Marc Priestley Interview with OLBG

Updated: 109 Motor Racing

Lando Norris can challenge Max Verstappen for championship, Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Newey partnership could be unstoppable, Christian Horner scandal distracting for crew and I threw drink in Michael Schumacher’s face

Marc Priestley Interview with OLBG
Steve Madgwick Editor-In-Chief

Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

Speaking exclusively to OLBG, former McLaren engineer and now F1 presenter, Marc Priestley, is confident that his former team can challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull for the championship. 

Working for over a decade in the paddock, Priestley gave insight into Lewis Hamilton’s work ethic and encounters with Michael Schumacher and gave his expert opinion on all the current topics in Formula 1.

Q. Will Lando Norris’ first win give him a new-found confidence to battle Max Verstappen from now on?

MP: "Lando Norris' win in Miami could give him a new-found confidence to compete with Max Verstappen for the rest of the season. When you finally become a winner, in anything, you gain confidence. Lando will walk into the paddock at Imola with his chest puffed out, there will be more photographers at his gate. It will give him a sense of confidence, he knows he can win a race and he can do it again. Lando's win will give the same boost of confidence to everyone at McLaren too, it could generate some great results for the whole team on the horizon."

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Formula 1 Drivers Championship 2024 Without Max Verstappen 27 May @ 21:03 - Win Tournament
Charles Leclerc 2.25
Lando Norris 2.75
Sergio Perez 5.00
Oscar Piastri 17.00

Q. Does Lando have the potential to dethrone Max at the top?

MP: "McLaren and Ferrari are on their way back to the top of F1. Red Bull are still there, what happened in Miami is a blip for them, I'm sure. But the upgrades for McLaren in Miami made a big difference, one of the big things they'll be confident about is that the factory, wind tunnel and CFD are working very well. McLaren can continue to upgrade their car and get the same level of performance they see in the testing, on the track. It's a big deal. The next set of upgrades will deliver what they expect. It could be McLaren or Ferrari to dethrone Red Bull and Max Verstappen, but we could easily see a great three-way battle next season before the regulations change in 2026."

Q. Is the McLaren a Championship-winning car?

MP: "Of course, I see McLaren being a championship-winning car. But, we've seen Red Bull completely change from their dominant car last year, which could have gone wrong but it didn't, it shows Red Bull are on top of their game and won't suddenly disappear or drop off. What was great about the Miami GP was that, even if Max Verstappen won it, it was a close race. It was a close race between three top teams, and that's what Formula 1 really needs."

F1 Constructors Championship Odds

Formula 1 Constructors Championship 2024 27 May @ 21:03 - Win Tournament
Red Bull 1.10
Ferrari 5.50
McLaren 11.00

Q. It feels like McLaren have leapfrogged Ferrari too, how much of a boost will Ferrari have with Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Newey possibly coming to the team?

MP: "Lewis Hamilton going to Ferrari would be a huge boost. People will look at Hamilton's current results and say 'Ferrari should have kept Carlos Sainz', those people should put that to the side because next year, Hamilton will be a completely different beast. Ferrari will motivate him, he's an incredible driver with amazing knowledge and a great work ethic. He's a great addition to any team, his quality will rub off on everyone else at Ferrari. I know it will because I witnessed it myself at McLaren, I know everyone at Mercedes witnessed that too, Hamilton lifts everyone around him. Ferrari are already on their way back to success, and Hamilton joining the team can lift them to a challenge for a championship."

Q. If they both join Ferrari, will Hamilton and Newey be an unstoppable force, even for the likes of Leclerc and Verstappen?

MP: "Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Newey working together at Ferrari has the potential to be an unstoppable force. Lewis has amazing attention to detail in all aspects of F1, from his driving to his own training, but also how he pushes and works with the engineers on his team. It's a different class to any of the drivers I've ever worked with. Newey is also very similar, when you put those two together, it turns into a powerful force. Newey isn't the only reason Red Bull have had success, they have a great team, but he was a key part of it and he has the ability to bring that success to another team. But, Newey won't bring instant success to whatever team he goes to, it will be a process, and if he joins Ferrari, we may see other key members from other teams follow in his footsteps to work alongside him. Newey is the guy any F1 team would want when designing their car."

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Q. Having worked with Hamilton, can you see him winning that eighth world championship?

MP: "Lewis Hamilton is still very capable of winning an eighth World Drivers' Championship. But you need the right car and team around you, he's joining Ferrari in a time where they're building towards a title challenge. The leadership under Frederic Vasseur has become much more relaxed, and I mean that in the best possible way, it used to be heavily politicised in the past and a stressful organisation. Vasseur has changed that now, and you're seeing it in their results. If Ferrari continues on this trajectory, Lewis could be arriving at just the right time."

Q. Where do you rank Lewis Hamilton out of the all-time greats?

MP: "It's an impossible question. You can't compare Lewis Hamilton to Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher. You can compare him to the drivers of the same era, and from my experience working with Lewis and Fernando Alonso, they are the most complete drivers of this generation that I have ever got the chance to work with. Kimi Raikkonen was an exceptionally fast driver and would generate results out of a car that probably didn't deserve it. But Kimi would probably agree, he wasn't the complete F1 driver like Lewis and Fernando have been. Just from what I've seen, and having worked with Lewis, I can say I think he is one of the greats of this sport and era."

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Q. Is Charles Leclerc similar to Kimi Raikkonen in the way he's fast over one lap but not at the same level in a race?

MP: "When Charles Leclerc is very good in qualifying and drops off in the race, it is probably a trait of the car more than the Ferrari. The Ferrari car does seem to work harder than some of the other cars which leads to quicker degradation of the tyres compared to the Red Bulls. Leclerc is not the finished article yet, he's still young and still perfecting his craft. Ferrari will enjoy the youthfulness of Leclerc next year and have the championship-winning experience of Lewis Hamilton too. Leclerc has a bit of all-or-nothing about him, he'll generate quick laps but can crash out, and he will be able to iron out his skill by learning alongside Lewis. The combination of experience and raw pace can be a wonderful pairing for Ferrari."

Q. Will Charles Leclerc take a step back from being the main driver at Ferrari when Lewis Hamilton comes to the team?

MP: "Charles Leclerc can't afford to let Lewis Hamilton come in and be the main man at Ferrari. Leclerc is reasonably experienced now, he has a few years under his belt and is not a rookie. If a driver accepts they're going to be the second driver of the team, you sign your own death warrant and lose performance from that. Leclerc needs to come into the team next year, thinking he'll be better than Hamilton. F1 is a sport in which a huge part is technical with that car, but a huge part is the driver's confidence in his own ability. 

“My experience from driving pairing, particularly new ones, is they will be best of friends in the beginning and have massive respect for each other. But that can all change if Hamilton and Leclerc are competing for a title against each other. If the Ferrari becomes the best car, that's when it becomes very tricky, and I've never seen a situation like that where the drivers don't fall out and cause problems within the team. It's a competitive environment and the holy grail is the championship, so if your competitor is the guy on the other side of your garage with the same overalls, he's your enemy and not your teammate. Leclerc and Hamilton will both start with massive respect for each other, but it could play out on the race track."

Q. Can you see Charles Leclerc becoming Nico Rosberg 2.0 for Lewis Hamilton?

MP: "Could Charles Leclerc be the next Nico Rosberg when Lewis Hamilton joins Ferrari? You never know. A good example of that was the 'duel in the desert' in 2014, they battled and swapped positions multiple times. They got out of their cars and joked about it, high-fived each other and said how great of a race it was. But that didn't continue for very long because there was a championship at stake, the guy who you're hugging early in the season becomes your enemy. Rosberg and Hamilton had great respect towards each other until they became rivals in a championship, and the same could happen with Leclerc."

Q. It’s public knowledge that Lewis loves to get involved with helping to develop the car and has made suggestions on what to change to the Mercedes cars, could you see him become an F1 team principal when he retires? 

MP: "I don't think Lewis Hamilton will be in an F1 team when he retires. He is a leader and always will be, he's leaving a legacy that goes beyond his on-track results with operations like Mission 44 and other projects. I think he'll focus on those other projects he has in his life to focus on, music, fashion, films and whatever else it might be. When Hamilton stops driving, all those doors to other opportunities will open up. He's set himself up for life away from the sport. I have total respect for Hamilton, he's worked his career up in a way that no other driver ever has."

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Q. Then again, with all the rumours of Max joining Mercedes, could he and the return of James Allison’s designs be the next big thing?

MP: "I would never say Max Verstappen won't join Mercedes, but it's a very difficult decision to leave Red Bull at the moment while they're this strong. Verstappen is not all about the record books, he doesn't want to achieve more championships than Hamilton and he's already stated he won't want to be in F1 at the age of 40. 

“The moment Verstappen isn't enjoying F1, he'll walk away and I respect that. Next year, there is a strong chance Red Bull will dominate yet again, and with Mercedes, they need to take an enormous leap to compete at the top again. Would Verstappen want to battle in the mid positions? I don't think so. But with 2026 on the horizon, it could be another case of when Lewis Hamilton was wooed away from McLaren by Mercedes on the strength of promises in 2012. There was no evidence that Mercedes was going to dominate the sport then, but Hamilton was told of the plans and it was enough to convince him to leave a winning team with McLaren. Can Mercedes convince Verstappen of that? Nothing is impossible in F1. But my feeling is that Verstappen will stay at Red Bull next year."

Q. If Max and Newey leave Red Bull, it’s probably because of Christian Horner. Would you want to stay in a team when there are all these in-house issues? 

MP: "I can only compare the Christian Horner situation at Red Bull to when I've been involved in a team when the bigger news is not happening on the race track. That's never where you want to be as a Formula 1 team. Red Bull have dominated for years and the story about Horner seems to be dominating the news even more than Red Bull are on track, and that's never good. 

When you're an engineer and a member of that team, you can focus in the garage and still help generate great results for the team. But when you go home at the end of a Grand Prix and go to the pub, it's all anyone wants to talk about. Everyone wants to ask you about Horner or 'Spygate' as it was for me. You see a newspaper headline is about stuff behind the scenes rather than results on the track. When you're working in a winning team, you want to brag about your results, but everyone else wants to talk about controversy or politics. It can be distracting, Red Bull are doing very well at keeping it out of the news and focusing on their results, and that's all you can do as a member of that team.

"I'm fairly sure a reason why Adrian Newey is leaving is because of Horner, but he's also been there almost 20 years. With the regulation changes in 2026 coming up, he may want a challenge somewhere else. I have no doubt that because he could easily retire at his age, it was easier for him to walk away from Red Bull. It would be foolish to say that Horner is not a reason for Newey leaving Red Bull."

Q. Do you feel bad for Carlos Sainz? And do you see him ending up at Audi?

MP: "You have to feel bad for Carlos Sainz, but we don't know what will happen in 2026. These new regulations are one of the biggest technical changes, ever, in F1 history. Sainz could go anywhere and it could be the right or wrong move. Sainz is performing very well at the moment and he will receive strong offers from other teams, the only issue is there aren't many openings. 

“Audi is a very strong option for Sainz, they want to come in with a bang but they will be inexperienced. But there will be a lot of money thrown at the project which could go in Sainz's favour. Sainz can be the main driver for Audi and alongside Nico Hulkenberg, lead a manufacture-based team, but it will be a huge gamble."

Q. We saw a great start to the week for Daniel Ricciardo in the sprint, then he dropped to 15th in the race. Does this inconsistency warrant a seat for him next year? Should RB get in some younger talent and give them a chance, the likes of Liam Lawson or Oliver Bearman? 

MP: "There's always the argument to bring in the young kids into F1. Liam Lawson and Oliver Bearman have both come into the sport and did really well, and they do both deserve a spot on the grid. Does Daniel Ricciardo deserve a seat still? Only those at Red Bull will know.

"The fact he had a great Saturday morning and a terrible afternoon, it makes it very hard to judge him on that. Miami was a very inconsistent track too, the tyres degraded very quickly. There is an operating zone when using fresh tyres, if they're one or two degrees higher or lower than that operating zone, it can feel like you're driving on ice, and that's probably what happened to Ricciardo because the heat changed in Miami. It always looks like Ricciardo is having a shocker, but it could be the team's fault.

"Ricciardo has been inconsistent these past few years, partly due to driving for unsuccessful teams at the time, and he's not doing very well compared to Yuki Tsunoda. I'm pleased Red Bull are giving him more time because you can see glimmers of hope from Saturday.

"If Ricciardo can get back to his best, he deserves to be driving in Formula 1 more than anyone else, he's an exciting driver. We know how brutal Red Bull can be, if he doesn't start to produce consistent results soon, it may be the last we see of him at RB."

Q. Fernando Alonso likes to paint himself as a villain in F1, joining team after team and being super competitive, but what’s he like behind the scenes?

MP: "Fernando Alonso is a lovely guy. I only worked with him one year, in 2007, and it was a difficult year for lots of different reasons. I never got to see the best of him at McLaren, but I have worked and interviewed him since, he's one of the loveliest people. Alonso is like Lewis Hamilton in the way that he doesn't need to prove to anyone how good he is, he's a double-world champion who has respect from everyone behind the wheel. 

“Alonso is relaxed and chatty in the paddock, he's not a villain. He's made some questionable decisions in his career, moving to the wrong team at the wrong time, and that's unfortunate because he could have been a five or six-world champion. Alonso's career is a slightly disappointing story because he's one of the greats, but looking back in history he won't be seen up there with Michael Schumacher or Hamilton."

Q. Lance Stroll has just finished 17th in Miami and has 9 points with a great Aston Martin car, comparing it to Alonso’s 33 points, should Lawrence Stroll sack his son and make way for someone else?

MP: "If Lawrence Stroll has visions of Aston Martin challenging for world titles, who have just put a huge investment into a new factory, Lance Stroll is not the driver to lead Aston Martin to it. Lance has been nowhere near Fernando Alonso in the same car. It's a difficult situation as I'm sure he'll want to keep his own son in F1.

"I do wonder, with Aston Martin developing the Valkyrie race car which will be taken to Le Mans, if that might be a nice avenue for Lance to go down. He could have a wonderful career in sports car racing, still with Aston Martin and under his dad's leadership, and then it can free up space in their F1 car.

"They could try to give that spare seat to Max Verstappen. Even Yuki Tsunoda, Carlos Sainz or Alex Albon would be great additions to Aston Martin."

Q. As a former engineer, team manager and current presenter, what’s the talk about Michael Schumacher behind the scenes? Is he talked about often, whenever there are updates on his health?

MP: "No one behind the scenes updates each other about Michael Schumacher's health as it's a very private matter. Everybody respects that. Any talk of Schumacher was about his on-track activities and how great of a guy he was. 

"He was my enemy when I was at McLaren, a great rival, especially during the Kimi Raikkonen years. Often we went wheel-to-wheel with Schumacher and would challenge for championships until the final day. 

"I have a great respect for Michael, and yes he made some questionable decisions over the years like in Adelaide or Monaco in 2006, but he was a driver who is respected by everyone in the industry."

Q. What are your memories of working with or against him?

MP: "I've spoken many times to Michael Schumacher. A great memory was on his birthday after the German Grand Prix, there was a bar at the circuit. It must have been after the race on a Sunday, because Schumacher got very drunk, as everybody did. At one point, he was standing on top of the bar and pouring champagne over his head, it covered his body and it went everywhere. Other people started throwing drinks at him, it was chaos. I remember I had a Bacardi and coke in my hand and said to myself 'I'm not going to miss this opportunity to throw a drink in Michael Schumacher's face', I ran up and launched my Bacardi and coke in his face. He returned the favour by giving me a great big hug so I got covered in all the drink too.

"Schumacher knew how to enjoy himself, let his hair down when the racing was done, and nobody has a bad word to say about him."

Q. What has F1 lost by not having him around?

MP: "It is a shame we don't see Michael Schumacher in the F1 scene anymore, especially when Mick was racing. He would have been a great figure in the paddock, he was an inspirational guy on and off the track. Schumacher always said hello to everyone he saw, he'd remember the birthdays of his engineers and crew, he was a charismatic guy who would have been a great figure in F1 to this day."

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