This Q&A was conducted at a media event to promote the forthcoming Superleague Formula event at Donington Park this weekend. It took place before the previous Zolder race. You can read about that here and view our pictures of the day here.
Here’s the audio of the interview. Please bear in mind that this was conducted in the garage being used by the Superleague Formula cars as they were prepared for their track time. Therefore the quality is rough, but we still think it is worth using, so that you can hear Jonathan’s words as they were spoken.
Listen here (7 mins 38 secs)
BoP: Jonathan, this is your first year in Superleague Formula. What were you doing last year?
JK: I actually tested for Williams last year.
BoP: That must have been great fun.
JK: Really good. It’s a good opportunity to learn a pretty impressive car, obviously, and I think it’s helped me with Superleague and the other things I’ve been doing as well. I was actually doing straight-line testing, I did that a few times, we were testing different things on the car like the KERS system…
BoP: Aah, interesting…
JK: Which they haven’t used. Yes, very interesting… I still don’t know how it works. It’s really good stuff.
BoP: Theirs is special at Williams, isn’t it? They have got this special KERS system.
JK: The flywheel system, yes, I think they’re onto something pretty good there. They still haven’t used it, obviously, but I think they realise that might happen. I think once it’s working it’ll be really good.
BoP: They had the technical director of the London Underground along to look at their KERS at Williams, I understand.
JK: That’s right.
BoP: And he was completely blown away, and he said if I can be convinced this is safe, then there are huge implications for this…
KP: That’s right, I think that’s where they are probably targeting it, it’s probably a better market than F1 itself.
BoP: Everyone wants to talk to you about the car. Tell us about the car. What’s it like to drive this car?
JK: It’s brilliant fun. Before you get in it you can see it’s a very big car.
BoP: It’s a beast, isn’t it?
JK: It’s much, much bigger than a Formula One car, and any other car I’ve driven in the past. I would say I was fairly apprehensive the first time I drove it, but it puts your mind at rest straight away because it’s a fun car to drive, it’s nice, it doesn’t do anything that you’re not expecting. The power that it gives is brilliant.
BoP: Beautiful V12…
JK: Yeah, it sounds great, I love it. I think Formula One should go back to it, really. It’s a brilliant car and one of the things I was saying earlier to a few people was that the fact that it doesn’t snap or doesn’t surprise you means that the race is better because you can confidently go down the inside of another driver, or race alongside someone, so the perfect car for the job. I am pretty sure that the spectators love the car, and the engine noise, and everything.
BoP: AS Roma – that’s a club that – I don’t think we can beat Galatasaray, I think they have the most passionate fans. And the Brazilians…
JK: I don’t know, the Italians could beat a few.
BoP: You’re going to have some passionate fans there, I would have thought.
JK: Exactly. It’s an honour to drive for Roma. It’s a very historic place and a historic football club, so to drive their car is brilliant fun, really. It is going to be interesting in Monza, because that’s in Milan, and my team-mate [for the squad running both AS Roma and AC Milan teams] is Giorgio [Pantano] who drives for Milan.
BoP: Not much to measure yourself up against, then, the reigning GP2 champion…
JK: I think the Milan fans are going to be pushing pretty hard for him.
BoP: This is one of the things that is wonderful about the series, that it attracts former F1 drivers, we have had several, there’s the GP2 champion, and also new and less well-known drivers on their way up, like yourself and Craig Dolby.
JK: It’s a good mix, actually. As a driver in my position, or Duncan’s [Tappy, the Galatasaray driver] or whoever’s, we can measure ourselves against drivers that are very well-respected in the F1 paddock like Giorgio and Pizzonia and Bernoldi. It’s good in that sense and I was quicker for most of the second half of the race than Giorgio. So, knowing that, it gives you a lot of confidence.
BoP: A nice feeling, absolutely. You said when you got into the car, it had nice handling characteristics and all the rest of it, tell us about your first time in the car. Did you test with the team?
JK: Well, that’s a story in itself. The car was delivered to my team in Belgium a day before the first practice in bits so it was a bit of a fight to get the car ready. I missed all of testing on the Friday, got 10 laps on Saturday morning then it was straight into qualifying. For me Magny-Cours was a baptism of fire because I had never driven the car before, I had never seen the track before, never done a rolling start before and never done the pit-stops before. It was the first time I had met the team as well, so to be running fourth at the end of race two, I was pretty pleased.
BoP: Indeed, as you should be! This seems to us to be a characteristic that a driver needs, in the climate that we have in racing, with drives as tight as they are, to be a man who can just drop in.
JK: That’s a good point. Not many people bring that up, but you are absolutely right. You need to be able to drive anything, to just get in there and the thing is that your mental approach to the weekend changes. You have just got to get on top of the car, the circuit and whatever you are finding new for the first time as quickly as you can. I have driven a Formula Master earlier on in the year and it was exactly the same situation there. I hadn’t driven the car before and I hadn’t met the team before. All these new things and, you are absolutely right, these drives are going to come up and you just need to be able to parachute into the seat and do a good job.
BoP: So, how did you get the call for this? Was it just a phone call out of the blue, or did you have to lobby for it?
JK: Really, I’ve got a manager and I’ve left it up to him. He does a better job than I would on that front.
BoP: Interesting, we were lucky enough to have been at Silverstone, and we were talking to a guy who was in driver management who is now managing relationships for Ferrari and Shell and their petrol. He was saying that is one of the most important relationships you can get sorted out as a driver – the manager who gets in there and brokers this stuff.
JK: All through my career I have never had a manager up until the last two years. At junior level you just don’t need them, and there are a lot of driver managers that promise the earth and then don’t deliver. But when you get to this level, just below F1, you need someone to help you out with contacts and just general advice, really.
BoP: We mentioned Monza. Is there a circuit coming up that you are particularly looking forward to driving?
JK: Obviously, being British, Donington is going to be a big one for me. But I think, as an actual circuit, it’s got to be Monza, really. I have driven there quite a few times, I love the place, the atmosphere is going to be amazing. I am pretty sure the racing is going to blow people away, really, with all the slipstreaming into the first corner particularly, and into the Parabolica as well. It’s going to be pretty amazing, really. Any race is going to be good this year, but I think from a circuit point of view, Monza. The others I don’t actually know, so…
BoP: What next? Are you in for the full season, is that confirmed?
JK: Yeah, the full season.
BoP: OK, as sure as anyone can be. So, what about next year? Back here, or…
JK: We’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
JK: I’d like to stay here, really. I’m enjoying it, it’s a good championship to be in, as I said, the car is great fun, I’m loving every minute so far, so unless anything else happens I’d love to be here.
BoP: OK, is there anything you’d like to cover that we haven’t asked about?
JK: From the team point of view, the team running me is Azerti, they’re a Belgian team. They’re doing a really good job. Like I say, they got the car late, but they’ve done a really good job.
BoP: Fans, especially Formula One fans, can be a bit sniffy about Superleague Formula. Now, we think that’s silly, evidenced by the fact that we are here. But what would you say to people who are saying: “Oooh, why should I follow this series?”
JK: I totally understand what they’re saying sometimes, because you get set in your ways and you like what you know. And you don’t want to change, it’s like changing your religion almost. That’s understandable but I think, when you give it a chance, Superleague stacks up really well against Formula One.
Read more about Jonathan Kennard here.