South Africa’s James Barclay on his journey to the top of Formula E
James Barclay, Team Director, Jaguar TCS Racing, PHOTO - SIMON GALLOWAY

South African-born James Barclay is set on conquering the world’s top electric racing series. Barclay is the team principal of Jaguar TCS Racing, who currently sit top of the teams and drivers championships in Season 10 of the FIA Formula E World Championship.

After a strong start to the season, Barclay will be looking to guide the British outfit to their first team and drivers’ championships when the chequered flag falls for the final time this season.

His journey to the top was much like that of a Formula E racetrack; full of twists and turns, but driven by his love for motorsport, Barclay has been able to fly the South African flag high on the world stage.

His time at Jaguar began in 2013 when he made the switch from another iconic British motoring brand, Bentley, where he was head of marketing for the Americas,

“I was asked to join Jaguar to head up global sponsorships and brand partnerships. That was kind of the day job, but the brief behind the scenes was to get Jaguar back into motorsport,” states Barclay.

In 2016, Jaguar officially joined Formula E and the team has gone from strength to strength. With Barclay at the helm, Jaguar TCS Racing has claimed 13 wins, 35 podiums and seven poles, and narrowly missed out on the team championship in Seasons 7 and 9.

“Nothing is forever, and that is the reality of life. Our job here is to do the best we can for the generation that we are responsible for. [Jaguar] was the first manufacturer to fully commit to Formula E. In other words, there were other manufacturers involved, but we were the first to create our own team and produce our own parts. I'm very proud of us as the group that took that first brave step,” says Barclay.

While Barclay is set on leading his team to the top, he is determined to build a lasting legacy not only for himself in the process but for the team and Jaguar as a brand.

“We want to win races and championships, but we want to go about leaving a positive legacy. [Jaguar] was not involved in racing for 12 years and we started this team to hand it on to the next generation in an even better state and to have written the next successful chapter of Jaguar Racing’s history.”

Winning is important, but the way one wins is even more crucial, believes James. He wants to create success in a positive manner that people respect and are passionate about.

Barclay’s dreams for the team, and his determination to succeed have been shaped by his passions and decisions since he was a child. Barclay spent his early childhood in Kyalami, Johannesburg, home to South Africa’s most iconic racetrack.

When one lives next to the pinnacle of motorsport in South Africa, they are faced with two choices; be drawn in by the roar of engines, or seek solace far away from the noise of the race track. Barclay opted for the former and has never looked back.

He says “I grew up for the first part of my life in Kyalami, a stone's throw from the circuit. From a fairly young age, I was exposed to racing, which was really great, especially being next to the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, which is an iconic track, and an iconic location”.

Barclay’s love for motorsport was something he sought out, rather than something his parents guided him towards. His parents were into horse riding, but that horsepower wasn’t enough for young James, and the allure of Kyalami proved to be stronger.

As he got older, his desire to work in motorsport and for it to become a viable career began to grow. His family relocated to Pretoria when he was a teenager, and Barclay used the opportunity to spend much of his free time at the racetrack.

“I used to work at the Zwartkops Racetrack when we moved to Pretoria. It was something I did right until my family left South Africa,” explains Barclay.

Barclay and his family left South Africa to relocate to the United Kingdom which ultimately allowed him to pursue his passion for racing cars, something he wasn’t able to do in South Africa.

He jumped into the driver’s seat at around 15-years-old, initially in karts, but later in cars racing on proper circuits. Barclay got a scholarship with Vauxhall (the British equivalent of Opel), which kickstarted his racing career.

However, despite some success on the track, Barclay soon realised that it wasn’t something he was going to be able to pursue full-time, due to the financial cost of racing.

“I tried to pursue a career in the driving seat for a few years and although I think I had decent potential, it was very clear to me that the amount of money you needed was incredibly demanding,” says Barclay.

This didn’t bring an end to his involvement in motor racing, as while he was behind the wheel, he was able to develop useful contacts in the industry. These contacts helped him get his foot into the door on the commercial side, initially for Lotus and later for Bentley.

His time at Bentley set the tone for the rest of his career, as he quickly rose through the ranks in the Marketing and Public Relations Department. Barclay held various roles in the company, before leaving in 2013 for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), where he remains today.

He believes that his diverse background has helped him in his current job of leading an entire racing team. His time as a racing driver enabled him to understand the on-track side of racing better and his experience in marketing gave him an insight into the commercial aspects of motorsport.

A racing team is still a business like any other. It needs to make money, says Barclay. He explains that his time in the commercial side of racing helped him understand the best strategies for driving a business forward and ensuring it remains profitable.

But, his job as a team principal means he does not have to be the best at every aspect of the business. Rather, he needs to provide the right platform for his talented team members to utilise their skills to ensure the success of the company.

“We have great engineers, great strategists, a great commercial team, great racing drivers, and you know you can't be better than everyone in the organisation. Rather, it is about putting the best people in the right positions because I'm never going to be a powertrain designer, but nor should I be. My job is to manage people and give them the freedom and scope to excel,” states Barclay.

Barclay’s Jaguar has started their season with a bang and seems on track to continue their form when racing resumes for round six on 13April, in Misano Italy. The team has already claimed multiple podiums, including a win in round two in Diriyah, thanks to new driver Nick Cassidy. Barclay will be hoping that their strong start to Season 10 will lay the foundation for him to lead Jaguar back to the top and become the first South African team principal to win a Formula E world championship.