'In our day we got paid to drive' - Mansell and Piquet on modern F1
Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell had plenty to say about their famous F1 rivalry during their recent interview on Brazilian television.
The pair also discussed the state of the sport today including the challenges facing young drivers trying to get into F1, balancing sport versus entertainment, and motor racing in Brazil.
Piquet on the podium
Mansell’s most recent involvement with modern F1 has been as an FIA steward. And Piquet made an appearance at last year’s season finale where he conducted the podium interviews.
Shortly before he stepped out to talk to Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Piquet was surprised to be told he wasn’t allowed to talk about the championship, which had just been won by Sebastian Vettel.
“They said the championship was not decided in that moment,” explained Piquet. “You have to wait for maybe February to see if the car was not out of regulation.”
“The thing is too complicated. I said ‘Come on, everybody knows the guy won the championship, everybody knows Alonso lost the championship’. And the guy was screaming in my ear ‘don’t talk about the championship!’.”
“They don’t let you tell nothing,” he continued. “You cannot talk about the championship, you cannot talk about anything, you cannot swear, you cannot say nothing… and I said ‘shut up’ and ask what I want’.
“I want to really interview Hamilton, talk about his new earrings, but he didn’t give me chance. Button I said ‘you must be very happy that Hamilton left the team…’”
“To be popular is something but you have to win”
Both Mansell and Piquet have children who’ve competed in motor racing but Mansell admitted he was “disappointed” when his sons Leo and Greg wanted to give it a try.
“It’s very difficult, today is so different because the money involved today… people are paying millions to be a Formula One driver. In our day we used to get paid money to race in Formula One. And the dynamics have changed so much.
“We had a decision three, four years ago where what money we were spending in motor racing we would spend on the charity [UK Youth] to help children. And this is much better feeling.”
Nelson Piquet Jnr has been racing in NASCAR Trucks since his controversial departure from Formula One four years ago. “After the big problem we had with Renault the first two years he spent the money he got in the court case,” his father explained. “And now he got some sponsors and he’s continuing in America and he’s happy there.”
The young Piquet won twice last year and also came top in a fan vote to find the most popular driver. But his father is more interested in his success on the track.
“I hope he’ll be the champion, that’s the main thing,” said Piquet. “To be popular is something but you have to win races and win the championship.”
Piquet was characteristically blunt when asked whether he felt popular when he was racing: “No. I don’t give a shit for that!”
“A logjam of good drivers”
The pair praised the current generation of F1 stars but also pointed out they face different challenges as drivers: “I think they are very good, I’m not in doubt of that,” said Piquet.
“Of course they change a little bit, a lot. Before we need to – how can I explain – you need to know more about the car and work more about the engineers.
“Me and Mansell we were working in a time with no telemetry and had to explain how the cart is doing. Today you need to be very quick and don’t make mistakes for 70 laps. That’s it. If you can do that, it’s OK. But in those times you need to set up the car… it was more complicated.”
The risk of injury has also fallen since they left F1, and Mansell pointed out this has affected the sport in different ways:
“I think that the biggest thing to explain – it is a problem with the system of to in some ways, which is a good problem – is when Nelson and I were driving every year, unfortunately, someone died or was injured out the sport because when there was accident when we were racing you got a bad injury.
“And you didn’t necessarily have to die but you weren’t fit enough to drive – because there was no run-offs. Today you can have the cars going all over the circuit and come back on the circuit and no one gets injured which is fantastic from a safety point of view.”
“It’s less challenging,” Piquet interjected. “It’s a little bit less challenging,” Mansell concurred, “but most importantly there’s a logjam of really good drivers now in GP2 and other series which can’t get into Formula One because of the longevity of drivers in Formula One.”
“When Nelson and I were driving if you had 180-something Grands Prix or upwards of 200 Grands Prix was the most fantastic career. And now you have drivers, Rubens Barrichello has over 300 Grands Prix. And Jenson Button has well over 200 Grands Prix. So the whole dynamics have changed in a big way.”
The sport has also become more focused on entertainment and both drivers expressed reservations about changes that have been made for that reason. “The regulations now are so different with the Drag Reduction System,” said Mansell.
“When you were slipstreaming years ago you had to pull out and then you were sort of creeping past. But now with the drag reduction you just go like that,” he said, swiping the air with his hand. “It’s a bit easier.”
“It is not exactly natural but it is what it is,” Mansell concluded, “but it makes it exciting for the fans.”
Piquet was less positive, calling it “show business”. Asked if he liked having DRS and KERS in F1 he said, “well… no.”
Mansell believes making overtaking easier was necessary because the cars had become easier to drive: “They have to do something because all the gearbox is all automatic up and down,” he said.
“Nelson and I we had some races where Nelson won or I beat him with only one mistake, one gear change. It was the only difference between winning and losing.”
Piquet added he would like to see F1 allow more than one tire supplier. “I think if the competition’s for the cars, the competition’s for the engines, they should have the competition for the tires also. Having only one set of tires is making the things much easier.”
Brazilian motor sport “a disaster”
Piquet had plenty to say about the future of motor racing in Brazil, warning that the country’s F1 heritage is in jeopardy: “We have big disorganization.
“Nobody is capable that is in motor racing today and we’re getting worse and worse. In a few years we don’t have nobody from Brazil going out to Europe to race in any categories that can go to Formula One afterwards.”
“I’ve been saying for many years that the people involved with motor racing have to understand a little bit about motor racing to be president of CBA [Confederacao Brasileira de Automobilismo - Brazilian automobile club] and a lot of things have to change,” he added.
“Motor racing in Brazil is a complete disaster. And not now but the last 20 years has been the same.”
But he doesn’t see himself as the person to change it: “Not really. Because there’s too many things to change, and maybe it’s impossible to change.”
The full interview was originally published here but appears to be unavailable at present.