Following is a transcript of an interview with Dutch Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, who has joined Australian Paul Stoddart's Minardi team for the world championship season starting at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March...
Following is a transcript of an interview with Dutch Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, who has joined Australian Paul Stoddart's Minardi team for the world championship season starting at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 6-9. The interview, on January 28, was arranged by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation for Australian media.
Jos has already done 91 Grands Prix since 1994. He started as Michael Schumacher's teammate in the German's first world championship season and Jos and Michael remain very good friends. Indeed, they have recently been on holidays together. Minardi will be Jos's seventh F1 team, if we consider his two stints with Arrows as separate outfits. In 1996, when you may recall Jos doing so well on the opening day of Melbourne's first world championship Grand Prix, he was driving for Arrows then run by Jackie Oliver. In 2000 and 2001 he was back in Melbourne with Arrows which by then was run by Tom Walkinshaw. Jos has twice been on the podium in Formula One, in Hungary and Belgium in his first season with Benetton.
Jos Verstappen First of all, I know Paul Stoddart very well. I know him already for seven or eight years when he was a sponsor in the team where I was driving, and I think we have built up a relationship. As well, I started talking to Paul last year. I told him I will be very interested when he will get a Cosworth engine because I know roughly the details on the car from my engineer who I worked with at Arrows and he is fairly happy with the numbers of the aerodynamics, so I started to be really interested in the team. I must say I have been in Italy two weeks ago and, the atmosphere, it's very relaxed and I think it's a very nice team to drive for.
Q: With so many changes happening this year to the cars, are you perhaps looking forward to driving them a little more than ones with all the driver aids?
JV: Absolutely. I think that's a very good point they're bringing into Formula One at the moment. Get rid of all the electronics. And I think that's what a Formula One driver needs. That's why they are a Formula One driver. They need to drive themselves. And those last year, I think it was much more down to the car and electronics; if they were well sorted I think you could go really quick, but I think that should be in the hands of the driver.
Q: Your thoughts on what it's like trying to come back to Formula One after time off? How difficult is it and how much adjustment do you think you will need to make to these new rules?
JV: The rules were brought in halfway during the season. But being away from Formula One for a whole year, I think it's not easy to come back into Formula One because people they forget very quickly about you, so it was really hard to go back. And, as well, we had to look for some sponsors. It wasn't easy, especially not in these times, economic. It's not all that good, so it's really tough to be back, and that's why I'm really happy to drive for Minardi and to work with Paul together.
Q: With the changes to the rules and that sort of thing, does that give you a feeling that you have a chance of mixing it up with some of the middle and front runners in a Minardi?
JV: We definitely hope so. Those rule changes definitely will help the smaller teams because all those big teams that have so many people working on those electronics, and the little teams they haven't, so it will definitely be a little bit easier for the smaller teams to join the bigger ones. But, for sure, the gap will always be there, but I think the gap will be smaller.
Q: Can you fill us in on what you did last year, in view of the fact that you weren't racing in Formula One? What kind of activity you did? In particular, how did you keep your fitness up when you were away from Formula One?
JV: I must say, last year I did still quite a lot of cycling, because that's one of my hobbies, and we have a couple of friends where we go together. So probably two, three, sometimes four times a week, we go cycling about 70-80 kilometres a day. And that's how I kept my physical health up. Fitness-wise, I didn't do that much because when you are not driving, when you don't have to work at it, it's very hard for me to do all the fitness work. The other thing I did last year was go-karting, because we have our own team a long time and I was helping a young talent in Holland. We won the world championship in Formula Super A - that's the highest class in go-kart. And I prepared the engines, because that's one of my hobbies. So we did really well last year. I enjoyed it. I mean, I was a lot more at home with the children, I had very good fun. But then, on the other hand, I really missed the driving myself, so that's why we worked very, very hard to come back.
Q: You mentioned the children. Perhaps you can tell us how many children you have, boys or girls, and how old they are?
JV: I have a boy five years old, his name is Max, and I have a little girl, Victoria, and she is three years old.
Q: Did you name Max after Max Mosley (head of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the world governing body of motor sport)?
JV: No. My wife chose the name. I think it's more after (Italian MotoGP rider) Max Biaggi she called him. As well, she wanted a strong name, a short name, and I think Max is pretty good.
Q: On other matters, Jos, in relation to the Formula One changes, do you think they have gone far enough or what else would you like to see done?
JV: What I do know, I think they are heading to the right direction as well with the aerodynamics. Next year we all have to run with the same rear wing, so that's another good step forward. I think they still should reduce the downforce a lot more and then bring back the slick tyres, so give a bit more mechanical grip and still less downforce to run closer to each other, to get more spectacular racing.
Q: Jos, have you got any idea what you can expect when you come to Australia? The reception last year for Minardi, who were the home team, was huge. Are you looking forward to that sort of thing?
JV: Yeah, I have spoken to Paul about it because it's his home town and he said: you will get a very busy week over there, so prepare yourself for it. But then I look forward to it. It's always good with Paul. I had so many other teams, and sometimes it was so difficult to work with people, but with Paul definitely we will have a fantastic season.
Q: Where does that relationship come from? Was that born in the days of the Tyrrell team?
JV: Yeah, it was born in the Tyrrell team. He was a sponsor, and he was always with the team, so you get a contact with the sponsors, and Paul was just a very normal person, not a sponsor type, and he was part of the team. He was doing my pit board and he was doing my pit board at Arrows and worked always very good, so this year I asked him as well to do my pit board.
Q: You do actually have to have a pit board this year too don't you, Jos?
JV: Yes, you definitely need it if they're going to take the radio system away, but I heard they're bringing the radio system back. But still the pit board is very important.
Q: Jos, from a driver's perspective, the rules on qualifying and the lack of a spare car, what will it be like for that qualifying? Do you think drivers will try to go as hard as they can in a lap or will people be easing off?
JV: You never know, because you've never done it before, but I think it makes the qualifying very interesting. As well, you never know with the weather situation. Maybe halfway through qualifying it starts to rain, and then the quicker cars they suddenly start at the back of the field - and then you get a fantastic race. But I really like the qualifying rule, one lap, and you have to come back into the pits. If you don't make it, you start on the last position, so I think sometimes the field is a bit more mixed up and I think that's what people wanted to see: Michael Schumacher coming from the back, howling the field, held up by some slower cars and you get some very good exciting races.
Q: It's pretty close to the start of the season, only a month away. Do you think you will get enough time to get used to driving a Formula One car again before Melbourne?
JV: We definitely hope so. We go testing this week (at Valencia in Spain) and that will be in a PSO1 that is two years old, the car. Then at least you've done one day of driving. I have to get used to a Formula One car again, of course it's about 13, 14 months ago, and then they hope the (new) car will be ready around February 12, so hopefully we get five, six days each running - so that will be enough. Of course, it's never enough when you see the Ferrari testing - they are testing about three or four times a week. For sure, you lose a bit of time, but it's not like that and you have to, how you say, you have to do - I don't know the expression, the English. We can't change it, that's the situation, that's how it is.
Q: Is the reason Minardi are testing with the PSO1 that that's a car that can take a Cosworth engine, whereas the 2002 car was built for an Asiatech engine.
JV: That's correct. Last year's car had an Asiatech engine and they don't have those engines anymore, so that's why we have to run the car with the year before, where we had the Cosworth engines. But that's not the engine (version) we are going to work this year.
Q: So the car that you test will have an old Cosworth engine rather than a new one, will it?
JV: Yes, that's correct. A V8, I think. I don't know. But it's definitely a two years old engine.
Q: Has Paul Stoddart told you about the third car for Australia? Are you bringing a third car (for the new two-hour Friday test session), and do you know who is likely to drive it?
JV: I don't know what will happen with the third car because our plans are changing a little bit around and I don't know what's happening with it. No, I don't know.
Q: What is there for you to gain from coming back into Formula One with Minardi? You've been in a very good team originally with Benetton all those years ago, and you've obviously been in some teams not so good in more recent years. A young driver might see Minardi as a stepping stone to a better drive, but what is there for Jos Verstappen to gain from diving for Minardi?
JV: Last year I wasn't driving Formula One and I really missed the racing in it. I'm asked to drive touring cars, I'm asked to drive IndyCar, but I think Formula One is much more hi-tech and that's where I want to be in as long as I can. I think with Minardi this year, they have the best package they have (had), they have Justin Wilson - is a very good driver, everybody rates him very high - and if I can do better than him, for sure, teams get interested in me as well. And maybe I stay with Minardi if they do well. If they find a good budget, I think there are very good people around in the team and I think it can be very positive.
Q: Has it been difficult for you to accept that you had to bring sponsorship this time? Previously, it seems, you have never had to do that, but Paul Stoddart made it clear that whoever was going to drive for him this year had to bring sponsorship to help the team along. Has that been difficult for you to accept?
JV: Not really. I mean, everybody knows how the situation is in the whole world, and I think, more than Paul Stoddart, more teams than him needs money. Look at Jordan, for example. I think a lot more bigger teams. Sponsoring is very important for Formula One and, if a driver can help with it, it's a help.
Q: On that issue, the new rules. Have they helped in trying to seek out sponsors? Can you now sell to them the idea that even in a Minardi you can be semi-regularly challenging for a points position?
JV: Especially when you still get points when you finished on eighth position, so definitely they created to earn more points so, yes, that's one. I really think Minardi will have a good package but, of course, we will have to wait and see how the car will perform when we first start running with it, so it's a bit early to say how it is. But Michael didn't make it easier for the sponsors last year because he won the championship already after eight or nine races, and that's why the FIA is changing the rules so much, because they want to make it more attractive to the people.
Q: Jos, because of the changes in the rules, it's quite possible that someone like Michael Schumacher will be behind you at the start of a race. How much would you fight a guy like that for position, trying to retain position, if he is starting 10th and you are starting ninth?
JV: As much as I can. We are friends off the track, but as soon as we are racing we really race each other and the longer I can defend my position, the better it is for me of course, and in that situation you can show to the people how good a race driver you are.
Q: Jos, do you think we will get many situations this season like we saw a couple of years ago with Enrique Bernoldi in a slower (Arrows) car holding up a David Coulthard in a faster (McLaren) car at Monaco for much of the race?
JV: I think that's the whole idea behind it.
Q: You spent some time with Michael Schumacher during the New Year break. How do you find his attitude now? Is he as determined as ever to win more championships? Is he more relaxed?
JV: I don't know whether you can say he is more relaxed. I mean, privately he is completely different than he is on the track. Of course, his situation, he is in a very good situation and I think he wants to continue as long as he can, because everything is well sorted for him in the team. It's a very nice situation he is in and he is really happy - it's like a family for him. So I think he will continue for a long time and in this situation he is really, really happy, I guess.
Q: Do you think Michael continuing for a considerable time is good for Formula One, or should he retire and let somebody else have a chance?
JV: Yeah, you need a good car, a good team to win the championship. And not only the driver makes a difference. But he is working already for eight, nine, 10 years in Formula One, so they know exactly what we wants. But for sure time this will change and I think McLaren will have a strong car, Williams is coming up, and they will challenge him - and that's good for Formula One. But, as well, Formula One needs a big superstar and that's what he is. And I think Formula One really needs it.
Q: Some people might find it unusual that you've been able to be such good friends with Michael because there has been a perception that he wasn't always particularly friendly with his teammates, perhaps particularly Johnny Herbert, maybe sometimes Eddie Irvine. So how have you managed to be such good friends with him? And were you even particularly good friends with him when you were together at Benetton in 1994?
JV: Yeah, I never had any problems with him in the team. Sometimes you could read it in the press that teammates shouldn't look at his computer or whatever, but I never find that and he was always helping me and he was giving me advice because at that time it was my first year in Formula One. No, I always enjoyed it, being his teammate, and he always helped me, so I have definitely, absolutely no problems with him.
Q: Do you think he has changed much over time? That was obviously a long time ago - nine years ago now?
JV: For me he didn't change much, no.
Q: If were you picking one driver that you think is going to challenge Michael this year, who do you think it will be?
JV: Depends on how good the car is. For me, the car is more important than the driver, so what you can see on this moment is that a McLaren is getting better and better, so probably Coulthard and (Kimi) Raikkonen they will challenge him a bit harder.
JV: I must say Raikkonen because he is with the team now for first year last year and I think he did a really good job. So, yeah, I think he is still very young, still has a lot to learn, but you have to see what is happening. If the team doesn't go forward as much as he hopes, maybe he get bored, I don't know. It is always difficult to say.
Q: What about Williams with Montoya and Ralf Schumacher?
JV: Montoya was good in qualifying last year. I think he is a little bit more aggressive driver and I think that's what we need.
Q: Jos, there was a lot of enthusiasm last year about Mark Webber in Formula One here in Australia. What's it been like in your own country on your return?
JV: It's still huge. I think every country, if they have a Formula One driver, is still very popular and we can see that here as well, that it is very, very popular.
Q: Back on the Michael Schumacher friendship. There were some suggestions at the time you got the Minardi drive that Michael may have spoken to Paul Stoddart and highly recommended you. Is there any truth in that?
JV: You have to ask Paul Stoddart that question, but I don't think so. At the moment we were going to sign, I was with him (Schumacher) spending my holiday, and three or four days later we signed the deal with Paul. He (Schumacher) didn't know a lot about it, so I'm 100 per cent sure he didn't speak to him. He had nothing to do with the deal that I made with Minardi.
Q: Paul did let Michael take his wife for a ride in a Minardi two-seater last year.
JV: I know.
Q: Of all the changes this year, do you have a particular favourite? Or something that you think they shouldn't have done?
JV: My favourite change is taking traction control away and launch control, because my starts are pretty good, I think, and I make always some places up in the start and I think that will be great if that comes back to the driver's hand.
Q: We have seen in Formula One over the years a lot of drivers hired more so perhaps on the basis of what they can bring to the team financially than what they could as a driver. Do you think these rules which put more control back in the hands of a driver will bring an end to that - that we really need to have drivers who know what they are doing out on the track?
JV: Yes, probably. I mean, if you look back, everybody who jumped in a Formula One car they could go quick with all those driver aids, so I think now it's more difficult to go quick - and I think that's important for the good drivers. I think people will not go for the money.
Q: What recollections do you have of Melbourne? You've raced here four times in the seven years that there has been a Grand Prix in Melbourne and we particularly remember that first year when on the Thursday (special day's practice because it was a new track) or the Friday you were going really well. So what are your impressions of Melbourne and the track the times you have driven here?
JV: I must say I always liked to come to Australia. Not the flight, because it takes so long, but to be there. The people are very friendly, the track, I think, is one of best organised races, it's very well done, everything looks really nice, and for the driver as well I think it's a nice city to be.
Q: You have been most famous in some people's minds for being in the middle of that fireball in the pits at the German Grand Prix back in 1994 when you were with Benetton. What memories do you have of that? And do you get a bit annoyed with people remembering you a lot for that?
JV: No, that's racing. I came in the pit to refuel my car and the refuelling rig didn't go properly on the fuel tank, and some of the fuel was coming out, and that's why the big fire. I think it's just bad luck and I think the best place that something like that can happen is in the pit, so it didn't worry me too much. And, as well, two weeks later I was on the podium, so it didn't affect my driving.
Q: Just another perspective, and it's not any great joy to anyone, but the Arrows situation? That was a team that you drove for twice, and we recall some of those blinding starts you made and remember you very well for some of your other efforts with Arrows, but it must be disappointing to see the team go down like that. Do you have any bitter memories about that?
JV: Of course it's very disappointing that a team is going down like that, but then he made a big mess of it, Mr Tom Walkinshaw, and we are still fighting with him in court. So I think, maybe it's very cruel, but probably he deserves it as well because he made a big mess of it.
Q: Who of the younger drivers or the newer drivers in Formula One, say in the past year, have impressed you and who do you think among them is a potential champion?
JV: I think Raikkonen, of course he did a good job. I think Montoya is doing pretty well. Who else? Button, I don't know. I think he is in a tough situation as well. Mark Webber, hopefully if he can do a pretty good year this year, maybe, you never know what will happen to him. But I think it's all down to the performance you do in that year and then you try to get a better car. As well, Formula One team owners they have very short memories, and if you do well in that particular situation you are the hero and if you don't you are not good enough - so it's a bit difficult to say for me.
Q: Where can you finish? In view of Minardi's situation, and especially in not having as much testing as others, where can you realistically hope to finish in Melbourne and in the championship?
JV: It's very hard to say at this point because we haven't driven the car yet, so for me it's very difficult. But, of course, we will do the best we can and hopefully we can score as many points as we can, but how many that will be nobody knows. It's very hard for me to say - I haven't driven a (Formula One) car for 14, 15 months and I haven't driven a Minardi, so I can't say. I don't know.
Q: Justin Wilson you mentioned before, and obviously you hold him in high regard, but presumably because of his exceptional height his car will be quite different to yours?
JV: No, they will be the same.
Q: So just a different seat?
JV: A different seat and the pedals a little bit more forward, but of course his legs are on different spots as well. But the type of chassis, my chassis will be exactly the same as his, so it's no different than that.
Q: And so with the loss of the spare car, effectively, there is no problem, because if there was a spare car and it was set up for one driver then it would be difficult for the other one to adapt?
JV: Yeah, like everywhere - where they have only one spare car, of course.
Q: So no problem on that score?
JV: No, not anymore, no.
Q: You get two hours' testing on the Friday, with Minardi signing up for the next test session - along with Jordan and Renault. Do you think that's going to give you a little bit of an advantage over some of the others, particularly the younger drivers coming into Melbourne for maybe the first time?
JV: Yes, they could choose for that option as well. I think it's good, especially for a smaller team. I think it's fantastic to have two extra hours so you can do a lot more practice, a lot more setting up of the car, and maybe some more tyre work. You will get a lot more information, so I think that will definitely help as a team. How much it will be we will have to wait and see, of course, but it will help, definitely.
Q: Can we expect to see you running around for the whole two hours?
Q: So it won't be like in the past where cars have spent a lot of time at tests sitting in the pits not doing very much?
JV: No, I think you have those extra hours and we will definitely use those.
Q: Any indications yet who the third driver might be for Minardi in the Friday test?
JV: I think on some tracks it will be a different one. I don't know what is the situation on that, because I don't speak with Paul every day. So I don't know what's going on.
Q: What about Minardi's tyre situation? The team has been on Michelin tyres in the time that Paul Stoddart has owned it, but we see some suggestions that the team may be going to Bridgestone. Is it going to be a big factor? Is it going to matter much which tyres you have?
JV: Of course it makes a difference what tyres we are going to use. Paul is working on it. He doesn't know it himself on this moment, so I don't think we can say much about it.
Q: Do you have a preference?
JV:No. I think both tyre companies, they know very well what to do, and of course Bridgestone won the championship last year, but I think the Michelin tyres are very good as well. So I don't think there is much in it, no.
Q: Coming back into Formula One and coming up to your 31st birthday, how much longer do you give yourself in the sport if you can have a good year with Minardi this year?
JV: As long as they need you, of course. But for me I think you still can race when you are 36, 37 - and hopefully I can do that as well.
HOST CONCLUDES - We hope you can. And we particularly look forward to seeing you here in Australia in an about a month's time. Thanks very much for joining us, for giving us your time and your insights.
JV: Okay, no problems. It was a pleasure.