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Lisa Hardy: "Formula 1 is a different breed to anything else"

Lisa Hardy has been working in sports media since she started doing work experience placements during her A-level studies at college. Now, she’s known for being a freelance producer and editor who has worked with Sky and Channel 4 on their Formula 1 content. 

Lisa Hardy and Nico Rosberg

“I found in a memory box a load of handwritten letters that went off to various people...such a keeno I know!” Lisa says. “I got lots of work experience and worked at Twickenham on match days. Then I wrote to the Exec Producer of rugby union at Sky Sports - a chap called Martin Turner. He actually went on later to be my boss on the F1 team at Sky. He wrote back to me and said that I’d written a great letter. I’d seen his name on the credits at the end of the TV coverage and I thought ‘why should I go to anyone else!’

“I always did everything I could to try and get in front of people. It’s easy to hide behind an email. But ask for a coffee, say you’ll go to London or wherever they’re based. It’s harder for them to turn you down when they’re in front of you and you can come across so much better.”

Lisa then got invited to for work experience and kept getting invited back to Sky throughout her time at college. She learnt how the studios and gallery worked before going travelling after her exams. Instead of returning to education, Lisa was offered a job as a runner at Sky. Gladly, she accepted.

“University is the norm and it’s an amazing experience,” Lisa says. “I do feel like I missed out on the social side of that, but then I had a really social job at the time. By the time I was 21 and all of my friends were graduating, I’d been working for three years and I was renting a flat in London.” 

Lisa and her Sky F1 colleagues

During her time at Sky as a runner, Lisa would work across multiple sports looking after the talent and ensuring that the galleries were kept in order. 

“You couldn’t complain about the long shifts or tasks because there were another 200 people that would happily take your job,” Lisa says. “It was a great gig. You had to show up and impress someone but you were given amazing opportunities. I’d drive the presenters to and from the studio in brilliant sunshine. It's definitely the rough with the smooth. You learn the hard way but this sets you up for better success later on.”

Then, after much hard work and determination, Lisa was granted her lucky break: a role in Formula 1 after Sky had won the rights to broadcast the races live.

“When Sky had F1 and they had a new producer, I wrote a letter to them and that had got ignored. I thought they’d forgotten me. Then one day I got a text at nearly midnight,” she says. “It was Martin Turner. He’d apologised for not responding to me and loved my email. He wanted to put me through an interview and the same day he told me that I’d got the job.

“I worked on that for four years and it was pretty mad. We were the second biggest production team at Sky after the football, which was quite a big gamble for them. There were a lot of hours on air and a lot of time to fill with all sessions live.”

Lisa worked tirelessly with her colleagues as an assistant producer to pull together a whopping seven shows over a race weekend, all whilst travelling to new destinations and adjusting to new timezones, locations and weather conditions.

“I probably did 12 races a season - they didn’t want people to get burned out,” she says. “The presentation team would do all 20 races but they had a bit of time off in between races. The production team didn’t get that. We’d still have our F1 Friday night show. Those four years were pretty intense.”

She has a few favourite features that she put together and enjoyed creating emotional pieces. One that stands out was a Johnny Herbert story. 

“It can be quite difficult to direct ex-sports stars,” she says. “Johnny is so good at listening and brings his own personality to it. He does the job right but is still fun. I love working with him. He had his horrendous crash at Brands Hatch in the 1980s and nearly lost his leg and four months later he was at the Brazilian Grand Prix.”

That segment was one of the features that got broadcast during their 2015 British Grand Prix build up. 

“I was really nervous. When you make something about someone, you don’t really have to see them afterwards,” Lisa says. “I would produce something with Daniel Ricciardo and he wouldn’t come up to me and tell me he hates me...but I worked with Johnny! I actually hid in an edit suite when it went out, but Natalie Pinkham had tears in her eyes. Johnny then came up to me and gave me the biggest hug. He loved it. It meant so much to be able to tell his story and do it justice.”

It's still one of the pieces that she's most proud of to this day.

“Formula 1 is a different breed to anything else,” she says. “You have to remember that these drivers aren’t normal people. With their lifestyle, they’re flying around the world. Romain Grosjean won’t be interested in just sitting in a cafe. You have to come up with ideas that excite the drivers and the audience at home. You’ll get the best out of the drivers that way.”

Lisa was in Japan in 2014 during the immensely tragic weekend where Jules Bianchi had his fatal accident. 

“The weekend was a roller coaster,” Lisa says. “First you had Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull and no one saw that coming. It did create a really interesting conversation from my point of view as an assistant producer and deciding how to run the story and how much time to give it.”

Lisa reflects on the huge contrast between how fun that Friday was and how they were scrambling to pull content together. The excitement and rush was completely replaced by the unthinkable. 

“It was the unknown,” she says. “We’d never broadcast anything like that. You aren’t getting fed the information so you realise how serious it was. No one had seen the crash but we’d heard something in the commentary. Until you can clarify that someone is okay, you cannot comment on what is going on because it causes harm and offence. With the Jules crash, no one could see what was going on. There was fog everywhere. We didn’t know if there’d been an accident because the red flags could have been out for the weather. We were showing it to the world and we wanted to get the story right.

“We kept talking to each other and pulling together as a team to be sensitive but give people the story they needed. It wasn’t right to go down to the Marussia garage and film. That would have been horrible. It was a terrible day. Unfortunately, I’d been through it before with a British SuperBikes crash but it was the exact same horrible feeling. Why are we doing this job when this happens? It was the same feeling at the next race in Russia. I remember Martin Brundle saying in a tribute that Jules wasn’t the first person to die in Formula 1 and wouldn’t be the last. It’s not nice to be a part of.”

Whilst we’re chatting over a Zoom call, it’s evident to see the impact that this event still has on Lisa today.

“We moved onto Sochi and some of the younger drivers had never experienced this before,” she says. “Jules was just so popular and had such a glittering career ahead of him. He had everything going for him. So many drivers didn’t know how to react or what to say. I’ll always remember coming down to dinner at the hotel and Johnny [Herbert] had been waiting for us. I think it was Daniil Kvyat that was there and Johnny went over to him and they had a conversation. I imagine he told him that this was racing as Johnny had seen death in sport before. Back then every other week someone was dying. There’s been a whole generation of drivers that haven’t experienced this.”

After leaving Sky Sports, Lisa went freelance at the beginning of 2016 and has worked on a number of projects including the Rio Olympics in Brazil that same year.

“I was beginning to not love F1 as much and I wanted to enjoy it as a fan again,” she says. “It’s funny how quickly I missed it! I got to go to the T20 World Cup in India with Sunset + Vine, covered the NFL for Whisper and I fell in love with cricket! Then there was the Paralympics in Rio and that was incredible. It’s been good to have a variety of sports. I missed F1 so much that now I work on branded content, including alongside Simon Lazenby.”

Lisa reflects on her time travelling the world to cover sport as a fantastic achievement, including travelling to South America and getting to explore the different cultures. 

“Going to Monaco for the F1 was a highlight,” she says. “As a kid, I’d always wanted to go because it looked so glam. We went as a family for a day trip on holiday and I thought it was pretty but that was it. The first time I went for F1 was in 2013 and it was another level!

“A lot of my colleagues just knew how hard the event is because you have practice on Thursday. But it’s great because the drivers know where they’re going and they’re fresh because a lot of them live there. I went for seven years in a row and it was always so cool. I worked with Mercedes off the back of their Barcelona crash that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had. Following them from Barcelona and to Monaco, filming it all...that was incredible.

“You get the least amount of sleep but you have the most amount of energy. You get to go to parties that you wouldn’t normally. You’re up to do a shoot at sunrise and you take a boat to the next harbour and then maybe do a helicopter shoot. It’s madness and I don’t think the broadcast side captures it all. It’s totally carnage.”

Lisa and Mario Andretti

Lisa has another fantastic story from when the Circuit of the Americas opened in Texas and she flew there for a total of two and a half days. 

 “On Saturday they did a press day and Mario Andretti was there,” she says. “He’s so cool! I did a quick interview with him and there was a three-seater F1 car. He said he was going to be taking some people out. I guess because it was just me and a cameraman, perhaps he thought I was a present. Next thing, sweaty as anything, I was putting a race suit on and being driven around by Andretti! I think I may have cried a little bit after that. My excuse was that I was jet-lagged…:


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