Google+ Jack Leslie F1: Interview: Kate Walker

9 April 2012

Interview: Kate Walker

Becoming an F1 Journalist takes alot of work. Someone who knows all about that is Kate Walker. Kate is a freelance journalist who is relatively new to the F1 world after only becoming a fan in 2007. However she was hooked from the get go and this season, for the first time, is flying all around the world covering the sport she loves.

Kate talks to me about the struggles she has faced as she entered the world of F1 writing and journalism, some of her highlights and explaining the journey she took to get there. If you want to become an F1 writer (like me) or journalist then this is a must read.

Click "read more" below to see the full interview.

1) First things 1st, when did you first experience F1? Was it on TV, at the circuit? Was it love at first sight?

I got into Formula 1 pretty late in life – I was 26 or 27 and going out with a guy who was into the sport. I used to slag it off as being cars going round in circles for hours on end, and he made me sit down and watch a race so I could have an informed opinion. It was 2007, and I found myself gripped by the performances on track and the drama behind the scenes – the combination of competition, politics, technology, and history (plus a bit of soap opera on the side) ticked a lot of boxes for me. I got so into it that I ended up waking up to watch all the practice sessions my boyfriend couldn’t be bothered with, and then it got to the point where I was boring him with my obsession. I didn’t actually attend a race as a fan until after my first race as an accredited journalist, so I fell in love with the sport entirely through the TV.

2) What made you decide to become an F1 Journalist?

At around the same sort of time as I was falling in love with F1, I moved jobs to a new role that I hated. It wasn’t anything like described, and I was miserable and bored out of my skull. So my interest in F1 got obsessive, and I decided to investigate whether there was a way in. It seemed perfect for me – a multilingual, international, high pressure, working environment was exactly what I’d been looking for. My original plan was to try and get some sort of junior press officer role with one of the teams, but none of them were interested, so I decided to fall back on my journalism skills and get in that way.

3) Could you give some advice for aspiring journalists (like me) on taking those 1st steps?

I’m not really the best person to give advice, as I took a peculiar route in that I wouldn’t really recommend anyone else copy, but there are two things you should be doing. First, write as much as possible. Write for your own blog/site, and do guests pieces for other sites. Pitch articles to your local newspaper, or to specialist publications. The second is to save money wherever you can. It may well be that you can get accreditation but not financing, so you’ll have to pay your own way to races. And if you get that kind of opportunity, you don’t want to pass it up. So save money and write loads!

4) How did you make your way up to becoming an F1 Journalist, what was your journey?

I had a background in (non-sports) journalism and new media, but had returned to publishing, which was the industry I was in when I moved to the job I hated so much I started fantasising about F1 as a means of escape. I’d already been rejected or ignored by all the teams when I sent in applications to work in their press offices, so I started trying to get accreditation as a freelancer. It was a long and complex process that involved being rejected by various websites and turned down by the FIA a couple of times, but eventually I found GirlRacer and we were able to get accreditation together. They weren’t able to pay me, or fund my travel, so I’ve been using my savings to pay for races. It’s only this season that I’m earning enough through my freelancing that I’ll break even, and I owe my savings account A LOT of money. As I said, it was an unusual route in. I was lucky to already have a background in journalism and experience in writing on the web, and I didn’t mind offering my services for free. It’s highly likely that you’ll spend the first couple of years writing for free (or nearly free), while you make a name for yourself, which is why having a healthy savings account (see above) so important. Unless, of course, you manage to get a paid job with a publication that also pays your expenses, in which case lucky you!

5) Looking at your job, are there any negative points?

Of course! It’s very expensive to cover all the races, which is painful as a freelancer. Lots of long haul flights in economy lead to a crunchy spine. Daily pre-dawn alarm calls after only two or three hours’ sleep. But all of that becomes irrelevant once you get to the paddock and feel the energy, smell that combination of bacon, rubber, and motor oil, and hear the cars powering up. It’s better than worth it.

6) Are there any stand out experiences you have had in the F1 circus?

There’s a stand-out experience at every race that makes me want to pinch myself to make sure this is my real life and not a dream. One of the best things recently was my first gridwalk, which I did at the Australian Grand Prix. This season is the first time I’ve had grid and pitlane access (I was restricted to the paddock before), and it was incredible to stand there at the end of the grid and have all of the cars pass me on the way to their spots. Lots of the stand-out experiences are just those moments you have, where everything’s perfect but you can’t quite explain it. I love standing on media centre balconies during sessions, watching the buzz of the paddock below and hearing the cars zooming around the track.

7) Looking back at the first 2 races of 2012, what were your thoughts? Who is at the front, it is quite hard to tell?

I think it’s clear that McLaren are at the front for the moment, even though they failed to perform as expected in the wet in Sepang. But we’ve only had two races, and with the return of in-season testing this year it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a completely new league table when the European leg of the season starts in Barcelona. I think we’ve had a great start to the season in terms of action on track – both Melbourne and Sepang were exciting races to watch, and I’m hoping that 2012 will only get better the closer we get to the title.

8) Do you have any predictions for the next race, or maybe the titles?

China should be an interesting race. Given that Sepang was so wet and Melbourne so different, I’d hesitate to make any firm predictions. But McLaren look strong at the moment, and won in Shanghai in 2011 and 2010, so I’d be surprised if they weren’t up there.

9) As an F1 fan, do you have a favourite driver or team?

I do, but I need to be as impartial as I can, so I won’t admit to who they are. Historically, though, my favourites (in no particular order) are Gilles Villeneuve, Ayrton Senna, Jean-Manuel Fangio, and Francois Cevert.

10) Finally, what is the race you are looking forward to going to next?

I always look forward to the next race on the calendar, wherever it is, as I love being on the road. When it comes to particular favourites, there are a lot on the current calendar that I love. In calendar order: Montreal, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Singapore, Japan, Interlagos. And I’m looking forward to Austin and India, both of which will be new to me thanks to visa issues last season.

Thanks to Kate for answering my questions. It has been really insightful to see her advice and the journey she took, which is different to what mine has been so far.

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