I’m very excited to announce that I’ve managed to persuade Alexander Sims to join the “If I was Bernie” team as our “resident race driver”.
We’ll be collaborating over the coming weeks and months on topics of interest to both of us around F1, young drivers, single seaters and of course Alex’s exploits in GT racing. You will also no doubt be aware that Alex is a great believer in environmental issues, and alternative energy sources.
Now those of you in the know will appreciate just how adaptable this guy’s racing talents are. In 2013 alone Alex has raced in the Blancpain Endurance Series, Formula 3 (T-Sport), GP3 (Status GP and Carlin) and is just back from the Macau GP.
Anyway, we thought it might be a nice introduction for Alex to do a Q & A.
Q.) 2013 has been quite a season with all of the different series you’ve raced in. What has been the most memorable race you’ve been involved in this year and why?
This year started off quite quietly with just 5 Blancpain races planned with McLaren and ended as being the most hectic second half of the year I’ve ever had! There have been quite a few highlights this year as its thankfully been a good one, if I had to pick one though it would probably be the Paul Ricard round of the Blancpain series where we finished 2nd overall. We were not the fastest car outright that weekend but we were streets ahead of the other McLarens and really felt like we achieved the absolute maximum from the 3 hour race. Alvaro started and fought hard to get into fourth position by the time of the first stops. Stef jumped in the car and the team, Hexis, did a superb pit stop which saw us jump to 3rd on exiting the pits. After some heavy pressure from behind, Stef did really well and kept his head down to stay in front, eventually pulling a small gap to make it more comfortable. At the end of his stint I jumped in the car and after another trademark stop from the guys in the pits, I exited and found myself in the lead! Our lap times had not been the best but through consistency and great stops we were in the lead. Managing traffic in that race was insane, especially when you know that you are in the lead, one wrong decision and I would have screwed it up for everyone. We had the Ferrari behind for around 10 laps, frequently on my bumper giving their all to get past, I then started to break away from them but the BMW was catching at an impressive rate. They had been the fastest all race but through the pit stop phases we had jumped them significantly. In the end they drove past me as if I was standing still in the middle of the Double Right after Signes and we had to settle for 2nd position. It felt like a win though and we were
Q.) What is the biggest challenge of stepping from a GT car to a GP3, or a GP3 car to an F3 car? And what’s the key to getting on the pace quickly?
Quite honestly I didn’t find it that much of a challenge jumping in between different categories this year. It was just a case of taking it a bit steady for the first three or four laps and getting accustomed to it again.
Thankfully I have enough experience in F3 and GT3 to know what to expect, GP3 was different this year as it had twice the horsepower compared to when I last drove it so that took some getting used to. I was quickest in the first session out though which proves it wasn’t that hard to get my head around it!
The key to being on the pace quickly is just to be fully focused and methodically attack to find the pace.
All you can do is try your best so each time I just chipped away at it lap after lap and tended to get to a position where I was competitive by the end of the session.
Q.) Other than the winning the Autosport McLaren award in 2008, and joining the “If I was Bernie” blog team (obviously) which achievement in your career has been the most satisfying to date?
Haha, to be honest I think you could drop the Autosport Award from that list, joining the blog really is the one highlight of my career so far 😉
It’s really quite difficult to single out one achievement, thankfully I have been proud and satisfied of a few different things I’ve done. If pushed, I’d probably say standing on the podium at Paul Ricard this year.
Not because of the way the race went, although that in itself was something to be satisfied with, but because it was my first podium as a professional driver.
Q.) Clearly the sponsor attraction and retention is key in all series. How do you go about the process?
It’s difficult, it really is, to try and convince someone in a company to part with their advertising budget, especially as the sums needed are substantially more than for most other sports.
At any level other than F1, DTM and probably Indy car there is such little coverage and exposure compared to the amount of money needed. It simply doesn’t make sense for a company to spend hundreds of thousands to sponsor a driver in F3 or GP2 and get a few thousand people watching the racing.
Inevitably this leads the sport into a situation where it does in most scenarios restrict its participation to relatively affluent families. I am fortunate in this regard as my father was able to pay for my racing up to a point, I also got a very fortunate break in F3 when Gravity Sports Management took me under their wing and managed and paid for my racing for two years.
After this we couldn’t continue in single seaters and so finding an option to be a professional became the priority and thus I went into GT racing.
Q.) Moving onto Single seater series, recent years have seen a lot of drivers largely supported by driver development programmes such as the Red bull driver programme. Are they helping the better drivers through, or stifling the progress of those not as well backed?
I think they have to be seen as helping the better drivers through, most of them have good intentions as far as I can see and do tend to focus on performance rather than other factors.
Of course, as with any business, it is also about who you know as much as how fast you are but still, they are certainly a positive aspect of the motorsport world.
Q.) having worked closely on the McLaren GT programme and racing in the Blancpain and other endurance racing, what do you enjoy most about closed-wheel racing?
I have to say that I’ve hugely enjoyed the GT racing that I have done this year. There is such a great atmosphere at the track between the teams and drivers.
Many people have been in the sport for many years so know the majority those involved at the race weekends which means that mingling and socialising when you have free time is very possible.
Depending on how the weekend goes and the format, sometimes you have 5 minutes free during the whole day or sometimes you have an hour or two and so when you do have spare time, it is lovely to be able to go and talk to friends and be able to speak openly about life and racing.
Aside from this the racing is really as good as it gets, if the racing wasn’t good then I guess I wouldn’t really care about the down time, but because it also ticks that box, that’s why I picked up on it this year. Having mainly done single seater racing, its snot something that is very common in those paddocks (perhaps I just don’t have many friends who drive single seaters and the GT guys haven’t fully got to know me yet!).
Don’t get me wrong, I do get on with people and I would class some from single seaters as the best friends I have in motorsport but there are just not that many of them…
Q.) 2014 is a huge change in engine and tech regs in F1, with a more “road relevant” engine format. The changes have been quite unpopular on the loss of the V8s in particular, but I’m hoping it’s a positive impact, especially with the energy recovery systems and so on. What are you looking forward to seeing most when the ’14 cars hit the track?
It would be wrong for me to say I’m only looking forward to seeing the improved efficiency from the engines and crunching the data to work out how many gallons of fuel will be saved!
However I do think it is a very real issue that faces F1, they have to keep developing the cars in ways which keeps it as relevant as possible to current and future technology in the automotive industry.
For years it was very good at that but since aerodynamics became such an integral part of Formula 1 cars, it certainly has had less relevance and fewer crossover technologies. Increasing energy recovery will certainly improve the investment in the racing world for this technology which can only be a good thing.
With so many manufacturers building and investing in electric propulsion, Formula 1 has to keep a connection to that and help breakthrough barriers that it faces.
I expect that the F1 engine will still sound very good. Maybe not what some people would call the holy grail but its surely still be impressive, and if it’s not then they’ll do something about it pretty quickly.
What I’m looking forward to is seeing how the rule changes affect the performance of the teams and see what ingenious technologies and devices can be invented to give them the extra edge.
Although wholly irrelevant to the real world, I thought that the F Duct was fantastic!
Seeing people find loopholes and exploiting them when others miss them completely is quite good fun.
Q.) Senna or Taki Inoue?
His tweets are far better…
Q.) Who is the guy in the junior series you think has the potential to make it in F1?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. A few I know certainly have the driving potential, so many things need to be right though for F1 to happen.
The likes of Alex Lynn, Felix Rosenqvist and Rafaelle Marciello who all did F3 this year are certainly good enough from what I’ve seen.
I’m sure there are others in different formulas but to say one might make it is tough because even if you do everything right, you may get to F1 and the right seat is not available and then you have to follow a different career direction.
Q.) Of all of your experiences as a racing driver, what gives you the greatest buzz?
Nothing gets close to racing an F3 car around the streets of Macau. Every year I have been there, I come away from the first session with renewed respect for what we do as drivers.
The precision and focus that is needed when driving flat out where the limit is literally the Armco barrier is what most certainly gives the greatest buzz.
The problem comes when you then put your head over the pit wall when the bikes are out and you suddenly feel what you do is completely insignificant!
Then the level of respect for yourself and the other drivers drops and they take up top spot.