You’re part of Channel 4’s new Formula 1® presenting team. What’s your role on the show?
Punditry alongside David. I really enjoy relaying the expert opinion from the cockpit – what the drivers are going through, what the teams are going through putting the weekends together, the stress and the pressure of Formula 1®, from an expert view. I suppose I’m in a position to do that.
Have you got much in the way of punditry experience so far?
Yeah, I’ve done a bit of work for the BBC, I’ve done quite a lot of work with Channel 10 in Australia over the years, mainly in motorsport. I’ve done a little bit of motorbikes endure-cross with Red Bull TV, which was awesome.
So do you have ambitions to do other sports?
I think it really comes across well if you know what you’re talking about. It’s obviously natural for us to be talking about motorsport, we’re confident, we have a position, and that flows out reasonably naturally. I’d be wary of going in cold on other sports. I’m fascinated by other sports – I love listening to expert opinion, whether it’s John McEnroe or the football punditry, those guys breaking it down and explaining it in a really good way, the same with the cricket, explaining what the guys are going through. I love listening and learning from that, but whether you can cross over now that there are so many good guys filling those roles – you really need to be on top of your subject.
What’s it going to be like working alongside David Coulthard?
David and I have known each other for over 15 years, and we’ve always got on well. I think both coming from the countryside – a Scottish lad and a guy from the Outback – we’ve always got on really well. We were teammates together as well, we know each other very intimately on a professional level as well. I learned a lot off David in the middle part of my career – how to use the resources and use the people around you. He’s an absolute professional. And he’s like that now, with his other ventures and other businesses. I’ve enjoyed working with him in the past, and I’ll look forward to working with him on this new challenge.
Do you think it’s important for Formula 1® to be available on terrestrial TV, to be free-to-air?
Yeah, absolutely. Not everyone can afford to pay for sports channels, and Formula 1®, like all sports, has such tradition of being available for free, people just didn’t expect to have to pay for it. I think that’s still the template that people like to work off. The newer generation maybe feel a bit differently, but we’ve got a very broad demographic following our sport, and in many cases they don’t want to pay for it.
Who are the men to watch for the title this season?
I think it’s between three guys – Lewis, Nico and Sebastian. I think that Lewis slightly has the edge, from form and previous championships, but Nico is more than capable of doing it. He’s got to put the 12 months together, which is not easy against Lewis. And I just think that Ferrari are not quite there, in terms of the whole set of demands that are required to pull a championship together against Mercedes. But the thing that may help Seb is that internal team rivalry between Lewis and Nico – that might pull them around a little bit on points. But he has a tough gig against Mercedes, they are a very tough gig, and their testing looks good as well, so far.
So you wouldn’t look beyond Mercedes as the strongest team?
Definitely not. I think operationally, and in terms of resources, we can look at the stopwatch, that’s one thing, but when you get into the guts of the season, when you have to be out in the first practise session, when you have to be out in qualifying, when you have to have strong procedures in the race, they’re just so strong, they’ve got such a solid backbone at the moment. I think they’re demonstrating that with gusto in testing, they’re showing how well they’re prepared, with their systems and everything. It’s absolutely boring as hell talking about that type of thing, but that’s what executes results. On top of that, they have a fast car.
Every season throws up a surprise package – who should we keep an eye out for this season?
It’s not fair to say that Red Bull would be a surprise, but I think that if they can find some more power, they can come back in to win. We all crave Williams returning to some sort of form. But you’ve still got to look at someone like Max Verstappen for me. He’s in his second year, which can be harder than your first year, because everyone is giving you praise and credit and giving you pats on the back in your first season – second season, they’re expecting you to perform. We’ll see how Max deals with that. But think that Torro Rosso with Max is something to watch. And Force India as well – watch them. I think they could start pretty well. It’s a bit like a smaller football club. Eventually the ones with the bigger squads will overhaul them, but early in the season, with a lean, resourceful team, Force India could do something with that Mercedes power.
You’ll obviously be revisiting the tracks this season. Which one holds the happiest memories for you?
If you’re a golfer, you can’t say “I only like par threes, I really don’t like par fives.” As drivers, It’s our job to like as many of the venues as possible. From the tracks specifically, there’s loads out there I liked. When you then look at the accommodation and the whole event, if you want to bring that into it, there are different challenges within that. I loved my home race in Australia. I never got a great result there, which was a shame, but I really loved the Melbourne Grand Prix – it’s very well put together, a cracking location next to the sea, and it’s the first round of the season, so everyone’s excited to see what’s going to unfold. Monet Carlo was always sensational. In terms of the tracks, Monte Carlo and Suzuka were two of the hardest tracks on the circuit. And then if you want to look for the passion and the sheer intensity of the fans, Sao Paolo was always a very intimate and close event. The British Prix, too – it’s like a second home race for me, you always get 100,000 fans there – the English buy their tickets six months in advance and turn up rain, hail or shine.
What’s the adjustment like when you stop racing F1®? Did you find it difficult?
In the end, for me, it was reasonably straightforward. It’ a phenomenal sport, I really, really loved it. The hardest thing for me to walk away from was the intensity of working every day with really great people, who would drive you on every day, and improve you as a person and a driver. The whole adrenaline, the speed, the risk-taking, I don’t miss a huge amount. I felt I’d got the timing of my decision right. But I miss the glue of the team culture. I have something similar with Porsche now – I’m racing for them in the Sports Car Championship. You can’t just turn the tap straight off. If you stopped completely – which some guys do – it’s really difficult.
Who was the best driver you raced against?
Probably Michael. He was unbelievably fast, had incredible feel for the car. I raced against loads of guys like that, but the extra vital layer that Michael had was discipline and work ethic. I had the second part, but I didn’t have the first part the way he did. You talk about the three different surfaces in tennis – we have to deal with that tenfold in terms of rain, the start of the track, tyres, there are so many different scenarios, and Michael was just excellent with every single one. He had so many strings to his bow.
How would you rate him in the all-time list?
That’s a conversation for a bar, with plenty of wine! You’ve got your Fangios, Stewarts, Sennas and Schumachers. What someone like Ayrton Senna did for the sport – he was such a fascinating character, and that bought a whole new number of people into our sport. He was so unpredictable and fascinating. Jackie Stewart was a different brand himself, as was Fangio. But those are the top four for me – then you’ve got guys like Lauda and Prost.
Any sport needs to attract new fans. What would you say to someone who’s never watched F1®?
It’s man and machine against each other and against the clock. It’s full of fantastic characters, and we go to unbelievable venues and tracks. It’s really, really exciting stuff.
From Channel 4's Press Office