Life away from the trackFormula 1 is more than ‘just’ a racing series; the world’s biggest corporations invest millions of dollars in participation in, and sponsorship of, the elite class of motorsport while the international media hang on every twist and turn of the world’s most popular annual sporting soap opera.
The popularity of Formula 1 means there is an insatiable appetite among sponsors and the media, so drivers are made to work almost as hard out of the car as in it. Whether it is activities such as giving interviews, posing for photographs or appearing as guest of honour at sponsor functions, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are kept busy all year round.
At every race Jarno and Timo do their bit to support the Panasonic Toyota Racing marketing and communications department, giving dozens of interviews and appearing at various events. Jarno Trulli knows firsthand how Formula 1’s reach has spread in recent years and, after 11 years in the sport, he believes interest is higher than ever in motorsport’s elite category.
He explains: “In general the media interest has increased. Formula 1 more and more has become an important worldwide event so the media are always very interested in the drivers and in the teams. This is nice because it is increasing our profile so people more and more know about Formula 1 and our work. Driving is the main focus for me but dealing with the media takes a lot of time. They are doing their job and this is part of my job so I do my best.”
But Formula 1 is never routine – it is focused on excellence, pushing the limits and, in particular at Panasonic Toyota Racing, a spirit of challenge, so sometimes Jarno and Timo are asked to do something extraordinary in the name of good publicity.
When Timo started his karting career 10 years ago dreaming of Formula 1, it is a safe bet to assume he was not dreaming of driving a 350kmh race car in downtown Valencia – at night. But that is just what he was doing only a few weeks into his life as a Panasonic Toyota Racing driver, at the city’s spectacular City of Arts and Sciences.
“It was pretty special, I have to say,” says Timo Glock of his work for the team’s annual marketing film. “It was a little bit tricky because it’s tight and slippery and we had to be careful. The track was a mix of everything but the run over the bridge was exciting and I enjoyed driving between the buildings; that was fun. It was enjoyable and a very special event for me.”
One-off projects aside, even when the season is under way, some engagements are more fun than others, as Timo found out in Australia on the eve of his race debut for the team. As the new-boy in the paddock, he received a lot of attention – and in Formula 1, that always means a lot of interviews and photographs.
He was given a crash course in the off-track demands on a driver; countless interviews, training with an Australian Rules football team, visiting a local Toyota plant and trying out a Toyota Auris rally car on a dirt track. It was clear which activity put the biggest smile on his face.
“I am always happy to help but a Grand Prix weekend is very busy so sometimes it can be hard,” Timo says. “I know it’s important for the team so I always do my bit and sometimes I get a nice surprise. Driving the rally car was definitely the most fun – I even went back after the media had left and had another go!”
Of course, there is a serious side and all the time drivers devote to off-track marketing and PR activities, which for Timo in Australia totalled over 10 hours of interviews, photos and appearances, is well spent creating a positive image for the team and its partners.
A Grand Prix driver is a member of a sporting elite so they make the perfect spokespeople for any brand, as President John Howett explains: “They are ambassadors for the team and their role is crucial to how we are perceived by the public. They are people who are followed closely by the public and it is very important they are representing us and our partners in the right way.”
As Formula 1 has become more complex over the decades, so has a driver’s role within a team, with brand spokesman and media personality added to the traditional task list of a Grand Prix racer. “It is still about their driving skill and their raw speed,” says Team Manager Richard Cregan. “But at the same time it has become a big business so the drivers have to be prepared for the media and sponsor side of things. It’s now almost as important as the driving itself.”
For a Formula 1 driver in the 21st century, the pressure to perform on and off the track is higher than ever but the goal remains the same in every aspect: to be the best.