With the Silly Season upon us, the five Brits in F1 face an anxious wait as team managers consider who’s hot and who’s not. Eurosport’s John Watson, former winner of the British Grand Prix gives MotorSport his verdict.
Formula One’s Gazza?
Much has been made of Damon being a new man this season. Certainly he has adopted a very focused approach to the championship, but I still feel that the ghosts of the past , are prone to the odd apparition.
On occasions, he has performed superbly. He realised that his chances of winning consistently were best in the early races in the series because everyone else was in disarray. Ferrari had a brand new car, Benetton had two new drivers, McLaren was in a state of flux. Every opportunity was available to him, and he capitalised to the full.
If he is on the front of the grid, and he leads, he is virtually unbeatable, but the old phantoms are not fully exorcised and that remains a weakness. I think you saw that partly at the Nurburgring, where he had trouble overtaking Ortiz, and also in Spain. Anyone can spin once, but three times in 11 laps?
It is important for him not to forget that winning a championship isn’t just about winning Grands Prix – it’s about scoring in every race. If you can’t win – and at Barcelona Schumacher was blinding – you have to try to take the six points for second place.
The one good thing to emerge from Spain was that he was open enough to say. ‘I screwed up.’ In those situations it’s important to be honest as Schumacher was about his Monaco exit, because then it doesn’t leave him vulnerable to people such as me making suppositions. Its better just to say it, because it takes the pressure off you.
He is still by a country mile, favourite for the championship, but that means he’s going to be more exposed. Its like Gazza. After England’s first Euro ’96 match with Switzerland, people were calling for his head. When you put your head above the parapet, which is what you’re doing as championship contender, every good result will be lauded and they will shoot you down for every poor result.
As well as working on his own shortcomings. Damon has to identify a way of de-stabilising Schumacher.
In ’87 with Jaguar, we won the first four sports car races. Porsche had been undefeated up to that point, but their reaction to defeat from a team they felt they should be beating was that they started to show vulnerability in areas which because they had previously been totally unchallenged had never existed. That’s how you beat somebody who is very strong.
Because of the character of Germans, when they are strong, they have an arrogance which works in their favour. But that strength can also be attacked, made to be a weakness. That’s how I can see him beating Schumacher.
This year, as it was last, the championship is entirely in Damon’s own hands. He is better prepared this time, mentally stronger. The championship is there for him to take. But he will have to take it: it’s not going to be served up on a plate because the longer the season goes on, the stronger his opposition is going to get. He’s the one who has to make it happen.
Going from a Williams, the class of the field to a McLaren was a culture shock for David. I think initially it was difficult for him because the character of the team was very much that of Mika, and when the car was difficult, it seemed to suit Mika’s style.
I think he is a tough little character. What you see outside the car is the charm and of the man, but what only the people close to the driver see is his true character. I think David has got a lot of steel he is not any little sweet softie at all. But, like any driver, his confidence takes a knock when the car is difficult to drive.
Why can a driver be confident in one circumstance, and totally lacking in another? It comes back to two simple things. One is the ability to turn the wheel with confidence; the other is the ability to open the throttle and not be afraid of the car biting you. Mika was able to deal with a very twitchy chassis because his technique and style is more aligned to that sort of car.
Once the team got on top of the car, after the first three rounds, we saw David’s confidence, which had hitherto been utterly lacking, suddenly rekindled. That, to me, has been the key to the turnaround. But we must remember also that David has had a team-mate who is not operating at quite the same level as he was. Mika has come back after a near-fatal crash. That is a totally remarkable recovery, but I still think it takes much longer than the time Mika has had to restore himself to the level he was prior to his accident. Unless you’ve been through the trauma he experienced, it is impossible to understand.
If you take the two best drivers of the ’90s, Senna and Schumacher, both displayed the ability to take a difficult car and to be competitive in it. Villeneuve did it back in the early 80s. It is much easier to win in a good car than a difficult one, and that for me is something that partly marks out great drivers from good drivers. That is something we have yet to see David or, for that matter, Damon do.
the worst job in F1
There probably aren’t many people around who would be able to cope with Schumacher in the way that Eddie Irvine does.
I don’t mean that in terms of results, but in terms of his approach to the circumstances he faces in the team. He has done a good job. He is intelligent, he is very quick, and he has had to learn a lot more about being a racing driver in his time at Ferrari than at any other time in his life.
Being team-mate to Schumacher isn’t simply about being fast It’s the amount of work put in, the time spent going through the information, the application of being a Grand Prix driver. That’s what Eddie is in the process of learning. I also think that the level of Schumacher’s fitness, his ability to drive on the limit of his physical reserves, is something which opens your eyes.
The minimal amount of testing time he has had would be a gross frustration for any driver. That’s the down side the less time you spend in the car, the less contribution you can make to the team. But Eddie knew what he was getting into. This is a year to establish himself, to be seen as a driver who has got ability and can make a contribution in a technical sense. Once he gets over his biggest breakwater the renewal of his contract then maybe he can illustrate his own flamboyance more freely. He’s had to keep his powder dry.
He took the decision that a move to Ferrari will, in the longer term, benefit him. For now, Ferrari have kept him pretty much under wraps In a sense it is like a family that says, ‘When you’re old enough, we will let you out without a chaperone.’ Eddie has got chaperones within the team. That is how they are guiding him. One day, they will not be necessary.
out of the fat…
Johnny seems to be fated with teams where his partner has already got a very strong hold on things.
Certainly Heinz-Harald Frentzen has got a strong position at Sauber, who know he is desirable to other teams and that his contract runs out with them at the end of the year.
Johnny probably realises that there is no point getting into a little paddy about the situation. Formula One is as much about self-belief as it is ability. Johnny has to find a way of undermining his teammate’s confidence, whilst building his own, and on occasions he has achieved that.
If you become disillusioned because you see your team-mate getting all the latest stuff, its all downhill. Johnny has got a very happy-go-lucky character but I would say Sauber is not the easiest place for him to be. The Ford side of the operation is English and a number of people in Sauber speak English as well, but it is essentially a Swiss-German team and that is very different to driving for Benetton or Lotus.
There he could drive to the team for a day, buy the guys lunch in the pub from time to time, perhaps. But there is an integration factor to consider at Sauber.
It is never easy to slide into a European team. Nigel Mansell did it. He was successful and they loved him because he drove in such a passionate way. But Johnny didn’t go into Sauber in those circumstances. Heaven knows, it took ages for them to decide whether they wanted Johnny or Mark Blundell! Drivers are sensitive souls. They always need reassurance and buoying up in terms of confidence.
Over the remainder of the year his best option is to seek out the vulnerability of his team-mate. To do that, he will have to integrate as well as he can. To do what Irvine is doing is a very good example. Eddie is learning Italian. It is important not to be British in an overseas team not to go into a restaurant, order British beef, and speak louder to make the waiters understand!
A dream turned sour
Martin’s return to Jordan has proved a conundrum. But when test driver Gianni Morbidelli drove the 196, he more or less confirmed Martin’s feelings about a car he has struggled to come to terms with.
Jordan is caught between being the best little team in the business and wanting to join the top four teams, and sometimes that transition can be a painful one.
Again, in my view, it is a confidence thing with Martin, who hasn’t done himself justice. It was a difficult start for him. The accident in Melbourne, then the loss of his father, were both contributory factors. He has a lot of ability, is an intelligent guy, and is not going to take a car out and wring its neck on a shit or bust basis. Yet he has gone off countless times. A driver doesn’t suddenly lose his ability.
I went through this in 1980 with McLaren, I felt the support I got from the team, particularly in the first half of the year, was a disgrace. Perhaps Martin gets that support, but certainly on the technical side the car is more suited to Rubens Barrichello’ style of driving than it is to Martin’s.
It is a problem the team has to acknowledge, address, and assist in the solution. It makes you wonder if you think of the number of drivers Barrichello has had as team members- Capelli, Boutsen, Apicella and co, Boutsen and Capelli looked awful in the same car as Barrichello. One has to say that in the past they didn’t appear to be as bad as they looked at Jordan.
The only driver who took Rubens to the cleaners was Irvine, who managed, very cleverly to swing the team around. Now it is very much Rubens’ team again. I don’t believe that the driver should change to suit the circumstance of the team. I think it should be the other way around.
When your confidence has been shattered as Martin’s was, you start to question your ability and you shouldn’t be put in that position. To me that is a failure of the team. If it believes in you, and you have a track record, you don’t suddenly change overnight….