From former racer during his teenage years to Dorna’s World Feed commentator in their MotoGP coverage, Steve Day (@SteveDayGP) has moved up the commentary ladder in recent years.
Whilst Silverstone was getting a soaking during the fourth MotoGP practice session on Saturday, myself and Steve took cover for a quick chat, looking at how he prepares for a race weekend and how to get the best out of a commentary pairing.
F1B: Thanks for this interview Steve. To start with, just give us a brief introduction to yourself and how you got to where you are today.
SD: I actually raced myself when I was younger. I started out in the Aprilia Superteens when I was aged 15 back in 2000. I suppose you could call it unlucky really, but I was racing against the likes of Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Chaz Davies and so on. I raced for two or three seasons, went to the British championship and crashed quite a bit. Ultimately, I realised quite quickly that I wasn’t going to make it like those around me and it was costing quite a lot of money, it’s an expensive game. I decided when I was about 23 or 24 that we’d call it a day racing. And then for a few years I was working at car dealerships, Volkswagen and Toyota. My Dad was involved in a race series called Thundersport GB and they needed someone for free to come and prat around basically on a microphone! I thought I’d give it a go, so on weekends when I was free, I’d go and do that. For the first few seasons, I commentated and gave it a go. Someone said it sounded alright! I think it was in 2010, I was commentating on the Sidecar Championship for Eurosport and I spoke to Eurosport to ask if there were any openings. At the time there weren’t too many but they gave me a go [with MotoGP] and it just went from year-to-year really from strength to strength. I’ve gone from earning no money, doing it part-time for a few years to now sitting here in the Grand Prix paddock and yeah, I’m loving it.
F1B: Now that you’re a commentator, you used to race bikes so that must be a pretty big advantage in that you’ve, sort of, been there and done that.
SD: It’s a massive help because you understand the mind of a rider a little more. You can appreciate how the crashes feel, what a rider is going through on the bike. You have the general understanding of how a bike works, I’ve found it an aid to my commentary. Okay, I wasn’t racing at a world championship level, but it’s definitely been a help.
F1B: You know the basics.
F1B: Just thinking about the current season, how do you prepare for the season and for this weekend?
SD: As a commentator, you have to do a lot of research. There is paperwork around the house everywhere. I tend to start with the riders, so I’ll look at all the riders and I’ll just try to get as much research as possible. There’s a fair amount in your head, I’ve been a bike racing fan for a long time as well as a former rider, so a large quantity is already in your head because you’re sitting and watching it on your couch anyway. It’s just a matter of going through every single piece of research that you can on each rider, writing it down as it stores the information in your head a little easier when you write things down. And then researching the circuit information, the rules on the championship, the bikes. The start of the season is definitely tougher because there are normally new faces, new coloured bikes that you have to get used to, different styles of helmets. On a round-by-round basis, I have data on my iPad that I then update after each round and I’ll add to that as well in between rounds and get ourselves ready for the weekend.
F1B: How is the dynamic in the commentary box between different co-commentators, do you have a preference, what’s the protocol?
SD: I’ve always been a lead commentator, so I’ve always had what they call an expert in with me. I’ve had the chance, since working with Eurosport and now with Dorna, to work with around 15 or 16 different commentators from ex-riders to general experts. I don’t necessarily have a preference, I tend to try to have a conversation before I’m working with someone just to try and work out what their style of commentary is and then try and work within that. It’s no good constantly talking over each other, I think you have to have an out of commentary box relationship with that person as well, it works really well. Last year, I worked with Greg Haines. Me and Greg [Haines] off circuit got on like a house on fire, it worked because you can feel that. Me and Matt [Birt] this year, we get along really well, we have some common interests, we’re good mates so that works as well. Some of the ex-riders I’ve worked with, the likes of Neil Hodgson, had a great rapport with him. Julian Ryder, he’s brilliant at what he does, I’ve worked with him as well. So yeah, a mixture of different types of commentators. You have to just try and work out yourself, put the feelers out and try and find the right dynamic.
F1B: For you guys it’s important that you have the relationship, because chances are you’ll be sitting in the box next to each other for seven hours.
SD: You have. I’ve not been in a situation where I’ve necessarily worked with anybody that I don’t like which is a bonus! I’ve worked with other commentators who perhaps haven’t done the job for very long so you end up talking a little more than others. But 100 percent, if you’ve got some rapport, have a bit of a laugh, you’ve got that relationship outside the commentary box then it does come out on air.
F1B: Sepang last year, [Valentino] Rossi vs [Marc] Marquez, how was it?
SD: Believe it or not, I wasn’t actually commentating on that race, I was sitting at home watching it. In that moment, there were perhaps a few swear words from the couch! I couldn’t actually believe what I’d saw. In so many ways, it was bad for the season, in other ways it raised interest. People were then on the edge of their seats ready for the final round. It was certainly full of drama. It would have been nice if the championship had gone to the final round with them fighting all fair and square, but it didn’t happen. It was probably the most dramatic moment I’ve ever seen in MotoGP for sure.
F1B: Looking ahead to MotoGP’s future, obviously part of that future is a MotoGP without Rossi. How will it play out?
SD: It’s a question that a lot of people have asked because of the character of Rossi and his legendary status. But it takes more than one rider to make a championship. Every sport has its icons, and MotoGP will be fine. The series has never been healthier than it is right now; the crowds are record-breaking.
F1B: You would think today (Saturday) is a race day at Silverstone.
SD: Yeah, exactly, it is busy. The key at the moment is that Rossi doesn’t want to retire, he’s extended his deal and he’s still in great form. He’s in better form this year than he was last year, he’s just been unlucky in a few of the races. However, I would say post-Rossi, I don’t know. Some people think that MotoGP will go downhill when Rossi leaves. Okay, there won’t be another Valentino, he’s an amazing character but the sport will maintain the same interest. Of course this assumes he does retire, he might go until he’s 50!
F1B: Imagine us sitting here having the same conversation in ten years’ time!
SD: For me, while he keeps performing at this level, I would not be surprised in the slightest if at the end of 2018 he was to announce another deal.
F1B: Another area of course is social media. How do you find social media, of course you’re a commentator so you get reaction in when things have happened, how do you think social media will play out?
SD: I think social media is absolutely key in the modern era and I think its massive now for MotoGP. They’re understanding how important social media is. I suppose in a way I’m quite lucky, because I’m 32, I’ve come in at a time when social media has already been a big part of my life anyway. I think that for a lot of the people who have been here pre social media takeover, they’re now understanding how important it is. I think it’s the best way of reaching out to people. I’m one of those people who probably checks their Twitter feed all too often.
F1B: Just like me!
SD: Yeah, all too often! But it is the era that we’re in, there’s less paper about. People go onto Twitter and onto Facebook to find out the information. It’s in a healthy state, it has to be utilised in the right way and I think MotoGP are doing that.
F1B: Where do you see yourself in the next few years, currently you’re the MotoGP commentator, but do you want to do other sports or do you want to do other roles within the paddock?
SD: I don’t know. I’ve done other sports with Eurosport and I always like to test myself. I think there might be a point in the future where I may want to branch out and do something else, at the moment I’m happy within bike racing as a whole, not necessarily just MotoGP, but all bike racing. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, but I’m still young and I’ve got time on my side. I can’t say that one day I might take on something at the Olympics, who knows. At the moment, I’m happy with my role, I love being a commentator, and it’s nice and dry in the commentary box which is a bonus!
My thanks go to Steve Day for spending the time with me on the above interview.