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It's all change in F1 this season: with new owners, new cars – and a new team-mate for title favourite Lewis Hamilton. Jack Nicholls, who will be leading BBC Five Live's coverage of the 2017 Formula 1 season, tells Boundless why we should be getting excited...
Boundless: Will having a new team-mate make things easier or harder for Lewis Hamilton this season?
Jack Nicholls: One of the most frustrating things about F1 is you never really know how good a driver is because they’re driving different cars. So we don’t really know how good Valtteri Bottas [pictured] is. But you can look at his past performances and his career before he got into F1, and looking at that I would say he’s a quicker driver than Nico Rosberg – so from that point of view, I think Hamilton will have more trouble with Bottas than he had with Rosberg.
Then again, Rosberg was with Mercedes since 2010, the start of the team, and Hamilton only joined n 2012. So Rosberg was settled – so the question is: how quickly can Bottas settle and adapt within a new team?
I think Bottas will be closer to Hamilton than maybe Rosberg was at times. Which sounds a stupid thing to say because Rosberg won the championship! But I think in terms of pure pace, Hamilton was the quicker driver of the two. It’s going to be fascinating. I think it’s good for F1 that Rosberg retired – otherwise we might have had Rosberg v Hamilton for the fourth year in a row. At least now we have Bottas versus Hamilton.
Are you surprised Mercedes haven’t made it a No 1/No 2 driver situation at this point?
I think a lot of it will depend on what happens with the other teams: if Red Bull [Max Verstappen's car pictured] are challenging Mercedes in every race, there will come a point where Mercedes will have to choose a No 1. It may be whoever’s ahead in the championship at that point.
They’ve been very fortunate in the last three seasons: they can have their drivers taking points off each other because they knew they were dominating the championship so much: Red Bull or Ferrari might win one race but Mercedes were going to dominate. But this year, if Red Bull and Ferrari are closer, that will be a lot more difficult situation for Mercedes to manage.
With the new technical regulations, do you expect Red Bull and Ferrari [Sebastian Vettel, pictured] to narrow the gap on Mercedes this year?
I really think the gaps at the top will be closer. I think Red Bull will be closer – simply because of the improvements they’ve shown since the start of 2014 when they were nowhere and having a shocker – to winning two Grands Prix last season. So I really hope and think they can close on Mercedes.
Whether the regulations will make the racing better… you just don’t know. They’ve changed the regulations with the hope of making F1 better, so you hope that it will.
It’s completely new cars, so why would Mercedes necessarily have the same lead they had last year? Simply because their technical team is just better and better resourced?
Yeah, I think you have that – also they’re in the luxurious position of being able to build their engines and cars as one. Red Bull build their cars in Milton Keynes while their engine is being built in France. Mercedes have had such an advantage with their engines since the new rules came in in 2014 that that’s the assumption – that they will carry on being strong. So even if their new car isn’t totally amazing, they still have the engine… if their car is as good as the Red Bull, the engine will keep them in front. You’d be a brave person to say Mercedes aren’t still the favourites.
There’s only four or five teams, absolute tops, that can possibly win races. What can be done about that?
Well, at the moment, it’s only one team! Even if two teams or three teams had a chance of winning, that would double the interest. In the FA Cup recently, my team Wolves beat Liverpool – in football, you go into the match knowing it’s pretty much impossible but it could happen. But in F1, if you’re Sauber [Felipe Nasr, pictured] or Toro Rosso, you know you won’t snatch a win unless something totally ridiculous happens. But part of Formula 1 is building the best car and if you haven’t built the best car you don’t deserve to win. That’s part of the sport as well. But we do need more than one car being able to win…
Is the future of the British Grand Prix safe now, do you think?
I would say so. One of the biggest complaints about Bernie Eccleston's time in charge of F1 was how much he charged circuits to stage the races. So even though Silverstone was selling out it wasn’t breaking even. So that’s another example of F1 being financially flawed. If you sell out the circuit, you should be able to make money. It has to be a viable scenario: there’s nothing more you can do, than get 140,000 people there on race day to look at the show.
There’s no German Grand Prix this year – between Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, and Mercedes dominating for the last three years… for the German circuits not to be able to afford to host a Grand Prix… how is that sensible?
So I think the BRDC [owners of Silverstone] were sending some signals to Liberty that they wanted to sort things out: ‘It’s ridiculous that we cant afford to host the Grand Prix’.
Boundless: Last year was your first full season on the F1 circuit – I saw on Twitter that you made 84 flights last year. You must get real adrenalin from doing this job…
I absolutely love it… the 84 flights was a bit nuts last year because I also did the Olympics in Rio, and I also did some other racing championships as well. So it was a bit bonkers last year. But F1 is what I’ve loved since I was six years old and I’m lucky enough to go to all the races. And just getting on the plane knowing you’re going to Monaco or Brazil or Japan to cover a Formula 1 race is incredibly exciting and I’m lucky to be able to do it. It’s awesome.
Which Grand Prix do you most look forward to?
It’s actually the race in Austin Texas. I'd never done it until last year but as a whole Grand Prix, for me, it’s the best. It’s not the best track in the world, its not the best location but everything together… it’s a pretty decent track, it’s a really cool city and the mix is just stunning. I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and 'America' is a pretty boring answer when you go to all these exotic places. But as a Grand Prix event, it’s absolutely the best, I think.
Which drivers do you find the most interesting to interview?
Surprisingly – well, it surprised me – Lewis Hamilton is one of them. He has this persona, which you may like or dislike... but once you cut through it and you talk about racing cars, he’s probably the most engaging driver on the grid. You have to get past his latest fashions but once you do he’s one of the most passionate guys there is about the sport.
I had this perception from the outside that the showbiz was more important to him than the racing. But when you stand and talk to him and look him in the eye, you really suddenly get that passion that doesn’t always come across on TV.
Finally, what are you looking forward to seeing on the track this year?
Obviously, Bottas at Mercedes, seeing how he does will be fascinating. I think the Red Bull drivers are the most interesting pairing on the grid. Max Verstappen [pictured, right] set the world alight when he came into F1 and had some incredible drives last season but, though he took the limelight by being spectacular, his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo [pictured, left] is probably even faster: he beat him in the championship last year.
Last year, they were battling for third place, but if they start battling for race wins and championships that relationship could get very spicy.
And the other one is going to be Lance Stroll, who’s 18 and is going to be driving for Williams – and whenever you get a teenager it’s going to be exciting and fascinating to see how he gets on alongside his team-mate Felipe Massa, who’s 36.
Tune in to Radio 5 live for Formula 1 previews and live coverage of each race
We have a pair of race-day grandstand tickets and a parking pass for the Formula 1 British GP at Silverstone on 16 July to be WON by one lucky Boundless member. Go to our Competitions page to enter. For more information on Boundless motoring/F1 experiences and offers, please visit boundless.co.uk/do-more