Veteran who defies the generation gap

THE MONDAY INTERVIEW; At 37 Martin Brundle will be the oldest driver in Sunday's British Grand Prix. But, as he tells Derick Allsop, he is still keeping the youngsters in their place; 'There should be a queue of young guys blowing me and Gerhard Berger out of the water. There isn't and there bloody well should be'
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The Independent Online
Martin Brundle was a mite perturbed by the rumbling speculation that he was contemplating giving up his wheel and helmet for the mike and headphones with ITV's new Formula One team next season, and it showed. He relished the opportunity to put the record straight.

"There's a dearth of news these days," he reasoned. "Everybody seems to like everybody else. Frank [Williams] isn't having a go at Damon [Hill], and Damon isn't running into Michael [Schumacher], so if there's an inkling of a brainwave anywhere it gets more exposure.

"I've had a very rough time on and off the track this year and it's been extremely difficult. I think many people have given up for me. 'Ah well, he's had a good career and having a rough time, if I was him I'd just give it all up.'

"Plus, I was privileged to be invited to join the board of the BRDC, that owns and controls Silverstone, and that was an opportunity not to be missed. I think people misread that as my getting ready for my next career.

"Well, I've never given up, which is why I stayed around so long. The fact is you do go through highs and lows in any sporting career. The pressure is on in Formula One, the money's so big. I'm a link in the chain, all right the most visible link, and when you're having a bad time you've got to dig deep, remember how good you are. You have to put some positive topspin on the negative things that have happened to you.

"You just have to ride the wave because in no time you can go from hero to zero and zero to hero again." Brundle is in fighting mood as he prepares for another British Grand Prix on Sunday, reassuring armour for the mind as well as the Formula One battleground. At the age of 37 he is the oldest current driver, almost a generation removed from the likes of his team- mate at Jordan Peugeot, Rubens Barrichello. This Englishman has a way, however, of out-manouevring the tiros and outflanking time.

Many of younger years, with more to prove and much more to earn, might have taken the hint to quit while ahead after that spectacularly terrifying accident in the opening race of the season at Melbourne, where Brundle's car was launched into the air for what seemed an interminable flight before disintegrating on impact.

He was unhurt, and as lucid and logical as ever, which is more lucid and logical than most. He speaks and thinks in joined up language.

He had a far more demanding examination of his resolve at home. His father was dying of cancer and his young son was afflicted with a bone disorder. However reluctant he was to face up to the fact, Brundle was not himself in the cockpit. "I'm a very strong person, but I saw my dad dying over a couple of years and when he died it really hit me hard. I underestimated the effect it would have. I didn't have time to grieve because I was flat out working. It's hard on the children. But we are a racing family, I'm a professional sportsman and get paid a lot of money, and people expect me to give a strong performance.

"The trouble is that when you're in a Formula One car you need, mentally and physically, everything together, otherwise it stands out a mile. Very few push themselves to the mental and physical limit that we do. Suddenly you are three- to four-tenths of a second off the pace, a heartbeat, but it's night and day in Formula One."

Then, in Canada last month, a glimpse of daylight and the authentic Brundle, coaxing and cajoling the car to a highly creditable sixth place with the kind of controlled aggression that forced the young Ayrton Senna to the wire in the 1983 British Formula Three championship and matched Schumacher in all but the first quarter of the 1992 grand prix season.

"Now everybody's slapping me on the back saying 'Brilliant drive, you are blowing the kids away,' and all that sort of thing," he said. "It's so fickle. It used to worry me to death, now it just makes me smile." So does any questioning of his commitment, at the age of 37.

"In the wet, in Barcelona, I went away at the start with my foot down hard, in a ball of spray, where I couldn't see my own dashboard. That's commitment. When I haven't got that any more I'll stop. I won't wait for somebody to ask me politely.

"There should be a queue of young guys blowing me and Gerhard Berger [who is approaching 37] out of the water. There isn't and there bloody well should be. They should work harder and understand what's involved getting to Formula One and staying in Formula One.

"I think the pressure's so great they can't keep their heads. It's such a big business now, so high profile. They just don't seem to have either the commitment or the mental capacity. There are a few coming through, but there should be a queue. Sooner or later they are going to turn up and blow us away. That's a fact of life. But I give my team-mate . . . 13 years? and I can give him a seriously good run for his money."

"Canada was quite important, but I've had some epic fights over the years with Senna and Schumacher, and they hit me hard. They drive you on. That's always been my strongpoint, my determination. I've never been as naturally gifted as Senna and Schumacher. I don't delude myself. But in the last 10 or 15 years, who has been?

"I've no doubt I could do what Michael did, and Hill is doing in the Williams. When I see [Williams' test driver] Jean-Christophe Boullion, going round Silverstone as fast as he has, I begin to wonder if my mother couldn't drive it. Last year Boullion was an embarrassment in the Sauber.

"That Williams is very special, but let me say this. Damon Hill has been in that team as test driver and race driver for a long time, and if that car's so special he must take a good proportion of the credit, along with Patrick Head, Adrian Newey and the whole Williams team, driven by Frank.

"It's all very well jumping in a car that's quick and being quick, it's getting it quick. That's the difficult bit."

Brundle has enjoyed the benefits of quick sports cars, winning the world championship and the Le Mans 24-hour race during periods of exile from Formula One. He has not been so lucky in grand prix racing. He had a contract with Williams which was never ratified. Twelve and a half years and 150 races on from his debut, he still pursues his first win.

"Yeah, that drives me on," he said coyly. "I feel frustrated and embarrassed not to have it. Olivier Panis won at Monaco this year, and last year he couldn't live with me when we were together at Ligier. You're either giving pressure or you're taking pressure in sport, there's no in between.

"This year I've been taking pressure, pressure within the team. The team's got its own problems, trying to grow into a big team from a small team and, with all the other things happening, you're on the receiving end.

"But I still love it, and I don't think I've ever felt such a warm following as I've got now. I guess I've got a confidence now that I didn't have a few years ago and people have got to know me better. It's a humbling experience when someone trembles like a leaf because they've met you, a grand prix driver.

"I might finish at the end of this year, or in two or five years. I don't know. Maybe it won't be my choice. I remember starting the Australian Grand Prix, in 1987, absolutely convinced it was my last grand prix. You can never say with confidence you'll be in Formula One the following year.

"I very much hope I will be driving a Jordan in 1997 and that this will be my last team. I say that in a positive way. I will be involved in motor racing for some time to come but in what capacity I don't know.

"I just know the feeling you get coming into a circuit as a racing driver and going round, waving to the crowd, is incredible and irreplaceable. If people still love me and I'm still competitive, why not carry on? All right, I had a bit of a fright in Melbourne, and it was rather dramatic, but I've had luckier escapes.

"I certainly don't drive for the money. I could have retired two or three years ago and been guaranteed a reasonable living for the rest of my days. Of course I like the money, the toys and the perks, but nothing like I enjoy the buzz of driving out of the pit lane in a fabulous Formula One car.

"I love that, I really, really love it, and sooner or later I'm not going to be able to do it, and it's going to hurt."