Inspirational, Interview

Jim Wright: “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful career in motorsport.”

Hi, everyone. I’m thrilled to share this article, an interview with the very talented Jim Wright. Jim works as the Group Commercial Director at Andretti Autosport, as well as the Secretariat for the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers’ Association. With great experience in various aspects of motorsport, Jim’s time in the commercial world was intriguing to hear about.

Thank you to Jim for his time and advice. Enjoy!

You started out in motorsport working for some of the most iconic family-style businesses, such as Williams Formula 1 Team.

What do you think of the commercial giant that F1 has become now, with the creation of Drive to Survive and the age of increased digital media?

“Well interestingly enough, if you look at the figures that we were achieving back in the late 90s and early 2000s – Formula 1 was in a boom time then and 85% of the revenue of a championship-winning team like Williams was derived through sponsorship. Now, any front-running Formula 1 team doesn’t derive 85% of its revenue through sponsorship, it has far more coming from the promoter, the rights-holder. So, I think it was very different. We were entirely reliant upon sponsorship, so we had to set up our commercial vision based upon that. Whereas now, it’s a different era and there are different ways in which the total income is achieved for teams. At the moment, it’s relatively straightforward to hit those numbers, given the starting point of the promoter money.”

From working in Formula 1, what was your transition into electric racing?

What was it about Formula E that interested you?

“Well at the time – 2012, when it was first being discussed, Formula 1 was going through a bad patch. It was getting super expensive, it was before Liberty [Media] came in to purchase Formula 1 and therefore there were uncertain returns. The previous sort of three or four years, I’d been working for what started out as Virgin Racing and then morphed into Marussia. We were at the back of the grid, we weren’t getting any television coverage but the costs were high and it became a really, really difficult sell. And then Lucas di Grassi [ABT CUPRA Formula E driver] told me about this guy, Alejandro Agag, who was starting this Formula E Championship. And you know, just at the time there was a real change in politics – and also, what became apparent was that this planet was in trouble. That we had climate warming and all the other issues associated with that. It just occurred to me that there was going to be a tremendous tail wind behind change and electrification was going to come in. How quickly, we didn’t know, but it was definitely coming. And therefore, it made sense for motorsport to be leading the way in that. From a commercial point of view, I thought that’s a far more sensible sale than selling a back-of-the-grid Formula 1 team.”

Across your career so far (excluding your current role), which job do you think has been the most rewarding? Where have you had to learn the most?

“I really enjoyed my time at Williams. I was working directly for and with Frank Williams, and so that was an incredible honour. I was there for twelve years and really enjoyed every minute of that. But in terms of achievements, I’m very proud of the work I’ve been doing for the last ten years with Formula E. I was there from day 1, when Formula E was born. I have two roles in Formula E – I head up the commercial side of Andretti’s electric motorsport, but I also work in the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers’ Association. I’m pretty proud of the work we’ve done there to move the whole championship forward, working with the FIA and the commercial rights holder, Formula E Operations to bring Formula E forward. You can look back over 10 years and see how much we’ve grown and how well the championship has been received globally. And I think I’ve played a very small part in that, using my experience from Formula 1. I’ve really enjoyed that aspect.”

As secretariat of the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers’ Association, what does your role entail?

“What it entails is bringing together the invested teams and manufacturers to try to speak with one voice on major matters – whether they’re commercial, technical or sporting. And try to find solutions to issues together with the promoter and the governing body – the FIA. I think we’ve been very successful in doing that, we address problems head-on, we don’t always agree but 99 times out of 100 we find solutions, workable solutions which then go into the technical, sporting or financial regulations. Indeed, the fact that we have a cost cap came from us as a Teams and Manufacturers’ group saying ‘we need to have a cost cap, we should have a cost cap, what should that look like?'”

“What we wanted to do was ensure that Formula E was sustainable in every sense of the word. As the major OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] came in, we’ve seen in previous racing championships that you can sometimes get one manufacturer that says ‘I’m going to take a sledgehammer to crack the nut’. And spend so much money to almost guarantee themselves success. But it’s to the detriment of the championship because other teams and manufacturers fade away. Formula E has, as it’s shining star if you like, the fact that it’s a really good product. Here we are on Season 10 – we’ve had five races, five different winners. No one could possibly predict who’s going to win the next race with any degree of certainty, let alone who’s going to win the World Championship. So that’s a very healthy part of Formula E and one of the reasons it’s like that is because we’ve got strict financial controls in place, so that everyone is operating on the same level.”

The commitment to sustainability in Formula E is truly impressive, across the entirety of the series.

At the time of writing, in ten rounds there have been eight different race winners. As Jim mentioned, the competition of the series is thriving.

Having actively sought out a career in this sport since you were young, is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self before working in motorsport/F1?

“Well, hindsight is always great to have, there have to be some things I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight or more knowledge . . . But overall, absolutely no regrets. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful career in motorsport – started out in national racing, then went to international racing, then Formula 1 for sixteen years, and already ten years into my electric journey. So very, very pleased and proud of what I’ve achieved in those years. Would I have done things differently in some cases? Yes. But absolutely zero regrets. None at all.”

Thank you again to Jim for taking the time to speak to me.

It was great to hear about Jim’s experience in the commercial field of motorsport, as well as learning about the varying responsibilities within sales and partnerships. As someone who wishes to enter a similar role, this insight was incredibly helpful. Though I could not include all of Jim’s responses, the importance of perseverance and being tenacious was made evident.

Stay tuned for next month’s article!