- • Previously worked in rugby union and British Superbikes
• History graduate from Reading University
• Joined ESPNF1 in February 2014
MIAMI – J.J. and T.J. Watt could have picked any team to attend their first Formula One race with, but they never had eyes on anyone else at the Miami Grand Prix than American team Haas.
J.J’s tweet last year about his new-found love for Formula One, spurred by Netflix’s blockbuster hit ‘Drive to Survive’, caught the attention of the paddock and led to a reply and invitation from world champions Mercedes.
Austin’s U.S. Grand Prix is held in October, right in the middle of the NFL season, but Miami’s first race in May is perfect for the pair. For their first race, the towering brothers chose the team situated at the furthest end of the paddock, Haas. J.J. and T.J. are both huge fans of the team’s potty-mouthed team principal, the loveable Guenther Steiner, who is one of the stars of the show.
“He’s been great. They’ve all been great,” J.J. told ESPN. “How can you not be a fan of Guenther? He’s just a great guy. It’s the sign of a great person when they can just sit down and shoot the shit with them so that’s been great.”
The Watt brothers’ trip to Miami’s first race, hosted at a circuit which wraps around Hard Rock Stadium, started with an optimistic DM from Haas head of communications Stuart Morrison and developed into a full-blown chat about F1, the team and, eventually, an invitation for both to attend as guests of the team.
On Friday, the pair took part in pit stop practices, had a garage tour and met Steiner and team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher.
T.J. joked that the pair had asked fairly basic question of Haas’ pit crew during the tour.
“We definitely didn’t pick their brains with the non in-depth questions we had. They were pretty fundamental,” T.J. said. “But they didn’t laugh at us! They just answered them and were just really great showing us how it all worked.
“It’s crazy, the complexity, the scale of the whole operation,” J.J. added. “The pit stops are so impressive. So many things have to go right and only one little thing has to go wrong.”
In J.J.’s Twitter interaction with Mercedes last year, he joked that their allegiance could be bought, but they are now both committed Haas fans.
“They hooked us up,” T.J. said. “We’re Haas guys all the way”.
In a separate interview with Sirius XM, Watt said of all the drivers in F1 — which include seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and reigning champion Max Verstappen — he had been most excited to meet Magnussen, who made a surprise return to the sport this year.
“Mine was legitimately Kevin Magnussen,” J.J. said. “I thought it was badass how he came back from just not being in F1, then popped onto Bahrain and went out and crushed it.”
ESPN told Magnussen about Watt’s comments on Friday, after he had just completed two hours of practice at the slippery and challenging Miami circuit, and asked what it was like meeting the Arizona Cardinals lineman.
“It was scary!” he replied, laughing. “The scariest thing this weekend so far. He’s massive. Big respect for those guys, the training they do. It’s phenomenal.”
While at the race, J.J. will also be overseeing the fantasy F1 league he created to play with his brothers, teammates and some high school friends, which he runs in the traditional pen-and-paper style without the help of a website.
“I just came up with it,” J.J. told ESPN. “We were trying to find a fair way so someone didn’t just pick the top five guys every week. It’s worked out pretty good.
“Before free practice one, we all pick four drivers in a snake draft order. After qualifying you total up the places of your drivers, the guy with the lowest number gets to pick first for the real race.
“We pick in segments. One through five, six through ten. You get to pick one guy from each segment and then take your total from the whole weekend.”
“You never know, someone might crash out. When George Russell finished second because of the rain, you’d have never have thought that would happen.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s a blast.”
When asked who was winning their league currently, T.J. joked that it was “probably” J.J., but “only just”.
During his radio interview with Sirius XM which preceded talking to ESPN, the ultra-competitive Watt brothers said the stewards might have to look at the footage to decide which of them had been faster at wheel changing.
J.J. then joked “as long as it’s not Michael Masi!”
The brothers are still trying to digest how Hamilton lost last year’s championship. Former race director Masi incorrectly restarted the race after a late safety car, helping Verstappen overtake him in dramatic fashion on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
When asked by ESPN what he made of the controversial 2021 title decider, which cost Masi his job, J.J. said: “It had to be unbelievably difficult for Lewis. As an athlete the number one thing you want is for the playing field to be fair and competitive and to be able to settle it on the field fairly.
“So when something is taken out of your hands and you can’t settle it on the field… the way he handled it was thoroughly impressive, to not say the billion things that were probably going through his head that he wanted to say was pretty unbelievable.
“I honestly didn’t mind who won. I thought it was mind-blowing that after all those races it came down to the one race and it literally came down to the winner. I just wanted to see it fair.”
T.J., who said the driver he most wanted to meet was Hamilton, said: “It was cool to see Lewis just track him down over the course of the season, it was like ‘holy cow, is this really going to happen?’ It was a storybook type ending, so to not have it end, quote-unquote properly, was a little disappointing. I get that you want it to finish with a racing lap. But you want it to be settled with a real racing lap.”
J.J then added his surprise that Mercedes did not do everything in its power to get the result overturned.
“If you truly think about it from a business perspective, there are millions and millions of dollars on the line there, world record eighth championship… I dunno. There’s a lot that played into that and I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t been taken to higher levels.
“It’s crazy. With how much money’s involved in this sport? Crazy.”
The Watts will be on the grid before the race with the Haas team, their allegiance to F1’s only U.S. team secured.
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