Driver Q&As

Rob Smedley

For the College Times’ December 2014 issue, I interviewed Williams F1 engineer, Rob Smedley.

  • What made you get into motorsport and as a child which type of Motorsport and person was your favourite?
  • My Dad took me to the British GP and I was somewhat hooked. I was captured by the engineering beauty and excellence of Grand Prix cars and knew that I wanted to be involved with them on an engineering level somehow.

 

  • What attracted you to Ferrari although you chose to work in their test team at first?
  • They are a huge team with a big resource and as an engineer that was an exciting prospect. Essentially having the resource both in fiscal and personnel terms to explore different technical areas to gain an advantage over other teams was an attraction. Additionally, at the time when I went there, they had some of the best people in Formula 1 and it was an honour to be part of that group

 

  • How did you feel afterwards when Massa won the world championship in 2008 for just five seconds before Lewis Hamilton cruelly snatched it away from him considering that every engineer wants to win the championship with their driver and it looked extremely unlikely that Hamilton would snatch it away once Massa crossed the line in a typical Brazil race when the championship ends up going to the wire in Brazil and it rains on race day as seen in 2012?
  • Lewis Hamilton won it and he won it because he and his team were better than anyone else. I therefore felt fine. I felt that we had given it our best shot and been beaten by a better outfit. Formula 1 racing is a business but more importantly than that it is a sport and you must learn to take the many lows that sport will throw at you if you’re ever to be successful.

 

  • When Felipe was injured at the 2009 Hungarian GP in qualifying, what was going through your mind seeing your driver badly injured and did you worry about your job because it could have had wide implications if it wasn’t a spring from Reuben Barrichello’s Brawn car that struck Massa because as race engineer, you would have had to take the flak and face questions from the media?
  • Felipe is a colleague and a good friend so my concern was for him and his immediate situation. And of course it remained like that whilst we waited for him to recover. The “technical” aspects were of secondary importance.

 

  • At the 2010 German GP, you had to deliver a message telling Massa to let Alonso through, how difficult was it considering that a year ago in 2009 Massa had the accident that could of cost him his life and now he was being told that he is too slow to be the leading Ferrari basically and as the years have gone on, Massa has been referred to as ‘Ferrari’s number two driver’ because Alonso was basically controlling the team from a viewer perspective according to what I have learnt from the media. How did hearing people refer to Massa as Ferrari’s number two driver feel as a personal friend to him?
  • The two Ferrari drivers were and still are given equal machinery with which to fight. There is no number 1 or 2, they are equal. If the media have an opinion on things then it should remain just that; an opinion.

 

  • When Massa left Ferrari, did you feel that it was time to move on and try a new challenge at Williams and did Ferrari try and persuade you stay on although you used to work with William’s BTCC team in 1999?
  • Felipe leaving Ferrari had nothing to do with my decision. I had taken it long before that. Williams offered me a good challenge working to rebuild the team to its former glory. That is what we are doing now. I had a good period at Ferrari and will be forever indebted to them but as with a lot of things it was time for something new

 

  • How different are Williams to Ferrari and what are your hopes for the future with Williams considering that you now have Valtteri Bottas showing his full potential and proving that not doing GP2 in 2012 and instead doing practise sessions was the correct decision?
  • My hope for Williams is simple; I want them to win World Championships again and return to the outfit that they have the potential to do. 

 

  • Can you give your views on GP2 & 3? Because many of today’s F1 stars have come through those series with Bottas and Danil  Kvyat from Torro Rosso being examples of those who jumped from GP3 to F1 whilst Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg came through GP2 in the same year but joined different teams till 2013 when Hamilton joined Rosberg at Mercedes. The racing in these series is just as exciting although GP2 is introducing DRS in 2015 when the drivers can overtake brilliantly without it already so what is your view on GP2 introducing DRS?
  • I think that both GP2 and GP3 are very good series indeed. Formula 1 needs the “feeder” series where young drivers can hone and demonstrate their talent. We do need however to keep the costs under control to ensure that the driver’s talent is the principal metric rather than how much budget he can find. The other thing that I feel we need to be more proactive about is that young racing drivers receive a proper formal education. This is the responsibility of not only the GP2 and GP3 teams but the F1 teams who sponsor a driver through his formative years.

 

  • Would you recommend F1 and why to those doing business studies in light of Caterham and Marussia going into administration and more teams apparently to follow such as Sauber according to media reports? Would having a maximum customer team charge help teams?
  • Clearly F1 needs a better business model if two teams have gone into administration in the space of a week so yes; I would recommend that more Business Studies students get involved.

 

  • Can you explain to our students how you came to have a successful career in motorsport?
  • Hard work

 

  • Why should students aspire to follow in your footsteps? (Benefits of your role)
  • They shouldn’t aspire to follow in my footsteps and I would never advocate this. This should however aspire to excellence in whatever their chosen field is. Never give up on what is important to you.

 

  • How do you capture the attention of a motorsport team? What skills and attributes are they looking for?
  • Academic excellence is a given but look to do something slightly different that makes you stand out from the crowd.

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