Pit Lane Gossip
Our Formula 1 fanatic chews the racing fat with Ted Kravitz in the build up to the British Grand Prix this weekend
Interview by Sam Clark
You’ve covered F1 at Silverstone for many years now, do any special memories stand out?
My favourite times at Silverstone came when I worked for ITV between 1997 and 2008. Back in the late 1990s, Formula 1 races were televised by the local broadcaster in whatever country the race happened to be held. So in the UK it was ITV (or the BBC before them), in France TF1, in Germany RTL and so on (this leading to some interesting national variations such as the Germans’ enduring fascination for super-slo-mo) and while this was still the case (it’s not now, Formula One Management now produce the TV coverage for every race, no matter what country we’re in) I was a ‘spotter’ for cameramen and the director Keith MacKenzie. I got a truly unique view of Silverstone, I could see every straight, every corner, every part of the pits, all at once on 45 TV monitors in front of me. It was my job to help the cameras pick up the cars that Keith wanted to follow by their sponsorship markings alone (TV cameras at that time only had black-and-white viewfinders, so there was no point saying “it’s the red one”). And I enjoyed it – I enjoyed it immensely.
How does Silverstone compare for you against the other historic circuits and new tracks being carved out of deserts?
Silverstone can be pretty bleak. It’s on a plain between Towcester and Brackley and while that was very useful in its former guise as a Royal Air Force airbase it does mean it’s rather exposed as a racetrack. And it’s nowhere near any main city which makes it unlike many of the newer tracks (Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Mexico City). But for all that we love it.
Have you ever driven around Silverstone?
Not in a racecar, but I’d love to. I have driven round there in various hire-cars and scooters before and after grand prix or while on film shoots. But nothing to test my skills as a race driver.
We are a little under halfway through the season and despite the best efforts of Ferrari, Mercedes are proving to be the dominant force once again. Do you think Mercedes will face much of a challenge in the remaining races?
Sure, I think we’re coming to a few races where their power advantage won’t count for much. Ferrari have always gone well in Hungary and I fancy them in the heat of Singapore as well. I think Ferrari’s own target of two wins this season is probably going to end up being spot on. I doubt they’ll win more than that (they’ve already won one, in Malaysia).
What battles towards the back end of the grid are you keeping an eye on?
The key battle in the midfield at Silverstone will be between Force India, Lotus, Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso. That’s five teams battling for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship and Force India are introducing a brand-new design at Silverstone and for the rest of the season; a new nosecone with innovative “nostrils” and pretty much every other aerodynamically critical surface of the car has been improved. So when you’re watching races from now until the end of the season, keep an eye out for Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.
To much fanfare and some controversy, Max Verstappen joined Toro Rosso at the start of the season becoming the youngest Formula 1 driver in history at just 17 years and 3 days old. How do you feel he has grown as a driver?
He’s done very well so far, pulling off some great overtakes and even refusing to be intimidated by off-track pressures from elder statesmen like Felipe Massa when they’ve had a go at him about his driving standards. It’s a cliché to say that he’s got an old head on young shoulders but it’s true. So the big question for me is which big team is going to snap him up, and how long do they wait before they do it.
Is Alonso the unhappiest driver on the grid at the moment? He ended the last race in Austria with his McLaren parked on top of his former team mate, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Thankfully both drivers emerged unscathed. Can you see anything on the horizon that will hearten Alonso’s troubled choice of cars?
Not really. McLaren and Honda have already written off development on this year’s car, preferring to concentrate on their 2016 model, so whilst reliability might improve (it can’t get any worse) Alonso’s not going to be scoring the podiums that he craves this year, but he’s in this for the long term so hopefully for everyone’s sake he won’t get too disheartened.
The teams have just had the last testing session of this season, do you think we are going to see any big changes in the remaining races?
Only with Force India moving up the order.
What do you think about the comments by Richard Branson speaking at Battersea Park as London hosted the final rounds of the inaugural Formula E season that Formula E will overtake F1 in popularity?
Well… as the owner of a Formula E team he would say that, wouldn’t he? But I do think Formula E has hit on a genius business plan which allows them to stage their races in downtown city locations that would never be available to Formula 1 – as a one-day event there’s much less disruption – and due to the nature of electric cars there’s next to no noise pollution and local government and mayoral offices are keen to be getting on the electric-vehicle bandwagon. So Formula E has a list of venues that Formula 1 can only ever dream of. Formula E organisers are bringing the race to these cities for free, so while it’s a business plan that isn’t hugely sustainable at the moment, an increasingly prestigious roster of series sponsors (Visa, DHL) means that there is at least some money coming in. But two critical problems remain for Formula E. Number one, they are slow. Really slow. On circuits where you’re also used to seeing Formula 1 going round, for example Monaco, it shows. And two, the calibre of the drivers really doesn’t match Formula 1.
Will F1 move back to larger, noisier engines to compete against the electric formula?
No I don’t think so. It was a condition of several manufacturers including Renault and Mercedes staying in F1 that we went to hybrid turbo-charged small-capacity engines and they are always going to be quieter than big V8s. So the genie is out of the bottle on that one, we’re not going back. As these engines deliver over 33% improvement in fuel economy, nor should we.
And finally, the big one, can Nico Rosberg keep Lewis Hamilton from a third world championship title this season?
He’s giving it a damn good go. But ultimately Lewis is the faster racer and I haven’t seen anything this season to convince me that Nico can beat him consistently enough to be world champion.