Helping talent despite COVID-19

This is my third year as programme director of The British Racing Drivers’ Club’s Superstars programme, and I’m really pleased with the drivers we’ve selected. It’s always a pleasure to see new talent achieve success and to welcome them onto the programme. Harry King, Jonny Edgar, Ben Tuck, and Zak O’Sullivan all did exceptionally well last year and will benefit from the kind of personal attention and guidance they’ll receive as BRDC Super Stars.

I’m also happy to continue working with our nine returning Super Stars. Ash Sutton, Sandy Mitchell, Phil Hanson and Tom Gamble all won titles in 2020, and Dan Ticktum and Callum llott are both on the cusp of formula 1. Jake Hill, Dan Harper and2019 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award winner Johnathan Hoggard are also back, and I’m really keen to see how they get on this season -you never stop learning and we hope to continue their development in 2021.

We are still under the restrictions of COVID-19, and this has meant we’ve had to adapt our way of doing things to ensure the programme continues to offer the help and support our Super Stars need. Everyone had to change a lot last year and learn how to live with the pandemic, and it was no different for the Super Stars. We started off well with a fantastic launch day at Silverstone, where we unveiled that year’s drivers, introduced them to the media, and got them out on track giving hot laps where they could begin to build relationships with journalists that cover their activities, which went down really well with everyone involved.

Sadly, just a few days after the launch, the true nature of COVID-19 became apparent and we found ourselves under lockdown, with all planned events for the season cancelled. We were, for example, planning to go to some centre of excellence training facilities so the drivers could see how athletes in other sports prepare and train. There was no racing whatsoever for some time and, even when it picked back up, I was unable to go to circuits to support our Super Stars, but we used it as an opportunity for the programme to look at how we could adapt and support the drivers in other ways.

The lockdown did give us time, as the drivers who were normally racing all over the world were all at home, so we were able to sit down and work on their strengths and weaknesses through bespoke, online training programmes. Each driver could login to courses and keep improving themselves, and I think that was important from both fitness and general sharpness points of view.

The Super Stars used the time to learn new skills, so some learned more about data, how to use a simulator and communicate with engineers and improve their driving. Some went on media training and PR courses, some on sponsorship acquisition courses; these sorts of things help improve their skillsets.

The way that we would normally run the programme is that we hold team events throughout the year that enable all the drivers to get together. It’s something we’ll reintroduce when the time is right this year as I think that’s important to build camaraderie between the drivers. We have drivers on the programme from very different aspects of the sport, from touring cars to sportscars and single-seaters, as well them being different ages, so it’s good for them to get together and benefit from cross-developmental learning. By working together, they can improve one another and learn things from each other.

These elite drivers are the top 13 in the country so they are all obviously good, hence why they are on the programme, but what’s interesting to me is that they can all still develop and learn. However, there are certain things that one driver might need that another doesn’t, and those individual needs are very, very important to consider, so a big part of the programme is that I take on a mentoring and performance management role where ‘ I’m in constant communication with drivers. We analyse how they’re getting on, what areas they can improve in, and then we bring in coaches to help them in the areas that can be improved.

Some drivers will go on Rob Wilson-style courses, some of ‘ them have gone on courses to understand vehicle dynamics, some of them have gone on media training courses, and some of them are on nutrition courses. I really think it’s a big part of their education, and it’s important that it is done individually and not just adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. I think it’s got to be a mixture between team events and that individual bespoke learning.

We can carry forward a lot from how we adapted to last year’s restrictions into this season. We’ll ensure that drivers continue to work to stay sharp. The delayed start to the 2021 season is no reason to let their foot off the loud pedal. The mental health side of things has really come into focus recently, and drivers need to keep themselves motivated to make sure that they are mentally and physically prepared for when the season starts.

I’m confident that we will be able to return to normal by the end of the year, but until then we’ll continue to find the best ways possible to support our 13 Superstars to ensure they achieve maximum success for the club, as well as themselves.

Andy Meyrick for Autosport, March 2021.