The joys of F1 journalism

My first editor taught me that one should never complain to the readers about life as an F1 journalist. It was good advice because fans do not want to hear it. However, sometimes it is interesting to explain some of the things required to do this wonderful job – not least getting all the visas needed to work as a journalist in some of the more exotic places we visit. Some folk go in as tourists but I find that a rather risky business, given that the difference between a journalist and a spy is just a piece of paper.

This means a lot of money and a lot of wasted time. You also need more than one passport so that one can be sent off to an embassy while another is in use. This can lead to excitements because I have been known to enter a country with one passport and then try to leave with another… Oops.

I’m even pondering applying for a third passport because some countries are rather inefficient.

This year Australia joined the list of countries classed as troublesome, with a vast and expensive new questionnaire that I felt was overly intrusive. Still, we do what we must do to work…

Going to China as a journalist involves filling in forms and having an interview. The system seems to change each year and so the process is full of surprises although it is a lot better than the old days when one would queue on the pavement outside the visa office for hours with no guarantee that they would not shut the door in your face when it got to midday.

The process relies on the race promoter putting ones name forward to the Shanghai Foreign Office and they have to contact the Paris Consulate, which in turn has to talk to the Visa Section. This creates four possible screw-ups and it is more complicated for me because I am a foreign passport holder and apparently this adds more layers of trouble. Anyway I keep trying, hoping each year for a painless experience. Last year I got the visa at the last possible moment…

The people in the Paris Embassy don’t care that there is a Grand Prix , so there are no privileges in the process. The teams get looked after by the host governments but the press are on their own. The FIA provides some guidance, but that is it.

I have an interview this morning at the Visa Section of the Chinese Embassy but to add spice to the event someone jumped under a train as I was trying to get to the meeting (presumably a socialist after seeing the local election results) and so it became an unseemly scramble to get there in a cab…

Now, inevitably, I’m sitting in a waiting room watching numbers coming up and clutching a ticket. Thus far it has only been half an hour… But there are still 10 numbers to go and only 10 that have passed since I arrived. At least they let us use mobiles, which is not always the case…

It is all part of the experience but I dread the process each year, just as I dread the things we may have to do to get into Russia. The bonus this year is that we don’t have to deal with India. The process involved in getting a US media visa is also troublesome but at least they give you a five-year visa at the end of it.

The funny thing is that the less popular the country the easier the process seems to be. I got a Cuban visa last year with no trouble at all, so I guess I should be encouraging Bernie to do deals with countries at the bottom of the Transparency International lists….

88 thoughts on “The joys of F1 journalism

  1. GP of Cuba sounds like a good idea, I hear they have some nice architecture so a street race could rival Monaco, all Castro needs to do is give Bernie a wheelbarrow full of gold and it’s a go.

  2. This reminds me of that story involving yourself and some other journalists locked in a bus in China before deciding to take matters into your own hands! Just how long has this country got a race contract?

  3. Good luck with your visa I hope it goes smoothly. Yes that’s good you don’t have to worry about India. I went on holiday there a few years ago and had loads of trouble with mine they made a mistake and it had to go back and I just got it the day before we were due to go.

  4. -27C here this am. When the sympathy thaws out we will mark a chunk for you. The jump from Oz to France and back to Malaysia has got to leave you a little drained at the start of the weekend. Would most of the race crews and drivers have stayed in the region between races? Do you know of any reason for the extra week between races?

    1. The only thing I can think of is the post-Bahrain test. Would China – Bahrain – Bahrain test be too long a trip? With Australia and Malaysia on the other side of that. There could be other scheduling reasons of course.

    2. I think Petronas had some event on this past weekend so they wanted the GP pushed back to next weekend.

  5. Please don’t encourage himJoe. I appreciate the visa issues as I have experienced the issues but an F1 race in any country ending in xxxstan is not worth the effort.

      1. I didn’t know one could have 2 passports at the same time from the same country. It sounds a nightmare Joe, and of course many here, myself included, just assume you have a gilded life of mixing with the powerful and glitterati, at almost no cost as surely every country will be wanting to pay for F1 journos to report on how wonderful their particular land is…..seems it’s not quite like that……

      2. Not a problem for the EU races, however. Slightly aside, do you have any good tips for coping with the inevitable jet-lag?

        1. Always try to live on the timezone of the destination. Don’t drink too much and only eat when you should be eating.

  6. I read your blog for background on F1 that I can’t get elsewhere and for broader refkections on how the world works. The acrobatics that you must perform to get a visa – didn’t they tell you about those when you arrived this morning? – are useful information about how some countries present themselves to the world, and I don’t interpret them as you grumbling about your lot. Well, not very much anyway…

  7. Bernie should come to Romania πŸ™‚ especially if a Romanian team will get in F1. We have the possibilities for a F1 class circuit, it’s so very easy to get in. Though everybody seems to leave this place for better living elsewhere… but the corporations everywhere come here in peace, very few laws to impede their plans. All they need to know is how to be friendly to the government. You will never have issues with coming to Romania, you don’t even need a visa. And I know at least 30 people willing to meet you at a casual dinner πŸ™‚

  8. Many years ago the company I was working for had a “diversity” course…one question was “what would be your dream job”…my answer was F1 journalist 😎

  9. Do you want yourself to be treated like as a king !! There are rules which you have to follow otherwise as you said there is only a small difference between a spy and a journalist.

    1. I follow the instructions given in these matters. I don’t ask for special treatment. However if I am going to a country to promote it as a tourist destination (which is why countries pay for F1 races) it would be logical for the said countries to make life simple for those who are delivering the message. If they make it difficult or are not competent then they create negative reflections which means that they are failing because they are pointing the spotlight at their failings and paying vast sums to do it. Is that a difficult concept to grasp?

  10. Heed your first editor, deal with it. I work in a box in a job I hate, you get to travel the world and get incredibly close access to the most amazing people & machines in the world. I get to stand out in the cold rain in Melbourne once a year and catch glimpses said people and machines.

    1. When I give careers talks, which I do from time to time, I always say the same thing: try to do what you want to do, even if you think it is hard because there is nothing worse than a job you don’t like…

      1. Well said. And if you don’t try, you will spend the rest of your life wondering what might have happened if you had. And that’s no way to live.

        1. Absolutely! F1 journalists generally do not fall into their jobs. They want it and go out to grab it.

  11. I don’t think he needs any encouragement, Joe…

    Israel. Another country that is comparatively easy to get in but not for nothing do they tell you to turn up for your outbound flight 3 hours early.

  12. Did you see that Bangladesh initially refused a visa to commentator Jonathan Agnew, who the BBC sent to cover the Twenty20 World Cup? Their letter of notification was pathetic:

    It must be even harder for you, trying to cram in 19 visits every year. How many of those actually require visas? Presumably the European ones don’t? Or do you always need one if you’ll be working in that country?

  13. Does anyone know if there will be a minute silence due to the missing plane that they’ve just announced that it did crash and know where it is now.

  14. I sat in the Pakistani embassy in Paris at the tail end of last year and chuckled to myself about your various embassy adventures, Joe, thanks for sharing them.

  15. Joe, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way – just go to the airport and look in a left luggage locker. There you’ll find a cheap holdall with about 20 passports (all different nationalities) and some large bundles of different currencies. Jason Bourne never seemd to have trouble crossing borders …

    You can leave the (innevitable) 9mm in there until you go to Sao Paolo

  16. Joe, the TI’s Corruption Perception Index 2013 ranks Cuba in the 63rd place, China 80th, India 94th and Russia 127th. So, Cuba does not seem to be such a bad idea.

    The “dream F1 WC” would have to take place in Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Germany, Iceland, UK, Barbados, Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan, USA and Uruguay.

    Slim chance then for the Austrian and Abu Dhabi GPs (both 26th), and no more Spanish (40th), Korean (46th), Hungarian (47th), Turkish (53th), Bahraini (57th), Malaysian (63rd), Italian (69th), Brazilian (72nd) nor Mexican (106th) Grands Prix. πŸ™‚

    Good luck with the bureaucracy.

  17. I found that the application process for Russian visas to be relatively painless and efficient. Admittedly the 4 times I have visited the country were as a tourist.

  18. Can you get “invited” to China by a Chinese F1 mag? (if there are any)
    My neighbour’s daughter (British) is going from NZ where she has been working for several months to China and got invited by a friend of a friend. This cut down the paperwork (for her) to a single sheet and no complete family details or history required. It was $NZ68.
    I also remember we used to get invited to China when we went on business, though that was years ago.

    Lucky Todt turned down Bernie’s offer to manage accreditations, as DT said there would be no F1 journalists if they had to pay the extorionate amount mentioned, but then I feel it was just a last ditch attempt to screw a part of F1 so far unscrewed (Maybe like a mountain because you are there!) as I am sure this is Bernie’s last year in F1.

  19. Is it really that hard to get a Russian visa? I’m living here so I genuinely have no idea, but I was under the impression that our foreign agency was more or less civilized, at least when it comes to visitors.

    Plus the race is the sequel to the Olympic events PR-wise and I’d imagine organizing everything well, including visas and whatnot, would be a major concern.

      1. When I told the better half that Joe wasn’t going to her favourite place Korea any more, she was a little upset, as she and her friends enjoyed your travel log so much. I then informed her that he was going to Russia instead. Her comments were that he would now have more than enough stories to finish his long waited book on his F1 travels.
        We have both had many interesting trips to Russia, business wise, and visa problems are only the start of them. In her case, there were 4 of them travelling to Russia, 3 ladies and a token male. They turned up in business suits, and were immediately taken as high priced escorts, with the token male as there manager. Even the Hotel, wanted and asked out right for a cut of the β€œaction”. She has dined out on that story now for a few years. One does wonder how they mix up insurance people as escorts, and no disrespect to her age, but they were a few years north of what one assumes an escort would be.
        If you also start poking around industrial sites and major projects, you do attract the attention of the funny man, talking into their sleeves all the time.
        Then leaving the country, they search you more than when you come in. It takes longer to get on the plane leaving than getting into the country.
        As for the hotel rooms, we will leave you to find out. They could be great or crap.

  20. Joe, when I obtained a Chinese visa through the consulate in San Francisco, they claimed my money (dollar bills!) was counterfeit and they sent me away to bring “new” money. I could not explain to the consular official that there is not much profit in counterfeiting singles.

  21. Hi Joe. I’ve only ever sat in a waiting room for a visa once. That was to do an internship for three months in the USA, which was painful enough.

    Off the topic I have just read this article about Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull) threatening to quit. What are your thoughts?


    1. I can only say to Mateschitz, “Don’t let the door hit you in the arse as you leave!” But that’s just my view of his company’s attitude to the sport. (Actually, I’d be even more happy if H Marko left first)

    2. What a baby. One bad start to a season and he threatens to take his toys and go home. If that’s his attitude he shouldn’t be in F1. Compare him to Frank Williams. Williams has seen the extremes of F1. The spectacular highs and the diabolical lows yet still he soldiers on because he loves what he’s doing and he loves the sport. If Mateshite isn’t into F1 then he should go.

      1. Williams makes a living from F1. Mateschitz does not. See the difference? Of course he will leave when it suits him. Just like Alfa, Mercedes, Maserati, Cooper, Brabham, Toyota, BMW, Renault and others did before him.

    3. I wouldn’t read much into it – as Joe says, he’ll go when it pleases him – the interview in question seemed to be a led one to me, the journalist fishing for the response he wanted… The headline didn’t really justify/summarise what he said in the whole interview correctly.

  22. Completely off topic – you gave me and my wife some great advice last year for the Italian GP – where to stay place to visit- and you were 100% spot on, we had an amazing week. Thank you so much.

    This year we are going to Spa, any chance you have any similar pearls of wisdom for the forest?

    1. Liege is a nice place but a bit far away. Spa is nice too but getting from the north is troublesome. Malmedy and Stavelot are good for eating and hotels if you can find one. Getting into the track is easiest from the south as Francorchamps gets snarled up badly. The police have odd ideas about traffic management. It ALWAYS rains.

    2. Hi,

      Having also visited spa many times my 2 favourite places to stay are Aachen and Monschau. Yes, they are both a bit of a drive but that is offset by both of the places Aachen is a great town/city Aachen is a wonderful quaint village.

      I have also camped on the south side of the circuit in the Schumi years and this was great. Stavelot is great for food and also has a great museum but the problem is the accommodation is booked up.

      Joe is correct the south of the circuit is much easier to access however you can ring the circuit on the E42 if you were staying north. The traffic is not as bad as Silverstone so my advice depends on where your stand is where I would park. If you are general admission definitely approach from the south as this is where the best viewing places are.

  23. You are right! People do not want to hear about the problems in our life. They want to hear about news, and other important information that is happening in the world today. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information….:)

  24. There should be a race in NZ. We’ll let anyone in!!

    Seriously, I’m surprised the FIA don’t try to grease the wheels a little as it’s the press that promotes the race to the world.

  25. Surprised about your comment on Australia – always found the online ETA process real easy, online, never takes me more than a few minutes – I’ve done 15 countries in last two months so I think I can comment – Russia was hardest , India just didn’t have time to get done , the one that suprised me was turkey , very easy efficient on line applications. South America, easy on Uk passport , expensive on US passport (reciprocity fees). I have two passports one UK one american, but sometimes I can’t get a visa in my English one because I live in america (are you listening India)

  26. Hi Joe,

    We all know you work really hard for what you do. It is great to see it all! Once you are there Though You are privileged in a way that none of us plebes can be! I do love what you do & I love hearing about it All!! I hope you have a great season!!

    All the best!!


  27. The Australian federal government just recently held a red tape repeal day, 16 March. 8000 old and redundant regulations and laws, aimed at reducing paperwork and costs for business mostly.
    So the fact that it is now more complex for you to enter the country makes perfect sense.

  28. Hi Joe

    Great piece, paperwork and jobsworths seem to manage to infect everything these days.

    On a side note I know from previous posts you haven’t missed a race in practically forever but do you know if anyone else has ever missed a race due to visa issues and is it the kind of thing that happens a lot?

    1. It happens from time to time. Usually these things are sorted out, one way or another. Occasionally I have had help from influential people to cut through bureaucracy: once or twice in 26 years…

    1. Why? Are you looking for information and hiding microfilm in your violins? I don’t see the danger, except perhaps if one follows 1970s habits and they think you will poison the minds of their young…

  29. How do you find it when it comes to Abu Dhabi? Life is notoriously difficult and bureaucratic over here that I am surprised the Grand Prix even runs! Just a tip when it comes to Abu Dhabi: don’t worry about coming over on as a tourist without a temp. work visa because no one will care, check, or even notice! We can’t afford to upset the F1 circus! πŸ˜‰

    1. I have had no problems with Abu Dhabi, except the prices. In recent years we have stayed in Dubai and driven in and out because of this. We might try AbDab again this year, if we can find something sensible.

  30. Would that first Editor be the much missed Derek Wright who gave us F1 News? Great magazine that was, I used to devour every page including Globe Trotter! RIP

    1. No, that first editor was the great Quentin Spurring, editor of Autosport, who taught many of the current generation how to be proper journalists. A man I much admire and respect.

    1. No. As noted yesterday there are four things that can wrong and thus far it is all going non-swimmingly.

  31. I was reading Dirk Bogarde’s ‘A Short Walk from Harrods’ (again) before Christmas. Always interested in his comments about settling in to life in southern France and the things you have to go through to purchase land, whether to become a French national, etc . You mention election results, Joe. Do you get to vote in France, or are you still an ‘alien’?

    1. “Aliens” get to vote in local elections, which is what’s been going on lately in France, I think (legal) residency is the only requirement. One still has to be officially French to vote in national level stuff, including the presidential elections.

      I forget what the situation is for the European elections, I suspect being a legal EU alien probably means you can and being a legal non-EU alien prohibits taking part. Which makes some degree of sense – so it’s probably not the case at all…

    1. Yes, and paying for it. So that I can provide a charitable service for trolls like you! Thank you for the motivational boost. Shame this is your “Last Post”…

  32. Actually getting Visas can be the most pain in arse thing to do, I have a Aussie passport which means basically go anywhere you please. My wife has a chinese passport which means kill plenty of trees and spend much money just to get a tourist visa.

    We travel all the time, just to go to London Paris and Switzerland is 3 different Visas.

    We were in KL last week hope you are looking forward to the heat and rain the smog fog was really really bad they closed most of the schools when we were their.

    Welcome to China when you do get here.

  33. Hi Joe!
    I hope it will be no problem to get Russian visa for F1 people. We’re counting days till our first GP and promoters do their best. I’m sure everyone will enjoy the Russian Grand Prix!

    1. If it happens I am sure you are right although we hear that there is going to be a lot of very high prices

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