One of the things I love most about working in sport, and in particular F1, is the family feeling you get sometimes. Not all the time… when there’s serious news to deliver and your editor is breathing down your neck the paddock can be a pretty feisty place to work but just sometimes, a truer sense shines through.
In days of old, people were knocked to the floor in the fight to be first with a story. In fact, if I think back to 2014 and the first race of the season, Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull team were called to see the stewards. The Aussie had stood with such pride on the second step of the podium, making him the first Australian F1 driver to finish on the rostrum at his home race in a world championship round. It was a special moment but it didn’t last long. As rumours grew in the paddock that Daniel was going to be disqualified for irregular fuel flow ,the crowd around the back of the garage grew.
As the first race of the season there’s a lot of pressure on rookie journalists, and when there’s the sense of a story brewing even the old hacks who have been in the paddock since the year dot start to get twitchy and excitable. It’s the extraordinary moments that make a season sizzle.
A group of about 100 people comprising journalists and camera crews, producers and fans gathered on the small patch of grass that the mechanics and engineers were trying to use as a thoroughfare. It was already dark and the garage was being packed down and quite frankly, we were in the way! As soon as Christian Horner came out of the garage, the crowd surrounded him.
There’s not really an order or a way that things work. It’s everybody for themselves so we all dive in and see who can be heard above the rabble and responded to first. It’s a dog-eat-dog environment sometimes.
That day I got two questions in as second reporter, and then ducked out the way to try and catch a plane home, which we all almost missed due to the stewards taking so long. Such a high-profile disqualification certainly got everyone talking.
There was another occasion when a journalist ended up taking an unintentional bite out of the back of my hand when Fernando Alonso crashed out of the Canadian Grand Prix and we were all gathered around waiting to grab a word. I still have no idea how it happened but there were no cross words – these things just go with the territory.
In 2012, Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish Grand Prix to much surprise. It was Sir Frank’s 70th birthday and just moments after the candles were blown out and the photos taken with the birthday boy, the garage went up in flames following an accident by the fuel bay at the back.
Many of us followed our journalistic training rather than common sense and ran towards the fire. Cameras filmed and broadcasters reported until we all suddenly realised the gravity of the situation and everything was put to one side as people started helping those who had inhaled smoke or went to try and help extinguish the flames. As grown men walked passed me, dazed and with tear marks tracking down their smoke-smudged faces, you couldn’t help but come together and feel the pain of a team who were celebrating one moment and then running for their lives the next. It was a terrifying incident that took my breath away and as we walked from the paddock that evening we were all a little shocked at what we had seen.
“After such an accident, people only care about doing things the right way”
There have been other significant moments in my relatively short history in the paddock, which have caused us to come together as family. Whether team members and bitter enemies on the track or just rival journalists, twice in the last five years we have had a serious accident in a race that has left us reeling. The first I experienced in F1 was Jules Bianchi in Japan in 2014. I remember seeing members of the Marussia team running up the paddock and had a sense of foreboding there and then. Post-race in Japan is 24 hours I would quite happily never revisit. Jules was such a special guy that losing him was painful for everybody.
More recently, in August at Spa, Anthoine Hubert lost his life in the Saturday’s F2 race. After an accident like that, no one really cares about being first with the news, it’s about being right and doing things in an appropriate way.
Going to the grid on the Sunday and standing just a few metres from the Hubert family was humbling and painful to see. I felt a fraud as I shed a tear when the Belgian national anthem was sung beautifully after the silence was observed. Anthoine wasn’t someone I had ever interviewed but he was one of us… one of the family, one of the brave.
The team you travel with are there through thick and thin, and though there are many high-pressure moments when you are trying to beat your rival to a story, at the end of the day in those awful dark moments in the sport we all love there is no stronger bond than the shared empathy of genuine loss.
Jennie Gow has formed a staple of the BBC’s Formula 1 broadcasting team since 2011, working across both TV and radio
Follow Jennie on Twitter @JennieGow
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