This week motorsport fanatics had the opportunity to converse with the Formula 1 commentator James Allen, who got his big break presenting coverage of the French Grand Prix to millions of ITV viewers in 2000.
It was clear that Allen has been passionate about motorsports from early childhood. His father was a racing driver, which led to him “understanding the racing mentality from a very early age”. When asked about the moment he decided to pursue a career in motorsport commentating, he explained that he realised he had hit the jackpot in finding a career which challenged him to “find the right words” to convey powerful moments in sport to viewers at home.
The Zoom meeting provided listeners in Eton and partner schools with a fascinating insight into the world of motorsports. Topics such as the rapid advancement of technology, as well as the fine margins dividing the best from the rest, were explored. Whilst commentating on the 2005 US Grand Prix, Allen recalled himself screaming down the microphone as Lewis Hamilton stormed towards the finish line in torrential rain. Allen left ITV on a broadcasting high of 11 million viewers, and remembers covering the events of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix as one of the most enthralling races of all time.
When asked by pupils about life after TV commentating, Allen mentioned that he was so in love with the sport, he just couldn’t stop. He said, “life is like a rugby tackle. You have to commit wholeheartedly and be passionate”. In 2012, he joined BBC Radio 5 Live to provide the soundtrack to many more exhilarating F1 races and did so for a further three years. With many years of commentating experience under his belt, Allen took the internet by storm and has since detailed some of these experiences on his website, JA on F1, and by hosting a Twitter account with 100,000 avid motorsport followers.
Moments before the end of an excellent webinar, Allen gave the recipe for others to follow in his footsteps. The key ingredients needed to become a first-class commentator are “being fresh, energetic and being able to learn from your experiences.”