The man behind the mic in the Formula E commentary box, Bob Varsha, caught up with Editor Andrea Perilli on an interview that reviews his beginnings, his views on the series, and his expectations for what’s to come in Season 4.
Bob Varsha’s wealth of experience in all things motorsports is noticeable as soon as he starts to speak. Now one of the voices in the Formula E commentary booth, the American has been involved in the world of sports since the eighties, witnessing major events in the racing world.
Nonetheless, his career as a sports commentator came in one of those unexpected twists of life. “I actually was invited into the industry”, he explains. “I had trained here, in the United States, to be a lawyer; and my personal athletic background was in running sports, track and field, and so forth.
“We have a big event here in my hometown of Atlanta every year, and I was invited to be an expert commentator for a local broadcast. I did that and I was offered a job almost on the spot, and suddenly my career path changed from the law, to television broadcasting”.
There would be yet another move for the Atlanta-based now turned sports commentator: “I started working in news for a local superstation, WTVS, and while I was there, I came to know some independent producers of motorsports coverage and took a job with them, and they sent me off to the races”.
As his career in motor racing took off, Varsha has been able to see history being made several times. He cites Lewis Hamilton’s first championship conquest as one of the most outstanding moments he has enjoyed throughout his career.
If there is another historical event in the world of racing that also stands out, it has to be Formula E. Bob has been involved in the fully-electric championship since day one, as he was the voice behind the mic that taught Fox Sports viewers what the new series was all about.
“The biggest single point I needed to educate myself on was the mission statement of the series: what was Formula E designed to create, what was different in an all-electric series, and why was it important.
“So there I was, for the very first broadcast of a Formula E race, and I was trying to explain it to our viewership, that may have understood motorsports, but not electric propulsion”.
He certainly fulfilled his task of introducing the public to this brand new series – and so did everyone within the championship when carrying out their own tasks. “I think Alejandro Agag and his team have done a tremendous job of forming the series with a view to all of the things that can go badly, that have proven to be difficult in the past”.
Not only did the Spaniard put together a championship that at just three years after its first race, now finds on its grid over a dozen of today’s elite racing drivers, but he also managed to assemble a paddock that emerges as one of the friendliest and most laid back in the sport.
“I like the fact that Formula E is very laid back! The people are very friendly”, Varsha says. “Even though there are very competitive people in Formula E, it seems to be a very welcoming paddock and that's nice to see”.
Another aspect he highlights from the series, is the fact that both worldwide known marques, and private teams, can coexist and fight for success. “I think Alejandro and his team have taken a long look at the rulebook to give everyone a chance of succeeding, and that's all you can really ask for in sport”.
Innovation comes in all forms and shapes in Formula E, and what is better than a race on the streets of Brooklyn to prove that? When asked why it was this championship that could finally host a race in New York, he believes it was “the very nature of Formula E as an emissions-free, forward-looking concept”.
“New York City, like so many cities around the world, is concerned about environmental impact, quality of life for its citizens and so on. Their Mayor, Bill de Blasio, is a forward-thinking individual like the mayors of other cities such as Paris and Rome, who want to be part of developing a platform for emissions-free technologies”.
Varsha agrees that motorsports is the place where this has to be tested and showcased; and adds that a series of aspects true to the series’ nature led the way for Formula E’s successful visit to New York City last July.
Sam Bird won both races that weekend and went on to lift the first place trophy a few months later, in the Season 4 opening round in Hong Kong. The start of this new season is assuredly far from what the public expected to see, but the hard fights on track remain - and are probably stronger than ever.
“As the manufacturers keep gravitating to the series - both the ones we already have and the ones that are coming - and with the quality of the driver line-up, which is superb and all professional, Season 4 will definitely be the hardest-fought series ever”.
With three rounds into its fourth season, the championship has leaders in both the drivers' and teams' standings who have never topped them before. “The human element of trial and error, of mistake and success, was all there [in the first few rounds of the season]. The people we were used to see running at the front were not up there, and we saw some new faces up there, which is exciting to see”.
As the series continues to expand, Bob himself goes on to introduce new viewers to the fully-electric championship. Many members of this new audience one day may want to pursue a career in the field of motorsports commentating.
“My advice would be, get in [to the industry] any way you can and get your hand in the air when people are looking for people to do any kind of job to advance your career”. He knows better than anyone the importance of being at the right place at the right time, which has taken him to become one of the voices commentating on a series that we we hope never ceases to grow.
Photo by Ray Santana Photography.