16 F1 races; 3 Le Mans victories, a WEC title and now a Badger GP Interview – Charlie Eustice caught up with the BBC’s very own Allan McNish and quizzed him about the upcoming British Grand Prix, retirement, regulations and of course, cheese.
Charlie Eustice: Hi Allan, fantastic to talk to you! How are you?
Allan McNish: I’m very well thanks, yourself? *Allan becomes distracted by cars near him in Monaco that are adorned with ‘Gumball 3000’ logos*
CE: So, I’m gonna jump straight in with a question – next on the calendar is of course the British Grand Prix. As a Brit yourself, do you tend to enjoy covering it more than other races, or are you more fond of places such as Monaco where you currently stand?
AM: Well, it’s certainly a lot easier here – I can walk home from the pit lane in Monaco! But I really enjoy the British Grand Prix. It’s a funny thing, you know, as a Brit, you kind of grow up with it. My first race in a car was at Silverstone in 1987.
You go back and you see a lot of the same faces that you’ve seen for years – the guys in security bibs going in to the track, the people at the BRDC, the marshals – therefore in a way it’s kind of like going home.
The British fan base has come alive in the last four or five years and the numbers are getting to the point that it’s got a real buzz about it – there’s a real atmosphere about Silverstone at the moment. There’s other events going on around the track – the fans, the different activities.
The place is pumping!
It’s a very positive thing because it reminds me of the mid-80s when Nigel [Mansell] was driving and fighting for victories, so there was that whole sort of “follow the Brits” mentality. It’s different now. then again, the world was very different in the 80s.
From the BBC’s Point of View it’s huge, it’s our home race, it’s Silverstone it’s the home of British motorsport and the BBC is at home as well, and you feel quite proud of that. I had an odd feeling last year – it’s a wee bit like Wimbledon, it’s something of an institution and it’s a very proud moment to be able to stand there and be part of it.
CE: Well, I hope to join you all there one day!
You mentioned the atmosphere and the activities at the British GP race weekend – The BBC have in the past gone down to the camping areas to interact with fans there – do you have any plans to do anything similar for your coverage this year?
AM: We’ve actually got a discussion going on about that at the moment going in to next week on some of the ideas for things we’d like to do. A big part of it is what you said – with the fans and the camping and everyone being there. You’ve got to get out and see those people if you want to get the whole experience and relate it to everybody at home because at the end of the day – what any TV or media company is trying to do with live coverage is relay to the people who are not there what exactly is going on and what it’s like to be there, so that’s a huge part of it. So we need to be in those places really. I’m very sure that will be part of the coverage, but in exactly what format, we’re still sorting it out.
CE: I think I know the answer to this one, but is it better to cover the race in Northamptonshire, or would you rather be driving round?
AM: No, I’d rather be covering it now.
CE: Oh right, really?
AM: See, you didn’t expect that did you?! (He laughs)
CE: I thought it would be the other way round!
AM: Haha, well, I raced for 32 years – 26 of them professionally – I did all sort of levels of racing and loved it when I was doing it but I retired for the reason that I didn’t want to do it any more. I hung up my helmet the weekend we won the World Championship in 2013 with Audi in the WEC, and that was the last time I drove a racing car in anger.
Since then I’ve driven Jim Clark’s 1965 World Championship winning Lotus, and Alain Prost’s 1983 British GP winning Renault turbo and they’re the only two. I loved driving them, but I also loved getting out and looking at them and I’m very happy with a microphone as opposed to a helmet now.
CE: I’m glad the career progression is working for you!
AM: You’ll have it at some point in whatever you do, you’ll come to a point where you think “I don’t want to do this any longer”. I was very fortunate that I was able to continue with my life involved in the sport, through the BBC, and to get to another point in a career where I could develop the next part of my life and still have the enjoyment and the passion for it.
CE: You mentioned WEC a minute ago; As a racer in many different series do you feel there are any lessons Formula 1 needs to learn from series such as the World Endurance Championship?
AM: Yes, I think every championship can learn from every other one. Every driver can too. Nico Hulkenberg I know for a fact learned things from going to Le Mans that he would be able to think and use – not necessarily at the Austrian GP, but through the course of his career.
That’s the way it is – if you’re open to it you can learn, if you’re closed off and think you’re the best thing in the world then you’ll never learn. I think that F1 can without any shadow of a doubt look at other sports, not just motorsport, but it can pick up ideas.
It’s at a point at the moment where everybody is questioning [Formula 1] and putting it down, but I don’t think it’s necessarily down and out. I think it has still got a lot of very good things about it but it is something that maybe needs some tweaking. It doesn’t need wholesale cutting down and stating again, that’s not what we need at all.
It needs a very solid thought process for the future – the next 5-10 years, not the next 5-10 weeks. That would be my suggestion – look at what we will need in the next decade or so, look at it long term, not make short-term changes that are influenced by discussions of minor issues or problems. In terms of future regulations, the changes need to be with a view of the long term. What is the best for the sport, not what is best for individuals in the sport.
CE: While we’re talking about change in F1, if you could personally pick one rule to change in the sport, what would it be?
AM: It’s very restricted in its format, so I would open up the box a little bit so that there’s a bit more room for ingenuity, so we had cars with a bit more of a difference. For example, you’d have a box, and underneath that general framework, you could get on with building whatever you like – within reason of course!
AM: If I give you an example, all the cars are restricted to four megajoules in the hybrid systems, but in sports car racing there’s two, four six and eight allowed, with balances in performance depending on which one you run, so I think that philosophy isn’t a bad one.
CE: Okay! One final question – it’s a bit light-hearted but it’s a mainstay of our site. What’s your favourite cheese?
AM: Cheese?! Lockerbie Cheddar! I grew up on it, and when I come back home to Scotland I bring back a slab of it, every time, and I dole it out to the Scottish contingent here in Monaco.
CE: Do you have any with you in the Principality right now?
AM: Yeah! Seriously I do, I get a big slab and bring it over – when I say a slab I mean a bloody slab! Best cheese on toast you can get is with Lockerbie.
CE: I’ll have to try and find some! I’m down in the Westcountry so I’m no stranger to Cheddar.
AM: Well, what do you know about cheddar? You’ve got nothing down there!
CE: We do have good cider down though!
AM: Hey in 1983 in Yeovil, I raced at Clay Pigeon Circuit in the British Karting Championships. It was the first one I won actually, and the little motorhome we had was stocked full on the way home with various samples from the Westcountry. I’m sure it was illegal imports at the time, but we enjoyed them!
CE: Sounds good to me. Well, that brings me to a close anyway, I look forward to your coverage the weekend after next!
AM: Thank you very much, take care!
You can join Allan, as well as Suzi Perry, DC, Eddie Jordan, Ben Edwards and the rest of the gang from the BBC for the 2015 British Grand Prix, when they’ll have all sessions live, starting with Free Practice 1 at 9am on Friday, July 3.