By Rosa Elena Torres | We sit down for a chat with Jo Ramirez, a respected author and ex-employee of several sports car racing teams. From 1984 to 2001 he was coordinator of the McLaren Formula 1 team, and he finally published his life story in 2005, to the interest of many Formula 1 fans, called “Jo Ramirez: Memoirs of a racing man”.
What was the atmosphere like in Mexico during the Formula 1 Grand Prix?
We spent 23 years without the Mexican Grand Prix, so people couldn’t wait for the race start. I think there is a certain community passion for racing in Mexico.
The fact that we have a Mexican driver competing and two Mexican drivers for next year is something that gives shivers to the local public. It was fantastic when they reopened the Autodromo, I was amazed how many people actually were there, and every single media outlet in the country was there.
One of my best memories about the Mexican Gran Prix is from 1988, when we (McLaren) were first and second with (Alain) Prost and (Ayrton) Senna. During the races in the ‘80s and ‘90s, all local journalists wanted to talk to me. We didn’t even have a Mexican driver then, but Mexico kind of adopted McLaren as a home team because of me.
What’s your take on the new Formula 1 destinations of 2016 and 2017?
There are too many Grands Prix, in my opinion. I’d like to see less races overall yet more of them back in Europe, and also in countries where there is culture for high-end automobile racing and where F1 Grands Prix have been taking place for a long time.
As for Baku, to be honest, I didn’t read very much into it. I’d rather see the French Grand Prix or the South African Grand Prix. We as a global motorsport community have been involved with the sport for decades and we still love it, so it would be fantastic to keep the races going in countries that have the same love too.
How do you see the sport developing in Europe?
It seems to me that the sport is going away from Europe and we’d rather keep it there. We should also keep it in Europe because it’s where we have all the know-how. I don’t like to sound negative, but we have tried Korea and India and they didn’t last long, so then we had the same question arise again – “why did we come here in the first place”?
How is Formula 1 doing in the Americas? What could we all do to make it more popular there?
The answer is very simple. We have to invest more in the driving talents from the Americas.
Do you think the sport is competitive enough? What’s different in terms of driving talent, compared to, for example, the 1980s?
The sport has become very problematic and you need a crazy amount of money to be able to run a team. Also the cars are too easy to drive, even considering that such racing has become too technical. When you have 17-year-old drivers being very competitive on the Formula 1 track, it shows that something is wrong. Additionally, there are too many rules and too many penalisations. If you change something in the car, you’ll loose 5 or 10 places. I mean, it’s so weird. The public definitely doesn’t understand it all.
One more sad thing for me is that there are no small teams left. And even if there were, they wouldn’t have a lot of options. Next year we’ll have Haas F1 coming from a huge country, and they seem to be well-prepared, but even a team like that has only a few engine choices. And how can we have more engines available? How do we possibly make Porsche or Audi or Toyota join the sport? There’s no way, they are not even considering this option.
And then there’s the sporting side of the circus. A simple racing accident doesn’t exist anymore. When the guy behind tries to pass the guy in front of him and the guy in front doesn’t want to get passed by the guy behind, eventually there’s going to be some sort of a crash. If there is a crash, there HAS to be a culprit and they HAVE to penalise somebody. It’s quite silly, in my humble opinion. Look, that’s the name of the game – there are always going to be a racing accidents! However, now you get a penalty or something, you have points added to your license like on the streets for any regular conflict. I think we have forgotten what this sport is about.
How do you see the racing world outside Formula 1 – Formula E, Indy and F1 feeder series?
Recent years have seen a lot of categories in the sport, and there can’t possibly be enough money for all of them. If you don’t have a championship that is being covered by a good TV network, you are basically lost, because your product is never going to succeed – it needs the media.
Formula E is the baby of Jean Todd and Alejandro Agag – I have only seen one race on television and, I must say, it was the strangest thing that I ever saw in my life. However, it seems to be a complete success. Unfortunately, the tracks are very narrow, the cars are ugly and they sound terrible…
Finally, how about the second edition of your book?
Well, the book was published 10 years ago and in the last 3-4 years nobody could even find it. We had to launch this second edition and the publishers asked me to do a couple more chapters, showing the world that there actually is life after Formula 1 and talking a little bit about the changes in the business of motorsports.
At least interested people can buy it now, and it is quite a success in Latin America, of which I’m very proud of.