Formula One is an enigmatic sport at the best of times, and when couched in the open-wheel-adverse minds of the American public, it becomes practically indigestible. The challenge for anyone wanting to associate themselves with Formula 1 in America is overcoming this obstinate view of the series. This stigmatizing stereotype has reduced the F1 fan base to a select few, who are forever having to sheepishly explain their favorite sport to their American friends.
The NASCAR fan has it easy when asked about his or her favorite motor sport. Merely mention “NASCAR” and anyone who can fog a mirror knows what that means. But imagine the task of having to explain that the motor sport you prefer isn’t at the Indy 500, doesn’t race in circles, and takes place in countries all over the world (and only once a season in the U.S., if at all) to prove that you are not a first-rate loon.
Next, imagine the task that SPEED, the television network that covers Formula One in America, has in trying to speak to that pocket of F1 fans here in the States while also attempting to appeal, educate and retain new viewers to a sport that is as foreign to them as the Grand Bazaar. That’s just the surface of the matter; it goes downhill from there.
SPEED has the unenviable task of not patronizing the hardened F1 veteran fan while also continuously reaching out to the new eyes that may be watching. Grasping the racing element is one thing, but understanding the technical aspect of F1 is a downright burden akin to Atlas’ shouldered globe. The good news is that SPEED has a secret weapon for such dire consequences, and has enjoyed battling the drudgery and perplexities of the technical side of Formula 1 with astounding efficacy. This secret weapon? Steve Matchett.
As a championship-winning mechanic for the Benetton F1 Team from 1990 to 1998, Matchett experienced the mountaintops and valleys of what it means to be an F1 mechanic. He experienced one of the most rapidly advancing eras in technology the sport has ever seen, and has worked with some of the sport’s most prolific and brilliant drivers. Having prepped and maintained race and championship-winning cars, he knows a thing or two about F1.
Knowing how F1 works from a technical standpoint is a clear advantage for anyone wanting to understand the sport, but here is where it gets even more brilliant: Matchett is a wellspring of technical information to be sure, but it’s his ability to explain these complexities in everyday language that makes him so unique. He is a singular voice in the American Formula One scene and is indispensable to Americas understanding of the technology, mechanical and regulatory aspects of the sport.
Matchett’s explanations of the most complex elements of F1, which are essential to understanding and appreciating the sport, are so lucid that even non-racing fans can grasp the content and context easier than they can their own sport of choice. The key is not just having a lifetime of F1 knowledge, but explaining the lifetime of knowledge in a manner that tracks with the novice mind and walks them through while not alienating the most ardent of American F1 fans. His inimitable style and knowledge achieves that and more.
No one should be placed in such a challenging role, but thankfully the United Kingdom has loaned us their best and without this gracious loan, American’s would be struggling through DRS, KERS, regulatory articles of instruction, aerodynamics, engine performance, braking, gearboxes, transmissions, diffusers, legality planks, ECU’s, drag, tire wear rates, carbon fiber composites, team strategy and tactics, timing and scoring interpretation, predictive race metrics and much more on their own. In short, we’d be at a major loss and the sport, quite frankly, would cease to be as compelling as it is to Americans. That’s bad news for a country that is attempting to bring two Grands Prix back in 2012 and 2013.
America is returning to its halcyon days of dabbling in Formula One and as the USGP in Indianapolis taught us, it’s a tenuous relationship. Over $300 million is being spent in Austin, TX and a small fortune in New Jersey to bring F1 back to the American conscience. It is comforting to know that as new eyes start to wander into the web of F1, Steve Matchett is here to make that walk effortless and understandable. Much of his cadence and ability to make the world’s complexities attainable is his prose and that is well documented.
Matchett’s book trilogy that recounts his days in Formula 1 are at the top of any F1 fan’s essential reading list. Any one of his books shares a truth that directly impacts his work at SPEED. He is a poetic soul whose prose equals and surpasses some of the best writers in the sport. His ability to tell a story is charmingly appealing. His ability to rend the complexity out of a topic is singular and this gives him a unique ability to present F1 like no other person in the world. His direct access to all the men and women who matter in F1 bring SPEED’s coverage serious insight and first-hand information.
Like America’s NASCAR broadcasters and former sportsman, SPEED has retained an individual who brings value to each broadcast and unpacks the sport so all can see its exciting content. The success of F1 in America will depend on many factors in Austin and New Jersey, but it is comforting to know that SPEED has Steve Matchett. While it is yet to be seen how appealing the races or circuits will be to the masses, we know that the broadcast coverage will not be the weak link in the equation. In fact, it may just be the saving grace, if Steve Matchett has any hand in the call.
While I have met many broadcasters in my day, I am pleased to say that Steve Matchett is one of the most knowledgeable, genuine, and humble men I’ve met behind a microphone, and SPEED’s F1 crew are some of the most passionate, die-hard fans in F1–not just in the U.S., but in the world. The phrase “there is no indispensable man” may have met its match in Steve Matchett.
So a big thanks to the United Kingdom for loaning us Steve Matchett, and making do with your own on-air personalities. As F1 fans in America have come to love his indispensable contribution to our coverage of the sport, we can say with some certainty that we won’t let you have him back without a fight. We’ve fed him BBQ, showed him the Smokey Mountains and now he’s more American than Apple Pie. Perhaps in exchange, we can send you Nicole Scherzinger or Steven Tyler for your troubles. Because that’s the kind of hearty handshake, big smile, good-guy country we are.