Ask Nigel Roebuck: April 9

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 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 Roebuck: April 9

Dear Luke,

Your conclusion is absolutely the right one, as far as I'm concerned: the 'one wet tyre' rule came about not as a result of any imposition by the FIA, but because last autumn the team owners agreed between themselves it would be a good idea - in the interests of cost-cutting - and suggested it to the governing body.

There are times when I wonder if some of these people have both oars in the water. As I've written in Fifth Column for this week's magazine, while everyone in F1 these days is rightly obsessed with safety, the one and only thing - admitted or not - that generally comes before it is competitiveness. This is not to say that today's designers and engineers cut corners on safety, that in some areas their cars' integrity is sacrificed to speed (as sometimes used to be the case 30 years ago, God knows). I don't suggest that for a second.

However, let's consider the implications of something like this 'one wet tyre' thing. Last year Michelin were no match at all for Bridgestone when it came to wet tyres - remember Juan Montoya's frustration at Silverstone, where he led the Ferraris in the dry, but was left behind as soon as it started to rain? - but particularly so when it came to intermediates, for Bridgestone's was a miraculously good tyre, and worked well in a variety of conditions. That being so, it should have suited the Michelin runners, rather more than those Bridgestones, to have a 'one wet tyre' rule. The vote to follow this route was, though, unanimous, I'm told.

So now you've got a situation where a tyre company has to nominate its choice of wet tyre before a race weekend - without having a clue as to how the weather will turn out. In Australia Bridgestone chose their intermediate, and in the mixed conditions at Melbourne it suited them very well; Michelin, by contrast, chose to take a 'full wet', and lost out. Since then they, too, have opted to go with intermediates, and more often than not that's going to be the right choice, for they work well in a greater variety of conditions than do 'full wets'.

Fine - but what if, as last weekend at Interlagos, the conditions demand 'full wets'? Answer: too bad. And that seems to me not only an utter absurdity, but also one which anyone with half a brain could have seen coming. On race morning in Brazil the drivers were saying it would be too dangerous to race in these conditions (given that only intermediates were available), and even Bernie Ecclestone was muttering that perhaps it might be necessary to postpone the race.

Fortunately, the weather eventually turned around a little, so that, after running the first eight laps behind the Safety Car, the race was able to get underway. But if the rain had continued unabated, then what? Either it would have been a matter of running round for two hours behind the Safety Car, or postponing the Grand Prix altogether. And if that had happened, boy, what a great reason for doing it! 'Sorry there's no race, but we're afraid we didn't bring the right tyres...'

After the boredom of the last few seasons, F1 urgently needed to reassert itself in the public eye, and right well it has started, too, with three great races at the beginning of the year. But imagine the damage it would have done itself if Sunday's race had had to be called off - and for such a stupid, unnecessary, reason. All in all, the sport got out of jail last weekend, and I'm just relieved we got through it without hurting someone seriously.

Therefore, it seems essential to me that this nonsense is dropped, that we revert immediately to the old situation, wherein the tyre companies were able to bring both intermediate and wet tyres to a race, so as to meet the demands of whatever weather conditions might arise. What could have happened in Brazil last Sunday is something which must never be a possibility again. If the thing had been properly thought through, the possible implications of a 'one wet tyre' rule would have been easily apparent, I'd have thought.

Dear Eric,

Yes, I felt sorry for Fisichella on Sunday, too, not least because his chances of winning a Grand Prix in a Jordan-Ford are not the greatest, let's face it, and so any opportunity to do so is most likely to arise in a 'wild card' race, such as we saw at Interlagos. As well as that, of course, Giancarlo has yet to win his first Grand Prix, even though he has been a first-rate driver for many years now. It was cruel indeed that at first he believed he had won, and then had to stand alongside Raikkonen, on the second step of the podium.

All that said, it was only circumstance, attrition, and all the rest of it, that had got Fisichella into a challenging position in the first place, and to my mind David Coulthard, having led much of the race, was unluckier than Giancarlo, because he lost victory only by virtue of making his final pit stop immediately before the Webber/Alonso accident which caused the race to be prematurely stopped. And unluckier even than DC was Rubens Barrichello, who started from pole, and drove a copybook race, leading consummately at the moment his Ferrari expired.

Given that Fisichella did not truly feature in the race at all until the very late stages, I have to say I've seen many a driver denied more cruelly than he - drivers who have dominated a race, and then lost it, through no fault of their own, right at the end. The most recent example to come to mind is Barcelona in 2001, where Mika Hakkinen had got the better of Michael Schumacher in a straight fight for the lead, and then retired, with clutch failure, on the last lap - just four corners from the flag...

Dear Gordon,

Actually, I can think of several drivers Michael Schumacher would not care to have his team-mate - and if Rubens Barrichello continues the way he is at the moment, he will soon be one of them! Just joking, of course, Michael...

I guess you're right to put Villeneuve close to the top of the list - the two men have never exactly got along, and Jacques is overawed by no one, as we remember from 1996/97, when he had the car to run with, and beat, Schumacher.

Problem is, for all the attractions of going to Ferrari, there are not that many leading drivers who would be prepared, when asked, to play the 'slave' role, and give up Grand Prix victories - whether overtly, as in Austria last year, or not - to the quest for yet another World Championship for M. Schumacher. Villeneuve would certainly not countenance such a thing, and neither, we may be sure, would be the two drivers I suspect Schumacher most fears these days: Juan Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen.

For what it's worth, yes, I do think Michael's legacy will be adversely affected by his refusal to have another potential champion as his team-mate - and also of that opinion, I may say, is Bernie Ecclestone. It's for that reason that I have such admiration for a man like Alain Prost, who could have prevented Ayrton Senna's signing for McLaren as his team-mate for 1988, but did not. Having said all that, however, don't underestimate Rubens - he just gets better and better, doesn't he?

Dear Andy,

You're thinking of the BMW Procar Series, which we had - as supporting races at the Grands Prix - in the early '80s. On occasion these were hugely entertaining races, for the cars were quick enough to be impressive, and a great many of the F1 drivers competed in them - the pity was that some were forbidden by their teams from driving anything else, and that, for example, ruled out the Ferrari drivers of the time, including Gilles Villeneuve.

So which, of all the previous champions, would win a Procar race featuring all of them? An impossible question, you say, and you're right! First of all, when you talk about 'champions', are you talking about only 'World Champions', and therefore excluding such as Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola and Bernd Rosemeyer, all of whom raced before the war - and before the over-touted 'World Champion' title was conceived, in 1950? Also, why are we limiting it to 'champions', I wonder? Such as Gilles Villeneuve, Ronnie Peterson, and, overwhelmingly, Stirling Moss were far greater drivers than many who became 'World Champion', after all...

It's as good as impossible, as you suggest, to compare drivers of different eras, so for the sake of this question let's keep to those of the present or the very recent past. And on that basis, yes, I'm inclined to go along with you on Hakkinen: if anything, I think he was quicker than Schumacher over a 'sprint' distance, and in 1993, when he was McLaren's test and reserve driver, he drove in a couple of Porsche Supercup races, just to keep his hand in.

Anyone will tell you that a 911-based race car takes time to adapt to, and Mika had never so much as driven one of the road cars before. His races were at Monte Carlo and the Hungaroring, and he won both consummately, leaving all the Supercup 'regulars' behind. That I found very impressive, and I little doubt that he would have adapted similarly to a car like the BMW M1.

Dear Bernard,

Not long ago Eddie Jordan, whose F1 team made its debut in 1991, said he doubted it would be possible now for anyone simply to start a team as he did, and I'm absolutely certain he's right - not least because these days any forthcoming F1 team has to lodge $48m with the FIA as proof of serious intent! Max Mosley recently said that might well be amended, given the changed financial circumstances in the world, but still you may be sure that even a reduced figure would deter all but the Toyotas of this world. The FIA wants to keep all but very serious players out of F1, and I think that's entirely right - no one ever wants to see an outfit like Andrea Moda back again.

However, your point is well made: where is the next generation of F1 team bosses coming from? If we accept - for the moment, anyway - that the days are gone when someone like Eddie Jordan could simply decide to move up from F3000 to F1, then no obvious answer occurs to me. Perhaps the most likely thing is that, over time, as people like Frank Williams and Ron Dennis retire from playing an active, day-to-day, role in the running of their teams, others will simply be employed in that capacity. The existing teams will remain, in other words, but operated by different people.

I really don't see new teams coming in for the foreseeable future, unless they be from major manufacturers, like Toyota. The whole situation could change, of course, if the manufacturers carry out their threat to operate their own championship, as of 2008. If that should happen, 'Formula 1', as sanctioned by the FIA, could change very dramatically, with simpler rules and commensurately lower costs - indeed, there are those who suspect that the existing CART Championship could fulfil this role very easily. If that situation should come to be, it would be very much easier for a man like, say, David Sears, to consider getting a team off the ground.

Anne Hughes

Dear Anne,

Over the years there has been endless speculation about the identity of the driver in 'Rendezvous'. At one time the widely held belief was that it was Johnny Servoz-Gavin, the extremely talented Frenchman - and world-class playboy - who drove for Matra, and then for Ken Tyrrell, in the late '60s. However, the received wisdom now is that it genuinely was Claude Lelouch himself who did the driving, and all I can say that he missed his true calling: he should have been in Formula 1!

The movie has only recently become available in the UK, on both video and DVD, and although it lasts only nine minutes, and is devoid of speech, I would recommend it highly. For many years it has been something of a cult film for car buffs, particularly in America, where I bought my copy of the video.

It was Lelouch, a prominent French movie director, who hit on the idea of 'Rendezvous' in 1966. The plan was simple: to mount a camera on the nose of his Ferrari 275GTB, and then to drive flat out through the streets of Paris at dawn. This he - or someone! - duly did.

You cannot believe this movie is in 'real time'. Before the start, a message appears on the screen: 'The film you are about to see was produced without photographic tricks or changes in camera speed', but one or two friends who saw my video reckoned that impossible.

In the end, I gave the tape to a pal in the movie business, and he pronounced it completely genuine. "What you have to study," he said, "is the speed at which everything else around the Ferrari is moving - if it's too fast, then you know the whole thing is speeded up. But everything is normal speed - the pedestrians, the pigeons, the flashing lights, the other traffic..."

Ah yes, the other traffic. Given that it's dawn, there isn't that much around, fortunately, but such as there is causes you frequently to catch your breath. As the Ferrari hurtles down a dark side street, for example, a white Mini drifts across at an intersection, and one must rejoice that it did not stall. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if the driver has been in a darkened room ever since.

At one point, in a narrow street, you come upon a parked garbage truck, and momentarily assume there is no alternative but to stop and wait. Not a bit of it: the Ferrari goes down a couple of gears, momentarily mounts the high kerb with a jolt you can positively feel, and continues on its way.

The route, based on my reasonable, rather than detailed, knowledge of Paris, begins with a blast up the Avenue de la Grande Armee to the Arc de Triomphe (for which you think the Ferrari is never going to back off), and carries on flat out down the Champs Elysees. It is at this point that you realise there is to be no backing off, for red traffic lights or anything else; it takes a little getting used to.

Round the Place de la Concorde, and then left on to the Quai des Tuileries, alongside the Seine, past the Louvre. After avoiding a tardy bus, Lelouch then goes left, and finds his way quickly back to the Place de l'Opera, then the Place de la Madeleine, before heading out through the suburbs to Montmartre, finishing up at the foot of Sacre-Coeur. He parks, gets out, and embraces a beautiful girl. Fin .

Car and Driver reckoned 'Rendezvous' perhaps the best 'car movie' ever made. Let me quote from part of the magazine's review of it, reprinted on the sleeve of the video: "The streets weren't blocked off, the truck drivers and street sweepers having the bejeezus scared out of them are real Parisians, and the guy driving the car isn't a stunt man.

"Lelouch runs lights, uses pedestrians as apexes, and generally has a wonderful time. The sound of the screaming engine is stirring enough, but the sight of Paris rushing by as Lelouch tops out the car on the Champs Elysees makes this a must-see piece of auto cinema."

I showed the film to a colleague, Christopher Hilton - who immediately bought a tape of his own, which he then showed to Brian Hart - who at once ordered copies for himself, and some of his employees, who were given them as Christmas presents. 'Rendezvous' has that effect on people.

Irresponsible? Undeniably. Irresistible? Absolutely. You've seen it yourself, Anne, so you'll know what I mean.

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