Travelling the world following the crazy F1 circus, Mark Gallagher has plenty of stories to tell. Having worked with the likes of Jordan, Red Bull and Cosworth, Gallagher now assists BBC and Sky on their broadcasting team as well as being one of the sport’s best public speakers.
Talking part in the ‘My Motorsport Year’ series on my blog, Mark talks about his highs and lows from the year and what his highlights have been from the past twelve months.
Katy Fairman: Firstly, how has 2016 been for you? You seem to be at a racetrack every other weekend and have really excelled in your role with BBC and their F1 broadcasting team.
Mark Gallagher: It’s been an exceptionally busy but rewarding year as Formula One continues to fascinate the corporate clients I work with and no two events or clients are the same. I have spent a large proportion of my career presenting Formula One to corporate clients, including sponsors and partners at Jordan and Red Bull Racing, so my business at Performance Insights is very much an extension of that day-to-day work. Since opting to leave Cosworth in late 2011 I have enjoyed working with broadcast media in F1, since the media is where I started back in the 1980’s, but I have particularly enjoyed the last two seasons assisting BBC 5 Live. This year was a lot of fun; they have a very talented group of people working for them. Also, and not to detract in any way from our friends who work in television, commentating on Formula One on the radio, including the F1 app, is quite a challenge given that you use your words to paint a picture of what is happening. In the end I did 10 Grands Prix this year for the BBC and am ever grateful to the main commentator Jack Nicholls, BBC reporter Andrew Benson and our expert broadcasters in Jennie Gow and Tom Clarkson for making it such a straightforward and yet rich experience.
KF: Do you follow a set plan each year or are you able to be more flexible and take the opportunities when they come?
MG: My business has ongoing contracts with clients as well as one-off opportunities, and through my public speaking I am as likely to be giving a leadership seminar to a group of 20 high level executives in London as I am to be addressing 2000 business people at a conference in Asia. I know what I will be doing for the year ahead, although I intentionally create spare capacity for those clients who inevitably come up with shorter lead-time requirements. As regards media work in Formula One, I usually decide on what I can or cannot take on during the early part of the year, but whatever the case I follow every test and race weekend closely.
KF: What did you get up to during the first few months of the year?
MG: I started the year in Australia as I have a home there, but once I was back in Europe I had a typically busy few weeks with client events which took me to a variety of locations including Malta, Austria, UAE and Denmark. I really enjoy travelling, as my BBC colleagues can confirm since I flew into Grands Prix from some unusual destinations! You won’t often get any complaints from me about airline travel.
KF: At the first round of the Formula 1 Championship this year in Melbourne, who was the team or driver that surprised you most with their performance, either good or bad?
MG: It seems a long time ago! Looking back, no one was surprised that Mercedes continued to dominate although we all commented on the fact that Nico Rosberg had maintained the winning momentum he built at the end of 2015. In my opinion he started to win the 2016 title with those back to back wins in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi last year. Verstappen starting 5th in Albert Park for Toro Rosso further underlined his talent, while I enjoyed seeing both Force Indias in the top 10 in qualifying – I have a soft spot for the Jordan DNA in that team! And in the race? Well it has to be Romain Grosjean taking 6th for Haas. That was epic for them, and I’ll always support a challenger team especially when they are doing something different from everyone else in an effort to upset the status quo. In terms of ‘bad’ I can only say that I have found the McLaren-Honda troubles to be enormously disappointing, and not only for the same reasons fans were frustrated for Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. I know some of the senior people at McLaren and I know how just how passionate they are about their team, and performing well in Formula One. Equally I have worked with Honda on a number of occasions during my career, starting in the 1980’s when I worked directly for Hirotoshi Honda’s Mugen business, and then at Jordan when we had Mugen and subsequently works Honda engines. Honda has racing in its DNA; it is a formidable company. The current programme has struggled from the outset, and the climb back into contention must be an extraordinarily tough experience for everyone concerned. Let’s hope that the arrival of Jost Capito and Zak Brown, two highly capable managers, will ensure a McLaren resurgence.
KF: What did you get up to during the spring and summer of this year?
MG: Between and after the Grands Prix in Bahrain, China and Russia I was busy with my ‘day job’, working with corporate clients and travelling. Two events that stand out were a series of leadership events I conducted in Bahrain and Oman and a client event in Milan. Talking to senior executives about Formula One in cities like Manama and Muscat reminds me how far the sport really has travelled, and you would be surprised how fascinated audiences really are about the inner workings of the sport. The Milan event involved an immersion into virtual reality technologies, and it underlined for me the potential there is in combining the real with the virtual, real sport and e-sport, for motor sport today. I know there are many clever people working on these technologies within racing, but Formula One needs to move faster and lead the way rather than playing catch-up in this respect.
KF: As well as your roles with BBC and Sky, you are also a fantastic public speaker. Have you been able to do much of that this year? Is there a short story or quote that you could share with us that never fails to motivate you?
MG: Speaking to clients and developing content for other speakers is very much my day-to-day work, so as I have said already that keeps me extremely busy and is enormously enjoyable. There is no shortage of motivational stories from Formula One, be it the ability of the great drivers to combine their talent with a strong work ethic, or the achievement of a team such as Williams in turning around their pit stop performances, being the quickest all year and executing a stop in 1.89 seconds in Baku. Senna taking his kart out every time it rained in order to learn how to master driving in the wet is a nice example of the fact that behind every ‘genius’ there is in fact a great deal of hard work which takes place away of the limelight. I suspect Verstappen’s years of pounding around in karts have helped him to write a new chapter in F1 history too.
KF: The last couple of months have been very busy for you too – you’ve been to flying to Japan, Mexico and Brazil with your work. Any highlights from your travels?
MG: A couple that stand out. I often bring Formula One talent into corporate events and develop content around them, but having David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen join me on stage at the Tata Consultancy Services Summit in Berlin back in September was unique. It is very seldom you can get two former team mates to give such an honest and fascinating insight into working together whilst competing against one another. It was quite timely as I get a lot of questions from clients about how you can manage conflict between drivers; something we have seen between Rosberg and Hamilton at Mercedes for example. David and Mika have always been terrific to work with, and I think the fact I have known both for well over 20 years rather helps!
The other moment may seem somehow small, but I happened to give Alex Wurz a lift to the airport after the US Grand Prix and we were joined in the lounge by Paddy Lowe, Andy Cowell and Geoff Willis. I couldn’t help but reflect on their combined achievement, together with their many colleagues at Mercedes F1 in Brackley and Brixworth, in creating the most successful F1 car of all time. Three very unassuming, easy-to-talk-to guys, each an expert in their field, and happy to share in the success we have seen during the hybrid era of F1.
KF: What have been your highs and lows from the year?
MG: Highs included interviewing Arturo Merzario in Monza about his contribution to rescuing Niki Lauda from his fiery Nurburgring accident 40 years ago, and then doing a live interview with Jackie Stewart who was my childhood hero. I have been fortunate to meet Jackie many times, but it was great to have a chat with him live on air and then take time out afterwards to discuss his new charity, Race Against Dementia. That relates to a personal low this year, which has been to witness the effect of alzheimer’s on my father-in-law and his family, so I hope the racing community will support Jackie’s cause as earnestly as possible. Other lows were to see the passing of some people I respected very highly within the Formula One and wider motor sport community, particularly the journalist Alan Henry, ex-Ford boss Martin Leach and McLaren’s Peter Stayner. We should value the people we meet through the sport more highly than we do, because each contributes to making it such a fascinating environment to work in.
KF: Any plans for 2017 that you can share?
MG: I’ll start from Australia once again, have steady work commitments from January onwards, look forward to seeing the shape of F1 testing under the new rules at the end of February and will be in Melbourne for the opening of the season after doing an event with DC in Malaysia in March. I’m doing a safety project in relation to Formula One which will be very interesting, and have been approached to do a documentary which is still at the planning stage. Formula One is ever changing, and the one thing I learned a long time ago is never to plan too far in advance because part of the excitement of being associated with the sport is having the agility to take on new challenges when they present themselves.
Mark is also an author and has his own book, The Business of Winning, which I highly recommend. You can find a link to it on amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0749472723/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_Jpdsyb52W5869