Between the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, I caught up with Sky Sports F1’s pit lane reporter, Ted Kravitz. Having worked on Formula One for two and a half decades, his experience and knowledge of the paddock is near unmatched, and his witty punditry and skilful analysis has made him a favourite with fans across the globe.
His career in sports journalism began covering news and sport on London radio, before making the switch to Formula One in 1996 as a researcher for ITV. When the late Murray Walker retired in 2001, he moved into the pit lane reporter’s role and has stayed there ever since.
For Ted, race days tend to be the most relaxed of those spent at the circuit. “To squeeze more races into the calendar, it’s now only Friday, Saturday and Sunday; Friday has become the busiest as you have production meetings, press conferences and free practise sessions one and two”. On the day itself, he will arrive at the circuit around four hours before going on air, to address plans for the day, but “it all works around the drivers’ availability - we’re here all day!”. Pre-records and the pursuit of stories from Saturday afternoon are followed by preparation for broadcast. “I go between the presentation in preshow and my pitlane role during the race, then into post-show, unlike for example David Croft and Martin Brundle [Sky Sports F1’s commentators] who will only do the race”.
Getting to know the drivers personally is something integral to Ted’s role. “I’ve always made a point of trying to interview everyone on a media day, just to show them that you are interested. If they suddenly become the story, you’ve built a relationship and shown that you care, especially when maybe they’re not particularly newsworthy.”
His role is also something that cannot be done behind a computer screen in the media pen, getting all his information from second-hand online sources which, after being written and uploaded, can be significantly out of date. “The important part is spending the time in the pits and the paddock, trying to accidentally run into people and grab a quick word – you’ll never really learn something if not by talking to the teams and the drivers”.
The relationship between the teams themselves and the media is reciprocal but delicate. “They all want to control what they say – we are the object of people’s attention and every word we say will be printed up and read; of course, they have to be careful. To a certain extent they do want to be talked about.” As a result, is it as much about what is unsaid as what is said, because “if it’s a matter of them wanting to control the narrative and how the story unfolds around their own team, you have to take what they say in that context. You have to ask the questions and interpret what they say and add your own observations”.
Equally, these relationships vary across the grid, with the higher up teams more willing and more able to give things away or put their hands up and admit mistakes. “Mercedes, for example, have won enough, and are successful enough, for them not to have to worry about protecting their reputation and protecting the team bosses’ jobs by admitting they’ve messed up. Alpine however didn’t want to admit to the media that, when Ocon’s sidepods failed in practice in Bahrain, they were running older parts due their reliability problem”.
For the 2022 season, new regulations were brought in that had been originally planned to be implemented in 2021 but delayed due to Covid-19. Specifically designed to enable closer racing between the drivers, the downforce previously lost when following the car in front has been drastically reduced, hopefully improving overtaking opportunities.
Ted admits he was worried at testing when it was rumoured the regulations would have less of an effect on overtaking than had previously been thought, but was more reassured during the race in Bahrain as Verstappen and Leclerc could follow and race. But they’re still up against the one thing that hasn’t changed – “tyre degradation. You only really have one or two chances, before your tyres drop off, and that was a feature of Verstappen’s fight in Bahrain. The balance is almost right but we need a few more races to see. It all seems to be pretty good”.
The biggest story before the season opener though was about Nikita Mazepin, and the termination of his contract after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. “There’s always been a tension around Mazepin after the video of him came out” – Mazepin was filmed sexually assaulting a woman in a car – “and I don’t think many people took to him particularly kindly after that, understandably”. Since his departure from the sport however, “we are starting to get stories from people who used to work with Nikita about how he was a tricky customer and the situation of the team was quite tense”.
It didn’t take long after the Russian invasion for those running to sport to realise Haas’ partnership could not continue. “Gene [Haas, the team owner] essentially got the lawyers to terminate contracts; the team was never going to go out of business, but it will have to rely on its owner to put money in where he wasn’t prepared to in the past, and continue bankrolling it”.
But the biggest disappointment for fans so far this season, in the UK particularly, has been the relative pace of McLaren compared to last year. Daniel Ricciardo remains without points after two races and Lando Norris has only scored six.
But Ted is confident that things will soon begin to look up again. “They looked pretty good at the first test in Barcelona, but went backwards due to the break problem they encountered, cooking their breaks at long distances. They rectified this mistake and now they’re about two weeks before everybody else. I don’t think it’s a bad car but they need to catch up”.
He predicts good things to continue for Haas, whose pace has surprised many fans – it feels like a complete transformation” – but is maybe not so unexpected. “They effectively spent the whole of last year working on the design as they did almost no work on last year’s car. It’s got all sorts of little details which you don’t see anywhere else on the grid. They’ve obviously spent a long time thinking about it”.
At the other end of the grid, the Ferrari team have gone for the chunkier car, and the design gamble is paying off. “They had trialed a design with no side pod about midway through last year – similar to Mercedes’ final design – but decided, no, it’s not for us”. With two very quick drivers in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and having “finally got their engine together, it’s all coinciding at the right time”.
There is lots of excitement about the rookies this season, especially Zhou. “He’s really exciting and I can’t wait for him to really blossom. He’s a nice guy, and as soon as we return to Shanghai, pandemic-allowing, he’ll have a massive following there, which is another great market for the sport”. Although not a rookie to the sport, George Russell might be having a tricky time ate the reigning constructors world champions. “He realised quickly that Hamilton is a fighter and magician who can make things happen in a car that isn’t really up to it, in a way that few people can. I think he felt that during qualifying”. As for the returning Alex Albon, Ted is happy to see him happy and settling in well at Williams. “He’s a kind gentle soul and the hothouse of Red Bull probably was the wrong place for him and I think he’s going to flourish”.
He’s a big fan of Drive to Survive. “I love it! For people who complain about stolen shots or the series not running chronologically as it happened on the track, it’s not for us, the dedicated F1 fans, it’s for anyone who doesn’t really watch F1 too often and wants to know about it. It’s doing what it was designed to do which is to capture primarily a US and the worldwide audience after that and persuade them that all these stories are worth following, it takes a while to get to know these characters and get into their stories and the more you know the more you want to know”. The recent announcement of a race in Las Vegas is a sign of that.
One of the great perks of the job is the travel, and he finds that “any of the places that begin with M are great”. Melbourne, which hosts the Australian Grand Prix, in their autumn brings “a real change of scene”, as does Montreal in Canada; at Monaco “you can get closer to the cars than anywhere else, and pass all these personalities on a walk as everyone is packed into a small space together”. At Monza its heritage is palpable, “with the leaves turning brown on the trees in the European autumn, you can really feel the history around you”, similarly to Mexico, where “the passion of the fans and their real desire for motorsport is infectious and exciting”.
I spoke to Ted before Jeddah, where Max Verstappen hunted down and overtook Leclerc at the close of the race, and he had predicted Max would be the driver to watch out for. His predictions for the season? “I can see what’s going to happen – Ferrari and Red Bull will continue to be strong. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton will keep finishing 3rd, 4th, 5th, consistently, and will come back with a car transformed around the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and be back into contention in the second half of the season with a three-driver shootout between Hamilton, Verstappen and Leclerc”.
As one of the most trusted commentators in the sport, we shall see if his words will come true.
Image: Sky Sports