Jennie Gow: "Your contacts book is gold in F1"
Jennie Gow is one of motorsport's most experienced journalists; here she reveals the ins and outs of being a pitlane reporter on a race weekend.
Jennie has become a regular in the F1 paddock ever since she became a permanent part of the BBC's F1 team back in 2013. She has worked in motorsport for well over a decade now, covering various different categories - but it wasn't what she had necessarily planned.
"I originally wanted to be a war correspondent," says the pitlane reporter. "But then I had to cover a car crash and I realised I wasn't cut out for it."
After leaving university, Jennie worked at local radio stations based on England's southern coast. Her first role in motorsport actually came in speedway.
"I was doing the local breakfast show, and we have a tie in with the local speedway, down in Somerset and they asked if I could it", explains Jennie.
"So I went and I loved it! Someone then asked if I could do more motorsport and that's when I knew I loved all motorsport.
"I did watch F1 when I was younger, but anything with an engine, anything that goes fast - it's the speed I think!"
Credit: Jennie Gow
Having such vast experience in the paddock means that Jennie has been to hundreds of race weekends, all around the world. However, some of the busiest days can be the ones where there isn't any on-track action.
"You fly on a Thursday morning, so at the crack of morning get up, get yourself to the airport. You arrive, get a hire car and go straight to the track," says Jennie.
"Thursdays are media days, you spend most of your time ferreting about talking to drivers. A lot of the times are organised, annoyingly these often clash, so as a journalist you have to work out what your priority is.
"We do our preview show Thursday evening. Then you go out, have something to eat and then crash out because you're shattered!"
Things don't ease up as the weekend rolls on. A lot of Jennie's work starts early in the morning, before the cars get onto the track for free practice.
"We get to the track about two hours before a free practice session. You try to get around, speak to as many engineers, journalists and photographers as you can, trying to find out what's going on," says Jennie.
"It's kind of a crazy cat and mouse game, the teams don't often want to tell you what's going on, but you have to try and find it out - so your contacts book is gold in F1.
"Friday mornings usually start at Williams, who traditionally host a Brits breakfast, and the British media are invited to go there and have breakfast with the team - so you spend about ten minutes saying hello to everyone.
"It's then the two (practice) sessions in the pitlane. I'll have my headphones on, walking up and down, listening to commentary with the producer in my ear. You have to try and work out when something's not right, and you can usually feel it as it's unfolding."
Saturdays and Sundays are spent in the paddock and the media pen for Jennie, trying to source stories up and down the grid.
"For qualifying and the race we're not actually allowed in the pitlane. A lot of pitlane reporters base themselves in the pen and wait for drivers who have been eliminated from qualifying or are out of the race - but you never know when they will arrive," describes Jennie.
"I stand in a garage, if there is clearance from the team, or I go to the pitlane walkthrough and try to soak up as much information as I can."
Credit: Jennie Gow
After the chequered flag drops are when things get even busier for Jennie, trying to find out all the important information.
"I have to weigh up where I'm most useful, there is often a scramble to get interviews and there's no order, just PR officers saying who can go next - so it can be a bit of a catfight at times!" says the pitlane reporter.
"You're constantly trying to work out where you should be for the best broadcast. Sometimes I'll be under the podium, maybe in the pitlane if there's a bigger story. The nightmare used to be (Lewis) Hamilton finishing P4, and if you finish fourth you go straight to the pen, so if you've got a Brit on the podium and Lewis fourth, where do you go?"
Jennie has also covered Formula E, rallying and Moto GP. Credit: Jennie Gow.
Being a pitlane reporter in F1 has several perks, with no two days being the same, and the opportunity to travel all over the world.
"There are different things that you take from every race weekend. I'm a people person so I love finding out the stories behind every single person that's at the racetrack, whether they be catering, marketing, drivers, team managers - everyone's got this unique path into F1," says Jennie.
"If I had to pick my favourite track, it would have to be Japan. Suzuka is such a great track, it's a drivers track, it's seen many great moments - and the crowd there are utterly incredible! Plus, the food and culture are amazing, it all creates an amazing atmosphere."
"My favourite moment is my first race in Canada, it was my first race in F1 and it was when Jenson Button won coming from the back, in 2011. I remember standing in the pen during the race and living every moment with Jenson and at the end, half of the people in the pen were cheering and clapping!"
Despite Jennie's role appearing to be luxurious, jetting off around the world, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous - there is one small drawback.
"The travel is one of the best parts but also one of the worst parts. Travelling means a lot of waiting around and you're getting back home crazy late," explains Jennie.
"It's certainly not glamorous, there's a misconception that we are all flying business class and drinking champagne, but that's not the case.
"I'm not complaining about it, but it is a lot of budget flights and awkward airports."
Jennie's career in F1 originally started on television, being the BBC's full-time pitlane reporter from 2012 until 2015, when Channel Four took over the broadcasting rights. Since then, Jennie has worked for BBC Radio Five Live and there are various differences between working for television and radio.
"TV is big budget, lots of people, lots of facilities and a lot of things at your disposal, like manpower and budgets. It takes a lot of people and a lot of time," tells Jennie.
"Whereas radio is minimally staffed and minimally paid. It can take you to the centre of something incredibly quickly. With TV, you have to set up, to get the perfect shot, to have the sound guy there.
"But I could literally on my own go somewhere and broadcast for radio within two seconds of being there and I love that immediacy and intimacy you have with your audience. They don't care what you look like, they don't care where you are, all they care is that they've got you in their ear."
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Jennie has hosted webinars, feature those from across the motorsport media world, providing advice to those wanting to break into the industry.
"You've got to work hard, a lot of people think they'll be able to walk into a paddock and start - and it's just not like that," explains Jenny.
"You need to do your prep, your research, know where you're going with an interview - and be passionate about it. You're going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face and a lot of people saying no, but there are so many opportunities around compared to when I was starting out.
"It's about getting as much experience under your belt as you can and just saying yes to everything."