The very idea of having Formula 1 as a job is a dream shared by many. One of the most popular roles is to be a journalist, working within the circus every other weekend in the thick of the hustle and bustle of the paddock.
But what’s it really like and how do you get there? During a recent interview with Jon Noble, I asked about his route to being a journalist and gained more insight into what it is really like to be an F1 journalist.
Working in the paddock
If anyone thinks it’s a job where you waltz into the paddock, drink champagne all morning, have a driver come to you to give you quotes, then have caviar for your lunch, file a 100-word story, then going off to a party – forget it. It’s not like that at all.
Clearly Jon was having a chuckle at some of the folk who see working in F1 media as being a walk in the paddock. In reality a GP weekend is non-stop 14 hour days, more traveling than you can ever imagine and time away from home.
And I’m not after sympathy, it’s a fantastic job. I’ll never complain. The peaks are fantastic, but equally, it’s not all peaks.
“I think there’s always this certain perception that certain jobs are fantastic, and when you’re in it, there are days that are utterly fantastic; on the grid at Monza, Monaco, or a championship showdown, or a big news story that’s happening or a big event, nothing beats it.
But on the flipside, you’re stuck on planes. I remember last year, I went from Sao Paulo to London, home for an hour to do all my washing, London to Dubai, Dubai to Hong Kong. From Monday to Thursday I was on a plane for three days – I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing, all while trying to keep on top of news stories on no sleep.”
What was your scoop of 2015?
“News wise, I loved the post-season furore when Toto told me about Lewis and Nico not letting their relationship change the team spirit, which was quite a nice story to be in the centre of.
It was my interview on the Monday after Abu Dhabi. It’s quite interesting to watch, with getting this thing and watching the explosion round the world. Elements and days like that are fantastic, when the whole world takes it up.”
What about #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe, did you enjoy that?
“What I liked about the Fernando Alonso thing was it was a genuine fan created story. It didn’t come from the paddock, didn’t come from team PR, didn’t come from social media experts. It came from one fan, who made one suggestion, and then was taken up by other fans, and then was picked up by the media. It shows why it is a two-way street now.
Fernando was joking about it in the press conference on the Saturday, and the team put images up in his garage on the Sunday. These things are working.”
Let’s go back to you – did the teenage Jon Noble ever think he’d be breaking news stories about a global sport. Was that the plan?
“Originally as a kid I thought “I’ll be a solicitor”, or one of those things. I had a week, two weeks, work experience in a law office, and I though “this is terrible”. It was the around the time of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet winning for Williams, and I was utterly obsessed with F1, watching as many races as I could on the BBC. Then I started reading Autosport magazine and specifically Nigel Roebuck and thinking “what a fantastic job that would be”.
I found out about the Sir Williams Lyons Award, run by the Guild of Motoring Writers, which was a young journalist award. I entered and interviewed David Coulthard when he was in Formula 3, with the Paul Stewart factory being in Milton Keynes, where I lived. I won the award and sat next to Tim Collings at the awards dinner, and kept in contact, and the next summer he needed someone to help out part-time on some reporting. And that was it really.
Haven’t stopped since. So that’s the Telegraph, Reuters, newspaper stuff, then moved to Haymarket [Autosport’s publishing company] doing special projects, then on to Autosport magazine and now Motorsport.com. A good transition – agencies, newspapers, magazines and now websites, social media and the digital world.”
Ever pinch yourself?
“Well, familiarity breeds contempt, doesn’t it? I’ll give you an example; Lewis Hamilton thinks that being a rap star, a music star would be the greatest job in the world and that’s what he’s interested in. But when it comes down to being a music star, is he going to sit down in a studio for fifteen months and have his record label tell him it’s terrible, go back to record it all again, and again, and again, being rejected?”
So what’s been your best interview?
“One big interview stands out, with Michael Schumacher in Fiorano in 2000/2001, just because of the funny story beforehand. I was with a photographer called Charles Coates, and the interview was going to be in Enzo Ferrari’s office. Charles took all the light readings to shoot some atmospheric scenes in Enzo’s office, and there’s a photo on Enzo’s desk of himself and Gilles Villeneuve, Enzo’s telephone’s there. Charles shuffles it all together to get a great picture, and then one of the Ferrari staff comes in to start the tour. His first line is “this is the office of Enzo Ferrari, and nothing has been touched on this desk since he died in 1988”!
Michael Schumacher gave fantastic insight for someone who comes across quite cold and calm on the racetrack, but he was quite open and quite honest, answered every question, didn’t back away. Just a nice interview to do basically.
And nowadays I think Sebastian Vettel is fantastic. The sense of humour, and how he’s switched on, he’s not changed since the first day he came into Formula One. I met him in Macau before F1, so I’ve known him a while. He’s exactly the same now as he was then dealing with the media. Intelligent answers with a good sense of humour, he’s quite clever in what he says, knows exactly what he’s doing, as in what to say and when to say it. He’s always one of the pleasurable ones.”
Badger’s Top Tips for working in the media within F1
Decide what you want to do. PR, marketing, journalism – they are very different skill sets. Start doing it, and practice. Thanks to modern technology, anyone can pick up a laptop or tablet, start reading and creating content. Nothing is stopping you. Get feedback and keep working at it.
Read how Jon Noble got to where he did, it’s not as if he’s just rocked up at the world’s biggest motorsport site and they’ve welcomed him with open arms. He’s spent years progressing from thinking he was going to be a solicitor to now being regarded as one of the best F1 journalists out there.
It’s not just F1. This is the real world, don’t expect to go straight into Formula 1 – there’s a whole world of motorsport out there and more than you can imagine right here in the UK. Look up your nearest circuit, see what’s on. A small motor racing team are far more likely to give you a break than a major F1 team. You have to start somewhere, learn the trade, find your stride.
Get involved. Again, thanks to the modern technology and the Internet there’s a plethora of opportunities to get your name out there. Choose wisely though, it’s not about page views, it’s about quality. Don’t copy and paste news articles in your own words, be original. Reach out to established independent sites with quality content, ask newspapers for work experience. It’s there for the taking if you want it.
Some of Badger’s alumni have some impressive CVs, working for motor racing teams, heading up sports for a worldwide media house, working in current TV coverage and more. Proving yourself can open doors, many of Badger’s team have content published in Autosport and The Independent.
If you think you could write something for Badger GP, get in contact, introduce yourself and pitch your idea(s). Include any links to previous work or your Twitter account.