JULY 3, 2011
FOTA Fans Forum - The Drivers
In our final look at the FOTA Fans Forum held at McLaren's Woking base this week, and heavily attended by F1 fans, 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi made themselves available to take questions.
Q: Which of the new rules - new tyres, DRS or KERS - has had the biggest impact on performance for the drivers?
Hamilton: I love the new tyres, I think Pirelli have some an amazing job. I wasn't really sure if they were going to be any good because Bridgestone had been in F1 for so long and had so much experience. But Pirelli have come in and straight away they've lived up to people's expectations, which is pretty impressive. KERS we've had before, so the DRS is probably the most unique part of the new rules for this year. It makes it easier to catch people up and then be in a position to overtake.
Kobayashi: The DRS is a really good system. At the beginning of the season we were a little bit worried about whether or not it was going to be safe, but after a couple of races we started to understand it. It's unique and it's very good. Psychologically it's very important because we don't just use it to overtake. Sometimes we use it when we have a backmarker, for example, and I think it's really cool.
Q: Has the DRS made overtaking too easy?
Hamilton: Before we had the DRS is was very tough to overtake. You could do it, but it depended on the different circuits as to whether or not you'd have the opportunity. What we're trying to achieve with it is to give the drivers a choice about whether or not to overtake. Of course there are some circumstances where you breeze past someone before you get to the braking zone. I passed Michael [Schumacher] last weekend and was able to move back onto the racing line, so it was far too easy. I watched the replay and Eddie Jordan was talking on the BBC about it being a special manoeuvre! It shows how much he knows! It was good to hear him say something good about me.
Q: You two are the best overtakers on the grid. What allows you to overtake when others can't?
Kobayashi: Last year it was very difficult to overtake because you really had to fight to get close to the car in front. You really had to use the strategy and the tyres and you were on the limit. This year, if you have a good car it's easy to overtake; it's less of a job for me to overtake.
Hamilton: It's too easy for Kamui! I think it comes down to whomever's willing to take the biggest risk. There's a fine line between taking the risk and getting past - as I've shown in the last couple of races. It comes down to the mentality you have. I was with David Coulthard and Martin Brundle the other day. We were doing a sport together I did the fastest lap and was on the limit because I take everything to the limit. While I came round flat-out, DC was having a lift and Martin Brundle, who was also there and who's a little bit older, went even slower. What I began to notice is that it might have something to do with age and, as I start to get a little bit older, I might begin to get afraid of going fast through the corners. When you're attacking someone into a corner, my attitude right now is I'm young, I have nothing to lose.
Q: What does it feel like to actually pull off a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre?
Kobayashi: I started in F1 with Toyota at the end of 2009. I did a couple of overtaking manoeuvres at the last race and everyone was surprised. They asked me how I did this overtaking and I replied that it was normal! When your engineer understands that you can overtake, he'll give you the more aggressive strategy, which is good for me.
Hamilton: It's exhilarating. It's probably the most exciting part of the race, when you're not too fast compared to the guy in front. You're just creeping up on him and looking to see where he's weaker so that you can attack next time around. There's a real science to it; I love it. Every person you catch you want to overtake immediately, but you learn how easy or difficult they are to overtake, so you have loads of things to weigh up. It's massively, massively rewarding when do eventually get past someone. I don't know if you've ever heard me, but I get really pumped up. I'm immediately on the radio and asking who I can attack next, I want to have that feeling again.
Q: With all the technology that we have at our disposal, how can we find out who the best driver is?
Hamilton: That's not easy. The simple way of doing that is to have everyone in exactly the same car and to have them go out at pretty much the same time because the conditions are always changing. From the beginning of qualifying to the end of the qualifying the track evolves, and there have been laps compared to Jenson where I've had an amazing lap and for some reason I'll be 5kph slower than him down the straight. It might be that for that one straight I got a headwind. So it would be difficult to have exactly the same conditions for every driver, but putting us in the same car is the only way you'll truly see who's the fastest driver.
Kobayashi: I have a couple of interesting ideas, although I'm sure no-one will agree! I want to split the cars between the drivers at every race.
Hamilton: I'm sure you do, but I don't want to drive your car!
Kobayashi: One day I'd be driving a Hispania and the next I might be in a McLaren. It would be cool, no?
Hamilton: If you were to do that, conditions would be changing all the time. So how would you actually know from one track to the next who's better out of you and me? The only time you can compare two drivers is when they're in the same car in the same conditions. That's why you're always trying to be faster than your team-mate because that's the only evidence you can have about whether or not you're better.
Q: Is there a way we could get a camera into the cockpit to get the same view as you when you're driving?
Hamilton: When I'm playing a Playstation game, the view I use is the one on the top of the roll-hoop like on TV because it's much easier from up there! I was thinking you could might be able to have a camera inside our visors, on the cheek pad, to give you a real driver's view. It would be interesting for you to see that because it's a massive difference to the one you get on TV.
Kobayashi: I think the same as Lewis. Our view is very different to the one you see on TV. I think it would also be interesting for the people at home to get the information we get, such as information about a part of the track being dirty. This is very important for us. The camera idea is also a very good one.
Hamilton: You couldn't have just one camera, you'd have to have one on each cheek piece and then pull the images together somehow, just like your eyes.
Q: If you could ask Ayrton Senna one question, what would it be?
Hamilton: How do you start a conversation with someone like that? When you meet someone you're a huge admirer of, you're always nervous and when you come away from the conversation you probably ask yourself, "what the hell was I thinking"? I probably wouldn't ask him anything about racing. Before I got to F1, I always thought I'd never ask a famous person for an autograph because they're always being asked for autographs. You have a conversation and hopefully they appreciate that more. I'd probably ask Senna about his favourite music. It would be interesting to see what floated his boat.
Kobayashi: I don't know what I'd ask him. Maybe what car do you drive?
Hamilton: I know what I'd also ask him: how did he qualify a second ahead of everyone at Monaco!
Q: Kamui, you also wanted to talk about the Japan Earthquake appeal that you're involved in?
Kobayashi: A few months ago we had a terrible earthquake in Japan. The situation is much better now, but it's going to take more than 10 years to get things back to normal because so many people lost their houses and their jobs. Already we have had a lot of support from people and we've given a lot of wishes to a lot of people. We have organised a lot of events to raise money and, if we can, I'd like to invite people who have been affected to Suzuka for free. It's not easy to do because tickets in F1 are very expensive, but I want to invite people. I think we can get more people interested in F1 too because F1 is a really great job, especially for young guys like us.