John Surtees



Guest column

Motorcycle and F1 World Champion Surtees runs Britain’s A1 GP team. He tells Motor Sport about his hopes for a new British hero and how champions don’t just happen…

In some ways running the British A1 GP team is a better job than running my own team was, because I don’t have to worry where the money is coming from. Of course, decisions aren’t so fast; it’s now a team decision, but they’re very supportive and luckily they broadly take my view.

We have to look seriously at the driver programme this time. The first season didn’t go as expected: Robbie Kerr did all the races except the last, and Alex Lloyd didn’t race at all. We have so much home-grown talent, but it’s difficult to select drivers because of clashes with other team commitments. Perhaps McLaren-Mercedes and Honda could have co-operated more with A1 GP: talented drivers like Gary Paffett and Anthony Davidson were denied the chance to represent their country, while Kerr and Lloyd were available because they couldn’t get financial support for their own racing — fortunately they were of sufficient skill level.

Thanks to the driver development programme instigated by Wade Cherwayko [Canada’s A1 GP team patron] we’ve been able to get Robbie and Sean McIntosh into World Series by Renault this year, and we’d like to get another pair of drivers into GP2 in the future; I’m watching one British and one Canadian driver at the moment.

It was my son Henry who took me back to the grass roots again, when he said he wanted to try karting. It’s reawakened my awareness of the amount of talent out there and how difficult it is to progress. The BRDC karting initiative was a help, but they stopped it this year — a very bad decision. Another rung missing from the ladder. And it’s not helped by the MSA, who have added the Saxo series to T-Cars and Ginettas. Too many junior series just splits support; it weakens rather than strengthens the movement. One-make series are draining club racing, and making people move on with inadequate experience. Hence my interest in Buckmore Park kart circuit, and the strategy of stepping up from karts to Formula BMW to Renault to GP2.

Formula BMW is expensive, but it offers a discipline and training regime that’s very good for 16-17-year-old boys. One thing I deplore is that some people ignore schooling — that’s very unwise. Motorsport has so much to offer apart from driving; the industry is a huge one, but it has to be fed by new people coming through, and they have to be able to add two and two. That’s one of the reasons that I put Henry into Ginettas this year — most of the races are in the school holidays. And the cars are on road tyres so he can learn car control; a series with ground effect interferes with learning those skills.

At Buckmore we try to bring in kids from the community and offer technical training to fit them for further education, and we’ve been trying to get government support. We could do with another British World Champion; media interest would soar. National pride is central to A1 GP, and that should help to develop a Schumacher rival. The material is out there…