The very first time that Louise Goodman stepped into the Formula 1 paddock was at the 1988 Mexican Grand Prix. Working in PR on a job for F1 sponsor Camel, she perhaps didn’t realise that these first forays would launch her into a varied and hugely successful career in motorsport that has lasted for over 20 years.
Her skills were in high demand, and before long she was working as a Press Officer for the Leyton House Team and then later as the Head of Communications with the Jordan team, while also managing the PR duties for an assortment of drivers.
While working for Jordan, she received an approach to join ITV’s new F1 production crew, with the network having secured the broadcasting rights from the BBC from 1997 onwards.
And so began a stint as the sport’s ‘First Lady’: the prime pit lane reporter and the ‘go to’ individual with a microphone for all drivers up and down the grid.
“Louise always gets her man,” became one of Murray Walker’s catch cries, and she stayed with the network for over ten years, perfecting her craft and earning plenty of accolades for the rapport she built with the sport’s stars.
At the end of 2007, she left her post when F1 returned to the BBC and she now enjoys a full-time role co-presenting the British Touring Car Championship as well as heading up her own media training organisation.
Being a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry has never been an obstacle for Louise, who has always stood by the principle that its your skills that do the talking, first and foremost. And in many respects, she has blazed a trail for other women – including her replacement, Lee McKenzie – to follow.
Outside of journalism, Louise is also a mad-keen racer, and has sampled a variety of machinery including open-wheelers, tin-tops and rally cars.
Louise graciously accepted our interview request and amid her hectic schedule, she’s given us a truly brilliant interview where every aspect of her fascinating career is discussed. Read how she got involved in motorsport, which drivers gave her hell as a Press Officer, and what Eddie Jordan was like as a boss. Find out about working with the great Murray Walker and being the first woman to ever participate in a Formula 1 pit stop. She also discusses nearly having her head taken off by Nigel Mansell, and the tragic death of her partner John Walton, who was Minardi’s Sporting Director.
It is a wonderful interview and we extend our sincerest thanks to Louise for her time and support in making this interview possible.
Despite your love of cars, a career in motorsport wasn’t exactly on your horizon when you entered the workforce at an architectural firm. How did your career as a journalist begin?
It was by chance really. I was staying with some English friends out in the US who were very much involved in the offshore powerboat racing business. The editor of a specialist magazine called Powerboat & Waterskiing came out to stay too to cover the World Offshore Powerboat Championships in Key West, Florida, and I went along for the ride as her unpaid assistant. That led to a job offer when I got home to the UK. I stated out as an editorial assistant and after three years there I was editing the magazine. It was a great opportunity to learn about the business of journalism ‘on the job’ and I got to indulge my love of travel too as I covered circuit powerboat races all around Europe for the magazine.
Your first visit to the Formula 1 paddock was at the 1988 Mexican Grand Prix as a PR rep for Lotus’ sponsor, Camel. What were your first impressions of the Formula 1 paddock and the weekend overall?
Starting out as a Press Officer in 1988, Louise went on to become one of the most well-known women in Formula 1 as an acclaimed pit lane reporter.
I remember feeling very much like the new kid at school … and it also felt like I’d walked into a boys’ school by mistake as women were few and far between in the paddock back then.
It was quite a daunting experience and I was very nervous about approaching the drivers and asking them for quotes but I was determined to make a good impression and be taken seriously by all the guys on the team.
You also worked in media relations for a host of Formula 1 drivers. What were some of the demands, challenges and rewards of the role?
Racing drivers aren’t always the easiest guys to work with. They can be demanding, self centred and strong willed … those are some of the attributes that are vital for a successful racing driver to possess. As their Press Officer you need to pick your moment and know when to sweet talk them gently, when to bully them into submission and when to back off completely. They are generally interesting characters though and I think I had a good relationship with all of the drivers I worked with over the years I was a Press Officer. They all presented different challenges though.
Rubens Barrichello was always late so I used to tell him things started half an hour before they did so that he’d turn up on time. Eddie Irvine was like a naughty schoolboy… great fun but you had to keep an eye on him and get him out of scrapes occasionally … and iron his shirts! (He’d happily turn up to official functions looking like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards otherwise). Martin Brundle was one of the last drivers I worked with before I moved into television and that was a breeze. He’d turn up on time, wearing the right gear and say the right things to all the right people. It was like I’d finally got to work with a grown up after years of babysitting children!
You’ve also worked for a few teams in F1, most notably as a Press Officer for Leyton House and the Head of Communications at Jordan. Both roles would have been particularly challenging in their day, although the technological advances would have seen the job descriptions for each shift enormously. Can you describe a typical day as a Press Officer in the F1 paddock?
The job has changed a lot since I last did it back in the 1990s – and even then it varied depending on the team you were working with and the amount of interest that team generated. A lot of my work was done outside the paddock, coming up with interesting ideas for features and approaching different media with story ideas alongside managing the media requirements of our sponsors and partners.
At the races it was far more routine – dealing with enquiries from journalists who were at the event, issuing press releases at the end of each day and managing interview schedule for the drivers and key team personnel.
What is it like to work for Eddie Jordan and be Head of Communications for the team?
It was never dull that’s for sure! Actually Eddie was a great boss. I had five very happy years with the team and he’s still a good mate to this day. When I was working for him he pretty much left me to get on with everything without too much interference which made my life easier. And he always enjoyed being centre stage so it was never difficult to get him involved in media and press work!
Most teams draw their personality from the boss and that was very much the case at Jordan. We were the rebel outfit in the pit lane so that gave me plenty of scope to play with on the media front and the camaraderie at the team was great. We worked hard together but we played hard together too. Just how it should be.
It was while working with Jordan that you were approached for a role with ITV. How did the opportunity to work for ITV come about, and what were your initials impressions/misgivings about the role they were proposing?
When ITV announced they were taking over the contract from the BBC, the work of producing the shows was put out to tender and a number of different production companies put in bids to get the contract. I was approached by one of those production companies as they had a couple of people on-board who already who knew me and knew what I could bring to the team.
They were James Allen, who had been a fellow press officer for a few years before moving into TV, and a guy from our local TV station at Jordan Grand Prix – a guy called Kevin Piper. It was basically James and Kevin who put me forward as they knew I had a good knowledge of the sport and lots of contacts in the paddock.
My initial misgiving was the simple but fairly important fact that I had virtually zero TV experience! However, I reckoned it couldn’t be that difficult … I knew what to ask and when to ask it and, most importantly, I got lots of encouragement from people in the paddock so I knew I’d have plenty of help. It just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Murray Walker many years ago and I remember being completely overawed in his presence. What was it like to have your introduction with the voice of Formula 1?
Murray’s just the loveliest guy you could wish to meet. Right from the start, back when I was a press officer, he was always a pleasure to deal with. Polite, charming and very down to earth. When I moved from Leyton House to become the Head of Communications at Jordan, Murray sent me a lovely handwritten letter wishing me well and saying how pleased he’d been to hear that I’d got the job and how he hoped I’d be very happy there. It was totally uncalled for but very much appreciated.
So, we’d always got on well but it was fabulous to get the opportunity to work so closely with him at ITV. It was like travelling around the world with your favourite uncle. He’d tell us amazing stories about his life from his early days watching his father Graham racing at the TT to his work in the advertising world at one of the big London agencies … and that’s before you get to all the great stories about his years of covering Formula One.
Your role saw you produce and deliver countless behind-the-scenes presentations and spot pieces for the viewing public, in addition to many driver interviews during and between practice sessions, qualifying and the race. At times, you’re dealing with drivers at the height of their emotions (particularly after a race retirement) – have there been any particularly uncomfortable moments during interviews?
A few guys were a bit short with me over the years but I never took it personally as it was never intended that way. I think it helped that I’d seen it from the other side having worked with lots of drivers as a press officer, so I knew how to handle them and maybe how to phrase a difficult question like “Why did you just spin off the track when everybody else seemed to get round the corner OK?” with a bit of tact!
You became the first woman to participate in a Formula 1 pit stop, when you the joined the Force India team at the 2006 British Grand Prix. What was your role in the pit crew and can you talk us through the pit stop itself, and the emotions you felt before and after?
I was ‘rear left wheel off’ so basically my job was to pull the wheel off the hub as soon as the guy on the wheel gun had taken the nut off. It was such a thrill – and I was incredibly grateful to the Force India team for allowing me the opportunity. They put a lot of faith in me as the smallest mistake could have cost them dear. I took part in quite a few training sessions and had to prove to the team that I was capable of doing the job before they would let me join them in the pit lane during the actual race. Thankfully I passed the test because it was an experience not to be missed. A real buzz. It only lasted a few seconds but I can still remember the anticipation as the car came hurtling down the pit lane towards me – not to mention the nervousness that I might cock it all up! Luckily for me and the team, everything went smoothly.
When ITV’s coverage rights for Formula 1 came to an end at the end of the 2008 season, what opportunities were open to you to continue working in the F1 paddock, or was the timing perhaps appropriate to explore other opportunities?
I’ve always been a believer in taking life as it comes so when ITV decided to hand over the rights for the F1 it seemed like an opportunity to look in other directions. ITV offered me job working on their coverage of the British Touring Car Championship which has been a really interesting challenge from a professional perspective. We show pretty much the whole race package at each round live – including the support races – so it’s a long full-on day of live television.
I spend a lot more time presenting the programmes now (and a lot less time hanging around waiting for F1 drivers to come out of briefings for their interview slots!) I’ve also set up my own Media Training company which is going well and keeping me busy and I still work at five or six Grands Prix each year too, sometimes working on TV shows and sometimes hosting at corporate events. It’s quite nice to have the variety and I can’t say I miss travelling to all the Grand Prix. I just pick the nice ones to go to now!
Aside from your skills behind the microphone, you’ve also dabbled in quite a bit of action behind the wheel as well. You have been an enthusiastic karter, but your maiden motorsport outing was as a navigator for Tony Jardine at the 1997 Winter Rally in Bournemouth. What was this experience like for you?
It was great fun. Tony’s regular navigator couldn’t make the event so I was drafted in, given a crash course in rally navigation over a few beers in the pub one night, and then we headed down to the event. I thought I might be a bit nervous at first but, I loved it from the off. As Tony will testify, I was giving him grief for driving like a Jessie by about the third stage of the day!!
You’ve also contested events as the driver, with your first outing being the inaugural Rally Sprint event at Silverstone, and you’ve also contested in many circuit and off-road events as well. Can you tell us briefly about some of these experiences?
I’ve done a handful of circuit races – basically whenever somebody offered me a car to drive – and whilst I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every opportunity I’ve never had much tuition in a race car so my enthusiasm rather outweighs my abilities! After my experiences as a co-driver for Tony I was offered a drive in a few rounds of the Ford KA Championship so I went to the Bill Gwynne Rally School for some tuition and loved it from the off. You get a lot more time in the car on a rally than you do in a race – generally a whole day with loads of stages rather than an hour of practise sessions, twenty minutes of qualifying and then wham bam into the race. I love driving so I’ll have a go in anything but rallying is definitely my first love when it comes to getting behind the wheel.
You achieved third in class at the 1999 Rally of Britain with none other than our good friend Maurice Hamilton. What was it like to compete at an International-level event?
It was an amazing experience … and finishing third in our class and collecting a trophy when we finally make it to the finish ramp and the end of three long days, was the icing on the cake. I’d been rallying for about three years by this point so had enough experience to be able to really make the most of the opportunity. It was bloody tough – mentally as well as physically – but it was brilliant fun.
There aren’t many events where rank amateurs can compete on the same stage as world class professionals and most of the rallies I’d done up until then had probably had a few thousand people watching, so it was something else to see all the crowds and to tackle some amazing stages at the same time. We had a very memorable run back home at the end of Day 2; one of the midfield runners had a big crash so the final couple of stages were cancelled for those of us in the smaller classes running at the back of the field. That meant that we on the road home about half an hour before the big names were due to come through so the streets were lined with cheering crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of all the big stars. They got Maurice and I waving like idiots and thoroughly enjoying the experience as a warm up act.
Perhaps your most memorable motor racing event came as a passenger in the inaugural Minardi 2-seater race at Donington, where you were partnered with Fernando Alonso, only to be clobbered by Nigel Mansell on the last lap! Can you describe the race and that shunt?
Paul Stoddart kindly invited me to be one of the passengers in the race so I pulled a few strings to make sure I could ride in Alonso’s car (I rightly surmised that he’d be a Formula One World Champion one day so I thought that would be something to tell the grandchildren!!) The race was somewhat staged (for safety reasons ironically) and I think Mansell was due to cross the line first. Fernando didn’t realise what lap we were on (which shows you how seriously he was taking the racing aspect of the day) and overtook Nigel going down the back straight on the last lap.
I’ve never asked Fernando what actually happened, so I can only guess, but I think he came round the final corner, saw the chequered flag and realised he’d be in trouble because he wasn’t supposed to win, and so lifted off the throttle. Unfortunately Nigel was hot on our tail and didn’t have time to avoid us. I didn’t really know what was going on until I felt a bang and then saw a Formula One car flying past my head!! Luckily nobody was injured and we were all able to laugh about it afterwards. It made for some great pictures too. I have the rear wing end plate which was broken off our car hanging on the wall in my office. Nigel and Fernando have both signed it, along with lots of the other drivers who took part in the race and their celebrity passengers. It’s a nice memento.
You had a close association with the Minardi team through your late partner, John Walton, who was the outfit’s team manager. What was your relationship like with Paul and the team?
Minardi was one of the last ‘family’ teams in the paddock. They had started in Formula One when it was a far less corporate environment and managed to hang on whilst lots of bigger names failed around them, so there was a great racing spirit in the old tradition of the sport.
It was very much a family atmosphere there and Paul and the rest of the guys made me feel very much part of the family. I have some wonderful memories of the time John and I spent living out in Italy whilst he was working at Minardi.
John’s passing was tragic and felt across the paddock. What support were you provided during this incredibly difficult period? Is the F1 paddock that close-knit community we would perceive it to be from the outside, despite the rivalries within it?
It was understandably a very tough time but the support that I got from my ITV colleagues, friends and ‘family’ in the paddock was immensely touching. It really was a reminder, and not just for me I don’t think, that Formula One is an incredibly close-knit community. John had worked in Formula One for many years and had friends across many teams so his death really was felt throughout the paddock. But all rivalries were forgotten and so many people offered help and support, both practical and emotional. That meant a lot to me and John’s family in a difficult time.
Fellow ITV F1 presenter Beverley Turner often commented in her book The Pits that the F1 paddock still harboured a particularly sexist attitude, and that she was at times not made to feel welcome, or considered as being credible, in certain sectors of the paddock. Would you contend that this was, at times, your experience in such a male-dominated industry?
Beverley and I will always disagree on this point. As anybody who’s ever met me will testify, I’m not the kind of woman who stands for sexist attitudes and I wouldn’t have had a 20-year career in the sport if that were the case. Sex sells, and Formula One has a glamorous image, so yes there are girls wafting around on the grid looking pretty in very short skirts.
But there are also plenty of women doing a very credible and professional job in a whole range of other jobs in the Formula One paddock. The gender lines have been broken down in recent years – you didn’t find many male nurses on hospital wards 20 year ago, in the same way that not many women worked in traditionally ‘male’ domains like engineering. That’s not the case these days. Formula One teams want the best in the business and they don’t really care if you’re male or female. If you know the sport and can do the job your gender isn’t an issue. I’ve always been treated with respect and I think I’ve always earned that respect.
For women looking to enter the industry – be it as a journalist or working within a team – do you have any advice?
My advice would be the same for men or women; know your stuff and be prepared to work bloody hard!
You’ve also set up your own company, Goodman Media. What services does your company offer to those wanting to get into motorsport media?
We work with people who are going to be in the media spotlight rather than people wanting to get a job in the motorsport media.
Goodman Media provides media training and presentation skills courses, so we teach people whose job brings them into contact with the press how journalists work, and how they can make the most of media opportunities.
The majority of our clients are drivers – we’ve worked with all sorts, from young up-and-coming karters to some of the current F1 drivers.
We also run courses for non-motorsport companies alongside the session we put together for people like the British Racing Drivers Club, World Series by Renault, Ginetta Cars, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, and so on.
You’ve travelled to countless countries on your adventures in the F1 travelling circus. What would be your most and least favourite venues to travel to, or as a motorsport journalist?
I’ve always loved travelling so that’s one of the great things about working in Formula One. Favourite venues on the F1 tour are all the ones beginning with M: Melbourne (because I’ve got lots of friends in Australia and love the country), Monaco (for all the obvious reasons), Montreal (great fun city), Monza (all those Tifosi … and fabulous shoe shops!) I love the Brazilian race as well – the facilities are terrible but the atmosphere is second to none and Japan’s grown on me over the years. It’s a fascinating place and the food’s great.
My least favourite venue? Probably Hockenheim for the rather pathetic reason that I don’t like German food very much. Favourite non-motorsport venue would be pretty much anywhere with sunshine, good food and wine and a deserted beach!
The paddock has seemingly fewer big personalities who can be guaranteed to provide a great interview, but are we slowly seeing a blander, more corporate mentality being assumed, particularly among the drivers who cannot upset the applecart? The likes of Kimi Räikkönen, for example (or indeed, many who’ve gone through the McLaren driver roster) have been the subject of particular criticism for being too ‘masked’ by team management. Do drivers need to assume a more relaxed approach in dealing with the media?
I don’t think it was a case of Kimi being ‘masked’ by his management or McLaren. I think he just couldn’t really be bothered to spend time on the media side of his work. He just wanted to drive the car. I spend a lot of time in my training sessions talking with drivers about managing their relationships with the media because, like it or not, it’s an integral part of the job these days. Some drivers are naturally more gregarious than others – some like a debate and others are more restrained.
The personalities are a large part of what makes the sport and I love the fact that the drivers I’m working with in the British Touring Car Championship these days understand that ‘entertainment’ is a key part of why people tune in to watch the races. It can be a tricky business at F1 level though. There are so many corporate and team sensibilities to take into account and a world’s worth of media watching your every move and scrutinising your every utterance. It’s hardly surprising the drivers are a bit less relaxed in their approach to dealing with the media. It’s the same throughout professional sport these days.
Lastly, I’m fascinated by your many bracelets and bangles. Where did your wearing of them start, and how big is your collection now?
Ah – my bracelets. It’s a frequently asked question. I’ve been wearing them for so many years that I pretty much forget they’re there these days but I’ve often been recognised for my armful of silver!
There’s no particular story to it. I just love silver jewellery so I started buying bracelets on my travels when I was in my teens – and just carried on. I have about fourteen at the moment but if anybody would like to add to the collection…