Racingone On One: David Hobbs

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Ahead of Formula One's switch from SPEED TV to FOX for the next four races, race analyst David Hobbs spoke to RacingOne about the season so far, what to expect during the FOX broadcasts and several other topics of interest going into this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix.

Hobbs, who is a member of the SPEED and FOX broadcast team alongside Steve Matchett and Bob Varsha, has over 30 years of driving experience in multiple forms of racing including Formula One, Indy cars and sports cars amongst others. Prior to joining SPEED, he worked with CBS on their Daytona 500 coverage from 1979-1995 as well as spending some time at ESPN.

RacingOne: What are your thoughts on the 2007 Formula One season so far?

Hobbs: Well, it’s proven to be an outstanding season. I think everybody was concerned when (seven-time World Champion Michael) Schumacher retired that Formula One was going to lose a little bit of interest, but it has certainly been more than rekindled by the ascendancy of (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’) young Lewis Hamilton. And I guess also a bit of surprise that (Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver) Kimi Raikkonen has not been more competitive, especially after his very strong start in Melbourne, and obviously (teammate) Felipe Massa, who has caught a few people by surprise because he seems to be certainly a match for Raikkonen, and I think most people thought he wouldn’t be really when the chips were down. And Alonso, the two-time World Champion going to McLaren. Obviously, there were doubts in everybody’s mind about the intricacy of McLaren themselves after two or three years of some very good performances but a lot of unreliability, but he has done very well there.

The other big shock has been how the way that Renault has, after Alonso left, kind of collapsed really. On the other hand, I don’t think it is certainly all Alonso’s doing, but I think if Alonso was there, they would still be off the pace but not as much as they are because I think that Alonso, like Schumacher, they have tremendous personalities within the team and they are amazing at getting the best out of the people that they work with. There’s no doubt that Schumacher rejuvenated Ferrari. I think Alonso is going to do the same thing at McLaren.

I think it has taken Alonso a bit by surprise the speed, tenacity and race craft of Lewis Hamilton. He is five races in, he has been on the podium in every race, he is joint leader with Alonso of the World Championship, and he has made one mistake, which was sliding off in practice on Thursday in Monte Carlo and in fact he was quickest up to that time. If you are going to make a mistake, obviously practice on Thursday or Friday is the time to do it.

I think all in all, it has turned out to be a terrific season. You got two guys as joint leader, Massa who is just a handful of points behind and even though Kimi Raikkonen hasn’t made the best of it, and has had some bad luck, he certainly is still there right in the hunt. The last seven years, really, the World Championship by this stage whoever is leading it has kind of disappeared in the distance – Alonso the last two years and Schumacher the five before that.

RacingOne: You have a unique vantage point, being that you are an analyst and also have a world racing background – is Lewis Hamilton the real deal?

Hobbs: Oh, unquestionably. I really did think he might win at Monte Carlo because he had been there three times before; he had the pole in each of those races, won the races and led every lap. He was right there on the podium, second place, just a few seconds behind Alonso. If he had the pole, I think he probably would have won it.

He is absolutely the real deal. He seems to have an uncanny ability to race at the very top and not get fazed-out one bit or make any mistakes, it is almost uncanny. At the end of his third race, he had podium in the first three races – which was a record by (Juan Manuel) Fangio – and now he is up to five races. I don’t think there is any question at all.

RacingOne: Starting with this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, Formula One race coverage shifts from SPEED to FOX for four races. What are you feelings on the move?

Hobbs: Well, I am very pleased. I think that obviously SPEED is a huge stage, but FOX is obviously bigger and I do think that if we get a good race on the next four races, obviously a lot depends on Canada, if we get a good race in Canada it’s going to spark interest and it’s going to be interesting to see how ratings compare with other open-wheel series here in the States. We get good ratings on SPEED channel, especially considering the time of day we are on and all that sort of thing. I think going on sort of ‘primetime‘ for a weekend, in the middle of the day, live from Canada and live from the U.S. on FOX will be a big shot in the arm for Formula One in the States. I know that (Formula One Supremo) Bernie Ecclestone wants to get on broadcast TV, so I think from his point of view he should be pretty happy.

I think we’ll do a good job and introduce a lot more people to Formula One on FOX.

The Canadian Grand Prix is going to be an interesting one. This is the other thing about Hamilton’s early success in Melbourne and Malaysia – he had never been to those circuits before. The next two races, Canada and the U.S., he hasn’t been to those tracks either, so he has some learning to do. I think that both those tracks will also play into the hands of Ferrari. They seem to be suited to those long, fast circuits somewhat more than they are the tight circuits. I think that Ferrari will be more competitive here than they were in Monte Carlo.

RacingOne: Are Formula One fans who currently tune into the coverage on SPEED going to experience any new bells and whistles on FOX or is it going to be the traditional coverage?

Hobbs: Unfortunately, we don’t have much time for bells and whistles. It’s a two-hour time slot. We are not going to have a pre-race show on FOX, our pre-race show will be on SPEED – certainly for Canada – then we’ll go to FOX. With the time limitations we have, we are basically coming on for the cars on the grid, so we are not going to have much time for bells and whistles unfortunately.

RacingOne: Often, people say that yourself, Steve Matchett, Bob Varsha and the whole SPEED Formula One team have great chemistry and may be the best broadcast team in racing right now. How do you manage to do that?

Hobbs: Bob and I started working together at ESPN back in 1988, we are one year shy of 20 years together. I was always relatively articulate when I was a driver, I got some very good training from a guy called Rob Campbell, who was a public relations guy that was helping with the Formula 5000 championship back in the early 1970’s. He and I spent a lot of time on the road together promoting that championship and working with Sam Posey, who is another SPEED alumni. We were always coherent and had something interesting to say.

I don’t know why, but everybody recognizes when they are watching Roger Federer play tennis that there is no way they can play tennis like that and that there is nobody that can play golf like Tiger Woods, but I think that if they have been 90 mph down the freeway and they see that the average speed around Monte Carlo is 90 mph, they say ‘Well I can do that.’ I do think that people think that racing is like going to the supermarket, except that it is at a slightly higher speed. Obviously race driving is totally different to street driving, and I think I have been lucky that I have always been able to bring that out.

When Steve got added to the team – Frank Wilson found Steve in reading Steve’s book. Steve had written a book about racing from the mechanic’s point of view, which had never been done before, it’s always a driver writing about his career or even the team manager, but never a mechanic. It was a very well written book. Steve had proven not to be just a good writer, but a good talker as well. He too is terrific on all the technical details, which sometimes appears to be trivia but is vital to these Formula One cars, and he has a great way of putting that across without blinding you with science. I think all of us are lucky that way. We can put across the complexities and the little tweaks that go on in Formula One that differentiate it from any other form of racing.

And of course Bob and the play-by-play, is just great. As Frank Wilson termed him ‘he is the guy that drives the bus.’ He does a terrific job. He is very, very terrifically articulate and just amazing at coming in and coming out of the show. He is just always terrific.

We have been lucky to make a good team. What’s even better, and I think the thing that helps us as a team, is that we get on very well off the set. We eat, drink together and we have a good time off the set. We spend a bit of time talking about racing, but not an awful lot. I think as good friends, and good comrades, it shows in the broadcast.

RacingOne: What do you expect to see from Scott Speed in the next two races?

Hobbs: Well, the Toro Rosso seems to be getting better and Scott was excellent around Monte Carlo. Obviously it is a very different set of skills driving around Monte Carlo than around Canada, and I am not sure that their car is very fast in a straight line and aerodynamically speaking. I think he’ll show, I don’t know whether he will get in the points, but he really asserted himself over his teammate in Monte Carlo. Hopefully he will have a good race in Canada and in the States. Obviously it would be great to see him pick up some points in both races, but whether he will get on the podium is highly unlikely.

RacingOne: Finally, why is it that Americans are so hesitant to get into Formula One?

Hobbs: I think it is because they already have so much racing here anyway, which they have grown up with obviously – particularly NASCAR, Busch and the Truck racing – all of which seem to make up a lot of TV time. Obviously the time of the race isn’t great, passing is a little difficult for the cars, and Americans do seem to like American names. They are very happy with Mexican, Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic names when they are playing baseball, but they are not very keen on it when they are in race cars for some reasons, which I think is one of the problems with the IRL and Champ Car racing, there are a lot of foreign drivers in there although obviously there are some like Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon that have been around so long that they are almost Americans. They do seem to like their domestic drivers.

What I am hoping that on FOX, coming on at a good time of day and with the broadcast team we’ve got, that we will introduce a lot more Americans to Formula One. Luckily for us, people like Darrell Waltrip and all those NASCAR guys always give us good plugs as well. They all watch it and they all realize how difficult it is, and just because you don’t see as much passing doesn’t make it any less difficult.

Make sure to watch David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, Bob Varsha and the entire SPEED Formula One team as they begin the first of four races on FOX this weekend. Their coverage of the Canadian Grand Prix begins Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET).

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