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Q & A with Martin Brundle

As he embarks on the challenge of moving to the BBC to continue with his commentating job, Martin Brundle is aware that Formula One is set for an unpredictable 2009 season.

The former grand prix driver visited the Autosport International Show on Saturday and gave his views on F1 and this year's TV coverage.

Q. You have now been commentating for as long as you were an F1 driver - 12 years each...

Martin Brundle, Autosport ShowMartin Brundle: Yeah. My whole racing career seems to have been a fact-finding mission for my television career. But I am a very lucky boy, because I have had two careers in motorsport and who knows, I might go on and do something else.

But you have got to stick to what you know I think, and motorsport is what I know and it is my passion. When the ITV news came through I thought long and hard about whether I was going to carry on or not.

I thought, 'maybe this is the signal to change direction again and try something else again after a dozen years'. But quite quickly I realised that this is what I do now, this is what I enjoy the most, and looking back just three or four months later, I can't believe that I even thought about stopping. But it just seemed like the natural time to stop and reflect and wonder if I really wanted to carry on.

Q. In 2009 Formula One will have big changes to the regulations, and you will have changes to the commentary team...

MB: Yeah. It's going to be difficult to predict. We've had a period of time where Formula One regulations have been very stable and the grid has closed up and up and up and is very competitive. So we are losing that, and I am a little bit concerned about that. In its place is uncertainty, and maybe that's a good thing.

I don't think you're going to switch your TV on this year and know who is going to win each and every race, that's for sure. It's not back to the 'Michael Schumacher dominates another grand prix' season. Who is going to get the car right with the new aerodynamics, with the KERS system, who can make the new slick tyres work best...

We haven't yet seen a full 2009 car announced, let alone running. We've seen hybrids, we've seen 2008 cars with 2009 bits on them. So I am sitting here like you, not having any clue who is going to get it right first.

You have got to assume that the usual suspects with the most money, the biggest budget, the most resources, are going to get there first; the Ferraris and McLarens. But there could be some great surprises this year; people who just hit the sweet spot with the new aerodynamics and get the job done.

Q. You have been involved in F1 for 25 years as a driver and a commentator. You have seen everything; all the changes - ground effect, turbo, non-turbo, slicks, grooved tyres... Do you think this package of measures is going to work?

MB: Well, I hope so. Some quite clever people have been changing the cars so that they follow each other better. The problem is that we all love to see these pictures of Jim Clark and Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart drifting their cars, and I have driven those older cars and it is a pleasure to drive them like that.

But that was on cross-ply tyres, with cars that had lift instead of downforce, and the engineers can't forget what they know. They can't unlearn these things, if that's a word, and make cars slide around and follow each other better. It's really quite complex to change the cars enough to make them just follow each other, but they'd better have got it right.

Even if they were five seconds a lap slower... a MotoGP bike is half a minute a lap slower around Barcelona. It's an amazing amount of time, isn't it? But if they are three or four abreast, and the bikes are sliding around it looks very exciting. And that's what we want from Formula One.

I can't speak for all of you, but I don't care if they are doing 20,000 revs, or 17,000 or 15,000. Or if their gearboxes last two years, or two minutes. As long as they are side by side and we're seeing the best drivers in the world, wheel-to-wheel, exciting us, and we see who comes out best.

Q. Speaking of KERS - it's very high-tech, very costly to put into place, but is it going to improve the racing?

MB: My concern is that some teams will have it working and others won't, especially early on in the season. You'll see a driver flashing past another down the straight and you'll think, well, is that the engineers doing that overtake or is it the driver? It will be quite difficult to gauge who is really getting the job done.

I think in the end the teams will end up with roughly the same package and use it the same way because the strategy will force them to do that. Formula One has to stay relevant to the world that we live in, and I applaud the green issues of it. But I am concerned as to whether it will really add anything to the racing.

But I am open-minded on it. I'm not against change, I'm just a bit concerned that in the first six or eight races, when some systems are working and others are not, we're going to get false racing.

Q. You will have a new lead commentator alongside you at the BBC, Jonathan Legard. Will it be a good combination?

MB: Yeah, it will be the third commentator I have worked with. I obviously started with Murray [Walker] and then with James Allen. I'd just like to say that, 12 years with F1 ITV, fantastic group of people, very creative. We didn't choose to have adverts, that's the way television works and that was the major challenge for us, but I am very proud of what our team at F1 ITV achieved.

I am moving on now to the BBC, I am going to be working with Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard, I know everybody I am going to be working with, I've got to build some rapport, some chemistry, we're not going to have to work our way around adverts through pre-show and race, there will be some fresh ideas. You can't question the BBC's ability for outside broadcasting, it's the finest in the world.

So we are working with the Formula One world feed, and a lot of people said 'Oh, ITV missed that', or they'll say, 'BBC missed this', but in the race that is not our feed. That is given to us, and we have to work around it. But I think they'll do a great job. It's a good group of people, and it's exciting and I'm looking forward to engaging with the BBC. There is other television that I would personally like to do in the future, and use the opportunity. It's a great brand name, isn't it? I will be very proud to wear BBC on my shirt on the grid in Melbourne.

Q. There is lots of interactive systems being put in place by the BBC, so you will be able to choose lots of options both on TV and on the internet.

MB: Yes, working around the feed that we're given from FOM – which I have to say is very good, and we're getting more and more on-board cameras and that sort of thing. But I think the BBC, once we have finished the main live show, qualifying and the race, it will be red button stuff then; sort of banter between EJ and DC and any of the rest of us that get dragged onto the screen. So I think for the hardcore fans it will be more TV coverage, yes.

Q. It's a bit of a risk, having EJ on live TV, don't you think?

MB: Well I got into trouble myself last year with a couple of comments, so I'm treading carefully on that one. I think EJ will be fine. I think he will be quite punchy with what he has to say. We'll see. I don't think DC will be too shy to say what he thinks, either. At the end of the day it's really difficult because if I want to talk to a driver on the grid, and I have been quite aggressive about him the week before, they ignore you.

They don't want to talk to you. But your only priority is to the fans. It is really a fine line that we tread, because we're in the paddock. It's not like Gary Lineker and Alan Hanson they can dis any footballer they like and they are probably never going to meet them again. We have got to work with the teams, we have got to work with the drivers, but the bottom line is that you have got to tell it the way you see it.

You can say 1000 positive things about… I had this experience with Michael Schumacher – I was a huge fan of his; I was his teammate, I watched him closely, I think he's awesome. Behind the wheel of a race car, he is unbelievable. And then I said one thing when he shoved his brother into the pitwall at Nurburgring off the start, and he wouldn't talk to me for five years.

But you have got to tell it the way it is. You have got to be honest and say what you see. That doesn't always make you popular in the paddock, unfortunately.

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