MARCH 1, 1989
BY JOE SAWARD
Mauricio Gugelmin has an annoyingly good sun-tan. It comes from having spent much of the last few weeks lying on beaches in Brazil and playing about with jet ski. This device has tried to kill him on several occasions as Mauricio attempted such optimistic manoeuvres as looping-the-loop!
Still, if the jet ski doesn't seem to like him much, Mauricio can find solace in the knowledge that there are very
few people in Formula 1 who feel the same way.
Mauricio really is a charming character. There are never any histrionics. He is quiet, courteous, professional and he gets the job done. He is always willing to have a chat if he can and if he makes mistakes, he will admit to them. It makes you sick, doesn't it?
To compound this, Mauricio is also a top class racing driver. If his Leyton House March Racing teammate Ivan Capelli stole the headlines last year Mauricio, in his first F1 season, collected five points. If Grand Prix racing had a such a thing, he would have been Rookie of the Year, finishing 12th in the World
He was the perfect foil for Capelli in the March team. The Italian was the Action Man, Mauricio the thinker.
"It was very good with Ivan," he says, "because he has had more experience than I had, and he's an easy going character.
"I wasn't with someone new so I could gauge my performance against someone who had experience. That makes you improve and I think you can do it in a shorter period if you have someone capable of running fast.
"I don't think he enjoyed testing very much, but we did work together well. The car felt good and we had very similar set-ups. We are also similar sizes, so we could fit in the cars easily. I enjoyed myself in testing, because it is one of the most important things."
Mauricio is clearly a graduate of the Dick Bennetts' school of thoughtful motoring, having run with the Formula 3 guru in the British Championship in 1985. You get quicker by learning and analysing.
"The day you stop learning," he explains, "is the day you should stop. If you think you know everything, you are in the wrong place. I think that applies for everybody. Some people need to learn more than others, and we are still going to have a few small problems -- because it is part of getting from A to B -- but the main thing is for the management and drivers and everyone involved to make sure that those things are minimised."
Much has been written and said about the relaxed atmosphere in the March team. It's a breath of fresh air in the F1 paddock. Did Mauricio feel that?
"It's a professional team," he explains, "but, at the same time, it is relaxed. That helps you, especially in your first year. Everyone is working to be successful. At the moment it's the happiest team around. That's because we are going up. It's difficult to get up there, but probably more difficult to stay there."
The team has lost Cesare Gariboldi over the winter, the Italian having been killed in a road accident a few weeks ago. Will that have an effect?
"Cesare was the guy who put the whole thing together and he's someone without whom we wouldn't be here. In the back of the minds that will always be there. He was a guy that everyone liked to have around and he'll be missed."
"I think there is no doubt that we are capable of being in the top six consistently this year. With the reliablity improving, I think we are capable of winning. It would be silly to think about the championship, but with a bit of luck and things right on the day, we could win."
Any Formula 1 team is only as good as its car, so how about the new March?
"It is a progression of the 1988 car," he says carefully. "It wouldn't be wise to change that much. Our car proved to be very nice in high speed corners. There are areas we have to improve and I think the new car will do that.
"The engine is the big question. I have faith in Adrian's designs and also in John Judd, but to build a car is one thing, to build an engine is slightly different. The time factor is more of a problem and even with the best brains, John cannot have the same resources to be able to react as quickly as Honda.
"I hope he finds power and reliablility, because I think that will be one of the major factors this year."
Reliability was something of a problem for March last year, and Mauricio seemed to have more than his fair share of breakdowns and problems.
"Statistically," he says, "I finished eight races and Ivan finished nine, but I did more racing miles than he did. In some of the races I did finish, I had all kinds of silly problems inside the car. I don't call it unlucky, along the
way something wasn't done properly. That's part of the learning curve for everybody.
"Up until the middle of the year things were looking very good. Silverstone and Hungary were where I had my best results. Towards the end of the year I had a few problems. The last two races would have been very good if I hadn't damaged the car in Suzuka.
"For me the best race was Silverstone. It was my first points in F1, the conditions were not easy, and it was really my first real drive in those conditions.
"One race which I enjoyed a lot was Spa. I had a big clutch problem from the start, I lost a lot of positions, but I came through the field quite nicely until I locked it up because I had no clutch. That was good because every lap
you were passing someone."
Taken as a whole, was F1 what he expected? And did he enjoy it?
"It was a strange feeling being in Formula 1," he remembers. "It was my first F1 season, but I had been following F1 since I was in Formula 3, going to Grands Prix and knowing the goings-on of the paddock. I didn't find many things different from what I expected.
"I enjoyed it very much. I am just starting this life and it's a very satisfying thing to do. The biggest thing that I really didn't expected was the travelling. That surprised me. I was based in England, but you know I spent one and a half months in England, three and half months in Brazil and for the rest of the time I was travelling. Can you believe it!
"There were not more tests than I expected, they were just longer. In smaller formulae you have more tests for shorter periods, but in F1 you tend to have fewer test session, but they go on longer -- some for four days. Sometimes it was quite stressful. On the other hand, it was very good for my first year
because I got a lot of miles in the car.
"There is no way of cutting down the travelling. Really you just have to get used to it...
"Another thing I expected was that the circuits would be more difficult to learn than they were. A few I found I had a bit of a problem, but not nearly as bad as I expected."
Mauricio is, of course, a longtime friend of World Champion Ayrton Senna. His name was linked with Senna from the moment he arrived in Europe from Brazil. His first contract in the UK with Van Diemen was organised through Ayrton, and for several years the two shared a house in England. Is he still thought of as a Senna protege at home in Brazil?
"No," he explains. "Now they think of me as Mauricio. Fortunately in Brazil F1 is very popular. Over a quarter of the population are now watching Grands Prix on television. Nelson won the championship and then it was Ayrton. The sport is getting more popular than football. It's great. We have not only specialised magazines but also the every day papers give the sport lots of space. It's bad for the young guys coming up, but for Brazilian drivers in F1 it is easier."
Competing against Senna in F1 must have made friendship difficult on occasion. Has it changed their relationship much?
"Before we could sit down for hours and talk about races," he says, "but now we have no subject because obviously Ron Dennis doesn't allow him to say things and I'm not going say anything about the March. Naturally you divert a little bit. Last year during the races he was full time into it, the same as I was. Because we are always away I didn't have much contact with him. Every time I had a talk with him I found him the same."
And will Ayrton's winning ways be the same in 1989?
"You have to go for McLaren as favourites for sure," comments Mauricio. You'd be silly not to. But there are a lot of people in the paddock who are working hard to stop this. I think it'll be very good this year. Last year everybody suffered. The only two who didn't were Alain and Ayrton..."
Since then Mauricio has suffered only from an irate jet ski, still it's nice to know that even the nice guys suffer a little from time to time...