It's always the way, isn't it? You agree to chat to some reporter about the F1 season and, before you know it, you've been chatting 'happily' away for ages.

Yeah folks, we tied Mark down - not literally, honest! - and, having looked at 2003, we got him to share his thoughts on next year. Speculative? You bet. Premature? Only slightly... Interesting? We hope so... Mark, over to you...

Q:
Mark, looking ahead to 2004, how do you think the year will shape out?

Mark Blundell:
I think Ferrari will still be as strong as ever, while McLaren are going to come out very strong straight from the box. Williams, meanwhile, should pick up where they left off. Next year, hopefully, it will be very competitive. I'd like to think everything's going to be very even for race one in Oz. People like Renault and Toyota having upped the ante, and there should be a good spread of depth down to the mid-part of the grid. After that, however, I feel there might be a bigger void between the front and the back of the grid, which would be a great shame, but I think it's likely.

Q:
Focusing specifically on the new-look schedule for race weekends, what do you think of it - especially the two qualifying sessions on Saturday, and the loss of the Friday morning test session?

MB:
Well, it's another change, and we will have to see how it pans out - everybody will look at it and have their 'fors' and 'againsts'. It's a hard job to say whether it is a plus or minus until we see it in action. However, I kind of looked at it and thought it could be quite favourable and beneficial for everyone. Let's see what it throws up...

Q:
The calendar returns to 17 events next season, with F1 going back to Belgium, and to China and Bahrain, and may increase to 18 depending on France's fate - what's your verdict on the schedule?

MB:
Well, the calendar looks fairly good. There are a lot of good European dates, with venues and times good for the weather, which is quite sensible as well. The fly-aways to new areas in Bahrain and China present good, strong markets, and ones which are evolving, F1's getting in at an earlier stage and putting its marker down, and I think that's good. I am very glad to see that Canada is still on the calendar, but its a shame that France may not be there in terms of tradition and French GPs in years gone by. There are so many places in the world and only so many races you can sensibly have in one year, so I think it is quite a good calendar.

Q:
You touched on the possible loss of France, what about the loss of Austria?

MB:
It's a shame to lose the A1-Ring, but the situation there is obviously something they have got to look at and see if they can fight to get it back. It would have been nice to have moved the European GP from Germany across to one of those circuits, but who am I to say? I can't have any involvement in that one.

Q:
Do you think it is fair that Germany and Italy have effectively got two races?

MB:
Well, I don't really know why that should be. But it is just the scenario as it is at the moment. If you look at Germany, there are a lot of manufacturers coming out of that area and that is a good thing. But there are a lot of other places that could definitely warrant a grand prix, and some that we have lost off the calendar which it would be nice to still see on there. But I don't know, there must be some factors that outweigh that by a big amount.

Q:
What do you make of recent developments in the F1 world, such as Jordan signing a provisional deal with Nick Heidfeld, Christian Klien joining Jaguar, and Toyota finally confirming that Mike Gascoyne will join the team?

MB:
Gascoyne and Toyota has been in pipeline from last year, and it's a sensible move by Toyota to bring in somebody who has got the credentials. Whether there is enough time for somebody to have an influence for this coming season though is another thing.

Klien at Jaguar... I don't know much about him, and I don't think many people know much about him at the moment. There's a lot of talk that he is there because of the funding he has brought with him. That's one thing but, if he delivers on the circuit, then all well and good - Jaguar will have got the best of both worlds. They really have to have somebody that can deliver though, as they can't just rely on one guy. For the sake of Jaguar, it is good that they have got some funding with the deal, but hopefully it is not a counter-productive move. We will have to see how he develops - certainly, in testing, seems to be going okay. It will be interesting to watch.

Jordan-Heidfeld is a deal that is not done yet...nothing is done until he is sitting on the grid in Oz and waiting for lights to go out. It could go on for a couple of months yet before we see who is definitely going to drive that car. If you've got someone with current grand prix qualities lying around, and they need something to do, then it is sensible to put them in to start doing your testing evaluation. He needs something to come out of Germany to make the deal possible. It might happen but, at the moment, you just have to look at it and take it for what it is, which isn't a great deal at the moment.

Q:
What have you made of McLaren's decision to announce Montoya so soon?

MB:
Well, they've definitely won the battle of psychology, haven't they? Trying to de-stabilise the Williams camp by saying 'he's our guy already and you've just got him this year to finish off'. It is an interesting move but, in terms of reverse psychology, it puts pressure on DC to deliver even more - although, maybe, they feel that is a good thing It is slightly strange announcing something a year before it is going to happen but there you go, McLaren are quite unique in setting trends.

Q:
What did you make of the end to the threat of the rival F1 series, proposed by the manufacturers - the GPWC?

MB:
I think it is a situation that is far beyond us - even if we sat down and analysed it for years to come, we won't understand completely all the ramifications. There is one guy who has got a great deal of knowledge and power within in the sport, and several other people at the head of some of the world's biggest corporations so, between them, I'm sure they will sort it out one way or the other.

Q:
Obviously it is good news that it appears to have been resolved, though?

MB:
It's good news for the sport if they get clear path for the future but, you know, unless things go according to plan, and makes everybody feel happy, things could change. We will have to see if it stays in bed, or gets out of bed and rears its head again!

Q:
Changing the subject slightly, a lot of F1 drivers have gone to and come from CART. How do you feel about the current situation and the possibility the series might not exist in 2004?

MB:
If it is not around, it will be a crying shame, because it was definitely a fantastic series and had some fantastic racing. However, in the same breath, over last the two years, it's got to a very weak point and a very low point, and it's in need of completely updating and pulling around. It will be interesting to see whether it can again be the premier single-seater series in the US or, as it looks in its current state, whether it will just die a slow death, and allow the IRL to take its place to end the ongoing feud and war. So, one way or another, it will either come out in a much stronger state or it is going to be completely gone. If it goes into another year struggling somewhat, and goes through what it has gone through this year again, then I think that will be the worst thing for it and everybody concerned.

Q:
Heinz-Harald Frentzen's going to the DTM, any chance you could join him and former F1 buddy Jean Alesi there?

MB:
Don't think I will do the DTM, to be honest, although I've definitely got a few things going on that would be nice to see. If they come off, it would be quite healthy, but, like all things, I can't say anything until they are done.

Q:
Final thoughts, have you any messages for your fans for Christmas and the New Year?

MB:
I hope everybody has had an enjoyable year, and has a great Christmas and New Year. I'm certainly looking forward to kicking off the new season as I'm doing more stuff on the TV and, fingers crossed, putting a few more racing miles under my belt. Maybe that will be my present come Christmas as well - we will have to wait and see.

Q:
Thanks Mark, Merry Christmas from all at Crash.Net and not forgetting our many, many readers.

Fear not folks! Mark will return in the New Year, ready as usual to give you his thoughts on all the grands prix and a unique insight into 2004. Can't wait? Neither can we...

 

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