By Shiva Khanna Yamamoto '19
Free things, backstage invitations at car shows: being a young car enthusiast is pretty great. To be a grown car enthusiast with disposable income can be pretty great too, what with the opportunity to actually buy the cars that you dreamt about in your youth, and maybe even enjoy opportunities to involve yourself directly with the functioning of the auto industry.
Last year (and this year, to be fair) I was neither of those things. Faced with the prospect of a dull Summer break, I wanted to pursue my passion for cars in one way or another, but was well aware of the fact that for 16 year olds opportunities are scarce within the world of cars. One weekday morning in June, a former teacher of mine who I’d maintained close contact with approached me with a proposition. I could try my hand at automotive journalism, which required few previous qualifications and could afford the greatest possible opportunity for me to get a feel for the auto industry at this stage of my life.
Though I was an avid consumer of automotive journalism, the thought of partaking in it had never before crossed my mind. It took little for me to realize that automotive journalism offered possibilities that would be simply inaccessible through any other realistic route. The credentials of a journalist could provide inroads into even the most secretive corners of the auto industry. For what it’s worth, my very first assignment proved this.
The motorsports of the modern era have departed to a great extent from the traditions of the motorsport of yesteryear. As technologies have advanced and television broadcasting rights have become gained inappreciable value, motorsports, and in particular Formula 1, have of necessity become impossibly secretive. For most, the inner world of Formula 1 is utterly impenetrable. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I had been fully credentialed to cover the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July.
Why Hungary of all places? While I could easily claim that I had chosen Hungary strategically as the halfway point of the Formula 1 calendar, the final race weekend before the three week long FIA mandated Formula 1 summer break, and one of the final races of Formula 1’s European season, in reality I already had plans in place to visit Hungary during that week and the timing of the Grand Prix was coincidence.
Coming up with an angle was no difficult task. That year was the first for Formula 1 under new ownership. Bernie Ecclestone, whose dictatorial grasp on Formula 1 and the sanctioning body of global motorsports, the FIA, had earned him the popular nickname “F1 Supremo,” been effectively ousted at the beginning of 2017 and by American businessman Chase Carey and the Liberty Media Corporation. F1 under Liberty had begun a comprehensive program to revivify a sport whose viewership and popularity had been on a steady decline since the Schumacher days. To investigate the immediate effects of this change in ownership from within sounded compelling.
I hesitate to reduce my summary experience from the four day weekend of the Grand Prix to a single word, but I find “frantic” to be appropriate. The language barrier made organization difficult at times and the fast-paced nature of the sport meant that much of my weekend was spent chasing people through the expansive paddock — my press pass, which I soon discovered afforded me the same level of access as Reuters and BBC International, gave me nearly unrestricted access. However, the gist of the weekend is as follows. I met almost every driver on the grid, though most were forbidden from offering comments due to antiquated team policies prioritizing cable television networks over other media. I spoke to and received on-the-record comment from Éric Boullier, then head of McLaren Racing, Ted Kravitz, presenter for Sky News, Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsports, and Niki Lauda, three-time Formula 1 World Champion. And besides, merely being in the Formula 1 paddock was remarkable in itself.
The finished piece was published about a week later, albeit with heavy revisions by the editing staff, which happened to include a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Since then I have published two more articles on the Goodwood Festival of Speed and hope to continue writing for the foreseeable future.