Ask Nigel: May 30

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 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 every week. Send your questions to AskNigel@haynet.com

Ask Nigel: May 30



Dear Gabe,
No, I never get sick of hearing it! That's an interesting Wednesday evening ritual you have, I must say - had you never thought of substituting a scotch and soda for the tea?

Now, the Lauda/Prost McLaren battle in 1984. In the end, Niki won the World Championship by half a point, and I must say I felt very sorry for Alain, not only because he won seven Grands Prix that year, to Niki's five, but also because he was easily and demonstrably the quicker of the two.

As you say, too, while the likelihood is that, had the Monaco Grand Prix of that year not been prematurely stopped because of the torrential rain, Prost would have been beaten by Ayrton Senna, he would have got six points for a 'full' second place, rather than the four-and-a-half he got for his 'half points' victory. And that would have given him the championship, by a point.

Or think of this. Back then, you got nine points for a victory, whereas these days you get 10 for winning. Had that system been operating in 1984, Prost would have got five points for his 'half points' victory, and that, at season's end, would have meant he and Lauda were exactly level. Going on from there, Alain would have been World Champion, by virtue of more wins...

At Monaco in '84, the conditions were truly dreadful, and back then there was no Safety Car, or anything of the kind. If you were on the track, you were racing, and that was that. Finally, Clerk of the Course Jacky Ickx decided enough was enough; the race was stopped after 31 of the scheduled 78 laps.

There was another factor that day, too: Stefan Bellof. When the race was stopped, Senna's Toleman was on the point of passing Prost's McLaren for the lead, and Bellof was running third, 13 seconds behind. Significantly, though, when the rain became really atrocious (ultimately leading to the red-flagging of the race), Bellof was catching Senna at a greater rate than Senna was catching Prost...

There were 27 drivers at Monaco that year, attempting to qualify for 20 positions on the grid, and Bellof was the last man to get in. At that time, Tyrrell continued to run the venerable Cosworth DFV V8 engine, whereas every other team had turbo motors. While it may be said that, at Monaco, the throttle response of a normally-aspirated was preferable to that of a turbo, still the fact remains that the Cosworth was massively out-powered - and at Monte Carlo, with its multitude of short squirts between corners, that was a significant disadvantage, even in the wet.

Of course we'll never know whether Ayrton would have beaten Alain, had the race run its full distance - or, for that matter, whether Stefan would have beaten Ayrton. With 47 laps to go, it's quite possible that he would have caught him, but getting by might have been a rather different matter - particularly when Senna was heading for what would have been his first Grand Prix victory...

Interestingly, there are those who reckon that ultimately Senna or Bellof - or both - would have overdone it, as Nigel Mansell did earlier in the race, and that Prost would have gone on to win. Who knows what would have happened? But I do think that Alain deserved that year's title more than Niki, because he went for the victory every time out, while Lauda emphatically did not.




Dear Fausto,
I feel just like you. Time was - for countless years - that I was as big a Ferrari fan as anyone on earth, but I have not felt the same about it since it became a 'one-man team' in 1996, with the arrival of Herr Schumacher. Many will disagree with me, I know, but I really don't care to see a man of Rubens Barrichello's ability and character used as a slave to another driver's ambition. Still, there we are...

Take my word for it, Fausto, the references to Ferrari's massive budget are very much on the mark, however much Jean Todt and others may protest to the contrary. Consider, for example, what they pay Michael. The two-year extension to his contract, taking in the seasons of '03 and '04, is reputedly worth $68m, or $34m a year. No other team could even contemplate this kind of expenditure on a driver.

A little story to illustrate my point, and you must excuse my not using real names. A team owner - we'll call him Mr A - approached a middle-order technical man at Ferrari - Mr B - and offered him a job.

"We knew how much Ferrari pays," Mr A told me, "but this was a guy we really wanted, and so we figured we had to put a really high number on the offer, so that, OK, Mr B may not want to leave Ferrari, but at least he would have to think about our offer, because it was so high...

"Know what he said? 'Well, thanks very much for the offer, but... sorry, it's not even halfway there...'"




Dear Mariano,
Glad you like the column.

Stirling. It is true that when he and Fangio were team mates at Mercedes, Juan Manuel's results were better, but you have to remember that, first, he was very much the team's number one driver, and, second, that he was at the height of his powers, while Moss was but 25, with his greatest years to come. If Fangio had the upper hand on Moss in Formula 1 that year, 1955, Stirling was already demonstrably better in sports cars, a fact Fangio freely admitted.

In that season, only at Aintree, did Moss finish ahead of Fangio, and to this day Stirling says he has never really known whether or not his hero simply allowed him to win.

Asked the question, Fangio would simply smile. "I don't think I could have won, even if I had wanted to - Moss was really pushing that day..."

It was an example of the generous spirit which made the Argentine the idol of his fellow drivers, as well as spectators across the world. If he was never to admit to allowing Moss to win in his own country, the fact remains that he led much of the race, and only one other occasion was he ever 'beaten' by another Mercedes driver in a Formula 1 race. At the Berlin Grand Prix of 1954, he again finished a close second after leading for a long time, and it can have been no coincidence that this time the winner was Karl Kling, a German on home territory.

Almost 40 years have passed since the end of Moss's professional racing career. The cliche unfailingly trotted out is that he was 'the greatest driver never to win the World Championship'; for me, he was the greatest driver, period. Conjure a blend of the style and ease of Prost and the passion and commitment of Senna, and an image of Stirling at his zenith comes into focus.

Denis Jenkinson said that his boyhood hero was Bernd Rosemeyer, adding that, "Of course everyone's hero was Nuvolari". It was just that way in the fifties, too: if Jean Behra was my hero, Stirling was everyone's hero. It simply went without saying.

A clear memory from those days is listening to the radio coverage of the 1955 Tourist Trophy from Dundrod. Sharing a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, with journeyman John Fitch, Moss won, but it was a terrible day for racing, with three drivers losing their lives.

Perhaps, at nine, I was callous, becoming already inured to tragedy in this sport to which I was in thrall. Whatever, it was not, I am sorry to say, the fatalities which made the biggest impression on me; late in the race Behra crashed his Maserati, and while his injuries were not critical, assuredly he would not be racing for a while. Next weekend was the Oulton Park Gold Cup: I would be there, but he would not.

Then the clouds began to lift. Mercedes had not entered for the race at Oulton, and Maserati therefore asked if Moss could take Behra's place in one of the factory 250Fs. In those civilised days, contracts were rarely broken, but often waived, and team manager Alfred Neubauer raised no objection.

Stirling won, beating the Lancia D50s of Mike Hawthorn and Eugenio Castellotti, and my abiding memory is of the way he went through Old Hall immediately after taking the flag. His right arm waving in victory, halfway through the corner he poked the throttle so that the lovely red car jinked sideways. It was gathered up in a trice, of course, right arm still in the air.

Moss adored the 25OF. It wasn't a machine efficient in the Teutonic manner, like the Mercedes W196, but he loved it because it could be over-driven, allow artistry in the cockpit to claim its own reward. In the same way, when the rear-engined cars arrived, he always enjoyed a Cooper more than a Lotus. Of course, if winning were all that mattered, Mercedes and Lotus would get the nod, but for Stirling it was racing which came before anything else.

Although his preference was always for Formula 1, he raced sports cars with equal passion - indeed it was the same, whatever he drove, which is why Mario Andretti, another consummate all-rounder, holds him in such regard.

For the same reason, Moss admired Andretti deeply. "It was very easy for me to understand how Mario went on racing as long as he did, however much he had in the bank. That man is a racer, like Gilles Villeneuve was a racer. And like I was, I think.

"I know the fashion these days is to quit when you've made your money, at 34 or something, but I couldn't have done that - I'd never have been that smart! No, quite seriously, I couldn't. I loved it far too much."

"If Moss had put reason before passion," Enzo Ferrari said, "he would have been World Champion many times." Undeniably so - but he wouldn't then have been Stirling Moss. The attraction of driving, in his last four seasons, for Rob Walker was not simply that he liked the man; there was the added frisson of beating the factory teams.

"I suppose if I were racing today as successfully as I did then," he mused a while ago, "I'd be earning five million or something." (And the rest, Stirling. And the rest.) "I don't think that's beneficial - I think it's gone too far. A real racer shouldn't need incentives to win. A driver, yes, a racer, no. To me, it was always a sport, not a technical exercise."

Stirling was but 32 at the time of the Goodwood accident on Easter Monday in 1962. I watched the race on television, and began to tremble when they said he had crashed, that the situation was "serious".

Today we have grown accustomed to drivers' survival of huge accidents, but photographs of Moss's Lotus are sobering even now. For 40 minutes they laboured to free him from the spaceframe car, which had folded like a penknife blade when it hit the bank.

For almost a month he drifted in and out of consciousness, and was shocked when first coherent enough to take in the date. Little by little, though, he began to mend. The paralysis of his left side had been the consequence of bruising to the brain, and it was six months before he regained full mobility. There were other injuries, fractures and severe wounds, but crucial, as Stirling says, was "the bang on the head". To this day he has no recollection of the accident, or what led to it.

Twelve months after the accident, Moss had physically recovered almost completely, and felt able to try a racing car again. Back to Goodwood, back in a Lotus, this time a 19 sports car. And, in the evening, that sad announcement on the news: "I've decided to retire; I won't drive again."

Once I told him how heartbroken I had been to learn of his decision. "You can imagine, then," he said, "how I felt..."

More than sad was that Stirling came to regret it. He decided to retire, not because all the miraculous skills had gone away, but because now he felt they had to be called up; it wasn't automatic any more. If he wasn't going to be Stirling Moss as was, he wasn't going to race. It was as simple as that.

In fact, he had grossly underestimated the time needed for complete recovery. If his limbs were intact, his eyesight OK, the injury to the brain was far from fully healed. At the time Stirling assumed his relative lack of concentration to be a permanent legacy of the accident. A couple of years later everything was back, and in full working order. By then, though, life had moved on.

Had there been no accident that day in 1962, Stirling reckons he would have raced at least until the mid-seventies, and what a tantalising picture that creates in the mind. Just as tragedy robbed us of a Senna-Schumacher era, so also we missed Moss, still very much in his pomp, against a fully matured Clark.

"I took a lot out of this sport," Stirling said in 1962, "but I think that I put a great deal back, too. I feel I gave it all but my life." Indeed he did. He was the absolute racer.




Dear Richard,
I felt the same as you last Thursday when the Jordan and Arrows came past me, complete with strange 'extra' front wings. A half-smile. Then, on aesthetic grounds, apart from anything else, I hoped they would swiftly be banned, which duly came to be...

I was glad to see the back of them, just as I was glad to see the back of the high wings in 1969, and of the six-wheeled Tyrrell - in all cases, I thought they looked abominable, and we should never underestimate the importance of aesthetic appeal in motor racing. Simply put, I far preferred in 1995 to look upon John Barnard's beautiful Ferrari 412T2 than McLaren's sinfully ugly MP4-10...

If it's possible to put aesthetic and safety considerations aside, yes, I agree with you: it is sad that original thought is so immediately stamped upon - although it seems to be rather more immediate in the case of some teams than others!

The banned innovation I have been most impressed by? Well, I'll have to cheat here, because the Brabham-Alfa BT46 'fan car' of 1978 was not actually banned by the governing body; rather, it was 'withdrawn from competition' by team owner Bernie Ecclestone, in the interests of harmony in a paddock he was attempting - as the head of FOCA - to keep united.

This was the beginning of the 'ground effect' era in Formula 1, and the Lotus 79s of Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson were running away with everything. Brabham designer Gordon Murray hit on the idea of the 'fan car', and remarkably effective it proved, with a rear-mounted fan literally sucking the car down on to the ground.

It raced only once, in the Swedish Grand Prix, at Anderstorp, and Niki Lauda won with it. Afterwards, there were protests from all over the place, the other drivers complaining that it was a dreadful thing to follow, for the fan was sucking up all the dirt and gravel beneath the car, and then firing it out the back, straight into the face of anyone who happened to be behind.

Therefore, it couldn't long survive, and it didn't. But a relatively simple idea achieved startling results, and I always admired Gordon Murray's original thinking. The F1 rules of today do not appeal to him, and no wonder...




Dear Dave,
Not a stupid question, but it has an easy answer. First of all, involving five lights, rather than the previous three, gives the drivers more time to get ready - and more time for the race starter to press the abort button if someone should stall in the build-up immediately before the start.

Second, the way they do it now - one red light, two, three, four, five - is easier for the drivers to see, in bright sunlight or whatever. So long as they can see any light, they know they can't go anywhere; when all the red lights are gone, they can get on their way.

Unless, of course, they're using launch control, in which case they press a button, and hope for the best...




Dear Rob,
An awkward one to answer, this, because we all feel strongly about different things, do we not?

I would not, for example, feel it a good idea - on ANY grounds - to run a Grand Prix in a country ruled by, say, Saddam Hussein or Robert Mugabe, because I wouldn't wish to see Formula 1 benefit a butcher. Fortunately, as far as the future of the World Championship is concerned, Iraq and Zimbabwe are long shots, you would have to say.

A few years ago, I was appalled by the plans to have a Grand Prix in China, and delighted when they fell through. That country's record on human rights is well known, of course, but I also have a particular obsession with the appalling way most of the world treats animals, and until, in that respect, China - or Korea, or wherever - moves into the 19th century, let alone the 20th or 21st, I personally would want nothing to do with it. Because of that, I go to very great lengths to avoid buying anything with 'Made In China' on it.



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