Lessons from the Formula 1 traveling media circus

What journalists who write about car racing can teach us about writing under pressure.

At a Formula 1 race, like the Monaco Grand Prix last Sunday, not only do the race cars go super-fast, but also the journalists who travel from one race to the next.

Called “pack journos,” or “a traveling circus” by the Monaco locals, these pros include many writers and photographers who cover every race. In Monaco, about 500 journalists from around the world reported the race. Ten thousand fans who came to Monaco and a global TV audience of at least 400 million watched the race.

Richard Micoud, communication and media manager for the Automobile Club de Monaco, said there was one WiFi network for the photographers and another for journalists. And the most popular media social platform in Monaco? Twitter.

This is not much different from other sports. Journalists often travel and gather together to cover the World Cup or the Super Bowl. But a Formula1’s ‘traveling circus’ also includes the same mechanics, engineers, and marketing reps for the teams, with a very select expertise—they know car racing, and the background and personalities of F1s.

What can the rest of us learn from this unique group?

1. Like F1 drivers, journalists must be fast.

This was the 11th Grand Prix for TV cameraman Marc Villet, who was shooting the race live for a TV audience. Villet said 33 video cameras were set up around the Monaco track. He said ‘ultra motion’ cameras shoot at 500 frames a second—so fast his camera filmed a bird that almost got his wings clipped by an F1 car. Here’s the video clip of it.

2. Have passion for what you’re writing or talking about. In F1 racing, the media and fans are fanatical. Fans travel from race to race around the world.

3. Make your stories entertaining. Race venues are known for their raucous atmosphere—especially in the days before a race. The media have fun with their stories, and talk about the sub-plots and personalities. One fan told me, “F1s are like soap operas. There’s so much going on.” This year’s drama is the neck-and-neck contest between the two Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

4. Get the details right. Many F1 stories are ‘mechanical’ or quantitative than creative (and will likely be written by robots someday). They include tons of data and numbers generated by computers. There is so much precision, and little room for error … by the drivers or the media.

5. Stay fit and take care of yourself; you’ll be traveling a lot. Writing for any sport where you have to follow teams is draining, difficult work. Get plenty of sleep, but get outside in the daylight, so you can concentrate.

6. Break away from the small, protected community of other media. This is necessary to get a unique story, as pack journos get the same reports and see the same data. They must get off the Internet and out of the press room, walk around and talk to a mechanic … or to anyone with an interesting story.

Find your own sources! I got a unique perspective on F1 racing by talking to a physicist friend in the Bay area who’s a big F1 fan. He dived deep into what happened during the race and why.

7. Keep your sense of humor. Do this and everyone will want to hang out with you, including people with good stories to tell.

8. Stay on your toes to catch surprise appearances. TV and print photographers get busy when an F1 driver suddenly emerges from seclusion in the days before race day. Here, driver Roberto Merhi steps out to talk to media.

It’s behind-the-scenes strategizing and personalities that make this sport interesting and give the media a lot to cover. For more information on F1 racing, visit fia.com (the Federation of International Automobiles).

(Image via)


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