Gerhard Berger on the generational change in Formula 1
His opinion about the fight for the title, about the drivers and the growing popularity of the championship
Gerhard Berger, former Formula 1 driver, and now one of the leaders of DTM recently gave a big interview about things that are happening in Formula 1 right now.
He talked about why Ayrton Senna is the best driver of all time, why his favorite young drivers are Lando Norris and George Russell, and many other things.
Question: What do you think about the new generation of Formula 1?
Gerhard Berger: It is quite obvious that a new boom has come. Especially in the USA. The Premier Class has so far failed, despite several attempts. The races in Austin and Miami are completely sold out, and next year there will be a third race in Las Vegas. It will probably be followed by a fourth. Of course, it also helps Formula 1 that Ferrari is able to win again. We are seeing real duels again.
Question: From the point of view of a former top driver - which of the drivers do you admire the most now?
Gerhard Berger: There are several of them. Let's start with Fernando Alonso. He's a tough guy who still performs at the highest level. In a racing car, he is an animal. It is a pity that he was not always far from politics, otherwise he would have had more than two titles. Maybe four or five. Anyway, I like him the way he is. Then Max Verstappen. Although he is still so young, he already has a lot of experience. Thanks to his style and aggressiveness, he is the absolute highlight of Formula 1. And, of course, Lewis Hamilton. In sports terms, he is an absolutely exceptional racer with his titles. Of the young drivers, Lando Norris and George Russell impress me, because they consistently show high results. Young drivers sometimes have lulls and fluctuations in their work, but these two show stable results. We can say about them that they are the champions of the future. I also like Alex Albon. Last year he competed in DTM, returned to Formula 1 with Williams and is doing his job very well.
Question: What about Charles Leclerc?
Gerhard Berger: Yes, I've been following him since his karting career. He performed with my nephew Lucas Auer. I remember it well: we were at a race in Monaco, and I was standing in the corner of the Rascasse. It was wet, and I was looking at the guys. Later I went up to Lucas and told him, "There's someone riding in yellow gloves. Look at its trajectory. He's very good." It was Charles Leclerc. At that time, I also told Prince Albert that he had a future Formula 1 driver in Leclerc. Albert remembered this later and told me with a smile: "You were right."
Question: Now he is fighting for the title behind the wheel of a Ferrari…
Gerhard Berger: Yes, but last year I lost a bet to Martin Brundle because of Leclerc. He bet on Carlos Sainz, I bet on Leclerc. I was sure Sainz wouldn't have a chance against Leclerc as a teammate. At the end of the year, Sainz was ahead. This season, Leclerc is breaking away from him again. But also because Sainz is very unlucky. Leclerc is probably the leader at Ferrari, but I still want to wait and see both of them.
Question: Why is it so difficult?
Gerhard Berger: To become a world champion, it is not enough to be fast. You should also be able to drive tactically. Let's see if he can do it. In Imola, he lost third place because he drove the chicane too carelessly and as a result flew off the track.
Question: Was the pressure of the home race too much?
Gerhard Berger: No, I don't think so. On the contrary: thanks to his successes in the beginning, he rather felt a tailwind from the fans. He was just taking too many risks. If it was about winning, I would understand. But if you want to become a world champion, you have to calculate everything in your head, and also take third place when it is impossible to achieve more. You can hang on the other guy's tail, put pressure on him, and then hope for a mistake. But you shouldn't take too many risks yourself. But that's exactly what he did and lost so many points to Verstappen. So I wonder if he will continue to take risks in the future. This would never have happened, for example, with Lewis Hamilton. Last year, Lewis was always on top, and when everything went well, he won.
Question: Why is Russell faster than Hamilton at the moment?
Gerhard Berger: I wouldn't call it "faster". Russell is a young driver who is currently taking any risk to look good against the background of a famous teammate. Now Lewis takes such a risk only when it makes a profit in the championship. When it comes to the eleventh place, he fights, but does not take much risks. This can be seen in the example of Sebastian Vettel: when something is at stake, real champions go for more. Moreover, Lewis dramatically lost the championship last year. In his mind, everything revolves around victories until he becomes the most successful driver of all time with an eighth title. But he knows he doesn't have forever to do it. It's on his mind, and I think he's already given up on this season.
Question: How does he handle it? Will he lose motivation?
Gerhard Berger: No, because the eighth title is his motivation. I think he's already thinking about next season. He wants to become a world champion again. So he says to himself: "What should we do better next year so that I can win the title again".
Question: And Sebastian Vettel?
Gerhard Berger: One thing is clear: he's not as good as he used to be. But that's okay. In the first part of your racing career, you always take a lot of risks, constantly pushing the car to the limit. Then you gain experience and lose aggressiveness. Then everything is balanced. At this point, you reach your peak. I was 28-30 years old when I had the best mix of aggressiveness, willingness to take risks and experience. But then the curve goes down again. So of course Sebastian is no longer at his peak, but he has so much experience that he can still drive ahead when it suits him.
Question: But now he's having trouble with the Aston Martin. How much longer will he be disappointed?
Gerhard Berger: He has to answer this question himself. I think Aston Martin performed worse than it could in the first races. In Imola, on the other hand, everything looked better than it really is. Because finishing ahead of Hamilton is not normal. I'm sure Sebastian knows that too.
Question: If you add up all the qualities of a driver, who is the best driver in Formula 1 at the moment?
Gerhard Berger: I think it's still Lewis Hamilton. Because there is an aggressiveness in Max Verstappen, which is usually an advantage, but sometimes still worth points. In this respect, Lewis is even more calculating. Lewis closes the gate only when he knows for sure that the collision is beneficial to him. But he doesn't close the gate if it puts him at a disadvantage and he may lose important points. Max is fully programmed to win, he is always in overtaking mode. In most cases, this works, but not always. In terms of pure speed, Max is ahead.
Question: How do you assess the situation with Mick Schumacher? How good is it for him that he now has such a strong partner as Kevin Magnussen?
Gerhard Berger: It's good for Mick. Because in Formula 1, it's only a matter of time before you meet good drivers as teammates. Magnussen is not an exceptional driver, but he is a very good driver who knows how to put everything together and score points, as you can see. That's why it's important for Mick to have Magnussen around, because then he will be able to evaluate his performance better. Of course, if Mick doesn't beat him at some point, then he will have problems. Especially when you are young, you have to attract attention to yourself in individual performances or in difficult conditions, and then defeat a more experienced guy. You don't have to be ahead in the championship, but you have to clearly show that you are faster. He should do it this year.
Question: How important is it to have a good teammate?
Gerhard Berger: This is the most important of all. But in the end you have to be faster. Basically, a good teammate always pushes you. You work harder, you always go to the limit, not just in the car. It is very important. But there are also exceptional drivers, such as Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton. They always work to the limit of their capabilities and give their best result, regardless of what their teammate does. I've always worked hard enough to beat my teammates. It also worked fine until I met Ayrton Senna.
Question: Is Ayrton Senna the best driver of all time for you?
Gerhard Berger: Yes. In terms of sport, I see Lewis Hamilton at the same level. But Senna also had a special charm and crazy charisma. At his funeral in Sao Paulo, millions of people lined the road on their way to the cemetery. During his lifetime, the team often received a message that the relevant president would like to meet with him. He was unique. He was extremely kind and constantly read the Bible in his motorhome. He was also extremely committed to security, just saying smart things.
Question: With all these legends, you have to ask this question now: How would Michael Schumacher look against Magnussen at the same age as Mick?
Gerhard Berger: Michael was a different caliber driver. Michael gave Mick the genes, prepared a field for him. Everyone is happy about Mick's success, including out of respect for his father. But Michael was an exceptional driver from the very beginning. In addition, he received excellent training in the Mercedes youth team, where he was able to get behind the wheel of a very fast Group C car. This means that he was already used to fast cars when he came to Formula 1. On top of that, he had extraordinary talent, unearthly ambitions and the ability to work. You're not doing Mick any good by comparing him to this super driver. Mick has to go his own way, and he will. He enjoys a lot of support from everyone. Whether it's emotional, financial or technical problems. It all depends on him. Now he has to do the work himself.
Question: Isn't it especially difficult when descendants are engaged in the same sport as their ancestors?
Gerhard Berger: I've often thought about it. I have to protect Mick and others like Bruno Senna: they grew up in comfort and they never had to fight. After all, they lack the killer instinct they need to get to the top. Of course, Michael wanted his son to do everything as well as possible. This is absolutely clear, every parent wants it. But it takes away your fighting spirit from the very beginning. As a father, you choose the best team for your son, buy him the best equipment, and then use your connections to find the best engineers and mechanics for him. Piquet's children are another example. They didn't have to fight as hard as Nelson, their father. Even Senna had to walk all the way from the street. Michael had to get up from the street, Sebastian Vettel also spent the night in a tent with his father at karting races and worked on maps himself. The next generation lacks basic work. Only with Max did it really work.
Question: Why Max Verstappen?
Gerhard Berger: Because Jos Verstappen was ruthless with him in the days of karting. Even as a spectator, you were shocked and thought: "But it doesn't happen that way." Today, however, I have to say: Max is an exceptional driver, a wonderful person and does everything right. So Jos’s harsh school was probably right after all.
Question: You can also say: because of Jos, Max was ready for the heavy hand of Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko…
Gerhard Berger: You could say that. I had a similar one. At the very beginning I also worked with Helmut Marko. First he made me wash the truck. But it was a great lesson: Because I did a good job with Helmut, even Enzo Ferrari, Frank Williams or Ron Dennis couldn't hurt me in any way.