Louise McGrath, co-founder of Formula Careers, found a way to work in the industry she loves, simply by matching her skills to her passion for F1. Here she shares the driving force behind the project, and her advice for anybody wanting to work in Formula 1.
~ What’s your name and job title?
My name is Louise McGrath, and I am a Formula Careers co-founder, along with my daughter Rachel. I’m also a wife and mum to three amazing children.
~ Could you give me a summary of your job role?
Formula Careers is a personal project my daughter Rachel and I run in our spare time. Through Formula Careers I try to help students who dream of a career in F1 to feel less confused and alone in their educational choices and career aspirations. I link up with people already in the industry to highlight their journey into F1, and help students to be inspired and ready for the road ahead. I also give a platform to students who aspire to work in F1 – students can write for our blog and not only help to inspire the next generation but to have their story shared on our social platforms and in front of potential future employers.
I am hugely passionate about children following their dreams and finding a way to live a fulfilled life doing what they love, and helping them to realise that they can take the skills that they have and go and put them to work in an industry they’re passionate about.
I don’t claim to know everything about working in F1, but I know how to get people who do, to share with students who really want to know how to.
~ What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Air Stewardess! I grew up close to Manchester Airport, and watching the planes fly so low over our street always mesmerised me. I was fascinated with how these huge planes could lift off the ground, and glide so gracefully through the sky. I was really passionate about anything travel related. Ironically it was my brother who became successful in the travel industry, not me!
~ When did you know you wanted to work within Formula 1?
I have fond memories of F1 as a child, my dad used to watch it back in the days of Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, and Murray Walker. It was, and still is, so exciting to me. I loved the commentary, Murray really got you hooked on the race! I’ve watched almost every race for about 30yrs now, but I’ve never actually been to a race – one day hopefully!
Rachel became interested in F1 in a similar way, it was on the tv when she was young and it’s something she enjoyed watching. From a young child we could tell she had a very scientific/mathematical brain, and one day she realised that she could take those gifts she had, and use them within the sport she was so passionate about.
We really struggled to find any information about what it takes to work in these roles, and it got really stressful when it came to choosing GCSE’s and A Levels. None of the career advisors knew the path needed to become an Aerodynamicist in F1, it felt like a lonely path. We also missed lots of opportunities like summer camps or engineering days that we just didn’t know existed.
So we decided that we wanted to make it easier and clearer for students coming through the ranks, especially those of a school/college age. And for them to be aware of as many enrichment opportunities as possible. We figured if we could help just one person achieve their dream career of working in F1 then it was all worth it. And so Formula Careers was born. I don’t work in Formula 1 in the traditional sense, but I hope that maybe I play just a little part in the lives of students who will one day go on to work in the industry. And if more youngsters are following sound advice from a younger age then maybe we’ll see an even higher calibre of candidates in the future to match how quickly technology is evolving!
~ What’s the best thing about what you do?
I love to follow the careers of the students who write for my website. Apart from my family, not much makes me happier than to see someone achieve their dream role, and do what they love. Sometimes they don’t realise how inspirational their stories are to the younger generation, and to me! I always feel like a proud parent when I see them succeeding.
It’s also inspiring for me to connect with so many people within the industry. I still have to pinch myself every day. I often scan my LinkedIn connections just to remind myself how lucky I am to have my heroes from all over the industry just a message away; those people who work tirelessly and passionately for the sport that has brought me so much joy.
This project has grown into something that feels really special. There are a few exciting things coming up that we’re in the process of developing, and hopefully we can continue to be a support to anybody who needs it, for a long time to come.
~ What’s been your biggest challenge?
I struggle terribly with social anxiety, I’m very introverted. Even speaking on the phone can trigger a panic attack! Little things that people take for granted, like a simple phone conversation or a meeting, can be particularly stressful. Email is a blessing!
Formula Careers is such a positive experience for me, it allows me to express myself in a way that my social anxiety does not. Because it’s online, it gives me a way to communicate with people and still play my part. I can communicate with people from all walks of life through this project, that I would struggle to do face to face, and I can play my little part in an industry I’m hugely passionate about.
There’s always some way to work in the industry you love, sometimes it’s just not as direct as you’d envisioned, and sometimes you have to carve out your own path and create your own unique role. Stay open-minded, if I can do it in my circumstances, then anybody can!
These days I don’t run from being ‘shy’, or chastise myself for it. I appreciate it for being a part of me and realise that in many ways it makes me more able to do what I do.
~ What’s the best thing you ever did to get you to where you are today?
The best thing I did to get me to where I am today was to become a mum! It awakened a maternal, nurturing vibe that now permeates everything I do with regards to Formula Careers. Also I was determined, and I believed in myself, even though I had my communication challenges. I knew it would be beneficial to others for me to do this, so I took my own issues out of the equation and focused on the students instead.
Another turning point for both Rachel and myself was signing up to Dare to be Different. This is an initiative founded by Susie Wolff and the MotorSport Association – now known as Motorsport UK, and it’s a community for women who want to work in motorsport. The networking events are really inspirational, as are their ambassadors, and it’s great to be able to speak with women already in the industry. I have learned a lot and made some wonderful contacts. If I hadn’t become a part of Dare to be Different, I would never have dreamed I could create my own role in this industry.
~ What advice would you give to someone who aspires to do what you do?
Always remember that it doesn’t matter what your background is, it doesn’t matter how old you are, what matters is your passion and determination to succeed, and the desire to make a difference. If you really want to work in F1, there are plenty of ways to go about it, not all of them conventional. Sometimes the path looks nothing like you envisioned it, yet you eventually end up exactly where you’re meant to be. What you must do is take the opportunities that come your way, even if they put you outside of your comfort zone. And this is where it’s so important to share the stories that we do – students can see by reading others’ experiences, that sometimes it’s not an immediate jump into F1 straight from University for example. And that’s totally okay!
Sometimes the road leads us in many different directions, via other companies and industries. It doesn’t necessarily mean the path isn’t going where you want it to, although it can seem like that at the time, it’s just that you’re collecting lots of knowledge and experience along the way that you’ll need when you finally get there. Sometimes we have to trust the journey, whilst keeping our goal in mind.
I never ever dreamed I would be on the first page of Google for terms like jobs in F1, and receiving a large number of visitors a week to a website that I co-created with my daughter! I never dreamed I’d be able to persuade people in the industry to write for us. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, and I don’t take any of it for granted, I just want to help students achieve their dreams in the only way I know how.
I simply took my passion for F1, and coupled it with my knowledge of websites, social media and communicating online, and I created something that hopefully brings people a little closer to an awesome career.
As I often say in our house, ‘never give up, never give in’. Opportunity can come knocking at any time!
~ Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have had their studies interrupted and are unsure of how it will affect them in the future. Are there any words of advice or inspiration you can share during such a challenging time?
I see first hand the disruption that students are facing right now. One of my children who was at college is now doing his studies online from home. And Rachel has just finished her first year of University; she had to leave her exciting new Uni life behind to come back home and try and continue her studies online. I remind Rachel that these times will be talked about for years to come; further down the line one of the questions an interviewer will ask you is what did you do to make the most of your time during this period. Do you have an answer for it? A candidate who can prove that they pushed through in the face of adversity and never gave up, is worth their weight in gold.
Just because your studies may be disrupted, doesn’t mean you have to stop, or that there’s nothing that you can do. For us it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend time with each other that we wouldn’t normally have had. It’s a time to learn new languages, to learn coding or design, to spend quality time on our mental and physical health. To catch up on all those books we promised ourselves that one day we’d read!
Or maybe you could think about consolidating everything you’ve learned during the last year, to make sure you understand it fully. And it’s a good time to really think about where you’re going and what you can do to help you get there. Make the most of it!
One of the things I said to my family when our lockdown began, was to think about lockdown coming to an end, and life getting back to some kind of normality. What would you be disappointed that you didn’t do with that time? And to make sure you do it!
~ How are you coping with this period of lockdown?
It’s certainly been interesting having five of us not leaving the house for a few months. There’s definitely more cleaning and cooking involved, as well as keeping everyone smiling and inspired! But it’s made me realise how important it is to look after myself, and if I’m running on empty then I can’t effectively provide for others. So I’m learning to be much kinder to myself. I’m also redeveloping the Formula Careers website, and working with Rachel on an exciting new collaboration which we’ll be launching soon. My main goal through this period is to see my family safely through, happy and healthy. And that’s my wish for you too.
You can connect with Louise here: