Inspirational, Interview, Women In Motorsport

Alex Thomson: “To make progress, it doesn’t have to be leaps and bounds every day, it’s just slowly chipping away at something.”

Hello, everyone! Today’s post is about social media expert Alex Thomson, who on the internet goes under the name Alelbuth. Alex is the Digital and Social Media Director of Alelbuth Media, her own company. I first discovered Alex’s story a few months ago, and it really inspired me to the extent that I wrote about her as one of three incredible women in my post for Females In Motorsport. Alex’s story showed me how risks can pay off, the importance of taking a leap of faith and believing in yourself. For more background on Alex before reading this interview, click here.

Okay, let’s start with some quick fire questions to get to know you better.

What do you do in your spare time, aside from motorsport?

“I spend most of my time training, but I actually don’t know what I’m training for. At the moment my training is just running. I’m hoping to enter a few races this year.”

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years time?

“This one’s always really tricky, even when I try and think of it myself. The overarching thing is that I hope in 10 years, I’m still working in motorsport and loving it as much as I do now. In terms of what I’d be doing, it would be great if I was perhaps heading up the content of an F1 team or some part of the proper F1 organization.”

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

“Probably kangaroo meat, though I don’t eat meat anymore. As an Australian, that’s a fairly common thing, but when you tell people abroad, they’re like ‘what?’ There’s a fun fact about Australia, we’re the only country where you can eat both animals on our coat of arms; an emu and a kangaroo.”

What is your go-to Karaoke song?

“All The Small Things by Blink 182”

Alex at the Sakhir Grand Prix next to her boyfriend, Jack Aitken. Jack is a Williams Reserve Driver who filled in for George Russell at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix to make his F1 debut.

Who’s your favorite F1 driver of all time?

“I have several, but I’m going to say Jack Aitken from the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020. I have a massive soft sport for Daniel Ricciardo, as he’s Australian as well. On the current grid, Sebastian Vettel is another one of my favourites. When I first got into F1, watching it for myself and not family or friends, he was the driver I thought was great. It was right around the time [Vettel] he had just moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull. That coincided with some pretty incredible championship years for him. As for past drivers, I absolutely loved Mika Hakkinen. I thought he was incredible as well as such a nice and funny guy. Very classic and exactly how you’d expect a Formula 1 driver to be. Mika, DC [David Coulthard], and Johnny Herbert. Johnny Herbert was one of the first drivers I met in F1. It was at the 2014 Australian GP, and Johnny knew that I was nervous about being in the paddock. He was my wingman, trying to get current drivers to come and take a picture with me or give me an autograph! He was just so lovely. When I first told him I was worried about approaching drivers for pictures, Johnny said to me, ‘Oh, don’t be! Just go up to DC and give him a cuddle! He’ll love it!'”

Haha, wow! I’m going to get into some of the career questions now if that’s okay?

First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

“Sure, where to start. . .

Well, I’m from Adelaide, Australia. I decided to pursue a career in motorsport when I was attending university. Even though I was still young, what I specialized in was social media. It was still quite a niche at the time, and social media wasn’t often a standalone role. If you wanted to work in that department, you needed to have broader Communications skills. You needed to be a press officer who also knew how to interact with fans on social media, and that’s how it sat for the first few years that I was trying to get my foot in the door. Luckily enough, the way that the digital sphere has shifted moulded more and more into my favour. What I specialize in is important now, not just in F1 but in lots of sports, especially given the current circumstances with the pandemic. My job is two-fold between being a social media manager and a content manager, planning out pieces of content that will sit across various social channels.”

Can you tell us when and how you knew it was the industry you wanted to pursue?

When I look back on it, it’s not that long of a time between me being a pure fan to wanting F1 as my career. I knew about it when I was very young, Formula 1 used to race close to where I lived, but then it moved from Adelaide to Melbourne when I was about 5 years old. In my mind, it was like F1 didn’t exist because it wasn’t close to home anymore. There was a bit of a dormant period, but then I started watching F1 as an adult, at about 18 or 19. My boyfriend at the time was a massive F1 fan, and he wanted to watch it together on Sunday nights [Australia’s time difference]. I always used to have Monday morning lectures, and he lived about 40 minutes away from campus. Because of the lectures, I’d always fall asleep during the race, mainly because I didn’t understand what was happening. It took me a long time to properly get into it, and it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, just that it hadn’t hooked me yet. When I was 20, it shifted, and I started asking more questions about it. I started following the drivers and the stories more, what made one car better than the others. That year, the relationship I was in ended. He was my high school boyfriend, and I was trying to discover what I liked and what I just liked as a part of our relationship. Formula 1 stood out to me as something I enjoyed that had nothing to do with my partner, so I started learning about the sport myself. I loved it. When I was 22, I thought, ‘well, I don’t know what jobs there are in F1, but it would be cool to work in the sport’. I had just gone to my first race, and I remember thinking how amazing it would be to work in the industry. At 23, I established that communications and social media were my passion.”

Where did creating your blog fit into all of that and why did you do it?

“The thought of creating a blog came about in 2012, around the time that I attended my first Formula 1 race. That season, I had been to both the Malaysian and the Singapore Grand Prix. As I said, I was thinking about working in the sport but had no idea what I would do. So I decided to try writing about F1 with my blog as a way to try out journalism. The season was almost over then, so I thought there was no point in me trying to start writing about the 2012 F1 season. I decided to start planning for 2013 and set everything up in the meantime. The last thing I thought out was the name for the blog, and I didn’t have that for ages. I wanted to have something unique to me and not just ‘Alex’s F1 Blog’. It works for some people, but with a name like Alex, you don’t know whether I’m a boy or a girl, and I didn’t want that. If I could, I wanted to pay attention to the fact that I was a girl and thought it could be an interesting point of difference. A 22-year-old girl who’s writing about F1 with an interest and a passion for motorsport. I know that the name I settled on, Alelbuth [pronounced a-le-booth by Alex], has nothing to do with whether I’m a boy or a girl, but it’s still unique to me. It was only a couple of weeks before the season started, and I was brainstorming different names. I took the first two letters of each of my names, Alexandra Elizabeth Burnette Thomson, and I got a somewhat pronounceable name, which was Alelbuth. It felt right, and from then on Alelbuth has been my internet alter ego!”

Later, you started work in a social media role at the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the yearly Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. How has that opportunity influenced your career?

“I feel like that was the turning point in my career. I owe so much to my time at Yas Marina Circuit. It was my first full-time job in motorsport, and at that point, I only had 6-9 months worth of interning under my belt when I got offered the role. That was still when having one person dedicated to social media was rare, and I got really lucky that Yas Marina and the people behind the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix were quite forward-thinking. They saw the importance of social media for their marketing objectives. I wasn’t even the first full-time person for that role, my predecessor left the job, and I filled in. I spent four years there, and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about my specialities in the field. I had a great time.”

What motivates you to work hard?

“It’s a couple of things, and it depends on the situation. There are times that I feel challenged because I think someone might be doubting me or my abilities. It’s almost like spite to prove them wrong. Another work motivator is that I’ve never had in my mind that I would be able to have a career if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s just not something I could do. Another motivator is knowing that if I don’t work hard in what I love to do, I won’t be able to stay in this amazing opportunity that I have. The alternative [not being able to work in F1] wouldn’t make me happy.

“On the flip side, when I’m doing my training and I’m on a hard run, the motivation is knowing that there are two types of fun in training. There’s type 1, which is fun while you’re doing it. There’s also type 2 fun, which is horrible when you’re doing it and fun afterwards. A lot of the time I just have to remind myself that ‘this is probably type 2 fun, but I’ll feel really good once I’ve done it’.

In media, what attributes do you think it takes to succeed?

“You have to be very driven. Anything in media and communications, the idea of a 9-5 job doesn’t really exist. It’s very time consuming, and then when you couple that with sports or events, they mainly happen outside of work hours, race weekends are an example. If you’re involved in that, it means sacrificing an element of what your regular social life would be. Driven and adaptable are the two main ones for me.”

What’s the best part of your career as someone working in motorsport media?

“The fact that I’m able to work in something I truly love. The people I get to meet and the places I’m lucky enough to go to are added perks. Especially last year, with the pandemic, my job was so crazy. There were several times I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe what was happening. From a professional standpoint, the thing that I always love is seeing content come to life. It’s such a proud, satisfying moment. Working in motorsport media is very rewarding.

What would be your advice to young women who would like to work in motorsport?

“I like this question because I had to tell it to myself when I was pursuing my career in motorsport. I still do, to be honest. The best piece of advice I can give is to be persistent, and this doesn’t just apply to motorsport. It’s also important to be persistent in that pursuit. To make progress, it doesn’t have to be leaps and bounds every day, it’s just slowly chipping away at something. Don’t listen to anyone who questions whether you can do it, but if you do, use it as motivation to achieve your goals. In a nutshell, be consistent and persistent, and don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you love.”

Massive thank you to Alex for taking the time to speak to me. Such an inspiring woman – I hope we get the opportunity to chat again in the future.

All images are credited to Alex.

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UPDATE: It’s the 6th of May, and Alex has just announced her new role: Digital Media Officer at Alpine F1. I could not be more proud and happy for her. To check out the roles available at Alpine, click here.