MY DREAM JOB
Head of communications, Scuderia Toro Rosso
The Formula 1 paddock is populated by two types of person: those who work in the sport for a few years before moving on to pastures new – and the F1 lifers. The latter group comprises those committed souls who spend their whole career travelling between races. And Fabiana Valenti is one of them: a mainstay of the F1 paddock for 13 seasons.
In her current role, she is the head of communications for Toro Rosso. “I’m the point of contact for the external world,” she explains. “Some teams are very restrictive, but in my view we should be very open, so my job is to help facilitate what the media need to establish our image for the team.”
Valenti grew up – and still lives – in the small Italian town of Faenza, home to the Minardi team, which later morphed into Toro Rosso. Her interest in F1 began as a child, when she would watch races with her father on Sunday afternoons: “I loved him, and it was a way to spend time with him.”
Her path could have taken a very different route. Aged 13, she went to watch her uncle compete at archery and had a go herself. A hidden talent was unlocked, and so began a burgeoning sporting career. She was duly talent-spotted and eventually represented Italy in international competitions. “There was a chance of going to the Seoul Olympics in 1988, but I stopped,” she says. “It’s a mental sport and I didn’t have the right mindset to compete properly back then.”
She studied languages at university and worked as a postwoman after graduating, before learning that a company in Faenza was looking for English, French and German translators. When she discovered it was the Minardi F1 team, she never believed they would consider hiring her.
“Before I knew it, I was employed as a switchboard operator, taking incoming telephone calls and routing them to the different departments,” says Valenti. “I learned so much about the team at that time and quickly moved on to helping with logistics, booking ights, hotels and hire cars. When Paul Stoddart came in to buy the team in 2001, I was asked to translate between him and Mr Minardi. Then I got to understand all the operational aspects of the company and went on to become Paul’s personal assistant.”
Valenti’s rst race was in Australia 2004 where she was asked to work with the press. She quickly went to nd her former colleague Silvia Hoffer [now McLaren’s press ofcer] to help prepare her for the role. Over the next decade, she has progressed from that position, as Minardi was bought by Red Bull, to become Toro Rosso’s head of communications.
She says her career highlight so far was working with a young Sebastian Vettel and witnessing the moment when he took his (and Toro Rosso’s) rst win at Monza in 2008.
“There were so many tears that day, it was so emotional!” she recalls fondly. “We see repeats of the videos in the factory from time to time and there are big guys at the team who have been with us since they rst entered F1, and they were like little kids bawling their eyes out. I didn’t know what to do; I knew I had to get him a cap, but I wasn’t sure where to go, and everyone was saying, ‘Fabi – this way!’ And I said, ‘Where do I go, what do I do?’ It was really very special. I’ve got a photo of him hugging me, saying, ‘Fabi, we’ve won a race!’”
Since Toro Rosso is the feeder team for the Red Bull young driver programme, Valenti considers herself fortunate not to have to deal with long-established drivers who can be more prickly when it comes to media work. “No, I’ve never had big problems with my drivers. Sometimes I feel a bit like ‘mummy’ when offering advice or trying to convince them to do something for the press. That’s because all of them are young drivers who have come through the driver programme – even Sebastian Vettel when he was here.
“I love my job. I’m lucky to have been in the right place at the right time and this is my life. Having been here so long, Toro Rosso is my second family. I feel at home.”