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GP Week : Issue 179
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Interviewing a racing driver – interviewing anyone, if I’m honest – is an odd business. Getting good material depends on so many different factors: is the subject in a good mood? Are they eloquent? Are they operating in their mother tongue, or are they scrabbling for the right turn of phrase in a second, third, or fourth language? Some drivers are an interviewer’s dream. One thing that has always impressed me about Ayrton Senna has nothing to do with the legendary driver’s prowess behind the wheel. It goes without saying that Senna had talent in spades. No, what always blows me away when I see old Senna footage is his ability to express himself in a second language. It’s not easy to give people the vicarious experience of sharing the doing of something with you. No matter how much I try and explain the feeling I get when I’m standing at the top of a black run on my skis, the world laid out before me, reading the terrain and readying myself to push off and carve the path of least resistance (and greatest speed) through the snow, I just don’t have the vocabulary to express it. I might be paid for my ability to put words together, but I have more than a few limitations. Senna, on the other hand, was a master at bringing you into the cockpit, filling you with the tension and passion that exist behind the wheel, heart thumping on the grid as you wait for the moment to launch. To be able to do that in your mother tongue is an underrated skill. But to do that in a second or third language? That, my friends, is exceptional. I was reminded of Senna’s way with words on Thursday in Malaysia, when I sat down with Alexander Rossi (right) in the sweltering stickiness of the Sepang paddock. As an American, Rossi didn’t have the language barrier to contend with. But the Caterham reserve driver furnished me with a eureka moment of my own, when he used his words to take me into the cockpit of a racing car on the grid, giving me a sense of the combination of fear and adrenaline that powers the men we watch on a Sunday. Rossi isn’t the only paddock figure to remind me of Senna when the Dictaphone light is flashing merrily away. Last year in Monaco I interviewed Esteban Gutierrez for a feature on the rise of Mexico in Formula One, and I was blown away not only by the young racer’s eloquence, but also by his ability to see the bigger picture. Many racing drivers are somewhat unaware of the wider world, probably due to the single-minded determination needed to make it in such a competitive field, but Esteban was eloquent, philosophical, and wise beyond his years. While giving good interview is no guarantee of delivering an impressive performance on track, in these media- hungry days it certainly doesn’t hurt a driver to have an eloquent string to his bow. Now that F1 TV coverage has risen to an impressive 21,000 hours a year (that’s split across all global broadcasters), fans are able to get a sense of which drivers give good value for money off track as well as on. Those who can explain what went right (or wrong) in a race find it much easier to develop a passionate fanbase than those who grunt in monosyllables. Of course, there is one notable exception to that rule – the Kimster, whose unique approach to his media commitments has earned him legions of fans. But where Kimi’s concerned, a non-response is as much a news story as an eloquent speech. It’s the Raikkonen brand, and one that has served the Lotus driver very well. Less appealing are those drivers who talk without saying anything, who speak for 15 minutes without answering a question or providing one suitable quote for what should have been a cover feature based on an exclusive interview. There will be no naming and shaming on these pages, but at the moment of typing there are a few paddock occupants who find it very hard to get press coverage. Journalists talk amongst themselves in the paddock, in the press room, and in the bar after a long hard day. And when the same names keep cropping up as pointless interviews, people who waste 15 minute sessions by giving fatuous answers, not answering at all, or deliberately missing the point? Well, they find out all too soon that those requests for interviews dry up completely. No interview requests means no mention of sponsors, no thanking of the team, no free publicity. And when the time comes to renew contracts, and teams are choosing between two equally talented drivers, one of whom is media friendly and the other the press won’t touch with a bargepole? No prizes for guessing who gets the seat... Loathsome though media commitments might be to a hungry young racer, they’re all a part of the game. Based on my experiences with Rossi and Gutierrez, it looks like the younger generation are beginning to get it. Here’s hoping we’re looking at a brave new world in which eloquent young drivers are allowed to express their personalities, and are dissuaded from churning out answers by rote. NO TALK = NO ACTION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor OPINION