My name is Craig Blake-Jones and I’m an addict.
Being a petrol head is a condition, it’s an addiction, sometimes an affliction, it can dominate your life and turn rational life decisions into life changing
moments. It can bring ultimate highs and extreme adrenaline, but there can be equally dark moments. Like any other addiction, the first step is admitting it to yourself. It’s not a condition that necessarily needs a cure, but it can benefit from some control and management.
As I look back at my life, I can identify the points at which my petrol hedonism moved through its stages.
My car history was born from necessity and opportunity. From my first Morris Minor, through MG’s, Lotuses a load of hot hatch and performance salons to my first ‘life changer’ my Ferrari 360F1. It was all downhill from there, a spiral into high octane oblivion – Lambo’s, Porsches, Astons, even an Ariel Atom and brief flirtation with a JP1 track car, ending in one of the most sensible supercars ever an Audi R8, before common sense mixed with a feeling ‘been there – done that’, steered me back to a big useful 4×4.
I’ve always been a motorsport fan, I was an ARDS instructor for many years. I did a bit of sprinting and hill climbing back in the day. My Morris Minor would leave an XR2i standing and could hang on to my friends Lotus Sunbeam on a high-speed trip to work (very different times back then). Formula 1 was to me what football was to my peers. As a kid watching in Black and White, we knew the Ferrari was red, so that gave the monotone an imaginary colour palette.
I was on the edge of my seat for the Lauda/Hunt battle that was immortalised in Ron Howard’s masterpiece Rush, but I’d never actually been to a Formula 1 race. I’d spent many hours on the forest stages of Group 4 rallies, and quite a few in the paddock working on my pals MK1 Escort BDA. The glamour of F1 was a Sunday afternoon pleasure in front of the TV.
As I got older real life got in the way and the appeal of working on my cars waned, so the highly tuned MG’s gave way to MG Maestro Turbos and the like. I was working in music and later in film, but any career involving cars or motorsport had never even crossed my mind.
Fast forward about 25 years; my best friend and business partner, Dominic lives in Thame, we had an office in central London, so once or twice a week I’d drop him off on my way home to the Midlands. This usually entailed a bite to eat in the Lamb in Little Milton where motorsport photographer John Breen would be at his usual perch on the end of the bar. I knew John through Dom and he was involved with an F1 business magazine called The Paddock Magazine. He’d given me a couple of issues, but honestly, I struggled to read them as they had managed to make the sport I love seem very tedious.
Tuesday night in the Lamb and we’re all talking. Let’s do Monaco GP I said, it’s this weekend. Dom was busy, but John was free, I actually thought he’d be there any away, I’ll write it up for your magazine I said – agreed so we had a road trip. I’d not long sold my R8 but wanted something interesting to take down there. The following morning, I hit the phones and got a Porsche Panamera from a pal with a hire company and called my mate with a villa and a boat just outside Cannes to stay at his place.
On Thursday evening I picked up the Porsche in South East London, headed back to collect John and we hit the Euro Tunnel arriving at my mates villa early evening Friday for dinner. He still had a full house of hangers-on from the Film Festival so I took two rooms at Le Negresco in Nice. My first F1 experience was as it should be, all the glamour of Monaco mixed with the adrenaline of F1.
I wrote the article, John did the pictures, the magazine printed. Next thing I knew Maserati have invited us to collect a car at the factory and drive it to Monza for the GP. This went on for a year and I still hadn’t seen a finished copy anywhere other than the ones John gave me.
2014, we’re trying to arrange another article for Monza, but the magazine couldn’t even get a ticket, let alone a media pass, so I went as a guest of Ferrari. As I enjoyed the hospitality, I couldn’t help thinking this is where the magazine should be. This was the perfect place for a cool lifestyle magazine that covers all the interests of these motorsport fans.
Paddock Life was born that early September weekend in the grandstand next to the pit lane at the Cathedral of Speed, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. The first issue of Paddock Life was out for the 2014 F1 finale in November at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.
At the time of forming Paddock Life I had a creative consultancy servicing luxury brands. I’d worked with John for a year on the articles I’d done for his magazine, so he was already toying with the idea of founding a new publication. Paddock Life would step outside F1 and into a world we knew a certain sector of the sports followers came from. The third member of our founding team was Barnett Fletcher another petrol head and friend whose background was sponsorship and agencies.
When I set out to design the first issue my concept was a magazine for me and my mates, I knew what we wanted, I knew what we were interested in. I wanted something that sat in hotels and hospitality suites, that you sneaked into you bag or wandered out nonchalantly at the end of the day with the magazine discretely tucked under your arm. You had it on your desk on the Monday morning saying ‘I was there’ – this was my goal.
I’d never been in publishing; I didn’t even read car magazines (they never engaged me enough) but for Paddock Life I wanted a distinct look. Black always worked for me, so I went for a plane black cover, no adverts or pictures, just a logo. On my desk was an issue of the Lamborghini owner’s magazine, it always impressed me as it had physical presence, so I ran a ruler over it and I had my file size.
Paddock Life issue 1 was 44 pages, by issue 2, which we launched at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix as guests of Lotus, we were up to 100 pages. The concept was to be monthly or every two Grand Prix’s, but it levelled out at 4-5 per year.
Our distribution was growing too, we were shipping pallets of magazines all over the world to coincide with the F1 calendar. We are in hotels, on boats, in seat backs of Jets – Paddock Life was gaining momentum. Bahrain was our first official F1 media accreditation and most of the teams had Paddock Life in their hospitality.
We were reaching an ever-growing readership of the very hard to advertise to. Our list of advertisers was starting to grow, but it was still an uphill battle against the on-line brigade that all media agencies hitched their wagons to, but we soldiered on. Real print, on quality paper, with original photography.
2015 was a rollercoaster of a year. Monaco in 1974 Ferrari Dino, Austria in Dodge Ram truck, then at our home Grand Prix we hit a wall. The week before we’d hosted a party in a newly open members club in London, we had magazines in all the hotels, all the team HQ’s and Motorhomes. Then on Race day I arrived early at Silverstone circuit, but as I entered the paddock my pass wouldn’t work. I was taken up the organisers office to get it fixed.
It was then I was confronted by Pasquale Lattuneddu, one of Bernie’s lieutenants and probably the most disagreeable obnoxious individual I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. He had cancelled our passes for what basically came down to Paddock Life being liked and read by the teams without his permission. He wanted me to pay him to have Paddock Life in the F1 paddock. I could not believe what I was hearing, it was like controlling what Sunday papers the teams had for their guests. As I was already there, he reinstated my pass, but cancelled Johns.
This was a turning point for Paddock Life. It was that moment I decided to steer us away from F1. We would still cover it, but it would no longer be the mainstay of our content. I still love F1, but we were building our distribution and readership and it was time to break free of the confines and rules that went with the overcrowded F1 circus and look at new and more interesting content.
The next step on our new road came just as randomly. I’d been for a meeting with my accountant in the city, which turned into lunch and few bottles of wine as more of his clients joined us – all wanting to talk about Paddock Life. I had also arranged to meet a bespoke tailor at 5pm near Liverpool Street to discuss a story, I was running late by now, so when I walked into the hotel bar I was surprised to see a chap I knew from my days in Film sitting with her. The evening rapidly descended into more wine and a late train home. Some days later I got a call whilst in the car, it was Lydia from Perfectly Attired – apparently, we’d agreed that she would make me a bespoke suit and I’d feature it in Paddock Life. This was the catalyst to another major change to our rapidly developing brand.
I’d been fitted for the suit and had chosen a very 60’s mod-style cut in Blue Mohair and I now needed to plan the photo shoot, so I called an old friend and fellow petrol head who happened to be a fashion photographer with a studio in Birmingham. I needed a concept for the shoot and was going to hustle up a 60’s car, but the next day I was filling up at my local petrol satiation and at the pump opposite was a fabulous Mod Scooter, chrome, mirrors the lot. I asked the rider, a young chap, if he’d let me use it for the shoot.
During the shoot we discovered that Ben who’s scooter we were using was a dedicated 60’s Mod and a design graduate who was working in the Co-op. The Suit shoot was in the last issue of 2015 at the Abu Dhabi GP.
2016 and I now had Ben working on design with me, together we developed the look and layout, but I still wanted a cooler, better logo. Sometimes you are too close to see it yourself, so I engaged a create agency I knew and between us we arrived at the Paddock ‘P’ logo.
The chrome ‘P’ foil was to sit on the plane black cover a single colour block, as before, that changed every issue. I collected the new print run, we had used a printer in Birmingham for this issue. I drove directly to our office in London, opened a box with great expectation only to be horrified by the ‘Gucci’ brown cover. This had to be fixed quickly as pallets were about to ship all over the world. The printers had all kinds of excuses, but we needed it fixed.
It was at this point I dropped the carbon fibre image onto the cover, with a black filter over the top and a soft laminate to accentuate the chrome P. Very expensive, but it looked amazing. Finally, I had a magazine that looked exactly like the one in my head.
This 8th edition of Paddock Life is now up to 180 pages with a much more lifestyle biased content, but it was the next issue that really grew the racing content. The phones were ringing with car manufacturers offering me press cars and invitations; I was offered a Dodge Challenger Hellcat in Munich and wanted to take it to a race, so I chose a GT race in Misano Italy, joining me on this adventure was long-time friend, car collector and general raconteur Christopher Dunhill. We found our new motorsport home; the Blancpain GT series (as of 2020 The AWS GT World Challenge) was everything we liked at Paddock Life with none of the bullshit that went with the ego maniacs then running F1.
That year I covered the Mile Miglia, Le Mans and Chris and I were invited by a Californian car collector friend to join him on the 40th anniversary Lancia Stratos rally, one of the highlights of our time producing this 180-page work of art we call Paddock Life.
There are so many stories and characters behind the content, we could write a book, by the end of 2018 we had 120 distribution points around the world, a beautiful magazine read by about 50 thousand petrol heads, most of which were high net worth collectors and racers. In 2019 it was time to have a re-organisation of the business with Mr Dunhill now fully on-board, we needed to be ready to start the new decade.
Not even those crazy ‘the end is nigh’ loonies thought 2020 would start with a global pandemic that would cancel all our events and race series’. The world has changed, it will never be the same again and maybe that could be a good thing? For us at Paddock Life all our usual points of distribution are currently closed, so we have taken the leap (and a small leaf from some of our new competitors and imitators) to sell issues of Paddock Life online.
On the positive side it means greater access to all, whereas before you needed to be in the right hotel or team hospitality or on the right mailing list to get your copy now you can click to buy and have Paddock Life delivered to your door to enjoy in all its quality old-school printed glory. We hope you all enjoy our story and the little piece of Petrol Hedonistic Art that is Paddock Life.
Founder and Editor in Chief.