Exclusive: Julian Ryder Interview
If you’re a fan of MotoGP and especially if you’re a British fan of MotoGP, then you know the legend that is Julian Ryder.
Julian has been in in motorsport journalism for three decades now, longer than many fans of the sport have even been alive.
For a similarly long time he’s also been a commentator for MotoGP, you can hear him with Toby Moody on British Eurosport every race weekend.
We’ve caught up with Julian at the last GP of the 2010 season in Valencia and asked him about his work.
You’ve been involved in motorsport journalism for such a long time, what was the biggest change in MotoGP in your opinion?
The change from 500cc to MotoGP I think is the biggest change ever in regulation. It also came before the credit crunch, the financial crisis. Since the financial crisis, all changes have been made in order to save money. Which is a completely different thing.
But things like control tyres and control engines are a very big change philosophically. If you’re a purist, it’s not something you would like. WCM couldn’t continue in the championship because they weren’t fully prototype bikes, but now that would be exactly the kind of team you’d want in the 2012 championship. Although now it’s related to the reality of financing, which makes it different case.
But: In Moto2 we’re looking at full grids with good quality riders and good quality teams and very, very entertaining races. So it can’t be all wrong. The question is however, will it produce the next generation of MotoGP riders the way the 250s did?
You’ve got a very deep technical understanding, how much of that is actually needed to be a motorsport journalist?
Basically none. Because there are some newspaper journalists who openly admit that they know essentially nothing about the bikes, but they’re still excellent journalists. For a magazine journalist you’d probably have to have a bit broader knowledge.
However, it is a technical sport. So it does help quite a lot if you do have some technical knowledge. Not least because you can then tell when someone is talking absolute bullshit.
And as a commentator, how much of that knowledge do you think is possible to inflict on the viewers without talking over their heads?
My experience as a magazine journalist is that people love the technical stuff. I’ve never had anybody actually write in to say it’s too much. I guess they like being baffled with bulls**t.
But the thing about being a technical journalist and what I think I do well, because I’ve had a technical education and have a technical background, is that I enjoy explaining those things to people. Damping would be the obvious one. You only have to understand the basic functions. Everything else is just making it clever and finer.
Lots of people mainly know you as a commentator instead of a motorsport journalist, does that bother you?
Well, I’d like to sell more books. [laughs] So it would be nice if one profession drives people to the other. But if people ask me what I do, I don’t say I’m a TV commentator, I say I’m a journalist.
Speaking about your books, you’ve been doing them for several years now and they’re a lot of work to put together. How do you keep yourself motivated?
I love writing. If you call yourself a journalist, you got to love writing. Just sitting down with a piece of paper… That’s the fun.
Being around the paddock for several decades now, which race or circuit still gets you the most excited every year?
Every race has something good about it. There is no bad racing. But of course some places stick out more than others, like for example next year at Mugello, with Rossi on a Ducati, it’s going to be massive. Or Sachsenring with the massive crowd who enjoy the whole tradition of MotoGP. Or Phillip Island which I still think is the best circuit in the world. You can find a reason for every one of them.
What makes MotoGP so fascinating for you?
It’s the highest level of technology, it’s the place where we see new things first, it’s the best riders in the world, it’s where all the riders want to be. If you’re interested in the sport, why wouldn’t you be interested in the best?
You’re also on Twitter by now. Has that changed anything for you, about the way you work?
For me it doesn’t really change much about how I work, I just use it as another outlet. Though it can be quite useful if you’re in the commentary box and don’t know what’s going on and another journalist twitters “XYZ just crashed in turn 2 and broke his collarbone”. That’s quite useful.
Do you have any favourite riders and if so, how difficult is it for you to stay objective in your reports and commentary?
Well, I’m British, so of course I’d want British riders to do well. And because we now work for British Eurosport I can let some of that show. And also, everyone loves a tryer. For example, how can you not like Toni Elias? Or when somebody like Alex Baldolini who’s been in the championship for years on crappy bikes suddenly gets a podium, how can you not be happy about that?
Do you speak any Spanish or Italian? How much of of a necessity is it in the paddock?
Spanish would be useful, but I don’t speak Spanish, I only speak French. But if you use it, you’d have to learn it to a good level. If I’d be a much, much younger person, I think I’d force myself into a Spanish language class. But I do get by with English. Everybody here speaks English. It’s the language for a Turkish rider, a French mechanic, a Spanish mechanic, a German data analyst… I think it was a Russian cosmonaut who said that the language of science is broken English. And it applies to racing as well.
How does your weekend preparation change for commentating?
It doesn’t change much. You just try to pack the information. I’m lucky that I’ve got a brain that retains a lot of the useful information. But what I do is that I sit down with the data sheets with all the results, I have them in front of me, and I put that data into my sheets and that way I also learn them. That’s the only thing that I actually do. And I probably do more routine talking to people in the paddock, just checking in with them to see what’s going on.
Is being behind a microphone and doing commentary something that comes naturally to you?
Pretty much. Sometimes you just want to make sure you got a good opening line and then take it from there. Because there is always so much going on.
And you and Toby play extremely well off each other.
This came very quickly and we’re very lucky, because we’re from very different backgrounds, but the bits simply fit together. We of course work at it a little bit and try to have some discipline in the commentary box, which can be difficult. [laughs] But over the years the unspoken understanding builds up. I know when he’s desperate to say something and he knows when I got something important, it’s grown over the years.
Julian, we thank you for your time.
To check out more about Julian’s work, you can visit his website at www.julianryder.com