This very feminine blonde isn’t just an auto racer – she’s also the only woman driver to have participated in one of the most prestigious European championship races of the FIA, the GT European Championship. Extreme stress on the course, constant travel, strict discipline, daily exercise and a loving family – including her husband and two daughters (14 and 10 years old) – add up to a very busy schedule. In this interview with the lightning-fast resident of Geneva, she tells us how to stay fit, healthy and beautiful.
It didn’t take a lot of time to decide on the venue for the interview. Natalia quickly decided: «It’s 277 kilometers from Geneva to Zurich, and from there you can go to Germany with your children. There isn’t much time before the championship in Monaco, and the children have a free weekend. Let’s do it in Zurich.» Exactly two-and-a-half hours later, a Mercedes CLS parks up in Zurich. She gets out, followed by her children. A friendly smile, inner peace and modesty aren’t always typical for stars.
– You came very quickly. Did you violate the rules?
– It’s difficult for me to control my speed. But where there are limits, I always follow the rules.
– Will you also go to Monaco by car?
– I travel around Europe only by car.
– How long will it take you to drive from Geneva?
– Five hundred kilometers . . . . [She pauses for a moment and smiles.] I’ll do it in four hours.
– Natalia, we last saw each other about two years ago, and now you’ve received an invitation from Stephen Ratel to participate in the Blancpain GT. What attracted you to that project?
– Yes, I moved from Formula racing in the Blancpain GT, which is the most prestigious championship in its class, like Formula 1 is in its class. Speaking candidly, they have the same cars as we see in the streets – Ferraris, Aston Martins, Maseratis and Mercedes – but they’re prepared and adapted for races.
The project is new and very interesting! I participate in the Blancpain GT Club, and people of a completely different level and age go to that: those who come to motor racing as amateurs, not people who have done the sport since the age of five or six but people who, due to their financial capacities and the need for adrenaline, have just started doing this… Of course, they’re usually older than 40. There is even a separate category of men above the age of 60. Many of them buy cars, maintain their teams and even participate in races. So, they’re team owners as well as drivers.
– Are you the only woman in this race?
– Yes, I am.
– Why there are no other women? Have they ever participated in this championship?
– At different periods there have been, as in Formula 1. Generally, women are absent for various reasons: For some of them it’s physically difficult, and after some attempts they decide not to do it anymore. Others can’t find sponsors. Sponsors have different requirements. If results are a must and your driver should be on the podium, serious money will be required. Needless to say, you must be a really professional driver who has seen nothing but cars since childhood, and that’s rare among women. Only now that Bernie Ecclestone has said he wants to create Formula 1 for women are girls starting to go in for motorsport. It wasn’t accepted before, and now, in many countries, there are girls 10 or 11 years old, 15 or 16 years old, who have good careers. If you take care of them, they can be prepared as serious competitors to men.
– Isn’t it better to train them not as competitors but as an effective complement? Isn’t motorsports also a show?
– Of course. Unfortunately, that isn’t a widely held belief. They don’t understand that a woman in a car race is a marketing tool. There are enough men who can show results. I work a lot in this direction in order to show the world that motorsport can be beautiful. Most people associate it with machinery, mechanics and people who are grimy with oil and soot. When I take part in a championship, I try, like any woman, to tailor every detail: the car, the design, the overalls, my helmet and the way I look.
– You’re a caring mother and a loving wife. You have a wonderful financial education, and you could become, for example, a successful banker. But you take risks by taking on a load that most men couldn’t handle. How do you maintain your health?
– I’m professionally prepared for physical activity. In Geneva I have the ability to comfortably support my training regime. There is no need to go to the gym all the time, since I can go to any park and train there. In summer I focus on racing and running, while in winter it’s better to go skiing. It’s necessary to change from one form of exercise to another.
The main thing I work on is endurance. Races can be long, and the temperature in the car is high. For example, in Kuala Lumpur the temperature in the car rose to 63 degrees Centigrade! Taking into account that the cars are lightweight, they have neither air conditioning nor a cooling system. So, in order to survive, one needs to seriously cultivate physical ability.
– Do you cooperate with Swiss doctors?
– Yes, of course. There are those who work with athletes. If we have a long race lasting for 4, 12 or 24 hours, everybody laughs at me: «How do you manage to look so good?» Well, everything is very simple. When we have a race weekend, from Friday to Sunday, on those days I lose about five kilograms, but that’s mainly water. I’m wearing thermal underwear and fireproof overalls, and when you sit in a car for an hour or two you naturally sweat. The doctors create a nutritional plan to ensure that I have enough energy, but at the same time I can’t fall asleep while driving and must avoid dehydration. Water alone can’t replace everything that constantly comes out in your sweat. We don’t drink energy cocktails but instead use only drinks prepared by doctors. The recovery period after the race also takes a very long time. I’m a woman, and I have to pay great attention to my appearance. During the race, the load isn’t dynamic, since you always sit in a static position. That’s why we need massage therapists. In Lausanne there’s a clinic where, by the way, Schumacher was also examined. I also had a serious injury, I had an atrophied hand. While you’re driving a car, the load is always on the same muscles and on the spine. In this clinic they monitor this in order to avoid the consequences of those loads. And, of course, personal care is also important. The cosmetics I use aren’t for my age group. Instead, I work ahead of my age. During a race the skin becomes very dry. That’s why not only my doctor and massage therapist go with me to the competitions but also my professional beautician. It’s another reason why girls leave this sport.
– If we talk about a healthy lifestyle, what secrets can you share? What would you recommend?
– For me, a healthy lifestyle covers everything. First of all, it starts with inner peace. If you’re calm, everything you do is perceived very differently. If you’re under stress, there will be no benefit to exercising. The same goes for food: If you’re nervous, no vitamins and supplements will be absorbed. First of all, you should start with your head.
Proper nutrition is important, of course. When children start motor racing, the first thing they’re taught is to follow a dietary regime. There are many techniques for athletes, but the main thing is to develop an individual schedule: You should eat at least four times a day, and the amount of food should not exceed what you can fit on your palm. However, water isn’t considered food! The rejection of anything is stressful, but gradually you begin to change the amount of food you eat, and after that everything you eat is corrected. When you get ready to race, you have one kind of diet, and during the race it’s another. I always carry a banana and water in my bag, no matter where I am in the world. If I’m hungry, I will not run to a fast-food place. I’ll eat a banana, which is a universal hunger cure that’s rapidly absorbed.
– Today, the issue of a balanced diet is being discussed in every major clinic. What other nutritional preferences support you in your extreme profession?
– My diet is dependent on the load and the doctor’s prescription. Potatoes are completely excluded. I don’t need what they contain. I don’t have to satisfy my hunger, but instead I need to saturate my body with the vitamins and substances that are required in work and life. I rarely eat meat, and in small amounts, mainly during the post-race period. By the way, Switzerland is the only place where I can afford to eat tartare meat. Breakfast usually includes cereal or muesli, dairy products . . . something that’s easy to digest. I start to train an hour and a half after breakfast and again in the evening.
– When does your evening begin?
– If I run, it’s at 4 or 5 p.m., and then I can do strength training. I don’t use anything but work only with my own body weight. Muscle building doesn’t contribute to reactions, but reactions are very important to us. An hour before going to sleep, I do stretches. It calms me. I spend a lot of time in statics, training with a simulator or driving with a map. That’s because the muscles require movement. I almost never drink alcohol.
– How do you maintain water balance in the body?
– I drink at least two liters of water each day. Our children are also accustomed to water; they always have special bottles with them. I also drink herbal teas; I drink coffee only when it’s required by the body. Coffee is excreted badly by the body, so it’s necessary to drink twice as much water after it.
– What is your sleep regime, and how do you recover? Do you have any bad habits?
– I have come to understand that it’s comfortable for me to sleep 5 hours a day. Of course, that isn’t always enough, so one day a week I sleep longer, for 10–12 hours. We are our own doctors and can develop an individual sleep regime. If we are talking about habits, I have never smoked a cigarette. This is thanks to my parents. My mother built my education on the fact that there is no need to interfere with the child’s development. It must be left to itself. My father built his on the fact that a child must respect and be slightly fearful of her parents. That’s probably why, when everybody started smoking, I was afraid, and then everybody started to give up, and there was no sense in starting (laughs). I look at some guys who compete, and many of them are short of breath if they’ve smoked beforehand.
– You said that you almost never drink alcohol.
– My husband likes good wine, and he collects wine. I can have a glass and take just one sip. If you don’t want it, the body sends you a signal not to do it.
– Do you really have harmony between your mind and body?
– Yes. Again, it’s due to the fact that it’s possible not to overload the brain. There are people who are constantly concerned about something. For instance, they worry about their property. If there’s a possibility of avoiding risks, I’ll do it. I have insurance, so there is no cause for concern.
– Do you think it’s possible to avoid stress, which has become an integral part of the modern world?
– Yes, it is! Start with re-evaluation! When you make any move, it’s necessary to understand why you do it. In motorsport, if you take a risk – turn a corner – you have to understand what goal you’re pursuing. If you’re emotional and want to prove something to someone, it’s a mistake. However, if it’s a good opportunity to overtake and seize first place, it’s right. The same is true in life. In order not to create conflict with the outside world, learn to evaluate the situation. Before shouting at the waitress in the restaurant who has served you poorly, try to understand whether you need to do so. You won’t prove anything to her. That’s why you should calmly clarify the situation. For example, if I have an internal conflict and go to bed, my thoughts won’t let me sleep. I’ll try to understand where they came from. Since childhood, I have been very afraid of the dark. However, as an adult I decided to find out why I had this fear. It appeared that it was from watching horror movies as a child. Once I realized this, my fear disappeared! This is true for everything. If you have emotional upheaval or depression, look for the cause. I believe that emotional upheaval is a manifestation of our intuition: a certain signal that something has gone wrong. Many people try to fight it off. They start to take antidepressants, but these won’t resolve the internal conflict. So, it’s most important to listen to yourself.
– What’s first for you: career or family?
– I don’t think that money and work should be the most important things for a woman. Women are naturally more emotional than men, and our hormones are different. Although in Switzerland children go to school very early, I wasn’t ready to go to work and devote myself to it. However, if a woman is engaged in her favorite work, it will do her good. It’s important to maintain balance.
– Your children go to Catholic school. Why did you choose this school rather than one devoted to sports?
– Religious education is very important. It doesn’t impose its religion. It’s important to respect others, to have the right perception of your parents and ancestors. Not every parent can answer the question, «Mother, will you die one day?», or the statement, «Mother, I’m afraid of dying.» How do you answer correctly? You don’t want to hurt the child, but at the same time you don’t want to lie. At school they help to answer these questions correctly and to prepare you, and to direct the child’s thoughts in the right direction.
– Where do you get strength for inner peace?
– First of all, it’s in my family. I also love to read, but not e-books. For me a book is something tactile. I like to turn pages, to hold it in my hands. I like classical music. I like Beethoven. I don’t reject modern music,
but I have no desire to listen to it sitting at home or in the car. By the way, Swiss radio has a very harmonious collection of classical music.
– Are you a movie-goer?
– Rarely. I can make an exception if everyone says a particular film is brilliant.
I never watch film adaptations. I don’t understand when someone else visualizes a character instead of me, when I’ve imagined them in a different way. I’ll only feel disappointed. Our TV is mostly for decor, so it’s only switched on when we have guests. I allow my children to watch TV for an hour and
a half at the weekend. Otherwise, they have enough educational films in their school program. We also monitor our children’s activity on the Internet. If I allow them to register somewhere, I try to find out the format. We like to cook together, and my girls like to bake, but we do it infrequently because such foods aren’t very good for the health.
– Is it often possible to spend time together, being so busy?
– All of our weekends and holidays we spend with the children. From the very beginning, I have included that in my calendar. During the holidays, children should be with their parents, because later you can change a lot in your life, but the things you’ve taught your children will never change. You’ll never be able to relive the period of their growing up, understanding life and learning things. In three years I won’t be able to do this. Instead, they’ll say, «Mother, we can have a great time without you.»
– So, while it’s important to have a sound mind in a sound body, for a woman a healthy family is foremost?
– It’s very important. You can build a huge luxury house, but then there are vibrations from outside. If the house has no foundation, it will simply crumble. That’s why my family is the basis of life. It’s the foundation.
Auto racer Natalia was born on August 21, 1978. Married and the mother of two, she and her family divide their time between Switzerland and her home country. She was inspired by go-karting to enter the field of professional motorsport. Early on, she participated in the 2010 season of the Asian Youth Series Formula JK Racing Series. The following year, she debuted in a formula series, and for two seasons she was a member of the Meritus GP Team. In 2012 she became a driver for Team Russia, participating in the FIA GT3 European Championship. Currently, Natalia is active in the Blancpain GT Series.