My grid expectations

WITH the 2007 Grand Prix season looming, Crow reporter Joanne Jarvis talks to ITV analyst and former racing driver Mark Blundell about an unpredictable season in the absence of Michael Schumacher. People can expect a classic season, says Mark Blundell.

WITH the 2007 Grand Prix season looming, Crow reporter

Joanne Jarvis talks to ITV analyst and former racing driver Mark Blundell about an unpredictable season in the absence of Michael Schumacher.

People can expect a classic season, says Mark Blundell. And he should know.

For the past four years the ex-Formula One racing driver has been the ITV analyst during its coverage of the Grand Prix season.

He said: "We have seen Michael Schumacher win many races so it make this year's Grand Prix open in many ways. And there's a lot of anticipation this season because a lot of teams are only within a tenth of a second of each other."

Melbourn-based Mark, 40, said there are some promising young drivers coming to the forefront of motor racing including Robery Kubica (BMW) and Lewis Hamilton, who Mark says has a very good chance.

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"Even though it's great to see big names it's also nice to see young drivers coming through," he said.

"But there's going to be a lot of pressure on Hamilton's shoulders."

And he expects established drivers will also feel the pressure this season.

"There's lots of talent around," Mark said. "So there's going to be lots of pressure on the big names.

"Out of all the guys, Giancarlo Fisichella is an experienced driver, but he will probably go out in Australia next month with the biggest expectations."

This years Grand Prix season will be starting in Melbourne, Australia, on March 16, and ending in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 21.

"The best circuit will be in Belgium because it is one we didn't have last season. Fuji in Japan will also be a good one because it is a new venue," Mark said.

Mark started his racing career at the age of 17 after competing in motocross for three years.

He said: "I was brought up in a garage business and was always surrounded by cars.

"I just happened to move from two wheels to four wheels quite quickly."

Mark's 20-year racing career began racing Formula Ford. He quickly moved on to more powerful machines, such as F3 and F3000 which was just one step away from Grand Prix.

In 1989 he landed a testing contract with Williams.

But in 1990 he decided to give up the pressure of F3000 glory and went on to win Le Mans in 1992 -- the youngest driver to do so.

He also took part in the CART Champcar series and in 1997 was voted British Competition Driver of the Year by readers of Autosport magazine.

He says his career highlights include securing his first point in a F1 race, winning Le Mans, and being the fourth British driver to win an indie car race in America.

"The thing I love about driving is the speed and the fact it's just you and the machine - it's the ultimate male ego," he said.

When asked if he wished he was going to be on the start line himself this year, he said: "I have been there, done that.

"I have different priorities in life now."

Mark has turned his attention to his company, Royston-based 2MB Mangement, which he runs with another former racing driver, Martin Brundle.

The company manages young motor racing talent, including Gary Paffett, 25, who test drives for McLaren, and Mike Conway, 23.

Mark says both are just 12-18 months away from F1.

He said: "There is a lot of passion that goes into the business. There has always got to be young drivers in motor racing.

"The UK is the motor racing capital of the world, so it would be nice to see the UK industry backing its drivers.

"If I had my own team I would definitely have a younger driver as well as an older driver because if you have two strong drivers together, there can be friction."

Mark is also supporting his 15-year-old son, also called Mark, who hopes to make a career out of motor racing.

"If things go according to plan he could be sitting in a F1 car in the next five-six years," he said.

He has also been working as a studio analyst for ITV for the past four years and will continue to do so throughout the 2007 Grand Prix.

Although television work has taken him away from the track, he said it still keeps him on his toes, because it is live television.

"Not only are you analysing the coverage, but you also have the director in your ear and are thinking about what to say in your next response."

This year's Grand Prix Calendar

- Australian GP - Melbourne: March 16-18

- Malaysian GP - Kuala Lumpur: April 6-8

- Bahrain GP - Bahrain: April 13-15

- Spanish GP - Catalunya: May 11-13

- Monaco GP - Monte Carlo: May 25-27

- Canada GP - Montreal: June 8-10

- US GP - Indianapolis: June 15-17

- French GP - Magny-Cours: June 29-July 1

- British GP - Silverstone: July 6-8

- German GP - Nuburgring: July 20-22

- Hungarian GP - Budapest: Aug 3-5

- Turkish GP - Istanbul: Aug 24-26

- Italian GP - Monza: Sept 7-9

- Belgian GP - Spa: Sept 14-16

- Japanese GP - Fuji Speedway: Sept 28-30

- Chinese GP - Shanghai: Oct 5-7

- Brazilian GP - Sao Paulo: Oct 19-21

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