How Arizona Cardinals star J.J. Watt became an F1 superfan

3 months ago 27

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  • Josh WeinfussESPN Staff Writer


    • Covered the Cardinals since 2012
    • Graduate of Indiana University
    • Member of Pro Football Writers of America

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over the summer, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt gave his older brother, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt, a Netflix recommendation.

T.J. had watched "Formula 1: Drive to Survive" with a buddy and suggested it to J.J., who casually knew about F1 because he once went to Monaco, home of the famous Monaco Grand Prix. So, J.J. turned on the series, joining 50 million others in 2021 who watched the show, according to Business Insider.

What happened over the next week made Watt more than a casual fan of F1. Much more.

"I'm deep," Watt told ESPN. "I'm deep in it. I love it."

Just how deep did the three-time NFL defensive player of the year who drives a Ford F150 and has no interest in, as he put it, "fancy cars," go?

As the F1 crowd would say, buckle up.

"I know more now about an F1 car and about a Christian Horner or a Toto Wolff beef," Watt started. "I know that it's pretty wild that Alex Albon just got the Williams seat [for 2022], when it's a Mercedes engine in the car but [Red Bull boss] Christian Horner is over here saying 'I want Alex Albon on F1.' He's got four seats and he can't give him one of them.

"It's pretty interesting and I'm deep down it. It's a fascinating thing and, obviously, Toto wants Nyck de Vries to have a seat. Now, he doesn't have a seat. Maybe you could settle for an Alfa Romeo seat but it looks like it's going to Hulkenberg."

Watt said he's about "1,000%" deeper than he ever expected to be.

It took him a week to get through the three seasons of the show, calling the behind-the-scenes look at one of the most private sports on the planet "captivating." Then, on July 26, a day before the Cardinals were set to report for training camp, Watt revealed his passion and obsession with F1 with a tweet.

Didn't know a single thing about F1 Racing besides Lewis Hamilton like a month ago.

Now I'm just wondering which is greater, Christian Horner's love for Max Verstappen or his hate for Toto Wolff.

I'm also down a deep rabbit hole on the 2022 car and the downforce implications.

— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) July 26, 2021

It quickly took off, resonating with those who watched the show and found themselves watching more -- or any -- Formula 1 than they have in the past. It has more than 40,000 likes, but among the 2,200 responses was one that caught Watt's attention.

Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton's team and winners of the last seven world championships, invited Watt to their garage.

Hey JJ! Heard you're one of us now. 😉

We'd love to invite you to hang out some time to talk downforce! 🤓

— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) July 26, 2021

"I'm not saying that my loyalty can be bought, but it would be cool to be in Lewis' garage and see how it all works," Watt said with a smile.

Even NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski tweeted at Watt, saying he was glad Watt was enjoying motorsports.

And the official Formula 1 account responded, to which Watt then responded himself with a glimpse into his newfound expertise.

Happy to be here!

excited to see the 18" Pirelli's, rolled tips and fully shaped underfloor tunnels in action.

Cleaner air, tighter racing and more drama.

I'm here for it. #PushPush

— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) July 26, 2021

Watt's tweet was noticed on the F1 circuit.

Daniel Ricciardo, who drives for McLaren, saw Watt's post. He also heard from his agent at CAA, where Watt's agent is also based, that Watt was turning into an F1 fan.

"J.J. is obviously a big name, a big star, so it's cool to get that," said Ricciardo, who is a big Buffalo Bills fan.

"I think we do hold American sports up pretty high. I think America does sports so well and you've got your big stars in the MLB, NBA, NFL, so to have one of them show an interest and tweeting about us is cool so we certainly appreciate it."

Ricciardo, who has played catch with Tom Brady across yachts in Monaco and met UFC Hall of Famer Georges St-Pierre, has liked seeing the new and growing interest in the sport thanks to "Drive to Survive," especially when that attention comes from other athletes.

"I love people getting involved," he said. "it's obviously a sport I've been in love with my whole life so to, let's say, bring more interest in, and, I say, new fans but especially other athletes to appreciate what we do and respect what we do, that's super cool.

"I'm a sports fan. I love other sports so it's cool that we've got that exposure now and the interest from others."

Watt's not the only NFL player who's gotten into F1 lately.

During training camp, he mentioned his F1 fandom to fellow defensive lineman Zach Allen and former Cardinals lineman Margus Hunt. It turned out that Hunt, who's from Estonia was a huge Formula 1 fan to the point of not just knowing intricate details about floorboards and engine exhaust systems, but having an F1 car simulator at home. Allen, though, was more like Watt, just getting into it from the show. They still have a group chat about F1 and every week heading into qualifying they pick four drivers. How they qualify for the race sets a draft order and then the three NFL players draft again for the real race.

It's become their own fantasy F1 league.

Watt has never been to a race. The annual American stop on the international circuit, which is now in Austin, has been during the football season, ruling out a visit to the Circuit of the Americas. But Watt is hoping to go the new Miami race that was added to the Formula 1 schedule for the first week of May.

Ideally, though, he wants to go to an international race.

For now, Watt makes sure to watch every race he can, which has been a tad more difficult since moving to Arizona from the central time zone since most of the races start on Sundays between 5-7 a.m. in Arizona. Watt's body is conditioned to wake up between 5 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. so he's been up for most but he doesn't usually get to watch practices because they start in the early, early hours in the United States.

Watt's F1 consumption has been interrupted recently due to the NFL season.

"I won't watch the races unless I'm up and just hanging out," Watt said "But, no, otherwise, on Sundays, I won't be able to watch, but, you never know, maybe they'll calm me down on game day."

Ricciardo laughed at the idea but didn't totally dismiss Watt.

"Well, actually, I mean, some races can be a bit boring, so maybe," Ricciardo said with a wide smile. "Maybe. I mean, it's a roll of the dice... some can be intense and nail-biting and some can be a little processional. So, I mean, maybe.

"Whatever works for J.J. I ain't gonna argue with him. He's slightly bigger than me. So, I am not going to tread on his toes."

Cars have never been Watt's thing, but the drama of car racing? That's an entirely different question.

"I'm more about the rivalries and the teams and relationships and the fights and the battles," Watt said.

"Like now I care about, 'Is Haas ever going to score a point in the history of their program?' [Haas team principal] Gunther Steiner is one of my favorite characters on the planet. I just know his head's exploding every time [Nikita] Mazepin spins off the road."

Watt is in deep, indeed.

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