Having worked directly with Max Biaggi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, to name only a few, Federica De Zottis’ experience in Grand Prix motorcycle racing is truly unique. For the past five years she has worked closely with the Ducati Team riders, her current main responsibility on race weekends being to assist with the press duties of Valentino Rossi. When I approached her about the possibility of an interview, she was kind enough to invite me to the Ducati hospitality at Estoril to share her story.
Scott Jones: Federica, you're currently MotoGP Press Manager for Ducati Corse. Could you please describe your job for us?
Federica de Zottis: My job is split into two parts, the part that I do in the office in Bologna, and the part that I do here [in the MotoGP paddock]. Of course they are linked together, but during the winter I spend most of the time at the office.
Let's start at the end of the season, which leads immediately to the beginning of the new season, because a couple of weeks after the championship finishes, I start working on the Wrooom event, coordinating closely with our main sponsor. I take care of the media side and the riders’ schedules during the event, the one-on-one interviews, their other plans, and so on.
As soon as Wrooom finishes, the winter testing starts, so we go to Sepang and there we start the track-side activities. My role involves looking after the riders’ PR activities, such as shooting videos for Ducati, organizing the press debriefs, and writing the press releases. Obviously, Ducati team personnel and management, including Filippo Preziosi, Vitto Guareschi, and Alessandro Cicognani, are often involved in these activities as well.
After the season starts I do basically the same: organize the riders’ and team’s media and PR agenda, invite you journalists to the riders’ daily scrums. I try to support the media and their needs. I also take care of the MotoGP area of the Ducati Press website, uploading the photos, video, and so on.
SJ: And then on race weekends you're responsible for getting Valentino to his media appearances?
FdZ: Yes, but honestly, I just prepare a schedule for him before the race. Well, usually I meet with him before the season and we plan the [entire] season. So we speak of what we are going to do, making an outline. And before every race I send his staff a proposal of activities and we go through it together. Afterward, he has a schedule and he’s always very good about following it. There’s no need to say Please come, please go, Vale, where are you?
SJ: He shows up where he's supposed to be?
FdZ: Yes. If he arrives four, five, six minutes late, I know it's because he was with Jeremy [Burgess] or the technicians, because he is so precise. He is one of the most professional people I've ever met in my life.
SJ: Speaking of the professionals in your life, you've been working in the MotoGP paddock for twenty-one years. Can you tell us something about the people you've worked with in that time?
FdZ: I feel as if I know everyone here. I really like being here, I really like the people who work in the paddock because I consider this sport one of the most… Erm, not "natural," not "clean," I don't know the English word…
FdZ: Pure! That's the right word. Really, this is a pure environment. I don't know… These guys, and the sport they do… It involves risking their lives. They have to be very brave, very talented, I mean, they crash and they get back on the bike… I think they are special. And I think this has an impact also on the atmosphere, on all of us. Because in a way, we are all passionate about this sport, this feeling, this concept of life. I think it makes [MotoGP] very, very special. So I'm very proud to be here, to be part of this world.
SJ: How did you become involved in MotoGP?
FdZ: I was studying to become a doctor. At the university I was in my fourth year, and then I met a guy [laughs] who worked here. He brought me to the track to see a race. And then I decided that this was my future. [We both laugh.]
SJ: So you gave up medical school for motorcycle racing?
FdZ: Well, [the decision] took two years, it was not like this [snaps fingers]. I started coming to races, I met the team [that the guy worked for], I met the team manager who at that time was Carlo Pernat (Pernat is one of the most influential individuals in the paddock, having been involved for decades in various roles. Last season he was Loris Capirossi's manager and now works closely with the Pramac Ducati team.) because my boyfriend was working for Aprilia. And basically it was Carlo who let me in. Because twenty-one years ago there were not so many women here, and not so many women in my role.
In fact I didn't start as a press officer. I started working in the hospitality, just like the girls here. But I liked writing, and in high school I studied literature and other humanities, Greek, Latin, Italian, so I like writing and I could write. I'm not a poet, but I can write with some sense [laughs]. So I started going around with the team’s press officer, asking him, May I help you, may I go record… well, not record back then: May I write down what the riders say for you? So I learned the job and when he [the Aprilia press officer] left, the team took me on and I started working in this role.
SJ: How long did it take to go from working in the hospitality to your first job as press officer?
FdZ: Hmmm, a couple of years. And I stayed with Aprilia for six, seven years. When Max Biaggi, who was an Aprilia rider, left to go to Honda, he asked me to go with him. And I went as a personal press officer. I worked with Max for six years.
Then I moved to a company [JTI] who was the main sponsor for Honda with Sito Pons. We had Max for two years, and then Alex [Barros] and then Troy [Bayliss]. I worked for them for the three years that they were in the Championship, and when they left I moved directly to Ducati and I'm still here, over five years now.
SJ: So you've worked with some pretty important riders in the history of MotoGP: Biaggi, Casey, and now Valentino. Can you make some observations about how they approach what they do?
FdZ: As I said, I think riders are special guys. At their base they are the same, they are brave, they are … just very special guys.
SJ: You seem to have a very profound feeling for that special quality, a feeling that stays with you during your day-to-day work.
FdZ: For me, the riders are the most important part of this world. The human side is the most important part. Yes, I like them, and I don't want to speak of each of them because every one of them has something unique. And they are all special.
Of course, Valentino… Valentino has the spark. I don't know how to say it. But I like all of them. Really, I don't have bad memories of any of them. Max could be a bit tough sometimes, but he was very good to me.
SJ: I have only limited experience with Max--he signed a photo for me, and it was quite a challenge to get to speak one to one with him [she laughs], but once I did he was very professional and it was a very good experience.
FdZ: Yes, Max has a human side that is very secretive, very deep inside. And of course Valentino is Valentino. He has an aura. I don't want to exaggerate, it's just…
SJ: He's a unique person, even among the special group of the riders.
FdZ: Exactly. Even among the special, he is special.
SJ: So after twenty-one years, what's the best thing about your job, what's the worst?
FdZ: Well, working with the riders, and also working with the other people is the best part. Because just as I speak with you, I like to speak with the other journalists, with the girls who work here, and so on. Because really, to choose this life, you have to really love it. So I feel linked to them, and to everyone here.
Yes, journalists can be tough, because they have their roles, which means they judge. And sometimes to be judged is not easy to accept. But it's part of the game. So when you know that, you accept it.
So I like to work with people, basically. The riders, yes, I told you that I really consider them very special, but also the people working here, every one has something special. Of course the environment has changed over the years, now it’s also more professional, more organized. No, not more professional, but more organized. Because there were a lot of fantastic people twenty-one years ago as well.
At this point, Moto3 practice started, the unholy noise rendering human conversation utterly impossible and bringing the interview to an end. On behalf of MotoMatters and our readers, I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks to Federica for her time and her story.