Ahead of Bahrain, Derek made a visit to Enstone and explained his relationship with Oliver and his thoughts on Renault Sport Formula One Team’s challenge for the future.
Derek is particularly well placed to offer advice, having driven for both Renault and Toleman in an F1 career which encompassed 147 starts. He drove at his first Grand Prix in 1981 and his last in 1993.
Can you explain your relationship with Oliver ?
It started with the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year where I’m the chairman of the judges. I saw something special in Oliver and became more involved with his programme at the Racing Steps Foundation and the MSA and from there he came under my wing.
That was four seasons ago. He has just got stronger and stronger and then dominated the Formula Renault 3.5 Series last season. He was just unbelievable – he broke every record in the book and came out champion, which underlined all the confidence we had in him.
So you could say I am his mentor ; we unload on each other, I give him some wisdom of my mistakes, but to be fair he is way ahead of me at the moment and has been for some time now. I’m just hanging on !
How do you see the programme that Oliver has with Renault Sport Racing ?
It’s the final piece of the jigsaw. I’d like to think that there’s an opportunity for Oliver to impress the important people in Renault Sport and with that could come further opportunities. We know that our main programme is GP2 and around the middle of the year, Renault Sport will look at how he’s doing in the championship and other opportunities could come from there. Being part of the academy is an investment in his career.
What are the objectives in GP2 ?
Oliver will be racing with MP Motorsport this year. The team doesn’t have a long history in the championship, but we believe it’s a team that we can bring a lot to and win races with. Oliver has a big job ahead of him, but with the support of Renault Sport and the Racing Steps Foundation we hope to surprise a few people.
You had a look round Enstone with Oliver. What are your impressions of the factory ?
It was the first time I had been to Enstone – when I drove for Toleman they were based in Witney - and I was surprised by the focus the team has and its facilities. The commitment for the next nine years is considerable and I know that they will not stop until they win. Having looked round Enstone I believe it has all the ingredients to make Renault Sport a top team again. They have a lot of pieces that are needed, but they have the right people, the right resources, the right attitude and the right budget. There is a lot of work just to catch up and then when you do you have to overtake. Although it won’t be this year, with the exciting plans of bringing more people and more upgrades, I think the team can be in a position to challenge, maybe for podiums in 2017. This year the team has two fantastic drivers. Jolyon is one of the best overtakers I have ever seen, and the rejuvenated Kevin Magnussen will add some more spice too.
You drove for Renault in the 80s. What are your memories of this period ?
I had two years for Renault in ‘84 and ‘85 and they were the most fantastic years of my life. It was the first time I had driven for a works team. It was based out of Viry at the time. Unfortunately I haven’t been back since those days, but I’m really looking forward to going back with Oliver this year at some point. Renault was a massive part of my career and I hope they can be a massive part of Oliver’s too.
Will we see you at races this year ?
I will be at some of Oliver’s GP2 Series races but also I will be the FIA driver steward at some events, including Bahrain, Canada, Silverstone and Malaysia.