Q & A with Manor's John Booth

Q. What have your emotions been like in Macau this weekend - because the next race you will be a team principal at will be the Bahrain Grand Prix in March?

Q & A with Manor's John Booth

John Booth: Most of the crew here at Manor are personal friends and they have been for a long time, so it is more intimate and a much closer team. While I am here, I won't be thinking about anything other than trying to win. Once the weekend is over, then we will think about Bahrain.

Going to a race with ten friends, even if they do work with me, compared to going to a race meeting with 55 people is going to be very different - and probably the biggest difference between F3 and F1.

Q. How big a change do you think the atmosphere will be like - working in a close paddock like F3 to the piranha club of F1?

JB: The grands prix I have visited so far, the people that I know there could not have been more helpful. Martin Whitmarsh I know quite well through their young driver programme. Christian Horner took me everywhere in the Red Bull organisation, and he drove for me in 1991.

So, so far, everyone in F1 could not have been more helpful. Whether that changes next year or not I don't know. It will always be my desire to keep away from the politics, the 'piranha club' as you put it - it will be my ambition to keep away from that as much as possible.

Q. Can you remember your first visit to the Macau GP?

JB: Oh yes. It was 1999 and we had just won the British championship, and we came here for the very first time. It had always been a big ambition of mine to come to Macau. I had watched it on television since Geoff Lees was here with the Formula Pacific cars, so I had always wanted to race here. It is the best race in the world, bar none. It is such a fantastic event.

Q. Do you think with all your commitments in F1, do you think you will have time to come back to Macau?

JB: I hope so. I would miss it terribly if I didn't come to Macau next year.

Q. How does it feel going into Formula 1?

JB: It is just so much work at the moment. We haven't really had time to think what it means. Everybody is working flat out 20 hours a day, so we haven't had time to think what it means.

Q. Was a move to F1 always on the card? Was it always a dream of yours?

JB: No, never. It was always too far away. When the budgets in F1 were £300 million, or whatever the manufacturers were spending, it was obviously too big a step for anybody to contemplate if you were not a manufacturer or an Arab bank or similar.

Q. So how did the move come about then?

JB: The initial target from the FIA in March was that they wanted to get the budgets down to £30 million. Then that moved to £40 million by April - and it suddenly became achievable. It is still a massive amount of money, but you have a chance of raising that in genuine sponsorship.

So that is when we started thinking and started the collaboration with Nick Wirth at Wirth Research. The more we explored it, the more feasible the idea became.

Q. And Virgin is to buy some equity in the team?

JB: I couldn't possibly comment on that. I think within the next two weeks there will be an announcement about the commercial tie-ups of the company.

Q. How is work going on your side at the factory?

JB: It is great. The new factory is going to be a little bit behind. It won't be ready until we are back from the winter tests, but we have 90 per cent of the staff in place. The engineers are in place now, so we are a long way down the road with it.

Q. Has it been a help for you that Nick Wirth is working on the car aspect of the new team, while you can concentrate on the infrastructure?

JB: Absolutely. We operate in three separate fields. Our commercial office is in London, which it needs to be, as we have an office in the Virgin headquarters. There is Nick over in Bicester doing the development and build, and we have the new team up in Yorkshire.

Although it is one team, it is easy to focus on one particular aspect rather than having to cover all three aspects, so it has made it a little bit easier in that respect.

Q. How much of a boost to the team was it getting Timo Glock on board?

JB: Fantastic. The wonderful thing about Timo was that he came over to meet everybody and it was not hours and hours of negotiation and selling to him what we could do. He just bought into the concept straightaway - and made his decision almost immediately.

We had to finalise contracts and things, but he liked what he saw and wanted to be part of it. So somebody of his experience and quality, wanting to be part of it, not just an employee, is great. He wanted to build a team around him is as he put it. It is a fantastic boost for Timo to believe in us like he does.

Q. Does that surprise you - because Renault was chasing him quite hard and he could have gone to a team fighting for race wins for the off?

JB: It is a little bit of a surprise, but now getting to know him better, you can see why he has done it. I think it tells you a lot about him.

Q. And how much of a help is it for you to get someone with experience like that?

JB: It is massive for us. Massive. Throughout the seat fitting, which we are doing at the moment, his knowledge even now is helping us plan for the first test.

Q. What is the timeframe for sorting out the second driver?

JB: Hopefully in the next two weeks.

Q. And do you want it to be a youngster - someone like Lucas di Grassi? Is that the preferred route?

JB: Lucas would be great for a number of reasons. He is an ex-Manor driver anyway. He won here in Macau for us. It would be great for us to have Lucas, and he has F1 testing experience as well in F1. Somebody like Lucas would be perfect.

Q. What is the progress with the car?

JB: The start-up is scheduled for January 24. The shakedown is on January 29. That side is the calmest area of all, which is incredible. Nick and the guys at Wirth have done an incredible job.

Q. Are you at the stage you hoped to be in at this phase of the year?

JB: I think we are all a little bit in front of where we hoped to be.

Q. What are your hopes for 2010 then?

JB: Our target, as all the new teams are saying, is to be the best of the new teams. That is what we are aiming for. But my ambition is to go out there, perform professionally, and earn the respect of our peers - as you are not given respect, you have to earn it.

We want to conduct ourselves in the correct way. If we get to the end of next year having performed professionally and done a good job then I will be happy.

Q. Do you believe that the season will start next season with two-tiers - the established outfits and the new teams a little behind? Or will they be mixed up?

JB: I think realistically the gap won't close for three years. That is our time frame to start to become competitive. There are some very bright guys in F1, the Adrian Neweys and the Ross Brawns - and you think what they have achieved. They are the benchmark that you have to aspire to. If you think you are going to come in and be competitive in one season, you are kidding yourself.

Q. And the grid is so close...

JB: Yes. That is right. It is a completely new car because of the size of the fuel tank, but the aero regulations staying the same give them [the established teams] a big advantage of course.

Q. F1 is having a difficult time with manufacturers Toyota and BMW pulling out - yet you are going in. Are you not anxious about its state?

JB: No. I think that for the long-term health of F1 there had to be change. The budgets that the manufacturers were spending were unsustainable - and were obscene, if I can use that word.

Funnily enough, I was watching on the plane over here a documentary on Stirling Moss, and it was fascinating how you had the independent teams back then. Someone would buy a car from a manufacturer and run it themselves, and it was great. It will never be the same again, but it is heading that way again.

Q. You could say you are coming it at the right time, as the manufacturer era ends the independents are getting stronger?

JB: I think some things that Jean Todt has said, it sounds like he wants to encourage cost restriction. With the majority of teams now being independents, we have every chance of pushing that to the targets that have been set for 2012.

Q. From your perspective, is F1 actually in rude health - new teams coming in, more independence for teams like Williams?

JB: Yes. It was only six months ago that FOTA was almost a manufacturers' club, but now it is going to be in control of independents. And now you have to call McLaren an independent as well.

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