Ex-Top Gear ‘Stig’ details the hallmarks of a world champion

Perry McCarthy explains what sets great champions such as Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna apart from the rest in Formula 1.

Top Gear The Stig

Former Formula 1 driver Perry McCarthy has detailed what separates a world champion from the rest of the pack.

Max Verstappen proved to the world last year that he is world champion material; his aggression, race-craft and 10 victories displayed just some of the necessary qualities anticipated from a driver – and evidently possessed by the 24-year-old – that has aspirations of winning the title.

The Dutchman was ubiquitous in the top two over the course of 2021, only failing to finish on either the top or second step of the podium on four occasions during a splendid year for the 24-year-old.

Red Bull managed 23 podium finishes between their new champion and team-mate Sergio Perez with the aid of the now-departing Honda power, and they narrowly missed out on their fifth constructors’ championship to Mercedes.

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McCarthy feels that the first pre-requisite for a champion is “trust” in the car.

“I think you have to have enormous confidence, and there’s nothing like getting some miles on the belt with a team that you know you can trust with a car that you can trust,” the former Top Gear “Stig” told Formula1News.co.uk.

“They’re kind of like the lowest levels of competence you’re looking at, you know, if you’ve been strapped into something you think’s going to break every corner, then clearly, you’re kind of worried.

“And if you’ve got three laps to learn a track or something like that, you just don’t have that same level of confidence.”

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“So there’s a lot of people behind this game to give you that confidence.”

Nigel Mansell claimed his sole world title for Williams in 1992 – the same year that McCarthy’s Andrea Moda team tried sadly failed to make it to the start of a grand prix.

The 60-year-old recognises his compatriot as a “brave” driver who had an abundance of self-belief.

“And Nigel always had great confidence and Nigel was very talented, incredibly brave driver as well, you know that that was some of the things with Nigel, you’re just going ‘It can’t be done. But can Nigel do it?’” he explained.

“So that was quite thrilling, but there’s been quite a few drivers like Nigel, of course.

“And I do like that, you know, the reason I got to F1 is that I’m a battler. So, I’m up for the wheel-to-wheel racing. And I will not be sitting behind somebody for a real long time if I go for an overtake.

“But clearly, of course, [I] didn’t really get the chance to show that in F1,” he sadded.

He also highlights the need for raw talent and the ability to handle the pressure that naturally arrives when a driver is at the pointy end of the grid.

As an example, he cited 1996 world champion Damon Hill, who incidentally had just joined Williams from Brabham ahead of 1993 when Mansell had departed following a contractual fallout with the team.

“So it’s a combination of things. I mean, if you look at Damon [Hill], we went into Formula 1 at the same time,” he said.

“And Damon was in the Brabham team. And by that point, Brabham were shadow of their former selves. They were terrible, so Damon predominately wasn’t qualifying.

“But the great thing for Damon was that he had a testing contract with Williams so he was getting lots of miles under its belt.

“And suddenly because it all went wrong with Nigel and Williams at the end of his championship year in 92 and Nigel left the team, there was this gap.

“And it was so late in the year that maybe somebody established that Williams may have chosen above their test driver as a replacement weren’t available.

“So it was kind of the perfect storm there in a positive way for Damon that the gap existed, he plugged in.

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“And then Damon’s always been incredibly fast, but he’s very methodical, and he can soak up pressure.

“And that was a great advantage that Damon: his professionalism, to adapt, soak it all up, and just keep going forward.

“And that was one of the things why we saw him elevate to so many race wins, and of course win the world championship – it’s about qualities. “

The former Andrea Moda driver reiterates that multiple ingredients need to come together for a driver to achieve their life’s ambition of a world title in the pinnacle of motorsport.

“It’s no good only being incredibly fast,” he maintains.

“You’ve got to have other things on your side, that confidence, understanding how to get the best out of your team and also demanding the best from your team. So there’s so many attributes that Nigel and others would have had.”

He spoke about other famous champions such as Michael Schumacher – who had started his career with Jordan a year before McCarthy – and the late Ayrton Senna when identifying a common feature in an inviolable belief that they could do no wrong.

“I also do think that – I don’t think Damon was like this – but you do see quite a few other world champions who actually just never believe they’re wrong. End of story,” he added.

“Whatever it is, they’re not wrong. And I think we definitely saw that with Michael, we definitely saw it with Ayrton.

“I think that you could say the same with Sebastian [Vettel] in that, when he was winning all these championships, they, they’ve got this kind of thing going on, where they just believe they’re right.

“And that supports their own confidence. So, I think they are just a couple of things.”

McCarthy indicates that his own fighter mentality behind the wheel of a race car derives from a profound motivation to succeed, and that for him arrived in the form of beating his closest reference – his team-mate.

“Me as an example, to these people inside Formula 1, it doesn’t exist.

“You know, my own mentality has been when I’ve been in something, that thing I was talking about earlier to beat my team-mate has always been the top of my agenda to show what I can do speed-wise.

“And that’s what gave me a career, you know, but it wasn’t about winning. [I] wish it had been, but it wasn’t about winning Formula 1 races. But that’s where I set my sights.

“That’s how I came through. But yeah, [Andrea Moda’s 1992 season was a] tiny bit disappointing,” he added.

Verstappen became the 34th world champion in F1 history last year, and Red Bull’s first since Sebastian Vettel in 2013.

He will defend his title in the 2022 season that gets under on 20 March in Bahrain.

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