IN HINDSIGHT: ALAN JONES
AQUICK LESSON for the youngsters among you. Long before watching relatively recent home-grown superstars like Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo grow up before our eyes, us Aussie sports fans worshipped another god of the grand prix scene. Alan Jones’s position among the pantheon of Australian F1 ranks is easily definable: he’s the only Australian other than the mighty Sir Jack Brabham (three-time champion) to have won a Formula One world title. Jones achieved his victory in 1980 and while dwarfed by Brabham’s brace, it remains one of the most famous achievements by a Down Under athlete on the international stage of all-time.
Racing in the decades beforeTwa er and Fakebook, he was relatively unknown before his world championship win, but today, few names in international motorsport are as
In your new book there isn’t much that you get romantic or misty-eyed about ... Is that because you were hardened over the years by the ruthless, day-to-day struggle of professional motorsport?
No, I just think it’s because I’ve never been one for pu ing up with bullshit. I just tell it the way it is. I’m not a romanticist. I did a book in 1980 – aer I’d won the world championship. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then and I just think I have a few tales to tell.
These days you’re a Formula One steward at a few grands prix each season. What appeal does that type of role hold for you?
It gives me an opportunity to remain current. I get to go and visit the teams and keep up with what’s going on in the present-day Formula One. I enjoy it. There’s about four or five stewards. They always like to have an ex-racing driver among the ranks who can add a bit of light from the drivers’ point of view.
Do you look at the modern F1 and think to yourself: that’s an entirely different sport to the one I raced in?
Yes, and no; it’s a good question. At the end of the day you still line up on the grid, and you still take off when the lights go off. And you still race into that first corner and you’re still racing and overtaking. But it’s a lot more political now; a lot more commercial. I don’t think I’d make a very good Formula One driver in this day and age. I don’t mean in terms of the actual driving, just in terms of pu ing up with all the bullshit.
Just on that, Bernie Ecclestone mentions in a forward in your book that “Alan Jones wouldn’t exist today”. You sound like two blokes with a similar ethos when it comes to the true spirit of F1 ...
I always got on really well with Bernie. He was very much head down, bum up and got the job done. He pre y much spoke his mind most of the time. I would like to think so did I. I mean, at the end of the day, if you go to a circuit and you don’t like it, there’s no point pretending you do like it just because the revered as Alan Jones. When he speaks, they listen. Jones’s no-nonsense style both on and off the track brought him admirers and detractors, but he always spoke as he saw it. He still does that today, as evidenced by Inside Sport’s chat with the Sport Australia Hall of Famer over the following pages. If you’re hungry for more aer si ing through our interview, Jones has a new book out, AJ: How Alan Jones ClimbedToTheTop Of Formula One.One It’s full of original insights, opinions and observations collected across a lifetime in motorsport. He can also be seen at F1 tracks across the globe in his role as a race steward, and on Channel Ten during the network’s seasonal F1 coverage.
manufacturer you’re driving for happens to own the track, or the so -drink manufacturer that sponsors your car happens to own it. If you don’t like it, say you don’t like it.
When you were racing, was it hard not to disconnect yourself from the situation and think: wow, here I am, racing F1?
No, and probably because I’d spent so much time trying to get into bloody F1, that when you get there, you sort of half-think you deserve it anyway. And then I prey much used to sort-of try and divorce myself from the politics and all the other stuff. I very much tried to just concentrate on the driving and the logistics of what had to be done to win a grand prix.
Ge ing self-analytical for a moment, what were your main strengths as an F1 driver? What in particular set you apart?
Brute force and ignorance, probably. Again, I was able to separate myself from a lot of stuff that was going on around me. I think that very Australian aitude of just head down, arse up and go for it helped, too.
You mention having to try and strip down to your fighting weight in the lead-up to some seasons. Were you ever doubtful as a youngster – weight variances aside – that your skeletal structure might work against you when it came to actually fi ing into an F1 car?
I think I was prey borderline, to be honest with you. You know, I used to have a slice of toast with peanut buer and a cup of tea for breakfast, no lunch and a light meal for dinner. Prey much a jockey’s aitude. Mind you, that really hasn’t changed all that much to this day. Modern Formula One drivers are 60-odd kilos or something. They starve themselves to the point they’re almost fainting, which I reckon is absolutely bloody ridiculous. At the end of the day, if they made the cars a bit wider, and the cockpits a bit bigger, it would give guys who were perhaps of a bit bigger stature – and very talented drivers – an opportunity. But at the moment, you could be the most talented driver in the bloody world but if you’re physically a lile bit too big, you can’t get in.
You mention in the book you felt you were relatively unknown in Australia until you won the world championship. Did that surprise you even back then? Even before the days of
“If you go to a circuit and you don’t like it, there’s no point pretending you do like it just because the manufacturer you’ re driving for happens to own the track .”
“I think we should be very proud of what Mark Webber has achieved. He was paid a lot of money to be a Formula One driver. That’ s more than a lot of other people can say .”
social media and wall-to-wall TV coverage?
It didn’t really surprise me because the Formula Ones weren’t telecast ... In those days if you won a championship, you got a Gloweave shirt and a pair of socks! So it wasn’t exactly one of your major sports. It was only really enthusiasts who followed it. And probably back then, the only international Formula One driver known to Australia would have been Jack Brabham. So it wasn’t until it began being telecast and I started winning some grands prix that the average Australian thought, ‘Shit, who is this bloke? I’d beer have a bit of a look.’
You are o en frustrated that Aussie fans don’t love F1 the way they love Bathurst. Is that an insular Australian thing?
It’s just that Australians have been bought up with a touring car mentality. Open-wheelers as such aren’t given the spotlight or the TV time or whatever they used to be given. I mean, in the old Tasman Series days Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill and all those international blokes used to come down to Australia and race open-wheelers ... We don’t have that now. There’s not a decent open-wheeler category in this country. So if you want to watch motorsport on TV here, it’s basically all Supercars.
What would be your main tactic be as far as more-effectively promoting open-wheelers to Aussie audiences then?
Well I think Supercars themselves are probably going a lile way towards that. They’re going to start up a category, V8-powered open-wheelers, to be the curtain-raiser or support category to the Supercar racing, which is fantastic.
You had some great years for Peter Jackson Racing in particular across the mid-1990s. What did you find were the greatest challenges in switching between F1 and touring cars?
Probably puing up with the bogans here in Australia ... Nah seriously, you can’t compare the racing. One’s a sophisticated thing which has been designed specifically do to a job, and the other one was a thing that was MODIFIED to do a job. It’s a very hard bug to get rid of; I love motor-racing. If I wanted to continue motorsport, I had to basically go touring car racing, otherwise it was just Formula Fords. And I didn’t really want to do that.
You thought Australian F1 officials were sometimes a lot more strict and anal than those
in other countries when it came to racing and equipment regulations. Why do you think this was?
Probably because they didn’t get the chance to exercise their powers all that o en. A lot of the marshals – English, Italians, Germans – were probably doing it every single weekend ... unlike the marshals here in Australia, particularly in those days, less so now. For example, there might only be one Supercars race in Queensland, so this is their opportunity to be the weekend warrior ... their opportunity to flex their muscles: I’ll show you who’s boss-type-of-thing. Oh look, don’t get me wrong; they’re not all dickheads. You know, there were some very nice marshals as well.
How would you sum up MarkWebber’s F1 career? Did you play much of a mentoring role for him?
I think we should be very proud of what he’s achieved. At the end of the day he was paid a lot of money to be a Formula One driver.That’s more than a lot of other people can say, particularly Australians. What did he win – six grands prix or something? He led the championship at one stage, he won Monaco ... He was and still is a very good ambassador for the sport and for Australia.
And what are your overall thoughts about Australia’s current potential Alan Jones, Daniel Ricciardo?
Yep. Lovely kid, lovely family. If you meet his mum and dad you can sort-of understand why he’s such a nice kid. He’s always smiling. Once again, he’s a very good ambassador for us ... unlike those idiot tennis players. He’s very down to Earth. He’s just a good kid.
What are you up to these days?
As lile as possible! I’m still doing Channel Ten, still doing the odd stewarding meet for Formula One. I’m involved with a company called Ageless, which is a vitamin supplement, and which we’re hoping to go public with in September. So that’s been very exciting. Various bits and pieces ...
Do you ever get to drive fast these days?
Yeah, I do driver days for Lexus; I’m an ambassador for them.They have a supercar called an LFA. It’s really quick; it’s a V10: nought to 100 in 3.6 seconds. I take people for hot laps in that, which I thoroughly enjoy.
So that satisfies any cravings you might have for the good ol’ days ...
It’s got to, there’s nothing else!
Jones with the prize fromtheBritishGP in1980. Tearing aroundLongBeach.
It was a tight squeeze toraceinF1–andJones still asks why the cars can'tbewider.
to Jonesfindsaway to stayconnected thefollowingof modernF1. Mark Webber: a good ambassador for the sport and the nation, Jones says.
Jones thinks he could mix it with Vettel, Hamilton and the rest of today's drivers ... on the track. Daniel Ricciardo, nice kid.