Ask Damien Smith: February 26

Our Grand Prix Editor Nigel Roebuck is on holiday this week, so AUTOSPORT's News Editor Damien Smith is making a guest appearance. Nigel will be back next week, so if you want his opinion on any motorsport matter drop us an e-mail here at autosport.com and we'll forward on a selection to him. Nigel won't be able to answer all your questions, but we'll publish his answers here next week

Ask Damien Smith: February 26

Send your questions to AskNigel@haynet.com.


Dear Andrew,

The short answer to the question of whether Sebastien Bourdais should be in Formula 1 is yes, of course he should. The Frenchman has a proven track record already and what is likely to be a great Champ Car season for him this year will only strengthen what he has already built.

Bourdais could well have ended up racing for Arrows this year, if the team had survived its financial problems. Tom Walkinshaw had signed him on a contract last year - just as it became clear at the British Grand Prix that his team was on the brink of falling apart. Then Renault looked set to take Bourdais under its wing as a test driver. But despite the added advantage of his nationality, Sebastien was overlooked.

Bourdais is not feeling sorry for himself. He has landed arguably the best drive outside of F1 with Newman-Haas, and as he is already showing, he intends to make the best of it. Yes, it is a shame that Bourdais could not graduate straight to F1 after winning the Formula 3000 International Championship, but I don't believe the fact that he hasn't is necessarily a reflection of him or the feeder category. There is a strong random element to landing an F1 drive. So much has to come together for it to come off, and winning any championship is unfortunately not enough to guarantee anything.

Bourdais' time in F1 will come, just as it has for Ralph Firman, Justin Wilson and last year's CART champion Cristiano da Matta this year. Remember, a couple of years in Champ Cars did no harm to Juan Pablo Montoya. The variety of disciplines demanded of CART drivers can only be positive when it comes to racing experience.

If he does get picked up by an F1 team in the next couple of years, he will be the complete package. Bourdais has a great junior record, three years of F3000 experience, a win in the Spa 24 Hours, a great knowledge of sportscar racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours and obvious talent and intelligence. F1 is not the be-all-and-end-all. Sebastien knows that and is looking forward to his Champ Car season. He might be a rookie in these circles, but this guy is a seasoned professional at the age of just 23.



Dear Terry,

It depends what criteria you set. On top of the technical and strategic reasons, smaller teams like Jordan and Minardi hope to gain marketing benefits from the two-hour testing sessions on the Friday mornings of grands prix. They hope to gain from the exposure of being the focus of attention for those couple of hours, and third cars possibly driven by rising stars local to each particular races would add to that.

But it has to questionable just how much marketing mileage there is out of the test sessions. Of course, the main advantage is the extra track time the teams will gain to prepare for qualifying and the race. Now that the tyre companies have agreed to supply the Friday teams with only the same rubber as the other teams, some of that advantage is gone. But losing the right to unlimited testing away from events is still a price worth paying for some teams.

Rookie drivers will clearly benefit from the extra track time on grand prix weekends. The pressure of one-shot qualifying will be tough on the new drivers, but if they have two extra hours to prepare, they should be less likely to make mistakes. So Jaguar's Antonio Pizzonia, Jordan's Ralph Firman, Minardi's Justin Wilson and Renault's Fernando Alonso, who has not raced in F1 for over a year, will all gain from it.

Jaguar has permission to test for 20 days away from races during the season, as long as it only runs one car in these sessions. Twenty days was exactly what it had budgeted for anyway, so the team argues it does not lose anything from the Friday option and can only gain. Likewise, the cash-strapped Jordan and Minardi teams would not be able to afford much testing this year anyway. It makes complete sense for them to test at races.

The same goes for Sauber, if it becomes the fifth team to sign up. The Swiss outfit has set a pattern of starting most F1 seasons strongly, but a lack of development usually means the promise begins to tail off. Its reputation as a solid midfielder is assured. With extra on-track preparation at races, Sauber could find enough performance every now and again to be more than a consistent points finisher, especially with the strong driver line-up of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld.

Rather than pinpoint who has the most to gain from Friday testing, it is actually easier to suggest who has the most to lose. It has to be Renault. This team can undoubtedly afford to clock up as many testing miles during a season as it wants. It has already admitted that its V10 engine is not as strong as it should be and needs work. Can the addition of Allan McNish on the driving strength for Fridays really provide enough development time for a team with the high expectations of Renault? We can only wait and see.



Dear Jenny,

There is clearly the possibility of that happening. Personally, I don't agree with the new points system. Firstly, I've always believed a world championship point is something that should be hard-earned and extremely valuable. By making it easier to score points this year, their worth is diminished. In sporting terms, it will mean no more to me if Minardi scores 10 points this year by racking up sevenths and eighths than the two points they scored last year through Mark Webber's heroic fifth place in Australia. Financially, it might work out better for the team, but I'm still disappointed that championship points will be easier to come by.

Secondly, the new system will screw up the record books. Ok, if Michael Schumacher beat his points record from last year it would still count because what you get for a win hasn't changed. But for those midfield teams who will score more than usual this year, the points barometer indicating how successful their season has been compared to others will be useless. Maybe stats are only interesting to the anoraks, but I happen to think it's important.

So who will benefit the most? Well, there are a number of teams who could gain, aren't there? The biggest jump in performance this year could come from Toyota, if the winter tests are anything to go by. Williams believes that on pace, the red and white cars could be the third best outfit at the start of the year. But if this is the case, Toyota would gain whatever the points system.

Those who will really gain are the teams who usually can expect to finish only fourth at best in most grands prix. The likes of Jaguar, Sauber, Renault and BAR are the teams I'm thinking of. And if Toyota's leap in performance is not as great as it could be, they are part of that list too.

But I suppose the team that will gain the most is Minardi, because the chances of it scoring points this year are higher than they have ever been. The others listed would all expect to get into double figures anyway; Minardi has always thought of points as a bonus. As I say, their worth to me as a racing fan is much less if they are earned through seventh and eighth place finishers. But I'm sure Paul Stoddart and his drivers will take them any way they come.



Dear Steve,

It's a bit depressing, isn't it? Just as the excitement is building up for a potentially exciting Formula 1 season, politics rears its head once again.

The good news is that the arbitration process will take over a year to be concluded and the new rules will be introduced in Australia next week. Whether you agree with the various changes or not, the best thing about them is that they have introduced so many new variables to F1, it really is hard to know exactly what the Melbourne weekend will be like. It's interesting again.

Having said that, it is not fair to label Ron Dennis and Frank Williams as simply dinosaurs out of step with the rest of F1. They have every right to argue their case. And judging by a vote on autosport.com earlier this week, many of our readers seem to agree with them.

As you say, Dennis and Williams are two of the "keenest racers" in the paddock and their commitment to F1 cannot be questioned. They believe that Max Mosley and the FIA are taking F1 down a rocky road, and are not prepared to sit back and let this new direction take its course without a fight. You have to admire them for standing by their convictions.

And who is to say they are not right? The FIA is doing its best to steer F1 into a stable long-term future, but how will all this look in hindsight? We can't know that right now. Dennis and Williams might be spot on in doubting these ideas.

But as it stands now, we are fast approaching what will be one of the most intriguing F1 seasons ever. I believe the rules will make grand prix racing more interesting, more entertaining. After the tough time F1 went through last year, it is vital to bring back the spark that so many believe has been lost. Let's enjoy watching what happens in the next few months, and leave the politics to sort itself out away from what matters: the races.



Dear Paul,

There was a time when Luca Badoer looked set to be one of the new star names of the 1990s. When he was winning Formula 3000 races and the championship in 1992 with Team Crypton, this Italian looked set for a bright future.

So what happened? He joined Scuderia Italia in F1 the following year, that's what. The dreadful Lola-Ferraris almost ended his career there and then. He re-emerged with Minardi in '95, then made another disastrous career decision by joining Forti Corse in '96.

After that debacle, the test driver role at Ferrari must have been extremely attractive. Although he put in another stint at Minardi, Badoer has been doing that job ever since.

For a long time it seemed as if he was patiently waiting in the wings for Ferrari to give him a proper chance in F1. But when that appeared to come up when Michael Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone in '99, the team brought in Mika Salo instead. Badoer was deeply disappointed.

Since then, Badoer must have accepted that he is never going to land that big chance in F1. Instead, he has settled for job security. Badoer's ability makes him a perfect Ferrari test driver, a job where you get to drive the best F1 cars without the pressure of having to perform. His loyalty to Ferrari is impressive, even if he must pay the price of losing the best years of his racing career.



Dear Craig,

Formula 3000 is not in the best of health, and if truth be told, has not been for some time. Only 10 teams look set to race this year and not all of them are in the best of shape.

Meanwhile, the Dallara Nissan World Series is heading into its second season and is seemingly in good health. But take a closer look and you will see that the two championships are in pretty similar shape.

Both are only just into double figures in terms of drivers actually signed for this year. But there is still time for more drivers to join. F3000 continues to run without a title sponsorship and prize money, but the carrot of a prestigious Formula 1 support slot, while Dallara Nissan is currently searching for a new title sponsor to replace Telefonica and boasts a calendar of races that makes it attractive to rising stars and Formula 1 rejects alike.

Both series have their merits, and both could fall apart in the next few years because that is the reality of trying to run professional race series in the world today. The fact is both would be stronger if they were united.

Just picture it: one series clearly defined as the final stepping stone to F1, running on the grand prix support bill; proper sponsorship and prize money; large grids of well-run teams; and a new chance of catching the imagination of the public thanks to proper marketing.

It won't happen, of course. There are too many parties with their own interests. Dallara Nissan will strive to keep up its momentum, and the F3000 teams will work harder to keep their series afloat. Who knows what is in store for both in the long term? If only motorsport could be simple...

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