(Continuation of interview with Minardi's Formula One driver Justin Wilson) Host: Justin, Paul Stoddart gave us to understand before that you have never felt entirely comfortable in any car. Obviously you have always fitted in one way or...
(Continuation of interview with Minardi's Formula One driver Justin Wilson)
Host: Justin, Paul Stoddart gave us to understand before that you have never felt entirely comfortable in any car. Obviously you have always fitted in one way or another, but is it correct that you've never felt that any car is quite right for you?
A: It's not like sitting on the sofa, put it that way. I've always been in the same situation, so for me I've been able to get into a position which I'm happy with, whether that's as comfortable as other people get it, but I'm happy, I'm not complaining. And I think I'm capable of driving the car in that situation.
Q: Albert Park is one of the few F1 circuits that you didn't visit in Formula 3000, so what are your expectations of the track and are you going to be giving the Playstation a work-out in order to find out which way the corners go?
A: For sure. Any track information you can take on board, and in those situations you use a couple of different games, because everyone has got a different viewpoint on it. Just any information, data, looking at last year's data, is all going to help when you get to the circuit and drive around in an F1 car. It's a little bit different driving a road car around than an F1 car. So it always knocks you back for the first few laps that you get into a circuit, even that you know. It's amazing how different that feels; feels like a completely different track to what you remember and raced on for your previous couple of years' experience.
Host: You were asked before about whether you would feel particular pressure in view of Minardi and Mark Webber's success in Melbourne in 2002. Are you going to be feeling the pressure of expectations in Britain, particularly because of the nature of Fleet Street? There is usually a honeymoon period, but are you expecting those guys to be a help or a hindrance?
A: We will have to see, but at the minute they are very supportive and I think that's down to whether or not I am doing the job at the time. If everything is going well at the British Grand Prix then I think they will be just be looking forward to it, but if things are difficult, like in any situation, they're going to be not quite as forgiving if things don't go well.
Q: Why is it, do you think, that Britain has had so many Formula One drivers and so many good Formula One drivers when, not to be unkind, we could say that Britain doesn't excel in a lot of other sports?
A: I don't know. I'm not sure why that is. I can't comment for the other sports, but in the UK the motor racing is very competitive and seems to be the training ground. That's where all the guys come - from Brazil, Australia, America. All want to come over here and race, which is good for us because we don't have to travel, but we get to race against good calibre drivers.
Q: Are there guys in other sports that you particularly admire?
A: Yeah, there is obviously the same with the Michael Schumacher of any sport: to be the best you have got to be pretty good and you always admire somebody like Ronaldo, or whoever it may be, who can seem to always do that little bit more than the guys that you know are very good anyway.
Q: What about the English cricket team? Would you be looking for any motivation or inspiration from them?
A: To be honest, I don't follow cricket that well. It doesn't seem to be as big in England as it is in Australia, from what I gather. I don't know why that is, but I guess I've heard a bit on the news recently. They've been doing a bit better. But I just keep my focus on motor racing for the time being.
Q: You talked about things feeling different from a road car to a race car on circuits. We are not familiar with Formula Nissan, but has that helped to keep the skills honed or will it be a very big step back up to the power of a Formula One car for you?
A: In some ways it helped. The power is quite a bit different to Formula One. We are only producing 415 horsepower (in Formula Nissan) but the grip level is very similar. They still run skirts, what are called skirts - or nylon sides to the sidepods - which produce ground effects, so we pull 3.5Gs around some of the quicker corners, which is not too far from an F1 car. So in that respect I think it's been a big advantage and, as well as keeping in touch with the racecraft and feeling the pressure and fighting for races.
Host: Formula Nissan is not a series that has a lot of visibility in Australia, but for the benefit of everyone on line Justin finished fourth in the series this year, and it was won by Ricardo Zonta, the Brazilian driver who raced for British American Racing in Formula One for a couple of years. Another question anywhere?
Q: To Paul Stoddart: Are there a number of drivers still on the short list for the second seat or is it basically down to one person and just a matter of sorting out the details?
Paul Stoddart: No, there's still a few and we are basically talking to clearly the two Dutch drivers, we made no secret about that, but there are several other drivers still talking to us because realistically we are down to possibly the last seat available in Formula One and there is probably still 20 talented drivers out there who would like to be in it so we will keep talking right up to the last minute.
Host: Obviously it's been sad to see two teams go this year from Formula One - Prost and seemingly now Arrows - and, Paul, despite some differences with Tom Walkinshaw, you did lament the passing of Arrows last time we talked. But has that situation actually helped perhaps stabilise Minardi, in that you are now in a position where you've got talented drivers effectively queuing for drives and you are in a position where you can command some serious money from them to underpin the future of the team?
A: Yes. I mean, first of all, it is incredibly sad to see first Prost and then Arrows go. Particularly with Arrows, I was very close to a lot of the guys - having spent a year there. But it's happened and now we have got to go onwards and upwards and clearly from my point of view Minardi has certainly prospered. The fact it is now 10 teams, I think there is an overwhelming desire to make sure it stays at 10, or a minimum of 10. In addition to that, it clearly means that there is one or two less teams out there to get the sponsorship dollars in a time when those dollars are not easy to find, and clearly from a driver market point of view I think two things have helped Minardi: First of all, yes, we had two seats and many of the other drives were filled, but also as Jonathan touched on earlier, our technical package for next year is so, so superior to what we were racing with this year that I think you are going to see a much closer grid, you won't be able to predict who is at the front and who is at the back because there will be several things, weather will be one of them, obviously the single-lap qualifying is going to make a big difference and I think we are in for a very exciting time. Yes, certainly with 10 teams I think that is where it's going to stay.
Host: To Jonathan and perhaps Justin: We've heard about drivers needing to bring money to secure drives at Minardi for next year, but we haven't heard, Jonathan, of where the money has come from. At this distance we haven't heard any mention of who Justin's personal backers are. Can you enlighten us on that?
Johnathon Palmer: The first thing I would say is that drivers bringing money to a team in the form of sponsorship when they start is pretty standard in motor racing. I did it back in 1984. I took US$400,000 to the RAM team back then. At that time I actually borrowed half the money to get in, on the basis of paying somebody back double how much they put in. And it worked for them, and it worked for me. Both (Ayrton) Senna and (Michael) Schumacher also had sponsor arrangements (towards F1 drives early in their careers), so it's a pretty standard thing really. It was something which you fully accepted was going to be part of getting into Formula One, and it has to be said too that the amount of budget that we are bringing towards Minardi is a relatively small proportion of the overall budget. So Paul's desire that he wants to take drivers fundamentally on talent is very much there. In terms of where the money is coming from, we put together a consortium of sponsor investors, some are businesses, some are private individuals, all of whom is not just one particular company who are going to have a name on the side of the car, but more people that want to be part of Justin Wilson, believe in him, and the scheme that we are putting together also gives them a chance to really make a significant return on their investment as the person did with me when I started in Formula One. So we're not just looking at sponsors, we're looking at investors too - with a real chance of sensible returns and a lot of fun on the way. Formula One is a wonderful world to be involved in. I know that, Paul knows that, which is why he did it. And many things people could do would be a lot less hard work than Formula One, but it is an incredibly special environment.
Q: Very interesting comments. Is there perhaps a little bit of a throwback to the past here, because it's not someone with a brand name that they want to see on the side of the car or on the driver's overalls, but perhaps people backing a driver because they want to have an association with him and, if he kicks on and does well, they will be very happy? One could get the impression that this may be harking back to the older days in some way?
A: I think that's a very good point, and I hadn't thought about it, but clearly before cars were mobile billboards then money was still required and a lot of that went on -- and maybe we are seeing a little more of that. Certainly I and a few other friends of mine have tremendous confidence and enthusiasm and excitement at supporting Justin and see what he can do. I've watched so many races that Justin has done. Obviously there are ups and downs and races when I think, 'Shame it didn't go better', but there are so many more times when you are just so proud of what he has achieved, and I'm actually convinced that Justin's level of ability is well above my level of ability. He's got much more natural talent that I ever had, and it's wonderful to see that being demonstrated at the highest level. And for a lot of people it's worth putting a bit of money into to get some return financially, but also to get a huge amount of satisfaction of seeing somebody who demonstrates true excellence in what they do really deliver in a public arena.
Q: Again, very interesting comments - particularly on the comparison of the talent levels because, Jonathan, you actually finished fourth in an Australian Grand Prix in 1987, which of course would have been in Adelaide, so if Justin is more talented perhaps we can be looking to very good things.
A: I hope so. I have really fond memories of Australia, for all sorts of reasons, but one of which was my best ever Grand Prix result, as you say, was fourth in Adelaide after a great race. I tangled with Derek Warrick on the opening lap at Adelaide and I had to go to the pit for a tyre, but sort of clawed my way back to fourth. Clearly benefited by a bit of attrition, and that was the same thing that helped Mark Webber to fifth place in 2002. But that's what happens in motor racing; when you just get a few things going your way. They go against you plenty of times. But I really do genuinely believe that, whereas I got into motor racing through having a fair amount of natural talent but an awful amount of very methodical detailed application of it in set-ups and things, Justin is more of a natural talent than I was. His racecraft is much better than I was. I didn't do any karting. I started motor racing at 17 driving an Austin-Healey Sprite. Justin had already been racing nearly 10 years by that time, from karting, and the amount of just innate natural car control and racecraft that brings in is enormous. And I think people are going to see that in Formula One with him in 2003. I've seen it in every series he has done. Paul has seen it too. He's going to open a few eyes. He's going to be one of these guys, I'm quite sure, that is not going to be fazed. If he is dicing wheel-to-wheel with David Coulthard at Melbourne in a wet race, I don't think he is going to be fazed at all in thinking, 'Hang on a minute, I shouldn't be here, I'm just going to hang back a bit'.
Host: If we're getting a bit nostalgic, Jonathan, could you recount for us this business of you as a Tyrrell world champion in a normally-aspirated car back in the late 1980s, and perhaps also recall your teammate who was mentioned earlier and who presumably was a tall guy?
A: Philippe Streiff was very good. He was a French star of Formula Three and Formula Two. We raced Formula Two together, he was with AGS, I was with Ralt, and he was a big talent. But to be fair, whilst I won the championship in normally-aspirated cars in 1987, it was a pretty small sub-championship. It wasn't a mega achievement. There were seven cars competing - Philippe Streiff, Philippe Alliot and Roberto Moreno, and a few others as well - if I remember, Ivan Capelli in the March. Bit I think, significantly, I finished fifth at Monaco in two years with a normally-aspirated Tyrrell against turbo cars and the fourth in Adelaide was against the turbo cars - and I think just around me was Senna. What we used to have in those days was a big horsepower deficit. The turbo cars would be racing with 800 horsepower and we would have 570, but when it came to being nimble around street circuits like Adelaide or Monaco, you had a real chance of actually getting a result with the increased agility and reliability of a normally-aspirated car in the face of a huge power deficit.
Q: This raises the question to Justin Wilson whether, Justin, you're a student of the history of motor racing or whether it's something that you've just latched on to perhaps in your youth or your teenage days and perhaps aren't so interested in the past?
A: No, I'm very interested in knowing what has gone on in the past. I didn't follow it as closely as I should have done when I was growing up. I remember the first memories of watching the Grand Prix was from Monaco. It was a wet race and I believe it was Nigel Mansell who was in the Lotus and leading the race when he went off. I think I was around about four or five years old. I was watching the Grands Prix with my father then. Unfortunately, I'm not one who can recite race results from certain years, but I do have fond memories of when I was growing up watching the races on TV.
Q: Justin, is there any motor racing history in your family? You talk about watching with your father. Was he involved in the sport?
A: Yes, he used to race when he was younger. He used to race Formula Fords in England and he did that for several years, but not at a serious level. He just turned up with a few of his friends and had the car in the back of a trailer and ran like that. He was just doing it because he enjoyed it. That's basically how I got involved - when I was eight years old. He wanted to start racing again and he found me the perfect excuse.
Q: You haven't raced at the Melbourne track. Have you ever been to Australia, and in particular to Melbourne?
A: No, unfortunately I haven't. It is a place I have always wanted to go to. The closest I have been is New Zealand to visit friends, but never been to Australia.
Q: Because of various factors, Ferrari, Williams, McLaren have not been options for you to enter Formula One with, there is this perennial argument of whether it is better to go into a tail-end team for starters because it gives you a better chance to showcase your talent, particularly in comparison to a teammate?
A: Yeah, it's a very good question. There's obviously two ways of going after it. There's people who have gone there as test drivers and progressed to a race driver, like David Coulthard did with Williams at the time. But the amount of drivers that have come through Minardi - Fisichella and Trulli got their career starts with Minardi. Guys get their experience and then are able to go with the slightly more financially better off teams and stay in Formula One for a long time. Minardi seems to be a place where drivers learn if they are good enough or not, and some of the names Paul mentioned over the last couple of years - Alonso and Webber - have all moved on to bigger and better things.
Q: The classic case often mentioned was Ayrton Senna and Toleman - that perhaps he could have gone to better teams in his early days in Formula One but chose to go to Toleman to show what he could do.
Q: Do we have any final question anywhere? If not, thanks very much to the guys in Britain, particularly Justin Wilson, for joining us. It surely has been a very busy time since yesterday's announcement, but it has been great for our Australian media to meet you, at least telephonically, but we particularly look forward to meeting you in the new year, in just a few weeks, and all the best with your Formula One career - particularly with Minardi and particularly in Melbourne on your debut. Thanks very much too to Jonathan Palmer for joining us, and for some very interesting perspectives. And, as always, a great pleasure to talk to Paul Stoddart again. Thanks very much and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.