Latest ‘Ask A Pro’ is Will Buxton, Formula One pit reporter for NBC and NBCSN in the United States. Check out his answers here.
Formula One pit lane reporter for NBC
Will Buxton is the Formula 1 pit lane reporter for NBC in the United States. Buxton began his career as a motor sports journalist while still at University before covering Formula One races following his graduation.
At the end of 2004, he was offered the role of Press Officer for the newly formed GP2 Series. He was soon promoted to Director of Communications for the championship. He stayed with GP2 until the end of the 2007 season, before becoming lead commentator for the world feed of the GP2 and GP2 Asia Series for Formula One Management.
His work came to the attention of SPEED channel and in 2010 he was appointed the channel’s new pit reporter. After three seasons with SPEED, the broadcast rights for Formula One moved to NBC for the 2013 season, and Buxton was asked to continue his role in the Formula One pit lanes of the world for the NBC family, becoming an integral part of a team which has seen viewership figures hit new heights Stateside.
Buxton is a fully accredited Journalist and attends every Formula One Grand Prix. In addition to his Formula One work, he has worked pit lane in IndyCar for NBCSN, and hosts the “Paddock Pass,” “Off The Grid,” and “The Road to…” television series.
Will Buxton answers your questions!
What are your thoughts on Formula E and the first four races?
I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and was quite positive after the first race, but honestly I just don’t care. I don’t find it exciting in the slightest. Everyone bleats on about how it is close racing etc etc.
But there’s a basic rule you follow when you go karting with mates and that is to find the slowest karts you can. The reason for that is that if you put someone who is going karting for maybe the second time in a shifter kart he’s going to be terrified. The difference in laptimes is going to be huge between everyone depending on experience level and it won’t be fun at all. But if everyone is in fairly slow rental karts the gaps will be nominal and you’ll all have a laugh. That’s Formula E. If you stick a bunch of really good drivers in cars that top out at 100 odd mph then of course it is going to be close. Until the suspension breaks. Or they run out of power. Or they have to switch cars mid-race and the Duracell bunny can only be half arsed with the second car.
And that’s the other thing. Two cars. How is this supposed to be a good advertisement for electric driving? What am I supposed to do if I’m driving down to the South coast? Stop half way and swap cars to my second car that’s waiting for me? And how is it environmentally sound to be flying two cars per driver to every venue? And the racing takes place over one day. How is it supposed to make a profit and prove sustainable into the future? I don’t get it. What’s it selling? What’s it trying to prove? Where’s the hook?
Hi Will, what do you think about Max Chilton’s decision to move into IndyCar rather than persevere with trying to find a drive in F1?
I think it is really big. I’d put Max on a similar level to Mike Conway in terms of what the American public can expect from him. They even sound quite similar. But the fact that Max will move as part of Carlin’s assault on IndyCar is the bigger thing in all this.
As I said in an earlier question, it is a really positive thing to see more teams wanting to be involved in IndyCar. I’d love to see the likes of Racing Engineering, ART, Dams and iSport giving Indy a go, too. Max has got some serious backing, and I can see him being the money man for Carlin to establish themselves Stateside, with a second driver taken on pure ability. Max and Carlin have always worked well together and been fast. It’s a sensible way to start out.
Do you think the Renault motor will be competitive this year?
I was genuinely surprised by how quickly Renault was able to get on top of its issues.
When you think about it, last year their power unit hadn’t been run together until the first test whereas Mercedes had connected all the parts of the PU together months before. It was little wonder that the French units were breaking down almost every lap. So to go from that disaster of a first test, to getting Ricciardo on the podium (albeit illegally from Red Bull) in Australia, then winning races and finishing second in the championship was huge.
Seriously, you can’t over-emphasise what a titanic effort that was from Viry. Will they be more competitive this year? Well you’ve got to hope for their sake they’ll be more reliable. As for competitive, no I don’t think they will. The reason I say that is that I genuinely don’t think we ever saw the Mercedes power unit at 100%. That’s not to say they had 20% in hand, but I reckon there was a decent chunk they never needed to use. Renault and Ferrari had a target at the end of last season to try and hit which, therefore, I think was far lower than where the actual target lies. When we then factor in development and upgrades for the season, I can’t see anything but another year of Mercedes engine strength.
And if Williams, Force India and Lotus have managed to design decent cars, then I wouldn’t be sad seeing the title played out between those three teams and the Mercedes factory outfit.
Hello Mr. Buxton, I love the segments for Ferrari and Mercedes you recently did. It really brought to perspective how much Formula One influences car manufacturers. How well do you think McLaren Honda will do this year and will there be a segment to cover their return? Thank you in advance for your time
Miguel, have you been tapping my phone? Haha.
Yes, we are planning to do a Road to Honda. Ever since “The Road to…” became reality, we’ve wanted to do something in Japan and so Honda in 2015 would be an absolute dream given their return to F1. As for their competitiveness, I don’t think Honda themselves expect to be fighting with Mercedes in 2015. It’s a tall order for those who are already on the grid, let alone a returning engine manufacturer, one year late to the party.
That said, I’d argue they’re in a better position at this point of the season than Renault were at this time in 2014. A lot was made of the “disaster” that was the post season test, but the simple fact is that the Honda engine has run. It has completed laps. That puts Honda three months ahead of the comparative curve. Where it will get difficult for them, though, is that while the likes of Renault or Mercedes had four teams in testing last season and thus four cars’ worth of telemetry per day, Honda will have just the one McLaren. Their feedback will be a quarter of their rivals, as will their chances of finding a gremlin and resolving it before Australia. It’s not impossible that Honda will be competitive, but even Honda themselves are keeping expectations very much in check.
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Hi Will. What represents the development of future roadcar technology more, F1 or the World Endurance Championship and why?
Frankly I think that WEC has far more relevance and that’s why we’ve seen so many more manufacturers wanting to be a part of it, but the technology in F1 certainly holds relevance. Mercedes AMG pitched the concept of an all-electric SLS to its designers, and asked for ideas. The winning project was formulated by the F1 team using the battery technology they had learned through their track development of KERS and latterly ERS. Renault was behind the push for the current engine regs (although they actually wanted flat 4s), Mercedes has insisted it would pull out if the V6 Turbos weren’t around, and we’ve got Honda coming back so I think F1 is doing the right thing.
Just as some of the greatest advances in technology have come during times of war, so do we see the greatest development of road-going tech via battles on the racetrack. Whether it is WEC or F1, competition is the surest way to see road car advances.
What advice would you give to an aspiring motor sports journalist? I am really interested in trying to make a career out of this but am not sure where to start.
We live in a really positive time for writers. Growing up I had no idea how to get published or where to find an outlet. The internet was in its infancy (bloody hell that makes me feel old), nobody had heard of blogs, nobody even had a MySpace account yet. Facebook and Twitter did not exist. It was heaven.
Seriously though, the access to information that the expansion of the web has provided, coupled with the ability for anyone to set up a blog, means that you can write everyday, publish everyday, and learn everyday. Write. Write about anything and everything you can. And contact everyone you can think of when you’ve got to a point that you are happy with your style and substance. With a weight of work behind you, there’s more for a prospective employer to look at.
The number of bloggers who have been picked up over the last few years and are now a firmly cemented part of the F1 media centre has left me hugely and positively impressed. Times are changing, and for the better.
Who is the easiest person to interview: driver, manager or team principle, and why? Who is the most difficult, and why? What can we learn from each?
I’ve had some very enjoyable interviews over the last few years. I always find that Lewis opens up as we have known each other for a long time. Perhaps he is also aware that he is talking to an American audience and so he isn’t as guarded as I imagine he might be to a UK audience who can be so hyper critical.
I just conducted two lovely interviews with Nico and Checo in Mexico last week. The Checo one, in particular, surprised me with how absolutely open he was. Dan Ricciardo is always a joy to interview because there really isn’t a front to him and he sometimes gets himself going down avenues he really shouldn’t before he bursts into laughter. I think Eric Boullier is fascinating and just a proper racer. We’ve known each other a very long time so I always enjoy those interviews. Jenson is similarly wonderful to interview. I always have fun with Fernando in the pen, but I have never had a long form interview with him. If there is one thing I am determined to do this year, then it is to take a good half hour and get behind the myth. Who don’t I enjoy interviewing?
I used to hate talking to Paul di Resta, but then in his final year something clicked and we had the most amazing chats. Before that he was always on edge. Nico Rosberg can be the same. I’ve said it before but he can be too clever for his own good and can try and play too much of a game. It holds back that likeability on camera. Danil Kvyat does not come across well on camera, and I’ve all but given up trying to talk to Kimi. If you aren’t lucky enough to be the first person interviewing him then he’s not interested and just wants to leave. At that point I figure it’s better to just let him go.
I think the thing to learn from it is that if you are a driver or a public figure and talking to the press is part of your job, you’ve just got to grin and bare it. Even if you say the same thing to everyone, if you do it with grace you come across well. If you don’t want to be there and make it obvious, you’re not affecting me and my job, you’re just making yourself look like an arse.
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Hi Will. Do you think the so-called merger between the ALMS and Grand Am series was a good thing for sportscar racing in North America?
I think it may be too early to say. It’s only been a year and you have to give these things time to settle and find their feet. I know a lot of people were worried about how it was going to pan out, especially with the way Daytona ended in 2014… racing for 23 hours only to have a safety car sprung to bunch the field and create tension for the last part of the race. That’s not how 24 hour races work. That’s how NASCAR works. And it stunk. Everyone knew it.
Ultimately we are in a tough spot economically, and the greater proliferation of competing events that exist, the smaller slice of pie everyone is going to get. Mergers may not make everyone happy, but they’re better than watching the sport divide and destroy itself. American open wheel racing is still trying to recover from the disastrous split it went through a few decades ago.
Ultimately, having multiple championships that operate on the same basis ensures that nobody wins. A unified championship, in the current climate, is the only way to proceed. It needs good management, a clear focus on where and what it wants to be… and from all of us, it needs the time to become what we all hope it will be.
Do you feel that junior categories are getting so expensive, that unless a driver is a part of a young drivers program, F1/IndyCar could be filled with all pay drivers? Thanks!
Needing backing has always been an issue, but today it really has reached ludicrous levels. It’s not even about being part of a young driver programme as teams are cautious of an over-investment in a prospect that doesn’t work out…these days you need a benefactor who has more money than sense.
GP2 started off aiming at budgets around €700,000 and at its peak a few years ago, the going rate had risen to around €2 million. A rookie hasn’t won the GP2 title since Hulkenberg in 2009. No driver has won the title with less than 4 years experience in the Pirelli era. At top whack, that’s €8 million down the drain. And for what? Don’t tell me that money couldn’t have been better spent on an IndyCar seat. One way or another, every driver in F1 is a “pay driver.” Very, very few have got there on talent alone. Whether you’re backed by a team or backed by a sponsor, the fact is you are backed.
The strangest thing for me seems to be the fact that the entire world can see as the most deserving and the most talented are the ones who fail to get that very same backing. I’ve mentioned Hulkenberg, and I guess he is probably the best example of that. He was never part of a young driver programme, he never had one big stupid sponsor willing to throw tens of millions at his career. He’s got to where he has based on talent, but incredibly still can’t break into those top teams on talent alone. If it’s frustrating for us, imagine what its like for him.
What is the most important thing for a young aspiring race car driver to do in order to get their name out into the racing world?
Well you’re well on the way with a great name. If you don’t pick up sponsorship from a certain American brewery then there’s something wrong. First thing… win. You can be the nicest guy in the world but if you don’t get the results, there’s no foundation for anything.
Well I say that… there are some drivers who have never won a thing in their life but who have somehow sweet talked their way into frankly mind boggling deals. But nobody gives them any credit, and rightly so. Be a racer. Be hard but fair. Be gracious. Learn, with every corner and every lap. Don’t dwell in the past. Move on quickly but use the experience. Give your time: to your team, to your sponsors, to your fans. Talk to everyone you can, even the press. Be open but don’t be a door matt. Everyone get’s screwed, but only an idiot gets screwed the same way twice. Allow people to know you and what drives you.
Make your dream their dream. Take them with you on your incredible journey. Never, ever, think you’re better than you are. Be humble, be genuine, be kind and friendly. Then pull your helmet on, lower the visor, and kick ass.
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What came first for you Will, the love of journalism or the love of racing and motor sport?
I have loved motor sport for as long as I have memories of my time on this Earth. It has been my life’s passion. Senna was my absolute hero. While my friends had football posters all over their bedrooms, mine was covered with drawings and photos of McLarens. And so May 1, 1994 hit me like a brick to the sternum.
I’d dealt with mortality of loved Grandparents, but this hit me harder. I think it was because I had always believed he was immortal. I just couldn’t comprehend it. Nobody at school understood. Footballers didn’t drop down dead. And so my father bought me my first copies of Autosport and Motoring News. And in their pages and in the writing of their journalists I found the solace and the understanding I so desperately needed. It was that week, at the age of 13, that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make the nerdy kid at school, whose friends didn’t understand why he loved racing so much, know that he wasn’t alone. I wanted to share my passion with the world.
During last year’s silly season in F1, a lot of fans thought (wishfully) that Button (if he lost his ride) would be an incredible addition to the IndyCar paddock. After Hamilton saying F1 was not physically draining like he thinks it should be, do you think that F1 drivers unable to secure rides or looking for more of a challenge would gravitate to IndyCar and how might that affect IndyCar’s promotional troubles and sponsorship?
IndyCar could be on the verge of a Golden generation. There’s probably half the grid who won’t be there in five years’ time. They’re all getting on a bit. I’m thinking TK, RHR, Power, Dixon, Sato, Wilson, Helio, JPM, Bourdais, Carpenter…The big question is…who replaces them? I’m sorry, but as of right now the Road to Indy ladder does not contain anywhere near the talent pool to replace those guys. So where does Indycar look?
Frankly, it’s a conversation I had years ago with Randy Bernard, and he agreed with me that IndyCar needed to start appealing to Euro F3 and GP2 as a viable destination for its most talented stars. He even spoke about setting up a test for the top 3 in GP2 at the end of each season to allow them to prove their worth to prospective teams in IndyCar.
Now obviously Randy left and that never happened, but I still believe that with it becoming increasingly unlikely for a driver to graduate from GP2 to F1, that IndyCar should be their prime objective. Perhaps the biggest thing, however, is that Trevor Carlin has started an Indy Lights team. This is just the first part of a larger assault on IndyCar for him. And he will only be the first. There’s a European invasion on the way. I know, because I’ve spoken to them, of numerous GP2 team bosses who would love nothing more than to join Trevor over the pond. And when they do, it will open up a clear path from Europe to America. You remember all those talented kids we got frustrated should have been landing F1 seats but instead had to sit on the sidelines or take GT rides? Well the next generation of those kids could end up in IndyCar.
Imagine if the link had already been forged. Imagine an IndyCar grid with its current stars lining up alongside the likes of Rossi and Daly from a US fan perspective, fighting da Costa, Bird, Calado, Filippi, Senna, Alguersuari, Valsecchi. It would have been MEGA! This, for me, is the future of IndyCar. The best from the Road to Indy ladder, lining up against the best international drivers from the F3 / GP3 / WSR / GP2 ladder. With aero kits and a new car scheduled for 2018, IndyCar could be about to hit a new golden generation. And I want to be part of it.
Many high-risk industries, such as aviation, are adopting proactive safety management systems that seek to improve safety before accidents occur. What proactive measures does Formula 1 take to improve safety, and are they enough?
You will never make Formula 1, or any motor sport, completely safe. The back of every ticket and credential holds the words “Motor sport is Dangerous.” By its very nature it always will be so.
Ironically, the move towards increased safety has, to a younger generation, led to something of an ambivalence and nonchalance towards safety in that very few of them have every experienced a really serious incident. I think the death of Henry Surtees woke up a number of young British racers, and Jules Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka has acted as a reminder that the worst can still happen at the top level. Dan Wheldon’s death deeply affected drivers of a certain age in the F1 paddock who had known and raced him, but to the younger generation in Europe, while many paid lip service I sadly don’t believe it ever really registered with them.
The FIA works tirelessly through the FIA Institute to improve safety. This happens in many ways, and often very silently. HANS is regularly improved and updated. Visor strips came in following Massa’s accident. Zylon panels were added to tubs to decrease potential of intrusion. Noses were lowered to decrease prospect of T-bones. The FIA continues its work on the idea of closed cockpits and screens. Circuit of the Americas became the first F1 circuit to completely surround the track with a new type of catch fencing developed by Geobrugg AG, a company whose regular job is specialising in avalanche prevention. Safety is engaged proactively behind the scenes on a daily basis.
But the sport can never be made completely safe. Accidents will happen, and at those times we must remember that accidents are just that. They are unplanned, unintended consequences of a set of circumstances. In those moments, the important thing is to learn and to ensure that such events cannot happen again. But the sport does not exist in a bubble. It is well aware that more can be done, and works hard to ensure that the sport can be as safe as possible.
Hello Will! Is there a big difference between working in an F1 paddock and an IndyCar paddock? Is the way of working different, or is it the same job, done with different people? Also, which role do you think suits you the best: live commentator or pit lane reporter? Thank you!
The difference is vast. In an Indycar paddock you are the sole broadcaster. You have completely free reign to go where you want, walk into any garage, grab hold of any team boss and driver and stick a camera in their face.
An F1 paddock is totally different. There are set times when you can talk to people. You stand in a pen with probably 30 different crews. And you have to try and elicit something unique and interesting in the 2 questions you get to ask. There is no time to pause, no time to compose your thoughts. You’ve got 30 seconds, GO!
I’ll always remember being at Indianapolis on qualifying day for the 500. It was my first televised Indycar gig on NBC and I had a driver ready to go live on an interview. But then I got told we were going to a commercial break. Indy radio asked if they could jump in for a few questions and so, with my F1 head on (because we work together and there’s an unwritten code we all have with each other), I agreed but let them know when I poked them in the side we were coming back and I needed the driver. I’ll be honest, I got into a fair bit of trouble down my headset for doing that. We came back from break, I got the driver back, and it all worked out fine, but I never did that again.
A few months later I was at Milwaukee and the race had just finished. I was standing by with Will Power who had just finished 3rd. The podium hadn’t yet taken place and again I was waiting for the guys to throw to me… and again we went to commercial. I felt awful. So embarrassed. I apologised to Will most profusely. After all, he’d just slogged his guts out to come home third, the podium was waiting and here I was asking him to wait while we came back from a break. I felt like the biggest prat. But he just smiled and said, “No worries mate.” Because that’s how Indycar works. Can you imagine first getting to interview an F1 driver before the podium, and then delaying the podium ceremony because you’re at a break and still need to talk to the guy who has finished third? Wouldn’t happen, right? Totally different worlds.
As for which role I prefer… that’s really tough. I spent six very happy years as commentator on GP2. I never had any training, I just picked up a microphone and got excited about something I loved.
Ultimately it was that commentary that saw me land the pitlane job at SPEED and then NBC, and I guess Stateside it is the pit lane gig that I’m best known for. It is a job that I love. Running around grabbing information and talking to the drivers, figuring out what is happening behind the scenes and working on strategic permutations is a huge buzz. I adore it. This year will be very odd without GP2. I guess I’ll know at the end of the year how much I’ve missed it, and how much more I’ve been able to bring to the pitlane gig now that it is my sole focus.
Ultimately would I like to be lead announcer for F1 or Indycar? Absolutely. But I don’t want to leave NBC and we already have one of, if not the best lead announcer in the business in Leigh Diffey. His enthusiasm is infectious and genuine, his knowledge of the sport is supreme and he can turn even the dullest race into a thriller. I can’t see Leigh hanging up the microphone anytime soon, and I don’t want him to. I’m a huge fan! But I’m only 33. I’ve got a few decades left in me yet. And if the day ever comes that Leigh decides it is time to move on, I’d love to be taken into consideration.
What do you think it will take to make F1 as popular as IndyCar or NASCAR in the US?
Well interestingly, with the exception of the 500, IndyCar’s figures were actually below F1 in 2014. I’m really proud to be a part of the NBC team that has achieved such a feat. It’s huge news for F1 in the States. From there, we can only build even higher.
As for NASCAR… I don’t know if F1 will ever be as popular. The reason is simple. I think that the American public is composed of a very loyal, patriotic people. The sport that resonates is sport that is played in the United States. The great rivalries are town versus town, State versus State, College versus College. NASCAR races 30 odd times across the year purely in the USA. Formula 1 comes to play just once a year. How, then, is it supposed to create that same feeling amongst the populous? How can it hope to embed itself in the sporting psyche if it spends just one week a year in a nation that so proudly follows sports and sporting teams which play weekly in their neighbourhoods? The simple truth is that it can’t. Even a second race wouldn’t help on that front. So we have to accept that it will never be as big as NASCAR. But its popularity could improve.
Formula 1 likes to portray itself as the big show, the number one. But I’ve always thought that if it wants to get NASCAR fans on board then it should swallow its pride and maybe act as a support race on a NASCAR bill on a road course. It can’t hurt. The best thing that could have happened to F1 though is its move to NBC. The viewing figures are growing every weekend and that has got so much to do with the way NBC is promoting the sport. It’s a great time to be an F1 fan in the States. It’s a joy to be a part of such a quickly growing fanbase and to be at the heart of such an awesome production.
Hi Will, I am very interested in Formula One and would love to have a go in one some day. I currently race karts and am pretty good, and want to know what is the best place to advance to from here? Thanks
Hi Mike, loving the self-belief and confidence.
Seriously, it’s a huge part of the puzzle. It’s a cut-throat world, and if you don’t believe in yourself then nobody else will. So keep that! Sadly, there was no location included in your question so I can’t be nation specific, but if you are looking to go to Formula 1 over IndyCar or NASCAR, then as of right now the best starting place is the FIA’s new Formula 4. The Superlicense points structure has placed FIA Formula 4 at a positive position in relation to national F3 championships and as such, and if it maintains the pricetag the FIA has suggested, then it should be a good entry level series.
I’m not sure what level karting you’re at, or how old and when you’d look at moving up, but I would allow 2015 to pass so that the championships can settle and the technical gremlins get ironed out, and then take a look at the competitive order of which teams have got their goods together.
Previous success in a different formula is no guarantee of success in a new formula. Max Verstappen is proof that if you are truly exceptional then a move from karts into Euro F3 is achievable, but it’s a big ask and you’ve got to be in the right team and with the right budget and backing.
Right now, F4 seems to be the way to go.
Hi Will. Thanks for all you do with F1, GP2 and other series on NBC Sports. The FIA has been pushing for a more streamlined and clearer junior formula programme leading to F1, perhaps similar to the Road to Indy programme. If you were in charge of a “Road to F1” how would you lay it out? Which race series would stay which would not be included and/or would you start with a clean slate? Thanks…and love the red pants on pit row
Thanks for the kind words Paul.
It’s a really tough one. I think that the FIA could find itself in hot water with the European Union over the anti-competition nature of the new Superlicense regulations. By so heavily weighting their own championships over rival series, there appears to be scope for the likes of Formula Renault 3.5 to launch a complaint. I genuinely don’t see how anybody could consider Euro F3 to be of equal worth to WEC or Indycar. It’s madness.
10 years ago GP2 was created to clean up the mess of feeder categories below F1, and now it needs clearing up again. I miss Formula BMW. It was just the best entry level formula I can think of. The cars were bulletproof. They lasted years. The loss of Formula BMW has been terrible for entry level racing. F4 is supposed to be coming in and filling the gap, but time will tell. From there it’s F3, but with the new weighting of points, where do you go after that? Not GP3 or WSR because they’re now worth less points, so you go to GP2. Or do you? It’s too expensive and drivers aren’t getting promoted to F1 without budget. Perhaps the FIA’s F2 will resolve that issue. But it won’t be on the F1 weekends because it’s a rival to GP2 and Bernie organises the timetable for an F1 weekend and he won’t put F2 over GP2. Who knows. Maybe we’re on the verge of a split. GP4, GP3, GP2 and GP1 with noisy V8s and everything that Ecclestone wants F1 to be, versus F4, F3, F2 and an Eco-friendly F1.
The reality is it’s a bit of a mess, and sadly we’ve lost some really great championships over the last few years that bizarrely were more cost effective than the ones which have replaced them. Time will tell if the FIA’s new structure works, or if it’s even legal.
How does it feel being able to attend every F1 and GP2 event?
It still doesn’t feel real. I’ll hit my 150th F1 race in the middle of this year. If I include GP2 weekends with that then by the end of the season I’ll be on 194 events. That’s just an insane number of races to have attended. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live my dream, and I’m still shocked that people want to employ me to do something I love so much. If I ever lose that joy then I will walk away, immediately, because I won’t deserve to be there anymore.
Formula 1 in its current state: sport or spectacle?
You don’t race at 300kph, millimetres from your rivals in heats exceeding 40 degrees for 2 hours, and have it be anything other than sport. It is one of if not the most extreme sport on the face of the planet. But you’re right to question that balance.
I don’t like DRS and I never have. I do think that the modern cars are a bit too easy to drive. I do think that we’ve lost a bit of the purity in favour of “the show.” I love the idea of 1000bhp turbos. I love the idea of big fat sticky rear tyres. I love the idea of a higher weight limit so the drivers can bulk up and hustle the cars. Get rid of fuel flow rates and standard fuel limits. You won’t need an age limit for those cars. They’ll sort the men from the boys on their own. The regulations have given us great racing, and Formula 1 must always be entertainment and entertaining, but spectacle for the sake of it leaves everyone cheated.
I think we are in a good place right now. The worst thing Formula 1 can do is tweak the regs every year. The best way to reach competitiveness is to have stability and allow everyone to catch up with each other.
How long do you think it will take for Ferrari to come right in F1?
Is Ferrari, like the Italian football team, so scared of defeat that it simply can’t win? It’s an often asked question. Let’s put it this way… they’ve had arguably the best all-round driver in F1 on their books for the last few seasons and they couldn’t win a championship.
I’ve said it before, but only in losing Fernando Alonso will Ferrari truly understand just how deeply they are in trouble. I do not believe that Sebastian Vettel is the cure-all solution that some think him to be. I don’t believe that Kimi Raikkonen cares enough to pull the team up to where it should be.
But 2015 has started with a new wave at Maranello. The new bosses are slicing through the company and through the Scuderia. Gone is di Montezemolo, the only remaining link to the old ways of Enzo. It’s a new Ferrari, and so as of right now it is almost impossible to predict what type of team it will be.
One thing is sure…the traditional politics will need to be overcome. The team worked best when it had at its helm a small, French despot. Todt kept the competing political factions at arms length and ruled absolutely over the racing team. He placed the right people in charge of the important jobs, trimmed out the fat and brought it all together. That is what the team needs now. It needs a leader.
Will, what characteristics, above and beyond speed and winning races, make a driver an interesting and worthwhile interview subject?
Good question, Eric.
I honestly don’t think there is a specific formula as to who makes a good interview but simply being fast and winning races often isn’t enough. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t instantly make you engaging to listen to when you talk about it. Since joining NBC, I have completely changed the way I conduct interviews. I used to try so hard to sound intelligent in my questions, I suppose out of a fear that if I didn’t sound as though I knew what I was talking about then the drivers would think I was an idiot and wouldn’t give me a decent response. In fact, the opposite is true. Of you over elaborate your question, you either get it completely wrong or so right that the driver has nothing left to say.
The basic tenet of keeping it simple has completely changed the way I ask questions in the interview pen. If you leave things open, then you never know what the answer will be and what road you’ll go down. That’s also had an influence in the way I conduct my longer form interviews, but so has the fact that as of the last two years I take no notes or pre-prepared questions with me. I research heavily, but go into the interview with an open mind and ready to just chat. I find that when you do that, you open yourself up to a more personal connection, and from that can come real honesty and heart from the interview subject. Similarly, you can find yourself going down routes you never imagined.
Good interview subjects are those who are thus willing to engage with you and just talk, those who leave the PR claptrap at the door and don’t just feed you pre-prepared, pre-approved lines. My favourite interviews are ones where those walls have come down and the driver has allowed us a little bit of themselves. Drivers with interests outside the sport make good interviews if you get onto those topics, as are those with a wider consideration for the world in general. Some drivers just don’t come across well on TV.
I read a great interview with Danil Kvyat this week, and it reminded me how his personality simply doesn’t come across on television. The same can be true the other way of course, where someone lights up on TV but doesn’t come across well in print. Ultimately I think a good interview comes from honesty, both from you as an interviewer and from the subject. If both of you are comfortable, the results can be outstanding.
R S Jennings
How long does it take you to prepare for a new season with regards to the sponsor changes, rule changes, driver changes, engineer changes etc?
It’s funny, but the off-season has stopped really being about cram revising in that sense…at least it has for me. When I first started you had a decent period of time that you could call the off-season. Nowadays, once everyone has had a few weeks off after the final race, it’s awards season, then car launches, testing and before you know it we’re on a plane to Australia. The movement of personnel in the paddock has become so fluid that its something of which you need to be constantly aware, although I honestly don’t think you ever truly can be 100%.
Most of the sponsor changes we’ll only really know once we see the cars unveiled, such as the mass exodus of Mexican sponsors from Sauber to Force India, but you know certain sponsors will end up on certain cars because of the drivers they’ve signed. Rule changes, of course, are vital…although with the mess over engine regulations it is going to be something of a hot potato this year.
Love your work Will! I really enjoyed your articles about Nico and Lewis before the end of the F1 Championship. I was curious if you knew what Nico thought of your article? I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how cunning he is, and it’s almost like you unleashed his secret (on how he deals with all of the media)! But I found both articles intriguing, thank you for those. PS: Why the Seahawks??
Hey Stevie. I haven’t spoken to Nico about it actually, but I’d love to know what he thought. I was very touched that Lewis both retweeted his piece and thanked me in person. I just tried to come at both angles in as honest a way as I could, and they were two of the most read pieces my blog has ever published. That Mercedes AMG Petronas tweeted both in the run up to the race was an incredible thing to happen and I was very grateful that so many people read and commented on them.
As for the Seahawks…my Auntie used to live in Tacoma and so I received Seahawks merchandise for every birthday and Christmas from the age of 1 to 18. Made me a definite #12.
Have you ever been told a “speed secret” by a team that you could not reveal then, but can talk about now? I suppose you better not name names.
Not so much speed secrets, but there are a few secrets about the way in which certain things played out over my time in Formula One that I’m sure will come out at some point. It’d take some guts or the end of actually caring on behalf of the protagonists, but I’m pretty sure that one major story of the last few years will blow up before too long. I’ve tried to push Steve Matchett on Option 13 a few times but he won’t budge.
Who is the best-looking and fastest jetcar-driving journalist you’ve ever known?
Hmmm. I’d have to say Richard Hammond. But knowing there can only be one person who has asked this question then I’ll bite and say the answer to the question is the man responsible for launching me into this amazing world and giving me the chance to live my dream. A man who 13 years ago gave me a shot, who saved me from starvation when I was struggling to make ends meet as a freelancer, my mentor, one of the most honest and genuine people I’ve ever known, one of the truest and dearest friends I’ve ever had…and the best looking, fastest jet-car driving journalist I know, Mr David Tremayne.