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Advice From A Motorsport Journalist: An Interview With Claire Cottingham

Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Sean McKean

Image: Claire Cottingham Official Site

Claire Cottingham is a freelance motorsport presenter, writer, commentator and journalist working in F1. She has been a pit lane reporter for BBC Radio 5 live and Channel 4 as well as lead commentator for W Series. She has also worked for BT Sport, ITV and on the Olympics and Paralympics for the official world feed and Eurosport as a presenter and commentator.

Her love for motorsport started at a very young age, as she usually hung out around racing tracks alongside her father.

“I was the daughter of a doctor, but my dad was also a motorsport doctor. So we used to go to a lot of different race tracks when I was younger. We used to do the 24 Hours [of Le Mans], a lot more. We used to do, which my dad still does at the moment he's in Scotland doing the touring cars, the British touring cars. So we still do that. He still does that. So we sort of traveled around doing various different rallies, the sunseeker rallies, stuff like that when we were younger. With both my parents being into sport and Motorsports, it just seemed like a natural progression for me to want to kind of go into sport,” Cottingham told Divebomb,

“My mom used to also listen to lots of other sports as well. So both my parents were big on cricket and my dad loved rugby as well. So I wanted to get into sport, with the hope and idea, I guess, to get into Motorsport. So that's sort of where it started with me. It was a family thing.”

Claire also has a big passion for cricket, even going as far as to reach out to Alison Mitchell, a cricket journalist, for some advice when she was just getting into the world of journalism. She also reached out to more people she looked up to like Lee McKenzie, Jennie Gow, and Tom Gaymor.

“I would probably say that the people that really inspired me to kind of push forward would have been Alison Mitchell on the cricket side of things. And probably Jen, like, she was incredible. Especially when I came in and did her job in 2016, she was amazing because she was doing Formula E at the time and she gave me loads of advice and it was incredible to work with her,” Claire said.

Claire has presented many categories in the motorsport world, including British GT, British Touring Cars, and even Formula 1. When asked by Divebomb what her favorite category to cover was, she said:

“I love the British Touring Cars. I work for ITV. And I've worked with them for years and they always are a real family bond when we go because I've worked with them so long,” she recalled.

“So I think all of them carry very different feelings and different things for me with the touring cars, especially the British touring cars. It's very different from the glitz and the glamour of Formula One. Not that Formula One is that glitz and glamour, but you know what I mean? People aren't walking around with like Louis Vuitton bags, they're just walking around with Primark bags like me, so that's always really nice to be alongside families mostly in the British touring cars.

But then, F1 was always the dream, you know, it was always the top of Motorsport. It's the pinnacle and it has the most eyes on it. But - look - I'm not picking a favorite, I'm not doing it. I'm not going to,” she said to Divebomb in laughter.

Claire has interviewed many drivers and people, even F1 drivers like Lewis Hamilton. Cottingham shared with Divebomb a stressful but funny moment where she was starstruck by the Mercedes star.

“I was working for Five Live and I was working for the BBC and I knew that I needed to get a good response from Lewis Hamilton because it was the BBC and they needed the good response from Lewis. And I remember the first time I asked him a question and he didn't know who I was.

“So I was only covering for Jen. So, in that way, with some of the drivers, they like to know your faces and they like to get to know you and then they'll give you maybe a bit more of an open answer and I asked something and it must have been a really, I don't know, it was really a closed answer. We were talking a couple of years ago and he just sort of responded with a, ‘no, it's all ok.’”

“And I thought, ‘Oh God, I can't have that for the BBC. I'm gonna have to ask more.’ So I just remember being like, ‘oh no, I'm really flustered now,’” she recalled.

“Bless him, I asked him another question off the back and he was very kind and opened up and gave me a better answer. But I think that would be the only time I've really kind of felt starstruck, you know, I had Lewis Hamilton in front of me and I was working with the BBC and I just suddenly was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I doing? What happened,?” she said between laughs.

Claire has a lot of experience in the motorsport journalism world, with an extensive and outstanding career. When asked by Divebomb which was her “I made it” moment, she wisely said:

“I don't think you can ever say that you've made it because then you stop maybe searching for what you love doing. And I think for me, I've gone through broadcast, I've gone through written, I've gone through various different things, but I've always been open to them going to a different direction. So I don't think you can ever kind of think you've made it.

“You can just kind of be humble for what you do and just try and be proud of every hurdle that you get through, even if that's sometimes just waking up in the morning. Some days you don't feel like you want to get out of bed, you know, and just doing that, you can be proud of yourself. So, yeah, I think you, regardless of whatever you do in life, you've always made it,” she said to Divebomb.

Image: BBC

Claire also shared her advice for young girls and boys dreaming of a career in the motorsport journalism world.

“I would say that the best way to get into what you want to do is try and find, try and work out what you want to do, which I didn't for a long time. I sort of just guessed my way through life. So try and work out at least for seeable year where you want to kind of what you want to do if it's writing, if it's broadcast, if it's PR, if it's working with a team, whatever it is, social media, try and work out what that kind of goal looks like and speak to the people that are doing it already. Network. Have conversations, be kind to people, be very kind to people, because you never know when you get to the top or wherever you get to who might be there.

And motorsport is a very small world, so it should go without saying to be kind. But if you can be kinder that's always helpful anyway. But yeah, I would say networking, networking is probably the most important thing you can do.”

“And especially I would say for women who are, well, I can't speak for all women, but for me, I think I struggled with my confidence quite a lot. So if I could kind of look back and go, I wish that I'd been more confident in my own abilities and what I could do, I probably would have had less struggles in myself,” she shared.

Claire was recently in the Sky Sports podcast, where she showed her extensive knowledge of motorsport to the episode, but - sadly - not everyone thought she was a great addition.

“I had comments about what I look like. I had comments about ‘Who the hell is this woman?’ Like, ’What is she talking about?’ ‘She doesn't know anything,’ Claire said, referring to the comments under the Sky Sports Instagram post.

When asked by Divebomb what’s the best way to react to this type of comments and backlash she responded,

“Never feed the trolls. That's the main thing. Never. So what I like to do is if I get something like that, which is like a whole load of abuse, which was, there was quite a lot, I will pinpoint maybe one or two things to highlight to people what women get and then the rest of it I ignore,” she said.

“You can't go looking for stuff. You can't go reading the comments, never read the comments section of anything, never read any comment section on any, unless it's your feed that you can control and delete things. Don't go looking for what you don't want to see.

“If I start seeing stuff like that, I put my phone down, I go and have a conversation with my niece who loves me regardless what I look like, regardless what I say, regardless what I do.

“You know, she will love me forever. And I put my energy on her instead, I put my energy on my friends, I put my energy on those that love me for who I am. Not some shadow behind the internet that's writing stuff online about me, whatever. Like if they're talking about me great, like it means I've made an impact on them,” Claire said.

As mentioned before, Claire has been in the motorsport world for an extensive amount of time. When asked about the changes she has noticed in the sport, she shared her positive opinion.

“Well, mostly women, I'd say that's probably one of the biggest changes that I've seen, more women getting involved. The audience changing in Formula One, especially getting younger people involved getting more, it's been more welcoming, obviously, since the years have kind of gone. Formula One has been more open and more welcoming to lots of people and in general, motorsport has seen a rise in young women, in general, and the audience is changing,” she pointed out.

“Audience getting younger, which has been great. It's been a really exciting thing for us to see and we've just had more access to the drivers, access to, not just the drivers but who's behind the teams. We would never have had the knowledge of someone like Ruth Buscombe that we have now, or Bernie Collins or, you know, those sorts of people that are so important and integral to teams. We wouldn't have heard about them.

“But thanks to things like Drive to Survive, or the coverage that Star gives, you know, we've got such a bigger understanding of who these people are. So I definitely think that Motorsport has become more open and more accepting, but I think that there is a lot more that we still can do to make it more accepting. There's a lot more to be done in terms of the LGBTQ+ community and making them more welcomed and in safer environments,” she expressed.

Claire closed up the interview with Divebomb by sharing her opinion on what characterises a good Motorsport journalist.

“I would say to be a good journalist, you can only be true to yourself and true to what you believe. I feel that I am here to tell other's stories and to tell people the news, that's essentially what I think a journalist is,” she shared.

“I would like to interview a driver, tell people what he, she, or they said, and convey that story to someone else. If breaking news is happening, I want to convey that story to someone else. If I have an opinion on F1 Academy, if someone doesn't want to read that and doesn't like my opinion, they don't have to, but I would like to give that opinion and if someone would like to read it great.

“So I think that really staying true to yourself and making sure that you stick to your version of the truth that you know, and hopefully that's the same version for everybody. But yeah, just enjoy it. Don't work too many long hours and yeah, I just want to tell people stories, I guess that's for me what journalism is,” she finished up.

Image: Claire Cottingham Official Site


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