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Whilst this role was the perfect start, ultimately, I wanted to be a broadcaster and I just had to work out the best path to achieve this,” the presenter told me. After the 2012 Olympic Games, Laura resigned from her role at FISA, deciding to move back to the UK hoping to pursue a career in broadcasting. However, she struggled to find a way into the industry without having to go back to university, which seemed like a costly option that just wasn’t right for her. “After sending hundreds of emails exploring my options, I started doing work experience on the sports desk of my local newspaper group and was soon offered a fulltime role as a trainee reporter. I was the designated rugby reporter, and also worked in football, cricket, and Olympic sports. While working on the sports desk, I received an NCTJ qualification in sports journalism, and then turned freelance. I had been doing some sports presentation work on the side, announcing, hosting and presenting sporting events in the UK with the company Great Big Events, and was desperate to make this a career,” she said.

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The first freelance project Laura got involved with remains something she is working on five years later. Within a month of being freelance, she attended a cycling team launch in Switzerland along with some of the best female riders in the world. “I met with fellow team members and my now-boss, colleague, friend and mentor Anthony McCrossan in December 2014, and by February, Voxwomen was born,” the sports reporter explained. “We aim to be at the very heart of women’s cycling, to tell the stories untold, and to give the riders the coverage and recognition they deserve. We have a TV show, YouTube channel, social media platforms, a podcast, a blog and I write feature length interviews for them too. I have seen the landscape of women’s cycling – and women’s sport generally – change exponentially. While there is still much to do, the level of coverage, the tone of the reporting, and the investment has greatly improved. I see sport as one of the most empowering and positive forces on the planet. My first professional TV experiences came in cycling and I will be forever grateful for them. They were true moments of learning and some of my most valued experiences. Presenting cycling has ultimately led me to where I am now,” Laura said.

Working as a presenter, pundit, event host and commentator in cycling, her career has been varied within the sport, covering multiple championships on many different channels and platforms. “Work over the years has included presenting the British Cycling domestic coverage from the National Championships, the National Road and Circuit Series, to the National Track Championships and National Cyclocross Championships on ITV4, Eurosport, and on Youtube and Facebook Live. I am also the dedicated presenter of the Voxwomen Cycling TV Show and podcast. I have been roadside reporter and commentator for NBC at the Tour of California for the past three years, the host of major international races such as Tour de Yorkshire, Dubai Tour and Strade Bianche and regular contributor to BBC 5 Live, LoveSport Radio, BBC Newsnight, and BBC Radio Gloucestershire and BBC Wales,” she told me.

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2019 saw Laura enter the motorsport industry as she was asked to present four rounds of the World Rallycross Championship. “I said yes immediately and started researching intensively, I’ll be totally honest, I had never watched the sport before and knew little of it. But I threw myself into it, and learnt everything I could about WRX, and quickly fell in love with it entirely. Commentator Andrew Coley took me under his wing, and I would not be where I am without him. The team were the friendliest, the most welcoming and the warmest I have ever worked with and I knew working in motorsport was something I wanted to continue,” Laura described. Later in the year, when F1 were looking for another presenter, she was recommended. “I jumped at the chance and was soon presenting on both Fan TV (on site) and the world feed at the Belgium GP last August. This, as the motorsport world will know well, was the most tragic and challenging weekend I have ever worked and an overwhelming experience for that,” she explained.

This season, Laura returns to F1 working on more Grands Prix, having already covered the two weeks of pre-season testing on both F1 TV and Sky Sports F1. “I will be working at a number of Grands Prix for F1 Management, on Fan TV, F1 TV and popping up on Sky Sports F1 too. My first GP is the Netherlands Grand Prix and I can’t wait to get stuck in and be in the thick of the action week in, week out, in one of the greatest sports in the world. I’ll be taking it one Grand Prix at a time, but the Monaco GP has a certain allure to it…,” the broadcaster said.

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With a lot to look forward to this year, Laura has proved that hard work and resilience are vital if you want to succeed. It hasn’t been an easy journey for her, with many challenges along the way. “Breaking into the industry was undoubtedly the toughest thing – an opinionated, passionate yet vastly unknown sports journalist trying to make it as a presenter, with little to no experience. All I had was a fierce love for sport and a burning ambition to make it. I always tell myself, if I can get through my first year freelance, I can get through anything. There have been huge highs and lows along the way, rejections feel incredibly personal and criticism is tough to take. And sometimes, you aren’t taken as seriously because you are a woman. There is a saying, as a woman you have to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously and I have certainly experienced that. But every twist and turn has shaped me into the person you see today, and overcoming challenges only makes us stronger,” she told me. Although there have been difficulties in her career, Laura has also had many highlights. “There have been significant breakthroughs; presenting the National Road Championships live on ITV4, or Henley Royal Regatta on BT Sport,” Laura said. “Working in F1 for the first time was certainly up there, but it became a tragic and extremely sombre weekend, so it is difficult to include that. Maybe, ask me again at the end of the season!”

Laura Winter may still be relatively early in her career, but has already achieved a lot. When she left university, Laura knew she wanted to work in the broadcasting industry, however wasn’t quite sure how to get there. After taking the decision to become freelance, it seems since then, her career has continued to flourish. Speaking of the advice she would give to those who may be in the same situation she was, Winter said: “work tirelessly for your dream. Never give up – the only time you will fail is when you give up on something. Network like crazy and get as much experience as you can, but don’t let the industry take advantage of you. Know your worth, have self-respect and have boundaries. And remember, we GET to do this. Sports presenting is a privilege and a joy.”

(photo credits: Laura Winter, heading photo: F1/Laura Winter)