Derek Warwick: Back in the hot seat
While contemplating the future of the British GP, the former F1 ace tackled Silverstone with a roof over his head
I wasn’t really interested in doing the Porsche Supercup race at the British Grand Prix meeting because I’m not really a tin-top man and have always been an open-wheeler racer. I really enjoyed doing the Grand Prix Masters races and I’m really disappointed that it’s not carrying on at the moment.
But then I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’ Since I did the Grand Prix Masters I’ve had this fire inside me that those races lit up in me again so, when Porsche invited me to drive at Silverstone, I decided to test the car and make a decision from there. So I flew to Weissach and drove the car on the test track. I was completely blown away by it because I thought the Porsche would be all understeer, then oversteer in the fast corners and not really very nice to drive. But I was very surprised to find it was responsive and had some of the characteristics of a single-seater. It was fantastic to drive: good brakes, nice gearbox, plenty of torque and it turned in quite nicely, so on the spur of the moment I decided to do it. Then, when I was driving back to the airport, I thought, ‘What the **** am I doing this for?’ But you know, I’m glad I did it and I’m happy it was dry because I’d never driven it in the wet.
There are a lot of good drivers out there in the Supercup, and many of them know these cars inside out, so I knew it was an uphill battle but one I wanted to fight. After I retired from racing, I never really thought about driving again. I was getting on with my businesses, but then when Grand Prix Masters came along I was amazed, impressed and staggered by my commitment in a racecar. I realised that I had never actually grown up and was the same stupid kid I was 30 years ago; I’ve just got much greyer.
Switching myself back on was really easy. I’m very competitive and was quickly trying to find an edge – that unfair advantage, if you like – for the Porsche Supercup race. I’m that way in all of my life whether at home or in business. Whatever it is, it’s my nature.
I was very aware that the race was not play-time. These cars are doing 180mph on the Hangar Straight and there’s no way you can treat them like some little bumper car. Also, there are drivers out there with you who are going for titles – their careers depend on it – so you need to be respectful, be aware of that. But once you get out there you forget all that. You get the red mist, and I was pissed off not to be up there in the top 10. That was the goal I’d set myself.
I’d like to say some things about the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Before I joined the BRDC board I thought, ‘Hang on, why doesn’t everyone complain about Montreal where the pit facilities are crap, the paddock area is a mess of tents, but nobody is asking them to spend £60 million on upgrading the place?’ Now, having worked as a BRDC member, I think to myself: ‘Is the Grand Prix important to Silverstone?’ Yes, it is.
But at any price? The answer is no. There is a figure that we can afford and it’s important that we don’t go over that figure. It’s also important that we have just one person negotiating with Bernie Ecclestone and that he has the full support of the members. That person is Neil England and he’s the right man for the job. More than that, we have an excellent President in Damon Hill. So now we have a structure in place, we have our master plan, and I believe we will satisfy Bernie’s requirements for an upgraded Grand Prix circuit.
Remember, I raced for Bernie [at Brabham] in ’86, and I got to know him a little bit. What I do know about him is that first of all he is a racer. It’s a misconception if you think he doesn’t love motor racing. He might say he doesn’t, but he does. Look, does he want the British Grand Prix to stay at Silverstone? Yes, I think he does. But is he the best negotiator in the world? Yes, he is, by a million per cent but he hasn’t pulled the wool over my eyes, nor Damon’s, and we know the sort of guy he is. He’s the cleverest man I know and we will have to be up very, very early in the morning to negotiate with him on his level. As long as you understand all that, you can do business, especially now that Neil England doesn’t have to refer back to the BRDC members every time he makes a decision. We are in much better shape than in previous years, when I think there was a bit of a personality clash between Ecclestone and Sir Jackie Stewart. What we have to do now is get our house in order and go to Bernie with a deal that works for all of us.
Finally, let me say something about Lewis Hamilton. Will he save the British Grand Prix? No, not at all costs, but he will help with the momentum of keeping the race on the calendar. What he’s done this season is outrageous – fantastic, stunning, brilliant. People say his moves round the outside of Alonso and Massa earlier in the year could have turned to s**t. But they didn’t and maybe we are looking at a very young Senna, or Prost, or Stewart, or Mansell here – a mixture of all of them. He’s got balls, he’s got aggression, he’s got charisma and he’s got polish, which McLaren love of course.
He’s a racer and has personality: go to a press conference and who do you want to listen to, Räikkönen or Hamilton? Sorry, there’s just no comparison. What he’s done in the first half of the season is simply unbelievable.