Noted F1 journalist, commentator and speaker Joe Saward will offer his knowledge and expertise as the latest Online Instructor. Saward has attended every Formula One Grand Prix for the last 25 years and is uniquely placed to answer questions about any topic in the sport from driving and safety to business and career development.
Questions can be posed to Saward all this week, beginning September 2. His answers will be posted daily from Monday, September 9.
F1 Journalist, Commentator and Speaker
F1 journalist, commentator and speaker Joe Saward started motor race reporting the same week as he left the University of London in 1983, armed with a degree in history and a specialised knowledge of the world’s secret services. After 18 months travelling from circuit to circuit in Europe, living in a tent, he was recruited by Autosport magazine, rising through the ranks to become Grand Prix Editor, alongside Nigel Roebuck and gaining the tag “Globetrotter” for a column he wrote about his travels to races all over the world.
Saward has not missed a Grand Prix since 1988. In addition to his F1 work, he has reported on many of the major motorsport events in the world, including the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR at Daytona, Le Mans, Spa and Nurburgring 24 Hour races, the Bathurst 1000, the Paris-Dakar Rally and Macau.
Joe Saward answers your questions!
I miss the driver personalities of the former eras – will they ever come back? Is there a place in F1 now for Jordan-esque launch parties etc.?
I think that most of the drivers are still personalities but they are not really allowed to express that as much as they should be. At the same time, I think it is fair to say that the rising stars are generally youngsters who have been racing since their early teens and so they are pretty protected from the real world and not particularly well-educated in anything other than racing. This means that they do not have much to say about anything other than racing. I think it would be very wise for the sport to slow down the development a little and give the kids time to grow up properly and to experience the world as it is and not cocoon them in a world of spoilt little brats. I think this will produce more rounded human beings with more confidence to speak out when they have an opinion. There is still partying in F1 (I’m told). It seems to happen on Sunday nights but I never manage to get there because I am either working producing the GP+ e-magazine, for other clients, or I am rushing to catch a plane to get home. Every day at home counts when the schedule is as tough as it is. Still, I am told that things get pretty lively at some of these events. I am all for that. These guys need the chance to blow off some steam from time to time.
Would you agree with the idea that a greater degree of standardization of today’s F1 cars would create a better show as pilots would be more important than they are nowadays? On some GPs it seems that Vettel’s Red Bull could driven by a London taxi driver and he’d win as well. 🙂 Thank you, Mr. Saward.
Racing teams will always spend every penny they can get, unless they are forced to stop. Half the money being generated is leaving the sport. This is wrong on many levels. There is nothing wrong with a promoter taking 10-15 percent but the current situation is a rip-off, particularly as the so-called promoter does very little actual promotion and invests almost nothing. If that money was in the sport then the teams would not be struggling. Having said that it is still stupid to be spending the kind of money that the big teams are spending. If they were good businessmen, rather than sportsmen, they would cap the costs and turn the rest of the money into profit. Capping costs is entirely possible if the FIA has a regulation and there are forensic accountants looking at expenditure. Forensic accounting these days is amazing. The big teams will not agree to this because money is part of their advantage, so they need to be told to shut up and accept it by a higher force. The only higher force these days is the FIA, but Jean Todt has stayed out of the whole process so no-one is doing what needs to be done. The other way to reduce spending is to standardise parts to some extent. It is utterly illogical for 11 teams to all build the same basic thing – to the extent that one cannot tell one chassis from another. A standard chassis might be logical as long as there was still a way to differentiate between the cars. This would be done with aerodynamic twiddles.
As difficult as this is with the current “pay-driver system” and “money above talent,” how do you see the 2014 season in terms of F1 drivers changes – ins, outs and changes between teams?
I do not believe that there are any drivers in F1 these days who have not earned the right to be there. Even those who bring money have achieved sensible results in GP2. So the quality of the field is as high, or higher, than it has ever been. As to who goes where, that is always in the lap of the gods. I think Hulkenberg will probably end up at Lotus. I think Massa will struggle to find a seat, although I am not sure he deserves that. He will need to realistic about his salary if he is to stay on. In general, I think it is fair to say that driver salaries will come down as the market favours the teams at the moment.
I am 23 years old and I am a member of the Oklahoma State University Formula SAE team. I am the one of the drivers and I have fallen in love with driving. I don’t really have the money to get my own race seat and I am about to graduate so I won’t be able to drive for the team anymore. My question is, is it too late for me to get into any kind of actual racing league or should I just start saving up to get a car to take to track days.
In international terms it is really too late to begin on the path to the top. You are already at a disadvantage if you have not done years of kart racing and without cash there is no fast way to catch up with your generation. Having said that, just because it’s unlikely you will get to the top in Formula 1 does not mean that you cannot go racing. There are lots of ways in which you can compete at a fairly sensible level and enjoy yourself, and if you are good enough perhaps move up the ladder and become a professional or semi-professional. You might also find work as a racing instructor. It is not an easy path to become a professional race car driver but if you look into things like SCCA racing you will find that there is a lot going on. So you can enjoy your passion and who knows where that will end. It is just a question of adjusting your ambitions a little.
Joe, which feeder series do you think a young driver should be targeting with hopes of becoming a professional? Do your recommendations differ between, say, F1 and DTM?
One of the biggest problems at the moment is the plethora of different competing championships. It is so hard to see the best drivers of a generation fighting one another because they are all spread out in different series. This is what Gerhard Berger and the FIA Single Seater Commission are trying to fix with a revamped Formula 3 and plans for a new Formula 4. I hope also that they will get around to sorting out a Formula 2 that is more sensible and less dependent on cash than GP2 and GP3. These are exploiting the young drivers and I believe that is massively wrong. Having said that, they are owned by the Formula 1 group and so one understands why this is happening. As far as these people are concerned the sport is just a cash-cow and they will milk it. They don’t fundamentally care about the sport beyond it being “a nice little earner”. I absolutely hate that and I hope that the situation will be fixed by the FIA.
Do you think there will ever be a disabled F1 driver? Would it be possible for someone to use a prosthetic and drive an F1 car? Thanks.
There already has been one. Back in the 1950s Archie Scott-Brown overcame serious disability to become a Grand Prix driver. He was very quick but he underwent a series of operations as a child to try to overcome serious birth defects with both of his legs and his right hand. His father built him a small car, powered by a lawnmower engine in an effort to help his mobility and he developed a remarkable sense of balance. He was killed racing in a sports car at Spa in May 1958. And don’t forget that the amazing Alex Zanardi tested a Formula 1 car in 2006, after losing both his legs. It was a Williams-BMW that had been fitted with hand controls. If I remember correctly Lotus F1 driver Alan Stacey also had a prosthetic leg, as did David Piper, who lost his leg during the filming of the Le Mans movie but went on racing for many years afterwards.
Do I have this right, Joe? You’re teaching driving skills?
No, I don’t think you have that completely right. I am very happy to admit that I have no particular driving skills and so I am not really the go-to guy if you want to win the F1 world championship or the Indy 500 and don’t know how to turn left… However, people keep paying me to write about the sport so I must be doing something right after all these years – unless I am just plain lucky 🙂
What can be done in the United States to foster a healthy North-American driver market? Do you see a future where drivers don’t necessarily need to move to Europe to be considered? And, how old is too old to consider a Formula One career?
Sadly not. It is not a question of having to move to Europe to be considered for a role in Formula 1. It is more fundamental than that. It is about going to Europe to discover what it is that you need to know to be an F1 driver. It is about facing tough challenges away from home and being toughened by that. It is about assimilating elements of many different cultures, not just in racing but in life as well. F1 is not a place where one can just turn up because one is fast. It is far more complicated than that. It has been like that since the 1980s and this is the reason that Michael Andretti failed to make it. He just did not fit in and he was destabilised by the whole process and ended up going home bitter from his experience. He was badly advised in my opinion. If you look you will see that for many years drivers from all over the world have been going to Europe to race. It is the melting pot where one learns about racing from many different inputs. It broadens the mind and prepares drivers for what they need. Americans grow up racing in a homogeneous world which is pretty comfortable. They can get whatever they want and they know the rules. But out there beyond the U.S. horizon, the rules are different, everything is different, including the way people race, the way people live and the attitudes. I remember, as an example, a young American who should best remain nameless coming over to Europe and discovering that the racing was simply frightening because the racers in Europe were so aggressive, so much more so than in the U.S. That took a fair bit of readjustment. If you want an analogy I think that racing drivers at national level are like high school kids and when they go off to university, they learn much more. Europe is like the university for racing. I don’t see that changing any time soon. As to the question of age, there is a fixation these days in F1 of getting young guys, but often they are not ready for what they need to do and so a lot of careers are ruined by having too much too soon. That said, age does slow people so you don’t want to to leave it too long. I think getting into F1 in the mid 20s is sensible, earlier than that is too much. Having said that, I also think that too many drivers these days turn up with very little real life experience, having been cosseted in karts and so on, without being properly educated. I think a little adversity is extremely good for making racing drivers more rounded people.
SAFEisFast.com Video: Racing in Europe
Monisha Kaltenborn at Sauber is an incredible example of women achieving on merit. Does all F1 promote on merit – driver market aside?
Yes. F1 is a meritocracy because the teams cannot afford to promote and keep people who are not good at what they do and so people tend to survive a short time only if they do not do the job properly. What is interesting is that behind the scenes there are a lot of very capable women in the sport doing legal, financial, administrative and organisational work. Monisha is the one who has stepped into the limelight but there are serious players just in the shadows. The only area where I think that things work differently is in the F1 media where there is a tendency in some places to keep the long-established names, even if they are a long way off the pace. In this respect, brand is more important than performance but usually in F1 performance rules and you are only as good as your last race.
I have been a huge, long-term F1 fan through my parents who were involved with the Tyrrell team in the late ‘80s. Now approaching the start of a career, I have always had a desire to work in the F1 industry. I have with two finance degrees, copious work experience, especially in client facing roles, but I am struggling to see where would be a good entry point to the industry. Would someone of my skill set be applicable in the F1 world…besides the bankers you malign so much in your blogs?!
F1 teams have financial people and large sums of money must be kept under control. So there must always be opportunities with the teams. As to the bankers, I understand that their job is to make money for their clients and themselves, but I do not like the fact that they strip 50 percent of the cash out of the sport. That may be unreasonable but I am passionate about racing and I don’t think it is right that so many areas of motorsport are struggling when the sport is producing so much. The finance people have been opportunistic and have been allowed to do this; I believe that the sport should now try to stop it and use the money for the greater good of the sport.
My education is in the field of computer science – I hold a Masters’ degree and am currently working in a Bioinformatics programmer role. I’m a huge fan of motor racing and Formula1 in particular, and fascinated by the engineering which goes on behind the scenes! Now, how could I break into that F1 scene for a career with my education? Are there are any specialized degree programs in elite schools merging mechanical engineering and computer science that the F1 teams hire from for all the analysis/design/aero work that goes on at the factory or the pits? How can I possibly merge these two things: my career and passion?
Switching from what you are doing now to F1 is not going to be an easy leap. However, programming is programming and the teams and people like McLaren Electronics are always on the look out for bright people. These days the F1 teams tend to recruit from known engineering departments in the top universities: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, London, Belfast, Southampton and so on. In Europe it is a similar story with the Germans looking at the celebrated Rheinisch-Westfaelische Technische Hochschule in Aachen, where many of the car industry folk come from. The French are big on aerodynamics and have some specialist schools with strong links to the aerospace world, such as the two Ecole Supérieure des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile (ESTACA) establishments: one at Levallois in Paris, the other at Laval. There is also the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (SUPAERO) in Toulouse. Ferrari tends to hire the best and brightest youngsters from the Politecnicos in Milan and Turin and from Bologna University. One route that a lot of F1 engineers have taken is to get a BSc in engineering and then go on to an specialist MSc. The best known being the Advanced Motorsport Engineering MSc at Cranfield University. There is also motorsport engineering MSCs at Oxford Brookes, at Brunel in London and I believe Coventry also has one.
In an ideal world, how would you like to see the distribution of the F1 Grands Prix around the world? Is 20 races a year really the limit?
Twenty races is hard work if you do all of them. I think that the people who make the calendars should live them just so they appreciate what it is that people do, but at the top end it is about money and power and they don’t care if people are dying on their feet. The perfect split for me would be six in the American time zones, six in Europe, two in the Middle East and Africa and six in the Far East and Australasia. In that way one can see the majority of the races in every time zone without having to get up at crazy hours of the night. Thus, I would have two in the U.S. (it is such a big market), and I think the idea of street races in New York and Los Angeles is the right way to go. You have to take racing to the people these days. I think there is room for races in Brazil and Canada and the demographics say that Mexico is important. I’d like these races to be a good tracks, so Interlagos and Montreal are fine. I would also like to see a revival of the Speed Week idea in Nassau, simply to add to the F1 glamour. In Europe, the six should include the historical venues such as Monaco, Spa, Nurburgring and Silverstone. These are the foundations on which the sport was built and it is not wise to forget that. I think we should avoid going to places simply because they have piles of cash. Grand Prix racing was invented in France so I would love to see a race in France on a really challenging track, a revived Reims or Rouen, but I don’t really see it happening. I think Russia is good, but not necessarily in Sochi. I’d prefer a street race in St. Petersburg. I would love to see a race in Africa, just to add to the mix, but I know that that is not going to be easy. I don’t really care about desert tracks in Abu Dhabi or Bahrain, and I don’t think we should do it more than once a year. I’d like to see a race in a Middle Eastern city such as Beirut or Dubai to better showcase the sport. I think Australia is essential to stress the global nature of the business and Melbourne has served F1 well. I think we should be in Japan because of the car industry there. I understand the need to go to India and China but I see very slow growth in interest. Singapore is brilliant.
Hi Joe, I believe the Red Bull domination is really turning people off F1. The podium being booed by the fans at Silverstone, Spa and Monza says it all really. The fans HATE it. So, for the sake of F1, do you think that Mercedes, Ferrari or McLaren can challenge Red Bull in 2014 or will the masterful aerodynamics of Adrian Newey overcome all yet again?
There are a lot of questions in that! I don’t think Red Bull domination is very good for the sport but if no-one can beat them you cannot blame them for that. I do not believe that the booing is related to that. That is about what happened in Malaysia between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. People don’t like bad sportsmanship. Perhaps in Monza some of the booing was Ferrari-related. I see no reason why other teams cannot challenge Red Bull. However, I think that it is too easy to say that Red Bull wins just because of Newey’s aerodynamics. There are a lot of good people at Red Bull and Newey is ahead of the game not only because he is a brilliant aerodynamicist but also because he is a fine mechanical engineer as well, with a strong background in practicality, race engineering. It is not all about aero….
What do you believe a driver should focus on the most as far as speaking to the media? Tone, word choice, etc.? Thanks!
I think that it is a must for every driver to be himself when he is talking to the media. The media can be rather intimidating but you must remember that in the junior leagues the journalists are fans and keen to help the good drivers. So criticism will not really become a problem until one climbs higher up the ladder. I am not a great fan of media training because I think a lot of it is done very badly. However the key point to learn is that it is not about what you say or how you say it, but rather who you are saying it to. You need to know as quickly as possible which media you deal with are to be trusted and which are just looking for headlines and scandals. You should be able to pick this up from the PR people in a team. The problem with this is that in a press conference environment you have to be careful because all sorts are listening. As to the behaviour outside press conferences, you need to be yourself. Human beings all have highly-tuned in-built “radar” which is honed to spot a fake when we see one and, even if we do not know why, if we feel someone is not being themselves we can often spot that and do not feel comfortable with that person. Perhaps the great actors can get away with it, but racing drivers rarely have acting skills of that level. I think that a driver should tell it as it is, obviously he must bear in mind not to say things that would upset his team and his sponsors but denying the obvious is not smart.
SAFEisFast.com Videos: Working with the Media 2
Adrian Newey (I read) chooses to stay with British-based teams to avoid having to uproot his family. How have you coped with the amount of away-time? Should families intend to travel to races in their children’s early career? How do F1 people maintain healthy relationships?
This is the hardest part about being involved in F1 and there are no stock answers. We all figure it out as best we can. There are a lot of divorces amongst racing people, and folk deal with it in different ways. Some people prefer the life on the road and a playboy existence, others like the stability of a home life. If you have a partner who wants you around at home all the time, then you are going to run into trouble quite quickly if you want to be a full-time F1 person. Similarly you have to trust one another when it comes to fidelity. You need someone who is happy to have absences and who is able to live a life of their own when you are away. I think it is easier when the kids have flown the nest because in the early years most of the work looking after the children falls on your partner and that is tough for them. You need to work hard at the relationships when you are at home, so – for example – I try to do as much as possible with my wife when I am at home. I do a lot of the cooking so that when she comes home from work she has nothing to do. I try to make time to do things like DIY, although I am lousy at housework. Travelling to races with families is generally not possible because of the costs, schools, jobs and so on. It is also quite difficult because when you are working you need to concentrate on work and often at races this work happens at anti-social hours so having a partner with you is quite stressful because one has competing demands on one’s time. As to kids, I think the important thing is continuity. If they are always aware of a parent who is coming and going, they accept it as part of life. It is only a problem if you are around all the time when they are young and then suddenly start disappearing. Having said all of that, I think a lot of F1 people find that the travelling makes their relationships stronger because you do not get TOO much of one another and you are always happy to go home…
While being an F1 journalist for many years do you have a favorite driver in terms of being enjoyable to interview or write about, and why?
I don’t think I can really answer that because I have known so many of them over the years and it is impossible to compare the different eras. These days it is much harder to have relationships with the drivers because one never has any time with them and building strong relationships requires time. It is much more of a business than it used to be because you rarely get to sit down with a driver and shoot the breeze with him, as used to be possible. At the same, they don’t get the time to learn who to trust and who not to trust so being friends is not easy. I tend to enjoy racers who have interest in more than just racing and can have discussions on a wide range of subjects but these days the sport tends to produce youngsters who are so fixated on one thing that they have not learned much else in their lives. I don’t like those who will do anything to win; I think they are dishonest and do not serve the sport they exploit. I prefer those who appreciate that they are part of history and want to make sure that it remains meaningful. Do I have favourites? Yes, and I find myself always looking out for certain drivers during races and hoping that they will do well, but do I let that come across in my writing? I hope not.
What advice would you offer for a young driver to build a good relationship with the media?
The media at junior level is usually peopled by enthusiasts and so simply having the same passions will create common ground and good relationships. At that level it is more about things that you should NOT do than about what you should do. I would recommend being yourself, not overstating your ambitions and let the results do the talking. It is good to be pals with the media at that level but it is a waste of energy getting into fights, so if you read things you don’t like, the best way to deal with it is to be amiable and ask for explanations (if they are needed) rather than falling out with them. It does not help, for example, to send press releases to F1 reporters explaining why a driver finished 12th in a Formula Renault race. They get binned straight away. Media coverage will look after itself. If you are good enough the sensible F1 media will see you coming long before you get there.
SAFEisFast.com Videos: Working with the Media 1
I am a British F1 fan living in the USA. For the Italian GP it’s an early start and when a driver is running away with the title I have a tough time getting out of bed to watch the race live. A possible solution is the countdown to the championship points format adopted by both NASCAR and the NHRA. For example, with F1 20 races, all drivers for the first 14 races would accumulate world drivers championship and constructors points. From race 15 to 20 all drivers would continue to accumulate constructors points. The top 35 percent of drivers at race 14 would start the final five races with identical points which would be 100 points more than the rest of the field. In effect this creates a second chance for the top 35 percent to win the championship. When it was first proposed in NASCAR and NHRA I thought it was crazy. However, in reality, it works really well and the viewing figures have rebounded for both race series. Do you think this would work in F1?
I think it is a good idea, as it means that there is additional interest in a season. By this time of year it is often fairly clear who is going to win and so interest drops. Doing some kind of “play-off” means there is a cut-off point that adds a little spice and then the dash to the finish is closer. However, I know that a lot of the purists would hate the idea because they would see it as manipulation. My view is that a system is flawed if the fastest do not win, but it does not matter if they have to jump through a few hoops on the way and still emerge as the winners. The underlying problem might seem to be one of philosophy: is F1 a sport or an entertainment business? The reality is that F1 does not have the luxury of making such a decision. It has to be a form of entertainment in order to generate the money that is required to create the sport as it is….
Mr. Saward, many ideas have risen from trying to give more excitement to F1 races, among them the tyres and the DRS. The tyres obviously did their job but I’ll be glad to know your opinion on the impact of DRS in giving the fans real racing moments and thrills, and might there be any further use of this system to improve safety in mass production cars? Regards and thank you for your blog.
I think DRS is really not very different from slipstreaming in the old days and is an imaginative and clever way to overcome the problems created by aerodynamics. The car industry is already well advanced on technologies that allow cars to follow one another without getting into accidents. A lot of race fans hate the idea of intelligent cruise control and self-driving cars, but there are also a lot of others who want a car to take them from A to B in a safe manner and, if possible, they would like to work at the same time, rather than having to concentrate on the road. I think that there is room in this world for both. Anything that the sport can give to the industry is of value because the support of automobile manufacturers has always been useful to keep the sport afloat.
Will it ever be possible for Formula 1 to get back to pure racing without the artificial influences of KERS and DRS? What about making drivers shift gears manually again, bringing more human skills into the competition?
Technology is never going to stop developing and once something is known it is impossible to forget it. The genie is out of the bottle and you cannot put it back. So racing must adapt in order to survive. If all technology available was used in F1 cars, we would have unbelievable machines but they would be so fast that it would be impossible to race them on the existing tracks, and races would have to be held with run-off areas that would make the cars so small to the spectator that the crowds would soon dwindle. Thus there have to be some performance restrictions in order to keep the sport as a form of entertainment. It does not have to be like that but without the show business factor, the money will dry up – unless there are manufacturers who think that something can be gained from racing without spectators and without TV. We do have that with the Dakar, for example, but as a result it is still a relatively minor event in comparison to F1. The other problem with technology is that it acts against pure racing. Aerodynamics disrupt the cars behind them and so overtaking is almost impossible in such circumstances. The other problem is that the people who are paying want to use the sport to show off their technical skills and so going back to gear-shifting and steel brakes is really not very different to suggesting going back to chariots. F1 is a forward-looking sport and so they try to find solutions to these problems. KERS and DRS are imaginative ways of using technology to overcome technology and I think that this is the way to go.
Since you have been to some of the biggest motor sport events in the world, which one would you say has the best atmosphere?
That is an impossible question to answer for various reasons. Firstly, we all have different ideas about what is “the best atmosphere.” I love being in the F1 paddock in the evening when all the “beautiful people” have gone home and it is just the racers who are left behind. But that is my own special thing. If I look at the bigger picture and think of the many different experiences that I have enjoyed in my racing career, there are so diverse as to be difficult to rank. The other problem is that things change all the time, so the things that I enjoyed 30 years ago, are today probably not as I remember them and so it is a bit dodgy to make recommendations based on memories. Having said all of that, there are things that stand out in my mind. The sheer scale of the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most impressive things. I remember being blown away at my first NASCAR race by the sheer speed and the battling on the ovals. That was mightily impressive. I loved going to Bathurst and watching the big touring cars going up and down Mount Panorama, and the 24-hour races at Le Mans, Spa and the old Nurburgring are all very special events, because round-the-clock racing is just so atmospheric. And, of course, one cannot talk about races with atmosphere without witnessing what the F1 drivers do at Monaco. You cannot go too far wrong if you go to Spa or to Monza and watch Grand Prix racing on a really challenging and high speed circuit. Suzuka is worth a visit too. If you want the lively audience you should go to Interlagos.
Hi Joe, thanks for giving us the opportunity to draw upon your experiences. My question is less F1 specific but more of a general motorsport question. I am currently working for a grass roots one-make formula in PR and social media. The drivers are all privateers and there for the love of racing rather than being paid for their craft. I would like to draw upon my experience and move forward into motorsport/automotive journalism; the ultimate dream is to be working in Formula One. What advice could you offer for someone like me with some experience to get into motorsport journalism in any capacity as a paid profession? Love the blog! Thanks.
I always give the same advice when it comes down to people wanting to be F1 journalists or PRs. You have to know that you can do the job (there is not much point in having the ambition without the talent) and then you simply have to get out there and just make it happen. So I would always recommend that youngsters try to get to races rather than sitting at home and writing for websites. It is tough to find money, passes and all the rest of it, but if you are not at the races, you don’t get the personal contacts that are so important in becoming a good motor racing journalist. It really is a question of who you know. Sitting at home and pretending to be an F1 journalist and complaining that it is difficult is not the answer. You need to take risks. You need to be willing to make sacrifices and to get into debt and there are no guarantees that you will ever get there, but if you don’t try, you definitely will not. The easiest route is to be try to get a job with an established racing magazine, willing to pay your expenses, but these jobs are much in demand and very rare. I made it by going off to Europe with a tent and a typewriter and sending in reports from races that other people did not cover. After a year or so of amazing experiences, I was asked to join Autosport because they were looking for someone and I had proved to them that I had what they were looking for. It was not easy then and it is not easy now, but it is the passion and enthusiasm that matters above all else.
Mr. Saward, you obviously have a ton of passion for motor racing. Having covered many different categories of racing over the years, which category do you find the most exciting to watch, commentate, and write about, and why?
I have very good memories of many different types of motorsport, ranging from F1 to local hillclimbs in France, where one can be swept up in the joy of the sport. I love 24-hour races because they have an atmosphere all of their own, but I think that it is fair to say that after 430-odd Grands Prix, the biggest thrill still comes at the start of an F1 race as the field comes off the line and the animals are allowed out of their cages! If you forget that thrill, then you are in the wrong job. Every now and then I will not watch what the cars are doing at the start but instead watch the reactions in the crowd as the field accelerates away. That is always amazing because there are people freaking out in the wonder of it all. It is also great to talk to someone who is at their first Grand Prix because they always go on and on and on about the speed and the violence of the cars, which those of us who see it all the time tend to overlook. So give me F1 any day… although I think I’d like to go back and see some more NASCAR one day because that was such a stunning experience the first time.
In post race interviews why is there a person from the team recording the interviews?
They do this so that the team has a record of what is being said so if someone publishes a false quote, the team has a record of what was really said. It is a means of policing the media – and the driver, because if he knows the team is listening he’s not going to say anything too nasty about his employer.
I studied engineering to Masters level at university but have found myself in (very good) technical marketing roles for the 10 years since, so haven’t got much engineering experience. Are there any routes for me into the world of F1 in either a technical or creative role?
Experience is always important in F1 but intellect has a place, too, so there is no harm in trying to get in based on your CV. However, F1 engineering is very specialised and compartmentalised these days and so if the experience does not fit the need, it is harder to get into the business. F1 has not been very good at any kind of technical marketing but at the same time an awful lot of the marketing people do not really know the front of a car from the back so having technical knowledge can be useful if one has other marketing skills. In F1, remember languages are really important as well, although there are still a few marketing people who speak only English. I often find that people who want to be in Formula 1 – and have the necessary gumption to do it – will do it no matter what qualifications they have. It is about the passion more than anything.
Do any of the larger F1 or lower category teams send scouts around the world to try find young talented kart drivers, similar to how the football teams do? I am in Australia and just wondering how it’s possible to get noticed by European race teams?
Generally speaking, the teams have people looking out for talent, although most of them are not on staff. Often it is done by word of mouth. Experienced people in the junior formulae and karting will talk about a youngster, and that word will filter through to F1 teams. There are a few people who make money by spotting the best talents and signing them up but increasingly the costs involved are such that the returns do not justify the investment, except in one or two rare cases. At the moment, the entrepreneurs are getting out of driver management, rather than getting into it. The problem for you is that these spotters are unlikely to be watching racing in Australia. The best way to be noticed in Europe is to go to Europe. It has been the best way for youngsters for more than 40 years and it is not about to change soon. In any case, you need to learn about racing in Europe later in your career, so the faster you do it, the better it is. It is not just about knowing the people and the circuits, it is about assimilating different cultures of racing, having a different diet and learning how to live internationally. If you cannot afford to do that then you need to try to be noticed by the people in national racing. If you are impressive enough, the word will get out.
Hi Joe, my stepson is 15 and is very keen to become a racing driver or at least involved in motor sport. We have very limited financial resources but got him a Saturday job at a nearby kart track, where he was paid in racing in a youth competition. Sadly, the track has gone bust, with no nearby alternative. Please could you offer any advice on whose doors to knock on next? Would marshaling be a good avenue to explore? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
It is a sad fast of life that motor racing costs a lot of money. It always has. However, the best talents are able to overcome this barrier because there are people who will support them if they are good enough. You need to know that you are pretty damn good before attempting to climb the racing ladder because those who go racing with their heads filled with dreams are always going to be disappointed. Drivers can discover how good they are against the local opposition in kart events, which are affordable. If a youngster is struggling to beat the best guys in these races – even allowing for different equipment – it is fair to say that they will probably not be making it to Grand Prix racing. This does not mean that one cannot enjoy the racing world, competing in local, regional and national events, but that is as a hobby rather than as a profession. So, your stepson needs to be brutally honest with himself and ask the question about whether he is good enough to be a top driver. If not, then there are many other avenues to explore: including engineering, marketing, media, organisation and so on. The one thing that one should say is that there is no harm in being ambitious if you know you can do the job – and bear in mind that practical experience has as much, or more value, than book learning. I am not sure that marshalling is the best way forward, depending on your stepson’s ambitions, but it is a wonderful way of getting involved on a social level.
I miss refueling in F1, do you think it will ever return? Are we ultimately headed to the farcical world of recharging silent F1 cars?
Refueling was an interesting part of racing but it was dangerous and it was decided some time ago that putting more fuel into a car was not THAT exciting because it was necessary to have a flow-rate limit to avoid the possibility of having what would amount to flamethrowers in pit lane. Once the flow-rate was limited, the time involved took longer than the tyre changing, so the cars would sit there while the fuel was being put in. The tyre changing is the most exciting part because it is all-action. So it was decided to reduce the dangers involved (of which there are already plenty) and refueling would not be required. This also meant that drivers would have to learn how to race with reducing fuel loads and tyres that were going off, which meant that the skills were a little closer to those of the old days. I do not think refueling will return. Nor do I think that F1 will have rapid recharging in the foreseeable future.