Ask Nigel Roebuck: August 13

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: August 13

Dear Richard,

I agree with you entirely. I much prefer the Williams/McLaren way of doing things - letting their drivers race - to the soulless Todt/Ferrari arrangement, where everything must be subjugated to M Schumacher's aspirations. I'm sure Todt will never accept it, but I think his tactics last year did a fantastic amount of damage to the image of F1, and bear much of the responsibility for the falling TV figures and crowd attendances since.

Ticket sales for Indianapolis this year are woeful, for example, and I know, from speaking to friends at the Speedway, that many fans were so appalled by the finish line fiasco in 2002 that they have decided against coming back. A great shame, given that this year we have a real fight for the World Championship on our hands, but there you are.

Until Ralf is no longer in with a mathematical chance of winning the title, he will be allowed to drive his own race, with no requirement that he help Montoya - even though Juan has 12 points more, and thus a much better chance of beating Michael to the title. That, as I say, is as it should be.

As and when the time comes, though, that Ralf cannot win the championship himself, will he help JPM beat his brother? Ticklish problem, isn't it? And not an enviable one for the younger Schumacher. However, although the Williams drivers are not the greatest of mates, I'd venture to suggest that, yes, Ralf will come to Juan's aid, if he can - and Michael should expect nothing else. They may be siblings, but the one is in a Ferrari, on Bridgestones, and the other in a Williams-BMW, on Michelins. Important things are at stake here, not least the constructors' championship, always of supreme importance to Frank.

There's another thing, too. Although Montoya is in much demand for the future, and may well not stay with Williams beyond 2004, Ralf is being wooed rather less frantically, and is very keen to extend his association with Williams. Already he has driven for the team longer than any other driver, and now - as Willi Weber works to renew his contract beyond the end of next year - would not be a good time to upset the management...

Dear Thomas,

I suppose, when it comes to designers of racing car, the name which will always come first to my mind is that of Colin Chapman.

In his leaner moments, Chapman, silver hair, pencil moustache and all, bore more than a passing resemblance to David Niven, for so long perhaps the world's favourite Englishman. And when Colin was in the right mood, his manner, too, could remind you of the movie star. As a raconteur he was without equal in the business, and his humour - invariably barbed to some degree - could have you falling about.

Chapman's mood, though, was not always like that. He was as complex an individual I have known in motor racing, capable of child-like rages, dignified stoicism, and all points between.

If the breadth of his ego was astonishing, Chapman was the best, the most free-thinking, originator of race cars that the world has so far seen. It was his mind which swung a lamp over unknown territory - the irony being that quite often others, having been shown the way, exploited the new ground more effectively. Once the initial superiority had been established, Colin was inclined, particularly in his later years, to lose interest, go on to the next thing.

He was never a man to suffer fools, nor one to allow sentiment to impede the Lotus path. People who worked for him always knew their employment would end the day he spied someone who could do the job better. But still they wanted to be there, for they knew that when Colin was on song being part of Lotus - ahead of the game - was uniquely satisfying.

He adored challenges, loved, for instance, beating Ferrari at Monza, rubbing it in a little. In so many ways he was the English equivalent of Ferrari, and it was no surprise that the Commendatore acknowledged his genius freely, holding him in great esteem.

It was this same part of his personality, this desire to beat The Establishment, that led Chapman to Indianapolis. "And the money," he would smile. "Don't forget the money...

"We faced a hell of a lot of hostility at Indy," he once told me. "They were still running their front-engined roadsters, and they didn't like to see them threatened. I could understand that, even if I couldn't go along with it. We decided we were going to try our hand there - but I
obviously wasn't going to build a Lotus roadster!

"Obviously, the logical thing was to build something on the lines of our F1 car. The car was quick from the start, and I think the regulars could see the writing on the wall. They started off by laughing at this tiny car, and that just made me more determined than ever. There was no way I'd have dropped racing at Indy without winning there. No way..."

Forty years ago, America was where the money was in motor racing. Just as the US Grand Prix, at Watkins Glen, paid way more than any other F1 race, so the Indianapolis 500 brought financial rewards to make a Grand Prix team's eyes water, to the point that, when the 1965 race clashed with the Monaco Grand Prix, Jim Clark skipped the annual visit to the Principality.

It was worth it, too. By August, he had clinched his second World Championship, anyway, and, in winning the 500, earned Team Lotus a total of $166,621. Two years later, Jimmy retired early at Indy, and was classified 31st - yet still collected $39,572. By contrast, his last Grand Prix victory, at Kyalami in 1968, was worth just $7,323...

When you speak of Chapman, of course, in the same beat you must speak of Clark. The designer/driver relationship between them was perhaps the most potent racing has known, and never, in his eight seasons of F1, did Jimmy race other than a Lotus.

A decade after Clark's death, in an F2 race at Hockenheim in 1968, it was still difficult for Colin to accept his loss. "For me," he said, "he will always be the best. In time someone else will come along, and everyone'll hail him as the greatest. But not me.

"Once or twice Jimmy came close to retiring, and I had mixed feelings: the idea of going racing without him was almost unthinkable, but at the same time I desperately didn't want him to hurt himself."

This was a side of Chapman I had never seen before, nor ever would again. We were in his office at Ketteringham Hall, and at one point he almost broke down. When his secretary brought in tea he turned away, pretending to look for something while composing himself. "Jimmy had more effect on me than anyone else I've known," he said. "Apart from his genius as a racing driver, he was genuinely a good man. Racing changed for me after 1968."

That may have been so, but still the restless desire for success remained. That same year, Graham Hill won the World Championship in a Lotus, and more titles followed, for Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti. "Working with Colin was no trip to Paris," Andretti would smile, "but you're always going to have problems with a genius, right?"

The last Lotus Grand Prix victory witnessed by Chapman was scored by Elio de Angelis at the Osterreichring in 1982. At the end of that year, he died, of a heart attack, at the age of only 54.

None remembers Colin more fondly than Bernie Ecclestone: "'Chunky' was my man. I really liked him. He was good company, one of the boys. He was a good businessman, he was the best designer, and he was as quick as half the guys who ever drove for him. OK, Mr Ferrari was Mr Ferrari, and the name's a legend, but Colin was a little bit different from all the others. As I say, he could get in the car, and drive as quick as half the guys who were doing it for a living - and he'd designed the bloody thing, as well! So he was a special guy, and you've got to miss him..."

Dear Chris,

First things first. Let me quote a remark made to me by Martin Brundle some time ago: "There are some people in this paddock who are just ill with their money..." As when Mario Andretti said of the Lotus 79 that it was 'painted to the road', Brundle's remark meant nothing in the literal sense - and yet one knew immediately what he meant. Indeed, I have never heard the sentiment better expressed.

So there's a starting point - there are indeed, people in F1 who are 'ill with their money', in the sense that they have enough for several hundred years, yet still want more, more, more. As Brundle added, "I mean, how much is enough, for Christ's sake?" For some people, there is apparently no answer to that.

I think it's important to bear in mind that, in the Ecclestone era, F1 finances have always been a closely guarded secret. Time was, after all, you bought a Grand Prix programme, and there, near the list of runners and riders, was a list of prize money for the event, usually from first to sixth places.

Just the tip of the iceberg, of course. What I'm trying to get across is that, in absolute terms, very little is known to outsiders about the finances of F1 - because that's the way the insiders like it.

That said, there is no doubt that many - including many insiders! - feel that Bernie's personal slice of the F1 cake is way too big. Yes, they concede that the cake is the size it is because of him, but still they feel that others in the equation should get more than they do. The teams, for example, feel that their slice of the TV money is smaller than it should be: at present Bernie takes 53 percent, the teams 47 percent - split 10 ways, of course.

Then there are the circuit owners. Given that they make no money from on-circuit advertising (at their own tracks!), that they have to finance the huge fee necessary to bring a Grand Prix to their circuit, and that this has to be raised only from ticket sales, you can see that life is not easy for them. By common consent, the price of tickets at Silverstone was extremely high - yet Octagon still expected to make a loss on the British GP weekend of around $3m...

Next, the teams' budgets. Ferrari's, I have it on good authority, runs at around $1m a day, and those of McLaren, Williams and Renault, while not in that vicinity, are also pretty sizeable. But others are way less than that, and some, like Jordan and, particularly, Minardi, have this year been working with loaves and fishes. A major team, with major stars and major successes, will always be able to find money, but on the lesser outfits, the world's economic downturn, September 11, etc, have had a dramatic effect.

Does F1 need to cost as much as this? Of course not. Every year hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on developing and perfecting electronic systems which undoubtedly make a car quicker, but contribute nothing whatever to the actual sport - in fact, they detract from it.

In this week's magazine, I have written of a conversation at Hockenheim with Flavio Briatore on this subject. The Renault team principal feels strongly that F1 is way more expensive than it need be. A sample of what he had to say...

"This is an entertainment business, not a technology business. OK, everyone knows about F1 and technology, but when people are watching TV...if the car is doing 180kph, or 195...who cares?

"We need to focus on why the big companies are in this business. I'll tell you: it's for image, it's for communication - and everybody knows about the technology. If you go skiing, everybody knows you go skiing in the snow - you don't need to be a genius to know that. And, for me, F1 is the same: when you see an F1 car, you know it represents high technology in motorsport. We don't need to push this any more - we have it. And even if we go down a step, technologically, we still have it. Nothing else in motorsport is close.

"Our product is incredibly expensive - and the customer doesn't understand why it's so expensive, for it's for. Now why have such an expensive product if you don't have the market to sell it? Simple, no?"

Simple, yes.

Your last point, about abandoning long-established circuits in favour of new venues, is also well made. Short-term gain has ever been the mentality at work here, I'm afraid. It was for that reason, for example, that F1 lost the Long Beach Grand Prix 20 years ago. The race was becoming very much one of the jewels in the crown - and it went for ever. I've said it before: no sport has less regard for its own heritage than contemporary grand prix racing.

Dear Arjan,

Forgive me - but I just have to react to your suggestion that Jan Lammers is one of the world's leading racing drivers! When I said that drivers no longer take part in several races at a single meeting, I was talking about drivers on the level of Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill et al, and discussing a bygone era.

Lammers was - and is - indeed an extremely good racing driver, but I can't really put his driving in all seven races in a day at Zandvoort in quite the same category. By 1998, after all, his brief time in F1 was long since over, so it was not as though he did this immediately after winning the South African Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, as did Jimmy in 1965!

Why did Jan never make the grade in F1? For one thing, he never got his hands on a competitive car, and for another, frankly, he simply wasn't good enough: if he had been, sooner or later someone would have put him in a competitive car, because that's the way F1 is. Jo Ramirez, who worked with him at ATS, said this: "Lammers, I think, had the best car control I've ever seen. Incredible. He could anything with a car, place it on a sixpence - but he excelled only on street circuits, like Long Beach. I don't think he had the 'heart' for really fast corners..."

Dear Gustavo,

I think I can best answer your question by relating the late Ken Tyrrell's response, when I put the same question to him. I suspected he would choose the German Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring in 1968, when Jackie Stewart won in the Tyrrell-run Matra MS10. Conditions were indescribable that day, with not only torrential rain, but also thick mist. Jackie, unlike his major opposition, had the benefit of Dunlop's 'wet' tyres, but that should not detract from one of the most stunning displays of superiority ever seen in Grand Prix racing.

"That day at the Nurburgring was absolutely amazing," said Tyrrell. "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. Jackie's final margin of victory over Graham Hill? Four minutes, 3.2 seconds...

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