Naomi Schiff Is Living Life in the Fast Lane

Fashion

In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we sat down with motorsports racing driver and Formula 1 analyst Naomi Schiff ahead of the inaugural, and highly-anticipated, Las Vegas Grand Prix.

My first job

Before I moved to Germany to pursue racing, I was a waitress—but for the totality of an entire day. They didn’t call me back. I spilled a lot of drinks on a lot of people at the restaurant. Also, I didn’t know the menu very well. When people were ordering things, I was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I will try to write down what you just said.” I was really bad at it, but I did love it. I had a lot of fun.

How I learned on the go (kart)

I did a little bit of coaching and karting, which was side money I made as a teenager. Go-karting is pretty much the stepping stone into motorsport for most racers. In South Africa, which is where I grew up, you could start karting at the age of three. I started karting when I was 11, and was coaching by the age of 15. The kids I was coaching were quite a bit younger, between the ages of seven and 10. The job taught me to be a lot more patient. What I found really interesting about the job is that it was teaching me a lot about my own driving. I was seeing things from a different perspective. I remember being coached by my coach, and sometimes when you’re on the receiving end of the information, it’s harder to digest. I was finding myself having to explain to these young kids things that they would then have to translate into action on track. It helped me a lot in understanding my coach and also understanding how to translate that instruction into something on track.

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On looking up to Lewis Hamilton

The year that I started racing karts was the same year that Lewis Hamilton entered Formula 1. When you look at the grid, even today, there’s not a lot of diversity. There’s no women. So when I was looking for an identifiable role model at that age, Lewis was the closest thing I could find. He wasn’t exactly like me, but he was something like me. So I’ve always looked up to him from a very, very young age.

Why I switched lanes from driver to analyst

Driving is my number one passion and love. But at a certain stage, you’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee. I dreamed of being a Formula 1 driver for 16 years, and I obviously was not making it. I was hanging on by every thread that I could. I got really tired of not knowing where I was going to be, not necessarily even a year later, but even in a few months. I’m 29 now, and I think for women it’s also slightly different in terms of your body clock. If I one day want to have kids, what does that look like? Am I going to be financially stable when that happens? I don’t want to rely on someone else for that to be the case, so I was also thinking about my future and where my career was going. I absolutely love what I do now, because it keeps me in the sport that I love. I still get to speak about the sport from a driver’s perspective. Being on-screen and showing young girls from whatever background that they can achieve their goals, well, I hope it shows that if you can see it, you can be it.

Why we need more diversity in the sport

If you come into a Formula 1 paddock today, there’s actually so many women there. There’s more and more people of color in the paddock. Things are changing, we’re already seeing that. The sport has become more accessible. It’s always been an elitist-type sport, but the way that we’re broadcasting it today and the different forms of media that people are receiving the sport in, makes it a lot more accessible. The more people understand about the sport, the more that they’ll see that there’s always opportunities across the paddock for any type of person. That’s happening already. Drive to Survive has been a massive factor that’s helped that. There are also initiatives like F1 Academy, which was launched at the earlier this year, which is a female-only racing series for young girls between the ages of 16 and 25. Those types of initiatives create identifiable role models for young girls. Then, as a direct effect, women who are watching the sports feel that there’s a space for them. Next year, all seven of their races will be on the same weekends as Formula 1. Partners and fans are starting to get behind female talent and it’s something that, at the moment, is a catalyst to change the number of women in the sport. There hasn’t been a woman in Formula 1 since 1976, so obviously we’ve got to try whatever we can to make that change.

The women of motorsports I admire

You’ve got Marta García, who is leading the championship in F1 Academy. There’s Nerea Martí, who I absolutely adore. She’s just so lovely, so committed. Sophia Flörsch, who was racing in F3 this season. Jamie Chadwick has been quite the pioneer for the last couple of years in terms of what women are doing in this space. She’s been very successful, and I’ve worked alongside her for many years. I’ve seen how fully dedicated she is to the sport, and how much commitment and time and effort went on behind the scenes to get to where she is today.

My pick for F1’s best-dressed

There seems to be quite a drastic change in the last few years in terms of drivers really getting their personalities across on race day. Obviously, fashion is a great way to express yourself. I think Lewis really opened up the door for drivers to be able to express themselves through fashion. You’ve got Pierre Gasly, who takes his fashion quite seriously. Zhou Guanyu and Lando Norris are starting to express themselves. It’s so fun. If I had to pick a best-dressed in the sport, though, I would have to go with Lewis. But that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

The advice I give to young racers

Back yourself. One thing is for sure in this world: Whether you’re male or female, but particularly for women, there will be barriers that will be in your way. You shouldn’t be one of those barriers yourself. If this is something that you want to do, that you’re passionate about it, just go for it. Opportunities will open themselves up if you present yourself for them. Don’t hold back. Don’t be intimidated. You grow most when you’re outside of your comfort zone.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Senior Editor

Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing features and projects about women’s issues. She is an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in obtaining exclusive interviews and unearthing compelling features.
 

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