You’re part of Channel 4’s new F1® presenting team. What will your role be?
My role will be to co-commentate on races and provide expert analysis at each Grand Prix.
What do you enjoy about commentating and punditry?
I’ve always enjoyed the sport and been watching it as long as I can remember, back in the days when I was a wee lad in Scotland. I looked to the television to be my commentary and insight. When I’m doing commentary on F1® I don’t think I’m talking to the engineering expert or the analyst student, I think I’m talking to the young version of me, male and female, who want to know more about it. I want to try and explain it in a way that is understandable and acceptable to all.
You are also one of the owners of the production company that is making the programme. Does that mean you’re more involved in all the other aspects of production as well?
Yes. I’m consulted, advised and asked my opinion on a number of things we do in the business, in the same way that when I was a race driver you trust in your team. We’ve built an exciting team around it, with some that have more experience than others but all with the desire, energy and focus to make good television. Like any good business, you know you’re in a good place when you don’t have to micro-manage and you trust your team.
What can you tell us about the coverage? What will you do differently?
The essence of the race - the raw footage that everyone gets, the live image - we can only add commentary to and two or three replays, but we know Channel 4 are committed to having this live, uninterrupted and with no adverts. It’s fantastic for the fans. We are a talent team with some having more experience that others, some have had more success than others and some have more broadcast experience than others. We can really tap into each of their unique points of view and try to give as broad and diverse a coverage as possible.
What are you looking forward to about the experience?
Naturally, having an involvement in the company that have been given the opportunity by Channel 4 to produce, this is exciting. It’s what we have been working towards over the last several years. It doesn’t fundamentally change my role on the track. I worked with Mark Wilkin at the BBC and he is a very experienced guy. It’s his responsibility to make sure the show goes on air and that everyone is performing their role. In the moments when we are delivering content live, the captain will remain in control.
How heavily involved were you in recruiting the rest of the presenting team?
Yeah I was involved. We certainly discussed which people we thought would be good and available. It was part of my role to go out and make contact and negotiate the opportunity for them to be available.
Do you think it’s important for F1® to have a presence on terrestrial TV?
Totally, I said this before I even left the BBC, for me it would have been shocking if Formula 1® had left free-to-air television. I think its fantastic Channel 4 have taken this opportunity, it’s a clear statement of intent. It’s one of the biggest global sports in the world, there’s a hard-core fan base in the UK, not only because most of the teams are based in the UK, but also because Britain has a highly talented workforce and creative population that responds to seeing technologies – whether it be mechanics or engineering or aerodynamics. To not be able to celebrate through free-to-air television and to give the next generation the opportunity to be inspired, when you consider that the business turns over billions in the UK and employs tens of thousands of people, would just be inconceivable.
Who’s your tip for the title this season?
The safe bet is on Hamilton and Mercedes. The slightly longer odds would be Rosberg and Mercedes, and then just to spice it up a bit, the outsider, I guess, would be Vettel. I don’t think Ferrari have the chance to win the constructors’ title, I could be wrong of course, but I just don’t see Raikkonen performing as consistently as Vettel, who was in the championship battle for quite a long time or certainly had a chance to get second until quite late on into the season last year, so he’s got the potential to be a thorn in the side of Mercedes. The other teams are still playing catch-up because of power unit issues.
Which will be the strongest team?
Mercedes. They’ve had an incredible winter of testing, clocking thousands of kilometres and have good reliability and of course good speed, again.
Who should we keep an eye out for as a surprise package?
Before we saw them even test, I thought Haas could be the surprise, not in terms of having the chance to win but in terms of being one of the best-prepared new teams to Formula 1®. They’ve really taken their time, they’ve bought everything they possibly can from Ferrari, and they’ve limited the areas that they can get wrong by being an independent manufacturer. They do seem to have had some teething problems in testing, in terms of running the car reliably, so it may take them a while to get up to speed. Outside of that, it’s just a question of who is battling for third. Is it Williams? Is it Red Bull? Are McLaren working their way back with two great drivers – Button and Alonso – can they really start to recover from the rock-bottom of last year?
Which track has the happiest memories for you?
I’m proud to have won what I consider the classic races – Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza – it was nice to have the chance to stand at the top of the podium. Silverstone is a special place, it’s the home of the British Grand Prix. To have won there a couple of times is something I’m very proud of. When I go there to commentate I still stay in the BRDC (British Racing Drivers’ Club) in my motorhome like I used to do when I was a driver.
Do you miss racing in F1®?
No, I had my time and my journey, and I gave everything that I could to make the best of my opportunity. I live for today, I enjoyed that phase, I have other things in my life right now, which still gives me the chance to enjoy Formula 1® and be part of it. I don’t win the races anymore but I don’t lose them either.
Who was the best driver you ever raced against?
Statistically that would be Michael Schumacher, because he won more races and championships than anyone else in Formula 1®. I was teammates with Mika Hakkinen for seven years, and he was an incredibly fast and talented driver. He was very fair, and that’s something that stands out. I was teammates with Kimi Raikkonen for two years, but he was younger and quieter at the time, he had great speed, but maybe not quite the same work ethic as Mika. It would probably have to be Michael Schumacher, he is the most successful in history. If you enter a sport, you’d rather reflect on competing against people who are considered the best in history, rather than having what could be considered a weak season and winning the championship. That’s how I view it, others would take the view of “a championship is a championship”, and I respect that, but I would rather have finished second to the best, than win against an average driver.
It’s important for sports to attract new fans. What would you say to someone who had never watched a F1® race?
It’s the pinnacle of automotive technology. It’s the fastest form of closed-circuit racing and it deploys the latest technology that is currently available and a lot of the technology you take for granted on your road car was developed for Formula 1® in the past. So if you are someone that likes to be up to date with the latest gadget, and embrace technology and what it brings to your everyday life, well that is what Formula 1® is in sporting terms and in car terms.
From the Channel 4 Press office