Q. Talking about F1, you are synonymously linked with Lotus, and the name is coming back to grand prix racing next year. Do you have any special feelings about that?
JH: I think it is great that we have got a name like that back again. The big name that we have got is Ferrari – because the racing names are the McLarens and Williams. They are still there, and still doing very, very well.
But it is nice that there is a marque that is historically British, and has had a lot of success. It is still one of the most successful F1 teams. OK, it is now owned by Proton, but at the end of the day it is a good thing that they are back.
It is going to be very, very hard for the new teams because they have come under the £40 million [$66m] cap, because obviously that cap was not capped in the end and the big teams will still spend the big money. But it does prove, like Force India, that if you do certain things, then you can actually be very competitive – surprisingly competitive, to be honest, as they probably shocked everybody by how competitive they were. But it does prove it is possible.
It is not easy though. It took Force India a long time from the successful Jordan days, with the same nucleus of people at the end of the day, to get back to that. Of course, they know racing, but F1 is a very different animal from F3, or GP2 or anything else for that matter.
It is going to be tough, and equally so for Lotus. It has a great name and that great name can possibly help them get the sponsorship they need, but they have to start well. They are all aware of that and they are all aware that it is going to be tough for them, but it will be nice for Lotus to be able to come back. Mike [Gascoyne] is a very experienced guy, but we will have to see what he has produced at the end of the day.
Q. Are you going to be involved in the team?
JH: No. I was originally (with Litespeed in the summer) but I took a step back and looked at it, and thought I wasn't sure. So I will watch from a distance.
Q. Two consecutive British World Champions now – it is a pretty sensational time for British racing fans, isn't it?
JH: Definitely so. It is a shame because for Jenson, I think he had a cracking year but there was a little bit of criticism out there that the second part of the year wasn't very strong and it wasn't like when he was dominant at the beginning. But, to be perfectly honest, the others didn't move forward. Red Bull probably peaked too late, and that was probably the quickest car overall, but it took so long to get the thing sorted properly for whatever reason.
Then Ferrari had a little bit of resurgence, then that petered out a little bit – and then McLaren, which probably had the best year I've ever seen in a way. They came from a few seconds off at that preseason Barcelona test, to win races. I've never seen a team come back from the back of the grid during a season to win. Teams come back and perhaps get some points, and mix it up in the lower end of the points – but never ever to win. So it was amazing that McLaren and Lewis were able to work together to be able to produce what they did. For me, that was the best season they have ever done in a lot of regards.
All that mix of people getting it right in certain places – the McLaren only working at certain tracks, the Red Bull coming in strong, then strangely enough having that little bit of a weak spell when you expected them to dominate from Silverstone onward, was nice to see. But I think that made it harder for Brawn because there was so much going on. And we hadn't seen for many years so many teams fighting for wins. Normally it is just a straight head to head, but it wasn't this time. It kept changing, and they kept level for some reason – and Jenson did everything he needed to do.
He had a Schumacher style of coming to the pit stops, being told to push, and he pushed and went much quicker. He showed the Michael speed that we used to see at the right time, with Ross [Brawn] knowing how Michael did it, and he did respond to the call. He had those six races under his belt at the start of the year, then everything started to change with everyone else having their peaks. He stuck there, it didn't go quite to plan, but at the end of the day he did exactly what he needed to do.
It was nothing to do with Brawn, it was nothing to do with Jenson. The failures came from McLaren not getting it right, Red Bull Racing not getting it right early enough and Ferrari having a bad year at the same time. They are the ones that lost it. Brawn did the job in very difficult circumstances because they didn't have a team in December. Even from that point of view, everyone else had an easier time. Red Bull, who ended up being the strongest over the year, they are the ones who should have won because they had everything easy.
I know people say that Brawn already had the car designed and it was all there, but all those difficult times of not knowing what the hell was happening, and all the stress that goes with it, did not make it easier. The first any of us saw that, of the stress of the changeover and the pressures of the season, was from Ross on the pit wall in Brazil [when he cried]. You never see Ross like that, so there was a lot of stress involved and that was the release.
Q. Were you surprised then that Jenson decided to move to McLaren?
JH: You can look at it a few ways. You can say, "Why move?" because obviously Brawn was effectively Jenson's team as he has just won the World Championship. But Mercedes has just come along and I don't know the situation – he knows it much better than we do about what development work has gone on during the season as to what he needs, and they need, to have a chance of winning it next year.
With McLaren, you can always look and say that they are one of those teams that are going to work at it. They are going to learn from what they did this year. They are on the up, they have a very good chance and the connection between McLaren, Lewis and the engineers is very strong as it is 14-years old.
And that is the tough thing for Jenson. McLaren will give both drivers equal cars for sure. But it's just those little mental things that can make a difference. Lewis is in his team, and I know the team is going to try as hard as it can, but these little things can be quite sensitive sometimes to a driver.
Fernando Alonso at McLaren provides the perfect example. He went there as a double World Champion, thinking he was the best driver out there and that he was going to win it easily. And, of course, he didn't.
The positive for Jenson will be that his championship is out of the way. The pressure is off. He has done what he needed to do. He can go out there, and try and defend it in a much less stressful way. He has had the stress of trying to win a championship and not knowing if he is going to win it, or everything that is going with it. That has gone now – he has won it, he has done it, and now he can actually go out there and enjoy it.
Hopefully, early in the season – perhaps in testing – the way he is going to get that team working around him, that nucleus of his engineer and his crew, is to go out there and take it to Lewis. It is well within him to do it. The speed we know is there but he has to go out there and almost prove a point again. It is quite funny how that situation comes about – where he has to go in there and prove himself again as a World Champion. It is going to be a very tough thing for all of them – Lewis, Jenson and McLaren. But it will be a good season.
Q. In 1995 you went into Benetton against the guy who was the incumbent – Michael Schumacher – and the big star. If you had to give Jenson one piece of advice from your lessons of that time, what would it be?
JH: Well, I never had a problem with Michael, and I don't think Jenson will have a problem with Lewis. My problem was always with Flavio because it was Flavio who always said yes to Michael. I don't think Jenson is going to have that problem.
The biggest thing I would say to Jenson is to just settle as quick you can – and make the biggest effort now to integrate with all the people, and all the personnel. Now is key to getting those relationships early and positive.
If you get them early and positive, it is something you will feel can help take you forward. That energy will bounce back off everyone – but when I was there with Flavio, it bounced and then ricocheted – and then always missed me! That is F1. That is what it is like.
It is never easy – and it is not going to be easy for Lewis either. He has got the World Champion coming in, and he is going to want to beat him – and equally so the other way around. Jenson has to get those relationships sorted early – that is key.