Ask Nigel Roebuck: April 23

Our Grand Prix Editor Nigel Roebuck answers your 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 Roebuck: April 23



Dear Steve,

Interesting question - and it brings back that gorgeous autumn day at Brands, when the perfect blue sky was suddenly adulterated by a thick cloud of black smoke, and at the same time there was that worst of all sounds at a race track: silence.

What were Jo Siffert's plans for 1972? All I can tell you for certain is that certainly he was going to stay with BRM for Formula 1. As you say, Porsche, disgusted by the imposition of the 3-litre limit in World Championship sports car racing, had already announced that they would not compete in the '72 championship, but I've no doubt that Seppi would have picked up a ride somewhere, perhaps with Ferrari, perhaps with Matra, perhaps with Alfa Romeo.

Siffert was very different from today's breed of racing driver, in that he loved to compete in different categories of racing, and did not concentrate on F1 to the exclusion of all else. For him, a weekend without a race was a weekend lost: over time he did F1, F2, sports car racing, and the Can-Am, and I've no doubt that he would have had a very full programme in 1972.
Would he have had an impact on Fittipaldi's title aspirations that year? Honestly, no, I don't think so - after all, even Jackie Stewart and a Tyrrell-Cosworth couldn't keep Emerson from winning the title! I'm sure Siffert would have been highly competitive in some of the races, and might even have won one or two, but, day in, day out, a BRM P160 was not a match for a Lotus 72.

It's an interesting point you make about Seppi's possibly partnering Mark Donohue in the Penske-run Porsche Can-Am team. He had previously driven a hybrid non-turbocharged 917 'roadster' in the Can-Am, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (particularly at Bridgehampton, which he thought as great a circuit as ever he'd driven on), and it's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that Porsche - who were devoted to Siffert - would have persuaded Roger Penske that here was the perfect team mate for Donohue. Seppi in a 917/10 would have been worth going a long way to see...



Dear Fred,

In 1980 the Italian Grand Prix was run at Imola, rather than Monza, and the event was adjudged a great success. The following year Monza was back on the schedule, but Imola, too, was awarded a World Championship race, this given the name of the San Marino Grand Prix, despite the fact that, as you say, the circuit is in Italy. And later we were to have a Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon, in France, and a Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, in Germany...

There have been two races in Italy since '81, and no one has ever found a particular problem with that, since both are run at great venues, and Italy has traditionally been mad about F1, well able to support and sustain two races.

There is a similar situation in Germany, as you say, with races at both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring. When the 'new' Nurburgring opened in 1984, it hosted the 'European Grand Prix' that autumn, after which an application, duly granted, was made to host the German Grand Prix the following year.

Thereafter, if memory serves, F1 did not return to the Nurburgring until 1995, again for the 'European Grand Prix', and since then Germany has two races, with Hockenheim retaining the German GP. Why? Quite simple. In the Schumacher era, F1 has boomed in Germany, and it has made commercial sense to go there twice a year.

While I expect to see both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring on the 2004 schedule, I rather suspect that we may have been to Imola for the last time, at least for a while - indeed, Bernie Ecclestone intimated as much last weekend. Next year, Bahrein and Shanghai will be on the calendar, so a couple of races will probably have to go. Austria, we know, is gone after this year, and the chances are that the other casualty will be Imola, which makes me personally very sad.

This year there are, of course, only 16 races in the World Championship, following the (supposedly temporary) loss of Spa. It is expected that we will be back to 17 in 2004, and while there are suggestions that Spa will return, I'll believe it when I see it, frankly. If, as I suspect, the best track in the world remains out in the cold, and we return to 17 races, then it will be necessary only to drop only one from the current list. That would be the A1-Ring, in which case Imola could survive...

Down the road, of course, it's not impossible that one day we could lose the British GP, but, despite everything, I would be astonished if that were ever to happen. Whatever else, this country remains the epicentre of the F1 industry, and frankly I don't believe the teams and sponsors would stand for the removal of its one and only GP.
Trust not, anyway...



Dear Anthony,

I entirely agree with you about Webber. All right, he has yet to score a World Championship point this season, but his qualifying performances at Interlagos and Imola were fantastic, and his raw speed has put the highly touted Pizzonia completely in the shade. I think he's becoming an extremely good F1 driver - we suspected there was a lot of natural talent there last year, when he was with Minardi, but even so most of us have been surprised by the pace he has shown in the Jaguar.

The greatest Australian driver of them all? I wouldn't have thought much discussion was necessary: Jack Brabham. All right, in style, he may not have been as polished as some, but he was always - right to 1970, the last year of his career, when he was 44 years old - a tremendously quick driver, and a supreme racer. World Champion in 1959 and 1960 with Cooper, he won the last of his titles in 1966, at the wheel of a car bearing his own name. Yep, no doubt about it, as far as I'm concerned.



Dear Alison,

There have indeed been a few female drivers in F1 over time, beginning with Maria-Teresa de Filippis, who raced a Maserati 250F at circuits such as the 'old' Spa-Francorchamps in the late 1950s! Maria-Teresa, who retains her interest in racing to this day, and was at Imola just last weekend, was indeed very brave. As one of her male contemporaries recently put it, "I know she didn't have any - but if she had had, they'd have been big..."

In the '70s Lella Lombardi, another Italian girl, took part in a dozen or so Grands Prix, and her best result - sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix - makes her the only female driver ever to score World Championship points. More recently, in 1992, Giovanna Amati got together a deal to drive for Brabham, and but she never succeeded in qualifying for a Grand Prix, and it had been the same story with Divina Galica in the late '70s.

Did any of these women have the talent to succeed? Not in pure F1 terms, no, quite honestly - but then that's true of most people in motor racing, women or men. There's no innate reason, so far as I can see, why a woman shouldn't have the natural ability to drive a racing car as fast as a man, but it is invariably said - rightly or wrongly - that women intrinsically lack the 'killer instinct' essential in a racing driver at the highest level.

There's another thing, too: even in these days of power steering and fully automatic gear changing, driving an F1 car remains an extremely 'physical' thing to do, and there are many who believe that, over a 200-mile flat-out race, a woman simply lacks the physical strength to compete on level terms with a man.



Dear Jeremy,

You're quite right: although I think him indisputably the best of his era, I do not consider Michael Schumacher 'the greatest driver of all time'. In fact, although we all do it, it's folly to compare drivers of different eras, because the nature of the job changes so much as the times change.

I know Michael has won more Grands Prix than any man in history, and it's entirely possible that his record will never be beaten, but if I fall short of bracketing him with such as Fangio, Moss, Clark and Senna, it is for two reasons. First, I have always disliked his refusal to have another real superstar as his team mate, and his insistence that, when required, that team mate should subjugate his own ambitions to those of himself. Second, I think Schumacher makes more mistakes than any other really great driver I have ever seen.



Dear Adrian,

I'm not quite certain why it was the Brazilian Grand Prix which persuaded you that Fisichella is 'one of the greatest drivers never to have sat in a truly competitive car'. Yes, I know he drove superbly, and won the race - his first in eight seasons of trying - but, let's face it, it was a victory which essentially came about through circumstance. The Jordan-Ford is not a desperately competitive car, and frankly it was only ever going to win in the sort of freak conditions we saw at Interlagos.

What I'm saying is that his win in Brazil did not materially affect my opinion of Giancarlo. Without doubt, he is one of the best drivers 'never to have sat in truly competitive car', but then we knew that a long time ago. I think his fundamental skill level is extremely high, and always has been, but I'm less convinced about his qualities as 'a racer'.

That said, I don't think it's by any means too late for him to find his way into one of the three big teams - indeed, the word at Imola was that Frank Williams had had dinner with him on the Thursday, although this FW denied.

As to the last part of your question, I've given it a lot of thought, and, quite honestly, I can't think of a single 'great' driver who never eventually found his way into a competitive car. If you're that good, the top teams come running for you...

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