An Extended Interview with Mark Blundell

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Mark Blundell (GB), Marlboro McLaren Mercedes MP4/10B.. British Grand Prix, 16/07/1995, Silverstone, England.

Mark Blundell has competed in 61 Grand Prix, been on the podium three times, won races in CART, Le Mans and now runs a sports management company. He found time to speak to us here at Essaar Motorsport about his company MB Partners, Formula 1 and Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 adventure.

As Mark went from F1 to CART (Indycar) he is in a unique position to comment on the challenges the two-time F1 champion will have to face on his debut oval race and was not surprised by Alonso’s impressive pace in testing.

“I didn’t expect anything different from the test. To understand what it is like on oval, a driver of his quality would sail through it. The biggest challenge to Alonso will be to unlearn everything in his brain from the last 30 plus years.

Oval racing is a completely different discipline, the car reacts in a different way to anything he has experienced. The nature of the racing, the way he sets the car up, the way it changes in a race stint and the way he adapts to the changes is where he needs to get his head in gear.

When you are running three abreast at 200mph in a corner you have to understand what goes on with the car, it floats around and that only comes with experience. Learning while he is on the job will be tough.

The basics of when the car gets sideways and reacting with opposite lock, if you do that on an oval it’ll put you in the wall.”

Mark also had to face the challenge of adapting from Formula 1 to Indycar in 1996 so did he have to unlearn everything?

“One hundred percent. It was all about understanding how to set the car up for 500 miles. I did six 500 mile races, I finished in the top six in all of them, won one and came second in another. Some of that stemmed from my years in sportscars and getting my head around being in the car for a long time.

Look at Simon Pagenaud, he only just won his first oval race, a guy who is champion and been racing for a long time. Yes Alexander Rossi won the Indy 500 last year but for the majority, the statistics show just walking in and winning oval in the early stages is difficult.”

After a broad and successful career in motorsport Mark still has many links through his company MB Partners who represent their own stable of professional drivers such as Gary Paffett in the DTM for Mercedes-AMG and Mike Conway in the WEC for Toyota.

MB Partners also assist young drivers in their academy such as Jack Manchester who is in this year’s Audi Sport TT Cup. Mark is very much involved with not only the day-to-day running of the company but also helping each of the drivers.

“I’m completely hands on. We have Kieren Clark who looks after our Young Driver Academy. I sit on the layer above him and oversee things in terms of direction and anything happening with the drivers that needs to be addressed.”

Mark also uses his experience as a driver to help the younger drivers he looks after.

“We discuss a lot of things inside and outside the car with certain situations that go on. It’s just a case of having a sounding board and relationship with someone you trust. Gary (Paffett) we have managed for 11 years, Mike (Conway) for ten and Tom (Blomqvist) for five years. In our industry they are long life cycles, when you manage someone it takes trust, integrity and loyalty from both sides.”

 

Young drivers can receive a lot of support nowadays with young driver academies helping to train drivers into making a career out of motorsport. In fact it was Mark’s experience from his younger days which prompted him and fellow British F1 driver Martin Brundle to start the company.

“I did have some managerial relationships that were in place in my younger days. The honest truth of how that decision making was done sent me to get involved with the sector and to set up MB Partners because I wasn’t happy with the way I was handled.

I think that is pretty much where my drive came from, that if I was going to look after people it would be in the way I would look after myself. It was the catalyst to start it off the original business with Martin.”

Martin Brundle is not the only other member of the original ‘rat pack’ to cross paths with Mark as MB Partners have just signed an agreement to represent 1996 F1 champion Damon Hill.

“I have known Damon for a long time, over 30 years and the relationship is based on trust and integrity. When you get to our level and age you pretty much have been through it all; had the let downs, expectations and promises made.

We are at a stage where we can benefit from doing the right thing. It’s good to be able to be working with someone you know in that way and they know how you work – it’s a big plus point.”

Mark is also still involved with F1 through McLaren and Gary Paffett’s development duties with Williams.

“I competed in 61 Grand Prix races and when it’s in the blood it’s difficult to walk away.”

Difficult it may be, but Mark did walk away from Formula 1 at the end of 1995 when a deal went sour with Sauber.

“I had some very open conversations about trying to come back after the Sauber affair. I had signed an agreement to drive for Sauber and then Red Bull took an equitable stake in the team and wanted a Grand Prix winner in the car. The only guy in the market was Herbert, so I lost a bit of faith in the system.

At the same time Mercedes thanked me for a solid job in replacing (Nigel) Mansell in 1995. When I said I wanted to go to Indy they said I could take a Mercedes engine supply package. I went and got a deal done with Pac West and at the first opportunity we switched to Mercedes power.

It was unfortunate to leave F1 with 61 races and three podiums in machinery which probably wasn’t as deserving but I tested Grand Prix winning cars and that gave me the knowledge to know I could do a better job.”

Mark hasn’t completely retired from driving though as those who were at the 75th Goodwood Members Meeting witnessed him sliding a Escort Mk2 to pole for the Gerry Marshall trophy.

“I’ll be doing the Silverstone Classic and Goodwood Revival this year. I might do the Monaco Historic if the right car and opportunity appears. When you drive around a greasy Goodwood and are more sideways than forward it will always put a smile on your face.”

The ‘fun’ element is one that Mark thinks contributes to the current success of historic racing.

“There is a lot of passion and enthusiasm on the historic side. It involves great automotive brands from historical cars and it is great racing. Historical motor racing has a lot of upsides with open access, people can look at the cars and then meet the drivers. In terms of entertainment, that in many ways is what is diluted from modern day F1.”

 

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