Earlier in the year, Badger’s Rob Watts spoke to former ITV reporter Louise Goodman about her life in the media. He also spoke about the F1 races that she remembered most, and three spring to mind more than any other. 

Life for a Formula One pit lane reporter can be tough. Following the drivers from the media centre to garages to the press room is all part of the job, as is getting as close to the stories as possible so we, the general public, can experience everything the sport has to offer.

Louise Goodman spent 12 seasons with a microphone and a headset delivering the best ITV could offer, and in doing so she was right at the centre of some of the oddest, strangest and emotional races ever to have happened.

It didn’t take long for Goodman to see an underdog story unfold in front of her eyes. The first season of ITV’s coverage followed the title defence of Damon Hill, who had been ousted from the championship winning Williams team and found himself at the uncompetitive and unreliable Arrows. By midseason the car was finishing races, and at Silverstone Hill finished sixth for his first point, but the biggest shock would come at the Hungarian Grand Prix a few races later – Hill and his Arrows were not only competitive but were almost dominant in the hot weather conditions.

Image: f1-photo.com

“Back in those days, you could get into a lot of the garages which isn’t the case these days,” remembers Goodman, “I had good contacts at Arrows so they were happy for me to wander in and out. It was getting near to the end of the race; a race that Damon was potentially going to win, and that was where the story was going to be.

“I thought ‘I’m going to go down to Arrows now and see if we can do something there because the atmosphere would be great’. The minute I walked in though I could sense that something was amiss. I know how a garage works and how a team works – that’s one of the reasons ITV employed me because I could walk into a garage and suss out the dynamics of what was going on – and I could tell straight away that the body language of the guys in the garage was all wrong for a team that’s about to win a grand prix. 

“Annie Bradshaw was the press officer at the time, and I went over to her and asked, ‘what can you tell me?’. She confirmed that there was a technical issue and that Damon was struggling with the car so I was straight onto my producer. He told the commentators to throw down to me in the garage, and I did a live report on the situation.”

Louise’s report that Hill was losing hydraulic pressure and was slowing became the focal point of ITV’s coverage and turned the race on it’s head – within minutes of her breaking the story the Arrows slowed, was caught by Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams and passed for the lead. It was heartbreak for everyone involved, yet a reporter as experienced as Goodman knew that it was part of the game.

“I’ve seen it happen before. I saw it happen with Rubens Barrichello when he ran out of fuel in Donnington, I’ve been there on numerous occasions. Reliability was far more of an issue in those days than it is now.”

Fast forward eight years later and Goodman was in the eye of a different kind of storm. At the 2005 US Grand Prix, the Michelin-shod teams made the 11th-hour decision to withdraw from the race on the formation lap, leaving just six cars to run the race in front of an angry Indianapolis crowd.

“From a personal perspective, that was one of the most exciting races I’ve ever worked on in terms of live television. When you go on air you’ve got a running order; all the features that you’re going to run, it’s all blocked out and timed down to the second.

“Literally, as we went on air, we ripped up the running order, and we were making it up as we went along because the story was constantly developing as we went along. All credit to Jim Rosenthal, who was hosting, because that’s a tricky position to be in; you don’t know how long you’re going to have to ‘fill’ for and when you’re going to get something else [to talk about].

“From a broadcaster’s perspective, it’s the most exciting time because that’s live television at its barest bones. We were just following the story that was developing all the time, and from Ted [Kravitz] and my perspective, we were the ones running around getting the stories. It was a case of finding out what was happening and then finding someone who would give us an interview so we could update the viewers. It was a real buzz. 

“Ordinarily, television figures will build up and peak at the start of the race, tail off when the race settles down and then build again towards the finish; that day it just went up, and up, and up. That would suggest it was compelling viewing back home even though there were no cars out on track.”

The Michelin saga was one that damaged the sport in the US; Indianapolis dropped off the calendar and F1 didn’t return to the country until 2012. Being in the paddock as the drama unfolded, Goodman knew something was amiss as the story moved from rumour to debacle at a quite the pace.

Image: f1-photo.com

“We could all see it coming over the course of the weekend. As someone inside the sport, and someone who is passionate about the sport, I had my head in my hands thinking ‘get over yourselves and think of the bigger picture here!’. I would say there was a moment [when I realised there was no turning back] but I can’t quite remember when exactly.

“It was all going on overnight from Saturday through to Sunday morning, and as meeting after meeting fell apart. The final meeting just before the start of the race was a last ditch attempt, but there was no persuading the Bridgestone shod teams to put in a chicane.”

“It sounds horrible to say, but it was a bloody brilliant day to be working in live television,” Goodman recalls. “It’s days like that you really earn your money and you really get the buzz.”

Being that Formula One is a sport not short on drama and human story, having both collide for ITV’s final race was a match made in TV professional heaven. The finale of the 2008 season saw Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton go head-to-head for the world championship in Brazil, with the dramatic conclusion of the Brit sealing the title on the last corner of the last lap. It’s a whole weekend that Goodman recalls with a smile, let alone the drama that would unfold. 

“It was a crazy three or four days as you can imagine because Brazil was our last race. The whole weekend was just heightened emotionally. It was the best way we could go out, but there was an irony that all the years ITV had covered the sport, we’d not had a British world champion. Then suddenly, the moment we get a British champion we’re effectively saying to someone else ‘there you go, now everyone’s going to want to watch it!’.

“I was standing in the paddock, sheltering should I say, in the paddock. I can’t think whose hospitality area it was; I was just standing there because they had a couple of big televisions. You had the live timing and the pictures, but also it was right near the pit lane walkthrough access, and the minute the flagged dropped you’d need to get through to the pitlane to get the reaction before anybody else did.

“I was kind of loitering, and it got to the last lap, so I left the televisions, but obviously I was still listening to James [Allen] and Martin [Brundle] on commentary. All around me other reporters were saying ‘He hasn’t done it, it’s all over!’, and I was saying ‘trust me, it’s not over until Lewis crosses the line!’.

“All credit to James and Martin; they read that race spot on because all around the world, people were proclaiming Felipe Massa was the new world champion before having to correct themselves.

“When he did win, it was mayhem because I was then on a mission. The way our media time was structured had altered massively over the years. When I first started working for ITV we would just loiter around the steps of the media centre to grab the drivers as they came out, there was no formula to bringing the drivers to us – it was chaotic. Step forward to 2008, because Lewis wasn’t on the podium, there was no official procedure to get to interview him.

“The FIA said that he couldn’t go on the podium, or go in the post-race [press conference] because he hadn’t finished in the top three. We were effectively back to a free-for-all scenario, and I was bloody determined that I was going to get the first words from him.

“It was one of – if not the most – important interview I was ever going to do. It was my last race, and ITV’s last race, so I was damn well going to get to the new British world champion first! It was teeming down with rain, and at this point, I looked like a drowned rat and all dignity had gone out of the window. I came down the pit lane and into the garage, straight through to the McLaren hospitality area where Lewis was holed up with some of the team. 

“A scrum had built up at the back of the garage by this point because the team had indicated that was where they would bring him for interviews, but I stayed by the door so I could get alongside him as he came out and made his way through the scrum. 

“I had to get my elbows out a bit but as we pushed our way through the scrum I was thinking ‘you’re not having this one!’. I achieved my aim – which I was very happy about.  I think it was really important for ITV that we had the first proper interview with our new World Champion.”