#283, Veteran WSJ reporters debut insiders’ look at Formula 1 failures, successes

James Raia

Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson are colleagues in The Wall Street Journal’s virtual sports department. Clegg, the sports editor, is an Englishman who lives with his family in New York. Robinson is an American based in London. They share global sporting interests, particularly soccer and motorsports.

The duo’s reporting expertise has led to a long collaboration away from daily journalism. They’re now book co-authors for the third time. The most recent effort, published on March 12, is titled “The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses, and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 into the World’s Fastest-Growing Sport.” (Mariner Books, 304 pages, ISBN: 9780063318625; $29.99).

#283, Veteran WSJ reporters debut insiders' look at Formula 1 failures, successes 1

With co-host Bruce Aldrich on vacation, I interview the two writers on this episode of The Weekly Driver Podcast.

The once-faltering circuit is now thriving. With its focus for many years at global venues, except North America, the elite motorsports circuit now has three events in the United States. It debuted in Las Vegas last November in the first year of a 10-year contract, joining U.S. stops in Austin and Miami.

With events also in Canada and Mexico, five of the 24 races this year are scheduled in North America. The 11-month circuit began in late February in Bahrain, and it continues through December 6 in Abu Dhabi. The 20-car circuit will travel to 21 countries on five continents.

“Both of us grew up in Europe with F1 during its first real peak in the late 80s and early 90s,” said Robinson. “We both saw it as it fell away; people got bored. It just didn’t have the same cultural relevance for about 15 years. That really changed in the last five or six years.”

The resurgence was substantially assisted by “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” The documentary series on Netflix debuted in 2019 as a behind-the-scenes look at drivers and races and money. The sixth season debuted in February.

“We thought the time was right to kind of explain the rise, fall and reinvention of a sport,” said Robinson.

Clegg and Robinson also co-authored: “The Club: How the English Premier League Became the Richest, Wildest, Most Disruptive Force in Sports,” and “Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two Goals, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game.”

“We spend a lot of time before we commit a single word to paper or a computer screen,” said Clegg. “We spend a lot of time sort of thinking about the characters and episodes we want to include in the book and the narrative arc we are trying to unpack with the story we are telling.”

What’s detailed is compelling. The authors are veteran reporters, skilled scene-setters and writers who write succinctly about rich subject matter. The cars, teams, and staff require extreme budgets. Drivers are charismatic, fans fanatical, rivalries intense. Races are held in opulent locales among pretty and handsome faces and bling. The sport has emerged from corruption.

Two additional major themes of the book: Red Bull and the energy drink’s billionaire Austrian owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, and Liberty Media, the American company. It purchased F1 in 2016 in a multi-billion-dollar deal.

Mateschitz infiltrated the sport quickly and retains supremacy in Formula 1 unlike any other brand in sport, according to Clegg.

Liberty Media drastically changed how the sport is presented. It rebranded the logo, modernized marketing and emphasized streaming broadcasts.

For years lapped by the popularity of other motorsports, the authors present F1 as the “world’s fastest-growing sport.”

“I think we realized pretty early on that the one through line that can be traced back from the very beginning of F1 in the early 1950s right through to its current present-day success as a sort of global entertainment monster and streaming property is that this is a sport that has been defined by reinvention,” said Clegg.

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Article Last Updated: March 13, 2024.

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