Starting a career in motorsport is expensive. From investing in gear and equipment to getting sponsors on board, the road to becoming a race car driver requires more than just talent. Test and Development Driver for the Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E team, Simona de Silvestro talks about the investments a driver has to make to achieve their goals.
“My dad used to say the only time I was quiet as a baby was when Formula One was on TV,” says Simona de Silvestro on how she caught the racing bug at a very early age. Born in Thun, Switzerland, Silvestro’s father worked at a car dealership where she grew up surrounded by cars. It was only natural for her interest in motor racing to grow.
At four years-old, she fell in love with motor racing during a go-kart demonstration that took place at her father’s car dealership. Silvestro, whose feet were barely able to touch the pedals then, was too young to participate but she did manage to convince her father to get her a go-kart when she was older.
It’s a big investment emotionally as well as financially.
An expensive sport
Silvestro finally received her first go-kart around the age of seven, but growing up in Switzerland — a country that banned motor racing since 1955 up until Formula E’s debut in Zurich in 2018 — pursuing an interest, let alone a career in racing was difficult, “There is no proper racetrack in Switzerland, so it was quite interesting but I was really lucky that my parents let me try anything as a kid,” says Silvestro. “Thanks to them, I’m here today.”
Motor racing is an expensive sport. Today’s soaring costs of karting and junior racing fees as well as the hefty price tag for gear and equipment come as a barrier to many young aspiring racers. “It’s a big investment emotionally as well as financially. Racing is not the cheapest sport,” she says. “When you start growing up, it gets harder to just be in a family environment. You need people around you who follow this dream and follow this path to try to achieve that goal.”
The sponsor search
As a teenager, Silvestro moved to America to pursue her racing career, “When I was 17, I did my first Formula Renault championship in Italy and then I really didn’t have money to keep going. So, the only option we found was to go to America.”
Silvestro eventually found a sponsor to support her venture into Formula BMW at the time, but what was it like for a teenager to move to a foreign country in search for sponsors? “I was doing what I loved so it wasn’t that hard in that sense, but it definitely was a lot of pressure as well. If I didn’t get the results, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep racing,” she says.
While talent is undoubtedly a main factor teams look at, a driver’s financial backing is also a big influence, “Nowadays I think the financial aspect is a big thing in sports and especially in racing,” says Silvestro. “Especially in the ladder series when you’re growing up, a little bit of sponsorship usually helps, which is unfortunate in our sport but that’s how it goes.”
When asked if being a female driver makes it more difficult for her to gain sponsorship, she says, “I don’t know if it’s harder being a female. On the marketing side it makes a lot of sense because it’s still unique. But I think the big thing is having the trust from companies to follow your path.”
Silvestro, whose CV includes the IndyCar series, a stint in Formula 1 as an affiliated driver for the Sauber team, the Australian Supercar Championship and Formula E among others, is one of the most successful female drivers in the sport today, “I’ve been pretty lucky so far to have great companies behind me whether it’s in Europe or in Australia. They gave me an opportunity and you have to take them and make the best out of it,” she says.
The power of networking
While many drivers have opted to start side businesses and various projects outside of racing to fund their career, Silvestro sees herself first and foremost as a race car driver rather than an entrepreneur but agrees that it helps to delve into networking in this line of work, “The financial aspect is a really important part of the puzzle. You do learn to be a bit more proactive in those things and in meeting people,” she says.
“I’m actually a pretty shy person and sometimes it pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I think that’s part of growing up and learning how to deal with things that aren’t that easy. For me, it’s easy to drive a race car, but finding sponsorship and connecting with people is an aspect of (my job) as well.”
I think every driver dreams to be able to drive for them [Porsche] and for that to happen to me, I'm still pinching myself.
Part of the Porsche family
Today, Silvestro is a test driver for the Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E team. On top of her duties with the German team at the Formula E races, her role involves helping with simulator work back at the Porsche headquarters and testing the car on track. “For me joining the Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E team is a big deal, Porsche has such a legacy in motorsport. I think every driver dreams to be able to drive for them and for that to happen to me, I’m still pinching myself.”