Interview: Will Buxton

Not only is Will Buxton one of the funniest people on my twitter feed, he is also an accomplished Journalist and commentator. With Sky Sports F1 now containing the GP2 and GP3 season, Will's voice can be heard by even more as he commentates on those important F1 feeder series.

Will has worked in motorsport for 10 years now and is a popular guy around the paddock. His knowledge of F1 and GP2 is truly amazing and he has worked hard to get a career in his favourite sport. A life long F1 fan, he was inspired by Ayrton Senna and was hit hard in 1994 when one of motor sports legends died. He went to University and studied the politics of F1, before moving on in his career.

In this exclusive interview, Will describes his journey to his current role as GP2 and GP3 commentator and SPEED F1 pit lane reporter as well as giving me some of his predictions and views.

1) Hi Will, thanks for answering these questions, firstly how did you get involved in Formula 1?

Wow, where to start? I've been a fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up idolising Ayrton Senna. I was 13 in 1994, a very impressionable age I guess. His death really hit me hard because I think in some way he was such a hero that I always thought of him as being immortal. I bought my first copies of Motorsport News and Autosport that week, and in their pages discovered answers to my questions and voices that spoke to me of their love for my hero. Nobody at school understood why I was so upset, but these Formula 1 writers knew exactly how I felt. It was then that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. From that point on there was only one job I ever wanted to do. I went to University to study politics, because I didn't want to do a journalism degree and wind up as an identical writer to everyone else on my course. Politics would teach me to research, form my own arguments, write cohesively... that kind of thing. I wrote my thesis on the politics of F1. Those marking it thought it was rubbish, but David Tremayne gave me a job straight out of Uni as Staff Writer at Bernie's F1 Magazine. I'd been writing the occasional article on Joe Saward's during my final days at Uni, but the F1 Mag gig was my first real job in motorsport. That was a decade ago, and I've been here ever since.

2) Where you always a fan of the sport? Whats your first memory of F1?

Always. My first memory of motorsport is my Dad taking me to the Prescott hillclimb when I was about 4 or 5. I fell over a  huge tent peg and still have the scar on my shin. As for F1? My first memory is of watching white and red flashes through a forest. Must have been 1987 or 1988, those Marlboro McLarens, at either Monza or Hockenheim on a Sunday afternoon on TV after a huge roast lunch.

3) You moved from F1 to GP2, how did that change come about?

Formula 1 Magazine was closed down with about a week to go before the start of the 2004 F1 season. I was 23 and had just been made redundant from the only job I'd ever wanted. My parents came to the rescue and loaned me enough to purchase a campervan and I went on a tour of Europe that season, driving from race to race. 2004 was the first season that the calendar had gone way over 16 races (a whopping 18 in 2004) but ten of those were still in Europe so driving to every one was an affordable way to cover the majority of the year. Towards the end of the European season, Stephane Samson, who had been appointed head of PR at GP2 approached me about becoming press officer for the championship. He thought the campervan thing was pretty Rock n Roll, and very GP2. With no jobs in journalism opening up, I thought a few years working in PR with the young drivers who would shape the future of F1 was just about the best career move I could make. And it was.

Oh, and I did repay my folks, little by little over the last 8 years, finally paying the last instalment off about a year ago as I recall.

4) What are the main differences between GP2 and Formula 1?

How long have you got? I think the main difference is you've got 13 teams who each run the same car, engine, tyres... it really does all come down to the driver and how he works with his engineer. It's a great preparation for F1. GP2's birth was also pretty tough with a number of mechanical issues in the early days and that really helped create a community as teams helped each other out in the first few races to ensure all the cars got on the grid. If they hadn't, and the championship had failed, their investments would have been for nothing. So the teams pulled together, GP2 pulled itself together, and by the Nurburgring in that first season the vast majority of the creases had ben ironed out and we had a fabulous championship.

That feeling of community still exists. Drivers, engineers, media, team bosses... even the occasional F1 driver, sit together, eat, talk, laugh... it is a very relaxing atmosphere off track in the hospitality unit.

5) Looking back at the GP2 series, have there been any drivers which you knew would make it to F1, from their first race?

Lewis is the obvious one. Effortlessly fast and graced with the kind of ability that made his moves look choreographed. Hulkenberg was impressive from the off, Grosjean too.

Robert Kubica tested for Durango at the end of 2005. Although he never raced in GP2, you just knew from that test that he was going to be amazing. Simona de Silvestro impressed me when she tested for Campos, too.

What has surprised me however were those I truly hoped would make it that didn't. Giorgio Pantano remains the greatest lost talent of our generation. I truly believe that. Juan Cruz Alvarez had something special, so too did Hiroki Yoshimoto and Luca Filippi. Adam Carroll was balls to the wall quick, and I still believe that if we lived in an era of open testing, Lucas di Grassi would be the most fought over development driver in F1. There have been some incredible talents in GP2, but for as long as the likes of Grandpa Schumacher want to carry on trying to get a podium to prove to themselves they've still got it, there won't always be space for them over the road in F1.

6) You now provide international commentary for the GP2 series, what have been your favourite races to commentate on?

They're usually always good to be honest... especially at Tilke tracks. Bahrain has always been especially good. A few years ago I ended up on my knees screaming my head off on the final lap, and at the first weekend in Bahrain this year the Sprint race saw Valsecchi take the lead on the last lap from 8th on the grid and I went crazy.

One of my favourite races to commentate was a actually the Feature GP3 race in Spa in 2010. It started raining in the final sector, with only a few laps to go and almost everyone except for Wickens, the race leader, pitted. Wickens smashed into the pitwall and I remember saying that his team and he had thrown it all away. But he carried on, somehow, with no front wing, on slicks, in water an inch high. The clock was ticking down and the safety car was due to come in, and Wickens did the smartest thing I've ever seen. He ran the clock down. Because he could pace the field as the leader behind the safety car, he just wound it down, the clock went to zero, he crossed the line and bingo... race winner. I was going nuts in the commentary box over how clever that was.

Last season was a real joy, as for the first time I had a co-commentator and that makes life so much easier, as you have time to gather your thoughts and listen to their insight. Last year it was my good friend Karun Chandhok, whom I had got to know through GP2. We had a lot of fun together, but the race that stands out was our first together in a full season, in Barcelona with a moment that ended up doing the rounds on You Tube when I uttered the words, "Shut up, that's ridiculous" as Grosjean passed three cars in one corner. It was a hell of a move and Karun and I couldn't quite believe what we'd seen. That was a nice moment.

This year I have Jerome d'Ambrosio alongside me, and after two weekends our relationship is really starting to come together on air. His insight is fabulous, but he's very different to Karun. Karun's pants used to light on fire along with mine, but Jerome is horizontal. Totally chilled out. I'll be going crazy and he's just really relaxed about it all. I love the contrast. It makes me laugh, and it makes him laugh and that is wonderful. We are having a really great time and I can't wait to share the season with him.

7) You celebrate 10 years of employment in the Motorsport industry this year, what have been the highlights from the last decade?

So many. Too many. I just think I am incredibly lucky to be living the life that I am and to be able to do a job that I love. I'm constantly scared that someone will turn around and tell me it is all over.

I have met some wonderful people and made some incredible friends.

And it is due to the sport that I have my incredible daughter, so for her and for everything else in my world and all the amazing people who have become a part of my life through this insane sport, I will be forever thankful.

8) Looking at the current GP2 season, who is your tip for the title and also who will be the next driver to get an F1 drive?

After just a few races it is too early to say. This will be the longest GP2 championship in history and there are always so many factors that go into creating the perfect season. If you look at last year you'd have said Grosjean would walk the title after the first weekend, but when Filippi moved to Coloni, he outscored Grosjean in the second half of the season. Things can change very quickly. One thing is certain, Dams have a very fast car which is very good on its tyres. Lotus also looks very competitive and I have never seen Luiz Razia look fitter or be more mentally together. Last season I would have said that with Pirelli tyres we would never see a rookie champion again, but Calado and Nasr are impressing me tremendously right now.

If it ends up being a fight between the experienced heads of Valsecchi, Razia, sophomore Gutierrez and rookies Calado and Nasr, then we've got a great season in store. Throw Van der Garde, possibly Coletti and, who knows, maybe even Ericsson into the mix and it'll be even better.

Next for an F1 drive? It all depends where the seats open up. If Perez moves to Ferrari as expected, then I would fully expect that Gutierrez will line up at Sauber in 2013.

9) And now looking up to F1, what do you think of this season? It is alot closer!

This season looks incredible. We've got three or four teams who are genuine contenders at the front, and it all seems to be falling down to tyre management. I'm sure that the three day test in Mugello will help the teams get on top of their tyre issues and moving to Europe with relatively steady temperatures should also help to give us a clearer image. Some people will whine and say that F1 shouldn't be about managing tyres, but I disagree. You have to look after your car, drivers are constantly being asked to change engine maps to look after their power unit, so what almighty commandment is there in the greater concept of what F1 should be that has, "thou shalt be able to abuse thine tyres in any way thou sees fit" written in stone? It is one extra variable to play with and it is a variable I love.

The rules are the same for everyone. The quality of drivers across the grid has never been better. It's time to stop complaining and get racing because, let's face it, can you remember an era this exciting? Those with rose tinted glasses will always hark back to those halcyon days of yore, but I honestly think that we are living through one of the greatest eras in Formula 1 history.

10) Who is your tip for the 2 titles in F1 this year, or is it to difficult to predict?

I predict that one of the drivers and one of the teams currently racing in Formula 1 will win the titles this year.

Honestly, I have no idea. I don't think anyone does. Mugello will give us a few answers, as will Barcelona... but then we have Monaco and Montreal and we're not going to learn much from either of those. Perhaps we'll have an idea by the end of the European season but then we get into random territory with the fly-aways again. If you ask me this question in Brazil, on the grid... I still don't think I'll have an answer. Because if this championship plays out the way we all think and hope it might, we could have 5 or 6 drivers still in contention at the final race.

Thanks to Will for answering my questions, such an interesting read. Completely agree, it is too hard to predict a winner in both GP2 and F1. Follow him on twitter @WillBuxton
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Interview: Will Buxton
Interview: Will Buxton
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1 comment:

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