Features - News Feature

OCTOBER 1, 1999

The amazing world of Formula 1 Press Officers


There are many unusual and interesting people in Formula 1 but probably the most interesting group are the Press Officers.

There are many unusual and interesting people in Formula 1 but probably the most interesting group are the Press Officers. There are no laws about how you get such a job. Languages help. So does luck. But beyond that there is little logic involved - in fact the stories are amazing...

Probably the best known F1 Press Officer is Ann Bradshaw of Arrows.

"Over the years I suppose a lot of people have seen me on television," she says. "I actually have a fan club in Japan which started after they made a documentary about me. When we went to Suzuka I was mobbed by fans. I was photographed holding babies and autographing photos and arms and legs. When I was at Williams it was a standing joke that I was more famous than the drivers."

Annie probably has the most conventional story of any F1 Press Officer. She rose though the ranks of journalism and ended up as the PR of the Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association. That led to the offer of work with JPS Lotus in the early 1980s and then with Canon at Williams. Eventually she became the Williams Press Officer, looking after a string of stars. Eventually when Damon Hill moved to Arrows, Annie was lured away as well.

Bradshaw's fellow Press Officer at Arrows nowadays is Austrian Christine Gorham and it is hard to imagine a more different background. She led a very conventional life until leaving university.

"It was the early 1970s," she explains. "I wanted freedom and for some reason I associated England with being anti-establishment. I was a big fan of Manchester United football team and of the footballer George Best, who was a big rebel at the time. She moved to England and worked with a tool company. She then became a banker in the trading department of the Bank of America.

"I found myself renting a flat in the same house as several members of the road crew of a rock and roll band which was called Bad Company. They were very puzzled by this young Austrian girl who led a very conventional life and they decided that I needed to change. As a result I began to get to know people in the music business and eventually I found a job with the Phonogram record company."

She started as a secretary but was soon the company's press officer for Europe. Oh, and she married the lead guitarist of a band called Thin Lizzy. Then she moved to A&M Records and began working with an unknown band called The Police.

"And then I started with another young band called Dire Straits," she says. "And I worked with the Rolling Stones and The Who..."

After that she set up her own agency, One day she applied for a job with a TV station which was being set up. It was called MTV and she there at the beginning, rising to become Vice-President of Press and Communications by 1994 when MTV sponsored the Simtek F1 team.

"F1 appealed to me enormously," she says. "It was not easy but I have never liked things that are easy."

And so she resigned from MTV...

It was music of a different kind that fascinated McLaren's Anna Guerrier.

"I left school wanting to be in musical theatre," she says, "and I got a place at the Guildford School of Music and Drama in Surrey."

The problem with the theatre is that it is very difficult to find regular work because in order to work you need a union card and in order to get a union card you need to work.

"I was quite lucky," says Anna. "I was able to get my card working as an assistant stage manager for a Christmas pantomime at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. When the pantomime season ended I had to go and look for work. I did a lot of auditions and I soon realized that I was not good enough to make it as a professional actress."

In desperation she took an advertisement in the local paper, asking for any kind of theatrical work.

"It was a hopeless thing to do," she admits, but the advertisement was read by a famous West End theatre director and Guerrier was soon working as a stage manager in London's Theatreland. Her interest in cars began when she married a car-nut and when she wasn't working in the theatre she earned some money by writing about cars.

"I wrote articles for anybody, ranging from The Lady to Complete Car."

And that led to radio work and eventually she gave up the theatre to work in the newsroom at Greater London Radio. One day she was reading a newspaper and saw an advertisement for a job at McLaren...

Reading newspapers played an important role in Ellen Bernfeld's career when she stumbled over a job at Tyrrell while reading the "Situations Vacant" column.

"At the time I was working at a product-placement agency," she remembers. "My job was to convince film-makers to put products into scenes they were shooting.

Ellen was rather over-qualified for that job with two university degrees: one in history and one in archaeology. Her first job was in the Oriental Antiquities Department of the British Museum although at weekend's she was the rally navigator for her boyfriend - a merchant banker. After that she became an antique dealer in Germany, the Information Officer of the British Nutrition Foundation and ended up running a film crew which flew around the world making movies about Rothmans-sponsored racing cars."

Jordan Grand Prix's Giselle Davies was involved in racing of a different kind as Press Officer for the University Boat Race. She was headhunted by an employment agency about a job with the Benetton F1 team.

"I said: "Why are you phoning me? I don;t know anything about motor racing." They said that I did not need to know anything about motor racing because the job was about speaking languages and dealing with the press and they convinced me to go to the interview. After Benetton she moved to Jordan. She used to say she would do a couple of years in F1 and then move on but...

"I had no idea that F1 could be such fun. Now I really like motor racing. In fact some of the team are getting worried about me because I have even started BUYING racing magazines."

Languages are an important factor for Press Officers in F1. Many of them speak a lot of languages but no-one gets close to Pavel Turek of West.

"I was born in the town of Ostrava in Czechoslovakia," he explains. "It is close to the Polish border and so as I grew up I learned to speak both Czech and Polish. At school I learned Russian and German and since then I have learned Slovakian, Spanish and English...

"...oh, and I am trying to learn French."

Agnes Carlier - who is Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Press Officer - also has an impressive list of languages.

"I am French but I studied languages," she explains. "I have a degree in English. I also speak Italian, Spanish and German. I studied to be a translator but I have to admit that I found that a really boring job and I did law instead."

With two degrees she walked into a job as Press Officer for a French government minister. He moved to the Ministry of Sport and Agnes followed. When she was there she met and married a F1 journalist and started visiting Grands Prix. This led to a job as Marlboro's press officer.

This article could go on for another 10 pages without a problem. Alas, space does not allow me to explain about Silvia Frangipane, the Williams Press Officer who studied architecture at the Politecnico in Milan - one of the most famous design schools in the world - who found herself designing not buildings, but rather luxury merchandise for the Bugatti car company. Or Jane Parisi of Bridgestone, who claims to have been the worst stewardess in the world while working with Brazil's internal airline TAM.

"I was always dropping things on people," she admits. "It was a catastrophe but, looking back, it was quite funny too."

Mercedes-Benz's Wolfgang Schattling was a schoolteacher, trying to teach German teenagers English and History. In his spare time he went to as many races as possible. One day he wrote a letter to a racing magazine in England, offering to be its German correspondent and, much to his amazement, received a positive reply. As a result he started writing for a string of magazines all over the world and then in German magazines as well. he began to do freelance work for Mercedes-Benz - and the rest is history... His colleagues at school were amazed when he quit.

"Normally a civil servant in Germany never leaves his job. You have a high degree of job security, you get a good pension and a lot of holidays..."

While Schattling set out to be involved in F1, Prost Grand Prix's Marie-Pierre Dupasquier deliberately set out to do the opposite. Her father was head of the Michelin's Competition Department and she wanted to be different.

"I went to two Grands Prix when I was growing up," she says. "The first one was at Monaco but I cannot even tell you what year it was. I don't remember anything about it. I was so bored that I went off down the coast to the town of Juan-les-Pins and I learned how to windsurf instead. The second race I went to was the Belgium Grand Prix at Zolder in 1982. And there is no way that you forget a weekend like that one because Gilles Villeneuve was killed in qualifying. It was a really terrible weekend."

But, having turned down a teaching job in California and wasted some time translating French sub-titles on the bottom of English language films, Marie-Pierre ended up working for a publishing company which did some books about motor racing.

"I fell in love with the sport I had always tried to avoid," she says.

Peugeot Sport's Jean-Claude Lefebvre has an even more remarkable story to tell. With a little luck he might have been a Grand Prix driver himself. A member of the French national karting team in the 1960s, he started rallying with a mate from school - because in 1965 rallying was cheaper.

"I drove," he says, "and my mate Jean Todt was the navigator."

Lefebvre turned to circuit racing in 1969 and the following year he was hired to be a Ford factory driver in the French Rally Championship. Unfortunately he had to do his compulsory military service and when he returned a year later the sport had moved on.

"I guess that was my big chance," he says. It took four years to rebuild his career but success in hillclimbing in 1974 led to him being hired as a Peugeot factory rally driver. He did African rallies - winning the Safari as a co-driver for Jean-Pierre Nicholas, he was runner-up in the French national rallycross championship. He was a successful ice racer - and he co-drove Jean Todt (by then one of the most famous co-drivers) on the Tour de Corse.

In 1981 he became Jean-Pierre Beltoise's team mate in the Peugeot French Touring Car Championship team and finished fifth in the series but at the end of the year Peugeot announced cutbacks and he found himself without a drive.

"I had to accept that I was not going to maker a lot of money as a top driver," he says. "At around the same time Peugeot and Talbot were merged together and the old competition department in England was closed down and a new sporting operation was set up in Paris. It was called Peugeot Talbot Sport and the director was Jean. He asked me to be the press officer..."

Eighteen years later Lefebvre is still at Peugeot but Todt has gone on to Ferrari.

Lefebvre may seem an unlucky soul, but one must keep things in perspective.

"The most important thing about working in Formula 1 is that you must never forget how lucky you are to be doing what you are doing," says Ann Bradshaw. "I get letters from people all over the world who want to do my job and that reminds me that it cannot be such a bad job. If you think about it we get to travel around the world, stay in first class hotels and mix with the stars - and all at someone else's expense. We have opportunities to do things and to go to places that 99% of the people never even dream of going and if racing fans did one-twentieth of what I do in a year they would be talking about it for the rest of their lives - going out to dinner with Damon Hill and things like that.

"I hope that I have never taken it for granted."