David Hobbs is one of the most versatile drivers in the history of motorsports. Name a big race and Hobbs has run in it. Today, he brings that expertise to the SPEED channel as the network's Formula 1 color commentator.
In his 30 years as a driver, Hobbs made 20 starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, four starts in the Indy 500 and raced for six different Formula One teams from 1967 to 1974. He also ran in the 1976 Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.
With talk about a Formula One race coming to the New York area, we caught up with Hobbs last week.
Trading Paint: There has been some news reports that a Formula 1 race may come to the New York, New Jersey area, what can race fans here expect from an F1 race?
David Hobbs: Formula 1 is next to soccer as being the true world-wide sport. It's a very glamorous sport. It's always been tied in with danger and excitement and speed. There is a tremendous amount of color and action. And of course, noise is a big part of it. It's like the tennis open, the whole gaggle comes in. Michael Schumacher will come in with his entourage. The drivers stay in the best hotels and spend lots of money. It's a big traveling circus. It's a tremendous vicarious thrill for viewers. New York and the whole area is such and iconic place and the skyline, if that's the backdrop of the race, it will certainly be amazing. F1 has always wanted to have race in or very close to New York City. Bernie
Ecclestone feels that the sophistication of New York City equals the sophistication of Formula 1. There are a number of manufacturers involved, Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault. The race, especially in New York, is a huge backdrop to promote their cars. There will be no lack of effort to get this race in the New York area.
TP: Most race fans here are NASCAR fans, what are the differences?
DH: The car is very, very different. The cars go close to 200 mph, instead of 175 mph. It's a very delicate and intricate piece of machinery. Road racing is also different. The drivers generally like street circuits. It's like driving through a tunnel with the top cut off. Your head is 16 inches off the ground and all you can see around you are the guard rails. Formula One is a bit more sophisticated than NASCAR. F1 is a worldwide sport with races in every country you can think of. It's a more international cast than NASCAR. Part of NASCAR's success is that it's homegrown. American viewers watch American drivers, race American cars on American tracks. F1 is an international world class event. It would be a huge help to F1 to have an American driver. There are few young drivers who have ability. Conor Daly and Robert Wickens, although he's from Canada, are looking good. Kids racing here in America are setting to set their sites on F1. I think in five year's time there will be an American in there.
TP: You've raced in every major race in the world, I'd like to get your thoughts on some of the historic tracks you've run on. Let's start with Monte Carlo.
DH: Monte Carlo is a race that everyone wants to win, like a NASCAR driver wants to win the Daytona 500. The Monte Carlo Grand Prix holds that importance in F1. It's the most prestigious race in the series. When you look at the streets they go through, to go 100 mph on those streets is extraordinary. Driving that course is gut wrenching. The circuit is almost exactly the same layout that they raced on in the 1930s. The first time I raced in Monte Carlo there was virtually no guard rails at all.
TP: The Silverstone Circuit?
DH: It started off very basic, it was a World War II bomber base. The first race there was in 1946. They ran around where the bombers would taxi on the runways. Over the years it has developed enormously. The put in $30 million for new pits. It's over three miles. The drivers really feel they are getting their money's worth. There is a bit of an elevation change. The drivers really like racing at Silverstone. The very first modern grand prix was at Silverstone in 1950, it was where the whole thing started.
TP: Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
DH: I thought it was going to be more daunting than it was. I thought the banking was going to be steeper than it was. It was nine degrees, which isn't too bad. The corners are so fast, it's like a very high speed road course, that all the corners are lefthanded is besides the point. It wasn't that hard to get used to it.
DH: That was pretty daunting. When every car in front of me scraped the wall and you can smell the rubber, I thought to myself, am I doing the right thing here? The cars were so different than anything else I had raced in. There is no doubt that NASCAR is a very weird experience for someone who is used to road racing. It's very difficult. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, and he's in there doing well in NASCAR, but he's know Jimmie Johnson. But I am not sure that Jimmie Johnson will be able to win the Monte Carlo Grand Prix either.
TP: Le Mans?
DH: Le Mans is like Indy, you should go to it at least once. It's eight and a half miles out in the French countryside and they use the day-to-day roads. It's followed the same course since the 1930s. It's an incredibly iconic event. Three or four hundred thousand people attend. Practice runs are going from six in the evening to midnight. You have these huge crowds and these incredibly high tech machines. It's unbelievably fast and they put on a heck of a race.
TP: Of all the races, which is your favorite?
DH: When I was a kid, Le Mans was the race I wanted to win. F1 fascinated me, and obviously I wanted to compete in F1. But Le Mans was the one race I really wanted to win, which of course I never did. I went to lots of great race tracks and had an absolute ball. And, touch wood, I never got hurt. I raced in an incredibly dangerous era. The technology to make the cars fast had improved tremendously, but the technology to make them safe had not improved at all.
TP: Most versatile driver you've ever seen?
DH: When people talk about the best driver in the world, don't forget Mario Andretti. There was a guy who could win in any type of car. He won Indy, Daytona, he was an F1 world champ. He's an amazing, diverse driver. You very well could have won Le Mans. Mario was very unlucky not to win that race. He had a good shot in the mid 1960s with the GT 40. That is about the only big race that Mario has not won. It's pretty staggering when you think about it.