Young Malaysian Alex Yoong, 25, has just achieved his first ever Formula One race finish in 16th position in the 2001 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit on the 16th Oct 2001. Seventeen drivers were classified as finishers...
Young Malaysian Alex Yoong, 25, has just achieved his first ever Formula One race finish in 16th position in the 2001 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit on the 16th Oct 2001. Seventeen drivers were classified as finishers in the 22 car field in Suzuka.
Yoong joined the European Minardi team and made his Formula One debut at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on the 16th September 2001 after successfully completing a test distance of nearly a thousand kilometers in Italy's Mugello and Monza circuits. Yoong was lying in 15th position when he spun out 8 laps from the finish of the 53 lap race.
The next race was the USA Grand Prix at Indianapolis on the 30th October 2001 which was also Yoong's first ever visit to the circuit. It was to be another did-not-finish but this time Yoong's effort was twarted by gear box failure while he was lying 19th after running almost half distance (35 laps) in the 73 lap race.
European Minardi boss Paul Stoddart was pleased with Yoong's efforts in all the final three rounds of the 2001 World Championship and he looks set to announce Yoong's new 2002 contract soon. Immediately after the Suzuka finale, he said, “For Alex, this Grand Prix, only his third, marked his first Formula One finish. It was a particularly gritty drive since he suffered back cramp for much of the race. All of Malaysia has good reason to be proud of Alex's performances this season, and now he has the winter to work on his race fitness and build up those all-important testing miles. There’s a lot better yet to come from Alex.”
So, what does Yoong think of the three races that he had done this year ? What are his plans and schedule leading up to the start of the 2002 season ? And what does he think would be in store for next year, his first full Formula One season ? We caught up with Yoong in Tokyo after the Japanese Grand Prix and below are his views:
On his most recent race in Suzuka last weekend.
"The race had been very tough for me as I had that drama of jumping from my race car into the T-car after the installation lap before the grid line-up at the start and then after placing my T-car on the grid I had to switch to the race car to start from the pitlane without my race seat after the electrical problem had been fixed. The lack of time to get my race seat back into my race car resulted in my lower back cramping up from lap 5 which was really difficult for me. But besides the pain from the cramp, the Suzuka circuit is the toughest of the 17 circuits in terms of physical demands on the drivers. Every lap for me was like having to call on a gigantic effort to keep pace. However because of the importance of I finishing my last race for this year, I am very happy to have kept the car going to the end."
On his team mate Fernando Alonso who has been touted by many to be extremely talented and would be a future world champion. Fernando who started karting from the age of three is contracted to Renault.
"Fernando is extremely quick and it would be good for me if he stays on in Minardi next year. He will be a very good yardstick for me to aim at.
On what he think was the most difficult aspects of his introduction into Formula One when most of the season's races have already been run.
"The first aspect was to try and intergrate myself into the team. I believe that I have won over the team to a certain extent with my testing performance and then qualifying for all three races. But I think that my technical input and feedback also contributed to a good working relationship with the team members. The greatest difficulty for me was to drive the Minardi PS-01 with full confidence and with outright speed. The car has evolved throughout the year around Fernando and I don't quite like it's present handling characteristics. I have not been able to get the most out of the present Minardi like Fernando can. That, however, is to be expected for me coming in at the tail end of the season. I accept that and I hope the pre-season testing will enable me to set up the new car the way I like it."
On what he would be doing prior to the lifting of teams' testing ban in the new year.
"There are a few more Sponsors and PR duties in the next two weeks then I'm off to Misano in Italy for the European Minardi Day at the end of October. After that it will be heavy training for me to raise my strength a few notches. I will probably also be in Spain for a couple of weeks' training with some experts."
On the role of the Malaysian Government in his F1 drive.
"The role is purely a moral support role but it had been indispensible. I wouldn't have reached this far without the government's endorsement. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Dato' Hishammudin had been fantastic in urging the support from the private sector to join me in this effort. He was here in Suzuka and when he received the Malaysian flag from the Japanese fans with all those good wishes, we were all so touched that this had been all worth our while."
On how the team will fare next year and what would be the challenges.
"By all indications, I think the European Minardi team will sign me on for 2002. The Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports, Dato' Hisham was in Suzuka talking with Paul (Stoddart) about the plans for next year. Add that to the free engine deal from Asiatech and we can see that i2002 will certainly be an exciting year for the team next year. I think Paul would strenthen his technical team even further and have more wind tunnel work done for the new car. With all these things in place the challenge for Fernando, if he stays on, me and the team is then to score points next year."
Final words from Yoong.
"Having achieved the first objective of getting into F1, I have no reason to believe why we cannot achieve more. We just need time and patience plus a lot more hard work. I must thank all my past and present sponsors, my government, my family and friends as well as all those who supported me who have all been part of making this possible."
MAGNUM, the Malaysian gaming company who made it possible for Yoong to get into Formula One by sponsoring the Minardi team looks likely to be signed on for 2002. It has also been revealed that more Malaysian companies are expected to join the bandwagon to exploit the marketing opportunities presented by Yoong's global audience which is available in Formula One. This would do Minardi no harm at all. The management team of Yoong are also optimistic that the enquiries from China and Japan may also bear fruits by the end of the year but they are conscious of the fact that Malaysian companies would need to be given their first shots before finalising any deals from sponsors outside Malaysia.
The privilege of Yoong achieving being the first Malaysian getting into Formula One cannot be under estimated given the region's lack of motorsport history unlike in Europe where the sport has been around for a hundred years. The journey to reach where Yoong is now can only be described as tough and the journey to success in F1 is never expected to be any easier. Yoong knows that only too well and he takes consolation that he has been on the right track so far.
Murray Walker, the doyen of all F1 commentators opined in Monza that, "I'm impressed by Yoong's demeanour, calmness and eloquence. And he's not too shabby on the pace either." Yoong has certainly made an impression on the Formula One world and with the right support and opportunities coming Yoong's way, we should see more of him in the coming years.