Australia’s last Formula 1 World Champion, Alan Jones, remains a popular figure in the sport over thirty years on from him becoming the Williams team’s first title-winner.
The no-nonsense 67-year-old had an action-packed time in Melbourne for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but took time out of his schedule to discuss the newest rule changes, how Australia can support up-and-coming racing talent, and the rebirth of his beloved Williams team. As always, it’s an interesting read.
Speaking of noise, or lack thereof, what do you think about the sound of the 2014 Formula 1 cars?
Not much! I understand what the regulations change is all about, I understand the evolution of the sport and appreciate the technology involved. But at the end of the day, I’m more interesting in racing, overtaking and wheel-to-wheel action.
The noise, to a certain extent, is secondary to that. Having said that, I prefer a screaming engine.
And from an aesthetics standpoint, we’ve seen some interesting designs, particularly with the front-end treatment of this year’s cars…
I don’t mind that. The different interpretations are very interesting. Last year’s cars were all very ‘samey’, and it’s great to see some individuality with the looks of the cars.
Coming out of Friday practice, it’s possibly a little too early to tell who’s up there and who’s not. What’s been your impression of proceedings so far?
I was pleasantly surprised there wasn’t more attrition in practice than I’d anticipated; there were more cars circulating consistently than I thought there would be.
The cream still rises to the top, and for me the most pleasing aspect of it was to see Williams up there.
Their rebound has been extremely positive, and they’ve looked good in pre-season testing.
Felipe Massa is really happy there, and Valtteri Bottas has the talent to rise to the occasion. I’ve never seen the team in a happier, more positive mood for the last eight or ten years.
The car looks gorgeous too. They’ve landed an iconic sponsor in Martini Racing, which has been around motorsport for decades in rallying, sports cars and Formula 1.
Williams is at the forefront of a change in the Formula 1 landscape, particularly in terms of a greater presence of women in senior positions. You have Claire [Williams] anointed at the team’s eventual figurehead, while Susie Wolff is on board as their development driver. What is your take on this very organic evolution?
Claire is doing a great job! She’s the one who has been responsible for most of the changes at the team.
I think that this change has been inevitable and it’s terrific. With things like the advent of power steering, the cars would be physically easier to drive, and there’s no reason why a female racing driver couldn’t do a job as good as any male driver.
We’re now back down to one Australian on the grid following Mark Webber’s move to the World Endurance Championship. It mirrors your move away from Formula 1 when you retired, although your switch was to touring cars in Australia and sports car racing in Japan. What advice would you offer to him?
At the end of the day, Mark simply has to please himself. There’s only one person who knows the reasons for his decision, and that’s Mark. Obviously, he’s become fed up with all of the travel and everything else that comes with Formula 1. I think he’ll have a ball with Porsche, he’ll enjoy himself in sports car racing.
We all know how tough the environment in Formula 1 is at the moment from a commercial standpoint. It begs the question – particularly given how hard it is to break into more senior championships – of where and how the next Australian Formula 1 driver will break in. What support are you able to offer using your profile as Australia’s last World Champion?
I’ll supply as much support and advice as I possibly can. I’m just as eager to see as many Aussies racing overseas as possible.
At the moment, Patrick Wedes [Jones’ manager] and I are trying to help Steel Guiliana and further his career. He’s extremely talented and as keen as mustard; he’s been over to Abu Dhabi and seen one of the test sessions.
Australian industries and companies need to get behind some of our young drivers as well. If a Venezuelan petroleum company can get behind Pastor Maldonado, and Brazilian banks getting behind their local drivers, I can’t see why some larger companies can’t part with a few bob to back a young Australian.
You’re working with Network Ten for another year to cover the Formula 1 World Championship. How have you found your return to the studio and trackside as a pundit?
It’s been great. I like working with [co-hosts] Darryl Beattie and Greg Rust – he’s good fun, quite a character. We all get along tremendously.
Along with that, and with the odd gig as an FIA Steward, it keeps me in the loop, which is what I want to do.
I did the Spanish Grand Prix last year and I was meant to do Korea as well, but didn’t, so they might be punishing me for that (laughs).
As a steward, you’re privy to a huge amount of the technology that’s available to stewards and the FIA. It’s mind-boggling, I would love the general public to have more of an insight into the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Even the entire TV compound here is like a space station. There are 170 people working in it, and come Sunday night all of the innards will be taken out of it and transferred to the facility they’ve already built in Sepang for the race in two weeks’ time. That’s the sort of stuff that’s really impressive and fans should have more access to understand it.
Formula 1 is having an increased presence in the public through film projects like SENNA, RUSH and the documentary 1. What are your thoughts on how F1 is marketing itself in this regard?
I’ve not yet seen the 1 documentary, but I am really impressed with what’s been happening. The only thing that pisses me off is that I’m not a part of it because I’m fifteen years too late!
This has become a global sport, and you have to give full credit to Bernie Ecclestone for that, who has really made Formula 1 household brand. It would have been unheard of ten years ago to consider that you would have had an Indian Grand Prix, and later this year it’ll be off to Russia.
Meanwhile in Melbourne, there’s this debate over whether race continues, or at least there are a few fools who are even considering the very idea…
We extend our thanks to Alan’s management for making this interview opportunity possible.