12 Questions with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean

The 12 Questions interviews continue this week with the first Formula One drivers to be featured in the series: Haas F1 Team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

KM: It requires both. Getting to Formula One is a lot about the natural ability, showing that in the Junior Formulas and the categories you race before Formula One. You’ve gotta work really hard, that’s all.

RG: I guess we’re only 20 (F1 drivers) in the world, and my grandfather was vice world champion (silver medalist) of skiing, and he said it’s 80 percent work, 10 percent talent and 10 percent of chance. I think he was kind of right, because work is the main one. Of course, if you don’t have the talent, there’s no chance you’re gonna make it to the 20 top Formula One drivers in the world. So you need everything right, but work is what takes the most of us.

2. What pitch would you make to convince people to become fans of yours?

KM: I wouldn’t do that. (Laughs)

RG: I’d say never give up, because my whole career has been about ups and downs. I came to Formula One, got fired — same as Kevin — and then came back. Yeah, just never give up.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

KM: The travel, probably. Going to the places that we race, it takes a lot of energy. But it’s not so bad a lifestyle, really, to be honest.

RG: The hardest part is being a dad. That’s not my job, so whenever I come to a racetrack, I’m like that’s something I control 100 percent. Being a dad is every day a new thing. But yeah, leaving the house is the hardest part, especially with the kids.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

KM: Yeah, I don’t mind.

RG: I don’t mind as long as it’s when you’ve finished. Not like when you have a big piece of meat in your mouth and you’re like, “Yeah, I can’t do a picture right now.” But it’s always nice.

5. What’s a story in Formula One that doesn’t get enough coverage?

KM: I don’t even know.

RG: There are two things I see. It’s the teamwork, how much effort the mechanics and the engineers are putting in. And on TV, we’re never gonna replicate the G forces, the speed and the agility of the cars. I wish one day we’d get the TV to actually give us (the sense of speed). Like when you watch tennis, the ball goes pretty slowly on the TV, actually when you go to Roland-Garros (for the French Open) or the U.S. Open, it goes really, really fast and you’re surprised.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

KM: Probably Romain.

RG: Probably Kevin.

That makes sense. In NASCAR, a lot of the drivers are friends and hang out a lot. Do you guys have relationships with other drivers at all?

KM: Not really. Not like relationships. We spend a lot of time because we do the whole season together, so when we get off the races, we tend to spend time with our families and friends outside of racing.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

KM: In principle, not really. At least I don’t feel like an entertainer. I got here because I want to race and everything else around it is something that you have to do as well in order to get racing. The racing part is why I’m here and the rest just follows.

RG: I think we’re athletes. We do a sport. Sport is entertaining, so I guess we kind of are. But I think our first thing is to be athletes and doing high level sports.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack? Do you ever shoot the middle finger?

KM: No, only because you get a penalty if you do. Otherwise, it’s tempting sometimes.

Is that right? You get a penalty here if you do that?

RG: You better not do it. Sometimes I do it, but I just keep it in the cockpit so no one can see it.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

KM: No, not really. There’s not the same kind of teamwork in Formula One as perhaps in NASCAR. But I like the way it works in NASCAR, it’s just not the way we do things in Formula One, really.

RG: No, not really. Sometimes they do it, like they can block you on a fast lap, but I’m trying to be as fair as I can like everyone else.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

KM: The most famous is maybe (legendary F1 driver) Stirling Moss? I think so.

RG: I had dinner with Rafael Nadal. He’s pretty famous, he’s a really cool guy. So yeah. (Rally driver) Sebastien Loeb as well. I’d go with Nadal.

Was Nadal pretty down to earth?

RG: He was really, really nice. We had a nice dinner and he’s a really cool guy. We chatted about everything and had a really great relationship.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

KM: I don’t know. I’m going to go with a boring answer and say everything. There’s not one thing that I need to improve, I’m gonna try and improve everything. And every aspect of my skill set and aspect of being a racing driver, I need to improve.

RG: I think it was just managing the frustration. It’s something that’s getting better; I’ve been working on it this year. It’s getting better and better. But every year there’s something new that you can work on, and — who knows? — next year maybe it’s managing the lead in the world championship. (Smiles)

12. The last interview I did was with NASCAR driver Ty Dillon, and he wants to know: who is more athletic, Formula One drivers or NASCAR drivers?

KM: Definitely Formula One drivers.

RG: Sorry guys, we are.

The next interview that I’m going to be doing is with Danica Patrick. Can you guys come up with a question that I can ask Danica?

KM: Who’s got bigger balls — Formula One drivers or NASCAR drivers?

RG (pretends to leave): I’m out of that one. I wasn’t here. (Laughs)

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.