EXCLUSIVE Allan McNish - Q&A
11 March 2013
Allan McNish will switch from Sky Sports to the BBC this season following confirmation last week he will act as an expert analyst for Radio 5 live 'at least' six F1 grand's prix. Here the Scot, who finished second at Le Mans last year with Audi and who raced in F1 with Toyota in 2002, gives his thoughts and opinions ahead of this week's 2013 F1 season opener in Australia...
Allan, congratulations on securing the role with BBC Radio 5 live, you must be looking forward to it?
Yes, I am actually. I have been listening to sport and watching sport on the BBC since I was a tiny boy. I remember the tones of Murray Walker and that famous Dijon race [in 1979], where, if you remember, [Renè] Arnoux and [Gilles] Villeneuve were battling it out [for second].
I still listen to all the BBC and Radio 5 live sports reports on a Saturday afternoon, even now - it doesn't matter where we are or where I am racing. It is going to be nice to be part of the team and to be on the other end of the microphone.
Last year F1 was very unpredictable. Do you think it will be the same in 2013?
I don't think we will get totally the same level of unpredictability because people are starting to understand what the tyres are doing a little bit more and also the tyres this year seem to have a slightly wider working window. However it is a different version of tyre to what they got use to at the end of 2012. So, I do think for the first few races, there will be an element of unpredictability.
I don't think what we saw in testing - especially in Barcelona - was a true reflection of everything. I would say the 'usual suspects' are probably where they should be.
I think that the first grand's prix will be about the tyres. They will be about who gets it right - and also probably more importantly, who gets it wrong and slips off the edge of that really good grippy part when it is working well. But that is something that makes it quite exciting for us.
Also I think it probably makes it very frustrating for the engineers up and down the pit lane because that is a variable that they don't want into the equation. But it is a variable that the fans do.
The tyres certainly spiced it up a lot last season...
They spiced things up much more than some of the other things that were brought in for overtaking. But when you add it all together you have to say last year was a superb season with the number of winners.
It was changing every weekend and some of the races, and the one I particularly remember was Valencia, and how emotional that race was for [Fernando] Alonso - and also the fight, the comeback and the overtaking, and then you take it [the title fight] all the way through to Brazil [too]. [Sebastian] Vettel's performance after lap 1 [in Interlagos] was a real world champion's performance. You have to say though, that there were probably three people that deserved, as drivers', the world title last year. I am sure that two of them will be trying to take it off the young German this year, plus the others as well of course.
As you said, Vettel and Red Bull came out top in the end. Can they do that again this season?
It is hard to be number one and it is even harder to stay there because everyone is trying to knock you off the top.
McLaren have come out with a new sort of concept for their car and Jenson [Button] is fired up for it. [Sergio] Perez is looking to try and make his mark. But I think we can safely say Jenson is the team leader.
Lewis [Hamilton] has gone to Mercedes and their performance in testing was better than expected, although it might be a little bit early for them. Lewis was though, supreme last season, in my opinion. He was racing so well and is probably still number one when it comes to qualifying.
Fernando has got a bit of a point to prove. Ferrari and Alonso have got to do it this year because they have been so close - and especially last year with such a bad car. Now the car looks to be so strong in comparison to what they had at this time in 2012. They really have to make it work.
If I was to put my money down on someone right now, before the first race, to actually take the title away from Red Bull and from Vettel, then I would probably say it would be Alonso and Ferrari. But that is just like looking into a crystal ball right now. There is a lot of racing and a lot of things to come between now and then.
Last year we had a lot of different winners as you say, including Williams and Lotus. Is it possible for those two teams to win again?
It is more likely for Lotus because of the nature of their team and also their driver line-up.
[Romain] Grosjean out-qualified Kimi [Raikkonen] quite a few times but had too many incidents. But if that can be tempered he will pull some good points, I am sure, and win a race.
Kimi, well his line of, 'Leave me alone, I know what I am doing', it is still legendary. It is absolutely fantastic. But he knew what he was doing and we all expected that win to come earlier. So, yes, the chance is there.
With Williams, I was so pleased when they won that race [in Barcelona], especially on Frank Williams' 70th birthday weekend. That was just superb. But they have to maximise it when the opportunity presents itself because these sorts of chances don't come along every weekend. They had a quick car and they have got to take the chances when they come because if you don't, the other teams are too good to let that slip.
We touched a moment ago on the tyres and the role they have played in improving the spectacle. Do you think the Drag Reduction System [DRS] has done its job as well? Are you a fan of it?
My father hates it, he says: 'Son that is ridiculous - if you just press a button and then you can blast past someone else, that is not overtaking, that is not racing'. He is a purist and I argue with him, and admittedly I agree with him to some extent.
But, if the guy [that was passed] can then stay close enough he has got the opportunity next time and if he isn't close enough next time, then he isn't quick enough. It has thrown in a few variables. But I think we would all like it if there maybe wasn't that situation where they had DRS. It is though, a better alternative than no overtaking at all.
What I do think has been a positive thing is how that they have restricted it this year so that it is the same in qualifying and practice as you have in the race [and can only be used in the DRS zone]. That is very sensible and logical. That will produce something a bit better.
But I think [overall] it really depends on whether you are a purist, like my dad, or you are somebody that still likes a bit of cut and thrust of racing and are maybe open to a few variables, maybe like myself and a few of the fans in the grandstands.
We've talked about the top teams and we touched on Williams and Lotus too. Looking at the back now, we've lost HRT, but are Marussia and Caterham delivering what they should be?
I think it is sad any team dropping off the grid. HRT struggled financially from the start and obviously it is sad for all the people that were working there. They were enthusiasts and were passionate about the sport and they tried their best with what they had. What they had was significantly less than anyone else too.
But it is now down to Caterham and Marussia. I would have expected them to have scored points by now leading into year four. They have done quite a few grand's prix and have not got into the points scoring positions and it is not like ten years ago when points were to sixth. The points are quite away down the grid now [to tenth place].
I think that tells you, however, how strong the midfield grid is as opposed to them not being up to scratch. The mid-grid is very strong. The average level is very high across the board and they really have to make a step forward to be able to achieve it. It will be tough for them this year.
It is also maybe a little bit of a step back for both of them with them losing the more experienced drivers that they had - but for a reason because they weren't in a financial position to pay them.
The new guys coming in have got a point to prove and so it is all up for grabs. That is the quite exciting thing about it because whichever one of the four of them does the best job, well, he is putting himself forward for a mid-grid team for the following season and every driver wants to move up.