I’ve spent a fair chunk of my free time this year reading tonnes of motorsport articles – some in print, some online. I want to share my favourite pieces of the year that I’ve read in the next couple of days with you, if only to give shout-outs to the writers. I’ve said it many times: motorsport is blessed with so many high-calibre writers. Followers of the sport are lucky to have so many good ones out there.
Motorsports writing does have its problems to the outside eye though: there is an alarming lack of diverse voices out there who are getting paid to write pieces. Samarth Kamal at Motor Sport Magazine, Hazel Southwell and Beccy Clancy at The Times highlight that these voices must be heard. The ongoing empire-building by the other Motorsport also brings with it paywalls, same-y content and an institution of a magazine – Autosport – that at times looks as though it is on its knees.
That said, two of my favourite pieces of motorsport writing in 2018 come from the Motorsport Network, so it should be commended that their writers can write on topics that continue to be overlooked elsewhere.
Regarding my choices of the best writing of the year. I am not saying these are the best-written pieces of prose in 2018. I may be a teacher by trade – one who has proofread and edited more reports and essays than I care to remember – but I am not passing judgement on editorial standards or style. Writing here is listed simply because it resonated with me personally in 2018. I hope I can capture why in my comments and do justice to the extraordinary work of those who wrote these pieces.
Writing of the Year
Please note, these are not listed in any particular order.
Scott Mitchell – “How Hamilton’s latest storm hints at a bigger problem”
Autosport Plus, December 2018 – Link here (£££)
A very late entrant on the list but timely nevertheless, Mitchell ventured where other writers dare not reach with his exploration of the most recent Lewis Hamilton “media storm”, where he referred to Stevenage as “slums”. Set within the context of the regular criticisms of Hamilton and drawing parallels with Raheem Sterling’s comments the previous week, Mitchell tackled the taboo subject of racism head-on – something motorsport has rarely had to deal with, let alone broach in written form.
No stone was left unturned. Hamilton’s words were criticised, but the boot went in primarily on Hamilton’s critics and news organisations who referred to his apology as “lukewarm”. Mitchell himself noted, “…that this is being written fully in the knowledge that the position of a privileged white male is a considerable distance away from Hamilton’s.”
One thing I have really disliked from Autosport this year has been the growing propensity to bring in football analogies to articles (there was a terrible Formula E piece that had made more references to football than it did to racing). Yet Mitchell wove in the words of Sterling and John Barnes with pertinence and sensitivity – no mean feat when talking about a subject as difficult as racism.
It was an article that needed writing and we tip our hat to Mitchell for stepping above the parapet and putting the topic firmly on the table.
Marcus Simmons – “Formula 3 jumps off cliff edge – for no reason”
Autosport, November 1, 2018
The last season of Formula 3 (as we know it) was always going to be a fascinating one, what with the son of a seven-time world champion taking part against a recently-returned-from-suspension, Red Bull-backed British hot shoe. But for most of the campaign you would have thought that the season meandered slowly to its deathbed, with Mick Schumacher coming out on top in a season that rarely raised a hackle.
Marcus Simmons blew this out of the water though with his season review.
Formula 3 2018 edition was one of the most contentious of any series in recent years and Simmons was the only writer of note to report some of the weird and wonderful theories from the campaign. Whether it was Prema-backed mind games or Ticktum tantrums, Simmons was (the only one?) on the case. And this season review captured it all brilliantly.
Schumacher’s stunning run of post-Spa form was absurd and the talk of favouritism – primarily from engine supplier Mercedes – is not ignored. In fact, Simmons does not shy away from the stories he was told early in the season about this very subject. You would have thought that a stunning run of seven wins in ten and the title would ensure the German was given top spot in the driver rankings too. Not at all. Schumacher is ranked fourth, with the following gambit as much as an asterisk against his title: “…The manner of this (late-season run of wins) raised sufficient paddock doubts that it was all down to his driving.”
Ticktum’s wobbles are also explored carefully, while the craft with which the woes of the British teams are commented upon highlight that the best writing occurs when the writer is not afraid to pass decisive – sometimes even negative – comment on teams and drivers, backed by fact and theory.
Simmons is undoubtedly the biggest fan of Formula 3 and one worries about his sanity if he is pitched in to report on the Bruno Michel version in 2019. The hope is that the new formula is subjected to such well-written honesty as this.
Jack Phillips – “Reborn in the USA”
Motor Sport Magazine, April 2018 – Link here
Motor Sport – the magazine – seems to have something of a reputation amongst the kids of being something of a staid, ‘historical’ magazine. Nothing could be further from the truth as this article on the return of Joest Racing to IMSA with Mazda highlights.
The best thing about this grand old title is how all the writers look to ground their work on modern racing within the historical context of the sport. Phillips – who will be a great loss to Motor Sport as he moves to pastures new – did so expertly with this exploration of how a mighty team took on the Mazda works effort, set against the backdrop of the 24 Hours of Daytona (otherwise known as the “24 Hours of Alonso.”)
These nods to Mazda’s and Joest’s history fitted seamlessly with the thoughts of myriad cast members such as Tristan Nunez, Derek Bell and Joest director Ralf Jüttner. It was no mean feat to balance different eras with different voices, but this part modern-day motorsport narrative tied in with a history lesson drew me in like no other article in Motor Sport has this year. And this is a magazine that regularly produces high-quality content month in, month out.
Gold Star – Mark Hughes – Motor Sport Magazine
Time and again, Hughes has written about the murkiest of events with incredible clarity. No mean feat in Formula 1. Whether it is within the post-race, Monday morning emails that plop through the inbox via a Motor Sport subscription, or the ‘retrospective’ pieces where he analyses two or three races in one go within the confines of the magazine, Hughes is exceptional at picking out the key traits of events and linking them together. It is never a chore to dig out the salient points being made either, which tends to be the case with several his contemporaries.
Hughes is a leader in his field. There is no Formula 1 writer or reporter who comes close. For these reasons, he is my Writer of the Year and the inaugural ‘recipient’ our Gold Star.
As I racked my brain over the past few weeks to recall standout articles, it became apparent that all of them appeared in the main publications associated with motor racing, rather than via websites and ‘independents’. That’s not to say most of my reading is through magazines – far from it.
Nothing stood out that could be found solely on the internet nor written by independent sites.
There. I said it.
Websites, blogs and the such have so much scope to not tow the line and follow the hit-whoring agenda that has been set. However, all too often the content on independent sites is bland, same-y and/or regurgitated press releases. I don’t know another sport like it.
It shows that, despite the growing “Motorsport Network”, there exists an outlet for thoughtful writing that goes beyond the norm on that very network. This does not need to be the sole domain of large conglomerate though.
If that sounds harsh then I am sorry. But consider it a challenge for 2019. Come up with original content. Get to know the drivers and personalities involved in the sport. Don’t be afraid to shake the cart. There are so many stories in motor racing – all it takes is a little more digging to get under the skin. It’s not all about the numbers and if you think it is, perhaps focus on writing press releases.