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Bob Constanduros Talks About Interviewing F1 Drivers

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After university studies in France, Bob Constanduros, a Briton, worked briefly in the insurance industry before becoming a freelance motorsport journalist. From 1972 to 1977, he wrote for Autosport magazine. He then became a freelancer again, driving to races around Europe in a Volkswagen van. He began announcing at races and conducting the press conferences in the early 1980s. The F.I.A. now holds daily press conferences from Thursday to Sunday on Grand Prix weekends, with Constanduros interviewing drivers and other team personnel.

On what have been some of the biggest moments:

People always remember the funny things. Like Ukyo Katayama, the Japanese driver and mountain climber, telling a particularly irreverent joke about Niki Lauda. And Gerhard Berger was there and I think Ayrton Senna was there, and they were covering their hands and saying: ''No, don't tell that story, don't tell that story.'' And they knew what was coming, and it was just hilarious. And then Eddie Jordan chucking a glass of water all over me because I called him Eddie Irvine - I had been on a plane all night. It was little things like that. But also great moments, like Ayrton Senna talking about when he got knocked off the track - the Japanese Grand Prix in 1988 and 1989 - all around then, all those incidents that he had with Alain Prost. Those were pretty memorable as well, especially when he used the ''F'' word - what was it? - 26 times in the same press conference? And with all those Japanese people around who had learned a new English word.

On whether it sometimes difficult to be impartial, as he represents the F.I.A.:

Yes, that's the point I have to remember. And it was very difficult, for example, in Austria in 2002 when Rubens Barrichello was asked to slow down for Michael Schumacher [to let his teammate win the race]. Because I was pretty incensed about that. But I did change. It was quite a difficult thing to come to terms with. Yes, I had to remember that I must not get involved, just ask straight questions.

On how a lot of drivers are good in face-to-face interviews but may be different in a press conference. Michael Schumacher is great in one-on-ones but sometimes appears closed off in this situation. On what are their particularities:

Definitely on a Thursday, it feels Michael has nothing to say. Nothing has happened yet, so what can you say? But world champions have always been very good. For example, in the press conference when you have some person who obviously is not experienced in Formula One and is asking a fairly basic question that sounds ridiculous to you and me, who are experienced. The journalist thinks it is a very important question, and the world champions have always taken real care to answer those questions very diligently, they've really been good. If I asked the question they would throw me out the door. But because it is someone who is inexperienced they give them the time of day. And it was the case with Michael, it was the case with Ayrton, with Alain Prost, with a lot of them; with Jacques Villeneuve to some extent, and Damon Hill. Sometimes there are very tricky drivers who don't say very much, Taki Inoue, for instance. Or Kimi [Raikkonen]: It's always a bit of a challenge to make him smile. It really is. Because he's lovely when he smiles.

On what makes a good interview:

You have to think about the burning question of the moment. What do you want to know about the guy? What do you want to know about his job or what he's doing? And just go for those questions. It's about being precise and asking a precise question. There are quite a few people who write out their questions. And once you ask a question sometimes they don't really answer and so you reiterate it, very politely. The best person in fending off like that is the Williams team owner Frank Williams; he is amazing. If he doesn't want to tell you, he won't.

On how he was doing commentary when serious accidents happen, including when Ayrton Senna was killed at the race in Imola in 1994. How does he deal with that:

It was difficult. We didn't really know too much of what was going on. You just work through it, and you are very, very professional about it. You just carry on informing as much as you can. You have to inform, otherwise you will have a riot on your hands.

On whether he ever gets nervous:

Occasionally, I do get quite nervous. Particularly the first Grand Prix of the year, I'm sort of feeling a bit shaky. Because I haven't interviewed anybody for the previous three or so months. And I'm not a very good ad-libber.
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