Mark BLUNDELL “Racing should be about man versus machine”

21st March 2017

Mark Blundell has a rich history in motorsport and most will know him from his time in Formula One, but his career actually started on two wheels when he was 14. He talks to MSD about the state of the sport today and what he’s doing to help racing drivers.

The switch from bikes to cars came aged 17 when Blundell went into Formula Ford and eventually on to Formula One. He has three podiums to his name and 32 championship points in the sport, but his most impressive achievements have to be in the Le Mans 24-hour races he competed in. He was the youngest driver to achieve pole position at Le Mans and won the prestigious race in 1992 with Peugeot.

Blundell’s path to Formula One was a convoluted one and he started his career racing motorbikes around his rural home town. He says: “My dad was a second hand car salesman so my love for four wheels came from an early age but the local sport was motocross and there were plenty of fields nearby, so that’s where my love for two wheels came from.

“Working on the bikes was a good excuse not to go to school, not that I’m proud of that. If I’d known what I know now, things might have been different.
Unlike Damon (Hill) who raced road bikes, I started on the mud.”

There are so many paths into the upper echelons of motorsport these days and most people go down the karting route, but Blundell is happy with how he got into single seater racing. He says: “Karting is a great feeder, but I think bikes give you a better understanding of competition, especially when you’re handlebar-to-handlebar with 40 other guys and you come into the first corner and all fall off! It’s a shock, but it makes you appreciate close racing.”

The guys in the cockpit of the race car are the best in the world and when they make a mistake they should pay the price.

Blundell started in Formula Ford 1600 after seeing it at the Motorsport Show at Alexandra Palace. This is where he began to understand the motorsport scene below F1. While Blundell doesn’t be-lieve he took a generic route into the sport, he did take the same path as a lot of other big names. He says: “A lot of us came from Group C, (Michael) Schumacher and (Alexander) Wurz, to name just two.”

Just like the nineties, the path to F1 still isn’t clear today, as Blundell explains: “I don’t think there’s a tried and tested route, there are just too many formulas and too much choice. There are two levels of motorsport: clubman level where you go racing every weekend and enjoy yourself, and another level where you see if you can cut the mustard to make it to the top.

“I think there should be more of a clear-cut choice and if you reduced some of the formulas perhaps we’d have packed grids and more competition across those feeder series.”

You can’t deny Blundell had a successful career and it’s for this reason he wouldn’t change how he moved through the ranks of motorsport to Formula One. He says: “I’d take the same route, but when I started, Formula Ford was the entry level into motorsport and there wasn’t anything below it other than karting. Looking back, it was still the most competitive and you learnt so much about your own racecraft racing wheel-to-wheel, as well as the mechanics of the cars and working with people.”

In Blundell’s career, he’s raced with some of the greats and found it so important to keep the right mindset when competing with these drivers. He says: “No one has really blown me away with their speed because I’ve always worked under the premise that I’m equally as good, if not better than they were – that’s an important mindset to maintain.”

There is one person, however, that Blundell learnt from, as he explains: “The only person I have worked with who gave me an insight into the next level would be Ayrton Senna. I began to understand how he made people work around him for his benefit. I believe that if I could’ve used those skills, I could’ve gone on to win a championship.”

Over the years, Blundell has driven some amazing machinery, but there’s one car that really stands out. He says: “The best race car I’ve ever driven was one I never raced – an FW14B Williams. When I was racing for Brabham in F1, I got invited to test the Williams, which is unheard of in today’s world. It was the most complete car I have ever driven and it’s understandable why it was so successful.”

It’s not just Formula One cars that have impressed Blundell over the years. “As for sports cars, I’d say the best were the Peugeot I won with at Le Mans in 1992 and the Bentley that should have won Le Mans in 2003,” he says.

“Those cars were light-years ahead of our competitors. A good car that’s balanced and does everything you ask doesn’t come around very often. The Peugeot won the 24 hours and we all went back an hour after the race and thought it could probably do another 24 hours. It was bulletproof.”

Formula One has changed a lot since Blundell’s days, but like many former drivers in the championship he has his own opinions on the state of the sport today. He says: “Formula One should be about entertainment but it’s become so predictable that it’s become boring. If you look at golf, boxing or football, they’re all very unpredictable and that’s the beauty of sport.”

As well as restrictions on teams in terms of what they can do with the cars, there are also a lot of restrictions on the drivers. “We don’t have the characters these days,” Blundell says. “They’re not allowed to be themselves.

It needs more danger back in it.

“It’s become big business and that means conformity. There are other forms of motorsport that have so much more appeal. The British Touring Car Championship has more to offer than Formula One.”

Blundell also feels that a lot of the challenge has been taken away from the sport. He says: “The guys in the cockpit of the race car are the best in the world and when they make a mistake they should pay the price.”

Safety is an important topic in all forms of motorsport but the truth is that it’s dangerous. So, as the sport gets safer does it get more predictable? Blundell believes so. “It needs more danger back in it,” he says. “I know we are built on self preservation, but it’s still about man versus machine and pushing to the limit. That’s the buzz.”

Blundell runs MB Partners, a global boutique sports agency that provides all sorts of services to racing drivers. While he has no regrets in his own career, he’s using this opportunity to help others where he can.

Funding is getting more and more difficult for racing drivers and there are only a handful around the world that get paid a salary for what they do. Blundell says: “If you look at the British Touring Car Championship, that’s a group of guys that should be the best in the country and some of them are there on merit, but there are others who are there for other reasons.”

MB Partners helps drivers with sponsorship, media and driver development, and works with drivers in a range of championships. Blundell has this advice for any driver seeking sponsorship: “Businesses want to see a return on investment and it’s up to the driver to explain how a business will get its money’s worth. Go with a solution to their problems.

“Even with so many communications channels now available, you still have to go and graft for it. If that’s proving yourself by walking into 1,000 doors, so be it. The phone doesn’t just ring, you have to get out there and make contact.”