It is part of motor racing folklore that Australian World Champion Alan Jones had little time for FIA stewards, or “those men in blazers” as he called them. I was therefore intrigued to hear his views on the manner in which Sebastian Vettel departed the grid at Suzuka in October. So I phoned him in Darwin where he was visiting the Argyll gold mine (more of that later) and AJ was kind enough to put down his beer and have a chat.
“I’m not supposed to talk about what I do as an F1 steward, but it’s true, I’m more used to being up in front of the stewards than joining them,” he said. “The technology is so good these days that it’s far easier now to make a good judgement. In my day they relied on a bunch of weekend warriors, flag marshals who phoned in to report what they saw. No disrespect to marshals these days, but in some places in my day half of them were imbeciles. In Japan, with all the technology, I could see that Button was never properly alongside Vettel. Peripheral vision is not good in a modern F1 car, but they were on their way to a right-hander and you have to guard your bum leaving the grid. And that’s what Vettel did. If a driver can’t see the other guy’s wheels then he’s not alongside him.”
Not surprisingly, Jones has taken a close interest in the declining fortunes at Williams.
“It’s frustrating – it’s my old school, and no one likes to see their old school beaten at rugby year in, year out. I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel – I just hope it’s not another train – but speaking to Patrick [Head] at Suzuka I felt there was enthusiasm for 2012 and beyond with the Renault engines. Patrick is still on the rev limiter, he’s an excellent engineer, there are some clever ideas with the car and I think we’ll see a new Williams team next year.”
And what about the prospect of Kimi Räikkönen coming back to Formula 1 to drive for Jones’s ‘old school’?
“Well, I came back – with the Beatrice which was underpowered – but I was motivated by money whereas I think Kimi just wants to drive. Niki Lauda came back and did a good job and Schumacher hasn’t been all that bad – if he was called Fred Smith everybody would say he’d done a great job. I might make a comeback myself – it would have to be for the team with the most money… But seriously, we don’t want the old men taking the best seats, we should be encouraging the young talent.” Pause for cold beer. It’s 34 degrees in Darwin. Thanks for telling me, Alan. Now what’s all this about you being involved with a jewellery company?
“Yeah, I’m not a big jewellery boy, but I wear a ring in the shape of a Williams wheel, inscribed Alan Jones 1980 (left), and I’m a partner in Speed Jewellery which makes things for men. There’s not much out there for a woman to buy a man and we’re promoting jewellery with a motor racing theme. We’re designing a helmet ring – you put your finger through the helmet – and I’ll be at the Autosport International Show in January hoping to do some deals with F1 people.”
Like every good Aussie, AJ hoped that Mark Webber would have taken his big chance to be World Champion last year, but admits that Vettel was just too good.
“I don’t want to be a smart-arse but you could see Vettel was going to be special when he was at Toro Rosso. He’s one of those freaks that come along every now and then. So once he got his bum in a proper car, you knew he’d be winning. No matter what he puts his bum in, he’s going to be quick. I reckon Mark had his big chance last year and that McLaren and Ferrari will close the gap to Red Bull in 2012. Anyway, mate, I love to tell you English how hot it is here and I’m ready to get back to a cold beer.”
Thank you, Alan. Hope you enjoy Birmingham in January…