Welcome to Paddock Pass – the series in which we delve deep behind the scenes of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship to bring you the latest interviews and insight from the world of all-electric city street racing.
In our first instalment, we catch up with Delphine Biscaye, Team Manager at Venturi Formula E about how she first got into motorsport, why Monaco is her favourite race in the calendar and her top three tips for starting a career in motorsport.
What's your role?
I'm the Team Manager for Venturi Formula E. I manage the team, I do all the travel management and when we are here, I also do the sporting side of things - I'm also the connection between our team and the FIA.
How did you get into motorsport?
It started when I was at university - I did an initial project in mechanics, which meant I ended up studying mechanical engineering and then I decided to try and get into motorsport, so I applied to many different teams. I ended up getting a placement with Williams F1 and stayed there for 18 months and after two placements, they kept me on as a contractor. When my contract came to an end, I went back home, which happens to be where Venturi is based, so it was a natural fit.
At Williams, I was dealing with the KERS [kinetic energy recovery system], so I was not in the race team, I was in the design office. So, when Venturi went into all-electric racing, my experience was very helpful.
Did you find the process challenging?
It was challenging. When I went to study mechanical engineering, the first question they asked was why do you want to do this? So, I said I want to work in motorsport and they replied 'well, there are not many positions there.' Looking back, I think that's what made me more determined - because it was more difficult, I had a greater desire to succeed, so I worked very hard to prove that I could do it.
What inspired you and how long did you know you wanted to work in racing?
Late! I came from a small village and I had lots of friends who liked motorbikes and I would go with them and see them working on the bikes and talk about racing and cars - my parents are not interested at all - they follow the races because I'm there but otherwise they wouldn't watch it!
It's very hard to know what you want to do when you're 18 but my past experience was something that was talking to me when I came to engineering school. I could imagine myself as an engineer in motorsport and when they said it was very difficult, I decided I definitely wanted to do it.
Any role models along the way?
I met Michele Mouton - the former World Rally Champion - she is the president of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. I did not know her while she was racing - in the 1980s I was very small! But when I met her, I learnt about her career and she is very inspiring - she managed to compete against men when it was very difficult in the eighties but all she was interested in was winning - she did not care if it was a man or a woman behind her or next to her, she just wanted to be in front of them. Now, she's still very involved in encouraging young women to be involved in motorsport and engineering. She's a strong woman - she's like a mother to the people she likes and knows and at the same time she's very strong and focused.
Motorsport has traditionally been known for being a male-orientated world. How do you find working in the industry?
I think it's more challenging for a woman. Going into motorsport is very difficult anyway - there are not many teams, there are not many open positions and it's very difficult to get into it in the first place. At Williams and Venturi, I have always felt that I have been very well considered - I never feel like I'm a woman in a male environment. Formula E is very good for that.
Has much changed since you started working in the industry?
I think we've got more and more women interested in working in the industry, in engineering and in motorsport in general. Here, it's my third season in Formula E - the first one I did only two races, I did a full season last year and we're halfway through this season now. Since I started, I've seen more women coming in. In the beginning, it was just at Renault and Venturi, then last year there was Techeetah Formula E and then Panasonic Jaguar Racing and then Dragon also. Now, we see more and more women not just in marketing or communications, but we see women in all the different fields - it's changing. It takes time because you have to work on the small girls and start them early. I think it's starting to change now at that level, so I think we'll start to see changes in maybe ten years or so.
What's the best part of your job?
I have a technical background but now I enjoy the communication side of my job - especially the internal communication. I really like to be involved in all the parts of the team, technically but also socially and analytically. It's very difficult when you spend so long with everyone as a team and work long hours - we are together all day for the whole week. Everyone has different characters and with the pressure and stress, you sometimes get a lot of difficult situations to manage. So, I think the human part is the most challenging - it's more difficult than the technical part - you can make the car run but if the people don't talk together it will be a mess and someone will make a mistake. Also, the team spirit is the most important - I work a lot on that. At every race, I try and organise a day or half day for the team to get out spend some time together away from the circuit. You can see how the team has evolved from round one to four, we've learned to be more structured and organised but, ultimately, we learned how to be a team.
...and the not-so-good?
The freight! The logistics are one of the most difficult parts because we always have late freight - I need to work out what I should send at what time and where to send it - it's not a lot of fun! It's just paperwork but someone has to do it!
Formula E involves a great deal of travel. What do you miss the most when you're away at races?
My son! I have a three-year-old son, so for sure he's what I miss the most.
What's your day-to-day like both on and off-race weekends?
On race weekend, it's mainly the sporting and the team schedule. Off the race weekend, it's all the logistics and travel arrangements as well as still keeping an eye on the team.
What's your career highpoint to date?
I think the podium in Long Beach in season two. I had never worked on a race track before. The team manager couldn't make the race on this occasion - I had very little information about what I had to do. I got there, spent the weekend without any penalty and we finished the race second. Obviously, it wasn't all to do with me but on my first day in a new role, we managed to get on the podium! That was unreal.
What’s your favourite race in the Formula E calendar?
I love New York City - it's so special - but I have to say Monaco. For us (Venturi) it's our home race. When you are on the grid in Monaco and look around and think who's been here before - it's one of the most mythical tracks ever. It's amazing.
Looking to get a job in motorsport? Here are Delphine’s three top tips for people looking to start a career in the industry.
Top three top tips for someone looking to start a career in motorsport?
- The beginning is important, in terms of the placement and the studies. You need to think about it while you are studying - you can't arrive with a diploma and apply, you need to have experience, so the placements and the projects you choose are the most important. They give you something beyond the others.
- The motivation. You should never, never quit - always try. At Williams, I don't know how many times I called, I sent emails and emails and emails until they said, 'okay, come for an interview.' And then I got the placement. If you really want a job in motorsport, do everything you can to have it and don't stop - don't give up at the first hurdle.
- you should always do what you want to do. If you want to work in motorsport, everyone tells you it's difficult and it's maybe not for you, and it's difficult to balance a life. But if you want to do it, you should just do it.