Over 30 years ago, Ann Bradshaw was one of the first (if not the first) to have been hired by a Formula 1 team and given the full-time job of handling media relations. Her contagious energy remains very active within the paddock, notably at Williams where she manages the schedule, press meetings and promotional engagements of Canadian driver Lance Stroll.
Over the course of a long career spent rubbing shoulders with F1’s greatest drivers, some of which became Champions, Ann Bradshaw has been through many backstage twists and turns. But more importantly, she witnessed the human and private aspects of these world-renowned personalities.
During our discussion, Ann kindly shared a few memories gathered over the many years of a long, passionate and ongoing career.
Did you simply fall into this role or were you approached?
“I arrived in motorsports in 1971 and over the years I’ve done many different things. I’ve been a journalist, I used to run the Press Office at the British Grand Prix, but my full-time role in F1 started in 1985. Because I had been working in the sport for a while and I knew a lot of people, I was approached to do a PR role at Williams. So that’s when it started.”
An F1 team with its own Press Officer was rather uncommon at the time…
“Absolutely right. There was myself, there was someone at Lotus, and that was it more or less. Obviously the number has doubled, tripled, quadrupled since then! Of course, the Press Officer role has grown with the advent of social media and everything else.”
So you were a pioneer!
“(Laughs) When you put it like that… Yes!”
Over the years you have been at several teams; you have surely babysat many drivers…
“Absolutely, that’s the best way of putting it…”
You’ve accompanied a few big names in Formula 1. Let’s start with Keke Rosberg. So it seems he would give you quotes while standing in his underwear.
“Oh yes. At the end of a race, Keke was always in a rush to get home on his private jet, so it was a matter of following him where he went and that usually meant into the back of a truck – they didn’t have drivers’ rooms back then – and there he was in his underpants, putting his clothes on and rushing off. So I used to get my quotes on the run as he was undressing and dressing.”
I heard a story regarding a g-string. Did you turn away?
“No (laughs). I needed my quotes more than dealing with anything that might embarrass me. And he wasn’t embarrassed, so why should I be?”
Nigel Mansell took everything to heart, good or bad. And when things were bad, he would seek out people and try to set the record straight.
“Yes, that’s right… But sometimes he imagined slights. Nigel was a truly great driver, he could drive eleven tenths out of the car. But he took things very personally, especially if he thought it was a slight on his family. He is a very strong family man, I’ve never come across more anyone like that. It was a shame because obviously people admired him, but it was a part of his character.”
But once the issue was settled, it was all good. It was forgotten and the page was turned.
“That’s right. Get on with it, move on and go race.”
Having interviewed him in the past, I know that Ralf Schumacher is not the easiest person to work with…
“You’ve hit the nail on the head (laughs). He was so difficult, unlike his brother (Michael) who is so nice, gracious, and a lovely person. Ralf could make people cry, he could be difficult, awkward, rude… I’ve seen pretty strong girls in tears at his behaviour which was totally unacceptable. He would go at people who had done nothing wrong. But I understand that he’s a nicer person now, which is good.”
So, Nelson Piquet was a real troublemaker?
“He was a joker! He used to do things or say things that he knew would cause problems. He knew it! That was Nelson. I wouldn’t say he was difficult. Sometimes he was difficult, but not in a bad way. He was mischievous and sometimes it went on the wrong side. It was a bit over the top, but that’s him. The best thing is to ignore.”
Ayrton Senna’s character was more intense.
“I first worked with him in ‘86. He was very single-minded and intent because he still had to win a World Championship. When he came to Williams in ‘94, he was a much happier, lighter person. A nice, very spiritual man, very keen to do the right thing with people. There was a spiritual side to him, like an aura about him. Obviously another great driver. He was very proud to be Brazilian, he was very keen to make the lives of Brazilians better and the Senna Foundation carries on his work. He was a true ambassador for his country and he wanted to give back anything he could to the country he loved. He was a national icon and revered.”
Whereas Damon Hill was more of an introvert.
“He was very introverted. In the morning he would sometimes walk in, you’d say ‘Good morning Damon’ but he just blanked out everybody. He would walk away, grab his things and say ‘Oh, good morning Ann’; he just hadn’t seen me. I’m very fond of Damon. He had his issues, but he drove well, had a good car, and he’s a very worthy World Champion. I enjoyed my time working with him.”
Jacques Villeneuve’s character is quite different!
“Oh, I love Jacques; I think he’s great! Formula 1 needs these characters. With Jacques, we had some laughs and he was fun to be with. I never knew what colour of hair he would turn up with (laughs). He was a great driver. And that year with Damon, they got on well. When it went down to the last race and either of them could win the Championship, it was a joy to be there because there was no animosity. I know Jacques can be difficult and people have different views of him. We have different opinions on certain things but I can talk with him. I think he’s funny. And it was a breath of fresh air when he came into Formula 1, ruffling a few chains and doing things that Formula 1 drivers didn’t do in those days. Obviously Lewis (Hamilton) does it all the time now, with the different hairdos and colours, but Jacques was a pioneer in that. He’s still around nowadays and he’s no different.”
You’ve been in this business for over 30 years now. What are the biggest changes you have witnessed?
“The biggest change is social media. In those days, you prepared a press release, you photocopied it, you took it to the journalists and they all wrote stories which came out the next day or the next week. There was no pressure, we didn’t have all these set times when people came to talk with the drivers. People would turn up and ask if they could speak to Nigel or Damon, and I’d say ‘I’ll grab him in a minute.’ I didn’t have the pressure of somebody wanting to put something out every minute. Now there are so many different stories and they’re trying to make up stories because of the pressure. It’s a big change in the way we have to run things. We have to be a lot more proactive and reactive in many ways. And also, the teams themselves are putting more out there, they have to guess what the fans want. Which is good, because we are more in touch with the fans. Before the fans found out things by reading an article in a newspaper; now they go to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… It’s great for the fans.”
And now you are taking care of a young driver named Lance Stroll, who has grown up in that context.
“Oh, I’m not finished yet (laughs)! He’s a nice kid. I’m very fond of Lance, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. And there’s more to come.”
*This interview was initially broadcast on FM1033 in the greater Montreal area.