Ask Nigel: July 4

Our Grand Prix Editor Nigel Roebuck answers your motorsport questions every Wednesday. So if you want his opinion on any motorsport matter drop us an e-mail here at 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 every week. Send your questions to

Ask Nigel: July 4

Dear Richard,
I have to say I find Toyota's approach to entering F1 a peculiar one, in many ways, but I suppose all you can say is that it's their business, and no one else's. Their resources are simply massive - as an 'industry' colleague recently said to me, "Toyota could buy Fiat tomorrow - without having to raise any extra money" - and if they choose to spend a year testing, rather than competing, so be it.

Perhaps we should remember, after all, that this was precisely the way Honda chose to do it, when they were preparing to re-enter Formula 1, building both car and engine, in 1999. In the end, they changed their plans, and opted instead to revert to simply manufacturing and supplying engines to other teams (first to BAR, then this year, to Jordan as well).

In Harvey Postlethwaite, Honda did, however, have a top technical director to help them with their endeavours. It will be remembered that the respected and popular Postlethwaite died of a heart attack, shortly after learning of Honda's decision not, after all, to continue with the project.

Toyota began with Andre de Cortanze, late of Sauber, but there came a parting of the ways earlier this year, after which they recruited Gustav Brunner, in spite of the fact that he was already contracted to European Minardi. This was rather different from Jaguar's signing of Adrian Newey, in which the contract was to take effect only after the expiry of Newey's contract with McLaren.

While it is true that Toyota's European competitions base has always been in Germany, still I would have thought it a mistake to base the F1 operation there, rather than in England. There's no chauvinism involved here: simply, I'd have thought it made more sense to be in the centre of the F1 industry. Alain Prost, for example, has often murmured that life would be much simpler if his team were based in England. There are political reasons why such a course of action is out of the question for Alain, but Toyota could have gone anywhere.

To build an entire car, when new to the business, is of course to leap in at the deep end, and hope for the best. Many have said that Toyota might have been better advised to begin by supplying engines to an existing team, as they have done for example in CART, where it took them a very long time to get on terms with Honda and Ford.

Their car has been running for several months now, usually at Paul Ricard, where the other F1 teams very rarely test these days, giving them no real point of comparison. Early on, Mika Salo had a huge accident at the ultra-fast Signes, when something - thought to be the gearbox casing - broke, and that set the programme back a while. More recently, they have run at Monza, setting times around five seconds off a competitive lap by a Ferrari or McLaren or Williams.

Clearly, unless they wish their red cars not to occupy the 12th and final row of the grid at Melbourne in March 2002, there is a very great deal of work to be done. Should the Toyotas start behind the Minardis in Australia next year, not a few in the paddock will have a quiet chuckle...

Dear Stephen,
From what I know, probably the most flamboyant racing driver - certainly since the beginning of the World Championship, anyway - was Alfonso de Portago, a Spanish nobleman known to one and all as 'Fon'. His career, in the mid-fifties, was a short one, but he made an indelible mark on anyone who ever met him.

This is all strictly second-hand, you understand. I only saw Portago race once, at the 1955 Gold Cup at Oulton Park, when I was nine, and can't honestly claim to remember anything of it.

The great American automotive journalist of the period, Ken Purdy, once wrote a long story about the Marquis de Portago, and he entitled it, 'The Man Who Could Do Everything'. He seems to have been an extraordinarily gifted character.

He was, for example, an extremely good horseman - good enough to ride, in 1952, in the Grand National. After minimal training and practice, he represented Spain - as the driver - in the bobsleigh events at the Winter Olympics, and apparently collected a bronze medal. When he was 17, for a bet, he flew an aeroplane under a bridge. It seems that he turned to motor racing because, well, because it was there.

His very first race was the Sebring 12 Hours in 1954, and he shared a Ferrari with Harry Schell, who was to become one of his closest friends. Also his tutor. When 'Fon' left the pits, to begin his first practice laps, Schell was appalled to hear the sounds of metal being tortured, and Portago admitted this was the first time he had ever driven a car with a manual gearbox...

He learned quickly, though, and was in the fortunate position of being able to buy cars - Maseratis and Ferraris - in which to indulge his new-found passion. By 1956 he was racing both Formula 1 and sports cars for the Ferrari works team.

Back then drivers were far less 'technical' than they are today. For one thing, the cars were obviously far less sophisticated, and set-up changes were essentially confined to springs and tyre pressures; for another, hard as it may be to believe, the engineers of the day - particularly at Ferrari - genuinely felt it was not the driver's place to become involved in the process: he was there to drive the thing, and that was all.

Even by the standards of the time, however, Portago was ignorant of mechanical matters. He had not the slightest interest in cars, apart from driving and racing them, and never pretended otherwise.

Although he never became a driver of the first rank - apart from anything else, he didn't have the time to develop his obvious talent - he was sometimes extremely quick. For example, at the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix (a sports car race), run on a horribly dangerous open road circuit in Havana, he simply left everyone - including Fangio - behind. In the end, mechanical problems cost him the victory, but at the prizegiving that night, the great Juan Manuel paid tribute to Fon as the moral winner of the race.

People who knew Portago remember him well. An extremely good-looking and charming man, with a dry sense of humour, and manners from another age, he had a magnetic appeal for women. "He was a kind of... louche character, I guess you would say," says Phil Hill, a member of the Ferrari squad at the time. "He had kind of pirate looks. Never without a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He'd shave some days, and not others, and he always wore this black leather jacket. Then one day, when I hadn't known him long, he gives me his card, and I see his address is in the Avenue Foch in Paris - I guess that was the first time I became aware of what they call 'dressing down'...

"Portago," Hill goes on, "was one of those guys who was too brave for his own good. I remember the first time I ever went to the Nurburgring" (the 'old' Nurburgring, of course). Fon says he'll take me round in a road car. He had a certain reputation, you know, and I wasn't keen, but eventually I said, 'Well...OK.' We get in this Mercedes sedan, set off - and he spins the thing at the Foxhole! 'OK, stop the car right here,' I said. 'I'm getting out.' How did I get back to the pits? I walked..."

Portago was killed, at the age of 28, in the 1957 Mille Miglia, at the wheel of a works 4.1-litre Ferrari. Towards the end of the race, he stopped at a checkpoint and had the car refuelled. Earlier, he had clipped a wall, and a mechanic noticed that the bent bodywork was fouling one of the rear tyres. Impatiently, Fon waved him away, and let out the clutch - only to stop a few yards further on. He had noticed in the crowd Linda Christian, an American actress with whom he was then involved, and was cheered to the echo by the Italian crowd as he passionately embraced her before resuming the race. Typical Portago.

A few miles further on, the rear tyre burst at very high speed, and the Ferrari went off the road, somersaulting into a ditch, and killing Portago, his navigator and close friend, Ed Nelson, and several spectators. It was pressure from the Vatican, following this accident, which led to the end of the Mille Miglia.

"He wasn't a great driver," says Stirling Moss, "although he might have become one in time - he was certainly very quick, and amazingly talented in so many things. As a character, though, I've never known anyone like him. In those days drivers tended to be rather more extrovert, and larger than life, then they are today, but even in that company, he was something else again."

Dear Roger,
The Newey/McLaren/Jaguar saga is now at an end, and everyone involved is, to some degree, a loser, it seems to me. All right, on the face of it only Jaguar - and in particular, Bobby Rahal - have lost out, for McLaren have kept their technical director, after all, and Adrian is presumably being paid a great deal more even than he was earning before.

Looking beneath the surface a little, though, I think the recent controversy has hurt everyone. For one thing, it is quite apparent to me that many McLaren people no longer feel about Newey as once they did; for another, leaving aside any questions of legal agreements and signatures, what will bother Adrian much more down the road, I suspect, is that he gave his word to a very close friend, and - for whatever reason - then broke it. As one who very much likes both Rahal and Newey, I have been sad to see this happen.

Now, your question: has the importance of the designers, relative to the drivers, become too important, and should the rules be tightened to limit the importance of 'the boffins'?

First, yes, I think the importance of the designers has become too important, relative to that of the drivers, but I don't think this is anything new. Back in the 1950s, a great driver in a mediocre car could beat a mediocre driver in a great car, but since then that phenomenon has become progressively less. Hence the catchphrase of a couple of years ago: 'If you've got Newey, you don't need Schuey'.

Think of Michael in 1996, his first year with Ferrari, for example. In by no means a great car, he won the odd race here and there - but he didn't do it often, and was never a contender for the World Championship. Now - in an era when your 'boffins' produce software to perform tasks previously the responsibility of the driver - it has logically reached new levels: if there are fewer things for the driver to do, so there are fewer ways in which he can assert his superiority.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: don't let's forget that Ayrton Senna wrote to Max Mosley in 1993, begging him to get rid of the 'driver aids'. This Mosley duly did, and I'm only sorry that, after seven seasons without them, the wretched things were made legal again this year. Call me old-fashioned, if you will, but it seems to me - in the parlance of today - 'wholly inappropriate' that driver aids should play any part in a drivers' World Championship.

Therefore, in the sense that I'd like to see the driver aids - traction control, launch control, fully automatic gearboxes - banned once more, then, yes, I'm in favour of the rules being tightened, to keep the boffins in some sort of check. Problem is, some of those boffins, as we've seen in the past, would then put their grey cells to work, to find a way past at least the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules; probably, it's an insoluble problem, I'm afraid...

Dear Steve,
First of all, I, like you, was glad to learn of Jackie Stewart's knighthood - as you say, not before time. And the great thing about Jackie was that, unlike someone like Sean Connery, he had the dignity not to moan every time he was passed over...

Probably, it would have come long ago, had JYS not chosen to live in Switzerland for so many years, thereby depriving successive governments of most of his earnings. When he left the UK, in the days when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the top rate of income tax was 98 per cent, believe it or not. Racing was horrifically dangerous back then, and as Stewart quite reasonably put it, "If I'd stayed, nine weekends out of 10 I'd have been risking my life for the Chancellor of the Exchequer..." The Establishment, however, is notoriously unforgiving.

As a racing driver, Jackie was from the very top drawer, of course, but perhaps his most lasting legacy will be that he was the man who made it acceptable, even desirable, to talk about safety in motor racing. In the course of his career, he went to a good many funerals, some of them those of close friends, and he resolved - with great success - to change things. Every driver of the last 30 years is in his debt.

Undoubtedly, his relationship with Ken Tyrrell was - and is - a very special one. A year or so ago, I attended 'An Evening with Ken Tyrrell' at Silverstone, and as I arrived, Stewart, rather than his former team owner, was at the microphone, working through one of those preambles he does so well.

"I'd done F3 and F2 with Ken, but he didn't have a Grand Prix team, and I drove for BRM for three years. Then, for 1968, I had an offer from Ferrari. They were going to pay me £20,000, they were going to give me a road car - which, being Scottish, I didn't want to be loaned - and I got them to agree that the bottom half of the car would be blue! Can you imagine that? I was kind of keen to go, and yet the attraction was Ken Tyrrell..."

It was in 1967 that Tyrrell decided to make the final step up to Formula 1, and so deep was Stewart's respect for him that he opted to turn down Ferrari, and go with the fledgling outfit.

There were in place, mind you, the basics for a very competitive package. One, Jackie had raced Ken's Matras in F2, and developed a very high regard for the French company; two, Tyrrell was to use the Ford Cosworth DFV (previously available only to Team Lotus); three, Ferrari's financial offer was matched.

"I was incredibly lucky with the timing," Ken said. "In '67, the DFV raced for the first time, at Zandvoort. I flew over to watch, out and back on race day, and it was clear that this engine was...the only engine in the race. Everything else was suddenly old-fashioned rubbish. If you wanted to go racing in the future, this was the engine you had to have.

"In those days, you went up to Northampton, you gave them £7500 - and you came away with an engine which could win you Grands Prix. All you had to do was put it into a reasonably competitive car, with a good driver, and you could win the next race - and it continued like that for more than 10 years!

"The timing for me was perfect. Matra were keen to make an F1 car, Ford had the engine - and Jackie wanted to drive for us. God knows why he did, when he could have driven for Ferrari, but he did. I asked how much he wanted, and he said, 'Twenty thousand pounds'. I didn't have 20,000 pence..."

Thus, Tyrrell went to see Ford's Walter Hayes, the father of the DFV project. He thought he could get the money eventually, he said, but needed it now, so as to get Stewart firmly on board; it would help considerably in his dealings with Matra.

Hayes didn't hesitate. "He didn't have to get on the phone to Henry II, or anything like that - he just said yes. I was amazed!"

In fact, Tyrrell ultimately landed £80,000 in sponsorship from Dunlop, and used some of it to pay Stewart. "That," he said, with a sly smile, "left £60,000 to run the team...

"Still, because of the Dunlop money, I never needed the £20,000 from Walter - and I only found out later that he gave it to Jackie!"

More than 30 years on, they remain the closest of friends, and for all Ken was ever a man to say he was more interested in tomorrow than yesterday, you suspect that he never enjoyed racing quite as much after 1973, when Jackie retired, World Champion for the third time, and his team mate Francois Cevert, a man loved by all who knew him, was killed in the final race, at Watkins Glen.

"What happened to Francois was dreadful, dreadful, and I did think about getting out of motor racing. Our car that year was 005, and it was a very quick car, although - having a short wheelbase - not an easy one to drive. Jackie and Francois finished 1-2 on several occasions in '73, including at the Nurburgring. In their three years as team mates, Jackie helped Francois tremendously - he couldn't have done more, told him everything, OK? Well, after that race at the Nurburgring, where they went round together - start to finish, first and second - Jackie said to me, 'Francois could have passed me any time that he liked...'"

Earlier Stewart had poked fun at Tyrrell, recalling that he was not a great one for celebrating successes. Another chequered flag, OK everybody, let's start packing up and getting set for the next one. That being so, I asked, was there any special day in Ken's memory - any victory he would trade for all the others?

I suspected he would choose the Nurburgring in 1968, the famous day when Stewart's Matra won in the rain - by a little over four minutes - and, sure enough, he didn't need to think too long.

"First of all, Jackie was right when he said I wasn't a celebrator - if we did badly, I really felt bad, and if we did well, I felt we should have done well. I know it doesn't sound right, but that's the way I am.

"That day at the Nurburgring was absolutely amazing. It's true we had the best wet tyre - from Dunlop - but Jackie didn't start at the front. In practice at the 'Ring we used to spend the first 20 minutes or so going round the short loop, bedding brakes in and so on, rather than setting off on a 14-mile journey to find out there was something wrong with the car. And we spent the only bit of dry practice doing just that. It was really wet when Jackie qualified - and he was sixth, and therefore had cars to pass.

"At the end of the first lap, this DFV came within earshot, and we didn't know who it was. Jackie came by in a cloud of spray - and then there was silence!"

Stewart's lead at that point was over eight seconds; at the end of the second, it was out to 34. No surprise that Tyrrell remembers the day well.

He remembers well the following year's Italian Grand Prix, too, for Stewart's victory - by half a car length from Jochen Rindt - won both driver and team their first World Championships. "The reason Jackie won was that, from the very beginning of practice, he said we had to get the right gear for coming out of Parabolica, the last corner. On the last lap you didn't want to come out in the lead, because others in the bunch would slipstream past you before the line. And he was right, of course."

Wonderful men, both of them. I'll never hear a word said against either.

Dear Junaid,
Yes, I was also sad to see that the new Silverstone plans by-pass Bridge, one of the few great corners of the modern era, but, to be honest, I think they took away a lot of its appeal when they greatly slowed the approach to it, some years ago. When the cars came into it absolutely flat out, it really was something to behold, and I always thought it a shame that it was followed by such a 'Mickey Mouse' section - you were on the brakes almost as soon as you came out of Bridge, which took away a lot of its importance.

Still, for the second time in a decade, Silverstone is to be dramatically changed, and the primary intention is to create overtaking opportunities, in which the current layout is conspicuously lacking. And I must say I do like the sound of the banked final corner...

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