Features - Interview
JULY 1, 1991
BY JOE SAWARD
Mark Blundell is looking forward to the British GP. Not because it is a track he knows for the heavily-revised Northamptonshire circuit will be new to everyone in Formula 1 this year, but because he is looking forward to racing at home again.
'Silverstone has always been a good track for me,' he explains. 'I did a lot of races in the junior formula here, but now, of course, it has all changed.
'It was quite interesting at the F1 testing in June, getting used to the new track. I have to say it's quite a busy little circuit now. I mean there is no place to rest apart from the Hangar Straight. Still, it's good. It's quite exciting.
'There are a couple of places where driving around at the kind of speeds we do in F1 you notice that the walls are quite a bit closer than they should be, but still it's nice. 'I'm quite excited about it. Hopefully I'll get well pumped-up about it and we'll try to get a result - we really need it."
Mark is not kidding. Silverstone is vital for the future of the Brabham-Yamaha team. Unless Mark, or team mate Martin Brundle, scores a seventh place or better, Brabham will become pre-qualifiers for the rest of the season - a prospect no team relishes.
The Brabham problems go back to last season, long before Mark joined the team.
'There's a list of problems as long as your arm,' he explains. 'The reason I think is that there has been a big transformation within Brabham. Last year the team started off weak and things declined as the year went on. That was how the team went into this season. It has taken a lot of hard work to bring Brabham up to speed. You have the Yamaha situation as well. There has been a lot to learn in a very short time. Obviously, Yamaha is very eager to learn, but it takes time to get what we want.
'The BT60Y was a brand new car. There was nothing to back to from the BT58 and BT59. No point of reference. Yamaha has taken good steps forwards and we are now starting to learn a lot more about the car. That was a bit difficult in the early part of the season because we had technical problems with the gearbox and the engine. When you have problems like that your time on the track is limited and when that happens you don't learn a lot about how the car works.
'I'll tell you what, this F1 is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be - a lot more competitive. And there's more to it than just the driving. Once you get out of the car there is a lot going on around you: within the team, the factory, the media.
'You have to motivate people. Everyone is looking to you to produce a result. It is a lot different to jumping into a F3000 car with a small team of maybe 15 people.
'The main thing, however, is that I am enjpying it. That is the priority really. I am in F1 because that's where I want to be. I was lucky enough to have managed to get here and now I have to stay. To do that I have to get results, so I am striving to get the best possible out of it.'
Mark's task has been helped by having Martin Brundle as a team mate. Martin has plenty of F1 experience and the two Britons seem to be enjoying a good working relationship.
'Sure, Martin is very helpful,' says Mark. 'We get on very well. We tend to be very similar in the way we set up the car and so we have the advantage that the spare car is very similar for the pair of us. We cross-reference all our information. If there is something he finds on the circuit - a tweak of the week - he might not let me know the first day, but the on the second day he will let me know - and vice-versa.
Although Mark has competed in only a handful of GPs, he has had a lot of F1 experience, thanks to a testing contract with the Williams-Renault team last season. That must have been very valuable?
'The Williams testing was very useful,' he admits. 'I did a lot of miles which gave me a good confidence. When I get into an F1 car I know what is happening to it and I know how to feed back that information to the engineers. With Williams I was also able to try different specification Renault engines, ranging from the early RS1 right up to the one they are using today. That means I have a good reference-point to refer back to with what I am driving. 'I learned with Williams. It is one of the top teams and they have ample technicians and R&D facilities. Working with Patrick Head was really good. It gives me a little bit to fall back on.'
The Mexican GP saw Brabham-Yamaha take what seemd like an important step forwards in competitiveness after the early-season struggles. Mark qualified 12th on the grid.
'In Mexico things were a lot better but I think Mexico is a funny place -- a bit of a leveller. You have the altitude which means that engines lose power. Obviously we haven't got as much to lose as the big boys have. During qualifying my race car had a problem so I jumped into the T-car and tried to do the best I could. As luck would have it, everything came togther on that lap. It was a clean lap, nice and tidy, and I think everything was just right. Mentally I was in the right mood to go and get it together and it came across.
'It was going very well in the race - Yamaha had done a great deal of work to get the engine specification right for the altitude of Mexico City - and they did a good job with that. Unfortunately there was a bit of a reliability problem with the engine.'
Mark was running in the all-important seventh spot when the car stopped.
Will he or Martin Brundle be able to match that performance at Silverstone - and save the team from pre-qualifying?
'The testing at Silverstone seemed to go reasonably well. The conditions were up and down so if you caught a dry lap and stuck a time in, you looked good. In the wet we were reasonable.
'I don't think that it is out of question for us to go to Silverstone and get our first point of the year. I think if we can get the car right, qualify well and then get stuck into the race it is possible.
'I now know that at the beginning of a Grand Prix it is a lot better to be starting halfway up than at the back. That's a big bonus. It is a very hard circuit. I think the level of fitness is going to show a few people up and it will be hard on the cars and may lead to a lot of retirements.
'We have to try to get the car balanced well to handle in the infield sections as well as the quicker stuff. If we can do that I think we have a reasonable chance of picking up the all-important point...'