Have you been approached about the Superstars series again?
No-one has ever approached me about this, or asked if I wanted race. Anyway this series has young drivers, and professional drivers who have never stopped racing so for me it would be very difficult to think I could be competitive. Something like GP Masters where we were all much the same age was one thing, but to race in a series like Superstars every weekend is very different.
If something like GP Masters came along again I think I am still in shape to do it. I will be 60 next year, but if it happened soon maybe I could race again.
I have read that you did not enjoy racing at Le Mans when driving for Lancia. What tempted you back there with Nissan in 1997?
Daniele Audetto, who was involved with TWR and Tom Walkinshaw, insisted. Audetto was very close to me because he was the sporting director in 1981 with Arrows and Ragno and he wanted me to race at Le Mans with Nissan at any cost. He insisted so much that I couldn’t refuse.
When I was in F1 I didn’t like Le Mans very much, but when I had retired from F1 I thought why not try it again and see if I would enjoy it.
Unfortunately the programme started late, the car was unreliable, we didn’t do much testing so things didn’t work very well.
Le Mans, even now, is a very dangerous race with many different cars and non-professional drivers so that means even if they are good they do not race regularly and so do not have much experience. Also conditions can be dangerous, for example rain during the night, and generally safety is perhaps not at the same level as F1. Night driving can be fatiguing and I was not used to racing at night.
Because of all these things it was a race I preferred not to do. A 6 hour/1000kms race was no problem.
Now I understand that Le Mans is more of a sprint race but when I did it you had to pace yourself and the car and that was a philosophy of racing I did not enjoy. Now the cars are reliable and they could race for five days, not just 24 hours!!
At what point in your career did you have the realisation that you had the talent to progress to F1, or did you ever think yes I’ll make it?
No, not really. I always thought I was enjoying myself in karting, then I won the world title, and then I was surprised to find myself at Monaco in 1977. At that moment I thought now I am here but how long will it last? Really, before the middle of 1978, I was never sure I could be an F1 driver.
When I was 14 or 15 I remember seeing F1 drivers described as “superheroes” but I never thought that. I thought they must all be human. I thought to myself that if I were ever to become an F1 driver I could show the world I was a normal person who just had an aptitude for racing.
Did you take up show jumping to satisfy your desire to compete or is it more for fun?
The show jumping came about because of my daughters. If they had not been passionate about this sport them maybe I would never have become involved. It tried it myself because I like to try everything, and I liked the fact that when you are jumping there is a lot of adrenaline. I have always done sports where there is this adrenaline like ski racing and karting when I was younger, then of course Formula 1. When I stopped racing maybe I missed this adrenaline and with show jumping I got it back.
The Italian F3 series has been cancelled and the British series is facing cuts in the number of rounds. As a former F3 champion are you disappointed to see the demise of this series?
I wasn’t aware the Italian championship has been cancelled completely. A driver from my home town, Padua, won the championship last year, Riccardo Agostini, and now he is driving in the Auto GP World Series and doing well.
I know the British series has problems which is really disappointing because it has a lot of tradition. In my time Giacomelli was winning the British F3 championship with March while I was winning the European F3 championship. These were big championships with a lot of talent. Not having a British F3 championship is a big loss.
Now you never know of a driver is good or not because there are too many series. Even if a driver wins one of these championships you never know if the quality of the field was good enough to prove they are good enough to reach Formula 1.
In my time there were one or two championships, like the British and European in F3, then there was Formula 2, and if you were good enough there competing against the best, and even against some Formula 1 drivers who raced in Formula 2, you could make a good comparison and see the talented drivers who could have the chance to be quick in Formula 1.
At the moment it is difficult to find the right driver in the right series who has the talent to progress. Also the problem is that the cars are easier to drive. Even a driver with little experience can drive a Formula 1 car. Mechanically it’s almost impossible to break the car, for example you can’t over-rev the engine because the gear change is automatic, and the circuits are much safer so it is less likely that an inexperienced driver can damage the car. The teams can afford to try a driver even if they don’t know for sure if they are good enough or not, and anyway they can just replace them at any time. For a young driver this can be frustrating.
You unjustly faced a race ban in 1979. Romain Grosjean faced a similar punishment last season. How did you cope mentally with that situation?
I don’t know really how Romain Grosjean could finish the season because he was involved in too many incidents and eventually he got the penalty. This year he doesn’t seem to be making so many mistakes. Perhaps he has lost a little bit of speed but he has already been on the podium so we will see.
In my case some drivers blamed me when Ronnie Peterson died so it was harder. The only positive was that inside myself I knew I was not the cause of the accident because I was ahead and I did not touch anybody. If there was a fault perhaps it was the mechanical problem in the gearbox Peterson had at the beginning of the race which meant he was slow at the start. Of course then there was the touch between Hunt and Peterson, but there was no governing body penalty against me, like there was with Grosjean, because they did not say I was in the wrong. In my case five world champions decided I could not race, but I was calm inside because I knew I was not at fault.
Do you think F1 should adopt something similar to yellow and red cards in football when incidents are brought before the race stewards?
I think if I had to be one of the driver stewards I would have real trouble looking at a racing accident because I think in terms of my generation of racing, not this new way of looking at things.
For me accidents can happen in F1 because if you want to try to make a move there is a risk. If you don’t want to have the risk you don’t make the move. 90% of overtaking is done in a straight line because of DRS, or during the pitstops so maybe it is stupid to take a risk because if you touch somebody you get a penalty. If you are quicker than the guy in front you wait for the pitstops. In my time it was not like this. If you had to make a move you had to take a risk and maybe you had just one opportunity to overtake. If you made a mistake you were in the fence and out of the race. Now there are many opportunities. It is easier to attack somebody in the race but harder to defend.
If I was defending a position I would really try hard not to give the other driver an opportunity to pass, and if I knew he was making the move I would try to make him brake so late that he might make a mistake, outbrake himself and go off. Now it’s not like this. If the driver outbrakes himself he can continue with no problem and try again for lap after lap. This is something I don’t like very much. In my time you could take a risk and the outcome could be good or bad. If it was good, great, but if it was bad it could mean the end of your race.
I like Formula 1, but if you ask me whether I prefer today’s F1 or the F1 I raced in then I prefer the F1 I raced in that’s for sure.
We’re you given the choice to continue with the Brabham BT49-Cosworth in 1982, or was there no option other than changing to the BT50 BMW engined car?
There was no option. The turbo was the way to go because in effect it was not possible to win the championship because Ferrari were dominating. But then they lost both Villeneuve and Pironi and so lost the opportunity to win the championship because of these accidents. Without this there was no doubt they would be champions. BMW said they had to use the year to develop the engine and car to be competitive the following year, and it was the right decision because in 1983 Nelson won the championship.
Do you think Vettel or Alonso was the best driver in 2012?
Both were really very good. Difficult to say. We are talking about two of the top three drivers in F1 at the moment, the other being Hamilton. Alonso was very good with the car he had but Ferrari had a very reliable car. Vettel drove very well, not making mistakes, and had matured so I think he deserved the championship.
What was your view of the Webber/Vettel team orders situation at the 2013 Malaysian GP?
I thought that Vettel made a big mistake because it was clear that Webber had been told by the team to back off. I think Webber had always respected team orders and the fact that he had to help Vettel to win the championship in previous years, but also I think Webber is sometimes too nice to be world champion. Sometimes you have to play a dirty card to win. Vettel showed that side of himself to get success and be champion. To have a lot of success you have to be a bastard at times. Webber is not a bastard!
I compare this situation with my season in 1992 with Nigel Mansell. There is a good chapter in Maurice Hamilton’s book “Williams” about how Nigel and his engineer were, to use Adrian Newey’s word, “clever”. I shared all information with the team, and of course Nigel and his engineer, but they didn’t do the same for me. I didn’t realise this at the time.
This is why I say if you want to be the absolute number one then you have to be a bit of a bastard! I had a good career, but in the end Nigel was world champion and I was not.
What happened to Webber at the Malaysian GP shows that he doesn’t have a chance to beat Vettel because Vettel is stronger in this way as a driver.
If you could choose any car to drive at the Goodwood Festival of Speed what would it be?
I had the chance to drive Nick Mason’s Ferrari 250 GTO at the press day some years ago and enjoyed it very much so would like to drive that again. If I had the choice of an F1 car then it would be the Brabham BT49D, the car I won my first Grand Prix with. Also the 1991 Williams FW14.
What can you say about Alex Zanardi and his achievements last year at the Olympics?
Unbelievable. I’m very happy for him. It’s fantastic how he has made his life since his accident and how he is helping others in the way that he is. Unbelievable.
Did you have any discussions with Ron Dennis during your career to drive for McLaren?
Yes, at the end of 1993. I asked him if he was interested and he said yes, why not, but in the end he signed Martin Brundle.
Was there ever a circuit you really disliked, Las Vegas perhaps?
I always had the attitude that I never disliked a circuit because if I wanted to be competitive I had to like it to be 100% committed. But now you mention Las Vegas…!! However, it was a part of the show, a glamorous place, but it took place in a car park and the corners were all the same.
When driving for Lancia did you ever get the chance to drive any of their classic rally cars such as the Stratos, 037 or S4?
I didn’t drive the Stratos but Walter Rohrl took me for a drive in one. Remember me driving my wife around Jerez in the Honda? Well, I was like she was sitting alongside him!! It’s another world driving on gravel with someone like him in the Black Forest going at 180kmh on a road as wide as the car with trees all around, feeling there was no grip…It was quite something.
What was Cesare Fiorio like as a team manager? How different was his management style to someone like Frank Williams?
They were very different characters. Cesare was more of a ‘prima donna’ than Frank! He liked to make a show but he was very professional, and always had good ideas to beat the opposition. Like Frank and Patrick always said, if you want to be competitive you have to study the regulations and try and find an advantage. These are all top team managers. Fiorio was also at Ferrari of course. There are not so many like this now.
After seeing the first few races of 2013 what are your predictions for the F1 season?
It’s difficult to say. As usual you have to wait and see the European races to see if there is a superior car. So far conditions have been very mixed. Red Bull is always there winning, or capable of podium places so I think they still have an advantage. Vettel is strong so he will be able to go for another championship. Mercedes is getting better and also Ferrari look good. Like Webber at Red Bull there is no chance for Massa against Alonso, but there is more of a chance for Rosberg against Hamilton, but I think that Hamilton will be a bit stronger.
Did you have any particular sponsors that were helpful to you in your career?
At the beginning of my career I had Parmalat, obviously at Brabham but even before that they were helping me a lot and giving me support. When I joined Williams I was close to Denim, and Le Club.
What was your favourite Lancia sports car?
I think the 1982 LC1. A very agile car, not much power, but because of the regulations at that time we used less fuel than the Porsches. We lost the championship by a few seconds that year. It was one of my big nightmares to lose the drivers world championship. We thought we had won but everyone forgot the first part of the race when there was a lot of rain and the race was stopped. At that point we were second behind the Porsche. In the last hour of the race Teo Fabi took over driving from me with us almost a lap lead ahead of Ickx and Bell’s Porsche. Because of that Fiorio told Teo to “slow”, “slow”, “slow” because he had to save the car to try and avoid any problems. In the last lap there was a lot of traffic and Teo lost more time. We crossed the line first but when the two parts of the race were put together we had lost the championship and Ickx was the champion.
It looks unlikely that Rubens Barrichello will be in F1 again after 20 years. Damon Hill has commented that “it will be really difficult for him to adjust to no longer being a grand prix driver.” What advice would you give to Rubens?
I don’t know what advice I could give to Rubens. In the first races of 1994 I wanted to be racing. When you are used to be travelling and racing it was a big change to be at home, but when Ayrton died I realised that I didn’t have the will to be in F1 anymore.
Williams have gone through a number of changes recently not least the retirement of Patrick Head from the F1 team, do you have any particular stories you can recall of your time working with him? How do you think Williams will perform without him and with two relatively inexperienced drivers?
We could talk for hours about those stories! We had a fantastic relationship. I had a lot of respect for him and he had respect for me and we worked very well together. He knew me very well, and how to get the best out of me to produce the best results. It was five years of a fantastic relationship and of course we are still very good friends. We had a lot of funny moments and a lot of dramatic moments. In those days Patrick was always demanding a lot from the drivers and pushing hard. In recent years perhaps he has looked a little more calm.
It’s difficult to say what the future is for Williams. Patrick was the most important person in the team together with Frank but things are different now. Years ago one person could pull things together technically and Patrick was the right man, but now there are a lot different groups that work together to produce a car. I cannot explain why Williams haven’t been winning in recent years. Maybe they didn’t have the best engine, but probably they didn’t have the best group of people. It’s not only a problem for Williams because Ferrari have the same problem. They spend a lot of money but probably they do not have the right people to produce the best car.
Adrian Newey was the perfect man to work with Patrick. He is the key man at the moment . He is a genius aerodynamically and probably he is the outstanding engineer of F1.
Have you seen the “Senna” film? In the film Senna comments that karting is the “purest” form of racing and that Terry Fullerton was one of the best competitors he ever raced. Do you agree with his comments about karting?
Yes I have. There were some moments shown in the film when politics played a big part in Ayrton’s career but I think at the end he said that the purest form of racing was when he was karting where there was no politics. The strongest driver he said he raced anywhere, including F1, was Terry Fullerton and I knew Terry very well. I raced against him for many years. He was world karting champion in 1973 and I beat him, and Francois Goldstein at Estoril in 1974 to win the championship. Goldstein was another important driver in karting in those years. I agree with Ayrton that karting in those days was pure racing, no politics just pure racing, and Terry Fullerton was one of the strongest drivers. When Ayrton said that Terry was the strongest driver he raced against that made me proud because I raced against him and beat him. Ayrton was right that Terry was a fantastic driver.
I think it was a good film, and watching it I discovered things I didn’t know because when you are racing you don’t know everything about the other drivers. It was interesting for me to know other things I had not been aware of. It surprised me to see they had been filming the drivers meetings with Balestre for example.
What are your thoughts on F1 today?
I don’t think DRS is pure overtaking because it just makes the car overtaking quicker so I am not a fan of it. I cannot really enjoy F1 now compared with the F1 I was racing in but I think that is normal. Fans of my era maybe are the same. But it is what it is today and probably the young fans like this F1.
I was reading about Vettel coming back to the factory after a race weekend and him spending 5 hours in the simulator to learn one of the new circuits as it was the first time he was going to be racing there. For us it was not like this. We used to arrive at a new circuit a couple of days before the weekend and go around on a bicycle to learn the corners and then maybe we had one day of practice. Now they think a driver is very professional if he spends hours in a simulator., but the outstanding talents in whatever era while come to the top. We saw that with Vettel when he won at Monza in the Toro Rosso. And now he is the complete driver, and one of the best if not the best.
What are your thoughts about there being no Italian drivers in F1 now that Jarno Trulli will not be on the grid in 2012?
Why this has happened I don’t know. Jarno Trulli has had time at the top but he has been racing at the back for a while and maybe it is better for him to stay at home rather than continue like this. I hope some young Italians can come into F1 in the future.
We know how important the Ferrari team is. I remember Imola in 1983 when the fans cheered when I crashed because a Ferrari, not an Italian driver, was going to win.
The best three drivers now are Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton at the moment, but maybe Ferrari, if they wanted, could have an Italian driver as the second driver in the team particularly as Massa hasn’t looked particularly good in the last couple of seasons. They could take a small risk to take a young Italian driver but this hasn’t happened since the time of Michele Alboreto.
Italian drivers don’t get help from a team, Ferrari have their driver academy where the Italian F3 champion gets a F1 test but nothing seems to happen after that. I think there are good young Italian drivers but they need to be given the opportunity to prove their ability.
In the book about the karting company Birel there are examples of the hand written lap times you kept when testing their karts, do you think this early attention to detail enabled you to become such a widely respected test driver as well as racer?
I think I was the only one in karting doing this and I continued to do it through F3, F2 and into F1, but in F1 they were already doing this kind of thing. In karting it was not being done and it was very new to Birel. To be precise and keep this kind of information, and have it available all the time was very important.
Including your test with Honda in 2008, you have driven F1cars from 4 separate decades, what era was physically the most demanding? Do you think people underestimate how physically fit you need to be to drive an F1 car?
People don’t know at all how fit you must be. Something like power steering has made it easier to drive the cars today, but racing without that was very physically demanding, particularly at the beginning of the 1990’s with the amount of downforce that there was.
Which sportsman did you most admire growing up?
I think the person I most wanted to beat in ten years of karting was Francois Goldstein because he was a multiple world champion. When I did beat him at Estoril in 1974 that was like a dream for me.
I liked to hear and read about F1 champions but there was not one in particular that I wanted to be. There was this image of them being heroes, or men from another planet but I thought they were just normal people with ability to race cars.
You tried a CO2 Motorsport F Renault recently – how did it compare to the F2 & F3 cars you raced in preparing you for F1?
When I drove F3 in 1976 there was no downforce and although the F Renault did not have a lot it was much better than my Chevron. It was a good test, and I got used to the car very quickly and my times were decent immediately. There had been this idea to do the Race of Legends in Sweden and I signed a contract but it never happened and I haven’t heard anything more about it.
Some past drivers such as Keke Rosberg and Martin Brundle were involved in driver management- was it ever any are that interested you or were you ever approached to mentor a young driver?
Not really. If you do that you have to travel a lot and be close to the racing all the time but now my horses are more important to me.
Johnny Herbert has said that part of the reason Schumacher is no longer winning is because he is racing against better younger drivers than in his championship winning years. Do you agree with his comments?
Michael raced against drivers like Senna, Mansell and myself and proved immediately that he could be competitive and better. Now we have drivers like Hamilton and Vettel who look very good but I don’t think they are better than Senna, Mansell or drivers who were around when Michael started in F1, so I think Michael is a little below the level of performance compared to his very best.
Michael proved himself against the best when he started in F1 so if he can’t match the best today perhaps it is because he does not have the right car, but without the right car in the past he was able to make the difference; now he cannot make that difference. If he had the best car now he can still win races, but in the past, even without the best car, he could win.
Today he is a good driver, but he cannot make the same difference as he could in the past from what I have seen at the beginning of this year and last year. You know how much I respect Michael and his talent but from what I have seen this is not the same Michael as before his retirement. I have my doubts about whether this is because of the tyres, or the new regulations. Maybe his motorcycle accident and neck injury has had an effect in some small way. The difference can be very, very small, but there seems to be a difference.
What specific driving style was necessary to master the ground effect F1 cars in the 1979/82 years? I’m interested in what was the feeling with the cars behavior being the drivers’ seat positioned so close to the front axle.
The key to having a competitive car then was to have the front end working well, and that was not easy with those cars because there was a lot of downforce but they were producing quite a lot of understeer so we worked to go into the corner quicker. The aim was to find the right balance on the car.
For example, in 1981 when they banned skirts, but they were still wing cars, we had something under the sidewings that, when put in a specific position, we got the front end of the car working very well. When we went to Long Beach we were on pole position because we found a good balance, and this worked well for one or two races until the other teams caught up.
The Arrows was very competitive but then there was a tyre war and Michelin cut the number of teams they provided tyres to and we had to change to Pirelli. Pirelli tyres then were like they are today – 15 laps then finished!! Exactly the same as 30yrs ago!! Sometimes we were good in qualifying but in the races we went backwards.
Which of the F1 cars you raced were the best in terms of letting the ability of the driver to be displayed?
I think the 1982 Brabham and the 1991 Williams because in these cars there was little or no electronics involved and for me as a driver there was more feeling. You could really feel the car and show your ability a lot. By 1992 there was a lot more electronics on the car – traction control, active suspension etc.
Australia 1991 – Can you describe a little bit this rainy GP in your view?
Nobody wanted to start the race because the conditions were too bad, particularly because it was a street circuit so the circuit did not drain well so there were rivers of water and a lot of aquaplaning. In the end the teams said to start the race, partly because of television and these kind of things, and if conditions do not improve then we will stop the race. We started the race but there was lots of water and no visibility. In those conditions you drive with your ears by listening to the engine note of the car in front. If you are leading it is not so much of a problem but with aquaplaning it becomes too dangerous.
Any plans to appear at Goodwood in 2011?
It depends on my activities with horses so it may not be possible but I have never been to the Revival and maybe…not to race…but to have a look as see what it is all about because people tell me it is a great event with a fantastic atmosphere.
Two events are due to return later this year Bercey karting and the Giro D’italia – do you have any plans to participate in either?
Not in the karting no, but I have been asked if I was interested to compete in the Giro d’italia but it is a long event and if I go I go to be competitive, if not I stay at home. Because of that I think it is difficult for me to get involved. The idea is to race a BMW M3 with Ravaglia and Biasion who I won the event with in 1988 but the more I think about this, with our names, we would need to be prepared and I’m not sure if there is time for this.
I have seen two GP drivers have produced their own range of watches (Johanssen and Massa) with your interest in collecting watches is it something you have considered?
No. I like particular makes of watches but making them is something else. Stefan is the expert in this area and when I’ve talked to him about watches he certainly knows what he is talking about.
Did you have an opportunity to work with Carlo Chiti before he left Alfa Romeo? If so what was he like to work with?
I worked with him in 1984. The team was Pavanello’s Euroracing team but from the engine point of view Chiti was still involved. I think he was an old style engineer, a nice person but things were moving on quickly and the turbo Alfa engine was very fragile. The year after they changed the top management and Carlo Tonti, who I had worked with at Lancia, came in and Chiti left.
In the 80’s Italian and French drivers filled the grids, now it is German drivers and there are no Italians in top teams. Do you think it is a question of finances, or the Schumacher effect working through encouraging young drivers and sponsorship?
Difficult to say. We had really good drivers, and also a lot of Italian sponsors supporting Italian drivers so in the end we had the talent and also the money. Now the talent is difficult to find. There are some good drivers but they are not at the top winning races so it is difficult to find the money to push their careers on. There have been periods when there have been a lot of Italians, a lot of French, then there were not so many English drivers, now there seem to be good German drivers.
Which race cars gave you the most pleasure in F1 and sportscars?
The best of the sports cars to drive was the 1983 Lancia LC2 because it had a lot of downforce, very quick, and very efficient aerodynamically. It was very close in performance to F1 cars at the time. The best F1 car for me was the 1991 Williams FW14, even if the 1992 was more competitive, and also the 1982 Brabham BT49D which I won the Monaco GP with.
How many helmets did you use per year throughout your career, and how many have you kept for sentimental reasons?
Usually about four each year. I kept all the helmets from the GPs that I won and all the others went to friends or to charity.
What are your memories of driving the Alfa 164 Procar?
I drove this car at the 1988 Italian GP weekend but, in the end, was just run for publicity. They had been talking about doing a series of races and I think it was Bernie who had been talking about doing a championship. At Monza I just did two laps and only accelerated hard along the straight and the rest of the time went very slowly because the car was very fragile. I never saw the car after that.
Do you remember which company provided the electronic fuel injection system on your Ford engine in 1977?
I don’t remember. My English is ok now but in 1977, even if someone told me, I wouldn’t have understood much of what they said all those years ago!
What do you know about Renzo Zorzi nowadays?
No, I don’t know. He must be about 10yrs older than I am so perhaps he is resting and leading a quiet life somewhere!
Autosport published a poll some time ago of the greatest ever drivers in which current and ex-F1 drivers got a vote. Who made it into your greatest drivers list?
They asked me about this but I said I didn’t like to make a list because it is difficult to give a top ten. When you see those lists of top 10 or top 50 drivers I don’t know how you are supposed to decide because you are comparing different times. I can say who I think is the best, but to make a list is difficult.
How do you feel about overtaking aids that have been introduced such as KERS and DRS?
Don’t ask me about this because I don’t know what they are doing in F1. They say they want to save money but then they bring KERS back. They say they want have safety but then they introduced the adjustable wing which could be a safety risk. Then they ban pit stops with refueling but then make tyres that only last 10-15 laps so there has to be more pit stops. Then there is overtaking which has always been a problem unless it is wet.
Have you ever owned any exotic/supercars?
I have a Ferrari 456 but I do not consider that to be a supercar. From my point of view I raced fast cars and don’t have the desire to own special road cars. I own a Giulietta Spider 1300 which I bought because is a very nice car and I remember when I was a child my Uncle had one so it is a nostalgic car for me.
You drove a Fred Opert Chevron in 1978 at the Trois Rivieres round of the Canadian Formula Atlantic series- can you recall anything about that race meeting?
Yes, I did one race, two races I think. I think I remember my team mate was Arturo Merzario. We flew from Italy to Canada together to go to these races. For sure I didn’t win! I knew Fred Opert because he was racing in F2 with Keke Rosberg with the Chevron and I was a Chevron driver. I saw Fred Opert at Goodwood a couple of years ago and he’s still the same, a little bit crazy as he was thirty years ago!
How was your relationship with Thierry Boutsen? Did you find him an easy teammate to get along with?
Yes, very easy. We always worked very well together and were friends, as we are now. A very good team mate and a very nice person.
During an still ongoing Discussion about the 1993 Season, i found some contradictory sources on the net about the B193B. Since when did you drive the B version and did you drive it from this moment on till the end of the season or did you switch back to the older version at some races (several sources say so…)?
I first tested the active suspension/automatic gearbox Benetton in February. The B193B first raced at the European GP at Donington in April and we raced that car for the rest of the season.
The theme for the Goodwood Festival of Speed this year is ‘Viva Veloce’ celebrating the Italians passion for Motor Sport – As Italy’s most successful Grand Prix driver will you be taking part in the Press Day and the main event this year?
If I have no other commitments then I will be there but it is too early for me to say at the moment.
Did you ever compete in any races/events at the Bologna Motor Show?
Yes, I think I did one or two karting events.
What was the story behind your 1983 pole position at Monza for the Italian GP in relation to Piquet/Team Orders and your desire to win your home GP? Did you know at that point you would be moving to Alfa?
I got pole position, and on Sunday morning I was asked if I was ready to help Nelson for the championship. I had always helped before and would help in the next races, but this race was my home Grand Prix and being in pole position I had a good chance to win, and wanted to win. Of course if Nelson was quicker than me then I would let him go because that was normal, but if it was the last lap and I was 5secs ahead of him then I said I was not going to stop. Bernie Ecclestone accepted that. He asked me if I was prepared to let Nelson go but said “ok, I understand”. Gordon [Murray] was very cross because he said we were working for the championship and even if you are in the lead with a gap you have to slow down to let Nelson through. I said no because this was the Italian GP.
We started the race. I did one lap. Nelson won the race.
It was not a question of team orders. There had been many occasions when drivers had not obeyed an agreement that they had, like Reutemann at the 1981 Brazilian GP, or Pironi at the 1982 San Marino GP. All through my career I think I was very open and loyal in any situation. I had been racing with new parts, which were sometimes blowing up, to test them for Nelson so they would be more reliable and ready to be put on his car at the next races. I had a lot of failures as a result of this. On this occasion it was the Italian GP. At this particular moment I did not have a contract for the following season and I said I would like to win this race otherwise for me it would have been a disastrous season. For sure Bernie was not happy and Gordon was quite cross, but after the race the harmony in the team stayed very good, the same and in the end they got what they wanted with Nelson winning the race in Monza. I helped Nelson in the following races and we finished the season in perfect harmony, no problem.
I signed for Alfa once the championship was over, but of course I had talks with them before. Bernie couldn’t give me an answer so I signed with Alfa Romeo. Then, after two years which was not a brilliant period, I went back to Brabham again.
What are your thoughts on Michael Schumacher’s comeback?
I think he still has the desire to race. When he retired I don’t think he was completely satisfied with the decision but with Brawn becoming Mercedes and Ross Brawn being a very good friend of his, I think he was convinced it would be a competitive team which might give him the chance to win again. The chance of becoming World Champion in a Mercedes, in a German team, was the switch that made him decide to return to F1. If any other team had asked him to come back then I don’t think he would have been interested.
I don’t know if Michael can win the championship because you need a good car for that, and there are other good teams like Ferrari and McLaren who have very good drivers, but Michael Schumacher is still Michael Schumacher and he can be very competitive. I don’t know if he can make the same difference he was making 15yrs ago. I have always said that drivers like Michael and Senna could make the difference in inferior cars, when they did not have the best car in the field. At the moment, I am not sure if Schumacher can make the difference in the same way he did in the past.
Mercedes have the resources and the team to win and there is no doubt Michael is going to be competitive, so with the right machinery I think he can be World Champion.
Autosport have reported that organisers of the Italian Superstars series are looking to convince Nigel Mansell to take part in the 2010 championship. The report also says that you are being targeted along with Zanardi, Larini and Giovanardi with the aim of making Superstars the “biggest touring car championship in the world”. Have you been approached about taking part and is the Superstars series something you would be interested in?
Nobody has asked me about this. I enjoyed the GP Masters series because it was something special to race such a car, and because there was a history between all the drivers and I felt at home. Now, at my age, racing in a championship against young drivers? I think perhaps it is better to stay home.
Have you enjoyed your role as a tv commentator?
Yes, because it was nice to be back in F1 after so many years and there was no pressure. I did some commentating during the races and was also a guest in the studio during qualifying and after the races as well as talking to some of the drivers for TV.
More than 2 million people have now watched the video of you and your wife at Jerez last year. What are your, and your wife’s, thoughts on this YouTube phenomenon? Also, how did the drive in the Honda compare with the Minardi 2-seater?
It is a big surprise to me that so many people have spent their time looking at this, but it is a fun thing and if I watch it I smile as well. I think my wife is the star. I didn’t do anything special because driving is what I have done all my life so it was normal for me, but it was my wife’s reaction that makes everyone smile.
Of course we were going much faster in the Minardo 2-seater, but in the Honda Civic the car was moving around a lot more, and driving over the kerbs there was a lot of noise. Also she could see much more sat in the Honda whereas in the Minardi she could not see as much sitting behind me.
The FIA have recently announced that ex-F1 drivers will be race stewards at GP’s in the future. Do you think this is a good idea, and is it something you would be interested in doing?
I wasn’t sure that this was official yet but I think it is a good thing that some senior ex-F1 drivers could help with the decisions of the stewards because their experience is very different to the normal stewards who have never driven a F1 car. From my point of view I could help, yes, but nothing is decided yet.
I think ex-F1 drivers can understand racing situations better, and so I think they would make fairer decisions. In the last few years, from my point of view, I think there have been some incidents which were not seen correctly and perhaps I would have been more sympathetic to the drivers. The problem for me would be that when I was driving there were different rules so I would have to try to understand the new rules, and sometimes I do not completely agree with those new rules. But anyway, I think an ex-F1 driver can read situations better, and understand what is going through the mind of the drivers so having them involved would be better I think.
What do you remember about your first F1 test at Paul Ricard before making your debut at Monaco in 1977?
I remember that it was on the Monday before the Grand Prix and my first laps were run in damp conditions because it had rained overnight. Having a car with 500bhp in comparison with my F2 car which had 300bhp was a big difference and in those days the F1 car didn’t really have efficient aerodynamics. Now you can jump from a Formula Renault, for example, to a F1 car quite easily because the grip levels are very high. The difference there is really just a question of speed, but for me testing the Shadow 500bhp with no downforce was really a big difference. For me it was a real challenge but I liked it.
It was my first time in an F1 car I really only had Monday afternoon in dry conditions and did not run many laps. My second time in the car was official practice at the Monaco GP. Of course the two circuits were very different and I was in a very new situation. It was difficult, especially the first laps, as I had to feel my way around the circuit while the others were immediately going quickly. I had about 10 laps to learn everything but after two days of practice I managed to qualify the car and I think I did a good job. In those days only 20 cars qualified for the Grand Prix, and there were 26 cars competing for those places.
Did you ever test the ground effect/pit stop Brabham BT51 at Paul Ricard in November 1982 which Gordon Murray designed before ground effects were banned for the 1983 season?
No, I don’t remember ever testing this car.
Riccardo – how did you rate Flavio Briatore as a Team Manager – did you have any chance to continue on to the 1994 season? – I am sure you must wonder what may have been if you had waited and been able to carry on with Williams in 1993.. would it have been feasible to continue your career in F1 to the mid 90s – almost 20 years in F1?
You know, I don’t like to talk about “what ifs”. When I came to the end of my career I was a little bit tired. My last season had not been very good because of Mr Briatore and I do not have a very good opinion of him. Of course, the last part of his F1 career has seen his reputation go down and it is not for me to make any more comment.
I’d be pleased to get your opinion about the following point: is there any chance,for F1 enthusiasts who can just watch TV or read newspapers and magazines,to get a correct picture of a F1 driver’s skill? I always am very cautious about rating a driver because of so much info lacking about his car’s performance overall, and I’m aware that not even the most talented driver can do well if driving a junk… So I guess that we’re often mistakenly under/over rating drivers with no clue what we are debating.
It is difficult to rate a driver from watching TV or reading what is written in magazines, but it is also difficult sometimes for people inside F1 as well. Team members can see lap times, split times and see how quick a driver is, but also – and this is important – how consistent they are.
I think you have to see how a driver performs in a quick car. When they are competing, for example, for 12th position in F1 you are never sure, but when a driver is in a quick car you can see if he is capable of competing at the front, winning races, and managing the pressure that comes with this.
Jenson Button had his chance with a good car this year and he won the championship so I think that shows he is very good. Before, he had shown he was good at times although perhaps when he didn’t have a good car he lost some motivation, but this year has shown there is no doubt that he is a very good driver.
Of course, now he is the same team as Lewis Hamilton. I think Button still has a chance of winning the championship again because McLaren, especially at the end of the year, looked very competitive, but I think Hamilton is one of the outstanding drivers in F1 so it will be interesting to see how good Button is compared to his new team mate.
When you watch a driver in the lower formulae like F3 or GP2 and you see a driver winning races and leading the championship you can never be sure how good they will be in F1. The grids in these categories are full of young prospects but it is difficult to know just how strong the level of competition is. When a driver gets to F1 he is competing against the best, the top drivers. He may show well fighting in the midfield but, if he gets in a top car, then at that moment you know, and the driver himself knows, how good they are.
I’m a big fan of US openwheel racing largely because of Scottish-Italian hero Dario Franchitti. Did you ever consider emulating Mansell, Zinardi, Fittipaldi etc. by trying your hand at CART or IRL?
No, I was never interested in racing there.
Riccardo, what season you would name the best in your career? If you look at the results, may seem, that is season 1991 or 1992, but it would be desirable to hear your opinion.
I think 1991 because I had a good feeling with the car and was very competitive against my team-mate.
Riccardo, na sua opinião que foi mais piloto? Alain, Ayrton, Michael???
I think, of course, they were all very, very good drivers but in my opinion Michael and Ayrton were a step above Alain because they were the two drivers who could really make the difference in an inferior car.
Alain was very good in the right car, and was very good at managing the team and programme with a winning car. Senna and Schumacher, even if the car was not the best and not easy to drive, could get the results and go for championships as Michael did in his early years at Ferrari.
In your Formula 1 career from 1977-1993 you drove the wing-cars, the BMW-Turbo’s and then the electronic-cars with active suspension and semi-automatic gearbox. I always wanted to ask you these two questions:
Which car demanded you the most, physically, technically and your driving skills? Which F1 car driven by yourself do you like most if you look back?
All F1 cars are demanding, but the most demanding were the turbo cars because of the characteristics of the engine, and the aerodynamics were sometimes not fantastic, things like this. They were very demanding to drive. In qualifying we had a lot of power, and had to deal with turbo lag, and then in the races we were carrying a lot of fuel. In 1984, with the Alfa, I was starting races with 240 litres in the tank!
My favourite cars were the 1982 Brabham BT49 and the 1991 Williams FW14.
In pre-season testing could you normally tell if a new car would be a good one or a bad one, and if so do any particular cars come to mind?
When you do the first laps in a car sometimes you can immediately feel if it is good but it is always difficult to know where the opposition are. When you have the feeling that a car is bad you always hope you can improve it, but it is better to feel the car is good! It can take some races to know for sure where you are.
The 1979 car for example, the Arrows A2, suffered with aerodynamic problems from the beginning and when we made changes it didn’t perform. The car didn’t feel good. As I said the team always hoped we could improve it but it didn’t work.
Then of course I drove the Williams FW14. We came from the FW13 which, although we tried many things, wasn’t very good. As soon as I tried the FW14 it felt fantastic. Then it became the FW14B with active suspension which was a very good development of the car. In 1989 when we had the first Renault engine we had to work very hard and there was a lot of expectation of the FW13 in 1990 but the car really didn’t work as we wanted, and when the FW14 came it immediately felt very good.
What are you three most treasured items that you have kept from your career?
I have my trophies and many helmets I used, also models of the cars I raced. I have the helmet I used when I won the Monaco GP and the Mexican GP. For every year I drove I also have the overalls I used.
What are your thoughts about F1 in 2009 having seen the Australian GP?
I think you need to be a magician to make predictions this year! There’s the change to the points system that went forwards then backwards. Then a driver finishes third, then is disqualified, and then Hamilton is called a liar. It is impossible to make predictions when things are not decided on the track. We have to see what happens with the appeal over the diffusers so who knows, it is complicated. It could all change and Brawn might not be competitive any more.
Of course Brawn did a fantastic job in Australia so congratulations to them, especially with all the problems they had over the winter they deserved to win. If teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Renault adapt and have a diffuser like Brawn has then they may become more competitive, but there seem to be more competitive teams than in the past.
It’s difficult to predict whether Brawn can go for the championship but for sure they can win next weekend in Malaysia. We will see what happens after that and then with the appeal, and for sure the other teams will be working hard to catch up. We will know better when everyone returns to Europe.
Things that go on in F1 do not frustrate me because I live very well and it doesn’t worry me but it does make me laugh because it is ridiculous sometimes. I don’t understand changing the points system for medals. I don’t know what they are going to do in the future but I thought that was crazy. Fortunately they couldn’t change it this year. It is all very different from when I was racing. KERS is another example. I was told that it cost €50m to develop, and yet they want to save money! When everyone has it I think it will make no difference because when it gives extra power for one driver the other driver can use it to defend so nothing changes. But perhaps I don’t understand the philosophy of it.
Sometimes technology for road cars has been developed in F1, but not always. For me F1 was always an expression of maximum speed with a car that was designed for the track. Of course you have to slow the cars in some ways, but I like the fact that teams could find an advantage and use it to win races. Now in F1 the engines have to be all the same, you have to tell them when you make changes to anything… For me, in F1, if I had an advantage I could keep it secret, develop the car better than the others, and if I could use it to win races and the championship then good for me and bad for the others.
Added to that the FIA wants to judge situations, disqualify drivers. If there’s an accident they always want to…for example Vettel and Kubica. It should be discussed between the drivers, but instead Vettel is penalised 10 positions at the next race. Ok, Vettel made a wrong move, but this can happen. If you always penalise this kind of thing then drivers are afraid to try in case they will be penalised. It’s not only this, there have been other things like Alonso being penalised for blocking Massa at Monza, or the McLaren affair in Hungary when Alonso stopped in the pits too long and held up Hamilton. The FIA penalised Alonso, but in my time such a problem would have been between me and my team-mate. My team principal would have discussed this with us and sorted it out, but now the FIA has to say something and I think this is not correct.
Do you think the only chance for GPM would have been if Bernie Ecclestone had been involved?
I definitely think that if Bernie is involved in something usually it works. The management of GP Masters decided not to be a part of F1. Probably if we could have raced as part of the F1 weekends – of course we would not have been the main attraction – the series might have survived.