NBC SPORTS GROUP F1 MONACO GRAND PRIX MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Good morning to those in the U.S. and good afternoon to those in Monaco. Thank you for joining us today for our Monaco Grand Prix conference call.
This is the third year in a row we’ll broadcast the race live on NBC. The first year it was ever done live on network television. NBC Sports’ F1 coverage has grown every year in the ratings and is up 9% so far this year, averaging a remarkable 400,000 plus viewers through five races. Considering that many of those races take place in the middle of night, early morning, pretty great figure.
Joining us today is our motorsports producer Rich O’Connor, play by play F1 voice Leigh Diffey, and analyst David Hobbs. They are on site in Monaco and will take your questions after some opening remarks.
We’ll go to opening remarks. First up is our producer, Rich O’Connor.
RICH O’CONNOR: Thanks, Chris. Thanks, everybody, for joining us this morning and this afternoon, wherever you might be.
I’ve been involved with various forms of motorsports for over 15 years now, have worked the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500. This is my third Monaco Grand Prix.
I remember walking away from the first one we did a couple of years ago. It’s just one of those events that truly lives up to all the hype that goes into it. It’s an amazing scene over here. It goes on for four plus days. It’s just an incredible event. We’re pleased to be a part of it.
What we try and do is we try and give as much sense of place to the telecast, tell the story of the race, because it truly is a very special event.
When you walk around the streets here, walk a lap, it’s pretty incredible what this sport has done on the streets of this small city for a very long time. The history goes on and we’re proud to be a part of it.
LEIGH DIFFEY: Following what Rich said, an amazing buzz here today. We’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. The now two-time World Championship Lewis Hamilton has finally signed a contract to stay at Mercedes Benz AMG. He’s done a three year deal in excess of $100 million. Literally the call just came from the drivers press conference.
Lewis in kind of Hollywood style walked in with a big gold necklace and gold sunglasses, I guess looked like somebody who signed a more than $100 million contract. It was so fitting to have that announcement here in the place where he lives, just the pizazz that surrounds Lewis Hamilton now. That’s one of the many story lines we’ll be bringing you this weekend. Obviously the overwhelming one is his rivalry with his teammate Nico Rosberg who happens to live in the same building as he does here in Monaco. Of course, Nico has his own story going with three wins.
Without going on too long, there’s a lot of excitement that’s so fitting for it all to be happening here in Monaco.
DAVID HOBBS: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for getting some questions for us.
I think Rich said one of the things we want to try to get across in the broadcast is the sense of place. Obviously the racing itself here is quite extraordinary. This track was first raced on in 1929, then after the war in 1950 when the modern day Grand Prix started, they started here, and they’ve had one ever since.
The track is pretty much identical layout to what it was back in 1929. They modified it a bit 20 years ago to go around the new swimming pool. But other than that it’s exactly the same.
I went to a luncheon at the new yacht club today. British Racing Drivers Club had a luncheon there. As I walked back, there’s a row of boats, every one of which must be worth at least $50 million. Just seeing the supplies delivered to those boats for the weekend is quite extraordinary. Boxes and boxes of Moet Chandon champagne, all the best drink in the world you can buy.
This is one of the few tracks, all these people, they can sit on their boat. And if they’re on the tail end of their boat, they are literally 30 feet from the track, one of the fastest parts of the track.
This is a massive party weekend as well as a very important race weekend, and is part of the World Championship, the 2015 World Championship, which is shaping up to be between Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Nico Rosberg. The big question on everyone’s lips is can Nico Rosberg be one of the drivers to win this race three times in a row.
Rich, a production question. Can you give us a little bit of an idea of what your presence is out there in terms of camera, talent for your telecast.
RICH O’CONNOR: I mean, the benefit we have with F1 is that FOM does provide one of the best host feeds that I’ve ever been around in sports broadcasting. I mean, they really know how to tell the story of the race.
We’re very reliant on that and we do benefit from that quite a bit. They do not allow unilateral cameras on course. Pretty much they’re big on once the race begins, staying with their cameras.
We rarely, if ever, have felt the need that we’re not getting the story of the race through them. They do a great job with all their resources and their onboard cameras, their beauty shots. They just do a very good job.
Basically we just support it by being here. We’ve got an incredible set location which is located on top of the harbor, looks back at the city. It just gives a great sense of place. That’s really what we do to enhance the coverage here, is just be a part of the sense of place.
This is a little bit bigger of an on site presence, set and that type of thing, compared to other F1 races. Because of the scale of it, it’s one of your bigger shows, correct?
RICH O’CONNOR: That’s correct. Most events we send Will Buxton to be our reporter on site for each event. He has a dedicated camera with him and a producer. This is one of the three races, Montréal and Austin being the other two, where we bring a full team to site.
David, Leigh and Steve, can each of you speak about the season that Ferrari is having, what that means for the sport and the battle.
LEIGH DIFFEY: I think it’s had a tremendous impact on the team. Their turnaround, we won’t call it overwhelming success just yet, but they have won a Grand Prix this year which is very impressive.
He’s definitely got the magic and certainly has got the team galvanize around him, not excluding Kimi Raikkonen, who has done a very good job so far, as well. It’s just a change. A lot of that change is being driven by James Allison, their technical chief behind the scenes. Last year was one of the most tumultuous years in the team’s history in Formula One. They’ve come out of that this year very well. They continue to be one of our big storylines.
David, Steve and myself talk off air a lot about this. It’s actually been quite enjoyable to have them back in the fray.
DAVID HOBBS: To add to that, Sebastian Vettel, like all great champions, you have to have a bit of the luck on your side. When he said he was going to go to Ferrari, after their very indifferent year last year, I thought he made a terrible mistake.
But he has joined the team just when they’re on a massive rise. Their engine power has gone up substantially this year. The chassis is a lot better. Sebastian Vettel himself is a great motivator. Everybody there loves him. He’s learning the language very quickly which makes the team feel he’s trying very hard for them. Of course, he’s a four time world champion, obviously no slouch.
I think the combination of him and the team are certainly going to have more wins this year because they’ve definitely made up a lot of ground up on the Mercedes.
STEVE MATCHETT: I would echo what the other guys have been saying. James Allison is a brilliant mind, very good technical leader, very good engineer. He also has a very good ability to bond with his drivers and understand in his designs what the drivers need to get the most out of the machinery. Of course, that’s a very rare combination when you get the driver and the team so well bonded together.
The last two great examples, I would say, one is Michael Schumacher, most certainly in his Ferrari days, perhaps more than even his days at Benetton. A lot of the Ferrari engineers, Michaels, were former Benetton guys. And also Senna. I know Senna and Michael work very differently. Senna was also incredibly well bonded with the team. As David just said, that makes a huge difference. In very short periods of time, the team can make big strides.
That certainly seems to be the case of what we’re seeing now in the current guys of Maranello, with Sebastian Vettel, James Allison and the rest of the guys there, working together and making very quick progress.
Just to echo what David has said. Once you’ve got good horsepower in the car, then you can start to put more downforce on the car and power the car through the drag penalty. All of a sudden the Ferrari’s looking much better than it did last year, and the team by extension are really doing extremely well.
They say the Monaco Grand Prix is like nowhere else on earth. Can each of you speak to why this is and also what you hope that viewers take away watching the coverage.
RICH O’CONNOR: First of all, this Sunday is perhaps the greatest day of racing in the world because it starts with Monaco, then the Indianapolis 500 takes place over in Indianapolis, then that night it’s the Coke 600 up in Charlotte. It’s a great day of racing.
I hope that racing fans see what’s different and they see the history that separates Monaco and what it is. I also hope some of the casual sports fans just see immediately that this is certainly a different type of event when you’re racing through city streets like this. Like David said earlier, they’ve been doing for decades.
DAVID HOBBS: From a drivers’ point of view this is a very, very tense weekend because every session counts so much here. Like everywhere, time is scarce. You have three practice sessions, two tomorrow, one on Friday, qualifying on Saturday. Qualifying here is absolutely vital to get right.
The whole weekend from the first light that goes out tomorrow, this is a very, very tense weekend because everybody knows so much counts on how you practice, then obviously qualify.
Having been here since 1929, it’s very narrow, very twisty. The average speed is only 100 miles an hour. When you look at these streets, you think, My God, they go 100 miles an hour. It’s pretty outstanding.
There’s nowhere to go. Everywhere you go, it’s right to the edge of the road. There’s only about two or three runoff areas around the two and a half mile track. It’s a very, very tense weekend for the drivers.
A bit like the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500, this is the one they all really want to win.
LEIGH DIFFEY: The interesting thing is that quite often, and Lewis Hamilton just mentioned in the press conference, “Oh, yeah, it’s Monaco, but at the end of the day it’s just another race.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, it’s Monaco. That means there’s no other race like this. But just every detail about this race is so different. Just getting to the track is a hassle because it’s so tight, it’s so condensed, there’s so many people in such a short area of space.
Everybody wants to be here. So the drivers are overwhelmed and inundated with requests. And there’s guests, family, VIP appearances. The opulence you’re surrounded by each and every day, it’s just crazy. I mean, it borders on crazy. That’s what makes Monaco what it is.
We try and aim to bring that through in our broadcast, just how exceptional this event is. Whether it’s Wimbledon, whether it’s the Super Bowl, whether it’s the Masters at Augusta, these marquee global sporting events are what they are for a very good reason, and hopefully we do a good job of bringing that through in each and every one of our broadcasts this weekend.
STEVE MATCHETT: To give an idea of how special the Monaco race is to the teams and the drivers, for this one off event, the cars are largely built for this one off event. They all feature new aerodynamic packages on the front wing and rear wing to give as many possible downforce to the car. Also one of the special features on the Monaco track is the very tight Lowe’s hairpin, which is certainly the tightest hairpin on the Formula One calendar. So tight, in fact, that the wishbones on the front of the car have to be made exclusively for this one event so the drivers can get sufficient lock on the car to navigate the car around the track.
It would be very easy for the teams to think, “Well, it’s only a one off race, it’s Monaco, we can’t spend huge amounts of money and resources for this one race.” But it is so critical for the drivers and the teams to win this race, not just from the perspective of the fact they want to win it, because it’s Monaco, it’s a difficult race. But, of course, this is the jewel in the Formula One crown as far as sponsorship is concerned. More sponsorship deals are conducted and signed here than at any other event throughout the season.
For many reasons, the teams are I wouldn’t say desperate to win it but they’re extremely keen to come away from this race with that trophy.
Do you think this is Mercedes versus Ferrari or do you think one of the longshot teams might have a chance this weekend?
LEIGH DIFFEY: I think a lot of people are asking that this weekend (laughter). A lot of the engineers, people we’ve already spoken to in the pit lane and paddock here already. Everyone is saying, if there is one of those longshots about to lob in on the podium, this would be the place to do it.
I think there are a lot of good arguments, whether you say this is Williams chance to do it, does Red Bull have anything, does Daniel Ricciardo do something special. The weather is going to be a factor. As we know every year here qualifying is going to be incredibly important.
I don’t think I have a specific answer for you to pinpoint one team, but I think it’s a great opportunity for a variety.
DAVID HOBBS: Somebody that might come good here this weekend, I know that every track is a power track. From the Ste. Devote up to the top of the hill, there’s a pretty steep climb. But you can’t apply the power here the same as you can like you can in two weeks time in Canada.
I think the Red Bulls might go well here. Daniel Ricciardo really is getting to the point where he is feeling he has to get back on the podium. I don’t think Williams, even though they have Mercedes power, will do ultimately terribly well here.
But I certainly think that Red Bull might put up a bit of a surprise here and maybe get on the podium again. Whether they win it, pretty unlikely. I think it’s going to be either the Mercedes or maybe Sebastian Vettel.
STEVE MATCHETT: It’s interesting walking up and down pit lane earlier on talking to engineers about their hopes for the weekend, how many engineers, drivers and mechanics think that this will be their best chance throughout the year to make points because they’re all hoping that their rivals, their competition will make those small errors, which will put the competition out of the race as that long and tortuous race progresses.
As Leigh and David have been describing to you earlier on, it is so tight, winding and tortuous around here, there is no room for error.
We talked about Schumacher earlier on and then Senna. We have seen those guys absolutely dominate at Monaco. But also in sharp contrast to that, we’ve seen (indiscernible) and Senna cap the barrier and be out of the Grand Prix, and Senna absolutely beyond himself to understand how he did that. Also Michael Schumacher doing exactly the same, great world champions. So easy to make an error around here, and there is no make a recovery.
I think those the guys in the mid pack, they are hoping exactly that will happen, that the likes of the two Mercedes guys will be so keen to win this race, there is a possibility of taking each other out. That will also exist between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, that knock on effect.
Again, from a conversation we were having a couple hours ago from the pit lane, most people think, hey, if the competition get it wrong here, we could be the guys to capitalize. But I think everybody is thinking the same thought.
IndyCar, what’s happening there here this week and last week, does that have any spill over in Formula One maybe in terms of how the public perceives motorsports? Do you have to make any accounting for that in your storytelling this weekend?
RICH O’CONNOR: Any form of racing has its dangers. Drivers will tell you that’s part of the sport. What’s going on in Indy this week really won’t carry into our storytelling here just because the cars are so different, racing on a street course here in Monaco is so different. So, no, not specifically in our telecast on Sunday will IndyCar come into our storytelling.
LEIGH DIFFEY: I’ll just jump into the draft of Rich there and say it won’t. Other than us giving a shot out and giving a get well to James Hinchcliffe after his horrendous accident, wishing all of our friends and colleagues well in Indianapolis, and Charlotte for that matter, it won’t creep into our storytelling.
Look, for everybody who watches, everybody who is involved in this sport, we are fully aware, we get reminded in the most graphic fashion as to the inherent dangers of this sport. It’s self policing and it takes care of itself.
Certainly we’re here to focus on the Monaco Grand Prix and tell some wonderful stories about what has gone on this week and what’s happening in that particular moment, as we say, in the grandest Grand Prix of them all. That will be where we’re heading.