Interview: Keith Collantine from F1Fanatic

Interview: Keith Collantine from F1Fanatic

MicrophoneWith the off-season dragging on like never before, and with still another 60 days to go before the Australian Grand Prix, I thought I would try my hand at doing a few short interviews with some fellow Formula One bloggers.

While I’m no interviewer, the responses so far have been fantastic, and this just highlights the superb content that is out there.

First up – and taking on the role as guinea pig for me – is F1 fanatic Keith Collantine. Keith runs the aptly named F1Fanatic blog, and judging by his occupation and website, F1Fanatic is no understatement. Read on to find out why Keith thinks the scoring system needs to change, his views on Fernando Alonso and McLaren, and what we should expect from Keith’s network of sites, F1, A1GP and GPM Fanatic.

1. F1Fanatic has been around for two years now, and I remember visiting your site even before I started mine. When did you become a fan of F1, and what prompted you to start F1Fanatic?

OK the first race I saw (on TV) was in 1989 when I was a kid. I saw the British and Hungarian races and became an instant Nigel Mansell fan!

I started F1Fanatic at the beginning of the 2005 season simply because I wanted to write about my favourite sport from the point of view of a fan. I had often felt that fans’ opinions didn’t come across much either in specialist magazines or in the mainstream press – especially stuff like how poor the TV footage is.

2. Your column Trackside for covers a variety of topics in the world of motor racing, and is a great short read as well as informative and fun. Is journalism something you have always wanted to do, or did you aspire to another career before writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, I read history at university, but until I started F1Fanatic I never really thought of myself becoming a journalist (or a blogger, for that matter – F1Fanatic didn’t become a blog until 2006).

Before joining Auto Trader I worked in PR which felt like the flip side of journalism – and I decided I wanted to be on the other side.

3. Having explored F1Fanatic a bit, I see there are two sister sites – A1Fanatic (A1GP) and GPMFanatic (Grand Prix Masters). Is the Grand Prix Masters series something that interests you, and if so would you like to see the series televised and include more drivers and rounds?

Well although both series are in their infancy I think both have promise. The sites that are there today are based on the original F1Fanatic templates, but I’ve got a new project in the pipeline to replace and build upon both sites which will be realised later this year.

As for GPMasters, I think the recent news about them getting the likes of Johnny Herbert and Alessandro Nannini on board is great – they definitely needed some more former Grand Prix winners on their roster. I think before they can expect a terrestrial TV deal in the UK they need to deliver a full season of racing. Last year’s fixtures at Monza and Kyalami just fizzled out.

4. Does any one particular F1 driver, team or even era stand out in your mind as special, or are you simply fascinated with the sport as a whole?

When writing about anything you have to accept both sides of a contradiction – to try to be impartial, while knowing that’s impossible. For example, everyone writing about F1 over the past few years has had to deal with being labelled pro- or anti-Michael Schumacher.

Of the current drivers and teams I think Fernando Alonso is still under-rated even though he has two championship trophies on his mantlepiece. Mark Webber is also better than he gets credit for.

BMW are thinking big for the future and making a lot of convincing moves. But one of the best things about F1 is that it’s so unpredictable. No-one saw Ferrari’s shocker in 2005 coming. With Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen both starting out for top teams this year, it could be a revolutionary season.

5. One recurring theme at F1Fanatic recently has been Formula One’s scoring system. If you can, could you sum up your issues with it and how you feel the scoring could be improved?

Yeah it has become a bit of a hobby horse for me! Simply put I think (and many people agree) that, today, a second place is given too great a value relative to a win in F1. We all know that’s because the present points system was rushed in to take the edge of Michael Schumacher’s dominance in the early ’00s.

I think the champion should simply be the driver who has the best finishing record across the season. In other words, the driver who wins the most. If two drivers have the same number of wins, then the most wins plus second place finishes. And so on until you get a champion.

It would be fairer (drivers would not be punished so harshly for car failures) and make more sense to the man on the street. “Alonso’s leading the title by 14 points” is meaningless unless you know exactly how the scoring system works.

6. To tie in with a recent post here at BlogF1, how do you think Michael Schumacher’s retirement will affect the future of Ferrari and Formula One?

We might still not know the answer to that question in twelve months time!

Regarding Ferrari it’s not just the impact of Schumacher leaving, but of Ross Brawn’s ‘sabbatical’ and Jean Todt’s promotion to CEO, and the thorny question of whether Kimi Raikkonen is team leader material.

Unless Ferrari have technical superiority this year I think they’re going to find it tougher than many people expect them to. As for F1 I think the loss of Schumacher will be felt most strongly in Germany and Italy (note that both of them are back down to one race each this year) but the former could soon have a new top driver in Nico Rosberg.

7. How do you see Formula One in ten years time? Will it still be as popular, will other racing series rival F1 more.?

We’ve had an acute lack of stability in the regulations for four consecutive years now, and it seems we’re set for several more.

My biggest fear for the sport is simply what happens if the manufacturers leave? Sure, Mosley’s brought them to the FIA table, given them a commission and everyone’s talking about road-relevant F1 cars. But if there’s a recession and the manufacturers’ boards decide to axe the F1 programme then it’s curtains. There’s no Cosworth to fall back on for an engine supply is there?

As for rival series I think NASCAR will remain largely US-centric and the likes of A1 Grand Prix, though ambitious, need a long time to grow. I’d like to think a Champ Car-IRL reunification was around the corner but, sadly, that just doesn’t seem the case.

8. With the 2007 season fast approaching, and with many drivers changing teams, who do you see doing well this year and who do you see doing less well?

I think Alonso and McLaren will gel very well – the critical question is whether the car will be up to it. As I showed in a post recently Fisichella was over half a second slower than Alonso in ’06 so Renault better hope Kovalainen is the real deal. Ferrari will be strong and so will BMW, but the latter might take a while. Red Bull are dark horses for a cheeky debut win.

9. What can we expect from F1Fanatic in the coming weeks – is there anything in the pipeline you would like to share?

I hope to have the successer to A1Fanatic and GPMFanatic live in the next few months. At F1Fanatic we’ve got a new feature called “The Old Rumour Mill” where we dig out old scoops from the past that turned out to be not entirely accurate…

10. And finally, who do you think will win the Drivers Title this year?

I expect Ferrari to retain their technical advantage from late ’06 at the start of the season, giving Raikkonen enough of a lead to take the title.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks to Keith for allowing me to put him under the spotlight and disclosing some interesting thoughts on the current and possible future state of Formula One.

In what I hope will become a regular off-season feature, we follow Keith’s interview with Roy Madden from Formula One LinksHeaven next Wednesday. So tune in on the 24th to find out why Roy thinks Formula One will always be around, John Edwards’ progression through the motorsporting ranks and “hardcore F1 porn”. It will be an interview worth reading…

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