Formula One Diary: Thursday

I’m following the American-owned Haas F1 Team through its weekend at the only Formula One race in America: The United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This post is the first in a series.

It’s five minutes before Haas F1 Team driver Kevin Magnussen is supposed to be at the track for his mandatory media session, but there’s no sight of him yet in the team’s hospitality chalet.

At a table inside the temporary building, which serves as a headquarters in the paddock area, the team’s communications chief Mike Arning — who was Tony Stewart’s longtime public relations representative in NASCAR — is anticipating Magnussen’s arrival.

“Here I am waiting on the driver of the 20,” Arning says. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

There’s supposedly no fine for being late or anything, it’s just that in the F1 world, people are punctual. It’s considered a bit rude to be late.

Finally, a minute before Magnussen has to be at the other end of the paddock to face the cameras, he bursts through the door with a smile.

Some of the team members laugh and razz him a bit. Aren’t you supposed to be at the press conference?

“It’s not for another 30 seconds,” Magnussen says with a grin.

The 25-year-old drops his belongings in his dressing room area — every driver has one inside the team hospitality areas — and begins a brisk walk to the media bullpen where roughly 40 cameras are positioned around a square, fenced-in area.

Kevin Magnussen, left, chats with Haas F1 Team development driver Santino Ferrucci on his way to the F1 media bullpen.

This is the standard Thursday at a Formula One event. Before cars ever hit the track on Friday, drivers participate in a long, full day of media.

It starts with six drivers in the FIA-mandated media sessions. The drivers rotate, but both Haas F1 Team drivers — Magnussen and Romain Grosjean — are on the list today because the race is on the team’s home turf.

The drivers do 30 minutes in the TV bullpen — where a TV rights-holder from each country that covers F1 is positioned to get interviews — followed by 30 minutes in a slickly produced news conference for print media that is beamed all over the world.

The bullpen interviews are the best chance for outlets like Viasat (from Magnussen’s home country of Denmark) and Canal (which covers the French driver Grosjean) to gather content to use for the weekend.

TV stations from all over the world gather at the media bullpen for driver interviews.

Then every team has small group sessions, where drivers will chat with TV or with print reporters back at the chalets. Even the top drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel go through this and seem to react as if it’s standard practice. It’s just part of the routine.

Hamilton has cut back on some of his media sessions as he’s become uber successful, but he is still made available to the media a few times per weekend.  I checked with F1 beat writer Nate Saunders to see if this was really true — because I was a bit skeptical coming from the NASCAR world, where some drivers will go weeks at a time without a media session — but he confirmed that is the case.

Aside from that, drivers do a number of one-on-one interviews, as do executives; Haas team principal Guenther Steiner alone has six of them on Thursday.

As the teams work all day to set up the cars before an 11 p.m. curfew (this after leaving the hotel at 8 a.m.), the drivers are busy being the international stars they are. Rarely do the drivers move through the paddock without a camera of some kind following their movements, snapping away or recording video.

For example: While Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg messed around with a shuffleboard table in the media center while waiting for his turn in the press conference, a half-dozen cameras gathered to document the moment.

Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg plays around with the media center shuffleboard table while waiting for his press conference to begin.

Though it may be hard to get into the F1 paddock in the first place, this much is clear: The driver access once inside is pretty impressive.

One reason is the drivers have nowhere to go. The drivers do not have motorhomes — those would be impractical for international travel — so if they aren’t in their garage stalls, then they’re in their hospitality chalets across the way. There, they can either eat with their team or sit in the common areas (which have tables, couches and a TV). Or just chill in their dressing rooms.

I was intrigued by the dressing rooms, which are in the chalets alongside offices for the public relations/marketing staff and team executives. Haas F1 Team allowed me to peek inside Grosjean’s room. Here’s what it looks like:

Keep checking back for more posts throughout the weekend.

10 Replies to “Formula One Diary: Thursday”

  1. Awesome insight Jeff. You are correct on the Paddock — it’s very hard to gain access, but if you do there is easy access to all the drivers.

  2. Glad you are covering other areas of Motorsports. All 3 top leagues could learn and share a few ideas from each other. Did you work on your foreign accent at all?

  3. Jeff,

    These are the kind of details that so very seldom get coverage. Thank you so much for letting us in!

  4. Great job Jeff. I always liked your writing style. Instead of covering cookie cutter taxi cabs, you can ride in a FWD, four door, Camry taxi to get to a track to cover some real racing.

  5. Great work Jeff. I have been lucky enough to get paddock access once in the past and as a fan it really is like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket!

  6. great coverage…. would like to hear from Mike A the differences from F-1 to Nascar in being a PR rep?

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