GPUpdate pre-season feelings: Derek Daly

GPUpdate pre-season feelings: Derek Daly

9 March 2012 – With the 2012 Formula 1 campaign fast approaching, a range of the sport's biggest questions are about to be answered. Derek Daly discusses some of these talking points exclusively with GPUpdate.net to form the latest of our pre-season insights.

We have six World Champions on the grid this year and it is going to be pretty exciting - how much are you looking forward to it?

I always love the start of F1 seasons because there are so many intriguing questions and so many different story lines. I am curious on multiple levels, one of them being can Kimi Räikkönen come back and be successful? Can Mercedes win? Can Schumacher still win? That’s still a big story that a lot of people follow. Will Mark Webber stay in the shadows? Can he drive like we all believe he can or believed or could prior to being team-mate of Vettel (laughs)? There’s so many great storylines! How will di Resta go against Hülkenberg? Is di Resta about to take another step forward and be a legitimate contender for a Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes seat in the future? There’s just so many great storylines.

Toro Rosso dumps both of their drivers…almost a savage move but it shows that there’s no sentiment, no room for emotion attachment - it’s pure business. You do it or you don’t…and maybe at the World Championship level that is the way it should be. So I just love the storylines, I love to watch them unfold because, without a doubt, F1 has more human drama storylines I believe than any other sport in the world.

In the UK we have a split television deal for this year. Sky Sports is broadcasting all races live but on a pay-per-view package whereas the BBC is only showing ten of them on free-to-air. Could that damage F1 in the UK over the next few years?
My opinion is that the UK will get used to it very quickly. It’s new, it’s different, but here in America we have always had pay-per-view cable television for F1 and people don’t know any better -you have to buy a special sports package which has Speed TV. So for the UK it’s different and people won’t like it but they’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

From a British perspective, Lewis Hamilton was up and down in 2011 for all sorts of reasons. Do you think he is now capable of putting all of that behind and returning to his old self this year?

Yes, he is capable. I believe he will only get better. His challenge will be: can he become disciplined enough to concentrate more on setup of the racing car rather than driving a racing car as fast as he can drive it? We now know he didn’t learn that discipline the early years in the junior formulae because he lived on his pure speed, a bit like Juan Pablo Montoya did and like Kimi Räikkönen does.

Now that he is at the very top, he has to learn the discipline of car setup to make sure he goes to the line with a car that is actually fast enough…and then put his speed skills to work. He is now matched with a driver (Jenson Button) who is really, really fast and has setup skills. It is actually the perfect team situation for McLaren, to have a really good setup guy and a really good instant reflex guy, but they both need different support. So Lewis’ support system needs to drill the discipline into him: how can we make this car faster Lewis? Forget driving it fast, we know that is a given, but how can we make it fast and make it last on the quirky tyres which we now use?

Last year Hamilton seemed to be affected by relationship problems and all of these things we were hearing in the press. Based on what you experienced during your own career, can such personal problems affect what you are doing on the track?
Yeah, I believe it does. In 1982 I had a lot of personal problems off the track and I believe it affected my performance on-track. Elite athletes need strong environment management - and that is away from the race track as well as on a race weekend.

Michael Schumacher has not had a podium finish since rejoining F1 in 2010. Being realistic, what is the most Michael should be expecting to achieve if the car is quick this year?
Michael’s days of realistically challenging someone like a Vettel, I believe, are over. A race could fall his way…Vettel falls out, the Mercedes is pretty good, Rosberg has trouble…and he could win a race. But, as a genuine front-running threat on a regular basis, I think those days are over for Michael. I think elite athletes have a window. He is still exceptionally good but I don’t believe, when you have had a lay off for three years, you can emotionally pull yourself to the level you need to be.

I believe, with world-class athletes, there is a certain momentum and success that follows that gives confidence, that gives more success, that gives more momentum…and when you get to the top of the tree I think it takes so much, mentally and emotionally, to put yourself there. I don’t think elite athletes can drop off and then ever push to that level again. It’s a bit like Pirelli tyres: when they’re brand-new you can get to the ultimate speed, but once they cure you can never quite get there again. I believe elite athletes are the same.

In motor racing there is obviously a car involved whereas in tennis, athletics and football they know it can only be the athlete who is under-performing. Do you think the car can almost disguise that, so it is harder to tell whether it is the car under-performing or the driver?
No…because in this case I believe that, if you put Schumacher into the Red Bull car, he would not match Vettel. It’s a natural maturing process (laughs)!

We mentioned Kimi Räikkönen earlier. Do you think he can still cut it after two years? Also, does the motivation factor still come into it?

I’ll be surprised if he cuts it again, unless he’s had a renewing of the mind and he genuinely drives himself harder than he has driven himself before…and I don’t know whether he has that ability or that desire. I believe Formula 1 is at a higher level than it was when he left. I am unconvinced that he will personally drive himself as hard as he will need to drive to run with a Vettel; he is a driver that does not possess the setup discipline to work through developing a racing car.

He is going to need a lot of support from his team-mate and from the team to make sure he has a car which is good enough. I don’t know how technically accurate Romain Grosjean is; he can’t be that technically accurate because he is too new…

…however, as Romain has mentioned, he already has one year of Pirelli tyres under his belt from GP2. Do you think Kimi has a reason to be nervous about Grosjean out-pacing him from time to time?

It will probably happen, certainly in the first half of the season. But, overall, when you look at the complete picture of the season, the questions which will be asked and then answers are: can he drive himself further than he has ever done before? That is doubtful. Can he get the technical support around him? Remember, that needs an accurate technical driver as a team-mate and a lot of that comes with experience - we know that’s not there.

So I’ll be surprised if Kimi is ultimately successful. We know he is one of the fastest drivers who ever drove a Formula 1 car. That is no longer good enough. Formula 1 is much more specialised in recent years than it was two or three years ago. The windows of how to get the speed and maximise it are now much smaller.

If you could predict one name for the Champions, driver and constructor this year, who would you be going for?
(Laughs) One driver and one team to become World Champion...(pause)…Vettel and Button! And I have to go Red Bull and McLaren! If you think about it, there are so many incredible storylines it is almost impossible! McLaren could have a disaster car...or Vettel could spin and break his wrist in testing and suddenly he is gone for the first three races. Anything could happen.


Derek Daly was speaking exclusively with GPUpdate.net in Indianapolis


Next time: Mark Blundell, former F1 driver and recent television pundit

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