Day Four of my advent calendar is here. Today’s edition is with motorsport journalist Carrie Mathieson. Covering Formula 1, Formula E and often posting interviews with women in motorsport, Carrie is one of the brightest talents in motor racing journalism.
Taking a look back at her year here on katyfairman.wordpress.com, Carrie discusses her year of travels with the FIA Formula E Championship, as well as her advice for any aspiring journalists who wish to get into motorsport journalism.
Katy Fairman: How did your year start? Do you find that you’re normally quite quiet during the beginning of the year?
Carrie Mathieson: Looking back, this year was a slow burner – though it didn’t feel it at the time! January was incredibly quiet: Formula One was on its winter break and Formula E didn’t return until early February. Most of my time was spent planning for the first half of the year and figuring out if I had the time and budget to achieve what I wanted to. This was a tad tricky, as my goals were vague at best and I was very much figuring things out as I went along.
KF: At the beginning of each year so you set yourself goals that you want to achieve over the next twelve months?
CM: I probably should! Strangely for me, I set myself goals last September, which was only two months after I launched my website/blog. I’d decided to apply for media accreditation for Formula E and get myself out to as many races as possible. For the first three rounds I was reporting remotely, so January was the time to reflect and think, “This is what I want to get out of this year.”
KF: Do you have a good idea of places you would like to visit with motorsport over the year, or is it all normally left rather last minute?
CM: If it’s local, it’s last minute! As I was trying to get to races as cheaply as possible, I was booking as far in advance as I could manage. The only exception is I bought my tickets to this year’s British GP at last year’s British GP…
KF: You found yourself at Long Beach and Paris for the Formula E during April of this year. How did you enjoy the two race weekend? Which was your favourite and why?
CM: Long Beach was by far my favourite race in season two. The paddock was really relaxed and open: fans could pay 25 dollars and go into the paddock as many times as they liked and get up close and personal with the teams and cars. It also helped that it was glorious weather! It was also the ePrix where Sebastien Buemi ran into the back of Robin Frijns, which was an interesting position to be in in my first media pen and the two of them needed to get things off their chest …
Paris had the atmosphere and allure, but it was also the antithesis of the Long Beach ePrix. I spent most of my time in the media centre – and got kicked out of the pit lane. It couldn’t have been more different and the feedback from fans at the track wasn’t positive: I never ventured to the eVillage but it seems Formula E lost the inclusive appeal that won it so many fans. Having said that, I’m looking forward to going back next year and seeing what has changed.
I was gutted to see Long Beach disappear from the calendar. The backdrop was spectacular and they put on an incredible event for fans.
KF: Why does the FIA Formula E Championship appeal to you so much?
CM: I’ve been interested in EV technology for a few years now, ever since my family test drove an electric Mini. When Formula One first introduced the KERS system, I was excited to see that technology filter into our road cars but later felt a trick had been missed.
To see fully-electric vehicles explode onto the world stage and turning a race weekend on it’s head and bringing its own take on a motorsport Championship is incredibly exciting. It’s going to have an incredible impact, and not just by improving EV technology. It’s going to revolutionise the way we see and use transport.
Last but not least, the talent the series can boast is second-to-none, meaning we have incredibly exciting races with lots of on-track action.
KF: Do you have any highlights from your weekends with Formula E this year?
CM: Being on the grid before the start of the Long Beach ePrix was spectacular. It was as close as you could get to the cars and the drivers, and there’s nothing like being stood on the tarmac moments before the start of the race.
I spoke to Antonio Felix da Costa at the very back of the grid, when he was meant to start on pole. As I was walking away I nearly bumped into Sarah Ferguson – slightly embarrassing.
KF: As well as covering Formula 1 and Formula E, you also enjoy writing about women in motorsport. Why?
CM: We know that in order to inspire more women into male-dominated industries, we need to be talking about it more and highlighting the success of those who have already made headway in those industries.
The more exposure women in motorsport get, the more normal it becomes. Hopefully this will then lead to stronger foundations for women coming through the ranks, and sponsors recognising the value in backing female talent in motorsport.
Mostly, these women are just awesome and I really enjoying hearing the amazing things they’ve done!
KF: After Long Beach and Paris you found yourself in Berlin just a month later for more Formula E! Do you have any tips for people wanting to travel with motorsport as a journalist?
CM: Plan ahead as much as you can: the earlier you decide you’re definitely going to go, the easier it will be to do on a budget.
Research both the area around the track and the airport, and find out as much as you can about local transport links before deciding where to stay. Don’t go too overboard, it’s only supposed to be a place to rest your head after a long day! You’ll need somewhere that you can get to the track very early in the morning, and back again late at night.
Take as many chargers as you think you will need, and then throw in two more for good measure. You can also never have enough pens.
Most importantly, just have fun! Push yourself out of your comfort zone and go for it: it will be more rewarding than you’ll ever expect.
KF: What did you do when at these three locations with Formula E during the first few months of the year?
CM: Typically I’d turn up at the track with enough time to grab a coffee (or two) and set myself up in the media centre before the start of the first Free Practice session. This can be more complicated than it sounds: in Hong Kong, half of the room’s extension cables weren’t working and there was a mad panic to find somewhere to plug my laptop in, which only has 20% battery remaining after my flight the day before!
I live-tweet the sessions from the media centre. We have access to both the live feed and the timing screens, where messages from race control pop up before they do on the world feed. This gives you some warning to expect an incident or penalty to appear and get your tweet out quickly.
The qualifying lottery often takes place between the two practice sessions, and it’s often my first foray into the eVillage if I haven’t arrived in time the day before. It’s great to see the drivers all in one place, and a huge reward for those fans who have ventured to the track early in the day. But the real reason I venture down in person is it isn’t broadcast in the media centre and it takes a while for the information to filter through!
Then it’s time for qualifying, and more live tweeting and a quick report. I then split the break before the race between the centre and the eVillage, and seeing what entertainment is on offer for the fans. I also take some time to scope out some of the fan vantage points before heading back to the centre to start building up to the race itself.
Typically, I start to write my race report in the final few laps of the race and get it published before the top three drivers appear in the media centre for the post-race conference. Then it’s a mad dash to the media pen to wait for all the other drivers to appear (and persuade them to come and talk to me!).
I’d then head back to my laptop to transcribe my interviews and get them published, before leaving the track in search of as many carbohydrates as I could find and my bed.
KF: Then came the London ePrix, followed by Silverstone for the British GP. Do you prefer attending racing events as a fan or as media?
CM: This is really tricky! Having been to four ePrixs before the British GP, it was a bit of a relief to be back in the grandstands with my burger and beer in hand. The only Formula E race I’d watched from the stands was Long Beach, and it was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the race unfolding in front of you, rather than through a television.
Having said that, the access for the media – and fans – in Formula E is incredible, and definitely something other series can learn from.
Am I allowed to say a bit of both?
KF: What did you get up to towards the end of this year?
CM: I went to Hong Kong for the launch of Formula E’s third season, then treated myself to some sightseeing. It was my last race of the year I would attend in person, and so I also spent some trying thinking about what I was going to do in the meantime.
I went to Dare to Be Different’s second Community Connect event, which was fantastic. Not only did I get to meet like-minded people with similar goals to myself, I also met some great people who are pursuing engineering and racing. D2BD put on a really great event for us with an inspiring panel, and it was a great opportunity to be inspired and get some advice.
A certain someone also physically shoved me in front of Susie Wolff to thank her for a great event. I had planned to swoop in, say thanks and scuttle away (she was trying to leave) but she spent a good few minutes speaking to me and asking questions. Even after the year I’ve had, I still get easily starstruck!
KF: What have been your highs and lows of the year?
CM: Probably the biggest high was not embarrassing myself in the Formula E paddock!
I really enjoy the adrenaline rush in the media pen: once you’ve caught the attention of a driver and waved them over, you have to quickly think back over their particular race and come up with some questions. I hate asking generic questions like “How was that race for you?”. I’d rather ask about a specific incident or why they had some issues during the race, so some preparation prior to the pen is key to ask the best, most insightful questions!
The lows have definitely been the huge gaps between races, and feeling you’ve nothing to work towards for a considerable period of time: sometimes you begin to question if it was even worth it. But hard work does pay off, and I still believe the best is yet to come.
KF: What has been an important lesson you have learnt from this year?
CM: Perseverance is key. Keep going, keep knocking on doors, and keep speaking to anyone and everyone. You never know who you are sat next to! It’s actually something Susie said to me: you need to get that door open just a little bit, and then work hard to open it further yourself and get to where you want to be.
KF: Any plans for 2017 that you can share?
CM: More of the same! I’m currently planning to go to every ePrix from Monaco onwards. That’s a whopping eight races in six different countries! But more importantly, I’m just going to have fun and enjoy it all as much as possible.