Q&A With Nick Chester

It’s been a busy year for Nick Chester. After his boss moved to Ferrari, he found himself leading the technical department of one of the most popular teams in the sport. I had the chance to talk to Nick about his role at Lotus as well as the monumental changes occurring next season that threaten to shape up the competitive structure of Formula One.

Chris Cassingham: We know enormous changes are taking place in the engine and power department for 2014, but what are some of the aerodynamic changes we will see?

Nick Chester: There are regulation changes for a reduced span front wind, lower nose and removal of the lower rear wing. In addition the single tailpipe exit regulation will remove exhaust blowing development. The sidepod area will be shaped differently to account for the increased cooling required with the turbo engine

CC: What were the goals in making the wings and noses lower?

NC: The main goal with the nose is to avoid an accident where the car can be launched. The narrow span front wing and removal of the lower rear wing were brought in to limit aero performance.

CC: What do you think will be the determining factor in competitiveness next season?

NC: There will be various factors. Aero will be important as always but in addition there could be much bigger performance differences between power units that we have seen for many years. The most competitive car will have a strong power unit but will also have managed to integrate it in a very efficient manner.

CC: Will the new regulations require, or at least play into the hands of, certain driving styles?

NC: I don’t think there will be a significant difference to now. It will still be very important to manage tire degradation.

CC: How will the new tires, be them from Pirelli or elsewhere, work with the new engine and aero regulations?

NC: We don’t expect a significant difference in tire loadings and expect the tires to perform broadly as in 2013.

CC: How much of a financial strain will the new regulations put on smaller teams like Lotus?

NC: Obviously, it is a more expensive car to build and develop. We started it over 18 months ago which has hopefully put us in a good position.

CC: Why do you think Formula One chose to make such drastic changes now?

NC: The new regulations are much more relevant for road car manufacturers which is important to keep their involvement in the sport.

CC: What about the whole season in general do you think will be the most different to what it is now?

NC: Teams wil need to make the best use of their 100 Kg of fuel. As such, managing the power unit operation through the race will be extremely important and tied to race strategy.

Chester at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Friday press conference

Chester at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Friday press conference

CC: Is there a risk that reliability in the new generation will be a problem? There are a lot of new parts just waiting to go wrong…

NC: I think there may be some difficulties during pre-season testing, but teams now spend a lot of time on engine and gearbox dynes so a big proportion of the package will be validated before hitting the track. There could be some failures in the first few races but I expect teams to sort out reliability problems fairly quickly.

CC: Do you think green-friendly regulations will be able to draw upon a new fan base, or do you think we could enter a polarizing era for the sport?

NC: I am hoping it will expand the fanbase. Technically, there are a few challenges which will hopefully draw further interest.

CC: Technically, what does the future hold for Lotus?

NC: We need to stay competitive this year and push for 3rd in the constructors’ championship. For next year I hope we will start with a strong car straight away and will then need to develop it heavily through the year.

CC: What do you know about Formula E and what do you think it means for the future of motorsports?

NC: It is an exciting race format with 1 hour races on street circuits for fully electric cars. I think it will have a good following when it starts in 2014. Since the fuel limit will be reduced in the future in F1 we will keep developing and improving efficiency of the electric storage and drivetrain.

CC: How have you adapted to your expanded role at Lotus after James’ [Allison] departure?

NC: Pretty well, I think. I’m really fortunate to have such a dedicated team in all departments. We have a great team here at Enstone, with many very experienced engineers and production staff which makes my job much easier. I am enjoying the challenge of continuing to develop a competitive 2013 car whilst we design a radically new car for 2014.

Will Buxton on Journalism and the State of Formula One

It has been an extremely busy week for this blog, and I want to take some time right now to thank all those who read my last article with Peter Windsor. It was a joy to get to talk with him and I hope to do the same in the future.

I say that it was a busy week because just days after finishing my interview with Peter Windsor, I woke up one morning to an email from Will Buxton. It was just a day after I made a comment on his own blog, and I didn’t expect him to respond so quickly to my request for an interview, so that was a very nice surprise.

I must confess, though, that in my excitement at the prospect of interviewing Will, I realized that I hadn’t thought of a concrete subject to base the conversation on. Then I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to get a different perspective on the topics in my interview with Peter. I was positively itching with excitement in the hour leading up to the interview.

To keep up the trend, I began the conversation by asking Will, “What is your take on the state of Journalism?”. I didn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of an answer. Without being rude, there is an obvious age gap between Will and Peter, thus opening up the doors for varied perspectives. Nevertheless, I found myself immediately engaged in what Will had to say.

“It’s a double-edged sword, really. The advent of the internet age and the advent of social media like Twitter has made it quite amazing. The immediacy of news is truly astounding. It is something I never could have foreseen when I first started out as a journalist. And that has its benefits; it means you can get the news out much faster, but there is so much scope for inaccuracy.” In this day and age, we live under the constant threat of believing completely false information. Retweeting has become so prolific that, as Will describes, there is a sort of snowball effect taking effect on the internet, where one piece of false information can be taken as true, retweeted, and then believed by thousands and potentially millions of more people. “It is [Twitter] very very useful. it is a tool that all journalists use these days to not only sort information but to their views across and highlight pieces that they’ve written. It’s positive.”

The world, it seems, is very divided on the issue of Twitter and other social media which, regardless of how much we may not like it, are becoming increasingly important to our daily lives. Both Will and Peter have similarly optimistic outlooks on social media and the role it plays in journalism today, though Will is more positive on the subject. They both have their concerns, as well, and quite rightly recognize the power that social media wields on the public conscience.

Blogs then came up in the conversation. We both agree that they are a fantastic and convenient way of “getting your voice out there”, but know that with convenience, comes laziness. This goes back to the copying and pasting that Peter mentioned in our interview. Just because someone has a blog, does not necessarily mean that it is their own voice they are putting out. “This means anybody, anywhere can write a blog and can write with an assumed, for the reader anyways, amount of knowledge on the subject, when they might not actually have it.” This leads to a slightly “diminished” level of journalism, as Will describes. Certainly journalism’s reputation takes a hit when a lot of its aspiring prospects don’t actually write.

Blogs can, however, open up many doors of opportunity. “If you are a serious aspiring journalist, it is possible to get your voice out there, get your name out there, and gain the experience that you need as a journalist that would otherwise have remained unavailable.” This very fact is what inspired me to start my own blog last December, and is what keeps me going every day.

I mentioned the quality of journalism in my interview with Peter, as well as earlier in this article. This is, obviously what gives journalism its reputation, either good or bad. But quality journalism, in my opinion, comes from the fact that what the journalist writes about is something that they feel passionately for. Will describes this very sentiment when he mentions his own blog. Whereas a feature in a magazine would be anywhere between 1500-1700 words, a blog allows anyone to go much more in depth about a subject they are interested in. From this interest comes the quality of writing that gives journalism its good name. You aren’t going to plow off a blog post about something you enjoy. No. You’re going to put the time and effort into the blog post because you know that because you’re interested in the subject, you can write with the enthusiasm and vigor that makes others interested in the subject.

I know, though, that not all journalism these days is about 3000 word features on the subjects the journalist is interested in. But it is a major part of the industry, and all of the best journalists out there will most likely tell you that their interest in a certain subject or event is what drives them to write to the best of their ability. I said it at the very end of my last post; it isn’t the money or the recognition that makes me or anyone else really want to be a journalist. It is our shared love of writing that makes journalism great.

Where does journalism go from here, though? Will the internet take over the world of print-based publication? Probably not completely, but there is no denying the increasing velocity with which the digital age is developing. Very soon, digital journalism will be the the field’s most prominent form, if it already isn’t. That isn’t the end of the world, though. I firmly believe that just because you are writing digitally, does not mean that the quality of the written word is any less superior. Might I remind you that I am writing this on a laptop? The transition from a piece of paper to a computer screen does not limit the scope of one’s imagination.

“There’s just something about it”, says Will of the feeling of having a book in your hands. It’s hard to deny the intimate relationship people of a certain generation (no offense, Will and Peter) have with their books and magazines. I personally don’t mind the delivery method, if you will, of the things I read. I can appreciate the feeling of having a book or magazine, but it is not a longing desire I possess, and I don’t ache at the diminishing number of books and magazines. But this is the very thing that separates ‘classic’ journalism from ‘modern’ journalism: the people. When I’m 50, I will probably detest the newest form of information distribution. Something involving telepathy, I’m sure. this is just one of the facts of living in an ever-changing world. Change happens, and there is nothing we can do about it. When the field of journalism, and some of the people in it, accepts that, then quality journalism will come back.

But that’s enough about journalism. It was with Will Buxton that I really wanted to sink my teeth into the subject of Formula One. I will gush again here, but Will Buxton brings NBC’s Formula One coverage to life. Funny, considering that in his earliest days in television he was, jokingly, informed TV was where journalism came to die. The differences between broadcast and print journalism are fairly obvious, the biggest one being the live factor. The content that you see on TV during a Formula One race comes out live to the viewers. This means there is no time to edit said content with the “fine comb” one would use when working on an article for a magazine or newspaper. The differences are night and day, especially considering the audience to which NBC must cater.

American Formula One fans are interesting creatures. I didn’t get the time to, or maybe just failed to completely, explain to Will how difficult I feel NBC’s job is. They may have different views on the matter, but here is what I think.

American F1 fans, like the country we inhabit, are a melting pot of all different levels of fans. There are diehard ones like me who, without compromise, want in depth analysis of every single second of every single session over a race weekend, with hours of pre- and post-race coverage to whet our insatiable appetites for the sport. On the other end of the spectrum are the causal fans. These are the most vital sector of the sport’s fan base because of their potential. Even more important than the causal F1 fans in Europe, casual American F1 fans promise an almost endless amount of viewership, just waiting to get hooked. To hook said potential amount of endless viewers, you have to take them in gradually. You cannot, under any circumstance, bombard them with the sort of coverage the diehard fans like me, want. They will turn the TV off in a heartbeat. I don’t want to criticize my fellow Americans, but we seem to, in my eyes, have a slightly lower tolerance for things we don’t understand. Our culture is based on being the best, and knowing what is going on in the world. If you start talking to them endlessly in what can only be describes as a foreign language to most of them, you will only make them feel not only confused, but potentially upset, thus turning off their desire to learn about the sport.

In no way do I intend to over-simplify the minds of my fellow countrymen and women. That is not my intention. But based on where I live and the culture that surrounds me, this is my most educated analysis of the average causal F1 fan.

If this makes the job of NBC sound mind-bogglingly important, then great. Their job is vital. Like I said, the amount of casual F1 fans in the states is vast, and their minds vacuous. This is not an insult at all. What I am saying is that Americans are ready to embrace the sport with open arms. But on their terms. It is always on our terms, it seems NBC, like I said before, has to cater to these night and day-different fan bases. It has to please the diehards, while not overwhelming, but gradually enticing, the causals. A tough job, indeed, and Will Buxton is leading the way on that front. His coverage during Formula One races is simple, yet interesting and engaging. For both types of Formula One fans, the experience during a race is enhanced exponentially by the way Will breaks down the intricacies of a Formula One race. Add to that an unmatched level of enthusiasm for both his job and the sport, and you have a very enjoyable experience.

“Formula One wants to be exclusive”, says Will of the sport’s effort to connect with fans. “It wants to be just that one step out of reach. That’s what it tells itself it wants”. This creates a problem for NBC, though. Does the network risk playing down the exclusivity of the sport in order to reel in more fans, or does it play up the “dream factor” of the sport, as Will calls it, to accomplish the same task? It puts the entire sport in an odd position. The sport needs money, and with more fans comes money. But, fans need something to want. If they get too much of the sport, they could become sick of it, thus losing money for the sport.

Take a look at SKY. Their near-monopoly on the television market in the UK is such that they have an entire channel devoted to Formula One. This is a dream come true for any hardcore fan of the sport, like me. They spend 24 hours of everyday showing programs that cover the history of the sport, its drivers, technology, as well as live coverage of every practice session with pre-and post-session analysis. Heaven for any F1 fan.

This is the path the UK has taken in terms of how accessible it makes the sport to its fans. The exclusivity is not there, and anybody can get wonderful insight into the inner workings of the sport with expert analysis. This goes against the origins of the sport, where only the rich and famous got real access.

The same trend appears in social media. Formula One’s official twitter account follows no one, and its tweets consist solely of links to articles on its official website. Hardly pushing the boundaries of what is capable with social media. This means that the individual teams, along with many dedicated, and connected, individuals to provide the sport’s fans with the kind of access the yearn for. With varying degrees of success, all of the Formula One teams on the grid accomplish this, and the fans’ appreciation is abundant. Formula One teams are providing the inclusion that the sport seems intent on preventing. Exclusivity is everything.

“NBC showed from very early on that they were serious about Formula One”, says Will. Investments have been made to ensure that the network’s streaming capabilities are up to par, so the commitment is all there. The fans are here, the commitment is here. The future is bright for F1 in the states.

Now, for some real F1 stuff. This is what I was truly looking forward to. There are so many things I want to have explained to me, starting with the road to F1. Will Buxton is arguably the best person to ask when it comes to the racing ladder, because his commentary on GP2 and GP3 gives him access to all the young drivers that are trying to make their way into the pinnacle of motorsport.

“No. Absolutely not.” This is Will’s answer to the question of if Formula One is doing enough to ensure that its young drivers have the tools to succeed. “This shift away from European races is hurting Formula One hugely”. With budgets for a season of GP2 more than double what they were at the series’ conception, drivers who are more than deserving of an F1 drive based on merit are left in the dust, while other drivers who have all the money they could ever want to go racing, and who may not deserve the drive on talent alone, get all the chances. This is old news to anyone who follows Formula One and its feeder series. But it does bring back the exclusivity factor I explained before.

I’m not saying that Formula One is intentionally making the sport more and more expensive in order to bring in a certain type of driver. That would be preposterous. What I am saying, though, is that the sport could, and should, be doing a lot better.

There are a lot of things conspiring against those who work in the sport, and those who aim to work in the sport in the future. A lot of the conspiring is down to the sport itself which, for unsubstantiated reasons, feels the need to uphold old traditions at the expense of vital members of its community.

This isn’t a call to action, really, but a hopeful rising of awareness to some of the issues that undermine all the good that is going on behind the scenes. Will will be the first to attest to this. He, in some regards, is leading the way with his work for NBC. Their commitment to Formula One is a refreshing breath of fresh air in a very polluted sport.

Journalism Musings with Peter Windsor

Is journalism a lost art? It’s hard to deny that the immediacy with which we are able to get information these days has affected the quality of journalism. What were once insightful and well-planned articles have been reduced to glibly written soundbites of sometimes questionable credibility. That is not to say that there are no longer any quality writers out there looking to write similarly quality articles. That is not the case at all. The ever-increasing presence of those who value speed over accuracy has tainted the reputation of a once highly regarded profession. But not all hope is lost. I strive to write with as much accuracy as I can guarantee while (hopefully) managing to maintain your interest. That is the very thin line that journalists must traverse. Interest versus accuracy. Some value one over the other. I value both equally.

But this blog is not about me. What it is about, is journalism. At least for today.

I had the privilege to speak to Peter Windsor this past week, and I got an in-depth look at his life as a budding journalist, the obstacles he overcame, and the ones he has yet to conquer.

I posed a similar question to the one which started this very article. Is journalism a lost art?

“I think you raise a very good point, and I have a lot of discussions with my friends about this” says Peter of the state of journalism. “I think one of the big issues today is the fact that the internet and the ease of cutting and pasting has transformed the industry of journalism, if you will”. Pleased that I thought along the same lines as Peter on this subject, I was eager to hear what he had to say next. The “ease of the internet” is a recurring theme in this opening topic of discussion. Are people lazy? Probably. Are all people lazy? Not at all. Peter raises a fantastic point about the ease with which people are able to sound like they know a lot about a subject.  A simple series of taps on a keyboard can give you a wealth of power. This is a dangerous tool when you consider the influence journalists have on the public conscience.

“We see traditional print magazines closing down”, explains Peter, “because people aren’t buying them anymore”. This is where our opinions differ. I am no expert in the industry of journalism, so what I am about to say may irk those that are, but it seems bringing a magazine or newspaper from print to digital is a relatively simple thing to do. Newsweek and The New York Times have done a fantastic job of bringing their depth of journalism to the internet. Even in the world of motorsports, Autosport is arguably the leader in online motorsports news and analysis. I buy their digital copies each and every week, and judging by the excitement on Twitter on most Thursdays, it seems my fellow Formula One fans do as well.

So, is it a question of what people are replacing traditional journalism with? Certainly it is much easier to read a tweet than a 3000 word feature when both cover the same subject, and you’ll find that the vast majority will opt for the former. And that is a shame. We run the risk, these days, of rendering the work of our admired journalists obsolete because of our lazy tendencies.

What we need is quality. There are many traditional print magazines that are still selling vast numbers of copies despite the mountain of circumstances conspiring against them. Autosport is one example. Whether you read the digital or print version of the weekly magazine, it is the quality of the reporting that makes you dedicate your time to reading it. That is what will keep real journalism alive. “I think there are still some very very good writers out there”, says Peter of today’s journalism quality. “Some of them are young, some of them are not so young, and there always will be [journalists out there]. It’s like race drivers: there will always be good drivers out there, regardless of the standard of the time.”

One thing I am wary of, though, and perhaps so is Peter, is that aspiring journalists like myself will forever be hindered by our natural inclination for the quick and immediate devouring of information. I will not deny my prolific use of social media to distribute soundbites of information to my followers. I, for one, embrace this tool, and believe wholeheartedly that despite the bad reputation is receives from certain users, social media, specifically Twitter, is the future of information transfer on both the small and large scales.

There is a thin line we all must tread these days, I mentioned it before, and it all has to do with how interested your readers are versus how accurately they are informed. This has been the only way to produce quality journalism ever since the first person began writing for the world’s first newspaper, wherever it may have originated; and this is how we must act today, though, perhaps with more care.

My fellow millenials, we must be wary. Whether you admit to it or not, we all have a certain relationship with technology and the immediacy it brings to our lives that is unique to our generational demographic. But this immediacy is not just in the personal information we give and receive through it, say to friends and family, but in the way we use it to report global happenings to people we have never met. We must be wary, therefore, that our desire to be the first to talk about something does not override the necessity of that something’s accuracy. We live is a world where information seekers develop a sort of hipster-esque attitude to news. “Oh you know about what happened last Thursday? Yeah, I knew way before other people knew about it. I can’t believe people still talk about it. It is so last Thursday.”

Call me old-fashioned, but it seems we get bored with information too quickly and easily. We discard fascinating developments because they failed to develop quickly enough for us.

“I grew up in a time when there was no Formula One on television in Australia”, explains Peter,” and it was impossible to buy any of the weekly publications from England. So, I had to wait a couple of months while they made their way out to Australia by ship.” Stark contrast to today, indeed. We are constantly inundated with sometimes annoyingly similar information that can, unfortunately, get quite old. There are many out there today who admirably aspire to be a journalist in Formula One, yet rely on already published news to get their information, which they then proceed to regurgitate for their own purposes, whether it be for their own blog or other information outlet. This is something that frustrates me to no end, yet is an unavoidable constant in my own life. I don’t want to criticize anyone, but if you go to Autosport to get your information (nothing wrong with that) but then regurgitate that information on a blog, where do you think potential readers will go? Your blog, or the most respected motorsports website in the western hemisphere (probably)? I am not telling anyone to stop doing it, but it’s something to think about.

One’s “field of perception”, as Peter aptly describes it, is the scope in which you understand a subject. The depth to which you go to know not just what happened, but why, and how it happened. Context is at the crux of all journalism, and it is why Peter focuses solely on what he thinks of a subject, rather than common public perception. It is a beautiful way of going about your job, admirable in fact. We live in a world now where others’ perceptions are the code we live by. Not focussing on what others have to say is nigh on impossible when their opinions are tweeted, retweeted, linked, posted and uploaded multiple times per day, and success in the face of all that technological adversity is something to be admired.

We are at a time in the whole context of existence where average people are not given the intellectual credit that most of them deserve, due to the nature of the way we can now distribute information. 140 character tweets do not a genius make. But they don’t define people. I asked Peter about this very issue and he explained to me the constraints journalists are under these days. “Editors, film directors, producers, people who are above the layer of journalism think that they have their finger on the pulse of what the public wants”, says Windsor. “They believe that the general public today has a very short attention span and responds only to very large type face, headlines, big pictures and small amounts of words”. I can say, as one of the very people those editors seem intent on targeting, that some of that is true. Real journalism, journalism in the sense of what Peter and I consider it, stands out in our society of tweets and blogs like the sore thumbs of those very journalists.

Ironically, technology has made journalism, if anything, easier. If you want to be a newshound and get the latest story, Twitter, Facebook and other social media ensure that is made possible. You can be the first to break a story if that is what you want to do. If you want to focus on analyzing said news and delve into their implications, you can also do that. Technology has in many ways opened the doors for journalism, rather than unceremoniously slam them shut as many would have you believe.

But what attracted Peter to journalism? “I had a very good English teacher”, says Peter on his start in writing, “and I have always been good at, I don’t know why, but I’ve always been good at writing quickly under pressure.” These are perhaps the most important aspects of being a journalist. Grammar is also at the crux of good journalism, while punctuality is essential to a publication getting its latest issue on sale. Certainly, in the time of his youth, the whole face of journalism was different in many ways to what it is now. Even physically, they way you went about writing was different. As a young journalist, Peter would often be in line to use a typewriter to write a race report. A couple thousand word race report would have to be thought of, written out, and checked for mistakes in extremely small amounts of time. Budding journalists today are lucky to have SpellCheck.

It wasn’t all stress, though. From his childhood, Peter wanted to be in some way involved in motorsports. He seemed to be in the minority, though, as while his schoolmates talked endlessly about football, tennis or cricket, it was a young Peter Windsor who always wanted to talk about racing. There was a sense of anticlimax on the Monday after a Grand Prix. He couldn’t delve into the minute details of the race with any of his peers because they didn’t care. This is why Peter was so intent upon getting into the industry. He would be able to combine both of his passions into a lifelong profession.

And that is what he did.

I interviewed Peter because I wanted to know more about him. His life is fascinating, and the role he has played in Formula One is one that should not go overlooked. I wanted to know more about Peter, as well, in terms of his role with journalism. I want to be a journalist, and hope someday to write for an esteemed publication and live out all the idealogical fantasies that come with being a journalist. I want to hunt down a story, break it before anyone else. I want to provide people with insight that they may otherwise have gone without, and I want to do something for the rest of my life that I know I enjoy.

Journalism is an historic profession. Yet, it seems that its reputation has been tainted somewhat by the advent of technology and the ease with which you can distribute information with it. It makes the job less noble, in a sense. What once was a week-long investigation into a story has become a retweet. What once was a tiresome three thousand word race report has become, in some cases, a simple copy and paste. But, for all the cynicism about the direction that Journalism is taking, there is one thing we must keep in perspective: our desire to do it. We have to remember that we are the ones who actually want to be journalists. Peter knew when he was a kid, and he made something of that assurance. I, and many other aspiring journalists, am not writing everyday for the money. I write because I want to.

That is what makes good journalism.

Talking to….Stoffel Vandoorne

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He has been in the spotlight more than any other driver in his series, mostly for reasons out of his control. The mere fact that he has taken the same path as the highly regarded Robin Frijns has made Stoffel a target for high expectations.

He is well-placed for success, though. As the reigning Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Stoffel is one of the favorites for the 3.5 title. Add to that the backing of Fortec Motorsoprts, and you have a winning recipe. Stoffel will now hope that he doesn’t encounter any troubles this season as he hunts down Kevin Magnussen for the championship.

1. You came into this season with a lot of outside pressure; you were seen as the next Robin Frijns. How has this affected the way you approach the season?

It didn’t really affect my approach. I tried not to think about it. I knew I have a similar driving style to Robin, and with the same car we can almost do equal things. This was making me feel confident.

2. How is the relationship with your teammate, Oliver Webb? Do you get along? Do you help each other out at races in terms of setup directions?

We have a good relationship. We get along well and we help each other during the weekend. This is the best way for both to improve instead of hiding everything.

3. What made the Formula Renault path more attractive to the GP3/GP2 path?

Well, it was my only choice to make the Formula Renault path. I don’t have the money to put into GP3, F3 or GP2 so the best solution for me was winning the FR2.0 Eurocup and getting the prize money to make the step into FR3.5. I think it is now one of the best series on the road to F1, and F1 teams tend to place their junior drivers in the Formula Renault series.

4. Your championship campaign got off to a great start when you won the first race of the season. You’ve had some trouble recently, though. How do you keep yourself motivated when things don’t go according to plan?

The speed has always been good, and when things didn’t work out for us, I knew it was bad luck or either mistakes we made. This kept me motivated to carry on, as I we didn’t lack pace and I knew we could battle for victories.

5. What was it like to win in front of your home crowd in Belgium? What emotions went through your mind?

It was amazing! I won my home race in 2010 when I drove in the F4 Eurocup 1.6 championship, but winning in Formula Renault 3.5 is even greater. It was just so cool to have so much support from all the people and fans around. Everybody was just cheering for me and they were all really happy about the result. This just gives you so much motivation to carry on, and fight for victories!

6. How did you get into racing? What got you interested?

My dad designed the restaurant of an indoor karting track when I was 6 years old. I sometimes went with him, and the boss of the karting always let me drive. The boss then also bought me a little go-kart and from then on I never stopped driving.

7. As you’ve been compared to him a lot, do you think you may end up struggling to find a race seat after Formula Renault 3.5 like Robin has? There is a lot of competition out there?

It’s not easy for sure. Everything has to be perfect and you also have to be lucky to get into F1. Having the right people around you makes it a bit easier, but I’m not losing hope.

8. Is the goal after this season to get a third driver role at a F1 team, or do you think a race seat is possible?

At the moment I’m not thinking about next year too much. It’s still too early in the season and first I want to concentrate on Formulaa Renault 3.5 and make the best out of this.

9. Who do you think will be your toughest opponents over the course of this season?

I think definatly Kevin Magnussen. He has shown great pace, and also his consistency is great this season. This is also why he is now leading the championship. It’s still a long way to go and I’m sure if we do well we can catch him by the end of the year. Ultimatly, you only have to be leading the championship after the last round 🙂

10. Finally, what has been your favorite race of your career so far and why?

Well, last weeks one in Spa was one I will always remember for sure. It’s something special winning at home. Another one I liked was Paul-Ricard 2012. I spun from the lead in the opening lap and fell down to P19. The track conditions were really tricky, as everyone was on slicks and it started to rain. I managed to finish the race in P2 again which felt like a victory as well.

Best of luck to Stoffel for the rest of the championship! The Formula Renault 3.5 season promises to be epic!

Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver (part 2)

It’s time to get back to reality. Talking about the early years is fun, but as Jack Harvey knows very well racing is a constant process of progress.

2013 promises to be one of the most significant seasons of Jack’s career, not only because of the the high profile nature of GP3, but because he enters the season the reigning champion of one of the most respected junior categories in racing, British Formula 3.

On the subject of British F3, the near demise of the series for 2013 hits close to home. As the reigning champion of the series, he knows the ins and outs of doing well in that environment and the great memories that can come when you get everything right over the course of the season. The reduction of the championship to just four rounds has sent shockwaves throughout the racing world and many have scrambled to come up with possible solutions to the increasing complexity of the junior categories, as well as their seemingly reducing longevity.

“I think for someone who wanted to compete in Formula 3 for a full season, it means that you have to go into Europe,” says Jack of the implications of the calendar reduction this year. “Budgets are high and budgets are tight and its really expensive. Its a tough one. The economy is not in a good place, and if the drivers are not there then they have to cut the championship down.” But, as Jack knows, and perhaps all of us know, British F3 never really goes away. It has been an integral championship for decades now, and has produced some of the greatest racing drivers in history. “Its such an important championship for anyone moving forward,” says Jack of British F3’s role in racing. “I hope a sort of deal can be worked out to where we get the full amount of races for next season. Even if it’s cut down to just four rounds, I’m still happy the championship is still around.”

It is at this point that I ask Jack about what really sets British F3 apart form other categories of Formula 3. His answer makes it apparent that the championship occupies a very important place in Jack’s and many British drivers’ hearts.

It is the quality, he says. He talks about drivers, circuits, teams and challenges that all work together to make the series such a mecca for skill and a source of talent. As reigning champion, this puts him in good stead for his first season in GP3.

Jack approached this season with some assurance in his backing from the RSF. They planned to support him for 2013 pretty much regardless of whatever happened in 2012, so his future was secure for at least one more season. “Ultimately, it was their [RSF] decision to put me where they felt was best for me to be, and they saw GP3 and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity, really.” says Jack of his 2013 plans.

As if the switch to such a high profile championship wasn’t enough for one year, Jack was preparing to make the change just as GP3 was making changes itself. In its fourth season, GP3 will be changing to new cars which, as testing has shown, offer a lot more in terms of performance, speed and, most importantly, challenges. But, as Jack tells me, the new generation of cars in GP3 was more important than we may realize. “I think it made the decision, really [to go into the championship]. If they had the old car, we would have looked at World Series by Renault, something more maybe. But I think the new car sold it to us, really.”

It’s almost as if the generational switch for GP3 this year was meant to be. Had the series stuck with the old car, the difference between the performance of the GP3 car and an F3 car would be almost indiscernible. But, the move from F3 to World Series by Renault would potentially be a step up too far. Those monsters are meant to be the final step before Formula One, and as such, their performance is more akin to that of an F1 car. Coming from F3 to that series could have hurt, rather than helped, Jack.

With this context in mind, I asked Jack if he will approach this season with the mindset of learning, rather than gunning for the championship. I have never heard anyone answer “no” as quickly as did Jack. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. In the 25 minutes I had been speaking with Jack, I had already gotten a fantastic insight into his competitive nature and his determination to succeed. The conviction with which he answered no was really all I needed to get a sense of his mindset for the season, but, as this was an interview (and that Jack is beautifully PR-trained), the answer didn’t stop there. “With the experience I have now, we should be pushing to win the championship all the time, basically. I don’t think anything has changed in that perspective.”

Jack is not denying how tough this season will be by any means, though. He is fully aware that, as a rookie, expectations are not as high for him as they are for more seasoned veterans of the championship. But Jack won’t let that faze him, though, and he is wholly confident in his ability to fight for the title. “It’s going to be a tough year in GP3, but we’ve got the right ingredients to win, so ultimately we have to wait and see. But we are certainly not looking at a long program in GP3, it’s definitely a one-year plan, to try and win straight away.”

Even the fact that his team, ART, won the teams’ championship last season doesn’t affect his approach. One would imagine that having groomed the likes of Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierez and James Calado, ART would put the fear of God into any driver. The level of excellency the team holds their drivers to is stratospheric, yet this is just another small piece to a much larger puzzle for Jack. His approach to this year is extremely level-headed and mature. But what else would you expect considering his previous experiences?

All of this, however, leads up to this weekend. I must point out again that as I write this second installment, Jack is in the thick of the racing weekend, with the first (and only) free practice session having been completed earlier this day (Friday). I asked Jack what he would be doing in the days preceding the start of the weekend in order to prepare himself for his GP3 debut. “I’m driving back to France now to get ready for the start of the season. I have a day in the simulator as well.” It all seems pretty normal, really. The team is French and as such, much of his time this season will be spent making trips between his home and the team’s headquarters. But as for race weekend preparation, it is all normal, even though there isn’t much that is all too normal about his job.

But what does Jack do personally to make sure he is ready for the weekend. What types of mental checks does he do to ensure he performs at his best? Cue long and drawn out pause.

As he grapples for an answer, I kind of realize that I’ve asked the impossible question. For all the calculations and double-checks one does to make sure anything runs smoothly, there is always the luck factor that plays into the equation. Is there really anything he can do to make himself more prepared? He is obviously an expert by now at how to win, but in the end there is only so much one can do.

But, as with any PR-trained racing driver, Jack eventually finds a way to respond.

“I don’t know really, to be honest. We always know what job we’ve got to try and do, and if anything we just have to try and stay in the zone, if there is one out there. For as much as you try and focus on the race, you actually try and stay chill and not worry about the race if you get me?”

I do get him. Without delving too much into my personal life (I’m boring and this isn’t about me), I know what its like to have a job in front of you with a lot riding on said job. Preparation can only go so far, and at some point you have to just let go and let things happen naturally. Jack knows well enough that if you do all the right things without worrying too much, things will eventually come. Just ask him about how he was discovered by the RSF again.

“It is a funny one, really,” says Jack of his preparation. “It’s tough to know what to focus on. You need to be so adaptive and able to zone in, zone out sort of at the flick of your fingers, almost.”

This is something young drivers know all too well. You can always have a plan. That is perfectly fine, in fact it’s commendable. But once you start to become complacent, you ruin everything you ever worked for. Racing in junior categories like GP3 and Formula 3 means your fate, every race weekend, largely falls in the hands of young drivers just like you who want what you want just as much as you. To have come this far without any major career scare is something not a lot of people can lay claim to.

Perhaps this is what Jack needs to keep in mind this season. He has come this far in his career and he has everything going for him. It’s just a matter of luck at this point. Nothing is guaranteed in this sport, and no matter how hard the team and Jack prepare, nothing is going to stop the unexpected.

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In the next and final installment of “Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver”, I will be looking at the future, something all of us really know nothing about, other than how we want it to turn out.

You can follow Jack on Twitter: @jack_harvey42

Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver (part 1)

I am fascinated with young drivers. They face a host of challenges that Formula One drivers know all too well, yet somehow they all manage to stay professional and composed (for the most part). The Sunday before his GP3 debut, I had the chance to talk to Jack Harvey about his season ahead, and his life as a racing driver climbing the motorsport ladder.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Jack would become a racing driver. Like his father and uncle, Jack had an itch for racing, and he grasped every opportunity to race with both hands. Luckily, he turned out to be a pretty decent driver, and what started out as a hobby slowly turned into a more serious commitment.

“It was my dad who got me started,” explains Jack. “He’s done different forms of racing, my uncle still races. So really, looking back, it was just a matter of when I would start racing.” This type of mentality has been key in Jack’s racing career. He loves the sport and he loves that he has the opportunity to do something not many others can say they have done. By no means does this imply that his journey in racing was easy. He has incurred his fair share of trials and tribulations along the way.

But it all started on the fateful day of Jack’s 9th birthday. When he sat in the kart his father bought him, it was only a matter of time until Jack realized he had discovered his passion.

“We just went racing”, says Jack of those early days in karting. “There’s nothing– at that stage the racing is pure, you know, just sort of Dad and lad going racing, enjoying themselves. There’s no politics, it’s a very pure form of racing”. It was this purity that had Jack hooked onto the sport. In the days of modern Formula One, its hard to imagine that it all starts out so simple and almost naive in a way.

Racing today has evolved into a commercial enterprise, and the drivers are just another piece of the puzzle that makes up the industry. You start out young, you learn the ropes and you win championships. But then you’re groomed into a perfect racing specimen who, unlike the child of just a few years back, acts in a way that exudes a sort of ice-cold confidence. There are a few Formula One drivers who are criticized of this lack of emotion, but can you blame them?

But was it really just about having fun back then? As we know, both his father and uncle have racing experience, and the competitive spirit they both had was passed down to young Jack almost without question. “Even then I wanted to get good results, you know? That’s never changed to be honest. We wanted to have fun, but at the same time we wanted to be good at it.” This type of attitude kept Jack going in the early years, but soon, school would come to the fore and the challenge of balancing education with racing would begin.

“If you stick with it [racing] and start getting a little bit better, suddenly it doesn’t become your hobby, it becomes your chosen career and we’re very lucky that we can do that.”

This word, “luck”. I question the validity of Jack’s usage of the word, at least in this context. As you will learn, every amount of success Jack has enjoyed is a product of his own determination and ruthless desire to pursue his dream. Jack’s use of the word “we” struck me as well. His whole racing career up until, and continuing after, now has been a team effort. Without the help and determination of his family and the Racing Steps Foundation, Jack admits, he would probably still be karting. The fact that he will be starting his first GP3 race in a matter of days is something of a miracle when you think back to his early days in karts.

But when did Jack realize that racing could potentially be what he does with the rest of his life? His answer was a bit surprising, to be honest, but these types of decisions are not uncommon in the life of a racing driver, and the pressures of being sure about what you’re doing are at their peak almost 24/7.

“If we’re honest–honest with myself and with everybody, it was probably when I was about 11 or 12. I competed in the top junior formula in the UK and I went to the first race and I didn’t win but I was massively competitive and finished second. So we though ‘Right, we can do this, we can push it all the way’ and that year I think I was the youngest ever champion of the category.

That was the turning point where we realized that when we go racing the way we want to go, when we get into that zone, we can win.” It is this type of confidence and determination that has helped get Jack to where he is today. No racing driver makes it to GP3 by accident. It has been an integral part of the way he approaches any aspect of racing and his life away from the track, though the lines between the two can sometimes be a bit blurry.

With this success under his belt, Jack continued racing, trying to progress through the karting ranks. He was doing all the right stuff at that moment, taking the European championship in 2007. With this solid foundation laid in Europe, the stage was set for a breakthrough. It was a couple of years after Jack’s early career decision, and just one after his triumph in Europe, that the Racing Steps Foundation came a’knocking.

Jack was competing in a higher karting category in Europe for 2008 when he came into contact with the RSF. “We could never afford to go to single seaters. As a family that was well out of our budget and means. It was something we could never do, and I knew that so it was no big shock. What it did mean, was that my career was going to plateau at karting or I needed a way to get funding.”

Luckily, a fantastic 2008 season in karting, one in which he took all of the top championships, eased a fraction of the pressure. But by no means was his future in the sport secured. “It was a very solid season for me and the team”, Jack explains to me. “My dad got a phone call from Richard Goddard who, at the time, was living quite close to us and asked if we would like to go do a [formula] BMW test.” Jack emphasizes quickly, though, that this wasn’t an easy decision. With the family’s extremely limited budget, there was no point in shelling out all that money for the test because there was no money to build from it. They could either pay for him to do the test, enjoy it, and then go back to karting, or they could save the money for something in the future.

This only goes to highlight the pressures Jack was under at such a young age. In this harsh and unforgiving sport, decisions do not come easy, and there is always a long list of pros and cons for them, no matter how trivial the decision may seem at the time.

“In the end we came up with a bit of a deal with Richard and to be honest, the test went really well. Certainly a lot better than any of us hoped it would. I think we were pretty much on the lap record pace straight away.” It was this prodigious speed that kept the RSF intrigued.

In the middle of the racing season, jack got a phone call from the RSF saying they wanted to test him again. He would have to travel to Barcelona for this one, but certainly the fact that the Foundation called him meant something big could come of it.

“I had a really good test and in the end we were pretty competitive. The RSF said they would support me in 2009 through Formula BMW Europe, which was my first season of car racing.” This was a major breakthrough for Jack who, at just 16, had received the biggest backing in his short career in racing. He admits, rather relieved, that had the RSF not come to him, he would still be in karting.

If you read this and you think about what it must have been like, as Jack, to know that the future of your true passion in life rested in how you performed in one test then you’ve only heard half of the story. Education, as mentioned earlier, was a major player in the game of racing, and the task of balancing schoolwork and racing was no small feat. Jack admits that, while it was tough, managing his education was a fairly straightforward task. It required a lot of effort but it needed to be done.

“That was really tough, to be honest,” says Jack of his educational balancing act. “When you’re about 14-16 you do your GCSE’s, and for two years after that you do your A-levels.” The GCSE’s, while not easy, were a walk in the park, says Jack, when compared to his A-levels. The time that was needed to do them well was just barely there when the time for racing was taken into account. “It was a whole different kettle of fish,” when asked about his A-levels. It was his first year in Formula 3, a year that saw him win a race and finish 9th in the championship. This would be a great year for any rookie, and considering the additional pressures of his A-levels, this effort was extremely commendable.

“It took a lot to get used to the Formula 3 car, then suddenly, I was thrown into the deep end of school.” He explains to me that his finals came up in the middle of the season, putting an extra strain on a successful Formula 3 debut season.

“Looking back, I was happy with what I achieved. There was some correlation between my finals ending and my racing getting better.” This makes sense, though, because if we are to believe Jack when he said that the think of his A-levels came in the middle of the season, then their conclusion certainly saw an improvement in race results. With his solitary win that season coming right before the halfway point, the stage was set for a good run to the end of the season.

He realized this potential with 12 points finishes, four of them podiums. This sting of results secured him 9th in the championship and signaled the end of a very tough year of racing.

The next season in 2012 would go even better, though. Even with the continuation of his A-levels, Jack managed to seal the British F3 championship in convincing fashion, taking 9 wins in the season.

It is at this point that I take a step back from the conversation, still listening to (and recording) what Jack was saying. He was, at the time of the conversation, driving to France, and I came to realize that even though Jack doesn’t have to worry about school anymore, life won’t get any easier. If anything, it will get even harder. He will be making his GP3 debut this season; its a championship that often gets entangled in the crazy schedule of Formula One. The spotlight may be on him more, and the pressure will certainly mount, but Jack can take solace in the fact that he knows he can make it through the pressure and come out stronger.

Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle that Jack made it out of karts those years ago, but an unforseen inevitability.

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In the next addition of “Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver”, I will take a look at Jack’s season ahead and the pressures that come with being on the Formula One calendar and in a championship winning team, ART.

Follow Jack on twitter: @jack_harvey42

Image courtesy of Emma Stonier

Talking to… Josh Webster

GP3 is a very high profile, highly respected junior feeder series. The cars, tracks, schedule and teams expect a lot from their drivers and not everyone is cut out for it. For one young driver, though, this season is all about learning.

I got the opportunity to talk to GP3 driver, Josh Webster, as he prepares for his debut in the series with Status GP.

1. What/who got you into motorsports and who influenced you most in your very early career?

Both my mum and dad are motorsport fans and as a family (with my two sisters) we went to lots of motorsport events. We used to go to the local circuits when we were really young, mainly to Snetterton and Brands Hatch. We used to watch whatever was racing and loved all of it but I always got most excited about the single seaters. When we got a bit older, we travelled further to Zandvoort to watch DTM and F3 and Nurburgring for F1. When we weren’t at a circuit we’d watch motor racing on the TV.

I soon learned that I was pretty hopeless at all the usual sports at school and I think by the time I was 12 my parents had tried to get me into most sports with no success.

We had no experience of being involved in karting or any motorsport at all, apart from being spectators so it wasn’t an obvious choice, but when we went indoor karting for the first time, we loved it so much that my mum booked for my sister and I to go to Buckmore Park to try their Junior hire kart sessions in the school holiday.

From there it just grew and grew! Both my sister and I trained for our first kart racing licence at Buckmore Park and both raced there in our first ever race as novices in September 2006.

2. What was the most difficult part of balancing the racing aspect of your life with being a normal kid?

I had to have a licence issued by the local council to take time off school for racing. When I was racing in both UK and European championships in 2008 and 2009 I did miss quite a lot of school time and this took a lot of effort to make sure I caught up with the work I’d missed.

Once I started racing in cars in 2010 it was slightly improved as you get a lot less time in the car, but I always felt under pressure during GCSE and A levels due to missing lessons and I always seemed to be having to explain where I was and what I was doing.

3. Was there ever a point in your career when you questioned whether you wanted to continue racing?

No! I have always wanted to race, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. We’re a normal family and all the family have sacrificed a lot for me to race. There have been real lows when we’ve have had a poor result or had a big accident and real frustration when these things are outside our control, but I have always wanted to get back out racing as soon as possible afterwards.

4. Was there pressure to get sponsorship as early as your karting career or did that become a prominent part of racing once you got into single-seaters?

We have always had to budget very carefully at all stages of my career and there have been times when it has been touch and go whether we’d be able to race or not. Sponsorship for any motorsport is really hard to obtain, but for karting it’s even harder. I didn’t get any sponsors really until I started in cars and getting the budget is still the hardest part of racing.

5. You’ve finished no lower than 4th in any of your racing championships, going all the way back to karting. Does that add any pressure to this year, now that you are in a very well-known junior formula?

I don’t feel there’s any pressure on me for GP3 as I am making such a big step up. I have a huge amount to learn this year.

I am one of the least experienced drivers in GP3 and I’m moving into a car with more than twice the horsepower of the Formula Renault with Pirelli tyres and little seat time on circuits I’ve never driven. My aim is to learn as much as I can about the car, the tyres, and the circuits and put solid foundations in place to aim for good results in 2014.

6. When did the opportunity of racing in GP3 for 2013 arise? How did the deal come about?

The plan was to race in Formula Renault 2.0 UK (BTCC package) in 2012, and I raced in FR2.0 Winter Series as preparation for the 2012 season. Unfortunately the series was cancelled at the last minute. My sponsors had finalised their marketing plans for my racing in the UK so that they could entertain their guests so I was unable to move to Formula Renault Eurocup and had to do another year in Formula Renault BARC as it was the only option to continue to race.

My primary sponsor decided at the end of 2012 to increase their profile in motorsport by moving into GP3. It is a big move, but I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity and will do my best to step up to the challenge!

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7. What are going to be the biggest changes/challenges to get used to? How have you had to make adjustments since testing?

The car itself is a challenging car to drive and with limited testing it’s hard to find the limit of the car. A big challenge is to learn the Pirelli tyre which is very different to anything I have experienced before and there is a limited amount of tyres available.

The issue with GP3 generally is lack of time in the car as pre-season testing is only 7 days and with a brand new for 2013 car, inevitably there have been a few teething problems which have limited running time. Some of the GP3 drivers are getting additional testing in World Series Renault 3.5 cars but my budget won’t stretch that far so the next time I’ll be in the car will be in the 45 minute practice at Barcelona!

The car is physically more demanding than a Formula Renault to drive, so I have had to concentrate more on my shoulders and arms in addition to my usual fitness training and this has meant that I have had no fitness problems in stepping up to the car.

8. Does racing in GP3 require any more traveling than you did in other series and are you used to it by now?

We had a lot of travelling when I was in karts as we raced all around the UK and Europe and we were racing really frequently. We even raced in Egypt at the World Finals in 2009!

The only overseas race I had last year was the F3 Masters in Zandvoort and there was a huge crowd of really enthusiastic race fans who made it a great experience. I hope it will be the same when we race in Europe this year! This year all the races are in Europe apart from the final race in Abu Dhabi which will be an amazing trip. I enjoy travelling and I really appreciate the chance to visit other countries.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years? Not only racing-wise, but in life in general?

A driver needs a huge amount of financial resources to make it through GP3, GP2 and into F1 so I can’t look too far ahead. I just hope that I can make a successful career in motorsport as a driver and if everything works out amazingly well and I find the backing of course I’d like to think I’d be racing in F1.

10. Finally, what makes racing special to you? Why do you place it above other sports?

Well I was spectacularly unsuccessful in all sports until I found karting when I was 12, so racing has completely changed my life, giving me confidence and focus. I love everything about motorsport and there’s nothing else that comes close.