Ask Nigel: October 18

Autosport's Grand Prix editor Nigel Roebuck answers your questions every Wednesday here on autosport.com. If you have a question, or want an opinion from Nigel on matters past, present or future, then e-mail it to autosportnews@haynet.com

Ask Nigel: October 18


Dear Nigel,
Do you think that Egbal Hamidy will be able to produce an all-round good car for Jordan next year? This year's Arrows has been spectacularly good at some races but at lower speed tracks it has frequently been on the last few rows of the grid. While this is not bad for lower-midfield teams, I can't see Eddie Jordan being too pleased with a similarly sporadic performance from the 2001 Jordan.
Ciaran Ruane
Via e-mail


Dear Ciaran,

Yes, I do believe Egbhal Hamidy will produce 'an all-round good car' for Jordan in 2000. Although there's something of a dearth of top designers -- all have to be compared with Adrian Newey, after all -- at the moment, I reckon Hamidy is one of the most talented, and I know there are folk at Jaguar (nee Stewart) who wonder how and why he was ever allowed to leave there in the first place.

His A21 design, for Arrows, showed variable form in 2000, I grant you, but keep in mind this is still -- in terms of this reincarnation, under the ownership of Tom Walkinshaw -- a young team, and one without McLaren levels of sponsorship. Remember, too, that the A21 was powered by the Supertec V10, a reliable, driver-friendly, engine, but essentially an old design, well down on power in comparison with such as Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda or Ford.

As for the drivers, for me Pedro de la Rosa was the revelation of the season, and decidedly the best driver yet to come out of Spain. For all his relative inexperience, I thought he did a generally remarkable job, and so also, on occasion, did Jos Verstappen, although I still think he blows hot and cold too much.

Interestingly, the criticisms you offer for this year's Arrows - very quick at some tracks, nowhere at others -- apply also to the Jordan-Mugen Honda EJ10, designed by Mike Gascoyne, who has now left for Benetton (soon to be Renault), of course.

Jordan had a highly successful season in 1999, despite the fact that one of their drivers, Damon Hill, was a sad shadow of what he had been, and really didn't do justice either to the machinery or to himself. Although Hill scored only seven points, Heinz-Harald Frentzen put 54 on the board, won two races, and finished third in the World Championship. For me, he was the driver of the year in '99, and his team finished third in the Constructors point standings.

That said, there was a feeling at Jordan that they had played it too conservatively with the 199, that, although reliability -- and performance -- had been impressive, in design and concept its successor needed to be taken closer to 'the edge' if it were seriously to challenge McLaren and Ferrari on a regular basis.

The cost of that decision has been high, as Eddie Jordan has frequently admitted this year. The EJ10 has occasionally been very competitive -- Frentzen made the front row at Silverstone, and Jarno Trulli did the same at Monte Carlo -- but it hasn't caused McLaren and Ferrari any real loss of sleep, and reliability has been pretty awful, to the point that recently BAR moved past Jordan in the constructors' point standings. As of now, the team has 17 points; with one race to go in 1990, its total was 58.

EJ and his boys are a resolute bunch, however, and know they can't afford another season like this -- particularly now that Honda is the team's official engine supplier. I think Hamidy will come up with the goods next year -- and hope, too, that the 2001 Jordan is as good-looking as the 2000 Arrows. In my opinion, anyway, it's been the most attractive car of the season.


Dear Dan,

I meant exactly what I said last week: as far as F1 is concerned, Ferrari, in relation to Jaguar, IS the genuine article: Enzo's cars were winning Grands Prix before the World Championship was even thought of. Jaguar, too, were winning races at around the same time, notably the Le Mans 24 Hours, and other major sports car events, but there is no link, no history, no pedigree, when it comes to Jaguar and F1. Bluntly, Jaguar is in F1 now because the powers-that-be at Ford thought it was a good idea, from a marketing point of view.

As far as the financial aspects of F1 are concerned, I don't really understand the point you're making. Yes, you could say that Ferrari is 'the Marlboro team', just as McLaren used to be 'the Marlboro team', and is now 'the West team'. But so what? All we're talking about here is the source of a team's major sponsorship - and all the teams have major sponsors, in greater or lesser degrees.

I think it's reasonable to suggest that Schumacher, Todt, Byrne and Brawn would be elsewhere if Philip Morris weren't paying their salaraies -- but are you seriously suggesting they should work for nothing? Or that, say, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Newey would be working for McLaren-Mercedes if they were not adequately rewarded?

That's the way the world is! For all my love of motor racing, I doubt that I'd work for Autosport very long if Haymarket Publishing's cheques dried up...


Dear Shant,

In fact, Bernie Ecclestone never actually started in a Grand Prix, although he did, as you say, briefly take the wheel of one of his own Connaughts in practice for the Monaco and British Grands Prix in 1958.

On each occasion, he was, as you say, 'embarrassingly off the pace' -- but then so also were his obsolete Connaughts, even in the hands of their intended drivers, like Bruce Kessler and Jack Fairman. Those were the only two Grands Prix for which Bernie entered his cars that year, and each time he named himself as 'reserve driver'. To the best of my knowledge, he took the wheel only fleetingly each time, and was not seriously aiming to drive in the races.

Yes, I've talked to Bernie about his racing days. He describes himself as 'an Alesi sort of driver -- very quick, but off the road a lot'; I think he may be slightly wide of the mark in comparing himself with Jean (!), but there's no doubt that in the early '50s, when he was competing in 500cc F3 racing, he was quite quick. Stirling Moss remembers him as, 'Not someone you'd worry about, but pretty competent'.


Dear Phil,

It's a curiosity of contemporary sport that, in the field of merchandising, F1 is still in the dark ages, compared with such as football -- and even other forms of motor racing, notably NASCAR. After Michael Schumacher, Dale Earnhardt is reckoned to be the highest-paid driver, with annual earnings of well over $30m, but the interesting thing here is that approximately 75% of that figure comes from merchandising. Go to a Winston Cup race, and you'll see an awful lost of folk wearing Earnhardt caps, T-shirts, jackets and so on. In NASCAR, it's a massive business, but F1 seems to have come to it only recently.

You have read that Schuey changed his helmet colours because merchandising sales were falling. I've no information on this -- as much as anything else, frankly, because I'm bored stiff with the subject of F1 drivers' earnings -- but it makes sense, particularly given that Michael's manager is Willy Weber, who has a keener eye for a dollar than most of my acquaintance.

Irvine, too, has changed his helmet colours, supposedly because he wanted 'a Jaguar look'. That may be true -- but it is also true that Eddie, even more than most drivers, is not this business for reasons of altruism; there's no doubt that changes of colours do good things for merchandising sales, as the Premiership teams, notably Manchester United, have discovered to advantage.

Is F1 too much about $$$, you ask? Depends who you talk to. Ask a team owner or a driver, and he'll obviously say no, because F1 has given him more of it than they know what to do with; ask a journalist, on the other hand, and he'll probably tell you it's not enough about $$$...


Dear Michael,

Good question. In point of fact, there haven't been too many Grand Prix drivers 'with a real profession' outside racing, in the sense that not too many tried to do anything else while their driving careers were in full swing. I don't, for example, remember Dr Palmer dashing back from a race in order to see a surgery full of patients on Monday morning.

These days, drivers seem to go straight from the cradle to karting to F1, but time was when they couldn't think like that. The financial rewards, certainly in the '50s and '60s, were minimal, for one thing, and there was no question of retiring at 30, or something, with comfortably enough money to last you the rest of your life.

Hence, you needed another string to your bow. Tony Brooks, a truly great driver of that era, won Grands Prix for Vanwall and Ferrari, and when he retired, at the end of 1961, he invested such money as he had from racing in a garage near Weybridge. This he built up into an extremely successful business, but the point is, he needed to do that to provide a post-racing income for himself.

Originally, Brooks had planned a different career, and no story better illustrates the difference between Grand Prix racing then and now: Tony's arrival on the F1 scene was, to say the least, unusual.

For three years, from 1952, he was a successful club racer, but he had no thoughts of making a full-time profession of it, even after joining the Aston Martin sports car team in 1955. At 23, he was studying at Manchester University to become a dentist, and looming on the horizon were his Finals.

In October of 1955 came a call from Connaught, a small, perennially hard up, F1 team of the time. Brooks: "They were doing the Syracuse Grand Prix, they said, and would I like to drive one of the cars? Frankly, they couldn't find anyone else -- I'd never so much as sat in a Formula 1 car before, but I rather absent-mindedly said yes, and put the 'phone down."

Perhaps it was fortunate for Brooks that he was preoccupied with his exams. On the flight to Sicily he worked on his books, and didn't give a lot of thought to the race.

Favourites at Syracuse were three factory Maserati 25OFs, driven by Luigi Musso, Harry Schell and Luigi Villoresi. They had been way quickest on the first day, and it is some indication of Brooks's natural genius that he was soon lapping as fast as they, in a car which handled well, but was short of power.

"It wasn't terribly reliable, either," Tony said. "That old Alta engine had been developed to its limit, and the team's finishing record was awful. 'Don't do too much practice,' they said, because there were no spare engines, and they were terrified of not getting the starting money. Quite understandable, but it didn't really help me! When the Grand Prix started, I'd done no more than 12 or 15 laps."

By the end of it, he had won his first F1 race. After playing himself in, he took the lead from Musso on lap 10, and was never troubled again. "I was very pleased at the time, but it didn't really sink in. Quite honestly, all I could think about was my exams! I remember swotting on the plane all the way back, too." A self-effacing man, you could say.

Moving on to Michael Parkes, it's a shame, as you say, that no biography of him exists, because he was an exceptional man -- a superb racing driver, but an even better engineer. In fact, after his move to Ferrari, Enzo was for ever trying to persuade him to give up racing, because he was worth so much to the company as an engineer.

As a sports car driver, Parkes was from the top drawer. I don't know that he would have made it to the very top in F1, but it's worth remembering that he finished second in his first Grand Prix (at Reims in 1966), and then took pole position at Monza. Sadly, his F1 career ended prematurely when he suffered dreadful leg injuries on the first lap of the '67 Belgian Grand Prix (at the 'old' Spa), his Ferrari going off on oil dropped by Jackie Stewart's H16 BRM.

Eventually, he recovered, but the Old Man was now not prepared to countenance his racing any longer, and thus Mike -- keen to return to the cockpit -- left Maranello. He continued to race sports cars for some years afterwards, and, after his retirement, went to work for Lancia. He always loved life in Italy.

I only met Parkes a couple of times, at Monza in the '70s, and found him delightful. He died in a road accident near Turin, in torrential rain, in the autumn of 1977.


Dear Art,

Yes, I think it's fair to say there is very serious concern about the coming tobacco advertising bans -- in Europe, anyway. For a long, long, time now, after all, the F1 teams have been largely reliant on the tobacco companies to pay for most of their racing.

While there are industries with pockets deep enough to replace the tobacco companies, getting them to stump up to the same extent will not be the work of the moment, and the F1 team owners are only too aware of this. F1 is indeed a wonderful way of keeping your name in front of a massive audience, but keep in mind, too, that one of the reasons for the tobacco companies' largesse all these years has been its inability -- by reasons of legislation here, there, and everywhere -- to advertise its products conventionally, on TV, in newspapers, or whatever. The industry's considerable advertising budgets had long had very few outlets: hence the attraction of F1 and other sports -- particularly those with huge TV audiences.

So long as F1 continues to be fashionable, the teams will never lack for major sponsors -- indeed, once tobacco advertising has been banned once and for all, other companies in this politically correct world may well feel more inclined to become involved. For years, the major sponsor at Williams was Rothmans, for example; now it is Compaq.

Would a few less billions be good or bad for the sport? Yes, in some ways, not least because it would shake from the trees all those involved in it purely for the money. Would a few less billions be good for the business? Noooo...


Dear Keith,

What do I do over the winter? Well, for one thing, I rejoice in the fact that I don't have to use an airport every week of my life!

Seriously, though, as they say. When one's profession revolves around motor racing in general, and F1 in particular, it's not difficult -- or even necessary -- to do anything to maintain one's 'fix'. As a matter of fact, it's actually quite therapeutic to reduce the dosage over the winter, to remember that there are other things in life. March comes round soon enough.

The relative lack of travelling apart, not too much changes, actually. There are still columns and features to be written all the time, for magazines here in the UK and elsewhere, and maybe a book project to tackle; there are still the endless chats with my pals from the paddock, albeit by phone, rather than face to face.

I used to get an enjoyable 'fix' every February by going off to the Daytona 500, getting an annual look at the NASCAR scene, and trading gloomy English weather for Florida sun. Some day I'll probably do that again, but I haven't been to Daytona for five years now: the 'restrictor plate' rules are ruining NASCAR, in my opinion.

Although, when I was a kid, I used to drag my father to stock car racing, I have to confess that, no, I don't go banger racing at my local stadium -- in fact, I don't have a local stadium. If I feel the need for a 'fix', I'll either re-read a particularly good book about racing, preferably about an era in which I was not personally involved, or put on a video - I've got quite a collection, including many dealing with my pet obsession, the 'roadster era' at Indianapolis and elsewhere in the '50s and early '60s.

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