Kate Walker Project, Part 3 - Behind the Glitz and
Welcome to Part 3 of the Kate Walker Project.
It's not all glitz and glamour in F1. Don't fool yourself. F1 journalism is hard work, comprised of long hours, hectic schedules, dangers and politics.
If you're still interested in being in F1 journalist, keep reading as Kate uncovers and shares some of the truths and stories behind the F1 scenes.
Part 3 - Behind The Glitz And Glamour
What is the most interesting story you have ever written? 'My favourite was one we decided not to run. Iíd dug up an awful lot of background information on someone tangentially associated with F1, and none of it was flattering. A lot of it was criminal. But because the person in question had way better lawyers than I could ever afford, we decided it was safest to kill the piece.
Who was your favourite interview subject? 'Heikki Kovalainen, partly because he was my first F1 interview, and partly because heís an all-round lovely person to interview. There are some drivers who make it perfectly clear that they donít want to be doing an interview theyíve agreed to, but Heikki is a consummate professional.
Keeping a reader interested in a story is difficult, especially in the internet age with so many ways to get information. You seem to be quite successful in capturing your audienceís attention, what's your approach? 'Thanks for the compliment! I guess I just try to write without taking it all too seriously. I mean, when it comes down to it, all weíre doing is writing about a bunch of rich guys playing around with expensive toys. And itís easy to forget that when youíre in the middle of it. Weíre not helping to overthrow oppressive regimes, or fighting for political freedoms Ė weíre having a blast while travelling the world. I also try and link stories to whatever randomness is burbling through my head at the time, which is why Iíve written F1 articles referring to Aristotle, Hamlet, and the plays of Noel Coward.
How long do you normally work on each of your stories? Do you have a general guideline you follow for length?
'Ideally, Iíd make all of my pieces 800 words. But sometimes pieces just donít go on for that long Ė thereís always a point in the middle of writing when I know thereís nothing more that I can add without just writing in a pathetic attempt to up my word count. Unless Iím doing a feature, I donít think Iíve ever spent more than an hour writing a piece. Researching takes longer, of course.
Do you ever feel uninspired?
'Constantly! And thatís when youíll see two or three days go by without anything up on my site. Because while thereís always something to write about, I refuse to be one of those people who just rehashes press releases, or rewrites something Autosport have already covered. If I canít find an original take on a story, I wonít bother covering it. Why waste my readersí time with material theyíve already seen elsewhere?
Have you ever had to endure any dangerous situations? 'I was in a car behind Button when he got attacked in Brazil in 2010 Ė that was pretty scary. There have been loads of dangerous situations on the road, as the standard of driving internationally isnít quite what Iím used to in Europe. With luck, the FIAís Decade of Action for Road Safety will help change that.
'Perversely, I like those nervous moments when youíre not quite sure whether youíll make it out alive. Maybe itís the thrill-seeker in me, but I always feel most alive after a near-death experience, whether or not itís linked to F1.
Have you ever had issues with customs when travelling abroad to new and very foreign countries, say perhaps China? 'The last thing you want, after a 30 hour plane journey, is to be interrogated by customs officials. But something about my exhausted appearance drew the attention of a Japanese border control officer, which is why I spent Wednesday evening draping my knickers and socks across Nagoya Airport.
'Arriving in Japan was somewhat surreal. I had visited the country as a backpacker in my student days, and found the immigration procedure pretty unremarkable. But in the intervening years, security got a lot tighter.
'The first thing I noticed, walking off the plane, was the giant thermo-meter (like a thermometer, but for full body scans) at the gate. Signs explained that they were taking our temperatures to make sure we weren't bringing any infections with us into Japan. Naturally, as I walked through it, I sneezed. Oops. Nothing to see here, officer, just some sinuses run ragged by three flights and 30 hours in transit.
'Queueing up at passport control, we were treated to a mini video explaining the new entry procedures. Much like the United States, Japan now demands that all incoming passengers have their fingerprints and photograph taken. Refusal means you're sent back to your point of origin on the first available flight.
'I began preparing myself for the inevitable interrogation, but was pleasantly surprised to discover the process was no more troublesome than flashing my passport at Heathrow. Making my way over to the baggage carousel with a completed customs declaration, I naively assumed I was home and dry.
'Home and dry until it came to getting through customs, that is. Everyone in the queue ahead of me handed over their yellow forms and was waved straight through, so I was surprised to be asked to open my suitcase for inspection.
'Why are you here?' the customs man asked. 'For the Grand Prix,' I replied. He had no idea what I was talking about until I started making car noises while mimicking turning a steering wheel. 'The Grand Prix? How much was your ticket?' he asked. When I explained that I had a press pass, things got strange.
'Rummaging through my suitcase, the customs official started going through the books I'd brought with me, reading the blurbs on the back. I don't think that a selection of thrillers and crime novels constitutes contraband, so it was strange to see my choice of reading material undergo such a thorough inspection.
'Next came my jeans. He went through all of the pockets, turning them inside out until he found a tiny fleck of tobacco inside one of the seams. God knows how it got there, or how long it had been there, but it was with this discovery that my interrogation began in earnest. The customs man brought out a laminated sheet of paper showing photographs of a variety of illegal drugs.
'Do you know what these are?' he asked. 'Some drugs,' I replied. 'I haven't got anything like that with me.'
'Having already been through my suitcase, he knew that was the case and agreed with me. Nonetheless, it was time for a pop quiz. When I confessed that I couldn't identify the random selection of white powders, but assumed that the tablets pictured were probably Ecstasy, he asked me if I'd ever smoked cannabis. When I admitted to some Amsterdam experimentation in my student days, he zipped up my suitcase, wished me a pleasant evening, and sent me on my way.
Where are your favourite places to visit on the F1 calendar? First for the circuit/race and second for visiting and just walking about? 'Japan is my favourite country, and was long before F1 came into my life. So I love the fact that I now get to go every year. Singapore has become one of my favourite cities in the last couple of years Ė I love the food, the city itself, and the people Iíve met there. I didnít get to spend enough time in Shanghai this year, but I could tell from the short amount of time I was in town that itís a place I could fall in love with very easily. Iím looking forward to going back in 2013 and discovering it properly. As for visiting for the circuit, you canít beat Spa. I remember the first time I went there, walking out of the media car park, turning my head, and seeing Eau Rouge disappearing up into the mist. I got shivers down my spine, and still do every time I think of it.
Where do you encounter the most enthusiastic fans? Where is there the most F1 energy? 'There are so many places! The Japanese fans are crazy-passionate, to the extent that Iíve been asked for my autograph leaving the paddock, just because Iím part of the circus. The tifosi in Monza are something else entirely. Spanish fans go mental whenever Alonsoís around, while Britain, Canada, and Australia all have really passionate fans.
Author: Ernie Black
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