03 Sep 18
Welcome to From the Top, a series in which we speak to the Team Principals, uncovering the characters behind each team while learning about life at the top of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
We catch up with James Barclay, Team Principal at Panasonic Jaguar Racing to find out how he got hooked on motorsport after riding in a Jaguar D-Type, what the highlight of his career to date is and who his greatest role models are. Read his story and discover his three top tips for building a successful career.
Let's start from the beginning - what did you do before Formula E?
If I rewind all the way to the start, I grew up in South Africa right next to the Kyalami Racing Circuit. So, I mean, racing was in my blood from the start!
When we moved to the UK as a family, I started karting as every young driver does. I did a scholarship programme with Vauxhall that got me into racing. It was through that programme and winning the rookie awards that got me into my first manufacturer, which was great. So I spent the next two or three years racing around the British Touring Car Championship and that's where I was introduced to Lotus and I started racing with them as well.
At that time, I started to work in the sport as well as driving and I actually helped establish Lotus Motorsports. It was an amazing journey to be on as a youngster - straight out of school and finishing my studies and starting to work there. That was a really exciting time and then from there, the opportunities started to really snowball, really.
I was asked to join Bentley in 2002 to come and work on the Le Mans programme and to look after PR. We had a very clear programme to go and win Le Mans and a short period of time to do it but we achieved our goals. In 2003, we had first and second in Le Mans, it was an incredible journey.
Then, in 2013, I was asked to come and join Jaguar Land Rover, looking after global sponsorships and partnerships for the brand. So that started the journey for Jaguar coming back to motorsport, which ultimately culminated in us entering Formula E in Season 3.
What's your earliest motorsport memory?
One of my earliest memories was hearing Formula 1 races and world sports car races from Kyalami. I also remember that the first racing car I ever went in as a passenger was a Jaguar D-type there - it was an incredible experience.
What made you want to get into motorsport?
From a very, very young age, I always knew I wanted to be involved with cars and probably racing. I think from the age of 12, I was working at racetracks already because I wanted to be in around that scene - whether it was driving myself in go-karts or whether it was simply being at races.
Any role models along the way?
Yes, various people both in the sport and outside the sport. Growing up, I had some idols obviously. Senna, Piquet - obviously Senna was such an inspiration. Then, when I started working in the sport, it was people I was around.
And honestly, I know its really clichéd, but my biggest role model was my father. My dad was a self-made man from Liverpool, who took his family to Africa and that was it. He was an absolute inspiration to me, just showing that it doesn't matter what your background is, you can ultimately do what you want if you set your sights on and you're dedicated.
When did Formula E first come to your attention?
For us, it was from around 2014 onwards, when we really started to accelerate looking at motorsport. Formula E was starting to make noises and the championship looked really exciting. Obviously, we had our electric cars to bring to the market, so for us it was a great fit and the timing couldn't have been better.
What's it like running a team? What are the challenges?
The main challenge is avoiding complacency, I would say. You know, as a team you have to always be moving forward. As soon as you stand still for a second, you're behind. Whether it's from the technical side, making sure we're continuing to evolve the car and the team, to trimming down every thousandth of a second that you can - it's an endless journey. As soon as you have a breakthrough, you think great, if you sit back and enjoy that for even a moment, the next race you'll be behind again.
You've done a lot of different roles in your career but what has been the highlight?
It's never just one moment. For me, realising as a youngster that I had a future in the sport behind the wheel was a really proud moment for me. Then I would say, winning Le Mans with Bentley was something which was really special. That'll never leave me. But honestly, the pinnacle for me is bringing Jaguar back into motorsport. It's such an iconic brand with such a great fan base. The reaction we saw coming back into motorsport was phenomenal. And I think the best is yet to come, which is really exciting.
What tips would you give for a successful career?
Dedication. You've got to dedicate yourself to something. If you're passionate about it, that comes naturally. But I've never met anyone who is hugely successful that hasn't given it their all. So, you've got to be dedicated.
Ultimately, you have to just be yourself. Don't try and be anyone else other than who you are. Whether you're the most senior manager or you're the new person in the team - you've just got to be approachable and be yourself.