Interview, Women In Motorsport

What Do F1 Presenters Really Do? with Rachel Brookes

Hi, everyone! Today I have an exciting post for you all – an interview with the marvellous Rachel Brookes! While Rachel holds a few roles at Sky, her primary position is as a presenter for Sky Sports F1. Along with that, this year, she’s taken up commentating on the first F1 free practice session. This article is the first in a new series I’ll be doing on On The Pit Wall, where I focus on what jobs in F1 really entail. So, without further ado, here’s ‘What Do F1 Presenters Really Do? with Rachel Brookes’.

Hi, Rachel! Thanks so much for joining me! I’m curious to know – what is your relationship like with the teams and drivers?

“It’s a very nice spot to work in for that, because there are only 20 drivers and 10 teams. So it’s not like football where you have league after league – 20 teams in each league, and 11 players in a team – goodness knows how many in each squad. F1 is a really small, confined environment. Everyone talks about Formula 1 being a family and it really is. If a team has an awful weekend or something bad happens, everyone feels it. F1 is a very unique environment, but it’s great and I really, really enjoy it. You get to know the teams, you get to know the drivers, you sit on planes with them – we used to anyway before COVID. I mean, you could get on your flight and end up sitting next to one of the drivers and have a good old chat about the weekend or how their kids are growing up fast, whatever it is. You get some really lovely relationships and friendships out of it. It’s quite different to any other sport.”

Definitely. And on a race weekend, which day do you usually fly out to the track?

“Wednesday, usually at the moment, because of COVID. We’re all on charter flights. But it can vary. It depends. . . I might fly on a Tuesday and then record a piece in the city where the race is on the Wednesday, and get to the track on the Thursday. But yeah, this year it’s Wednesdays.”

What are the few days leading up to the race like for you?

“Well, Wednesday, you’ll usually get to the hotel about six or seven o’clock in the evening. So that’s a quick dinner, bed, and then we’re up early on Thursday to go to the track. On Thursday, we have a big production meeting in the morning, go through what’s happening over the weekend, we’ll have interviews to do. So I’ll probably have a couple of driver interviews to do – the long form sit downs [these interviews are usually about 20 minutes long]. Then we have the F1 show on Thursday evening. During Friday, we start the day on track because of the practice sessions. We don’t have any downtime at all, really. When we arrive, we land, eat, sleep, and then that’s it. We hit the ground running.”

Wow. We only really see you on TV presenting, but how much of your job is prepping, finding information and planning questions?

“If I’m flying to a race on a Wednesday, I will pretty much spend all of Monday and Tuesday, doing prep. So, especially for commentary now, you want to make sure that you have something to say about every single driver and team. And then if that driver is on screen at the time, I’ve got something to say about them. There’s also other topics so that if there’s a general discussion – say you get a red flag in a practice session – you’ll use that information. As well as that, I’ll have set questions for the drivers. So if I’m doing an interview with a certain driver, I will spend time writing up a lot of questions for them. One thing I’ve tried to do this year, more than ever before, is not have notes with me during interviews. I sit down with a driver for 20 minutes, and it’s quite a scary thought to think you’ve got no notes in your hand and nothing to refer to. But I think it gives you a better interview because you listen more to what they’re saying, rather than looking down to see what you’re asking next. I’ve tried to do that this year. But it involves more prep as well, because you need to memorize the points you want to make sure you get.”

Brilliant. As you said, all that hard work pays off in the form of a more impactful and meaningful interview. With almost 10 years of presenting experience at Sky, what is some of the best advice you can give about presenting and interviewing?

“Listening – listening is the biggest thing. You should always go into an interview, knowing what you want to get out of it. Whether that’s wanting a driver to tell you a story about an incident that happened on track and their view of it, or wanting them to open up about, you know, just what it’s like in their world. That’s important, but also be prepared to listen and be prepared for whatever they say – it could take you in a completely different direction. So with the best will in the world, you might think I’ve got a great list of questions here. However, you might only get to use two or three of those because it goes off in a different direction. Just be flexible, and listen to their answers. Sometimes the drivers will plant something in an answer to see if you’re listening. Because they’ve got a point they want to get out. And it’s really, really important that you pick up on that point and manage to get it out of them. That’s what makes a better interview.”

Thank you, Rachel, for your time and great advice! All your work for women in motorsport is truly inspiring to young girls like myself. 

Rachel is a Girls On Track UK Ambassador. For the full list of ambassadors, click here. For my interview with fellow Girls On Track UK Ambassador Lee McKenzie, click here

All pictures are from Rachel’s Instagram and credited to her.

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