The Finer Things
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An interview with Mark Blundell, F1 legend and ambassador for William & Son, London.
It was a dull, rainy afternoon on a typical summers day at Silverstone. I waited apprehensively to meet a motorsport racing legend. Mark Blundell entered the hospitality area and his cheery, smiling face immediately brightened the mood.
Mark was at Silverstone to compete in the Blancpain Endurance Series, driving a Pro/Am McLaren MP4 12-C GT3 with United Autosports. He had just stepped out of the car, yet looked fresh and alert. The only indication he had just been on the track was the faint, temporary, indentation on his face caused by his flame retardant balaclava.
Mark has given many interviews over the years but my interest was in Mark’s current-day participation in motorsport and his interest in wristwatches obviously.
A brief summary of his racing career to date
Mark is a son of Barnet, London. He first entered motorsport in 1980, competing in Motorcross. However, Mark soon moved from two wheeled competition to four, competing in British Junior Formula Ford 1600 back in 1984.
He subsequently rose through various racing formulae over the years following; Formula Ford 2000, Formula 3000 and ultimately Formula One in 1990 as a test driver for Williams F1.
Mark competed at the rarefied heights of motorsport with various Formula One teams. But he always appeared to have a strong love for the Le Mans 24 Hours. He first entered the illustrious race in 1989 and secured victory with Peugeot in 1992. He repeatedly returned to race down the Mulsanne straight whenever his other regular driving commitments allowed. Mark would wash his hair again in Eperney’s luxurious shampoo once more in 2003 when he secured a second place with Bentley.
He has also enjoyed success state-side, competing in the CART World Series from 1996 - 2000, driving for PacWest Reynard.
Mark continues to compete in various forms of motorsport but fills his working life with various business commitments including sports management.
Angus Davies (AD): Thank you for your interview. I am aware you have a son, Mark Jnr. Do you have any other children?
Mark Blundell (MB): Yes, we have also got Callum. Two boys.
AD: Are they interested in motor racing?
MB: Thankfully not!
AD: That is what I wanted to ask you! I see Damon Hill has kids in motor racing, Keke Rosberg obviously. When my son did karting it scared me to death and thankfully he got too big. I would love to drive myself but I wouldn’t want it for my kids.
MB: At the end of the day, if either one of them had knocked down the door everyday saying, “That’s what I want to do dad, can I try it?”. I would have been the first to give them a heads up, get them out and see how you get on. But neither one of the them really broke the door the down.
In particular Mark Jnr being the oldest, did not see me much when he was growing up. I didn’t get to do the rugby games and the football matches. In some ways I think Mark Jnr rebelled against the idea of a motorsport profession. “Why do I want to do that? It only ever took my dad away from me”.
Although they follow motorsport and they have an interest in it, it is something they want to compete in. For me that is fine.
AD: But you still have it in you. You still want to do it.
MB: Yeah, you don’t lose it. There is nothing I have found in any other sport that gives me the same sort of buzz.
AD: I see some of the other drivers get into business. Do you participate in other areas of business?
MB: I have got a sports management business. We look after six other racing drivers and 18 young football players are also on our books. We have a property company doing residential and commercial development. I have a non-executive role in the City. I am part of a software company in America.
AD: Wow, so you have lots of interests away from motor racing.
MB: Yes, I have lots of other interests, but I always have to come back and get a little fix (motor racing).
This is great because I am at a period in my life where this is not my revenue earner. It is not my core profession anymore so I can still compete at a sensible level. I compete with friends, these are friends who own this team. At the same time I can compete in a professional manner.
That for me is the best of all worlds.
I can enjoy it without the pressure of sitting on the grid of a Formula One grand prix at the weekend with $25 million dollars of responsibility resting on my shoulders. I can still get around at 200 m.p.h. and I can still believe I am a racing driver.
AD: I have always been a Formula One anorak, but I went to Le Mans for the first time last year (2011) and the amount of money spent there was amazing. Someone like Allan McNish must have been under incredible pressure to deliver.
MB: Yeah, Le Mans in many ways is more pressure than a Grand Prix season because …
AD: All your eggs are in one basket
MB: Exactly. I won in 1992 with Peugeot. In 2003 I drove with Bentley and we led it for most of the race, then had a battery terminal failure and came second in the end.
You go into a Le Mans programme and you know it is a 6 - 8 month programme. That is the lead up to that one 24-hour race.
A big programme with Bentley would see us do Sebring 12 hours and then do two 24 hour realisation tests before we would actually race at Le Mans.
AD: My lad is into rowing and I have heard that some rowers after retiring succumb to the temptation to eat all the things they could not have before and give in to temptation…
MB: I have already done that! (Mark pats his stomach, whilst grinning broadly).
I am two stone heavier than what I used to be. But this is all part of enjoying life. Could I be fitter? Yes.
If this (motorsport) was my core business, then I would be fitter. I have done twenty odd years keeping to that regime and now my core work is commercial business.
Good or bad, I have to do a lunch here, a glass of wine there. That is just part and parcel of what I do.
AD: I have got to ask you a bit about your watch collecting.
MB: Last year I was given a William & Son watch. They only made about 10 of those. It’s a fantastic watch. More of a dress watch than a sports watch.
AD: I would watch you on television and say oh, he is wearing a Breitling for Bentley watch.
MB: That was part of my deal with Bentley at the time. I have a Breitling where there was only six made, one for each of the Le Mans drivers. I have number six, the last one produced. It has a 24 hour face. All of our watches were engraved on the back with the names of the drivers who competed.
I also have a Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Montoya.
AD: Wow, they are very sought after. People continue to enquire about those with retailers now, several years after production ceased.
Juan Pablo Montoya was a very interesting Ambassador for AP as he was not too corporate and I believe wore his heart on his sleeve.
It is always interesting to see which Ambassadors work for which brands. Richard Mille for example has Bubba Watson, Rafael Nadal and Felipe Massa.
MB: and Martin Brundle.
AD: Yes, he is competing at Le Mans with his son.
I don’t know how he can compete with his son. I would be so scared. Euan my son did a bit of karting, but now he is 13 he is already over 6 feet tall and thankfully we burst his motor racing dreams early. He sticks to rowing. I could not imagine racing with my son. I would watch kids karting and there would be no fear there.
MB: That’s right, you can’t have any fear.
AD: You are wired differently as drivers though. I remember seeing Villeneuve crash at Eau-Rouge (Belgium Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps, 1999) and then whilst I sat opposite the BAR garage at La Source bend, I saw Villeneuve return to the garage, laugh with Craig Pollock, jump into the spare car and back out onto the track.
He had just crashed at best part of 200 m.p.h. and yet it did not seem to faze him, he was straight out.
MB: It is just part and parcel of the sport. Nobody is hitting you over the head telling you, you have to do it.
AD: You wouldn’t want it for your own kids though would you?
MB: No. But there is a little bit of a kick at going to the limit and going beyond it and then pulling it back.
AD: So hopefully, in a few years you may have grandchildren. What would you say if they wanted to enter the profession? If they wanted it badly enough?
MB: Yeah, that’s what I would say. Then I would support it. Only if the desire and hunger is there.
AD: And the talent?
MB: Exactly, you would have to know there is something there.
AD: I have got to go back to the watches. You are an Ambassador for William & Son. They have some amazing brands; De Bethune, H. Moser & Cie … Anything that is really grabbing you at the moment?
MB: To be honest, I have had a look at the Moser & Cie watches. They look quite nice, I am quite attracted to them.
I fancy investing in another watch.
William & Son have mentioned they have got a few things I can look at.
AD: They have De Bethune. The finissage is incredible. I have just written about one of their models I saw at Baselworld.
MB: I think that is why a lot of racing drivers are into watches. We all appreciate the engineering side, the precision, because that is the world we come from.
AD: Thanks for affording me the time for this interview. Good luck for the race tomorrow.
I found Mark to be incredibly personable. Despite his professional success and the material wealth he has clearly amassed, he remains at heart a down-to earth family man.
I briefly spoke to Deborah, his wife, and I have met Mark Jnr his eldest son. They share Mark Snr’s humble demeanour. There are no delusions of grandeur or faux accents, just grounded individuals who enjoy motorsport and watches.
It is Mark’s honesty and openness that come across and make him the perfect Ambassador for William & Son. The prestigious retailer in Mayfair shares similar values and offer watch collectors a broad choice of extraordinary timepieces which would induce desire in the most judicious fan of haute horology.
Mark’s sadly did not finish the race on Sunday. He had a coming together with another car in Vale, in horrendous weather. However, despite this set back, Mark is a winner and redoubtable competitor who will return to the podium another day.
United Autosports was formally announced in 2009 and competition-launched in 2010 by veteran race drivers and motorsports entrepreneurs American Zak Brown and Briton Richard Dean. The team maintains a unique Anglo-American duality by simultaneously conducting racing operations from both the US (Indianapolis) and UK (Leeds).
2mb - Motor Sports Management
2mb Sports Management is a boutique talent management agency committed to both identifying and developing young motorsport talent and to helping established stars define and manage their brands.
Founded in 2005 by Mark Blundell and close friend and fellow driver, Martin Brundle, 2mb Sports Management has successfully managed the careers of several elite athletes from a young age. The philosophy behind 2mb's youth policy is to combine the synergy of youth and experience with a boutique management modus operandi to produce drivers of the highest calibre from leading entry-level championships all the way through to the top echelons of single-seater motorsport.
In January 2009, Mark Blundell took sole ownership of 2mb Sports Management and is focussed on helping the promising young talent of today become the future stars of British and World motorsport.
William & Son, London
William Asprey founded his eponymous luxury goods store in Mayfair’s Mount Street in 1999. From the start he specialised in the special and surprising, the eclectic and sometimes the extravagant. In just a decade the business has grown exponentially and, in the process, William & Son has built up a loyal, international clientele who appreciate and share the distinctive William & Son ethos of beauty, quality, innovation, tradition, value and service.
William & Son is a small, family-run business with a committed and engaging staff that is fortunate to have the confidence to indulge an eclectic rather than too commercial eye at the collections it offers.
Founder William Asprey is a seventh generation member of the Asprey family and grew up with a strong sense of the traditions of retailing the finer things of life. He and his ten year old company are proud, both of the genuine quality of products that they offer, but also that whenever possible their ranges are created by British craftsmen.
Images kindly provided by © Euan Davies 2012.