. racecar f1 driver interviews
Tiago Monteiro, Minardi F1 Test Driver - then F1 driver with Midland F1
I had come very close to meeting with Tiago Monteiro in 2003 during my Champ Car Interview Series. He had of course driven with Emerson Fittipaldi's Fittipladi Dingham team in their rookie racing year.
In 2004, his position had changed, and as it turns out, the day I met him was also the day he was officially named 2004 Minardi Test Driver. Needless to say he was over the moon.
The affable son of a Portuguese father and Brazilian mother, had in his seven year career, which began as Rookie of the Year (and Group B Champion) in the Porsche Carrera Cup in 1997, seen a great deal of the world, including all of the wonderful places that Champ Car visits on it's trek across the globe. His favorite destination, like every other Champ Car Driver I'd spoken to, was Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia. Was it the Miss Indy Girls? I wondered aloud, knowing this was the reason most of the other guys had given... "Yes," he nodded, smiling, "and the scenery, and the enourmous amount of promotional stuff the teams had the spare time to do given we arrived in Australia 2 weeks before the event to get over jet lag.". How long did F1 allow for jet lag, I wondered. "We arrived yesterday (Tuesday), the race is Sunday."
So where else did his travels take him that he enjoyed? "You know, any of the three Canadian Champ Car destinations were awesome. Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Every one of them rocked and Canadian fans are incredible. I look forward to visiting Montreal again this year with Team F1 Minardi."
Champ Car had also taken him to both Mexico City and Monterrey, which, as Latin destinations, he enjoyed very much, for their color and flavour, but when asked which he preferred he was hard put for a favorite. "Each has something very special to offer the fan and the driver."
And other destinations he knew from the F1 trail? "Well my favorite of all is Barcelona". Hanging out at La Ramabala? I asked. Not just that, that's very touristy, going a little further out, to enjoy the food and the area. I love very much to visit Segrada Familia, the church, you know, and the Port Olympic in the city. But also the Spanish countryside is beautiful."
He reminded me too that, as well as test driving for Minardi, he was contracted to drive a full season for World Series by Nissan, which would see him travel even further than his F1 teammates, including a visit to Brunai, which he was very much looking forward to.
And where does this weatlhy, happy, and very busy race driver live? "I live in Oporto, Portugal."
Paul Stoddart, Minardi Racing Team Principal
When I met Paul Stoddart at the Minardi 2004 launch he'd just been grilled for over an hour by Australian Press that had no other real chance of getting anywhere near any F1 interviews. He looked drawn and seemed rethinking what he'd said. He was both bringing in the new year and the new Minardi PS04b and hawking a new low budget airline he was starting in Australia. When I handed him my card and began to tell him what I do, he looked suspicious and a little flustered at first, as though I might be trying to sell him something. I wasn't, he cottoned on, and gave a quick disclaimer that as team boss he only ever saw the airport and the track.
"Nothing else?" I asked, "So where's your favorite airport and track," I asked.
The airports are the same, of the tracks my favorite is Spa Francorchamps. But in terms of events and race facilities, Melbourne is the tops BY FAR!"
Now it was time for me to look a little skeptical. It was well known that Stoddart was a Melbourne "boy", having grown up in the suburb to the North, Coburg, that holds Melbourne's main jail, Pentridge. "You're not being biased are you?" I wondered.
"No, not at all. This place really is the best run, and the teams are the best looked after right here at Albert Park." He said pointing at the pit area. "There's no other place like it in the world.".
"So where else do you look forward to when looking at the F1 Calendar in December/January?"
"Well, there's Spa for the racing, and Melbourne for the hospitality and I really do like to visit Montreal. There's something about that town that I really like, something about the fans. Particularly fans of Minardi since there's a great club there that we do things with every year."
"I kind of like visiting Monaco because of it's racing heritage, like Spa, but it will be mounds better for teams when they finally finish work on the pits area. I'm looking forward to that!"
And the new Bahrain Grand Prix Circuit and Shanghai International Cirucit?
"Well, I haven't seen the Shanghai Circuit yet but it looks like it will be phenomenal, and I'm hoping it'll prove great for racing. In fact that the new destinations have come about says a lot for the organization and gives a great deal of hope for the future of F1."
I wished Paul good luck, we struck a pose for the camera, and he went away to shake off the interview storm, and no doubt, knowing of his reputation as the "squeeky wheel" of Formula One, to drum up some further controversy to make life among the jet set last a little longer for the back marking team with a relatively miniscule budget.
Zsolt Baumgartner, Minardi F1 driver, #19
Before coming to F1, Zsolt Baumgartner, a native of Budapest, Hungary, had driven Formula 3000 amongst other series so he was well used to many of the destinations on the Formula One Calendar. Proud of his home country and in fact sponsored by the local travel tourism commission, when asked his favorite destination it was, without surprise, Budapest. Of course, in Hungary he is a superstar of sport, having achieved with his drive in 2 GPs for Jordan in 2003 (Hungary, DNF; Italy 11th) and now with a full year ahead of him with Minardi, something that no other Hungarian had ever done!
I asked him about his first 4 days in Melbourne, Australia, a place he'd never been, and he told me that he had found the people open and friendly and the weather (it was fine and sunny all week) quite wonderful after a long European winter.
He looked forward very much, he said, in his clipped, heavy accent, to other first time destinations on the F1 calendar, like Bahrain and Shanghai.
Gianmaria "Gimmi" Bruni, Minardi F1 driver, #20
My brief interview with "Gimmi", as Gianmaria Bruni is nicknamed, began after he'd done over 2 dozen other interviews with all of the press assembled for the 2004 Minardi PS04b launch. He looked a little beat and more than a little starstruck given the attention he simply hadn't been used to, either as a 2003 Minardi test driver or during his time with the F3000 Euro series.
When he realized that I wasn't wanting to talk to him about clutches and engines his face lit up a little and soon he was chatting away about his experiences "on the road". A destination that returned again and again in our conversation was America. He was particularly keen to get to Indianapolis and to race where so many champions had raced before, but generally also to take as much time before the USGP as possible to visit places in the United States, with New York as first of his choices, and with a great interest to watch a NASCAR event if the opportunity arose.
The 23 year old lives in Rome, and I wondered if the Italian had experienced one of the 2 regular Formula One races held in his own country. "No, I'd never been as a spectator... My father and his friends were involved in rally cross and as a child I often attended such events with them. I was the kid who wiped the windows! These were small low/no budget teams that needed all the help they could get. I can't remember ever being to a race simply as a fan."
And as he got older? "A team mate of mine once drove on the Nurburgring and I was invited to see the race not that long ago. This was fun." Was he in the pits as a guest? "No, I sat in the stands looking over the pits. So, I guess this was a spectator experience. Although it's different if you are watching your friend!"
How much effort was involved with getting to Formula One, I asked. "Much. Very much effort. But just getting here is one thing. Showing you deserve to be here is another. It takes more than 110%." Is it tiring, I wondered. "It can be, you must be fit and ready for anything, the schedule can be grueling, as can be the demands outside the race car." By which I expected he was refering to his recent experience with the jaundiced international media which had given him a once over to meet one of the newest drivers to the F1 scene, not the least the Italian media, which was there.
And did he hope to one day drive for Ferrari, as an Italian in an Italian machine? "But of course, but then I want to drive in the best team with the best budget, to really show what I am capable of. If in a few years this is Williams or Ferrari, I want to drive with such a team." In a few years the best team may be Minardi, I quipped...and he replied in Italian, with a big smile, "Speriamo!"... (We shall see, we hope).
I asked if he planned to see anything special in Melbourne. "The checkered flag!"
Bas Leinders, Friday Test Driver, Minardi F1 team
Of the five interviews I did at the Minardi 2004 Car Launch at the Albert Park Circuit, the time I spent with Belgian Bas Leinders was the richest and most rewarding. As the launch wound down, Bas and I had the chance to sit in the warm Australian afternoon sun enjoying drinks and take some time to discuss issues far beyond my usual travel oriented interest.
While a rookie to the world of F1, appointed just that day as official Friday Test driver, Bas was no stranger to either motorsport or championsips. He had, in fact, been German F3 Champion and come 3rd in the standing in 2 consecutive years in the Nissan World Series.
To say he'd traveled a great deal to pursue his passions is an understatement. Unlike many drivers, though, there was a sense the Bas has relished not only the oportunities to compete that his travels had offered him but that he also took the chance to enjoy cultural and culinary treats along the way.
When the discussion began and I introduced myself he thought I wanted to simply discuss all destinations, just travel in general, but when I defined my focus as limited to "places that host races", his chest sank a little realizing how many favorite destinations we couldn't discuss.
"My wife is a graduate of art history," he said, "which means we make time, when on the road, to visit very many museums and galleries. She opens my eyes to so much in the world of Art!"
I was amazed, not that Bas liked art, he's human, well educated and traveled, but that as a racing driver whose talent and persistance had brought him knocking on the door of a Formula One drvie, that he had time for what many drivers might consider "trivialities".
"One has to make time", Bas esplained, "either every day or week or sometimes every month, to take time and say 'no motor sport for a minute.' This gives you energy. I tried for so long to get into F1 and my friends in Belgium would say, "'Bas, this is a dream you may not achieve, take some time to live!' It was these times I was reminded that not ony were there people who cared for me very much but that they were right!"
We discussed the greats of the sport and agreed that there were some that would have been still greater man if they took some time to "live life", to enjoy art, the places their craft had allowed them to visite and to spend longer with their families. "It seems almost as if they fear the loss of their talend without constant application, but no one looking at these people would every doubt their talent. You can learn to push a car, to know its limits, learn your own, and then you must take a breath."
The conversation turned to the need for a good car to exploit these talents and more specifically to the question asked many times in racing circles, is the discrepency between the top and bottom teams in Formula One fair?
Again philosophical, Bas didn't blink. "It's like life, the rich go faster". Newspapers in Melbourne were full of stories based around Benneton Renault driver Fernando Alonso's statement that F1 drivers were lucky rather than the best in the world. "It is true", Bas chimed in, "Sad, but true. There were many people I raced against in go carts, for example, that were as good as me, but many of them will never achieve even to be a test driver for F1. There is luck and talent."
So what about other race series where vehicles are equal arguably NASCAR for example? "Oh.. that's something I'd love to do. To take a car at that speed with such a large number of closely matched entries and to drive on a banked oval!". His face quite lit up at the thought. "That would be spectacular! And for the fans too, there is nothing like NASCAR. I have never been to a race but I watch on TV and I'm sure that on an oval you must see everything. It must be the most exciting spectacle in all motorsport. Also the drivers are accessable and the drivers meet and greet fans, the paddock is open all weekend for fans. What could be better?"
Is it a dream to be employed by a Formula 1 team? Do you pinch yourself? "Yes in many ways and no in another. It is an achievemnet and it has been a dream for many years. An achievement is more than a dream come true. It is not a lottery where all you need is a dollar to enter. I came very close for many years to this sitauation but missed out for various reasons. Now I am ready and the achievement is the result of may efforts. So I have reached a goal. It is a relief really, but yes, I still pinch myself!"
So, back to travel, Where had Mr. Leinders enjoyed visiting? "Barcelona! I love to visit there. I also like to visit Macau and Hong Kong for the food, and even Monaco, although I have limited experience because I was never a fan there, only in the paddock and out again."
A favorite Motorsport Museum? "Yes, the best in the world is the Donnington Grand Prix Collection. Astounding! The extent of the exhibits there, the history all around. It is the New York Museum of Modern Art of the race world. I recommend to any race fan that they visit. Both!"
And where would F1 take Bas that he hadn't been? "Bahrain, but is there anything there but sand?" he joked. "Of course there was," I kidded back that he should look at my Bahrain travel guide before he ventured there. He and his wife would find much in the way of art and culture to enjoy during their "working" visit.
NOTE: On the Friday after this interview (030504) it was reported that Bas was deemed by the FIA not to have completed sufficient laps to qualify for a super licence so as to take up his role as Friday Test Driver. He needed to leave Melbourne for Europe to drum up these laps and would rejoin the team in Sepang for the second race of the 2004 season.
I extend my thanks to the Minardi F1 Team, their press office, and the underlying "available" policy of team principal, Paul Stoddart, for allowing those not usually allowed access to the world of Formula 1 a look at the workings of the machine, and the "real people" involved in making it run.
Godspeed Minardi, Cvetko Ostroznik
2004 Wilux Minardi f1 Team Vehicle Launch
the minardi f1 PS04B.
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