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GP Week : Issue 193
5 MINUTES continued ... around the track you're still very docile and the next moment you have to be on it. Have you and Dr Roberts developed a rapport or a sixth sense in terms of making judgement calls? We haven't worked together very long and we've actually had an extremely quiet year – which is a good thing! I think we've only had two extrications this year, whereas the year before we had somewhere between 10 and 15. He and I are at the stage where we're on the same page and seem to be making the same decisions. We'd need a lot of extractions to heighten that, but as far as I'm concerned everything is going extremely well. Ian's had the difficult task of jumping in at the deep end and it's a complex environment with a lot of things to learn. You don't just need to be good at your job; you need to understand everybody else's as well. When you're working with different people at different circuits your job isn't always the same, but he's definitely the right guy for the job. During an extrication are you versed in any procedures just in case you’re required in any way? I haven't had any training as such, but I've seen enough to know when things are going well and when they aren't. I try and make sure that Ian has everything he needs to do his job. Whether it's things like speaking on the radio for him, getting stuff out of the car or if I see marshals or support vehicles doing something that might be a little bit silly – you try and make sure that everybody's safe and doing their job. You still hold the record as the fastest Formula One driver by virtue of Honda's Bonneville run. Do you ever remind the current F1 drivers of that? (Laughs) Not at all. It's funny; I still look back at that and wish we'd done it in a different way. It essentially started out as a marketing exercise which grew into a two-year technical and logistical challenge. From a driving standpoint it's probably one of the most difficult things I've done, because we went there with what was essentially the wrong tool for the job and still almost met our goal. What would you have done differently? I would've liked to have gone there with a Formula One-engined car, but one that was suited to [the salt flats] and set an open-wheeled outright record that someone else couldn't break. But it was a great insight into building a car from start to finish. If we'd gone with a non-FIA legal F1 car and built a car based on the resources we had at our disposal we would have done something very impressive. Nowadays you can take a Bugatti Veyron and do the same thing. It's hard to explain the limitations that were imposed on us by having a six hundred kilogram car with huge balloon tyres when really what you needed was a six thousand kilo car with really nice thin aluminium wheels. With that we could've done 500+ kph. When we rolled up, the American locals who were helping us actually laughed. They couldn't believe we were going to try and set a record with that car. uK motorsport has been hit hard economically with a number of open- wheeler categories succumbing to the Global Financial Crisis. As a former uK F3 champion, what's your view on the current state of play? I think – as with everything – motorsport can be cyclical. We had a dominance of British F3 at one stage and then the Euro-series came up and then that sank. British F3 is going through a difficult time where the bottom line seems to be growing budgets in every series. When I was looking to do GP2 I needed €800,000. Now, to be with a comparable team, you'd need €2 million. That's not in line with anyone's idea of inflation. If you look at some of the profits being made by people running these championships it's quite obvious what going on. Drivers are getting less and less for their money with the lack of testing and seat-time. People need to vote with their wallets, and that's what they're doing. British F3 might be at the bottom of the motorsport pyramid, but you still need to build your base there and it will always have a place. Do you have any racing plans this year or next? Well, if I want to do this then there isn't going to be any racing. It clashes with everything and the seasons are getting more and more busy. Before I did this I'd driven lots of small things on and off without getting paid, so if it wasn't for this I'd probably be working in an office somewhere. You have to count your blessings. Beforehand, I always took the medical aspect for granted. I love what I do. I may not be driving high-powered single-seaters, and while I miss that I'm still doing a job that I really enjoy. Do you like the prospect of more F1 races on the calendar? Yeah. I think it's a good thing for everyone. I can feel the difference between 16 and 19 races, but I do a lot less work than the mechanics do. Things like that might be the limitation though – human capability. But for me, the more the merrier. I get do go to more races and do my job more often. 5 MINUTES WITH ALAN VAN DER MERWE 19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: