Growing up in Mumbai, Naman Agrawal dreamed of a career in motorsports.
It all started with watching sports on TV — and his dad was a huge motorsports fan, specifically Formula One (F1).
“As a kid, I used to watch a lot of F1 races with him,” Agrawal tells Study International. “I remember seeing Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher battle it out on track, the BMW-Ferrari rivalry, and all that kind of stuff. It stuck with me as a kid.”
Today, he has grown to become a big sports fan. Just a day before our interview with Agrawal, he was watching the Cricket World Cup, Manchester derby, and the Mexican Grand Prix (GP) on a Sunday — which he dubbed as a “relaxing” weekend.
While Agrawal enjoyed a vibrant career in motorsports at Craft Bamboo Racing and CBR Media, it wasn’t a reality he thought was possible as a kid from Mumbai and a student in Hong Kong.
“In India, there is no landscape for motorsport. In Hong Kong, it’s pretty much non-existent — so I didn’t know that there was an actual business opportunity or the fact I could make a career out of my interest in sports.”
Countries like India have hosted an F1 race, but the US$250 million facility was eventually dropped from the F1 calendar when the government refused to subsidise the event and F1 demanded steep hosting fees.
Early life in Mumbai and studying in Hong Kong
In Mumbai, Agrawal studied at Dhirubhai Ambani International School, where he completed his IGSCE and International Baccalaureate — placing him on a path to study abroad.
“I was looking at the US, UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong,” he shares.
“The US and UK were a little bit too expensive for my parents to support. Plus, if I did my undergraduate in the UK, I would most likely pursue my postgraduate studies there as well.”
Hong Kong stood out for a few reasons.
Five of its institutions were listed among the top 100 globally, according to the QS World University Rankings 2023.
He adds: “I am extremely grateful to have my parents support and for providing me with the best opportunities. Plus, at the time, I had some bit of family who lived in Hong Kong.”
But what courses should he pursue? The Dhirubhai Ambani International School graduate knew he wanted a career in motorsports, but breaking into the industry at a young age is impossible without the right connections.
So, Agrawal did the next best thing.
“I went to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and took up an Integrated Bachelor of Business Administration course, pursuing a double concentration in Business Economics and Marketing,” he says.
“I loved marketing and enjoyed the economic side of it. My dad and brothers were all businessmen, so I’ve had that business mindset within me.”
After graduating in 2019, his first role was working with Lynk Global as a Junior Associate in the Client Solutions team.
Think of Lynk as the middleman that connects the Big Four and management consulting firms for due diligence research projects to experts within the industry.
“My role as a Junior Associate was to find and onboard these experts. I’d speak to them about the opportunity, get them to connect with the client, and help them to deliver the expertise through our platform,” he says.
“The role allowed me to speak with many C-level executives pretty much all day long. I learned a lot about project management and time management since I was managing a lot of requests throughout the day.”
Much of this was possible thanks to his time at CUHK. Balancing between his studies and extracurricular activities allowed him to hone the necessary skills — specifically communication and interpersonal skills — to the point where he could comfortably talk with senior-level executives without feeling nervous.
How one meeting with Darryl’O Young, Director of Craft Bamboo Racing and CBR Media, kickstarted Agrawal’s career in motorsports
Even as a Junior Associate at Lynk Global, the CUHK graduate always looked for motorsports or sports-related jobs in Hong Kong.
When COVID-19 disrupted the lives of many globally, Agrawal quit his role at Lynk Global to return home for six months. Upon returning to Hong Kong, he took up a marketing internship at DSIGN Branding.
“Again, I went on LinkedIn and searched for ‘motorsports job, Hong Kong.’ For five to four years after looking for motorsports jobs in Hong Kong, nothing would come up,” he recalls.
“But this first time, something came up, and it said ‘Public Relations Executive at Craft Bamboo Racing.’ I thought it was an interesting opportunity, so I applied.”
With no experience in public relations or working in the sports industry, Agrawal did not receive a response — so he reached out to the Director of Craft Bamboo Racing and CBR Media, Darryl O’Young.
Craft Bamboo Racing is an Official Mercedes-AMG Performance Team with a marketing arm named CBR Media — picture it as a social media agency built within the team.
CBR Media eventually pivoted to become an individual marketing and management agency to avoid a financial crisis caused by the pandemic, which disrupted various racing series across the globe, including IndyCar and F1.
As for Young, the Canadian-born Hong Kong native is a championship-winning race driver with over 30 years of experience in motorsport. Some of his accolades include being a four-time Macau Grand Prix winner, a GT Asia Series Champion, and a Sepang 12 Hour winner.
He has also dedicated a large part of his career to the continued development of motorsport in Hong Kong and China, including starting a non-profit training programme to get kids and parents into motorsports.
“I messaged him on LinkedIn and said: ‘Hey, I applied for this role, but I didn’t hear back. I just want to talk and see if there’s any possibility of me doing anything with the team. You can interview me and ask about what skills I have and see if that fits well with your team,'” he shares.
“He responded and agreed to have a chat. I went in and we spoke for about an hour. He must have seen something in me and offered me the role on the spot.”
The next day, Agrawal stopped his internship at DSIGN Branding. Since then, he started working with Craft Bamboo Racing and CBR Media — and the rest is history.
Living the dream
Naturally, Agrawal was lost for words when asked to describe some of the highlights of his time working with a renowned motorsports team.
Perhaps the best trip of his life was during the 2022 Singapore GP, where CBR raced in the Thai Super Series on the same weekend as F1. Here, he bumped into Charles Leclerc, an F1 driver for Scuderia Ferrari.
Later, he was on the same flight with Daniel Ricciardo when Agrawal travelled to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2022 Indianapolis 8 Hour, where he experienced his first win with the team.
“I had been with the team for about a year or so then, and we hadn’t done much racing because the world had just started opening up,” he shares.
Of course, working with Bianca Bustamante was another “insane experience.”
Back in 2021, no one knew about the Philippine racing driver. She had about 8,000 followers on Instagram and was on the brink of quitting due to a lack of funding and opportunities.
Thanks to her racecraft, personality, and speed, Bustamante — who was a pro bono client for CBR Media — eventually found her tone of voice and went on to enjoy a successful motorsports career.
Take W Series, for example. She won a Scholarship Shootout to secure a drive with the Academy Team in 2022 despite having no experience racing in a Formula car. She went on to become the Top Rookie before W Series was cancelled.
Most recently, Bustamante became the first female in McLaren’s Racing Driver Development programme. As part of the programme, Bustamante will represent McLaren on the 2024 F1 Academy grid and run their livery, switching to race with ART Grand Prix.
“We worked really hard to get her story across, amplify that message throughout the world about how hard she works and how talented she is,” he enthuses.
Agrawal was also part of the team behind the partnership agreement between Mercedes-AMG GmbH and MSI. This includes overseeing the sponsorship activations and partnership events.
‘International students bring a lot of value that is not directly replicated on paper’
Having lived in India and Hong Kong, Agrawal’s background made it easier to think out of the box — especially when it was time to spearhead ideas for marketing campaigns.
“There were several projects that I worked on at CBR Media where I would come up with something and my team would be like: ‘Oh, we hadn’t thought of that. Maybe we can do something like that.’ Then, we would end up doing something along those lines,” he shares.
And like most international students, Agrawal experienced similar struggles. He managed tight deadlines, overcame the culture of living in a new country, and found it challenging to hunt for jobs within the creative industry as an international graduate.
Today, the Mumbai-born native is pursuing an MS in Sports Marketing at Loughborough University. While he enjoyed working on sports partnerships and sponsorships, Agrawal felt limited with the ideas he could execute due to tight budgets.
“The sports marketing programme at Loughborough taught us a little bit of everything, covering areas like sports sponsorship, digital communications, and sport media and the new age,” he says.
“It would also give me a pathway to more opportunities within the UK, especially being at a university that is well-reputed in sports with good ties to companies that are established in the industry.”
While he has dreams of working in F1, Agrawal has positioned himself to take whatever opportunities that come along his way — be it F2, F3 or GT Racing.
In fact, the MS student is on LinkedIn and other job sites daily. Currently, he works part-time as a marketing consultant for CBR Media and freelancing as a sponsoring and partner manager for KEOS AGENCY GmbH.
For those eager to start a career in motorsports as an international student, he advises: “Try and meet people. I have messaged directors of companies, people working at associated agencies, account managers, and account executives. All you need is that one person who replies to you and takes an interest in what you do.”