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MotorSportsTalk’s exclusive interview with Allan McNish

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Having announced his retirement from motorsport at the end of the 2013 season, three-time Le Mans winner and former Formula One driver Allan McNish (pictured right) took some time to speak to MotorSportsTalk ahead of his first season without racing in over thirty years. The Scot, who now resides in Monaco, closed out his career with a win at the Circuit de la Sarthe and the World Endurance Championship – so why quit now?

2013 was a very memorable year for you, winning your third 24 Hours of Le Mans and retiring from motor racing. Could you just talk us through your decision to call it quits now? What prompted that decision to walk away? 

ALLAN MCNISH: There wasn’t necessarily any one thing. It was more quite a few things that came together at the right time to allow me to make that decision. First things first, there’s a point when you have to retire, you have to stop racing, certainly at the high level that I was racing at. I’m 44 now. To continue would require a lot of commitment, time as well as physical and mental, and having come off the back of, in terms of success, one of my best ever seasons, winning as you said, Le Mans, winning the world championship, and also for me quite a special one was the fourth time that I’d won the Silverstone 1000km or six hours, which is also the tourist trophy, and that’s the most historic trophy in British motorsport. When all of that came together, it sort of started to build up, this thought, is it maybe going to be the right time? And other opportunities started to come along as well. These situations were developing along the side and it allowed me to make what some people felt must have been a very difficult decision, but in reality was actually quite an easy decision.

In your junior career, what was it that prompted you to move into sportscars? Was it a lack of options in F1 or was there always a burning desire to race and win at Le Mans? 

AM: No, no, there wasn’t a burning desire to race and win at Le Mans, it was because there weren’t opportunities in Formula One. It was a slightly naïve route to be honest with you. I knew of the race, I’d raced the world championship there in ’85 in karting, so the race was very well known to me. The first opportunity I had there was in ’93 with Jaguar in a 220 with TWR, and they asked me about doing it. I was testing with Benetton at the time and didn’t want to change my focus from single seaters at that point. And then later on when I tested with Porsche latterly, that’s when I say I was a bit naïve, that’s when I got in the car and realized actually these are beasts of cars. The transition point was probably fortuitous and probably a bit later then it could been, because like I said, I could have done it earlier in ’93 or at least a one off race. But when it did happen, it was like a light had shone on my head: “actually this is some decent racing.”

Was going over to America ever an option for you? You obviously did the ALMS, but in terms of single seaters, was that ever an option for you?

AM: On a couple of occasions actually. In ’95, PacWest, which was a front running team at the time, they had an open test. There were five drivers, and the idea was that the fastest guy got the job. It’s no secret, I was the fastest guy, but at the end they gave the seat to Mark Blundell. They changed to Mercedes engines and he came straight from McLaren with Merc so you can understand. It obviously frustrated me because I could only do what I do in the cockpit as opposed to the behind the scenes stuff, but that’s the way the world is. You’ve got to grow up and get on with it. After that, with Toyota, they wanted me to look at going to IndyCar because they had a big IndyCar programme. I tested with Penske at Fontana when it was IRL. At the point I have to say in my career, it wasn’t the right move. I had the option of being the third and reserve driver at Renault [in Formula One] and doing their Friday programmes and things like that, or you could make the switch across to learning the ovals and IRL was a predominantly oval racing series at that point. I think unless you’re in a top team in something like that, it wasn’t going to be the right thing. Penske was full already with Gil [de Ferran] and Helio [Castroneves], so there wasn’t an opportunity there, so I took the Renault route.

In 2002 you joined Toyota when they entered Formula One. How did that come about?

AM: Quite simply because I raced for them in ’99 at Le Mans.

So the ties were already there?

AM: Basically, yes. In mid-2000 they announced that they were going to do Formula One. They asked if I would do the testing the following year and race for them in 2002 which I agreed to do.

You then moved to Renault in 2003 as a reserve driver, but after that were there any options to remain in Formula One or did you just decide that the time was right to move out of it?

AM: There were options but the options didn’t basically give me any opportunities. You’ve got to come back to why are you doing it. I go back to my first lap in the Renault in Barcelona. My first lap in the Renault was quicker than my qualifying lap the year before at Toyota. That told me everything I needed to know about where you need to be as a driver: you need to be with a team at the front. If you’re not in that position, then you’re always going to be scrapping around and having the problems that you do when you’re mid-to-back of the grid. That was again a little bit of a light on my head: why are you doing this? You’re doing this because you want to race, to win, to be at the front, to be competitive, to push yourself and all of the other things – or do you just want to be a Formula One driver? I didn’t want to be a Formula One driver; that had very little interest to me on its own, it had to be with the other parameters. Therefore, I’d kept very good relationships with Audi. If I’m totally honest with you, I was quite sure I’d return to Audi at some point. I didn’t know when, but I was quite sure I’d return there at some point. We spoke and went back into driving for Audi in 2004.

Do you think that the same is true in F1 today? Do you think that there are a lot of drivers in that midfield who are just going to remain there scrapping around until they finally have to realize that it’s not going to happen?

AM: There’s one I spoke to at the beginning of last year, and I kind of looked at him and thought “actually, you could make the switch to something else and then revitalize the enjoyment of your career.” Because that’s thing that’s very difficult for people outside to realize, that your whole enjoyment of everything that you’ve done for the last twenty-odd years does get eradicated by that constant grind and struggle that it causes. It’s only when you step out and step away from it that you get re-energized very, very quickly. If you’re on that treadmill and don’t actually know how to get off it, it can wear you down quite a lot. He’s not the driver I’m talking about, but I think Mark Webber jumping across to the Porsche programme… I know for a fact that he’ll have a smile on his face the first time he gets in the car for a race at Silverstone next year. He’ll enjoy it. He’ll enjoy the lack of pressure that goes on, and he’ll enjoy the fact that the team are treating him as a human being and an asset as opposed to someone who can just plug into a seat and plug out if necessary. This whole dynamic of it is quite different from Formula One, and it’s something that I knew from before with Audi and Porsche. From that point, when following that first lap in Barcelona and the opportunities not being there, it was quite clear to me that you’re better to be fighting at the front and having a chance of winning races like Le Mans. Because there was no world championship back then, the American Le Mans Series was like a defacto world championship. Having chances at those things is better than waking up on a Sunday morning in Budapest and thinking “crikey if we have a really good run today we might finish twelfth!”

That makes sense! Do you think this idea of wanting to enjoy racing and be revitalized is a reason for a lot of drivers moving from F1 to endurance racing? 

AM: I think it’s not necessarily the reason; I think it’s something they realize when they do make the jump. I think there’s a few things. Le Mans has gained back its real prestige, and it’s also the world championship that’s alongside it. Every driver wants to fight for a world championship. It’s got a car that’s technically more advanced than a Formula One car, it’s got more downforce and fantastic engineering capabilities there. It’s a real pukka racing car. It’s a beast. From that point of view, you’ve got I would say, really 90% kit underneath you that you can drive and drive flat-out. You don’t have to conserve the tyres, you don’t have to do all that sort of stuff. You just get in and you nail it. That’s a real enjoyable thing to do. As well as that, the racing. The racing keeps you on the edge. It’s defined by seconds as opposed to minutes, and that’s what we’re all about, fighting for the hundredths. I lost Sebring pole position by a thousandth of a second to my teammate. And that’s what you want to do, you’re fighting right at the edge. It’s the pushing and the shoving, it’s exciting all the way through, and I think that’s the reason for doing it.

Looking back on your career, what would you say is the stand-out moment? Would it be one of your Le Mans wins, or winning the world title this year? What is the one moment that really stands out for you?

AM: It’s 32 years of racing! There’s so many different ones…

Maybe if you could pick one of your Le Mans wins, perhaps? 

AM: I don’t think that I could pick one because all three of them are special for very different reasons. All in all, they were very different. But after you win Le Mans the first time, you want to win it again. No question. But then when in 2012 there was a world championship which was something that I had not had the opportunity to really go for since 1985 in karting – there wasn’t one available for the categories I was racing in except for Formula One and I wasn’t going to win that in a Toyota. With that, I have to say, 2013, winning the world championship, and the race in Austin being probably the key defining one because that was really when it took the momentum completely in our direction. It was one of the best executed races that we had in terms of delivery of everything was brilliant by every member of the team on our side of the garage, and I have to say that was one I was very proud of, the championship, because it was something that I’d never had as a trophy on the mantelpiece.

Looking forward to your plans for retirement, would you consider doing some one off races?

AM: In terms of the racing side of it, I’ve stepped back completely out of the total commitment racing programmes. I’m sure at some point I’ll do something. I still enjoy driving and I still enjoy things but it would be for the enjoyment and the passion of it as opposed to necessarily the requirement to do it without any compromises. Although I do know that if I go into something I do it like that anyway, I struggle to do it half-heartedly to be honest with you so I’d probably have to temper myself a little bit. But certainly within the Audi programme I felt that this was the right time to hand it over to the next guy and he can get his opportunity for one thing, which is important. Also the other thing is going to the new regulations and new programme with a clear view of what the team are going to do in the future. From my point of view, I’ll still have quite an involvement with Audi, that’s going to be on the marketing side as well as the sporting side, so I’ll still be pretty busy there.

Webber: Red Bull decision to drop Kvyat ‘harsh’ but not surprising

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Mark Webber of Australia and Porsche Team 919 Hybrid talks to the media during previews the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Silverstone race at the Silverstone Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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SPA – Ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber believes that Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat in favor of Max Verstappen is “harsh” but has been brewing for some time.

On Thursday, Red Bull announced that Verstappen would be moving up from junior team Toro Rosso to take Kvyat’s seat from the Spanish Grand Prix, with the Russian moving in the opposite direction.

Webber enjoyed a turbulent spell with Red Bull in F1 between 2007 and 2013, enjoying a particularly frosty relationship with team advisor Helmut Marko who was instrumental in the decision to promote Verstappen to the senior outfit.

Speaking at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship race, Porsche driver Webber said he was not surprised by the call.

“It was probably on the cards even before Russia, so in a way you probably feel there was something brewing,” Webber said when asked about the decision by NBC Sports.

“They’ve done it. And let’s see if Max can break Red Bull records again. He’s got no choice [to be ready]. He has to be ready.

“[Kvyat has] had a year and 30% there in terms of time. They don’t believe that he’s done enough. In their eyes he hasn’t done enough and they see that one other guy is doing enough.

“Normally you wait until the end of the year but obviously you know that doesn’t happen sometimes, particularly with Red Bull. They change it whenever they feel – bang.

“Helmut just wants performance. He wants to put the fastest guys in the best scenario as quick as possible.

“People just say that the mistakes that Dany made, it was off the back of that, but obviously it was probably accumulating to a point where they were not overly happy with his performance in the build-up.”

Webber said that he felt it was harsh on Kvyat, but believes that part of the move was a ploy by Red Bull to ensure that Verstappen is tied down to them for longer and prevent rivals from signing him for the 2017 season.

“Yeah, I feel it’s harsh but it’s a big business and things move fast and I think also again getting ahead of the ’17 market a bit, making sure everything’s ready,” Webber said.

“It’ll be a complete non-topic in six months as usual in F1, even three months. Everyone moves on.

“In Formula 1 you have nowhere to hide.”

Formula E confirms Moscow cancellation with no replacement round

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 23:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Daniel Abt (GER), ABT Audi Sport FE01 during the Paris Formula E race on April 23, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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The upcoming round of the FIA Formula E Championship scheduled for June 4 in Moscow has been cancelled, the series confirmed today.

In a release, the series confirmed the cancellation in conjunction with local authorities, citing “recent and unforeseen circumstances related to road closures.”

Additionally, Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said that owing to the tight time frame, there won’t be a replacement round scheduled.

It leaves the 2015-2016 season at 10 rounds, with three rounds remaining in Berlin (May 21) and two in London (July 2 and 3).

“While it is unfortunate news not to race in Moscow on June 4, we looked at a number of alternative options as a replacement but were not able to find a viable solution on that specific date,” Agag said in a release.

“We explored all possibilities including returning to Monaco, but regrettably couldn’t organize the change of venue on such short notice. I’d like to express my thanks to HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Mr. Michel Boeri, and the Automobile Club de Monaco who did their utmost to see Formula E return to the streets of the Principality for season two.

“We will now focus on the three remaining races in Berlin and the double-header in London, which I’m sure will deliver a thrilling conclusion in the battle for the championship.”

Marko: Kvyat couldn’t handle pressure from Ricciardo

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sit on a track barrier during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 14, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Helmut Marko believes that Daniil Kvyat could not cope with the pressure of battling with Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, reasoning the decision to switch the Russian back to Toro Rosso from the Spanish Grand Prix.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that Kvyat would be returning to Toro Rosso, its B-team, in a swap deal that sees Max Verstappen join the senior operation.

The final straw for Kvyat came in Russia when he hit Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice in two corners, leading to crunch talks with team advisor Marko and team boss Christian Horner.

Speaking to Auto Bild, Marko said that he does not consider Kvyat returning to Toro Rosso to be a demotion, but instead a move that will allow him to race under less pressure.

“The decision was made after Russia. It has become increasingly clear that Daniil Kvyat could not withstand the pressure from Daniel Ricciardo, and he has been overdriving the car,” Marko explained.

“We wanted to take him out of the firing line and help his career, instead of harming it. Kvyat partly understands it. I don’t see this as a demotion. Toro Rosso is at a very good level this year.”

Marko said that Verstappen now has to prove himself against Ricciardo, while also hinting that there may be an opening for Toro Rosso’s second driver Carlos Sainz Jr. to move up to Red Bull at the end of the season.

“Max has to challenge Ricciardo now, which is not easy,” Marko said. “Daniel is very strong at the moment.

“At the end of the year the cards will be reshuffled. This also means that Carlos Sainz has a chance to step up.”

NBC F1 announce team to host “Inside F1 Racing” in Chicago, June 15

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On the heels of last year’s successful debut of “Inside F1,” which premiered in November at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut, the NBC Formula 1 announcing team will have an encore run this June in Chicago.

“Inside F1” with the F1 on NBC booth of lead announcer Leigh Diffey along with analysts David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be a live theater-style show at the Park West theater in Chicago, on June 15, at 8 p.m.

The show comes a few days after the NBC crew broadcasts the Canadian Grand Prix live from Montreal on June 12, before the first European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan takes place the following weekend.

“Steve, David & I really enjoy meeting the Formula 1 viewing audience,” Diffey said. “There’s a lot of passionate, knowledgeable F1 fans in America, so to get a theater full of them and discuss the sport we love, makes for a really fun night!”

Tickets are available at http://jamusa.com/events/inside-f1-racing/, or by calling 773-929-1322.

The event sold out last year in a smaller theater; Park West will be a bigger theater this go-around and offer more fans the chance to go.