When I was 19 years old, I posted an on-board video clip of me driving at Spa in the rain, in a Formula 2 racing car. It was about 30 seconds long and had one vital moment in it which made it a viral video. About a week after posting, it had been shared, and shared and shared. To the point where online papers, online racing magazines and popular social media accounts were all sharing the video. Famous other drivers were giving their comments and mostly admiring the reaction speed I showed. But the question that always gets asked is, was it luck, or was it skill? I’ve never written directly about that moment, so I thought I’d write an entry on it.
I’m sat in the office of a new racing partner of mine, Blackwell Global and the first thing they ask is about the video. ‘We saw the video and we loved it…was it luck or skill, that was crazy?! Hey, the video could fit well with a new campaign we’ve got coming up’ A few weeks on and they’ve asked me to write about it. It occurred to me that I’d never directly written or talked about the moment which I posted on YouTube in 2012, so what better way to talk about it linking to my new racing partners.
I’ve never really shared my thoughts on it – I guess mainly because it did its own talking. The power of creating an argument surely makes something like that stronger? Was it real? Could I sense something was about to happen? Was it luck? Was it reaction? Was it skill? These are all questions which drum up interest between friends, colleagues, drivers and business people.
6 years on and several times a year I’m being tagged by my Facebook friends to a shared post by an account which picks up a whole new host of likes and comments. On my video alone, ‘the original’, has 1.5 million views. So how does a video like that go viral? And importantly, and I suppose the question that people always ask me when they talk about it, is, ‘was it luck or skill?’
Some interesting facts about the video are that it’s been viewed in 69 countries worldwide, with the most popular country the United States, and even reaching places like Kazakhstan, Moldovia and Taiwan. The video itself was something I just ‘put up’. I never expected it to go viral. At the time, I was working with a videographer and we were spending lots of time editing cool videos and trying to be clever with content we created. This event at Spa happened during a race weekend and I just thought to myself that it would make quite cool viewing amongst my peers. However, within a week of posting the video, I believe it had something like 100 thousand views and before that month was up, it hit 400k views. I was getting interview requests, people asking to post the video on their channel, people messaging me with their admiration. It went a bit crazy. Eventually, the interest wore off, but not before it hit a million views and since then another 500 thousand. That was on my channel alone. Combined views with all the videos I’ve seen or been tagged in over the years will be well over 2 million views.
But was it luck or skill? Well, it was both. That’s the answer I tell everyone. You can’t possibly prepare for a moment like that; it’s too specific. Golfers can practice tough shots on the training course – and to some extent, will be able to play a round trying out most difficult scenarios. If they get stuck in the trees, they can practice getting out. If they get stuck in sand, or deep rough, they can find ways to practice it. Footballers practice difficult free kicks, or penalties under pressure and others. But how do you practice a car being just there, slowed right down from 160mph in the pouring rain with no vision and in front of your eyes? You can’t, it’s life or death. It’s pure instinct and reaction.
If you’ve ever heard of the expression ‘fight or flight’ and the state in which the body gets into during potentially dangerous and harmful moments, then this, I feel would, definitely come under that. Fight or flight, is about the fight-or-flight response refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. On that day, my body went into fight mode.
I remember just seeing this red light appear in front of my eyes and in that instance, I didn’t think or reason, I just reacted. I turned the wheel left which narrowly avoided the car ahead. That was, without question a skilled moment. I used to, and still work hard on my reaction speeds in preparation for any racing event. I believe reactions for a racing driver are hugely beneficial and make up a huge part of the armory. I did a lot of pad work with my personal trainer, and a lot of Batak reaction training. There’s no question I was mentally aware and prepared to react. The fact that it was raining as well probably heightened the senses and potentially helped me to be more prepared.
People have commented that I knew what was coming up because of the lines on the road showed potential danger, or that the camera could see less than my vision, or that I was going too fast and it was my fault. Whatever the negative view against the moment & video, I can truthfully say that what you see on the screen is about the view I got; and the lines on the road are barely visible for us at those speeds. It’s impossible to have judged what was coming up, but I’m very thankful of my reaction times and skill were there to initially get me out of trouble.
The luck part came when I lightly tapped my right rear wheel on the car that appeared, thus causing me to flick the other way and sideways on the grass. People have said that my skill to keep it straight on the grass was impressive enough. But to be totally truthful, 9 out of 10 racing drivers would get that bit right with their eyes closed. The control on the wet grass was all ‘part of the job’ as it were. The bit I feel that most drivers may have stumbled on, was reacting the way I did. My brain/body didn’t think, it just reacted, and it’s that moment that not only created an interesting discussion point and a viral video, but probably saved my life that day.
After discussing all of this with my new partners Blackwell Global, they then went on to ask me about my thoughts on football, as they are partnered with Everton Football Club. They have launched a campaign called #DidYouKnow with Everton striker Cenk Tosun leading the campaign. It’s an interesting insight into support and how that helps footballers/sportsmen and women succeed. If you get some time, I’d recommend checking out their take on support within sport and business, and its similarities: www.BlackwellGlobal.com/Cenk
You can watch the video of Cenk Tosun talking below:
It’s an interesting topic; what similarities do Motor Racing & Business have. People just assume I’m a racing driver, and I go and drive racing cars and that’s it. But unlike the golfer or footballer, it’s very difficult to just go out and practice round after round. We can’t, not without an unlimited budget. Racing costs money, and I’d almost go as far as to say I’m a businessman first, before being a driver. Last year I had over 30 sponsors & partners supporting me and my racing programme, all of whom have different marketing and sponsorship needs. Some enjoy hospitality on race day, some enjoy track days with me, some enjoy seeing me do well, and others my programme to entertain their staff and clients. The person at the forefront, selling the sponsorship and partnership programmes, creating the ideas, creating the events and race days is, well, me. I’m a one-man band creating a big party for people to join, all to watch me hopefully go and win. Winning = success. Success = business. Business does not work without success, and arguably, certainly in my case, success is nothing when not winning.
How do I go about winning? Much like Cenk Tosun explains in the video above, support and communication are my two key aspects. And in some ways, I probably lean on the support of my team a bit more than him due to the nature of not being able to practice as much as other sports. I’m a one-man band yes, but I have the support of my race team, I have the support of my friends & family, I have the support of my partners and sponsors, I have the support of everyone around me willing me to do well. Communication to them is vital for me to go and win. The race team support me before and after each race event, telling me how they want me to perform and showing me all the necessary tools to go and do the job I need to do as best I can.
Cenk Tosun in the video above mentions ‘support’, and how that helps him to feel the energy of the crowd and how that drives the team forward to go and do well. It’s the same with racing. Support from the team, from the sponsors and the crowd allows me to focus in and race faster and harder. A racing driver these days must be more than just fast, or in James Hunt’s perspective, fast and charming.
A racing driver nowadays has to be smart, presentable, insightful, business minded, a good communicator and of course skilled. I suppose if you want to make a viral video, then you have to be a bit lucky too…