Drivers are ‘like lightbulbs’ – Ex-Top Gear ‘Stig’ reveals what it takes to be a Formula 1 driver

Perry McCarthy was part of the poorly run Andrea Moda team of 1992.

Top Gear The Stig

Ex-F1 racer Perry McCarthy has revealed the crucial ingredients needed for Formula 1 drivers to succeed in the sport after George Russell’s move from Williams to Mercedes.

Following three impressive seasons at the Grove-based team, Russell was promoted into the Mercedes drive to replace the out-going Valtteri Bottas who is headed to Alfa Romeo.

The Williams was 2.05 percent slower in qualifying lap time on average than the Mercedes in the opening 18 rounds of last year, placing them level on pace with Alfa Romeo as the joint second-slowest car.

Mercedes was on average the fastest qualifying car, meaning that Russell is certainly going from one of the slowest cars on the grid to one of the quickest.

McCarthy’s Andrea Moda team entered 10 races in 1992, but either failed to make the cut for qualifying in the old pre-qualifying format, or were simply unable to participate.

This was partly owed to a lack of pace on the car, but also significant was the fact there were a lot of tedious issues that the Italian outfit sadly failed to overcome.

The Briton would go on to contest the Le Mans 24 hours on five occasions, and we asked him what it takes to go from a poor car to a good one or, in his case, a different series.

“Yeah, I think that, you know, one of the things that I didn’t have to face in Formula 1 was top level pressure because, you know we weren’t even getting on the grid,” he told

“So we weren’t troubling anybody, so there was no expectation.

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“So I had no experience of being under the same pressures as many of our Grand Prix stars, because we were useless,” he conceded.

He referenced Keke Rosberg, who forty years ago left the Fittipaldi team to join – ironically – one of the best teams at the time in Williams.

The Finn then claimed the title that year, and McCarthy says it is a guessing game as to whether a racing driver will thrive when placed into a quick car.

“Race drives to a degree are like lightbulbs, you rather hope they are quick,” he said.

“And if you plug them into a different car, and a car is much better, we just see all the time.

“I think one of the most remarkable examples of that was back in 1982 I think where in 81 I think Keke Rosberg, had been driving for Fittipaldi – If I’ve got a year wrong here, don’t nail me – but I think it was 81, Keke was driving for Fittipaldi at the back of the grid or failing to qualify and then got signed up by Williams for 1982 and won the world championship.

“So it’s a question of, you’ve got to have the right car, you’ve got to have the right team, but you’ve got to have the talent to do it as well.

“But this is what all the drivers around that for, you know, the sad fact of life in Formula 1 is that what have most Formula 1 drivers have got in common every weekend? They lose. They don’t win.”

In the end, due to the natural difference in pace between the cars, the 60-year-old affirms that a driver’s success is relative.

“Week in week out, they don’t have the car; they’re not in a position to win,” he explained.

“So they have to summon all that energy to try and win reputationally in what they’re doing.

“So if a car is expected to be 10th or 12th  or 14th,  you know that they are winning if they get sixth, or fifth, that’s what they’re out to achieve.”

Further, the former Top Gear “Stig” emphasised that a team-mate is the ultimate yardstick.

“They’re winning if they keep beating their team-mate,” stated McCarthy.

“So they’ve got their own objectives and agendas, because they can’t win. Unless there’s a huge smack up on the first corner or something and you’re gifted [the win].

“I mean, we’ve seen a couple of wins that we didn’t expect, obviously, Ocon of course won [in Hungary].

“And also Daniel Ricciardo won a race [In Italy]. So they were kind of two standouts where we go ‘wow, how did that happen?’ But generally, you’re not going to win.”

The former Andrea Moda driver believes that Andrea Sassetti’s team might have enjoyed better fortunes if it had been run more consummately.

“So with Andrea Moda, we kind of knew that we were even more down than that,” he explained.

“We weren’t going to qualify. There was no testing; the cars were run badly.

“I mean, the funny thing was at Andrea Moda, I don’t know if it had been run correctly – you have to remember back in 1992, there were a lot of donkeys on the grid, you know, at the back end.

“So we may have had a chance of qualifying for a few races, if it had just been run correctly, but it wasn’t so it’s pointless.

“I think that Roberto [Moreno] and I were actually lucky to be alive at the end of the season, so we haven’t got too much to complain about,” he concluded.

Russell out-qualified Williams team-mates Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi 57 times in 59 races over three years, and will partner Sir Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season.

There is great excitement as to how the Briton will get on alongside Hamilton, as the cars undergo major changes this year.

The 2022 season will get underway on 20 March in Bahrain.