Ask Nigel: December 6

Autosport's Grand Prix editor Nigel Roebuck answers your questions here every Wednesday. If you have a topic past, present or future that you would like Nigel's opinion of to help wile away the off-season, then send your questions to us here at Autosport.com. We have given Nigel his very own e-mail address, so please send in your questions to AskNigel@haynet.com. Just click on the e-mail address

Ask Nigel: December 6




Dear Dave,
Yes, interesting point. You're right, for all his considerable success, Brabham is never mentioned in the same breath as, say, Moss or Clark or Stewart or Rindt. And I have to say that, while I like Jack, I was never a great fan of his - some drivers catch your imagination, I suppose, and some don't.

You don't win three World Championships without a lot of talent, that's for sure, but Jack, although extremely quick right to the end of his career, in 1970, was never one of the real artists, to my mind. His style was effective, rather than flowing, let's say.

Jackie Stewart had considerable respect for Brabham, but he always says of him that there never was a topline driver who made so many mistakes! "You'd be behind him, and he'd get so carried away that occasionally he'd forget to change gear! I mean it. One time I was following him at Goodwood, and I could hear his engine screaming away, and I was saying, 'Change up, Jack, for God's Sake!"

Many drivers have told me that Brabham was the original wily old campaigner, who would use every trick in the book to 'discourage' another driver who was pushing him. Stewart speaks about him with affection, as they all do, but says that, of all the drivers in that era, Jack was way the most difficult to overtake.

"He'd have fitted into the Formula 1 of today perfectly! These guys today know nothing about keeping people back, compared with what Jack knew. I'm not sure he would actually run into anybody, but he didn't need to, you see - he was much more subtle than that! It's only the unsubtle who actually have to run into people.

"Racing was generally very clean in that era. I'd happily race all day with Rindt or Amon or McLaren or Hulme, but Jack... was a bit different. He'd block you, he'd use pieces of road that he'd never used before - and you got more chips in your visor following him than anybody else, that's for sure. You couldn't talk to him about it, though; he'd just smile!"

Back then, of course, the tracks were a little different from those used today. There were no gravel traps and very few guardrails, and at the edge of the road there were very frequently stones and whatnot. Drivers quite often put wheels off - and when they did, it could be unpleasant for the guy behind.

Chris Amon well remembers a race-long battle with Brabham in the 1967 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. "It was one of the most enjoyable races I ever had," he said, "but frustrating, too. Every lap I'd come out of his slipstream before Stowe, and then have to drop back in again, because the Ferrari just didn't have the power to get by.

"Old Jack was adjusting his mirrors early in the race - in fact, one fell off, and whistled past my head. He lost the other one, too, and I've never quite known whether he was adjusting them, or trying to tear them off! He said he had a wheel out of balance, and the mirrors were shaking...

"It was a very wide car, that Brabham, and Jack was throwing everything in the book at me: stones, grass, dirt - and mirrors, of course! I finally got him when he ran a bit wide coming out of Woodcote on lap 77, with three to go..."

Brabham cut his racing teeth on sprint cars in Australia. It was a hard school, and perhaps conditioned his approach to race driving for the rest of his career. Just last Saturday, I asked Dan Gurney if Jack really had been that difficult to pass. "Oh, you'd better believe it," Dan laughed. "Even when you were driving for his team!"

Jack is 74 now, and still has all the enthusiasm for driving that he ever had. I really admire him for that - and there's no question that he is still very quick. At the Goodwood Revival Meeting in 1999, he was in an early McLaren F1 car, and, let me tell you, he drove the wheels off that thing. When, late in the race, he was involved in a serious accident, we all worried for him, but later he said it had been nothing to worry about, just a broken rib or two, and it has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for driving and competition. A one-off, Brabham.




Dear Mark,
Oh, I'm sure it's a pure accident. While we're about it, though, I trust you'll use the 'launch control' in testing only...




Dear Eustaquio,
I don't really have an opinion on racing journalism on the internet - until, that is, I learn that something I have written has been nicked by some website, which then somehow forgets either to acknowledge or pay me!

That's the problem with much of it at the moment, I think - it's not regulated, and in time it will somehow have to be. Stealing is stealing.

I'm not, of course, by any means talking about all the racing websites, and of course, yes, I read some of them - including Autosport.com, naturally. For example, my old pal Eoin Young, whose Autocar column was inexplicably dropped a few years ago, now writes the very same sort of thing for one of the websites. He has a light touch with words rarely found these days, and I always make a point of reading him each week.




Dear Mark,
What do I think of Adrian Reynard? I think he's a very clever man.

It's true that about the only thing - in terms of Formula 1, anyway - we ever hear about him is his power struggle with Craig Pollock, but then he isn't in any sense part of the F1 scene, like the people you mention (Dennis, Williams, Brawn, Jordan, Briatore etc), and rarely comes to a Grand Prix. He doesn't run an F1 team, and he doesn't design an F1 car, so really the comparisons with those people are not valid. It's true that Reynard Cars has succeeded in every formula in which its entered, but I think perhaps the challenge of F1 was a little underestimated, as plenty of others had found before them.

You ask if Reynard 'has what it takes to resolve the conflict, and put BAR at the top of the pile'. To be honest, I'm not sure there would be a conflict in the first place, were it not for the attempts of Adrian and others to take control of the company! What's more, there are reasons to believe that this conflict has considerably affected BAR's ability to progress, and I hope we'll hear no more of it in the future.

The team made a big stride in 2000, and I want to see them put a car under Jacques Villeneuve which can do justice to his talent and commitment. The politics of the team frankly bore me stiff.




Dear David,
While I indeed think Mario Andretti is the greatest all-rounder the sport has known, he has never - to the best of my knowledge - tried his hand at rallying. To me, racing and rallying are both forms of motor sport in the same way that soccer and rugby are both ball games; there are aspects which are vaguely similar, but really we're talking apples and pears. For as long as I can remember, I've been a racing fanatic, but rallying doesn't really do it for me, and I know there are countless folk who hold a directly contrary view.

In all the years I've known him, I don't believe I've ever heard Mario so much as mention rallying, but I don't doubt that if David Richards were to offer him a couple of hours in an Impreza, he'd have a fight to say no. Andretti was, after all, in his element on the dirt ovals in his sprint car days...

Sundry racing drivers, like Martin Brundle and Derek Warwick, have tried their hand at rallying, of course, and back in the 60s both Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill took part in the RAC Rally. While Hill, in a Cooper S, didn't make much of an impression, Clark, in a factory Lotus Cortina, was sensational, beating his namesake - Roger - on one stage. At that time, Roger Clark was very much the king of British rallying, but he once told me he'd never seen a talent like Jimmy's: "If he'd concentrated on it, he'd very soon have been the best, just as he was in racing."

In the past, of course, others made the switch in the opposite direction. Vic Elford, for example, was a great rally driver who went racing very successfully, winning long-distance sports car races, like the Targa Florio, and even making it briefly to F1. Sandro Munari dabbled briefly with racing, too, and won the Targa for Ferrari in 1972. And Leo Kinnunen became a Porsche factory driver, sharing a car with Pedro Rodriguez in 1970. Later, Henri Toivonen expressed a wish to go racing, and acquitted himself very well in his few F3 outings.

If there were a joint rally/circuit competition between the top drivers in each discipline, I have no idea which group would come out ahead. It's not too difficult to imagine that Hakkinen's Finnish roots would be of some help to him on a special stage, and both Schumacher and Villeneuve, too, are pretty adept at holding a car sideways.

Probably, they'd all do an impressive job (for novices...), but how would the rally guys go in an F1 car? Who knows? McRae had a run in a Jordan a year or two ago, and impressed the team, and, when you think about it, a rally driver has infinitely more experience of tarmac than an F1 driver has of the loose stuff...




Dear Bernard,
I always thought Jean-Pierre Jarier's natural talent extremely high - when he was in the mood, there were very few quicker, and, as you say, when he drove the Lotus 79, in Montreal and Watkins Glen in 1978, he was sensational.

Decidedly, Jarier was not the luckiest guy in racing, but I think there was more to his lack of results than that. I don't believe, for example, that he had the ideal temperament for a Grand Prix driver, and very definitely he was a man who had 'on' and 'off' days. There were always doubts that he had enough commitment to the job, and doubts, too, about his fitness. Ken Tyrrell, I know, thought that Jean-Pierre relied too much on his talent, and didn't work hard enough.

On pure speed and flair, though, undoubtedly Jarier was close to the top.




Dear Andrew,
I can well understand your having a soft spot for Jacques Laffite; he's one of the drivers I have most liked in my 20-odd years of covering F1. Just a delightful bloke, as well as being an extremely good Grand Prix driver.

In lots of ways, Jacques was an anachronism - an old-fashioned racing driver even by the standards of the '70s and '80s. He never cared much about money, and truly loved racing for its own sake, seeing it as one of the good things in life, rather than life itself. I always thought his attitude that of a very sane man. It was always important that it should be fun.

An example: one year I arrived in a cab at the Meridien Hotel in Montreal, and Jacques drew up in the one behind. I waited for him. He paid the driver, then went to the boot of the car, pulled out his suitcase, then his fishing equipment, and slammed the boot shut. The taxi began to pull away - at which point Laffite suddenly yelled at him to stop. He looked sheepishly across at me, as he opened the boot again: "Forgot my 'elmet bag..."

I remember the anguish of the other drivers when Laffite had his awful accident, immediately after the start, at Brands Hatch in 1986. The race was immediately red-flagged, of course, and the drivers climbed from their cars. "Who is it?" Warwick asked, and I told him. "Oh, no," said Derek. "Not Jacques..."

Laffite suffered the terrible leg injuries so common in those days of forward-mounted cockpits, and was never to race a Grand Prix car again, but for some time he continued to race touring cars in France, and he has never lost any of his huge enthusiasm for the sport. To this day, he says, the legacy of those injuries is acute pain first thing in the morning, but he has never been one to moan.

These days he is at the races in a Public Relations capacity, and I admit that initially I found the notion of Laffite and PR a novel one, given his deserved reputation for saying exactly what comes into his head. At dinner one evening, for example, he got on to the subject of cheating in F1, and a colleague suggested perhaps he should keep his voice down. "But why?" Jacques enquired. "Everybody knows..."

Even in his own era, Laffite somehow seemed a man out of his time, one who, like Clay Regazzoni, should have been a Grand Prix driver when the cars were front-engined, and their occupants put fun before money.

"You know," he says, waving his arm expansively, "everyone in France assumes that Jacques Laffite must have a lot of money - after all, 13 years in F1, and all that. But, you know, in my last year, 1986, I was being paid two million francs (then about $300,000). OK, it was a lot of money, I know, but nothing compared with what they get now - and, anyway, I always spend what I have! What is the point of saving millions? Life is for today, no?"

It always gave me tremendous pleasure when Laffite won a race - as much as anything else because his own pleasure was so apparent. He was, and is, one of that handful of people who doesn't have an enemy in the paddock.




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