Exclusive interview with Derek Daly
15 September 2011 – Former racer Derek Daly speaks exclusively with GPUpdate.net about his recent role as FIA steward at Monza, why rumours about him questioning procedures are simply not true, the returning American Grand Prix, the progress of son Conor in GP3 and that high-flying accident in Monaco which continues to make headlines…
For the Italian Grand Prix, you took on the role of FIA race steward for the first time. Was it what you expected?
(Pause) Yes. However, I would say I know how to do it a lot better now, having done it once. I was surprised at the amount of information they have. In other words, they can actually reconstruct events. If there is an incident on the track, they can actually go back and synchronise on-board cameras and team radios to that particular event which gives you a complete picture, which is something I didn’t realise they had the ability to do. So that was good.
It’s a more difficult job than people understand, because there is so much going on, but I am definitely glad I did it – it was a very interesting thing to be involved in.
How do you consider the overall quality of stewarding nowadays?
I must admit, I was a little sceptical when this whole idea came about, because I have found that two people looking at exactly the same incident can have different interpretations of what they just saw and drivers tend to be very opinionated and not necessarily very correct at times; so I was slightly sceptical that it would bring an unstable environment to the stewards’ office.
However, what I found is that the stewards definitely relied quite heavily on the driver’s input; not just from me, I’m sure it’s the same with every driver that is up there. They look to the driver for every incident. Having experienced it now, I believe the stewards are ultimately more comfortable in their role of decision-making, knowing they have a driver peer alongside them as a decision is being made.
A rumour has been circulating that the stewards would have penalised Michael Schumacher for his over-aggressive defending on Lewis Hamilton, had they not been attending to another incident at the time. Is that true?
Well, that is the gist of it, but here is what is more accurate. I was actually considering writing a steward’s blog, a minute-by-minute diary of a steward, because I found a lot of information which I didn’t know went on, really fascinating. Even in the drivers’ meeting that I attended, I thought it was really interesting how that all unfolded, so I kept pretty detailed notes.
At the Lap 20 time period, Charlie (Whiting, Race Director) asked us to look at the Massa-Trulli incident at the second chicane. We had video that was not of great quality, so you had to study it slightly more. That was the exact time when the Lesmo incident happened.
We had discussions about Schumacher – did he, didn’t he – and when Charlie warned him and (Mercedes Team Principal) Ross Brawn told him twice on the radio that he had to leave room, the situation was being addressed.
At the time of the first Lesmo incident on Lap 20 (when Schumacher moved twice in front of Hamilton), I personally didn’t see it. I’m not saying the rest of the stewards didn’t see it, but I personally didn’t see it because I was watching the replay of the other one (Massa and Trulli). If I had seen it, my point was that I would probably have made a recommendation that a penalty should be imposed.
It’s really important to make sure people have that correct. I am aware of what is going around right now – that, had we been watching it and delivered a penalty, it may have affected the outcome of the race; that is conjecture building upon what actually happened.
Next year F1 will have its first United States Grand Prix since 2007, hosted in Austin, Texas. As a US citizen, how much of a success do you foresee that being?
I think in the short-term, because of novelty and curiosity, they’ll obviously have a lot of people going. We had the same thing here in Indianapolis. But I think, unless there is a significant American driver on the grid - and hopefully more than one - I don’t see any reason why it will survive and thrive.
Formula 1, I’m absolutely convinced, is ultimately successful because of national pride in particular drivers; Germany with the German drivers, Britain with the British drivers and, unless America has national pride wrapped around that event, I don’t see it growing and sustaining the interest that Grand Prix racing does in other countries, particularly European countries.
Apparently 25,000 extra people go to Silverstone because of Hamilton and Button, etcetera; America won’t have that and I’m a firm believer that, unless they have Americans to cheer for in a significant way on the grid, I think it will be missing a major key element.
Perhaps a certain Conor Daly could be one of those Americans in coming years. Who do you tip at the moment as an American F1 hopeful?
It’s hard to know who it will ultimately be. Right now, there is Conor and Alex Rossi. I’d like to see both of them have an opportunity but it depends on what they do in the future years. They both have to continue proving that they could potentially be considered as someone with that type of potential, but they have more to do.
I think American drivers are up against it because, for so long, America has never actually supported drivers to put them onto that global platform; my fear is, until that changes, they will continue to struggle and the knock-on effect is the potential struggle of the event.
How do you think Conor found his first year in European racing? It is a completely different format and style of racing…
Very difficult. Completely new. Probably more difficult than he anticipated, but I still think he was able to clearly show (his talent) in the races, with some of the moves he pulled in Valencia or Hungary or qualifying sixth in the wet at Spa - that’s the modern test of a driver. At Monza he was clearly one of the fastest cars out there. So I think he has gone through what we term as a normal transition season and, if you look at (Lewis) Hamilton and (Nico) Hülkenberg and (Michael) Schumacher when they did their Formula 3-type junior formulae, they all took two years to get on top of it.
I think Conor has the opportunity, with the knowledge he has, to be a legitimate front-running, race-winning championship contender next year, which will be his next step.
We even saw Valtteri Bottas, the eventual GP3 Champion of 2011, not scoring a podium result until the middle of the season, so it appeared to be a very mixed campaign for everybody…
Very much so, yes. I think GP3 was a little bit unstable this year. You would have thought that Bottas, with the experience he brought, would dominate immediately but it even took that team-driver combination a while to get it all together - and he must have been at least three laps ahead of Conor before he even started, because of his European experience.
For many Formula 1 fans, the best memory of Derek Daly tends to be your spectacular, high-flying accident at the start of the 1980 Monaco Grand Prix. What do you remember of that now?
(Commentary from the BBC's Murray Walker)
I remember every minute detail as if it happened last weekend. It’s quite remarkable, when I think about it, because the event actually unfolded in my mind in complete slow motion. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to attempt to do and a very clear memory of when it went wrong, why it went wrong and as it unfolded it went into complete slow motion and I remember the most miniscule details – even being able to focus on the actual stones in the asphalt on the road as I was looking straight down on it. It was in that clear a detail.
It started because I was actually attempting to get to the inside line to go round (first corner) St. Devote, if possible. (Riccardo) Patrese on my right had got a sort of delayed start and I just looked over to see if there was enough room to squeeze in. At the very instant when I looked over to squeeze in, (Bruno) Giacomelli – who was straight ahead of me and slightly to my left – got on the brakes. When I looked back, and saw him on the brakes, I realised immediately that I was going to hit him. I knew it immediately, before I made contact.
Before I actually hit him, my mind had already worked through the scenario: “I’m going to hit him, I’m going to break the front wing, I’m going to stay mobile, I’m going to drive straight to the pits, get a new front wing, get back out and lose as little time as possible.”
The only problem was, when I actually hit him – and we had much bigger rear tyres in those days – his rear tyre was rotating slowly. So when I hit him it lifted my car up but, as it lifted the car up, he was still on the brakes and as I landed back on his rear tyre it acted like a conveyor belt. So, by rotating it actually pushed my car up into a point like a conveyor belt that it tipped over onto its nose. I am now looking down at the tarmac and could see the pebbles in clear focus because I thought I was going to land on the roll bar; in fact it landed sideways, just as Alain Prost arrived, but it landed on his rear wheel, which acted like a trampoline. So it just went ‘Boing!’ and, in a spring-like trampoline action, did a half cartwheel and landed on top of (Jean-Pierre) Jarier’s front wheel, which resulted in another trampoline-type move (laughs). That bounced it ahead of him and into the middle of the road.
Then I remember, so clearly: when I jumped out of the car, I saw Jarier running immediately to Giacomelli and he began ripping strips off Giacomelli, blaming him for the accident! Of course I thought for a minute, “Hey, I might get away with this (laughs)!” and then I thought, “You know what, I’m pretty sure television caught this whole thing…”
Then there was chaos; horns, cranes, track marshals and all sorts of things. I was pretty sure the race would be stopped, but it wasn’t; they cleared it with the cranes and it became one of those memorable incidents. It might be, probably, one of the most used pieces of Formula 1 video ever. Last year the BBC used it, for the 30th anniversary, on the opening of their show for Monaco. So it’s still being used today.
Derek Daly was talking to GPUpdate.net’s Gregory Haines