Thank You Note for My F1 Mentor

by | Mar 29, 2021 | Articles | 0 comments

The F1 season is already upon us, and I must admit that it snuck up on me this year.
Ever since I can remember, no matter where I was in the world, my brother and I kicked off the season together. We would recap the highs and lows of last season and enjoy a trip down our shared racing memory lane. My brother had the most amazing recall. He could recount each overtake or dust-up, every corner or straight, or pit crew, that made the difference for this driver or that one. I could name a year and a track, and he could tell me who took the podium, and their major battles. He could even say, with great accuracy, if it had rained, and when, on that weekend.

The racing conversations started early for us. Much like our friends, we would deke down to Mosport in someone’s borrowed car, returning home soaked in racing fumes and burnt to a crisp after a day in the blazing sun. We would spend hours talking cars and drivers as we manoeuvred engine blocks, via a block and tackle attached to the underside of the cottage, or parts onto the tarp. As the younger sister, I was content to play ‘assistant mechanic’, doing easy sparkplug changes, or manging different parts in clearly defined sorting and cleaning areas, as he rebuilt his ‘0-30 in 5 minutes’ junk-yard scrapper, into a 5-second, ‘0 to 60’ wonder!

He was passionate about speed and muscle. I was passionate about design and history. I could ask him anything and he took the question seriously. We certainly didn’t always see eye-to-eye; I disliked some drivers for reasons that had nothing to do with their performance on the track. For him, what happened on the track was everything. But we did agree that there was no better way to spend the day, than puzzling over why Enzo seemed so attached to our beloved Gilles, or dissecting the most intense rivalries, on and off the track.

As an adult, I never really ‘graduated’ much past changing my own oil or brake pads. And eventually, as we aged, I was content to greet him in my driveway with one kid clinging to my knee, and a baby on my hip, ‘oohing‘ and ‘aahing’, as he arrived in his newest ‘vette. “Take it for a spin,” he would say, tossing me the keys, while he scooped my eldest into his arms and effortlessly received the baby like a football handoff.

My senses would tingle as I was enveloped by the smell and snugness of leather. With a market overwhelmed with automatic transmissions, stepping hard on that small square pedal, signalled that I was part of the diminishing but exotic group of young women in Canada.

My brother was my first mentor. Introducing me to a world that, realistically, did not welcome most women with open arms. He pushed me to pick up a wrench, and to shift quickly and smoothly to maximise power. I would gladly tag-along to watch back-road races and ½ ton shenanigans on gravel. Even though my interests changed as I matured, he accepted me. He did not think less of me when I became a cheerleader in high school. He would still call up to my open window from the backyard, head buried under his hood… “Lisa, I need an extra pair of hands.” And I would gladly come running.
In his world, the sky was the limit, and the playing fields were limitless. For us both.
This week, when I realised the season had already begun and, for the millionth time in the last months… remembered that I would never discuss anything over a cold beer or long telephone line with him ever again, I was struck by the impact that one person can have on generations.

Because of my brother’s acceptance and inclusion, I became more confident; trying things I don’t think I would have dared without his encouragement. Ski patrol, karate and yoga, mixed with business transformation as easily as car engines and figure skating from my youth. Because of the confidence and competency I learned at his side, I have worked almost all over the world, and spent the majority of my career working comfortably in male-dominated sectors. I have rarely felt like an outsider – even when I was the only woman in the room. I can build furniture, fell a tree, drill holes in concreate and move (really, really heavy) stuff alone.

ideogibs, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because of my mentor’s influence, I taught both of my daughters to drive on a stick – an unheard-of occurrence for Canadian millennials. I believe that belonging to this exclusive group gave them more confidence than other girls their age. Because I grew up familiar getting my hands dirty, both of my daughters love power tools. They are masters of their fates, at least in part, because of my relationship with my first mentor. They are also not afraid to ask questions. Even if they think that they really should already know the answer.
So here is a shout out and thank you to all our mentors who have taken opportunities to share their knowledge with us; who have boosted our confidence, accepted and welcomed our perspectives. To the mentors who see potential, not gender. That unabashedly share their knowledge – whether about cars, or conversations – freely and with enthusiasm. Who signal that we belong in their tribe by throwing us a wrench, or question, and expecting us to use it. To the mentors that we admire, and from time to time, yes, idolise, but who refuse to be put on a pedestal and who would never take advantage. We all know that there are more of them than the others.

Thanks to the mentors who know that no matter where we are on the grid of work, each of us has the chance to be on that podium, but it takes a team to get there. That, in the end, it’s about having the chance to make a difference in one person’s life, so that they, in turn, have the chance to make a difference for the next person.

And that perhaps, if we are truly lucky, that chance comes today.