Peter Windsor on modern F1 and remembering Ayrton Senna

Image“Formula 1 is far too artificial”, Peter Windsor explains as he evaluates the current incumbent of drivers and racing models. Unlike in part one of this interview, Peter’s tone became animated as we discussed the current restrictions imposed by ever-changing regulations.

“This era is probably worse than a lot of other eras”, his views were bold and honest.  Peter noted in particular, the change in the points system which makes records easier to break – Michael Schumacher’s record for the most championship points in one season has been surpassed by many drivers under the new system.

“What does  25 overtaking manoeuvres prove because you have an artificial device? I will always remember the last race in Imola where Alonso and Schumacher were playing a game of cat and mouse. There was only one overtaking manoeuvre but it was enthralling.”

I could not help but nod in approval. I admired his honesty and the sincerity he displayed as the differences within the last few decades became apparent.

“The 2014 engine regulations may be good for environment and politics but we must remember we kicked Toyota out and need an explanation why. The general public we want to win over will need incredible access to knowledge on the world feed.”

Sadly this is not always provided.  

The regulations were a source of great interest during our interview, which later turned into a lengthy conversation, as Peter continued to dissect the sport he loves with a methodical approach. “If the budget to win a Grand Prix is 50% less than now, the cars would be ten seconds slower. The public would not notice this as the television would make it fast.” This, he explains, would bring the cost of running a team down and will attract more title sponsors who are favouring cheaper sports at present.  

“I never would but I would like to ask Bernie Ecclestone, in all sincerity as a friend, ‘Bernie how do you sleep at night? Do you think of all that juggling or do you think of something simple to close your day?’”

Growing up, it was Peter’s work I read religiously. Subsequently, I could not help but be fascinated by his thought process and absolute reluctance to see the sport change too much. His perspective as a journalist and former Team Manager at Williams is unique; there are very few people still working in Formula 1 with his level of experience.

ImagePeter Windsor began working in the 1970s during a very different time for the sport. I was curious about how he viewed the financial demands we spoke so frequently about in part one of this interview.

His main criticism was of Formula 1’s ever increasing demand for finance through drivers and the media. “I think F1 has done a great job over the last 20 and 30 years  to ensure that the money goes straight to F1”. The general trend, he says, is that the money available goes to the very top of the sport. “The rest of Motorsport is surviving due to family connections or government funding”.

Formula 1, unlike other sports, does not contribute enough to its future, Peter argued. He remained animated as he explained how the future of certain drivers in Motorsport is looking in danger.

“We race in Korea and China but we don’t do anything to promote F1 or the first driver from those countries. Formula 1 needs to be more realistic”.

It is Peter’s belief that drivers from countries with emerging market places would be worthwhile investments for Formula 1’s long term future as Eastern Asia becomes more and more Motorsport literate.“Lotus and Marlon Stockinger are doing this well. He could be the next big thing in Singapore and they are hoping to build funding around him. This is the best option”.

To Peter, this was the reason why he would not label this decade as the ‘golden era’, to use a popular phrase. “I think that a golden era is a purely subjective thing but from a personal viewpoint, I would say the 1960s.The 1.5 litres are the most beautiful cars ever built. I like that they raced before sponsorship and with national colours”.

There were less fatalities with the 1.5 litre engines than one might expect, another factor contributing to his decision. “The 1960s for me was a lovely time. Watching someone like Clark and could have watched that all day”.

I nodded, smiling as Peter once again mentioned ‘Jimmy’. His voice had, by now, become less animated as Peter returned to his former reminiscent tone.

Ayrton Senna is to some, what Jim Clark was to a young, impressionable Peter Windsor – a source of great inspiration. Beacons of hope for those who come from modest backgrounds who, one day, hope to make it in a truly competitive industry. I know many young drivers agree with statement.

“I got to know Ayrton in Formula Ford 2000. I was very impressed by his general demeanour, the way he spoke about driving and where he was going with his career. We were close thereafter”. During their friendship, Peter saw Ayrton struggle to maintain his future in Motorsport, a truth I found startling given his stature in Formula 1 history.

“After his final Formula Ford 2000 race at Thruxton, he told me he was close to retirement and he was going back to Brazil. It felt very much like the current problems”. I was shocked that Ayrton was close to retirement at such an early stage in his career. It was a sobering thought and made me wonder, in that moment, just what Formula 1 would have been like without him.

Trusting Peter’s opinion as I do, I was curious as to how he viewed the Brazilian’s unconventional racing style.

“I rated Martin Brundle highly back then so I had slight reservations about his driving. He did brake test Martin a couple of times on the straight (braking earlier than expected)”. Similarly, at Cavell Park in Formula 3, Ayrton did not spin or lock up. Instead he became airborne, a feat Peter then described as a “classic Ayrton accident”.

I did develop those things but I equally I loved his linear approach and attention to detail. Once I asked him to talk me through a lap of Macau and he spent 25 minutes talking me through that. Every man hole cover. Everything.”

So accurate was his description that Peter finished second in his own race around the circuit. “He made allowances for me being a novice”, he explained. The modesty reappeared in that moment.  

ImageSenna’s reputation was often cemented at Monaco, a place of pilgrimage for Motorsport fans everywhere. Very professionally, and surprisingly if you ask me, Monaco does not hold a special place in his heart. “It has a different atmosphere; you are always aware of your surroundings. Monaco is a difficult circuit as it is all about qualifying well.”

Peter explained how Carlos Reutemann was the perfect example of this as he would remain quick for only three corners and then would suddenly pick up the pace to the finish line. This is a logical way  to approach Monaco as it enables a driver to save the tyres at a critical moment.

“For me is a difficult race because my two favourites, Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell didn’t win there. This has always annoyed me. Carlos Reutemann winning in 1980 kind of makes up for Jimmy”, he clarified with a laugh.

“I know how much Carlos wanted to win there. His pole lap in 1978 was the best individual lap I have ever seen”. The same accolade fell to Nigel Mansell who, besides Jim Clark, Peter’s focus always seemed to be on. “The first time Nigel went to Monaco in 1980 he had a diabolical car. You only had to hit the kerb once and the front suspension would almost bend double.” Such was the standard of his storytelling, I felt for a moment I was in Monaco with him that day.

“None of the other drivers in the field qualified for the Formula Three final but Nigel did. He finished 12th and nobody noticed it but to me, it was a brilliant drive”. Peter believed that his 1980 drive was on par to his 1992 Monaco performance but “no one saw it”.

1992 was, of course, the year of glory for Nigel Mansell and a return to the top spot for Williams. Peter was Sponsorship Manager and, later, Team Manager for the team so I was intrigued by how he assessed their chances going forward.

“There are so many things in the team, at the moment, that are there from ten years ago but I think they will do well with a Mercedes engine.” Valterri Bottas, a driver whose career Peter has been following with some interest, “is a potential GP winner of the future.

With a good engine and a very good driver”, their forecast looks promising. “One suspects that Pat Symonds will bring some logic to their approach. What I will say about Williams is that they suffer from being too big and having too many people there.

Big is not necessarily better, I am a firm believer in that”.

Peter’s honesty is not unusual; he has been very vocal in these views before. He is not swayed by his heart but instead makes articulate points that are both feasible and sensible for the future of Formula 1. It is clear how he has become a well-regarded figure.

Joining Bottas on a list of, potentially great, young drivers are Antonio Felix da Costa, Nick Yelloly (“who no one seems to talk about”), James Calado, Conor Daly, Mitch Evans and Sam Bird, a driver Peter fears may “be left at the wayside”.

Peter’s wisdom combined with his undeniable love for Motorsport has enabled him to forge a successful and varied career and, kindly, he had some advice to share for you all. “Listen and watch ‘The Racer’s Edge’ with Alistair Caudwell who is a case study of how hard you must work in order to succeed in whatever capacity. If you are shocked or scared by that work, find something else; do not bother if you are not committed”.

Peter explained simply that hard work and dedication is essential to a career in Motorsport – luck, he believes, is not a factor. “I don’t believe in luck. Everything happens for a reason, there is always cause and effect”.

This is the second of a two part interview with Peter Windsor in his feature for the ‘From the Pit Lane’ series. In part one, we discussed his childhood inspiration, Jim Clark, his time at Williams F1 and his friendship with Nigel Mansell.

I would like to thank Peter again for his time. To find out more about Peter, and to see his work, click on the links below.
A blog about life – and the racing life: http://peterwindsor.com/
The Racer’s Edge – http://www.youtube.com/user/peterwindsor

Photos are courtesy of Peter Windsor

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