Tom Bellingham: "I do this because I absolutely love F1"
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Tom Bellingham, known to the masses as TommyWTF1, is probably one of the most liked characters on what we all call F1 Twitter (sorry Matt). Without him, WTF1 would not exist. We wouldn't have Internet's Best Reactions or, everyone's favourite part of race weekend, 'Tweet of the Week', and the team's social media admins would be lost without their Social Media Championship. Essentially, all of that was possible because of Tom himself.
I got in touch with Tom because he works within the media sector in Formula 1, somewhere I'd love to end up one day. My aspiration to reach that level is the main reason why I started this blog. Learning about the journey to his role today didn't just inspire me more, but it also led me to appreciate content creators that little bit more. After all, they are fans creating content for other fans to enjoy.
From starting out as a Toro Rosso [AlphaTauri] fan page and ending up as WTF1, whose YouTube has almost 600,000 subscribers, the journey, undoubtedly, was far from easy. But, it was successful, and so worth it.
WTF1 is known for its memes, plus the podcasts which Tommy and Matt [Gallagher] release after each race weekend. Their YouTube channel boasts videos within every genre, from race reviews to watchalongs, from current Formula 1 discussion topics to content from the past. As well as acting as Content Manager for WTF1, Tommy is known for the different car liveries he creates, and will probably be responsible for designing Aston Martin’s 2021 race suit (yes, it’s my favourite).
WTF1 has something for everyone, no matter your motorsport background.
ELLIE: Can you give us an insight to your role at WTF1?
TOM: That’s a good question and not always the easiest to answer haha! I’m Tommy, the founder of WTF1. My ‘proper’ job title though is Content Manager, which basically means a bit of everything but mainly social. I run the WTF1 Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as helping out on other things like YouTube scripts, ad campaigns, occasional articles etc. We’re a very small team so all of us do a little bit of everything!
"I was on Twitter in 2009 and it was a VERY different place back then."
ELLIE: When did you realise you wanted to work in motorsport, or Formula 1 more specifically?
TOM: Honestly? I never thought it’d even be possible. Growing up I always felt the only way you could get into F1 was by being a mechanic or an aerodynamicist, neither of which I’d be able to do. It was only after starting WTF1 and I got more opportunities in the industry that I realised this could be a full-time job one day.
ELLIE: Why WTF1?
TOM: Well firstly, and unsurprisingly, I do this because I absolutely love F1. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was a kid, so talking about F1 (and hopefully not boring people) is something I’ve been doing my whole life almost. It was never my plan to get into social media, journalism or anything like that, it all just came naturally to me because of how much I love the sport.
ELLIE: When did the idea of WTF1 come to you?
TOM: Not many people know this but WTF1 actually started off as a Toro Rosso fan page called Forza Toro Rosso. I was a big fan of them back when Sebastian Vettel drove for them and in 2009 I set up a blog and Twitter dedicated to writing about the team and a way to connect with other Toro Rosso fans. Yep, I was on Twitter back in 2009, and I can tell you it was a VERY different place back then. I think I only managed to find a handful of F1 fans on there.
Anyway, I ended up making some funny videos about F1 and people seemed to like them, so I set up a Tumblr to share them (as well as write and blog about F1 in general) and eventually the Forza Toro Rosso Twitter account became WTF1 and the rest is history.
Back then F1 pages were very serious and the ‘banter’ we see from companies and social accounts wasn’t really a thing back then. This really helped WTF1 standout and eventually more and more people started to follow and connect with it.
"We were chatting and having a laugh while trying not to freak out at how amazing it was."
ELLIE: Did you face any setbacks whilst establishing WTF1 and how did you overcome them?
TOM: I guess the biggest thing that comes to mind is that when WTF1 grew bigger, inevitably you start to get more and more haters. It took me a while to learn to deal with people like that but in the end it’s best to just do what you think is right and don’t let a few bad comments get to you when there’s plenty of people out there that love what you do and are grateful for it.
That, and the time WTF1 got hacked and became a porn site for a while. That was an interesting couple of hours of panic.
"Passion > everything else."
ELLIE: What’s the greatest experience you’ve had thanks to WTF1? TOM: At the end of 2017, we’d not long launched the YouTube channel and even little things we got to do were really exciting, so you can imagine what it was like when we got the opportunity to spend a day with Daniel Ricciardo in Baku. We were covering Daniel’s visit to Baku for their social pages and then later that evening we got to go out for dinner with him and a few others. He came over, sat on our table for a bit and we were chatting and having a laugh while trying to not freak out at how amazing it was.
The next day we were filming a WTF1 video with him and the previous night meant we were all super relaxed and chatty and the whole thing was so much fun. I’d created a playlist for a whisper challenge we did with him, so he was chatting to me about music afterwards. We even got the same flight home and he made sure we’d all got our bags before saying goodbye. You never know if people are different behind the camera but, Danny Ric was just genuinely a really, really good guy.
ELLIE: Did you ever consider another career path?
TOM: I went to university to do Music Technology so I wanted to do something with music originally but I soon realised that I was getting more opportunities through what I was doing with WTF1, which was just a hobby at the time. I was getting invited to F1 events and it was soon clear that F1 media was going to be a more likely career for me than music.
ELLIE: How did you get to your position today?
TOM: Passion > everything else. Like I said earlier, all the opportunities and invites I was getting through WTF1 just showed to me how important it is to do stuff outside of your studies.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now for any other sport or interest. The reason it’s worked out is thanks to how much I love F1 and that goes for Matt too and everyone else at WTF1. That’s the main reason I think WTF1 is so well loved because we make the content we know we’d enjoy as F1 fans.
There’s obviously a lot of hard work that goes into it too. I set up WTF1 ten years ago now and the success didn’t come overnight. It took a lot of hard work and sleepless nights for very little reward in the early days!
"That's what makes it so special."
ELLIE: What is the best part about your role in WTF1, and what is the worst, if there is one?
TOM: I’ll start with the worst so I don’t end things on a low. Even though it’s my dream job, days can still be tough sometimes and that’s ok. Another difficult thing is dealing with online abuse and knowing that people really hate you despite not even knowing you, that took me some time to get used to.
As for the best part, there’s plenty of them. Firstly, just being able to share my love for the sport with other people is amazing and I love how much some people appreciate the brands and what we do. Secondly, it’s being able to do things in F1 that I could never have imagined. I’ve been on the other side of the fence, queuing up for autographs for hours, so it makes me appreciate what I do now even more. When we get to go to races, be in the paddock and speak to the drivers, it’s something that still feels exciting and I hope it never just becomes ‘part of the job'. That’s what makes it so special.
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[ Photo Credit: Tom Bellingham ]