It’s almost half an year that I’ve opened my F1 blog, but I think not many people know why I decided to start this adventure. Entering Twitter, indeed, I’ve know an extremely nice and kind F1 journalist, Kate Walker, and I told her my dream. She suggested me to open a blog, and helped me discover a way to share my opinions.
I decided to make you know her, because I’m sure you’ll like her and most of all because she is always free to answer and help “not-paddock-people” as me. Enjoy the read, it is absolutely interesting!
1. First of all, you know me and other people want to become an F1 journalist like you; how did you manage to start working in the paddock? Did you have to attend particular studies courses?
Now, this is the point at which I have to admit that my arrival in the F1 paddock was more Cinderella and her fairy godmother than it was any sort of normal route in. Most of my colleagues started out writing about other forms of motorsport before working their way up to Formula 1. Some of them were sports journalists who were then assigned to F1 after years spent writing about tennis, or golf, or something.
I woke up one day, decided I wanted to be an F1 journalist, and within six months was walking into the Bahrain paddock wearing a press pass. That’s not normal, and I’m still not quite sure how it happened.
I have been working as a journalist since I was about 12 years old, but sports journalism was never my plan. I hate sports. And I often forget – even now – that, technically, writing about Formula 1 makes me a sports journalist. Because to me, F1 is a combination of politics, history, technology, economics, business, and travel, with the added bonus of some fantastic racing that happens on a Sunday.
Anyway, I’ve always written, and throughout my childhood and teens I would write articles on anything and everything and submit them to local newspapers and magazines. Some of them got published and I enjoyed the money. When I was at university, I ran the student newspaper. After university, I got a job working for United Press International as a health and science correspondent, with occasional writing responsibilities in areas as diverse as national security, terrorism, defense, technology, business… Once you have the basic skills you need to be a journalist, you can apply them to any subject. Half of this job is knowing how to do research.
Fast forward a few years and I’d left journalism for a secure future in book publishing. But I hated my job, and I hated my life, and I was bored out of my skull. I’d fallen in love with Formula 1, and decided that I was going to get a job within the sport. As I am not an engineer, mechanic, aerodynamicist, etc., my two options were journalism and PR. So I emailed every team to apply for a PR job, and they all rejected me (at least, the ones who bothered to reply rejected me). Being me, that only made me more determined to get a job in the sport. So I emailed girlracer and offered them my services as an F1 columnist in exchange for them applying for FIA media accreditation for me. They agreed, we went through the process, and for some reason (I think possibly because 2010 was the FIA’s Year of Women in Motorsport) we were issued with a press pass. I’ve been in the paddock ever since.
I wouldn’t really recommend that anyone does what I did to get in. I jumped in at the deep end with no income, and have spent the past two seasons spending my savings to get to races. (girlracer don’t pay me for the work I do; they also don’t pay my travel expenses. This is normal with websites, and it’s very hard to find paying work.) If you are going to do this job, you really should get someone else to pay your way. It might take you longer to get in, but you’ll have a more secure future when you finally do arrive.
There are some specific courses you can do for journalism and sports journalism, and they might help you get a job. But I’ve never taken any of them (at university I studied Politics & Philosophy, not Media Studies or Journalism), so I’m afraid I don’t know how good they are.
2. What’s your favourite driver? How can you not be influenced by that when you write?
I do have a favourite driver on the current grid, and when he does badly it depresses me. Any race he doesn’t win, or doesn’t at least have a really good battle in, is boring. But I’m not going to tell you who that driver is – I need to pretend to be unbiased!
Everyone in the media centre has their favourites, and it’s quite funny. After every race the journos will spend five or ten minutes talking to the people around them about how their favourite driver was robbed (or similar). Then, once we’ve got the ranting out of our systems (some of it winds up on Twitter…), we settle down to bash out the neutral, unbiased pieces we’ve been hired to write.
It is very hard to stay neutral in your writing, especially when you feel passion for the sport, but it’s just something we have to do as part of our jobs. No matter which industry I’ve worked in, there’s always been a reason to pretend to be neutral when I’m not, whether it’s covering F1 or having to be nice to horrible people when I’ve worked in offices and had to deal with clients. You just suck it up and get on with it, really. But I won’t lie – we do cheer and boo in the media centre when we watch the races, just as I used to do when I was watching at home with my friends.
Anyway, favourite driver… If we’re talking in F1 history, then it’s a tough choice between Fangio and Senna. Obviously they represented completely different eras in racing, but there’s no denying that they were two of the best we’ve ever had. Gilles Villeneuve is up there, as is Francois Cevert. And if you go further back, to pre-war Grand Prix racing, there were a lot of women who continue to blow my mind to this day: Kay Petre, Mildred Bruce, Violet Cordery, Elizabeth Junek, Margaret Jennings, Doreen Evans, Helle Nice…
(Small plug – if you’re interested in learning about any of these women, search my archives on http://www.f1katewalker.com; I have written short biographies of them all. They were incredible pioneers with exciting lives – very inspirational!)
3. F1 fan Marie asks which is your favourite part of the job. And the less appreciated?
There are so many amazing things about this job that it’s hard to know what to pick.
- I love the feeling I get every time I approach a circuit and see a sign saying ‘F1 media and personnel’ and realise that it applies to me!
- I love the fact that I can go to a team motorhome for breakfast or a cup of coffee and chat to senior personnel about their strategy for the weekend, or their fears about their car at ‘x’ circuit.
- I love working with F1 journalists whose writing I have long admired and having them treat me as an equal. Sometimes they even ask me for advice, which is an amazing feeling.
- I love waking up in a foreign country and not remembering where I am this week.
- I love sitting in an empty media centre early in the morning and feeling the floor start to rumble as the cars are fired up below me.
- I love walking into the paddock and smelling the combination of bacon, fresh rubber, and engine oil that means it’s a race weekend.
- I love the energy of the paddock, and how inspiring it is to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are the best in the world at what they do and love it with a passion.
Basically, I guess what it all boils down to is that I love the combination of adventure, hard work, intelligence, and passion that makes up a life in Formula 1, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
When it comes to what I like least, well… These things are as much a part of the job as the good bits, so I can’t hate them too much, but if I could get rid of long-haul flights in economy, 5am wake-up calls (especially when you’ve gone to bed at 3am), and the terrifyingly expensive cost of travelling to all the races, my life would be perfect.
4. 2011 season was full of exciting moments. Which one will you remember above all and why?
Some of my highlights from the season are personal experiences, and nothing to do with the action on track.
But I will never forget being driven around the German countryside in a V12 Ferrari on the way back from the Nurburgring, or the sound it made going through tunnels. I went out for drinks with an old friend in Singapore, and we spent Saturday night/Sunday morning watching the sun rise over the city from a roof terrace on the 70th floor, drinking champagne. I had to keep pinching myself that night, as I couldn’t believe it was my real life. Watching the sun set over the desert from the roof terrace of the Abu Dhabi media centre as the cars powered round the circuit below me during FP2 is another experience I’ll never forget.
As far as racing moments go, there were some fantastic moves to savour in 2011. Webber on Alonso at Eau Rouge was stunning. Webber and Hamilton dicing for what felt like hours in Korea was a masterclass in just how good clean wheel-to-wheel racing can be. The Canadian Grand Prix – rain delay and all – is a race I will always remember, partly in thanks to the endless amusement of watching grid girls hanging out with Mounties in the media centre cafe during the red flag.
To be honest, I don’t think I could choose a top moment. At least, not the sort of moment I think you’re looking for. When I look back at the season we’ve just had, I think about early morning walks through the Monza park, about leaving the Singapore paddock at 5am and walking the circuit to get home. I remember standing on the balcony of the Interlagos media centre on Sunday night, watching the lights of Sao Paulo twinkle in the distance and muttering a quiet goodbye to the country, the cars, and the season. I think about how exciting it is to get off an airplane and know your next stop is a race track, and about the buzz in the paddock just before the grid opens on a Sunday afternoon. What makes F1 so special is the details, the experiences.
I suppose, looking back at what I’ve written so far, my memories are less about what actually happened on track and more about those moments of potential, of promise, before the action got underway on any given weekend.
5. What do you think about Lewis Hamilton’s unlucky season?
Hmm. This is the point at which I realise I shouldn’t have started answering these questions in reverse order, as I’ve had a bit of a rant about Lewis below. But…
The difference between success and failure in Formula 1 can be measured in milliseconds. The difference between pole position and P4 on the grid is often so slight that an ordinary human being couldn’t blink in the 0.251s needed. Or whatever – I just made up a reasonable-sounding tiny length of time.
But when you’re performing at that sort of level, especially on a grid with as much talent as we have at present, your mental state is as important as the car you’re driving. For all sorts of reasons, most of them personal and none of our business, Lewis has not been in the right frame of mind this year. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from him, so it’s not as though he’s lost his talent (as some people have been foolish enough to claim). He’s just not woken up every day hungry and focused. And when he has been hungry, he’s not been focused enough, or he’s been *too* hungry, and that’s when mistakes creep in.
6. Which driver has more surprised you for his performance this year?
This is a tough one, as it all boils down to whether the surprise was good or bad. And you have to look to McLaren, I think. Jenson Button far outstripped my expectations this year – by the end of the season, he was regularly putting in performances far more impressive than any of those he delivered in his championship-winning season. Taking the WDC gave Jenson a lot of confidence, and after a year of adjusting to the way McLaren operate, he has settled into his stride and is delivering the sort of consistent performances that any driver would be proud of.
On the flip side of the coin you have Lewis Hamilton. Now, I’m not slagging Lewis off here – he was responsible for some of my favourite performances of the season: that absolutely beautiful win in China; chasing down Vettel in Melbourne despite having a car that was falling to pieces beneath him; scoring the only non-RBR pole of the season in Korea; battling with Webber in Korea; delivering a faultless drive in Abu Dhabi.
But there were an awful lot more errors from Lewis this year than we’re used to. He’s one of the grid’s top talents, he has the ability to wrestle a dog of a car onto podiums, and he’s one of the fastest, ballsiest drivers I’ve seen. An heir to Gilles Villeneuve, and with a similar spirit. Unfortunately, in Formula 1, if your head’s not in the right place then it’s impossible to perform at your peak. Every millisecond counts, and being in the right headspace can make all the difference.
The 2011 season was a challenging one for Lewis, and it was surprising to see him struggle to keep his personal life from affecting his professional performances. With any luck he’ll be much better next season – whether you love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Lewis at his best can shake up a race.
7. What are your plans and goals – not just F1 – for 2012?
My main (non-F1) goal for next year is to have somewhere to live! I’ve been a little bit homeless since the Abu Dhabi race weekend, and while I’m lucky to have a lot of sofas I can sleep on, it would be nice to have a room I can call my own. It would also be nice to be reunited with my clothes – I’ve been living out of the same suitcase since Singapore, and it’s not really filled with winter clothing.
A silly goal for next year is to get to Gold Card level on the Emirates frequent flyer programme. I’ve never been upgraded on a plane, and I really REALLY want to be bumped up to business! By the time I get back from Shanghai, I should be there. I hope. ;)
As for serious goals, I basically have just one: I want to carry on writing about Formula 1, earning money doing what I love, and – hopefully – becoming more and more respected for my expertise with every passing season. I’m still a newbie with a lot to learn, but as long as I keep learning…
You can find Kate on Twitter at @F1Kate, her website is www.f1katewalker.com. I thank Kate for this fantastic opportunity. THANK YOU!