Four-way fight for title

Former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan gives his forthright views on the grand prix season so far, and an insight as to what we can expect from all the participants. Adam Cooper takes note

I said to Bernie Ecclestone the other day, “How can you be so lucky?” Through no fault of his own, Michael Schumacher was so brilliant that he actually cost the sport media awareness, because the guy was so dominant and focused on what he had to achieve. 

And now he’s gone we have Lewis Hamilton, and what looks like being a great fight between McLaren and Ferrari and their four drivers. The sport is healthier than it has been for some years, the politics have largely disappeared, and the threat of the GPWC is gone, after all that huffing and puffing by the manufacturers.

I thought that with the exit of Michael and Ross Brawn, and other people moving, there would be a void at Ferrari. But it looks to be in a good way, and has made the changes quietly. Ferrari obviously had a lot of knowledge of the Bridgestone tyres that helped with the new concept and the new car. So well done to Ferrari, because we all remember what the team was like 20 years ago.

Michael is a huge act to follow, and most people would say an impossible act to follow. But Kimi Räikkönen has done a pretty good job so far. However, I think Felipe Massa could be a big surprise this year. Winning in Bahrain and then at Barcelona was important for him, because he got stumped at the first couple of races, and now he’s back in the frame. Psychologically, winning in Brazil at the end of last year was also important. But Ferrari is not going to have it its own way, like in years gone by. 

I think the reason McLaren is strong now is in some respects because it was demoted last year. It didn’t win a race, and if Ron Dennis ever decides to quit what he’s doing, he wants to do it when he’s winning. So Ron has made a huge effort.

The emergence of McLaren, at the expense of Renault, is probably not surprising. Fernando Alonso made the decision to go there when Flavio Briatore had more or less informed everyone that he would be stepping down. Having seen the current situation of Alonso, vis a vis his relationship with Ron and the emergence of the great new British hope Hamilton, perhaps he wouldn’t have made that decision so quickly if he knew what was in front of him. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! But he’s got a good car, a good engine and a great team behind him. And he’s got a superb team-mate, and to be World Champion you’ve got to beat your team-mate as well as the rest.

Hamilton is the biggest surprise of the year, and I can’t get my head around it just yet. He’s probably ahead of where Michael Schumacher was at this stage. Has he got the same killer instinct, the ability to do what Michael did to Damon Hill in Adelaide, or Jacques Villeneuve in Jerez? We don’t know yet. Is it important to be like that? Probably not, but we know that was part of the way Michael drove. 

McLaren has enjoyed some monumental times, winning championships in the Senna/Prost era and so on. But bringing on Hamilton is to me Ron’s greatest moment, in terms of true grit, understanding, and having commitment to being proved right. Ron probably needed this more for himself than anything else.

He did something that needed a complete change, because he’s never helped and supported a driver for 10 years like that, and never put a rookie into his car, apart from Michael Andretti. But what a great result he’s got. I’ve seen enough to know that this kid is quick enough. Not only is he a great driver, but he’s a good-looking boy, and he’s still happy running around with his dad. He’s hugely important for the sport in this country. He’s a breath of fresh air for the business.

Renault is in a rebuilding situation, I suppose. Heikki Kovalainen hasn’t been as impressive as people had hoped, but it was a very big ask for a kid who’s just come in. I know Giancarlo Fisichella very well, of course. He always out-qualified his team-mates in the past, but psychologically Alonso was a big change for him. He was comprehensively blown off by him, and so the team went with Alonso, whereas before Giancarlo was the star, and people adored him because he was so easy to work with. Renault wanted to win the championship, and it did. Full marks to Flavio, because I never thought they would do it. His success as a team boss has been nothing sort of sensational.

BMW has emerged as a strong little outfit. It’s put some good racing people together. It didn’t do what most people thought a few years ago, and take a financial stake in Williams. BMW wanted to do it itself. Most people thought that Mario Theissen was an interfering sod in the corner of the Williams motorhome, but he’s done a good job.

BMW has clearly got a solid car there. It’s got a couple of ex-Jordan people – Seamus Mullarkey is one of the key aero guys. He left and I wanted him to come back, but he quite liked life in Switzerland. He was one of the odd ones out! He’s doing an outstanding job.

Robert Kubica looks pretty good, and I always thought Nick Heidfeld was good. It’s always hard to know, because there have been some brilliant F3000 drivers who have never made it in F1. But he was good when he drove for Jordan, and he looks as if he’s one of the few people outside the Ferrari and McLaren camps that could be considered a real possibility to win a race.

As we all know, a brilliant engine in a crap car will give you a crap result. A very good engine in an average car will give you a much better result. And this is something that has maybe been lost on Honda and Toyota. Honda was so successful with Williams and McLaren that it probably didn’t give quite as much credit to the teams as it probably should have done. 

I think Honda and Toyota need an out-and-out racer in charge, somebody calling the shots who can rip a world apart to achieve something that people who haven’t been racers can’t manage. You have to have a Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Patrick Head or Jean Todt, someone who’s been around forever. Before F1 I did my time in Formula Ford, F3 and F3000. I knew all the angles, all the strokes, knew how people had you over and knew how staff had you over or confused you.

There are people in charge who don’t have the experience of being able to win. And I’m not talking about winning in F1, they haven’t had that experience in F3 or F3000 or sports cars. Winning is an art, it’s a culture, it’s a belief.

But I don’t blame Toyota as much as I do Honda. Honda should know, as it’s been around for years. It even won races with Jordan through Mugen. Mr Fukui in Japan must be going mental spending all this money for negative publicity. Until Honda refocuses and changes things around, it’s not going to get the kind of results it wants. I actually believe there are more technically brilliant people in Honda than Jordan ever had, but what it does need is guidance, someone with hardcore ability to be able to pull people together.

Toyota is of the highest calibre in terms of style and dignity – I did an engine deal with it at the end of 2004 – but I think it’s very hard to build a car to the right level in Germany. It’s taken on people who haven’t got the experience, and decided to build the car in a country where it’s difficult to find the right suppliers and subcontractors. Both of its drivers, Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher, drove for Jordan and both are well capable of winning grands prix.

Toyota could have made an awesome team if it had taken over Williams, and it would have been the best for both parties. Williams also had the chance to do that with BMW, but believed it could be better without it. I can’t see how Williams can go back to winning races, I really don’t. I do think Nico Rosberg is good and, like his dad, he will continually get better.

Red Bull has been terribly disappointing. Here’s a team that’s young, vibrant and rock and roll, and makes a lot of noise. And it winds up with Mark Webber and David Coulthard. It doesn’t really fit, does it? Adrian Newey still has the ability to design a race-winning car, there’s no doubt about that. However, the competition is very strong. It’s not impossible for it to win grands prix one day, but it’s going to be very difficult.

I’m very much against the customer cars, Toro Rosso and Super Aguri. I don’t see how you can enter a Concorde Agreement and commit to designing, developing, manufacturing and building your own car, only to get a design from somebody else, and maybe try a few updates here and there. And then continually deny it!

It leaves me cold. My view is that’s not what the sport was created for, F1 was always about building your own car.

Finally, a word on Spyker. I admire it for designing its own car, when it would have been a lot cheaper to do something else. Obviously I still know a lot of people there from the Jordan days, but I don’t keep a particularly close eye on the team. All that is a million years ago, and I don’t really miss it – I realise how painful it was, not being able to get enough money to compete with teams that I thought we were better than…