FJR’s 2015 season never took off despite a podium finish for Kevin Magnussen at Montreal and the odd flash from their three other drivers. At their 2016 car launch this morning, team boss and FF1M’s lead commentator James Brickles had a conversation with Gojira AutoSport’s Gui Cramer about his two roles.
Q: Lord Brickles, as a series participant who also has the honour of doing the race commentary, you not only work on making your team the best you can make it but also provide unbiased commentary. What is most challenging about the commentator role?
A: Being a team boss and a commentator are two very different things, but when I’m commentating on my own, I try to forget my other role so I can be as unbiased as possible. I don’t find the separation too difficult actually, it’s finding the right tone I find most challenging. I used to mumble a lot when I started commentating during the 2006 season and it’s a bit of a cringe to listen back to. Hopefully I’ve improved since then!
Sometimes, the two roles can overlap but only when I have someone else with me in the commentary box, partly for entertainment value. I remember having a disastrous race in Hungary once with Exolite’s James Whiteley in commentary box. Everything that could have gone wrong for me in the first seven laps did and I let out a bit of an outburst because I knew it would make Whiteley laugh. I must admit that when Jenson Button pulled off on the final lap at the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, my team boss role was doing its best to override the commentator role.
Q: Having been in the booth for so long, you’ve seen and commentated on some incredible events. What are some of your favourite race moments? You also happen to have special participants on a few broadcasts where you’re often referred to as varying Pokémon. How is that experience of having one or two other people to share the microphone with? Can we look forward to more?
A: Favourite race moments… the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix sticks in my mind. As a neutral, the way the championship turned on multiple occasions was unbelievable, but as a team boss, it wasn’t as nice as my lead driver Michael Schumacher was one who lost the championship due to a suspension failure. In terms of what I’ve commentated on, the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix and the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix were astonishing races to watch, and listening to Whiteley and Courtney rip into each other at Spa and Singapore during the 2014 season was hilarious as well.
It’s great having others commentating on the action with me, especially as they’ve all got different personalities. Courtney’s dry persona is always fun, Whiteley has some good one liners underneath him, Tobias is super competitive but very enthusiastic, and Joseph has great energy as well. If anyone else fancies a go in the commentary box, then it would be great to get their perspectives. Yourself and Pedersen would be a good ones to commentate with as you and him have been in the series since the very beginning.
Q: Switching to the team owner perspective, you’ve chosen to lead development of the Judd engine. Despite years of being the sole Judd car with monumental expenses, you still persist. Besides your appreciation for masochism, why do you endure?
A: In some ways, it’s easier working solo on an engine because you don’t have to worry about customer expectation. Since 2014, my approach with Judd was that of creating an ‘all-rounder’. That hasn’t worked as well as I’d hoped so far, plus engine development tended to be a bit erratic. That’s why I tried to tempt potential customers at the 2016 engine selection period by offering full ERS usage, but that didn’t work either! For this season, the ‘all-rounder’ ethos has changed, plus I spent much of 2015’s in-season engine development preparing for 2016. Hopefully it reaps rewards, otherwise I may reconsider my status as a manufacturer.
Q: You have fielded some interesting line-ups in your time as FF1M boss. What has been your favourite driver pairing so far? And who has been your favourite driver not named Jenson Button?
A: I like Jenson very much but there are some drivers that rank above him in terms of the impact they’ve had on my team. Kimi Raikkonen is a personal favourite of mine having driven for me in two separate stints including my first constructors championship in 2001, and it was great seeing him finally win the drivers championship in 2013. I also have a soft spot for Heinz-Harald Frentzen. He made such an impact when I promoted him during 1998 and finished on the podium in his first five races including three wins. It was a shame he didn’t win a championship because he was brilliant. Fun fact, he’s from Mönchengladbach which is twinned with Bradford, my home city.
In terms of pairings, I would look at the early to mid 2000s to find some of my favourite driver pairings. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher towards the end of the 2006 season was a mighty combination as was Raikkonen and Schumacher in 2001. David Coulthard and Jos Verstappen in 1997 was also a good one as it essentially helped upgrade my team from midfielders to frontrunners at the time.
Q: Again tapping into your dual role, what season would you say was your favourite from a sporting perspective?
A: From a sporting perspective, the last two seasons have been my favourites. I really like this current engine formula as it’s made the whole field competitive. In 2013, the qualifying gap in Melbourne between quickest and slowest team was 2.4 seconds, whereas the gap in 2014 was more than half that. Last season saw all teams take a podium finish which was unprecedented.
Looking into the past, 2002 was a good one as eight out of 11 teams took at least one win and MRD, who finished 4th in the championship had scored over 100 points. The season before was an interesting one as well as it was the only season where you had to choose addition suppliers such as chassis, brakes, fuel, and even the car designer. That season had another oddity in that the eventual drivers champion didn’t win a single race!
“Hopefully my development focus reaps rewards, otherwise I may reconsider my status as a manufacturer”
Q: What can we expect from the FJR for 2016 besides a gradient-liveried car? Who are you looking forward to watching this season, and what are your expectations overall?
A: Hopefully I can have a better season compared to 2015. I was one of the few teams to abandon 2015 at the earliest opportunity, so hopefully that pays off. As mentioned before, much of the engine development during last season was more towards this upcoming season. Therefore, I’m excited to see how Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg get on.
My main aims are to finish in the top five this season and maybe win a race or two, but I’m expecting a hugely competitive season as many other teams are looking good. It’ll be hard to pick a winner for the constructors, but I reckon the drivers championship will be between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.