Ask Gordon

Autosport's Grand Prix editor Nigel Roebuck answers your questions here every Wednesday. Well, he does when he's not on holiday. While Nigel takes a break from the keyboard, this week Autosport's American editor Gordon Kirby climbs into the hot seat and answers your questions. Nigel will be back next week, although if you have a question specifically for Gordon - or any other of Autosport's experts - please e-mail them to with the expert's name in the message copy

Ask Gordon

Dear Gordon,
Why in the US Grand Prix did McLaren, Benetton, BAR and Prost have their tobacco sponsors on their cars, whereas Ferrari and Jordan did not have theirs on the livery?
Andrew Moore
Northern Ireland

Dear Andrew,
The American tobacco companies and their brands are bound by a multi-billion dollar agreement with the federal government they signed two years ago which restricts any of their brands from sponsoring cars in more than one racing series. This legal contract doesn't apply to the European or overseas tobacco companies that sponsor McLaren, Benetton, BAR & Prost but it does mean Marlboro can appear only on Penske's cars in CART and not on the Ferraris in F1.

This is one of many reasons why Penske has not raced at Indianapolis in recent years and may continue to keep him away from the 500 as long as there are separate CART and IRL series. -- GK

Dear Ian,
I agree that the point system rewards consistency too much, although in the end it's always the guys who have performed the best who wind up on top. This matter has been debated for years, but I don't see it changing.

Historically, American racing series have always awarded a much larger number of points per race than F1 and the points have stretched down through the field. NASCAR is the classic example where the winner gets 175 points and the guy in 40th gets around 45!
In the old days of Indycar racing USAC used to award points on a roughly similar basis and CART started with the same kind of point system although it was rapidly changed to the current system in CART's early years. The long and short of it, is that in America championships are recognised as being about consistency and reliability rather than just pure speed which is why I don't expect to see an changes. -- GK

Dear Edgar,
I'm sure you're right and it would have been much more spectacular to run the F1 cars on the oval at Indy, but that will never happen. F1 drivers and teams don't believe in running next to walls at 230 mph. They believe it's too dangerous and the cars aren't strong enough to survive such high-speed impacts with the wall. Also, I have no doubt that Bernie Ecclestone would not want any comparison between F1 cars and CART cars on ovals. He knows the F1 cars would be much less spectacular and competitive than CART or even IRL cars. Nor would the F1 cars run as quickly as CART or probably IRL cars on a big oval because F1 engines run out of breath and horsepower at the top end while Champ car engines keep making power all the way up the range. -- GK

Dear John,
I grew up in Canada and was always a 'petrol head'. My father raced motorcycles and introduced me to racing. I raced karts a little, then played around as an amateur race mechanic/'gofer' as well as doing part-time racing journalism, PR work and some team management.

I spent the 1972 racing season in England with my old friend David Loring who was an ace FF1600 driver from those days. I tried to put together an all-American F3 team for 1973 with Loring and Danny Sullivan who had just started racing in 1971, but couldn't pull it together.

I'd also been talking to Autosport about doing their F2 coverage in 1973, then was offered the American editor's job when Pete Lyons decided to move from the USA to Europe to cover F1 for the magazine. I've been here ever since, and have also worked for many American magazines, none as good or complete as Autosport. -- GK

I think the top CART/Indy car drivers over the years have been seriously underestimated by the European/worldwide race fan. We've had many great American Indy or Champ car drivers like Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Bobby & Al Unser, Parnelli Jones, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr and Michael Andretti, but because they did most of their racing in America they haven't enjoyed the worldwide recognition they deserve.

I find it interesting that people outside America tend to denigrate oval racing, saying it's easier than road racing, but until a driver has shown he can race well on ovals as well as on road circuits, I don't believe he's demonstrated that he's a true racing driver.

All the American greats have at least tried road racing and most of them have been very successful at it, if not World Champions. On the other hand precious few modern F1 drivers have even tried oval racing. And there's no question that for pure racing rather than simply fast driving, oval tracks are what it's all about.

As for Peter Revson, he was an excellent driver in F1, CanAm and Indy cars. He came into his own during his years with McLaren and was read for great things with Shadow when he was killed in South Africa. Tyler Alexander says 'Revvie' was one of the best he's ever seen, and few people in F1 or anywhere else in the sport speak from such experience and authority. -- GK

I've half-joked a number of times in recent years that Ecclestone should take over CART. There's no doubt in my mind that if Bernie had run CART the past 20 years it would be as big as F1, maybe even bigger. Ecclestone might have been the one person capable of stopping Tony George from starting the IRL.

Some people half-joke that in time Ecclestone may take over CART by buying enough shares in the company to take control of it, although thus far he's shown no such interest.

As of this week, it looks as if Long Beach promoter Chris Pook might become CART's new boss. I believe Pook is exactly the right man for the job and may have discussed his intentions with Ecclestone at Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. If Chris takes the job, there will be no need for Ecclestone to take over CART, but if CART doesn't get the right strongman at the helm anything is possible. -- GK

Well Joe, it's no contest. The actual racing in CART is ten times or more better than in F1. F1 is about technology and fast driving. It's not about racing.

For many years we've seen precious little passing and back-and-forth racing in F1. A couple of passes a race seems to keep everyone excited, and it's very rare to see a real duel in F1 taking place over many laps or the entire course of the race. If you went into an F1 garage and talked to the engineers and mechanics you would discover that all of them are great fans of Champ cars because it's such a great racing formula. They readily admit there's no contest as far as racing between F1 and CART. For my part, I also believe the depth of driving talent and racing talent in particular is much richer in CART than F1. -- GK

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