With the 2014 season just around the corner, Badger was lucky enough to sit down with the BBC’s resident Grand Prix winner to discuss the new regulations, the problems at Red Bull and how Sebastian Vettel will respond, and how he’s adapting to life behind the microphone.
BadgerGP: Everyone’s talking about the new regulations, Australia is going to be fascinating. Are they what the sport needed in terms of a shot in the arm ready for this year?
DC: I understand the question, but im not sure im the right man to offer that vision.
I’ve sat as a fan of Formula One since I was a little kid, and I enjoyed it through all the different periods whether it was turbos, whether it was V12’s, wide track, narrow track, active… you just embraced as a fan what was given to you, and those decisions were made by people in power to make visionary decisions that are going to be good for the sport and all the rest of it.
So is it important to be relevant to the motor manufacturers? The old cliché – win on Sunday sell it on Monday – is that still part of the DNA of what Formula One has developed, from racing at airfields with little barrels, to this multinational, international business ?
Then yes, absolutely. You need technologies that connect with the public in someway, whether it’s a technology that doesn’t exist today, or one thats being developed during the course of this new challenge, which maybe becomes a daily part of our lives.
But it’s going to change the reliability of Formula One. I’ll be amazed if more than ten cars finish in Melbourne, and not because I’ve seen Bernie’s script, but just from looking at winter testing. It’s like going back 20 years. I could not finish the last lap and end up getting a point, and I did it a few times.
You’ve had a couple of experiences in the past with Adrian Newey designs that didn’t go so smoothly, which we’re not used to anymore. How can you see him rallying round and recovering from their (Red Bull’s) current set back?
Adrian winning, and Adrian not winning, largely is the same person. Of course, sort of the outpouring of emotion when he’s on the podium, which is normally just rubbing champagne out of his eyes, is normally the only difference between him winning and not winning.
He’s a very level-headed engineer, and of course he has his frustrations. Adrian’s strop is throwing his pencil down on the table, not flipping the table over, or shouting at people. But whether this is a great Adrian Newey car, or not, remains to be seen.
What we do know is that they have a power unit which is several weeks behind the other power units, so the speeds therefore are quite dramtically different. The speed traps from Bahrain were showing a 25-25khp difference, which is similar to the start of my career when you’d have a Williams Renault with a ton load of downforce on it breezing past a Minardi, for instance. That was just the way it was at that time, engine development was open.
Mercedes look pretty well sorted. Yes, they’ve still got reliability issues, but they’re in diminishing returns already because theyre closer to the peak of this new technology, which could be three years or six months, away.
They’ll start heading in this diminishing return, whilst the other guys are like, “Whoa, where did that come from?! Last week they finished tenth and this week they’ve won!”
We had that with Williams and Maldonado two years ago (winning the 2012 Spanish race), but moments like that are very rare nowadays in F1. They might not be so rare this year because not necessarily the quickest car is going to win the Grand Prix.
Will the start of 2014, with Red Bull where they currently are, will it be a defining moment in Vettel’s career?
In many peoples eyes, yes. Those who are doubters will be very much looking to see how he reacts – does he dummy in the dust and want to go on to do something else, like most the doubters would like him to see?
In my eyes, he’s an intelligent guy, and not by accident. A lot of these drivers have a sharp perception of things. I’m not saying they’ll go on Mastermind or anything, but they tend to be very focused and specific in their chosen field.
He knows it’s a team effort, and that exceptional things happen when you have an exceptional group of people. That includes engine, gearbox, mechanics in the pit stops. But when it come to his so called dominance, then there’s been a lot of races when he didn’t win by very much, and two of the last four championships went down to the wire.
So, as boring and dominant as it was for those who aren’t Red Bull and Seb followers, it’s nothing in comparison to what Michael Schumacher used to do, or when Nigel Mansell wrapped it up in Budapest one year.
I thought that was great. I was a Williams test driver and he was British. What was boring about that? But if you were German, or Brazilian, you’d probably hate it – “That f**king Mansell, spoilsport…”
This is now your fifth season with the BBC. Do you feel like you’ve grown as a broadcaster?
Definitely. In the beginning it felt like a natural progression from racing to working in television. It felt like it was full circle, from watching F1 on the BBC as a young boy, to having my career, and then I had the conversation with the BBC even before I retired, so there was a sort of seamless transition to continue the world tour.
I never claimed to be the best driver, I knew i had a talent. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see where I was good and where I was clearly not good, and I’m still on that journey with broadcasting.
It’s difficult to step back and look, but again, I don’t presume I’m to everyones taste, audio wise or visually. But then again you’re never going to please everyone anyway.
What I am is a fan of the sport, I have intimate knowledge of how the sport works, and I’m enthusiastic about letting people know the regulations as they change and how they continue to play out in the future. And it’s them (the regs) that actually do the talking – you just have to explain to the viewers at home why that race has played out the way it has. What was exceptional about the guy who finished 14th? Why was the guy who won the race lucky?
All in your own opinion of course, and with all opinions you’re entitled to see it how you see it. And just because I drove the car doesn’t give me anymore right to voice a view, it just gives me a platform of point of view that might be interesting to someone who imagines how exciting it must be to drive a car.
And they’d be right, because it’s really exciting.