🏎️ Perry McCarthy Exclusive Interview with OLBG

Updated: 91 Motor Racing

Explore the gripping career of Perry McCarthy, from his challenging stint in Formula One to his thrilling moments as the enigmatic "Stig" in the BBC show Top Gear and about Michael Schumacher in our exclusive Interview

🏎️ Perry McCarthy Exclusive Interview with OLBG

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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

The intriguing career of British racing driver Perry McCarthy, encompassing his tumultuous experience in Formula One, his life-saving drives at Le Mans, and his anonymous performances as "The Stig". Join us as we explore the unique journey of this unconventional ace who carved out a glorious career despite being dubbed the "world's unluckiest racing driver". 

Career:

Born and raised in Stepney, East London, Perry McCarthy broke through the conventional path to Formula One. Beginning his career in the junior categories of motor sport in Europe and the US, he gradually ascended the ladder and caught the eye of the Footwork Formula One team in 1991. A challenging stint with the Andrea Moda team marred by mismanagement and unfair treatment did not deter McCarthy, instead it led him gaining a reputation for his perseverance and skill.

McCarthy's Formula One journey ended in 1992, but his racing spirit rebounded, and he found his niche in sports car racing and testing for teams like Williams and Benetton. In spite of having no permanent role, McCarthy's enthusiastic approach and dedication secured him a place even when he had to combat disagreement with engineers and the illness of a fellow driver.

Top Gear:

After making a wave in sports car racing at Le Mans and other renowned events, McCarthy introduced another fascinating chapter in his career. He unveiled his identity as the original, black-clad "Stig" from the BBC's Top Gear, a role where he assessed the latest high-performance cars behind a mask of anonymity. Through his autobiography, "Flat Out, Flat Broke," he shared anecdotes from his adventurous life in Formula One and as The Stig, giving fans a peek at the man behind the mask.

Today, Perry McCarthy is known not just for his racing history but also as a vibrant personality, working as a corporate ambassador and after-dinner speaker for global corporations. Despite facing numerous obstacles in his career, he has managed to drive forth with an unbeatable attitude, truly depicting his love for motor racing.

Interview with Perry McCarthy December 2023

Perry ‘The Stig’ McCarthy exclusive: No future for Top Gear with electric cars, Schumacher was a menace but he had a huge heart and why Senna is the greatest 

Ex-Formula One driver Perry McCarthy, who had a stint as ‘The Stig’ on hit BBC show Top Gear, discusses Michael Schumacher’s legacy ahead of the 10-year anniversary of his skiing crash on December 29, and breaks down what to expect in the new F1 season next year.

Speaking to OLBG exclusively, he said:

Q.What was your favourite car to drive as The Stig?

PM - ''I have a few different answers when it comes to answering what my favorite car to drive was!

“My favourite on the show was the Pagani Zonda - I liked the way it could light it up from the rear and treat it like a high-speed cart – wheel spinning even in third gear! That was quite exciting’. “By the same token, you're talking about dropping £1.5million to get one of those things! 

If I put that aside and asked myself what else I liked, I always come back to the Honda Civic Type R, even if I'm not much of a front-wheel drive guy! “Back then, the car was £19,000, and I thought that was a comparative bargain. I liked the braking, stability, throttle response, and grip. So, considering a small car that can do all that, I could sometimes be disappointed when getting into a supposed supercar like a £180,000 Aston Martin, to find fundamental faults. 

“My outright dream car would be a 1958 Ferrari California or something like that, because I've always been in love with the style, heritage, and luxury of vintage cars. Personally I’m not fond of driving them though because most are total dogs compared to most cars nowadays.”

Q. Do you think electric cars are having an impact on people's love of driving? Is there a future for Top Gear with electric cars or not?

PM - ''I personally don't think there is a future for Top Gear, or any show, with just electric cars. I say that because really the only differences are in range or battery charge as most electric engines will be terribly similar to each other. There are no differences in sound, performance or particular characteristics worth talking about. 

“The whole point of a car show is building a story around all of the different components of cars and finding out what differentiates one product, where your heart might lie, from another that you're not quite sold on. 

“It's funny how cars and technology have evolved. I think manufacturers would really have to concentrate in order to build a bad car now as there's no reason to do so! After saying that, I did drive a rental car a while back which was far less expensive than the Mini Cooper I normally drive, and it definitely showed! It was nowhere near as responsive, sharp, or high-quality. 

“Top Gear or another car show needs someone more TV-savvy and creative than I am but I know they’re out there and can hopefully bring us viewers a format to inform and entertain. 

Q. You've done Le Mans a few times - what does it require psychologically to drive that long? Is there anyone in F1, like Lewis Hamilton, who you'd like to see have a go at that?

PM - ''All Formula One drivers would be entirely capable of driving at the top level of Le Mans. The F1 drivers are used to unbelievably fast equipment, 

“In terms of talent, approach, and stamina, every F1 driver would be able to do Le Mans. It takes the ability to stay awake for a long time, though, as there are normally three of us. It can be brutal if the car is really quick. You're in there for two hours at a time, and each one is doing a total of eight hours. That's the equivalent of five Grand Prix races in a weekend. It's tough in terms of stamina. 

“I remember seeing Eddie Irvine when he was driving for Toyota - he was walking around with his overalls undone and he was sweating profusely with his hair matted. He was looking a bit down, and I said 'Tough stint, mate!', thinking he'd just got out of the car. He responded with a phrase that ended with the word 'off', and told me he was just about to get in the bloody thing!. So … he'd just had four hours of rest, and he still looked exhausted! 

Q. Who do you think would win if all of the F1 drivers had a go on the current circuit?

PW - ''Asking who would win if all of the F1 drivers had a go on the current circuit is like asking who would win in the best F1 car if you lined the three best drivers up. For me, Verstappen, Hamilton, and Alonso would be right up there. As would Lando Norris. 

Q. In that order?

 ''I always believed that if Ayrton Senna was still alive, then he would have found a small edge faster than anybody else. Perhaps I'm being romantic, but I've always believed that.''

Q. What was your fondest memory of Michael Schumacher? 

PM - ''Michael and I were at the track once and I was driving for Benetton as the third driver. We were testing the new active ride suspension system, which was great unless it went wrong. 

“For that reason, they weren't keen on Michael testing it, so that's why I was doing it as he was understandably way more valuable to the team than I was. I remember telling him where I'd got to time-wise and how I had no idea how to go faster. We talked about Bridge corner, and he told me he takes that Flat (which means no braking or lifting off – just staying with the throttle pressed down) 

Well, that day I’d completed quite a few laps and felt I was fully on the limit and I just knew that there was no way I could take it flat, but the conversation had wound me up! I knew he was Michael Schumacher of course, but I just had no idea how he could do that!

I remember making my entire mission about taking that corner flat and jammed my foot down and turned in. Well, it was a dumb move, and I knew that immediately as I went all over both sides of the track trying to regain control. I somehow did everything right, but I must have also had the hand of God behind me as I managed to keep the car off the wall. So something must have been wrong with the car right?!

“Pat Symonds was the chief engineer and designer at Benetton and I asked him to check the tyro pressures. He checked the telemetry and then asked me if I'd had a little moment on the track, which, lying through my teeth, I denied. Pat said ‘Really’? ‘ … because our read-out shows you at 170 mph on full opposite-lock! So having been totally caught out, I blamed Michael as he gave the advice, Pat said ‘Yes you Rock Ape … that’s when he was on new qualifying tyres with very little fuel in the car! 

“I'm not sure if Michael realised what he was doing. Maybe he knew he was winding me up.”

Q. Do you think Michael would have gone into punditry or business? What has F1 lost with Michael's injury?

PM - ''Nobody knows exactly what Michael would have gone on to do, but my feeling is that he'd have done something for humanity. I feel he had that capacity, and I think he would have retained his love for F1, but he would have realised that there are much bigger things in life and he had the opportunity to change things. 

“Michael was an ambassador for UNESCO. He was a guy who had given tens of millions away to charity. I think Aryton would have done the same thing. 

“Michael knew how to get things done. He was a seven-time World Champion with 91 Grand Prix victories. He was competitive and didn’t take no for an answer! He could have come onto a world stage and done something as a humanitarian to help people and causes. 

“I remember how 9/11 affected him. The guy could be a total menace on the track, but he had a huge heart.’’

Q. Can you tell me more about Michael being affected by 9/11? 

PM – ‘’We could all see how it affected him. It was obvious when he was on the podium and he wore a black armband to signify the tragic loss of life. You could see he was emotionally affected by it, as we all were. 

“I'm not saying he was an outstanding human being for being affected by 9/11. Instead, I'm trying to illustrate that Michael wasn't just a cold, calculating machine. He had that side to him in his career, but there was always a very warm, generous side to him that always came to light. The biggest evidence I saw of that was his sense of humour - maybe that's because he knew I wasn't a threat!’’

Q. Would you lean more towards him being involved in humanitarian matters than punditry?

PM -  I couldn't see Michael being a commentator on races after winning seven World Titles and being worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

“There's no way I would have gone around the pit lanes of the world after that level of success. I would want to go and achieve something bigger. That's all I'm saying. I feel Michael would have looked at life from that angle and asked where he could make a difference.’’

Q. Who has spoken to Michael's family or friends since that tragic day almost 10 years ago?

PM - ‘His family are intent on absolute privacy and only a part of his inner circle will know details of Michael’s condition. Someone like Jean Todt, who was Michael's ex-manager at Ferrari and the former president of the FIA, would be very close with the family. There is always speculation but I hesitate to believe what I read in the press.’’

Q. Are the family shown enough respect?

PM - ''I think it's human nature to enquire, and the family will understand that considering how famous Michael is. 

“They've also become well-versed in containing the story. It's incredible that someone so special can be so badly hurt whilst skiing. It's so cruel that Michael happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything conspired to leave such a bad mark on his health. 

“It's also incredible to think of all the near-misses that Michael, or any racing driver, had in his career, only for him to be struck down by a skiing accident and be so severely hurt that it has affected the family for ten years. It's incredibly sad. ''

Q. Prime Schumacher, Verstappen, and Hamilton are all in today's Red Bull. Who wins?

PM - ''I would venture to ask how long the hypothetical race between prime Schumacher, Verstappen, and Hamilton is, as one of the things that might come into it is tyre management! 

“Putting that aside, I'd say the easiest answer is that the winner would be the guy who got the best start and attained the lead. If we're not talking about using DRS and all of those things, then it would be tough for the others to pass!. “Remember, we're talking about the three of the best drivers in the history of motor racing.''

Q. Would Schumacher and Verstappen have locked horns and clashed?

PM - ''I think Schumacher and Verstappen would have locked horns and clashed! 

“I have zero interest in promoting a driver based on nationality - I just look at the particular driver. With that in mind, look at Hamilton's record - he is, in my opinion, the cleanest F1 driver out there. Look at how he behaves with other people. There's always going to be contact on the track, but it drives me crazy hearing the Twitter warriors go on about that. 

“You can't just change direction with these cars when you're mid-corner at 170 mph! Racing drivers can't think at one-thousandth of a second. They have to think incredibly fast, but how Hamilton goes about his racing and how he avoids problems leads me to believe he's the cleanest driver out there.’’

Q. Next season, are we set for another repeat of Red Bull dominance? If so, does that make F1 boring?

PM - ''What we're witnessing at the moment is one of the best drivers who has ever lived, in perhaps the best car that has ever been designed, run by a team who very rarely make mistakes. 

“What we're witnessing is a gift to us! Seeing that level of precision, talent, commitment, and excellence is amazing. You could also argue that we have too much of a good thing! 

We've had a few seasons of Red Bull dominance now, and like any other sport, one person dominating for too long will lose viewers' interest. If it's the same next year, then I predict that there will be a reduction in viewers. However, it does set up the possibility of competition, as the other teams cannot take this lying down. 

“The fascinating thing about F1 teams is that they don't quit. They never stop thinking of how to be better and they're always at the drawing board. It's not about stopping one team from winning, it's about making your own team better. That's what we're seeing behind the scenes. 

“Red Bull got away with it a few times this season as there were chances for Ferrari and Mercedes in a few races, but they both messed up in those races. Red Bull and Max still would have won the championship of course, but there could have been a few more surprise results. 

“Over the winter, we're now seeing Hamilton, in particular, having a look at what he's seeing in the next Mercedes on both the drawing board and the wind tunnel. The fight is on right here and now. The work is going on behind the scenes and everyone is at 100% in trying to find the edge over Red Bull. That's the other part of the drama in F1, let’s not forget!

“We'll see if they'll have a successful off-season by the first race next year.’’

Q. Can you rank your top five F1 drivers of all time? Who would they be?

PM - ''There are a lot of candidates for my top five F1 drivers ever! As a bloke though, I have to say with a smile, James Hunt, as he embodies everything that F1 is about! 

“But really, my heart says Senna, my head says Schumacher and I would include Lewis Hamilton. That's the closest I can come to a decision! 

“If I really had to choose just one, I'd say Ayrton Senna.’’

Q. Why didn't you include Verstappen? Does he need to do more to get there?

PM - ''I think Max Verstappen is fantastic and no one could ask him to do any more. We have, however, yet to see how good he is going to be when facing more challenging circumstances. 

I do not doubt that, in a year or two, I could have Max's name in there as my best-ever. There will already be senior people in F1 who would already have Max in top spot. I have an incredible amount of respect for his talent and application, though. I'm not always best pleased by his radio calls or his behavior, but I think that's something that could evolve for the better.''


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