This year, ‘Crofty’ will cover his 14th Formula 1 season to-date, a gruelling schedule that will take him from Australia to the Middle East to Asia to Europe (multiple times) and to North America with an audience of millions just a five-red light countdown away across 21 different weekends. How on earth does he do it? The man himself gives us some helpful hints
Just consider, for a second, how much travel time is required for a full 21-race Formula 1 season. Having started the season, as is traditional, at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, the F1 circus then heads Gulf-wards two weeks later for the Bahrain Grand Prix, an event followed in quick succession by sojourns to China, Azerbaijan, Spain, Monaco, Canada and France. Even without the return legs home in-between, that’s almost four full days on a plane right there, and we’re only one-third into the season at this point.
One of the thousands currently gearing up to explode their Fitbits is David Croft, Sky Sport’s lead F1 commentator and one of the sport’s most recognisable voices since his first Formula 1 gig at Bahrain in 2006. The season opener is still a couple of weeks away, but his schedule is already vacuum-packed. Indeed, when this particular writer manages to grab a few quick words with F1’s other ‘DC’ at the Racing Point F1 car launch in Ontario, he’s only on Toronto terra firma for two days before jetting off again for pre-season F1 testing in Barcelona. Just thinking about that gives this particular writer a nosebleed.
How on earth does he do it? How does ‘Crofty’, as he’s known, go through this almost sarcastically hectic schedule year after year? Fortunately for us, and with his almost tangible enthusiasm showing no signs of sagging beneath the weight of what much be extraordinary jetlag, he has a few tips for any budding commentators out there.
1. Don’t worry about travelling, because you don’t have time to stand still.
Taking that opening third of the season as read, the European leg from 21-23 June onwards is where things start to get really hectic. One week on from the French Grand Prix, teams, etc, will be at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, at Silverstone two weeks after that, and at Hockenheim in Germany a fortnight after that before they’re back on the road again for the Hungarian Grand Prix the following weekend. That’s five races in five different countries in just under a month and a half. It sounds exhausting…
“It flies by, to be honest,” explains a chipper Crofty. “I mean, where are we now, later February, and sooner or later it’ll be 1st December, and it’ll only feel like a couple of weeks have gone by. And that’s it, another season over! You don’t get time in Formula 1 to really take in the pace of it all because you’re too busy living that pace.”
So, ironically, does the hectic schedule actually work in Crofty’s favour?
“Yeah it does. The sport doesn’t stand still, so teams don’t stand still, so we don’t stand still, and so we’re always on the move. But we’re on the move because we love it and we love being part of this sport. This is my 14th season of F1 and it still feels like my first!”
2. Do your homework!
Compare, if you will, the first F1 season Crofty covered live for the BBC with the race at Albert Park just around the corner. The Red Bull Racing RB8 meanwhile with which Sebastian Vettel claimed 2nd place at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix featured a 2.4-litre V8 producing ‘around 750bhp’, a high and narrow rear wing, and the God-awful ‘stepped’ nose, a consequence of the FIA reducing the assembly’s maximum height. The Ferrari SF70H with which the four-time champion won last year’s opening race meanwhile was powered by a hybrid 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 that produced ‘in excess of 950hp’, weighed almost 90kg more than its ’12 equivalent, was wider, lower and longer, and introduced the HALO to the world. That, to put it very lightly, is just scratching the surface of how quickly motorsport’s top tier changes season by season, and we haven’t even broached the knee-buckling complexity that is Pirelli’s tyre compounds.
Development never stops, and nor, consequently, does preparation.
“We’re on the move because we love it and we love being part of this sport. This is my 14th season of F1 and it still feels like my first!”
“For this job, I’ve put more homework than I ever put into revising for my exams while I was at school. Which means I’ve learnt my lessons, because I didn’t pass many exams while I was at school!
“I start at least two days of prep before every race, to compile my notes, but you never stop researching. On the way to airport, I’ll go online and see what’s been happening while I’ve been packing that morning. I’ll wake up tomorrow and check the news before I go to work. You’re just constantly reading and researching because, sooner or later, something you’ve read will crop up in a conversation and you’ll be able to refer to it. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as they say.
“But, reading and researching about something I love doesn’t seem like the hardest chore I’ll ever have to do in my life, and it sure beats having to put the [vacuum] around when my other half says it’s time to do the housework!”
3. Learn how to ‘tell a story’.
No, not THE story. Those of us sitting at home can see that Last Name is currently leading Last Name by seven seconds with 20 laps to go (just Google it), but what’s going on behind the scenes? Just how much life is in the prime tyre, how long will Kevin Magnussen push his first stint during this race, and when will Kimi start asking whether or not his drink bottle is connected?
These are the stories only the commentary team can provide…
“I love being the man that can bring the drama, the excitement, the sexiness the glamour, to people that have invited us into their lives wherever they’re watching us. Be it at home, or a bar, or on the move with various tablets, we’re just trying to bring out all the fun of a race, every single second.
“And that means, you’ve got to understand the stories. That’s where all the prep comes in. That’s where all the research counts, and that’s why you talk to a lot of people throughout the racing weekend to better understand what may or may not happen, and it might. Once the race has started, you’ve done the hard work. Now you just have to convey it in an approachable style.
“We don’t tell people what’s going to happen. We fill in the blanks when things happening so people can understand why things are happening the way they are.”
4. Remember, there’s ALWAYS something to talk about.
Forget the absolutely knackering amount of travel involved with F1 coverage, a processional race and a two-hour time slot that contractually has to be filled must surely be any broadcaster’s poisoned chalice. How exactly does one enthral the millions listening and/or watching at home when there’s only one overtake during an entire race (Russia, 2017), when a run-away champion dominates the majority of a season (2004 and 2013), or when a circuit’s outdated configuration makes overtaking next to impossible ([cough] Monaco [cough]).
All irrelevant, apparently. If you’ve done your homework – see point 3 – and have a good team around you, there’s always something to talk about. Always.
“I love being the man that can bring the drama, the excitement, the sexiness the glamour, to people that have invited us into their lives.”
“I don’t believe for one second that there isn’t something to talk about.
“But to be honest, you don’t really think about that. Martin Brundle and myself and Paul di Resta or Anthony Davidson at Sky Race Control or the guys down in the pitlane, we’re a team, and one way or another, we’re always having a conversation. Not an exclusive conversation either, because we draw the audience in as well.
“Yes, some races are less exciting than others, you can’t run away from that. But the pictures are there. We just need to fill in the blanks that the pictures can’t tell you. In 14 seasons, for TV and radio, I can’t remember a time when I’ve thought, ‘blimey, we don’t have anything to talk about!’ ”
5. Enjoy yourself.
If there’s something this conversation should have demonstrated so far, it’s that David Croft truly enjoys his work. Indeed, one of the reasons he was offered the Sky Sports gig for 2012 in the first place – at a bar in Las Vegas at 1am, rather bizarrely – is the almost tangible enthusiasm that’s shone through his work covering F1, football and darts in the UK for both Sky Sports and BBC’s Radio 5 Live before that.
It’s an enthusiasm that taken him to his favourite circuits – “Silverstone I love, for the buzz, for the atmosphere, and for the fact that British fans are the best on the planet” – seen him cover some exceptionable races – “Bahrain 2014, where Lewis [Hamilton] and Nico [Rosberg] just went at it and at it and at it” – and even culminated with a test drive in a Grand Prix-winning Lotus E20 at Paul Ricard in 2014 (more research, honest!). Unsurprisingly, despite 13 years of F1 having already pass beneath his well-worn moccasins, Crofty has no plans to hang up the microphone any time soon.
“In 14 seasons, for TV and radio, I can’t remember a time when I’ve thought, ‘blimey, we don’t have anything to talk about!’ ”
“I bloomin’ hope not! I don’t want to hang up the microphone while I’m still loving what I do.
“I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m paid to cover a sport I love with people who are mates and who I get on with really well, for a company that puts its heart and soul into making sports coverage as good as it could possibly be. What is there not to love about that?”
So there we are, it’s as simple as that.
Simple as that then, eh? Turns out all you need to become a professional and dedicated commentator for every Formula 1 race is speak to anyone and everyone involved in the sport that you can, never stop researching, tell a story that plugs the gaps for millions watching, live, around the world, regardless of how entertaining the race is, and repeat this almost two dozen times across 21 different countries in a little under seven months.
Here comes that nosebleed again…
*Images courtesy of David Croft Media Ltd, @ausgrandprix (Facebook), and @SilverstoneCircuits