You should recognise her as the female face of the F1 pit lane, always there to get the driver’s views following their exit from a race or after stepping down from a podium finish and her name is Lee McKenzie. Thanks to the kind folk at the BBC, Badger spent some time with their fantastic reporter to quiz her on her role in the BBC Sport F1 team, thoughts on the 2011 season and more…
“A lot of people, before I had even presented the show were criticising me”
Meet Lee McKenzie, an F1 media superstar who also happens to be a lady, that’s right – she’s not a bloke and she loves motorsport, has competed in some and knows more about the up and coming drivers as well as the current crop of F1 stars than Jake Humphrey does about his beloved Norwich City.
Just as the rest of the F1 circus do, Lee travels across the globe to bring us her part of the tremendous coverage the BBC provide, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing – back at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, when Jake Humphrey was presenting the Commonwealth games, Lee got the chance to anchor the coverage in his place alongside Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. Cast your minds back and you’ll no doubt remember the rain that simply never stopped falling…
“It was a strange weekend, I wanted to do a good job. Didn’t think I could ever be as good as Jake, but I know a lot about motorsport so thought that may balance it out. I looked at the rain thought it must stop soon, it must stop soon and my main concern was ‘how am I going to get from here to there without looking like a drowned rat before we go on air”
The rain wasn’t Lee’s only concern though – just as Jake suffered criticism before he started with the BBC F1 coverage (due to his background of Children’s telly), Lee had people criticising her before she’d said a word at all –
“One woman wrote “this is a very sad day for motorsport” – she didn’t even know what I’d done [motorsport wise]. People do think that they know you and own you, so that needs to be taken into consideration if you’re looking at getting into that side of it.”
“We ended up having random conversations about Kobayashi’s dog”
When it came down to it, rain or not, it was a positive experience for Lee –
“Once I relaxed and accepted it, I enjoyed the situation and it gave me the opportunity to prove to the people that had doubted me that I wasn’t just some token bird and that I did know about motorsport.
We had people being thrown in, such as Takumo Sato and I’m busy thinking ‘oh my god, what’s he done this year’ but because I love motorsport generally I did actually know and I think people appreciated me for my knowledge more than they maybe did beforehand.
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but it’s annoying that you know you’re only getting one chance to do it. It’s like when you’re getting thrown in the car at Monaco and your job depends on how that one opportunity goes. I wanted to do a good job because that’s what I’m like and well I think I slept for a week when I got back!”
Would she ever fancy taking over the anchor role if Jake left?
“You would have to take it – you can’t say no, and you’d give it all. Jake’s a difficult person to follow, he does it so well, in such a relaxed way. David and Eddie are great to work with – no one knew how they would react and interact with me – it was an unknown quantity – they were very supportive and we had a great laugh – Christian Horner saying ‘I’d much rather speak to you” and me then thinking ‘ahh no this is going wrong’ – But then with the drivers, it was great – I know many of them so well from filming in their houses, so we ended up having random conversations about Kobayashi’s dog and Sebastian Vettel’s favourite karoke song – not sure if that’s what the viewer want, but it was loads of fun”
On a slightly different note, we quizzed Lee about her thoughts on the new Scottish F1 rookie, Paul Di Resta who’s making his grand prix debut with Force India this year.
“I’m really excited and probably quite biased. One thing I always say is that he’s always carried this great reputation and lot of people wonder why. And you know, unless you follow your tin top cars and things like that you wouldn’t. He proved himself in Euro F3, he beat Kobayashi, Vettel and Lewis – even in his rookie year, I don’t think he has much to fear and hope he does well – he needs to nail the qualifying and well, I’m really excited about it.”
And that folks, is Lee McKenzie – massively excited about the new season and another year of BBC coverage, even if she is slightly concerned if she’s HD Ready or not!