RTL reporter legend celebrates Formula 1 anniversary

Every Formula 1 fan in Germany knows his voice: Heiko Wasser has commented on more than 500 Formula 1 races for RTL in his long career. Its first use is now exactly 30 years ago to the day.

In conversation, the reporter legend remembers his first race and says why he no longer watches Formula 1 today. May 9, 2023 is a very special day for Heiko Wasser. Why? Exactly 30 years ago to the day, the then 35-year-old commented on his first race for RTL. His first assignment brought him to Spain.

“On Monday evening I got a call from the then RTL sports director Burkhard Weber, who told me that I should comment on the next Sunday,” says Wasser.

He didn’t have much more time to talk to me. Wasser was left alone with the good news, the “knight’s accolade”, as he himself puts it. But one thing was certain: the Spanish Grand Prix on the Circuit de Catalunya was to be his first race as a commentator.

RTL reporter legend was “naturally excited” before the first Formula 1 race

It was the fifth race of the season. Jochen Mass commented on the first four alone. However, RTL decided to rely on a duo in the future.

“Of course I was excited,” says Wasser. He prepared himself meticulously. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance. “I tried to read a thousand things. At that time I also prepared the first two or three sentences to get in because I didn’t want to get tangled up right at the beginning.”

In addition, Wasser made all sorts of notes on index cards before and during the race. “In the past we didn’t have all the technical aids that you can use today. It was all a bit rudimentary,” recalls the 65-year-old. That means keeping tally lists and writing down pit times.

Wasser can only vaguely remember the winner at the time. “Alain Prost won ahead of Ayrton Senna. Michael Schumacher was third,” says Wasser, who admits, however, that he was no longer 100% on the screen.

RTL reporter legend had a “better half” for many years

At the time, nobody could really have guessed that the race in Spain would be the start of a true success story.

But water took its chance. From day one it was impossible to imagine the premier class of motorsport without him.

He commented alongside Jochen Mass for almost four years, then the era (1997) began with his “better half” Christian Danner. For decades, the duo was very close to Formula 1. For RTL and especially for the viewers.

Wasser has experienced an unbelievable amount since the first race and was there at countless historic moments. “I commented on all German drivers’ titles. Seven times Michael Schumacher, four times Sebastian Vettel, once Nico Rosberg”.

RTL reporter legend: The biggest slip of the tongue

In more than 500 missions, of course, there can also be a mishap. His most famous slip of the tongue fell at the 2000 World Cup decision.

“I said then that Ferrari had a world champion again 20 years after Jodie Foster. But of course it should have been called Jody Scheckter,” remembers Wasser, who only missed one race in his long career due to illness.

He still hasn’t quite gotten over the farewell to Formula 1 at RTL. There is a lot of melancholy when Wasser talks about the pinnacle of motorsport: “Many people write to me that they still associate the voices of Christian Danner and me with Formula 1.” And of course he also misses the racing circus that he has followed around the world for years. “I just miss it incredibly. Traveling. Commenting.”

According to his own statement, Wasser has not yet seen a race from the current season, which is only being broadcast on Sky for the first time. It hurts too much. A Formula 1 without RTL? He uses an interesting comparison: “The fact that RTL gave up Formula 1 was as if ARD had given up the news and the crime scene”.

Philip Oldenburg