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Matt Bishop, between engines and activism

Olivia Carbone, Giulia De Ieso, Alessia Straccia Matt Bishop interview

Mult1formula had the opportunity to interview Matt Bishop, the Aston Martin’s Chief Communications Officer. We spoke about the power of media and communication, his experience in W Series and also activism in Motorsport.

How is Aston Martin growing, in terms of communication, thanks to social media? Matt Bishop interview

Formula 1, in general, is growing very fast thanks to social media. Aston Martin is growing particularly fast because it’s a big brand and the return to F1, drew the attention of fans and media. When in 2021 Lawrence Stroll relaunched the team and called it Aston Martin, he hired new engineers, new mechanics but also new members of the communications and marketing tasks, people like me. We realized we had to be storytellers on every digital platform: our website, of course, then Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

How does communication affect the image we have of the team, are there different approaches in F1 communication?

Digital media are extremely important, but we can’t forget the older ways to communicate. Newspapers, websites and television still exist and it’s fundamental to spread information on every platform in the best way possible. For example, there is a part of the audience that doesn’t use social media, but watches television and also the opposite thing!

Which was Aston Martin’s initiative that you appreciated the most?

I think some of the challenges between Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll are very fun. The drivers do a lot of media work and they can get bored by the traditional things, especially the ones they have been doing for a long time. If we propose to them something more challenging with a minor sporting nature, the drivers get more engaged. The drivers are so competitive and they, of course, want to win everything they can. We want to show that our drivers are interesting characters with an amazing charisma.

Also, in this way we can work with four drivers: Sebastian and Lance, and also our reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg and Jessica Hawkins, Aston Martin’s driver ambassador. I think some of the contents we have done with Jessica are very powerful, because Formula 1 is full of white and heterosexual males, and Jessica is an LGBTQ+ woman who can speak to a different group of fans. Matt Bishop interview

How did you approach the world of W Series? What was it like working in that environment?

I worked in W Series from 2018 to the end of 2020 and I was one of the founders with David Coulthard, Catherine Bond Muir and Sean Wadsworth. At the beginning of 2021, I was hired by Lawrence Stroll to work for Aston Martin, but I really liked working for W Series. I had spent a lot of years in the F1 paddock and W Series was a new thing for me. I had never been involved in a startup before. It all began in a little office in Victoria Street in London and when we announced the project in 2018, the news was enormous and we reached the United States, China, Australia, South Africa and a whole lot of other countries around the world. So W Series was created at the perfect moment! Matt Bishop interview

Matt Bishop interview
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Is the W Series really in danger of being an isolated category that lacks the next step? Why do you think it is still so difficult for many girls to make progress in the sport?

We don’t know if W Series will lead to a female driver progressing to Formula 3, Formula 2 and even Formula 1, or if there will ever be a female driver in Formula 1. We will have to wait and see. If a woman will make it to Formula 1, W Series will have vindicated its position in the most magnificent way. But if no woman will make it to Formula 1, also in that case W Series will have vindicated its position and it will become quite clear that there is a clear need of a different sector for women to have the possibility of winning.

The main problem of W Series is that the strongest drivers, for example Jamie Chadwick, who is 24, are quite old for Formula 3 targets. I think we have to be patient and watch the progress of W Series, to see if and how things will change.

How much impact has Vettel’s activism had in Formula One? We know that Sebastian is really sensitive towards the issue of inclusion. Has he proposed ideas for initiatives or has he played a central role?

I think Sebastian Vettel is a remarkable person. He is one of the most successful drivers in the history of this sport on track, with four world championships and 53 Grand Prix wins. He is really interested in the need to support inclusivity – I’m speaking as gay man, as you know, so I’m referring principally to LGBTQ+ inclusivity – both in Formula 1 and in society. Sebastian is speaking out just as Lewis Hamilton and Mick Schumacher are, all three of them, in all different ways, and they are all straight men talking in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Obviously, it’s essential for the members of the LGBTQ+ community to speak out for themselves and for each other. But it’s also relevant when straight allies raise their voices. And this is very powerful: just look at what happened in Hungary last year.

We often read on social media that it’s not appropriate for drivers to take a position because Formula 1 is not the right place to do activism. How would you respond to these people?

I think that it’s a ridiculous thing to say. I would ask them this question: “Why, because somebody is good at something, must they not speak out about universal human rights?” Or, in other words, “Simply because Sebastian Vettel is a fast racing driver, are you suggesting that he doesn’t have the right to speak out in this way? What if he was a slow racing driver or not a racing driver at all? Or a failed racing driver or a postman or a teacher or a bus driver? Then it would be fine if he spoke out?

Obviously, when you think about it, that argument is foolish. But also politics is life and life is politics. Sport, like Formula One, exists in life. And then, the last point is that it’s not politics at all, because human rights is a universal thing that we all deserve. Everyone should have the right to speak out in favor of it, even if they are F1 drivers or not. Matt Bishop interview

So we can say that F1 is being a part of a big change in the world?

Yes, we can say that. All sports offer a platform to communicate: you can speak to big audiences with a big influence. And if you can do that and you have something good to say, as Sebastian has, then you should say it. That’s another reason why it’s important that sport stars, Formula 1 drivers, should speak out: because you have a duty to your fanbase to do the right thing. So I think it’s very positive.

And Sebastian is the only driver that doesn’t have a social media profile, but his impact is so deep.

Yes, I’ve sometimes said to him “You are the biggest star of social media without being on social media”, which is remarkable. In some ways it would be even easier if he was on social media, because then he could make his stand, make his gesture, and he could also lead the global reporting of it, whether it’s on social media or mainstream media, by explaining why he is doing something. In the end, it’s not the end of the world that he doesn’t do that though, because we can assist him.

What kind of steps do you think has still to be taken in F1 and motorsport in general to make the sport more welcoming to queer or other minority people?

There is so much work to do to make this sport more hospitable. In 2019 I was one of the founders of Racing Pride which was born in association with Stonewall – an LGBTQ+ charity – and we did that for two reasons; one was to encourage young go-karters who could be confused to decide what they want to do with their life and their love in a peaceful and supportive environment.

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People learn who they are during their youth and those are difficult years, but if you’re trying to be a racing driver at the same time, it can be even harder. Also motorsport has always, for years, been a world of white heterosexual men. If you’re not one of those or you aren’t sure, it might be confusing and you may think “I know I love my go-kart but am I welcome here?”. We want to make sure that those youngsters realize that they are welcome. So we have to teach that to the white heterosexual men who run junior kart teams, not to assume the sexuality of their young drivers and not to say things like: “You drove really gay today”, using that word as a negative, which sadly we have all heard too often.

Also, with Racing Pride we have been able to help members of the Formula 1 teams, like mechanics or engineers, to come out. No one should feel forced to come out, but it’s important to have the possibility to do it without being scared. If Formula 1 teams manage to create an atmosphere where everyone feels safe, then their people will work in a better way, they will be more comfortable, and ultimately they will create better results too: faster cars! Matt Bishop interview

Multiformula

Multiformula è un blog nato nel 2020 per condividere la nostra passione per il motorsport, dare spazio a quelle categorie come le Feeder Series di cui si parla ancora poco e soprattutto abbattere i pregiudizi che si incontrano in queste categorie.

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