Sisters on the track of glamour, gasoline and F1 dreams

Full Throttle: Nick Westby meets two young Yorkshire women driving ahead in the family business of Formula 1. Main pictures by Bruce Rollinson

ONE week Australia, the next Malaysia. Istanbul is also on the calendar, and then Monaco, where who knows what might happen.

It’s a hard life for the men and women of Formula 1, the most lavish sport in the world.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The glamour and the gasoline, the drivers and the drama. From Ferrari to McLaren, it is the stuff of which dreams are made.

Living their own version of the Formula 1 dream are the Booth family, of Rotherham, at the head of which is John, a petrol-head who has been involved in motor sport for more than three decades.

The former Rotherham butcher’s vision to graduate his support-class team on to the top grid was realised last year, and now, with the backing of a major Russian sports car manufacturer, Marussia Virgin Racing – the team based in the old pit village of Dinnington, in Rotherham – are ready to climb up the grid in their second season.

Eighteen months on from starting out on their journey with a threadbare staff, the team now have three bases throughout the UK and employ up to 100 people.

Drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio are the face of the operation, yet at its very heart is the Booth family, team principal John, wife Mary, and their two daughters, Victoria, 25, and Laura, 24.

“Since we were born, we’ve been at a race circuit,” says Victoria, the eldest, but last to get into the family business.

“We’ve been to all the circuits around the UK; we’ve grown up around motor sport and the team that’s grown with my dad.

“Summer holidays we’d spend at the workshop, making mischief of ourselves.

“We did that right up until about 16.”

Victoria trained and worked as a beauty technician at a spa in Sheffield, a profession far removed from the job she does now, sitting at a desk negotiating team logistics in Formula 1.

Laura studied tourism at Thomas Rotherham College and can at least employ a little of that now as she travels the globe from race to race.

“We never actually see the cities we’re racing at,” Laura shrugs. “You see the hotel, the track and the airport.”

“And a few bars,” offers Victoria.

Not that drinking and driving is advocated, but a chance to unwind is afforded two young women still finding their feet on the career ladder.

On TV, Formula 1 may appear to be glamorous people strolling down the pitlane with the blazing sunshine on their faces and not a care in the world. But behind the scenes, where the Booth girls operate, it is a hive of hard work.

“It’s crazy, it’s not like any other working environment,” says Victoria, whose car of choice when not talking racing is a Volvo C30.

“It did consume a lot of our lives last year.

“Even when I’m not at the races, I’m still working, planning the next races. I couldn’t escape it; it’s been a lot of hard work but it’s been fantastic and I wouldn’t now change it for anything.”

The girls’ primary job is that of personal assistant, with Victoria supporting her father, who as team principal is one of the most important men in the pitlane, and Laura the team manager, Dave O’Neill.

Laura – who drives a Mercedes SLK – also has the trickier task of navigating the 50-strong race team around the globe.

“Everybody has their needs and their wants, but because you need to get 50 people around the world, you can’t just suit everybody,” she says.

“They have a little grumble, but you have to be firm. It’s made me grow as a person, I’m more assertive.”

Victoria is not so diplomatic.

“Laura’s very headstrong, she has to be with the team, whereas I’m a bit of a pushover,” she confesses.

“She’s always telling me to get more of a backbone while I’m telling her she has too much of one.

“It’s a cliche but we are like best friends, there’s no competitiveness. We want each other to do well. We muck in when the other can’t do something; in fact, we all do, it’s very much the ethos of the team.

“It’s family first. Laura’s the feisty one, like our mother. I’m more like dad. He’s a calm personality. If something bothered him, he wouldn’t shout, he’d get to the point and be firm.”

Their pride in their father’s accomplishments is obvious.

Just making the grid at the opening race in Bahrain last year was a creditable achievement, given the short timespan John had to assemble a team and achieve the objective, particularly when their budget is dwarfed by Formula 1’s household names.

Victoria says: “It was a huge year last year, and the way he’s handled the first season has been amazing.

“He’s come on in a lot of ways; he’s never really had to deal with the media. He’s very shy, but he’s grown in confidence and now it doesn’t faze him at all. He comes across really well.

“We’re always going to be proud of him, even if it had only been the one season, because to get into F1 and get the team on the grid for the first race, that was such a big achievement.

“Trying to build on that this year is going to be tough. I’m really pleased we’re getting the chance to move forward.

“This year has been a lot easier than last year, for all of us. Things have settled down.

“For Laura and myself, because we’ve got the experience of last year, we know what hotels we want to use, what flight plans are, though you do still get the odd surprise thrown in, like Bahrain being cancelled. But in this job there’s never a dull moment.”

“It’s changed so much in a year,” continues Laura, who heads to Melbourne this week for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix next Sunday.

“When I came for an interview there was just the team manager and the race co-ordinator in the office. We’re a lot more organised, we went into it a bit blind last year. The team bonded as a family last year, but now we’ve expanded.”

Victoria followed Laura into the family business three months later, and although having grown up in the industry made it easier for them to adjust;, being the boss’s daughters gives them a point to prove.

“This year, Marussia have made it different, but having the Booth surname, we feel a bit more pressure,” explains Laura.

“We feel obliged to work harder, to almost justify ourselves, as if to say ‘I’m not here just because of my dad’.”

Victoria adds: “When they needed someone to come on board, it was easier for us to join the team because we knew the set-up, and knew the people involved.

“It wasn’t like we were unhappy in our old jobs, it was just an exciting thing happening and the team were really bogged down with the work when I came on board. It just seemed the right thing to do.”

So whose is the best job – who gets to go around the world with a Formula 1 team?

That would be Laura, with Victoria picking up the baton when her younger sister can’t make it.

“I’m usually left to watch it on the telly with mum at home,” says the elder sibling. “And because we’re so invested in the whole team, I’m sick to my stomach with anxiety.”

While Victoria hides behind the sofa, Laura’s job is to provide operational support to whoever requires it at the circuit.

Formula 1 may be a male-dominated environment, highlighted by the faces of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher, but the female presence in the pitlane is growing.

The BBC employs a number of women in its coverage of the sport and the linked public relations teams are full of women.

“We’ve even got a female race engineer now”, offers Victoria, “and there’s a few of us in the office here at Dinnington.

“For the new girls here in the office it’s been quite strange, but for us this is the norm of a working environment, because we’ve grown up in it.

“We’re not treated any differently. There are a lot of women in the pitlane now. There’s been a lot more come through in the last 10 years, it’s no longer just a male environment.”

Laura says that in her job, transporting teams around the world, “you have to keep the men on their toes”.

The task for Marussia Virgin Racing this season is to improve on their performance in a very trying first year in Formula 1.

Becoming regulars in the second session of Saturday qualifying is the goal by mid-summer, after which further progression up the grid is expected.

Millions of pounds are invested in Formula 1, from countries, manufacturers, sponsors and broadcasters, so the pressure to succeed is ferocious.

For Victoria and Laura, the sport is their life, yet family remains at their core.

“The reason we came on board was to help out our dad and the team,” says Victoria, who on her rare days off from the fast lane takes time out to spend with friends and her god-daughter.

“I couldn’t see myself working for another team. But you never know what’s going to happen. F1 is the most unpredictable environment, but at the moment, I wouldn’t work for another team.”

Laura, for whom the involvement has been longer and whose free time is spent shopping, has also forged a greater attachment to the sport.

She says: “I’d love to stay in Formula 1, it’s a brilliant job, it’s always changing.

“It’s not the kind of job you could have if you had a young family, so who knows in a few years, but I’d love to stop in Formula 1. As hard as it’s been I wouldn’t change a thing.”