Misprononunced F1 names

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    Often, proper nouns in Formula One are improperly pronounced (to make what seems a proper pun here). This, of course, applies first and foremost to personal names.

    It is incredible how people often watch without seeing and hear without listening, carried by the force of habit and misled by interference of a widespread analogy.

    For instance, Aleksey (Alexei) Popov, the chief Russian TV Formula One presenter and commentator, has been calling (all his life?) Ross Brawn incorrectly: Brown. At first, doubtless, it was the overwhelming influence of the more widespread surname and the semblance between the two. I’d be happy to think that now after all these years of commenting on F1 broadcasts Aleksey knows the difference. Is he afraid to reveal to the audience that he has made a mistake? Is it possible that he is carried by the inertia of habit? I suppose he would say now that it doesn’t matter what we call Ross in Russian: Brawn or Brown — it’s good enough for our domestic use as long as the Britons call him correctly. :–) But I opine that in this particular case it is advisable for us foreigners in Russia to pronounce Ross’s surname as precisely Englishly))) as possible — to avoid confusion with another very similar surname. Or did Aleksey pick up his pronunciation from Niki Lauda with his charming Austrian accent? (It is to be borne in mind that the same set of sounds which in English is represented by the spelling “Brown”, is rendered by “Braun” in German, so Lauda has additional temptation to wrongly identify Ross’s surname with that latter).

    The roots of the problem are, of course, set deeply in the illogicality of spelling in various languages. Who would guess at first sight, without being previously acquainted with the German language, that the letter “V” gives the sound [f] before vowels, and that “W” is pronounced as [v] in its stead? And therefore we have it: Britons, who constitute a vast majority in Formula One’s technical personnel and journalists, typically call a certain Sebastian by his surname wrongly.

    How should I spell it to render the sounds correctly?))) Let’s just say that very often they do not call him “Fettel”, although that’s exactly how it sounds in German.

    There are a few traditional names of circuit turns on some Formula One circuits — especially those with long history. Of these, I’ve heard the Silverstone turn names “Copse” and “Chapel” mangled by Russian TV-presenters. The former, “Copse” was pronounced with the letter “O” read as in the alphabet (as a diphthong) instead of as in the words “rock, lock, socket”. The latter, “Chapel” was also incorrectly pronounced with a diphthong (with “a” sounded as in the word “make”). Interestingly, there is a psychological reason for such extensive misuse of diphthongs by Russians speaking English: it is the hypercorrection effect, when an English word is only considered to sound “truly English” if its “O”s are pronounced as in the English alphabet. ;–)

    The confusion works the other way round, naturally. And thus, the backmarker team now named by the Russian diminutive “Marussia”, is being crippled in the paddock in ways rending my innocent Russian ears.))) I’ve heard “Mah-Russia” (the latter part pronounced as the name of the country), and I’ve heard “Mah-roosh-ya”, but never was I lucky enough to hear it said the way it should be.

    Trust me, the name “Marussia” has nothing to do with the geographical name “Russia”. In fact, it would have been better rendered into English by the spelling “Marusiya”. It is a now rarely used diminutive form from the female given name “Mariya”. It has a very gentle and intimate vibe to it. To succeed in adapting it to the English language, but also in reasonably keeping its Russian sound, I’d say you would have to pronounce it “Mah-roo-see-yah”, making the “ee” sound as short as possible because it only serves to mark the palatalization (softening) of “s”.

    To German again: did you think that Schumi’s name should be pronounced as it has been all these years by the British race engineers on the team radio? :–) Think again. “OK, Michael, we are three-point-seven seconds from Alonso…” No, it’s not OK. It’s not “OK, Michael”. It’s “OK, Mee-hah-el”.

    Austria awaits us in 2014. Spielberg circuit. As you must be guessing already, in German it is not pronounced as the surname of the famous American film director. In German “S” gives the sound “sh” before “T” and “P”. So it’s “Sh-pielberg”.

    I vividly remember watching McLaren’s 2013 racing car presentation at the MTC (over the Internet). “And now please welcome our drivers, Jenson Button and Ser-jee-oh Perez…” Something to that effect by the charming female presenter. But in Spanish “G” is pronounced as “h” (with a bit of voicing sometimes, possibly) before “I” or “E” (thus, “Arhentina (Argentina)”, “Horhe (Jorge)”, “Serhio (Sergio)”.

    Good luck in “Force Mexico” next year, Ser-hee-oh. ;–)

    I have heard Bernard (the unhappy “Bernie”, courtesy of Jochen Rindt) Ecclestone’s surname pronounced with a strong reduction of the last syllable — pronounced “Ecclesten” by an authentic British English speaker who narrated over an F1 radio documentary… Needless to say, in Russia, to make it sound “impeccably English”, F1 commercial rights holder’s surname is pronounced “Eccle-stow-en”. Hypercorrection at its evil work… ;–)

    It may be difficult sometimes to try to respect other languages and cultures. Thus, a Formula One race engineer, talking very recently over team radio to his driver, said something like: “…that new guy from Toro Rosso…” (“is ahead of you on the track”, or anything plausible of that sort). He meant Daniil Kvyat. Indeed, here is an easy way to resolve all problems: why pronounce the name at all, if it’s unfamiliar to you?)))

    (It’s “Kvee-yat”, with the ghost “ee” sound cut to well-nigh non-existence.)


    This reminds me of how the South African TV pundits I was forced to listen to growing up referred to Michael Schumacher is “My-call Shoe-maa-kuh”.

    The Arabic commentator I now have to listen to on Abu Dhabi sports if my streams fail is incapable of saying Jean-Eric Vergne, he always says “ver-nee-yay”. He also has real trouble with Tonio Liuzzi’s surname, always calling him “Loo-it-zee”. “I” before “u” big guy. ;)

    Prisoner Monkeys

    My best friend is Russian, and I ran into a similar problem the other day. We were talking about the Crimean Peninsula, and I mispronounced Sevastopol as “sir-vass-toe-pole” instead of “sever-star-pole”.

    I imagine that this is down to the way we automatically see certain combinations of letters and read them as we see them in our own language. Especially when that language follows a different inflection. English is an iambic language, which means it follows a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Russian, I have found, follows a different pattern. In the same way that I mangled the pronunciation of Sevastopol, my friend still struggles to pronounce my name properly because it starts with a consonant that does not appear in the Russian language (and iambics dictates it is the stressed sound).


    Very interesting post, this.

    One of our local heroes is world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao. Us locals pronounce his last name as “Pak-yao”. But everyone who uses English pronounces it as “Peh-ki-yao”. It’s annoying at first, but you just get used to it after a while and agree to disagree on pronunciation.

    Closer to F1, most discussions can be linked to Ayrton Senna, and this is definitely one of them. Murray Walker, most notably, shifted in his pronunciation of Senna’s first name, from “Eye-air-ton” to “Eyr-ton” and back again. Oddly enough, though, the Americans on ESPN were more faithful in the usage of “Eye-air-ton”. I also remember watching old races and finding the different pronunciations of Peugeot between the Americans and the British. The British pronounce it as “Poh-geoh” (and this is also my preferred pronunciation), whereas the Americans are more faithful to the French pronunciation “Puh-joh”.

    And let’s not get started on how Alan Jones and Darryl Eastlake pronounced driver names in Channel 9’s Australian F1 coverage (most notably mispronouncing Villeneuve, Sato, and even Raikkonen).


    Robert Kubica has had his last name pronounced in a lot of different ways, but was quick to point out he didn’t really care if you put the emphasis on Ku or Bi.

    I’ve noticed that, in writing, English speaking countries (mainly Australia and the US) will switch around the vowels in names like Heidfeld, typing Hiedfeld instead. In western countries, names like Gutierrez or Pizzonia can be a challenge as well and typicall are spelled in that simple manner, rather than Gutiérrez.

    Since people tend to confuse Dutch with German, I’ve also heard a lot of British commentary talking about a certain JoSCH VerSCHtappen. Of less importance; people talked about Christian Albers, but his name is Christiaan, making the end sound more like the longer A in a name like Khan. I was somewhat surprised the name Doornbos went over very well in both F1 and Champcar commentary.

    As for Marussia, I’ve been pronouncing it as Mah-roosh-y-yah. Nice middle ground, if I say so myself. Very much looking forward to hearing everyone struggle with Kyvatt. Much like the 2013 Dutch F1 commentator struggled with Vergne, calling him Furr-n-yeeh.

    Another thing I’ve wondered; Dutch and German commentators always talked about Bar-ri-tje-lo, if you will. English commentary talks about Bar-ri-kello. Going by some Portuguese broadcasts on YouTube, the English version sounds closest to the actual name.


    @npf1 But they struggled with his name at first, most notably during Donington 1993, pronouncing it as Bari-cello. (Cello as in the musical instrument) John Watson didn’t shake it off until the mid-90s.


    Yes, Murray Walker later found he was very much mistaken with Barrichello’s name, and put himself right. Just as Martin Brundle would say ‘Vett-ell‘ around 2008, while now it’s more like Fettle.

    A lot of the time it’s just ignorance. Lazy or smug commentators not bothering to ask the driver how to say their name. Prost rhymes with ‘toast’ in some old reports, and Will Buxton often mangles names he can’t deal with: Ricardo Tech-Sierra and Luiz Rat’s Ear.


    I was watching old re-runs of F1 races in Catalan the other day (if you don’t know, catalan is one language spoken in Spain, with few similarities to Spanish, TBH I dont know the whole story of it) and many of the driver’s names were “femalised”: Fernanda Alonsa, Giancarla Fisichella, Felipa Massa, Michael-a Schumacher-a, so it was the first time I saw a race where many women were racing. :P


    “In western countries, names like Gutierrez or Pizzonia can be a challenge as well and typicall are spelled in that simple manner, rather than Gutiérrez.”

    Hardly surprising for English speakers due to us not using accents or typically having keyboard shortcuts that people are aware of.


    …Anyway, am I the only one here who thinks that v.d Garde is pronounced by Sky Commentators in a wrong way, or am I simply wrong myself?


    …Anyway, am I the only one here who thinks that v.d Garde is pronounced in a wrong way, or am I simply wrong myself?

    I’m pretty sure Olav Mol pronounces the G differently, but I can’t remember how exactly.


    @npf1 To be more precise, here we say Barrichello’s name as “Bah-he-keh-lo” :)

    Here in Brazil one of our commentators, Luiz Roberto, tried to say Vettel’s name correctly for a while, but it seems that he has given up on that, which is not surprising given that very few people here know how to properly pronounce a ‘v’ in German. For all the nonsense they say every race, Brazilian broadcasters get most names right (expect for Rosberg, as they put the emphasis on ‘berg’, making it sound like Ros-BEH-rg)


    When it comes to mispronounced English, though, Jonathan “Woss” Ross is the man. Spot the number of mispronounced names in the 1993 season review video.



    Giedo van der Garde probably doesn’t care too much; even Dutch fans type Guido from time to time. But a Dutch G is (generally) much harsher than English Gs. More like the ch in SchumaCHer. ‘van der’ typically gets pronounced as a single word in English, ‘fandur’ but really is two words. Most Dutch people even change it internationally though: Vandenberg instead of van den Berg.


    Kubica was always great to listen to on international streams. Many say it Koo-bit-sah, which is reasonable for non Polish speaking commentators, but Kue-bic-ah? Like, Cubic-ah. Its probably because the u in Sun and the u in Cubic are pronounced differently, but both are correct, so when an English speaker sees it and doesn’t know a precedent for its pronunciation, they pronounce it either way. Its actually Koo-(like the French Coup) bee-tsah, but as in Kvyat, the ee is very short.

    Still, there are many Polish names that are far more difficult for commentators to say. We have an American driver named Kwasniewski, Canada has Rzadzinski, Internationally Giermaziak is never pronounced correctly, and neither is Szczerbinski, who also races in the Porsche Supercup. Growing up racing in the US, I’ve heard my last name being pronounced 20 different ways, and not once was it pronounced correctly (its Czaczyk, simply pronounced Chachick).

    However, the greatest mispronunciations by English speakers must be of French words. Peugeot being pronounced Pue-gee-ot, Citroen being said Cit-rone, or Renault Ren-olt. These are all said by Americans, so we don’t have any of these cars here, but they’re still funny to hear.

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