On-site at the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, crankandpiston.com talks with former Formula 1 world champions Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill, current team principal Ross Brawn, current Force India F1 driver Adrian Sutil, and former F1 pilots Mika Salo and Alexander Wurz.
Down at the Yas Marina Circuit, mere hours before the 2013 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it’s a mob scene. In the paddock – where crankandpiston.com has earned accreditation – TV cameras and impossibly long cameras stride past with authority as one driver/team principal/VIP heads to their respective hospitality suite. For the newbie in their midst, it’s both intoxicating and terrifying!
Don’t think though that crankandpiston’s 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend has been spent cowering in an incredibly hot corner. There’s plenty to talk about, with Sebastian Vettel having nailed a fourth consecutive Formula 1 title, Kimi Raikkonen’s tenure at Lotus looking yet more fragile following his disqualification from qualifying due to a faulty floor on his E21 single seater, and what kind of action fans can expect from an increasingly less predictable Yas Marina Circuit.
Who better to ask than a current F1 driver, two former World Champions, a current F1 team principal, and two drivers who have raced at the F1 sharp end?
Adrian Sutil, Force India driver
“For me it’s been a difficult weekend so far, but the main day is today. We have quite a lot of work to do since we’re starting only 17th, but anything’s possible and I’m excited for the race. We have a race setup on and we’ll be pushing forward.
“This year for me has been a bit up and down, which is what you normally expect with a mid-field team. All the teams are very close together, so whenever you do a small mistake or something wrong with the setup you immediately drop back. It can also be the other way round though, so I think for my comeback it has been a good season.
“You always hope for a very good weekend. You always want to do as well as possible, so hopefully that’s what we can do this weekend.”
Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 world champion (1969, 1971, 1973)
“It’s very difficult, no matter how good the team is, to continuously win. It can be that a performance slide starts to take place. Now, Red Bull has got very good management, and very good people, but there’s only so much that everybody can take. If that just goes off the boil even slightly, there’s always somebody trying hard to get you off the top of the ladder.
“So it’s not impossible that in these last three races, including this one, to see Red Bull perhaps not getting as much success as they’re used to. Don’t be surprised to see that. On the other hand, Christian Horner is an extremely good chief executive officer, and I suspect that he’ll be fighting against that knowing that can happen.
“Outside of that, Mercedes are desperate to win. McLaren are desperate to get a podium: can you imagine they haven’t had a podium all year! The Lotus team are very competitive, so you could see [Romain] Grosjean being a major player. And from the back of the grid, [Kimi] Raikkonen as you know has been penalised for a lose floor. Grosjean came from the back of the grid to get a podium in India. So that’s a good team to be looking at, and there’s a lot that could potentially happen in this afternoon’s race.”
Ross Brawn, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team principal
“I think it could be a reasonable race for us. We don‘t really know the long run pace of any of the teams. Of course, Red Bull has been extremely strong lately, but I have a feeling we’re a little bit closer this weekend. Perhaps not close enough just yet, but a little closer.
both drivers were pretty happy with their cars yesterday. We can try and turn that into race performance and we should be in good shape. I don’t think Lewis’ qualifying problems [caused by a broken wishbone] will hinder him too much.
“If we can get on the podium we’ll be pleased.”
Damon Hill, 1996 Formula 1 world champion
“I think we have to really acknowledge what a tremendous achievement that [referring to Sebastian Vettel sealing a fourth consecutive world championship] is. He’s undeniably a great talent and he’s made the most of his situation. He is going to go on to even greater things, although nothing is a foregone conclusion in motorsport.
“I think the best thing to say is that he’s young, and it’s very difficult to be that mature and that clear about what you’re doing and what you’re there to do. So he’s done a brilliant job.
“Formula 1 has changed from the point of view of how it’s marketed. It’s different now, and the idea of going to races and race tracks that are now up to standard makes it look… I mean, Formula 1 always surprises everyone with what is feasible and what is possible. As a show, I think it’s pretty impressive.
“[And your new career behind the mike?] It’s interesting, yes! I’m really enjoying it.”
Mika Salo, former Ferrari Formula 1 driver
“Well, nothing’s really changed from the last few races! [Sebastian] Vettel is still so far away from everyone else and nobody can catch him. In qualifying [Mark] Webber, managed to clinch pole position but in the race I think it will go back to normal.
“The Yas Marina Circuit is good. It’s not very challenging as a track but the facilities are phenomenal. Everything is close by, all the drivers love to come here, and the weather of course is really unbelievably hot. As an evening race, that helps a little bit. But yeah, the organisation is done so well here that everybody likes coming here.
“I’ve been to every race, but the Yas Marina race is usually pretty special since I sometimes drive the two-seater F1 car here. I’m also here working for Finnish TV on commentary, so we’re hoping for an exciting race.”
Alexander Wurz, former Williams Grand Prix driver and current World Endurance Championship Toyota pilot
“I’m here every weekend because I work with Williams as a test driver and for Austrian TV, so it’s kind of like a second home. And I now realise how long I’ve been in the business because I know almost everyone!
“I had some really good years in Formula 1, 13 in fact racing cars and testing them. In 2007, I thought it was time to move on and I really wanted to get back into sportscars: I’d promised that throughout my career, and I don’t regret it. The only time I really miss driving a Formula 1 car is at Monaco during the race when there’s a lot of rubber down on the track. It’s a special race, but I am very happy where I am.
“[Next year Porsche returns to Le Mans] As long as they are in my mirrors I am happy! But it is super cool for the sport. Porsche are coming back and bringing Mark Webber with them. It’s a great boost.
“[Who’s your money on today?] It’s [Sebastian] Vettel. At the first stop he will undercut Webber, put on the pressure, and in the last few races he seems to have been better with the tyre management. But it could be a close race.”
– HUGE thanks to David Benson