F1 Rejects Interview with

Perry McCarthy

F3000 '89F1 '92F1' 92F1 '92Le Mans '97

Interview by Stephen Slater

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Perry McCarthy Dubbed by The Times as "the world's unluckiest racing driver", Perry McCarthy is a racing battler, a maverick who fought tooth and nail to rise through single seater categories in Britain, overcoming obstacles such as chronic lack of sponsorship, uncompetitive machinery, and the odd wild shunt.

When he finally made the big time, he was definitely in the worst house on the best street. His team in F1 was Andrea Moda, an infamously inept team that was a disaster in any way you cared to look at it. Perry endured a paucity of track time, and incidents both insanely comic and deadly dangerous, until the team folded and McCarthy was out of F1.

Several years racing sportscars for Lotus, Audi and Panoz followed, as Perry gained a reputation for his skill, determination ... and razor sharp wit. F1 Rejects' UK Correspondent Stephen Slater asked him if he would answer some questions for us about Andrea Moda and his career, and he graciously obliged! For full details of McCarthy' F1 adventure, and information on his career, please see our Perry McCarthy biography.

• Perry, you made it into Formula One in 1992, but your berth was probably the worst address in the pitlane...

Well, I'd been trying to get into Formula One for many years and had sporadic appearances in F3000, then I went over to America to do sportscar racing which was great fun. I had talks with some of the small F1 teams but it seemed that I needed to bring sponsorship to the team. Then at the beginning of 1992, I was contacted by representatives of the Andrea Moda team, and they had had a pretty tough baptism, so they felt they needed someone who was used to a tough environment and who could fight, and also hopefully drive at the same time!

My name seemed to fit the bill, the deal was done and I was in. I was looking forward to having the opportunity to do what I always believed I could do, which was drive Grand Prix cars competitively and spend time posing in places like Monaco!
• Is it true you made the trip all the way out to Brazil, and only then did they decide that your superlicence was invalid?

Yeah, there was problems with the licence because technically I hadn't done enough racing in F3000 to be awarded a superlicence. In retrospect, it was issued in mistake, and they spotted that when I was in Brazil and took it back - but there was quite a lot of sympathy down the pitlane for my plight, so it was brought before the World Council. There was a vote as to whether I should have a superlicence, the vote was cleared and the licence was reinstated so I could attempt to qualify for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
• But trouble hit in Spain: you only get 18 metres down the pitlane in pre-qualifying!

Well, it was just an insane time, and that was just the beginning of it. The massively disappointing thing was that I'd been fighting for so long trying to make an impact. It's the old saying: "Be careful what you wish, for because you just might get it". And sure, I got to go into Formula One but the situation was just laughable. No matter what I tried to do, the team were neither experienced, professional or funded.
McCarthy testing the Benetton at Jerez in 1988.© John Townsend
• Apparently your mechanics failed to wake you up in time for qualifying. Do you think the team deliberately left you asleep that morning?

I'm not sure! Someone who is cynical might say it was because if I didn't turn up for a Grand Prix they could apply to the governing body to go and take Enrico Bertaggia, who was walking around with a million dollars at that time. So it is possible they could well have done it deliberately! Then again ... their organisational abilities weren't exactly on a par with McLaren, so they could have forgotten they might need a driver!
• Now Mr Andrea Sassetti, the owner of this team, what was he like? He eventually got himself arrested didn't he?

I'm sure in other areas of business he was very skilled because he was a young chap, and even the money he spent on the Andrea Moda team was quite significant to everyday individuals. But it was nowhere near enough in the professional levels of Formula One; as a person he was perhaps naive in F1 and didn't understand what the whole deal was about. He wasn't the first to have made that mistake and subsequent events in F1 have shown he wasn't the last!

He was arrested at the Spa circuit later in the year because of alleged fraud, but I don't know exactly how that turned out. All I can say is we aren't on each other's Christmas card list!!
• Then came Monaco, but you only did two laps because the seat wasn't fitted properly. And then in Montreal there were no engines!!

Well, in Monaco nothing was working and then they brought the car in because basically Roberto was going to make a concerted effort to qualify. At that time we all realised that my car was basically being used as a rolling spare.

In Canada, the engines didn't turn up and there were rumours that Andrea hadn't paid the bills to Judd (our engine builder). There were other rumours that there were problems with the freight on one particular aircraft, but at the end of the day the engines just didn't turn up; a bit sad considering everyone else's arrived. Perhaps we could have looked for a downhill circuit where we might be competitive...
McCarthy testing the Benetton at Jerez in 1988.
© John Townsend
• It's one thing the engines not turning up, but quite another when the whole team itself doesn't even make it Magny Cours! That must've been soul destroying.

That's exactly what it was, remembering it was quite a test, with no money or anything, for me to actually get to the races. So arriving in the pitlane and finding that there are no trucks with 'Andrea Moda' on them, you just think "GOD!!" Cynics would suggest that they used the French Lorry drivers blockade of the major connecting routes as an excuse, and didn't find a way to arrive at the circuit just to save some money.
• What was the rest of the pitlane's view of Andrea Moda?

There was a lot of sympathy to begin with, but they soon became a laughing stock. In fact they were an irritant to many people because their presence caused the running of pre-qualifying which the other teams didn't want to be doing. Without the Andrea Moda entry, the overall entry would have been reduced to 30, meaning pre-qualifying would have been scrapped.
• What was it like at Silverstone running in front of your home crowd?

I was very excited about Silverstone, but was pretty cautious about my expectations because by then I realised we had serious problems. But still, I was determined to qualify at all costs and, yeah, I really wanted to do something for the crowd! However, when my Italian mates put 'wet tyres' on my car for dry conditions, I had a rough idea I wouldn't be a major threat for pole position...
McCarthy testing the Benetton at Jerez in 1988.
© John Townsend
• Due to your love of Spa, you decide to plug on to Belgium, but it all went very wrong, didn't it?

Well, when the steering rack seizes in the middle of Eau Rouge at 170mph, you know that you've gotta get it right, and right away, because I was heading for a very very big shunt! As soon as I turned in, I realised there was a problem and hit the brakes immediately, so I took enough speed off to just force the steering through. If I hadn't done that then it would have been very bad. When I brought the car back to the pits, I found out they actually knew about the problem! Then I decided to quit, but the team were banned by the governing body anyway ... so that was it!
• How do you look back upon your post-F1 career now?

Firstly, testing for Benetton was great. I was quick (15 seconds a lap faster than I'd managed in the Andrea Moda), but it was only a temporary fill in for Alessandro Zanardi (because he was ill). I did a bit for Frank Williams, but I didn't really get on with their test team manager. Then I pulled out of the whole thing for two years.

My comeback in 1995 in the fabulous Formula Classic was just unbelievable! I think there was about one car working properly. My one didn't have 2nd and 4th gears as I recall. Martin Donnelly's didn't have 5th, and so on! Then in 1996, I was racing sports cars with Lotus, and although Jan Lammers and I recorded their best result (2nd place at Silverstone), we split up immediately afterward. Let's just say I will never speak to those people ever again ... but my old mate Jan is a good guy.

1997 with Panoz and close friends David Brabham, James Weaver and Andy Wallace was good fun, but we were too far behind the Mercs and BMWs etc. 3rd at Sebring was like winning the World Championship! But then moving to Audi for 1999 was just the bees' knees! Great team, great people; I really liked the Germans, they are warm and totally passionate about their racing.

Anyway, I called it a day on my driving career at the beginning of 2000 because I had an idea for an Internet sports betting business. However, I'm also presenting the Grands Prix for F1 Digital+ with my old mate Damon Hill. We generally have a bit of fun and try to bring the viewers into a conversation between two racing drivers, only one of whom was the 1996 World Champion, of course!
• Looking back do you think you could have won in a Williams or McLaren?

Yeah, I honestly do believe I could have won races, but I really have no idea if I had what it takes to win a World Championship. I guess if one wins enough races the Championship takes care of itself, but I don't underestimate the task, or in fact the guys who have actually gone out and done it.

I tested the Audi Le Mans car a while back, and I must say the old race gene has reactivated, and this year I'll make yet another comeback at Le Mans, with the DAMS team, where I'll finally put the record straight and prove once and for all that I am faster than Schumacher! Only joking, Michael. However, I really wish I could have mixed it at the front end in F1 ... but then again, I would never have had the opportunity to be on your site would I!!
Click here to read Perry's Full Biography on our site!

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