Meet the man that makes the music for Formula One
© Brian Tyler
Find out more about Brian Tyler – the man who created the official F1 theme song in our Q&A with the American composer.
Back in 2018, composer Brian Tyler released a theme which heralded a new era in Formula One. He utilised an entire orchestra, including cellos, drums, violins, trumpets and numerous other instruments. In this interview we discover the man behind the music.
How did you first hear about this project?
Formula One contacted me when they were trying to do some new things when F1 was bought by Liberty. I got a phone call and it was totally random because they didn’t know I was an F1 fan. They had no idea. Especially because I’m from the United States, they kind of thought that's not something I knew much about it. I started watching the F1 during the last year of Ayrton Senna. I loved the Senna and Michael Schumacher eras. In my free time, I go back and find archives of complete races starting from 2001. I watch all the seasons again in the off-seasons. So, they didn’t realise how big a fan I am. They explained on the phone what F1 was like and I was like “that’s fantastic, maybe you can bring me to some races and I can check it out.” So, I got to hang out with Fernando Alonso, Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and all those other people. It was pretty wild.
How hard was it to compose a unique but catchy theme without being too generic?
Formula One means so much to me personally. There was no way I wanted to do something that's one tone kind of music. It’s so dramatic and emotionally compelling as a sport for any fan. I wanted to capture that. Everything from highs to lows throughout a season when you’re following a driver, the intensity there is, disappointments that happen… It’s not just about energy and speed. It’s about strategy and all of these things. So, I wanted to make sure that I could get in there and write something that just sounded like the spirit of what F1 is.
You’ve composed for action-packed productions before, what makes Formula 1 different?
If I’m writing music for Marvel or something like that, when I’m writing it I know the story. I know what’s going to happen. I’m writing something that changes and evolves for Formula One. It’s a heightened reality. I think that universal compelling nature of sports in general and F1 in particular drives people to it. The wild thing is that for one person, let’s say a fan of Sebastian Vettel or a fan of Max Verstappen, every weekend is a different experience. Some viewers will be happy with the outcome. At the same time, during the same race, someone might be terribly disappointed and angry. So, the music needed to not just kind of be compelling for the hero, like in Iron Man, where everyone is behind Iron Man and rooting for him. In Formula 1, everyone has a different hero. The music needed to cover all the emotional range that viewers have when they’re watching the races.
Even the sceptical fans are convinced that the F1 theme has become iconic in such a short time. Are you surprised by the reaction?
As a fan, when I started writing the music I was very nervous because it’s my favourite sport and I love it. I watch practice sessions, I watch qualifications and I watch the race every weekend when there's a race. I knew that it was a big responsibility. Formula One fans are very passionate about things. And I wanted it to be a part of Formula One history. It would have been the greatest disappointment of my life if it didn’t turn out that way. The opportunity was there and I had to take it. I’m very pleased about how people embraced it. It really makes me feel very good and humble.
What was your first idea when you started writing the theme?
I was stunned into silence. I rarely have a kind of moment where I’m not immediately writing music when I start a project. Formula One really froze me. I was sitting down at the piano and just staring at it for weeks. I thought “how do I capture something that has this many different emotions?” It was a big responsibility and I didn’t know what to do. Then I went through the history of F1 and watched all the footage I can find. All the way to the ’70s and ’80s. Then I got to a race in 2008 where Lewis Hamilton won the championship in the last lap by passing Timo Glock. That was such a dramatic race. I've seen it many times before, but watching it again while sitting at a piano, that’s when I came up with the melody.
What’s your all-time favourite F1 moment?
The most memorable and most exciting ending to a season was that last-second moment where Lewis Hamilton stole the title from Felipe Massa. Especially when you take into account the year before. Lewis was tied with Kimi Raikkonen in points and he basically had the title, but he kind of threw it away by racing too hard in one of the races where he could just finish comfortably.
What do you think about this season in general?
I love every season. There’s some great racing going on. Lewis seems to be pulling away. But there’s been some really interesting moments. What’s happening at Ferrari with Charles Leclerc and Vettel is really interesting. Max Verstappen is really doing well. But I have been a Lewis fan since day one and it’s great to see him win so much now. He can get Schumi’s title record that once was thought impossible. It’s going to be interesting to see next year. There’s going to be some shake-ups with engines and regulations.
Who are your favourite drivers and teams?
I’ve always loved Kimi [Raikkonen] because he’s like the last remaining driver who is kind of in an age range that I grew with. I love that he’s still in there and I want him to hang there. I always root for him. I’m a big Lewis guy and I love Max Verstappen. I think Leclerc is super-interesting. Also, Robert Kubica is back. It’s tough for Williams right now, but I’ve always been a fan of him. I don’t have a driver that I dislike.
I’ve always loved Mercedes and Ferrari as teams because I actually own both a Ferrari and a Mercedes. Red Bull has always been one of my favourites too. When Toro Rosso started, they had Scott Speed. I think he was the last American driver who raced in Formula One. I have Toro Rosso hats and stuff. My only official F1 jacket is from Red Bull and I wear that all the time. I got that when Daniel Ricciardo was over there. But Verstappen is freaking fast. He’s unbelievable. I think he has a chance for next year. We’ll see what happens with the engines, but I can see him getting a championship. It’s amazing what Red Bull have done. Not just in Formula One, all sorts of racing. It’s been kind of the brand that captured the wild and energetic spirit. I think Verstappen is kind of a little bit scary. If I was driving and I saw Verstappen in my rearview mirrors, it’d probably make me nervous knowing that he’s going to make a bold move. He’s not afraid of making that move. It seems like Max has the edge over him, but Pierre Gasly is no joke either. Christian Horner, who looks like a movie star, is so smart. I’ve met him briefly. He's a tremendous team boss because he started as a racing driver. If I was going to start a team myself, he’d be the guy to run it for sure.
Some people hate certain teams, but I’m just not like that. They’re all trying their hardest and I appreciate that. In the last few years, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. They’re the fast cars, but everyone is a great driver in Formula One. And the margins are so small. The difference between first and tenth can be the tenth of a second. There’s nothing like it. These drivers are really talented.
You compose music for movies and video games as well. But how did you start?
I wrote some music that got heard by a director. I was very fortunate. The problem was how are you going to score a movie if you haven’t scored a movie? They’re not going to hire you just like that. It’s like me showing up at Red Bull like “can I be the second driver?” It’s such a big responsibility. I happened to have music that I had performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The director heard it and it also made its way to an agent in Los Angeles. I was in Boston at the time. They thought it was amazing. They asked me to score a movie. Before I knew it, I had found my way from small independent movies and I got heard by a few different people along the way. Like Steven Spielberg, who heard my music, gave me a break. It takes those moments where someone kind of just has mercy on you and likes your music and says “you know what, let’s take chance on this kid.”
What was your first big hit?
I had a couple of independent films that were hit. But Constantine, Eagle Eye and Fast & Furious were the early hits.
What’s your all-time favourite movie score?
That’s a hard question. I’ll name a few. I’d say it’s divided between Vertigo and Empire Strikes Back – or it might be E.T. It’s really tough for me to decide on these things. I love also synth scores. There are different styles that I like. But I do remember Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, E.T. and all those ones John Williams did during that era really captured my imagination. Of course, I was a big Albert Hitchcock fan and I found his movies through the music actually. My writing style is heavily influenced by John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Vangelis.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to in your daily life?
I’m all over the map. I love everything electronic music to hip-hop and metal. I’m seeing Gojira, a French metal band this weekend. I love listening to the scores as well. There are too many to name. I’ve been listening to a lot of different artists that are a little bit more underground.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on a few different movies. Charlie’s Angels is one of them. It comes out in November and it’s really a fun movie. I’m doing the new Rambo film, Rambo: Last Blood and that’s amazing as well. I did a movie for Fox that's coming out in August. It’s called Ready or Not, it’s like chamber music and very interesting. Directed by really talented directors. I’m doing a movie called Those Who Wish Me Dead. Taylor Sheridan is directing it. He also directed Yellowstone for which I did its music. I’m starting on Fast & Furious 9 as well. I’m teaming up with Justin Lin, the director that I started working with back in 2006 or something like that. That’s going to be incredible.