“So, what are we going to talk about?” asks David Croft, Sky Sports F1’s lead commentator. “Formula One,” I reply. “Do we have to?” he jokes, sarcastically. Despite a long day of rehearsals for the 2014 Autosport International Show’s Live Action Area, he is in a typically cheeky and cheerful mood.
Having just finished discussing the 2013 Formula 1 season, which you can see in part one of his chat with RichlandF1 here, the topic of conversation soon moves on to the up-coming season and the fantastic unpredictability surrounding the sport.
2014 will see a raft of new regulations debut – the biggest shake-up that the sport has seen in quite some time. V8 engines are out, being replaced by 1.6 litre V6 Turbos, downforce is being cut and KERS will be replaced by ERS. And those are just a few of the modifications.
Some may find it all a bit confusing, but Croft can’t wait for the season to get underway. “It is fantastic,” he exclaimed. “I have been sitting down, reading some of the sporting regulations and changes. It isn’t all sinking in just yet but it will.
“I can’t wait for the first test, not just to see who has got it right but to see who has got it wrong as well, because people will and everyone is predicting carnage. I don’t think we will see that, but we will see reliability issues, upsets, shocks, uncertainty. I’ll vote for that any day of the week.
“Yes, it is expensive and the new engines have certainly put a strain on the budgets of every team, and some teams will benefit more than others – those that are actually attached to an engine manufacturer. But I’m not hating anything I’m seeing or learning. When it gets to the first race and Vettel wins it by a minute and a half, we will all say we need to go back to the old rules. But I just don’t think he will, somehow.”
The driver market has been a hive of activity over the last six months, with plenty of movement up and down the field. One big seat up for grabs was the one vacated by Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing. It eventually went to countryman Daniel Ricciardo. What does ‘Crofty’ make of the move? “He is not going to go there to be a number two driver; he isn’t going to go there to be the subservient team-mate. As a Red Bull young driver who has been brought through by Dr Helmut Marko, he has earned his place in that team with his performances, results, effort and energy. I think he will fit in very well.
“Over one lap, he is a very quick driver. His qualifying performances are excellent. His starts, and he will say that himself, have not been the strongest part of his performance. He needs to work on that because it is no good putting the car in the top four and then going backwards. I think he will do well. Give him half a dozen races and he will do very well.
“He is going to take the fight to Seb and that is brilliant, you want to see that. You will be able to reference him to how close he gets or whether he beats Vettel from time to time. It is one of the things I’m really looking forward to his year, to see how he stacks up alongside a four-time world champion. There is a lot of pressure on him but I think he will take it in great stead and smile his way through it.”
Aside from thinking he looks very much like Sky Sports F1 presenter Simon Lazenby, Croft is expecting Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso replacement – Daniil Kvyat – to do a good job at the team, with Jean-Eric Vergne proving to be a good benchmark for the 19-year-old.
Some will say that Ferrari’s 2014 line-up is the best on the grid, with Kimi Raikkonen replacing Felipe Massa to partner 2005 and 2006 champion Fernando Alonso. What does Croft make of that statement? “They are two very strong drivers, very strong characters in their own way. Will it work? I think it should. They owe it to Ferrari to make it work and Ferrari owe it to them, to give them a good car so there are not any problems in the first place. I can’t wait to see it. It is another brilliant match-up. Whatever you say about Fernando and Kimi as team-mates, you can’t take your eyes off that for a minute.”
Another exciting, but not particularly popular, line-up is that of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. The decision by Lotus to replace Raikkonen with the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix race winner did not go down well with Formula 1 fans, but it saved the Enstone-based outfit from even more financial problems.
Some say the team can transform Maldonado into a frontrunner, like they did with Grosjean. Does he also hold that view? “Of course, if the car is good enough,” he replied. “He isn’t a bad driver, Pastor Maldonado, but he has made mistakes that have rather characterised his driving perception. He just needs some finesse to his driving.
“But, the flipside is that without Maldonado’s money, Lotus would have been in some serious trouble for this year. So by him going to Lotus and the money that he brings with him, helping that team to stay afloat and stay on the grid, whatever you think about the finances of Formula 1, it has still got to be a good move for Formula 1.”
Not only will the grid look very different in 2014, but the calendar has also had a makeover. Gone is the unpopular Korean Grand Prix, with the F1 paddock welcoming Russia and a return to Austria. The 43-year-old is looking forward to his first trip to the Red Bull Ring, but what does he make of the round in Sochi?
“They have got to get it finished and sorted. Everything has to run smoothly, but Formula 1 should be going to new markets. The thing about Russia is that since the announcement of that Grand Prix, you have Marussia and the Russian’s are buying more into that team, you have the Russian connection with Sauber and Sirotkin as their third driver – and rightly so for next year, needs time does that young man, and you have got Kvyat coming in for Toro Rosso. So you are getting Russian drivers, Russian investment and Russian connections with the sport of Formula 1.”
Korea is definitely off the calendar now, is he too bothered by that? “I like the track in Korea; I think it is a really good track for racing,” he said. “It is a shame that hardly anyone came to see the race. Korea is a mad, passionate sporting country but there is just no history or heritage really of participation in motorsport and you have got a track that is four hours away from the capital city. Are we going to miss Korea? No, probably not. It is just shame because the track was good, I liked the track.”
New Jersey has been on the calendar one minute, and then off it the next. Croft remains to be convinced by the race, which was planned to be held along the Hudson River, but he does hope it happens, for the sport. But he feels 20 races is the maximum for the F1 calendar, feeling that any more would just “dilute the product.”
One of the most controversial changes coming into force for 2014 doesn’t even involve the cars. Yep, you guessed it, double points. “I’ve had eight seasons as a Formula 1 commentator. In five of those seasons, the title has gone down by the last race. So why are we looking to make it double points? Martin Brundle tweeted and I defer to Martin on this one because he put it more sincerely than I ever could: ‘Double points, it is the answer to the question no one was asking.’ I do understand it but I’m not sure it benefits Formula 1 from a sporting perspective.”
Permanent numbers will also debut, but this change hasn’t had such a negative response. “I think it is a good idea, actually. If fans can identify with a number throughout that drivers career, what is wrong with that? We all identify with ‘red five’, 27. It might, once we learn all the numbers, make it easier for fans and for commentators alike to know that when a number comes up, ‘that is so and so.’”
Images courtesy of LAT and Octane Photographic