Robb Interview: Mark Webber & Sir Jackie Stewart
We sat down with the two F1 legends – to talk Rolex, Ricciardo, the future of Melbourne’s GP
and why Max Verstappen needs swap the Red Bull for “some valium.”
No less a luminary than Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time world champion, thinks Aussie F1 star Daniel Ricciardo’s struggles at McLaren are “all in his head”.
“The thing about driving in Formula One is, it’s all about mind management,” Stewart, speaking yesterday at a Rolex-hosted event at Albert Park in Melbourne, explained to Robb Report.
“It’s all in the head, he really must be suffering a lot right now, with the way he’s struggled to get used to that car at McLaren. He had a very tough year last year.
Will he be able to get it back this year?
“We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a shame, because he’s a really good racing driver. The thing is, he used to be one of the young pups but he’s not so young anymore.”
Ricciardo’s compatriot and fellow F1-racing legend, Mark Webber, doesn’t like the local hero’s outlook much this weekend in Melbourne, either — largely because of the way to his car has been off the pace in the first to events of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (Ricciardo had a DNF in the first and finished 14th in the second).
Asked to rate Ricciardo’s chances, the always straight-talking Webber shook his head and chimed: “pretty low.”
Robb Report sat down with the two highly experienced Formula One racers to talk everything from watches to Las Vegas, Leclerc to Verstappen, Drive to Survive and the expected battles of this year’s highly anticipated season.
Robb Report: What was the first F1 race you ever attended, Mark — was it the Australian GP, back when it was in Adelaide?
Mark Webber: It was the first, 1987 — I was 10, Gerhard Berger in Ferrari won (Jackie interjects, [“Come on Mark, surely you were only four then?”] I remember the first guy that went past was Martin Brundle in the Brabham and I remember I was sitting on the front straight with my mouth open just going, ‘No way, there’s just no way there’s a human being driving that, it’s just not possible. No human could do that.’ I saw a helmet, but I couldn’t believe there was a person in there — it was just too fast. But I loved it, I was climbing trees, trying to get a better view. I just couldn’t get enough of it, I loved it. And back then I hadn’t even started racing go-karts, I was still just mucking around on motorbikes.”
RR: Australia has quite a history with F1, doesn’t it?
MW: It’s amazing, the history we’ve had here for a country this small, pound for pound, it’s amazing how well we’ve done for a country of our size. We should never have been so lucky.
RR: Do you believe, as F1 adds more races in the US and with Las Vegas now signed up for 2023 and only a certain number of events allowed in the calendar, that we might one day lose our race in Melbourne?
MW: No, no chance — we’ll be fine. I’m highly confident we’ll be fine in Australia because this is one of the best grands prix in the world, the drivers love it, the teams love it.
And it needs to be a global sport — you can’t just hang around in the northern hemisphere. We will see this weekend what’s going to happen, we’ve got 130,000 people here, and you need that kind of excitement. The sport has moved on, but we will go with the times – and you saw the Dutch GP with 120,000 people there, screaming for Max [Verstappen]. What’s happened in the past two years in this sport, the growth has been like nothing before. We’ve had to build extra grandstands here in Melbourne this year and we will hit that new level that we’ve seen around the world. With the Netflix show [Drive to Survive], the drivers are even bigger superstars than ever before. The impact of that show, particularly in the US, has been phenomenal.
My sister loves Toto Wolff and Lando Norris and my nephew loves him/ Look, the patriotic angle will always be strong here in Australia but the sport has gotten so much bigger, there are so many more people being talked about, and the fans feel like they’re closer to them.
RR: Is it true Mark that you purchased your first Rolex yourself – we thought F1 drivers were simply gifted them?
MW: Yes, after winning my first GP in 2009. I thought it was something worth celebrating properly so I bought myself one. But Jackie got given his first one, I’m pretty sure, for winning a race — your first win in Monaco wasn’t it?
Jackie Stewart: It was for setting the fastest lap in qualifying in 1967. And I’ve still got that one.
MW: Wow, that would be worth a bit — probably about the same as the Australian Defense Budget.
JS: I’ve been with Rolex for a long time, more than 50 years and not a lot of sponsorships last that long. And I do love them. I’m staying at Crown Towers and I saw they had a Rolex shop there so I went in yesterday and the guy in the shop didn’t recognise me – which the people with me thought was very funny – so I went up to the guy and said, ‘I’m interested in buying a watch, I’ll have a couple of Daytonas if you don’t mind.’ And he was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry sir, you cannot get those’. I’ve got six Rolexes with me here in Australia, I like to wear different ones during the day and at night.
RR: Qualifying today is so competitive, and so important, with the top six often separated by less than a second — was it like that in your day Sir Jackie?
JS: I never bothered with it. When I was in Formula One, the only thing that mattered was setting the car up properly for the race. Pole position was never very important in my day, all I wanted to do in qualifying was make sure that my car was right. It’s very different today. But like any sport, motor racing is all in the mind. And I worked out, early on, that if I removed emotion from racing, I was better off and most of my races I won, they were won in the first five laps, because everyone else was too uptight in those five laps. I just tried to stay calm.
MW: I remember Jackie telling me that years ago, and it’s so true, being calm in the car is so important, you don’t want to be emotional in there.
JS: It’s a dangerous thing, emotion; it’s dangerous in courting; it’s dangerous in marriage and it’s dangerous in a race car. People make mistakes on the first corner, you see it all the time, and I just couldn’t get that, why would you make a mistake like that? You’ve got 60 laps left, just stay calm. To finish first, first you must finish… You see the same weakness today — too many people diving into the first corner and making mistakes. It’s all about timing – and sometimes Max Verstappen does that, he can be a little over the top. A little valium would help him, I think. More valium, less Red Bull. I think he’s the fastest driver on the track right now, but I still think he’s got an emotional vulnerability. You know, that little kiss he and Lewis Hamilton had at Silverstone last year — there was no reason for that to happen, you just can’t doing things like that. And that was a huge accident. If you had an accident like that in my day, you’d be dead. Simple as that.
“The cockpit of an F1 car today is a survival cell. In the 1960s and ‘70s, I tell everyone that at that time, motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe. That was the swinging ‘60s.
Fifty seven of my friends died during my time racing. Fifty seven! All my best friends died, Graham Hill died in an air crash, but everyone else died on the racing track. The safety levels of the cars today are absolutely incredible. And what the doctors can do. I remember Mika Hakkinen died, twice, in Australia, in Adelaide, after a huge accident. And the doctor, Sid Watkins, got him going again. Twice! That would not have happened in my day, either.
RR: With the cars being so much safer these days, do you think that encourages drivers to perhaps take more risks?
MW: Absolutely, you feel that the consequences are lower, but they still crash, and also the weight of the cars has gone up a lot, so the inertia of these crashes is higher. The human body can only take so much, so ultimately you will have these crashes, like that one at Silverstone last year — that was a big, big impact for Max.
RR: As you say, the cars this year are heavier and you believe that’s made them easier to drive and that the lighter the car, the better a driver has to be to control it – why is that?
MW: It’s all about the power to weight ratio. When the car is lighter it’s more flighty — it’s trickier to predict. You put more weight in it, it gets easier, like a Touring Car, they’re so much heavier – it’s like an A380 while an F1 car is more like a fighter jet. As drivers, we feel a difference of as little as 50kg. If you make the cars heavier, it’s not as much fun, the drivers want them lighter. There’s no doubt they’re a bit more docile this year, but the drivers have still got to put the tyre on the limit, it’s still a hard job.
RR: Have the design changes this year helped with overtaking — have they got the balance right?
MW: We’ve had two samples, two events. Bahrain encourages passing anyway and we’re seeing the DRS [Drag Reduction System] make a big difference — I think they’ll look at whether that’s making it too easy as the season goes on. And they’ve been re-passing each other, which is very encouraging; in the past it was once someone went past they were gone, so that re-passing is a very good sign.
JS: The changes to aerodynamics and the effect it has on the cars is so different today — there’s so much that goes into it. In my day, I would have seven mechanics for two racing drivers and now they have 110 engineers on each team to look after two of these ballerina racing drivers. Technology has gone to another level. The racing is so much closer today as a result — if I got away in those first five laps, it was unlikely someone would get past me. My biggest winning margin was more than four minutes.
MW: Four minutes! Incredible. He could have a shower, get dressed, come out on the podium and the others would still be driving around.
RR: Physically, was racing as hard in your day, Sir Jackie?
JS: I had a much bigger neck when I was racing — you had to have those muscles. And the helmets were so much bigger and heavier, too. You had to be fit, even then, and Emmerson Fittipaldi and I were the first two drivers to really concentrate on our physical condition. No one else was worrying about it, but today everyone has to be super fit just to drive the cars.
RR: At the recent Saudi Arabian GP, Kevin Magnussen, who missed all the pre-season training and hasn’t had that much time in the new cars, was holding his neck and clearly in pain after the race, why is that?
MW: It’s hard to train the neck for that driving position. You can train your neck, but it’s amazing how far up your neck muscles go, and remember, you neck is only designed to hold your head up, that’s all, and to do that at 1G. So when you’re doing 3.5 lateral G, and 5Gs of inline braking, after a while your neck just says, ‘I’ve had enough, thanks very much.’ And the only way you can get used to that is in the car — you need mileage. Lots of laps in testing. You can prepare for it, but nothing replaces being in the car, so if you haven’t driven enough in the off-season, it’s going to hurt.
RR: So, Sir Jackie, who do you rate as a great driver in today’s field?
JS: I think Verstappen is the quickest, but I think he’s more on the limit, on the edge, a lot of time. Lewis Hamilton is not a puppy anymore and the older you get, the more you have to use this, [points to his head] instead of this [gestures enthusiastically to his groin].The fact is, Lewis has been at the top for a long time, but there are a lot of young pups around him. Now, I think if he goes on for a lot more races, I think the chances of him winning are diminishing. The cars are becoming more level, so you have to drive them harder. He must be thinking, when will I retire, and really, ideally, he wants to retire on top. If he’d won last year, he could have gone out on top…Timing in life is everything. In my day, I was driving sports cars, touring cars, Indy Cars, and F1, all at once, and that meant so much travelling around. In one year, I crossed the Atlantic 60 times with all the racing — and that’s not a sensible thing to do. But then, that same year, in 1971, I made a million pounds driving racing cars, and back then, that was a lot of money. Not for an Australian maybe, but for a Scottish boy it was. But then I got sick, I had ulcers, I burned myself out. I won the [Formula One] world championship that yea but I was so ill I couldn’t go to pick up the title. So that was a bit mad.
RR: What about Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, do you rate him?
JS: I think Leclerc is a man of the future, he’s not there yet, but to be there you’ve got to be right at the top, competing. He’s got all the makings of a champion, but he’s got to have the car to do the job. He’s also got a very strong teammate, so I think he’s got the potential but I think we’ll see this year how good he is.
MW: He’s good, Charles, and don’t mistake those boyish looks for the eye of the tiger — he’s got plenty of mongrel about him too. Just you wait. It’s going to be one hell of a season.
The Australian Grand Prix, Sunday April 10 at 3pm; rolex.com
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