Ask Nigel Roebuck: August 28

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: August 28



Dear Phil,

Mmmm....I don't know what you're trying to get me to say! Actually, it's an impossible question, because, although I've been to every Grand Prix run at the Isle Notre-Dame, I didn't get to the only CART race so far run there, last Sunday. I did, however, watch it on TV, and was delighted to see Dario Franchitti win.

That said, though, I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more overtaking, because this is normally where CART scores over F1, and I really thought that, with their steel brakes, and extra weight, the CART cars would do a lot of passing, both into the chicane at the end of the lap, and into the first turn, at the end of the pit straight. Didn't really happen, though, as far as I could see.

At the moment, therefore, the jury is out. From the fun point of view, I'd go for the CART weekend every time, but I guess if I lived in Montreal, and could choose only one, it would be the Grand Prix - after all, it would be no great problem getting to see the CART brigade in Toronto or Vancouver, but a little more of a hike to see an F1 race elsewhere. Yes, you're right, I'm copping out...



Dear Hans,

Frankly, like everyone else in the press room, I was pretty staggered when Eddie Jordan announced his Ford deal in the Hungaroring paddock on the Sunday morning. From what I know, Niki Lauda was somewhat taken aback, too. Why? Because only the previous afternoon, Jordan had looked a very worried man, and the word was that his hoped-for deal was falling apart. Clearly, some sort of telephonic miracle had occurred on the Saturday evening, and the word, of course, was that B.C. Ecclestone had weighed in on EJ's behalf.

Whatever, the deal was done, and thus Ford's mysterious path through F1 continues. Quite why, when the company is already involved in F1 with Jaguar, it has chosen to go into competition with itself, I am, let's say, unsure - unless, as many in the paddock believe, this is Ford's way of 'hanging Jaguar out to dry'. Richard Parry-Jones has, of course, expressly denied that this is the case, emphasising that the two programmes will proceed side by side.

How will it affect Jaguar and Lauda? Well, at this stage of the game, for all the joy of Jordan's announcement, Ford has yet to confirm that this is a 'factory deal', in the sense of Williams-BMW or McLaren-Mercedes, so perhaps we should wait for that before we get too carried away. All I'll say is that I cannot envisage a 'Jaguar team' and a 'Ford team' running in parallel indefinitely. As for Niki, well, he knows there isn't a lot of job security at Jaguar, and never has been - as Bobby Rahal could tell him...



Dear Arjan,

A very strange little guy, Rene Arnoux, and one I always found difficult to fathom, frankly.

In many ways, I always had sympathy for him, because he was from a poor background, with a thick 'country' accent, and there were those in the French racing community who ridiculed him for it. When he first came into F1, with Tico Martini's little team in 1978, he was painfully shy and timid, but anyone who had seen drive an F2 car at a place like Rouen Les Essarts had no doubts about his ability and courage.

When Renault decided to run a second F1 car, in 1979, their first choice to partner Jean-Pierre Jabouille was Didier Pironi, but Ken Tyrrell declined to release Pironi from his contract, and so Arnoux got the drive. He was married to a charming girl called Nelly at the time, and he once told me that they both burst into tears upon learning that the drive was his. At last he was into the big time, and had done it on talent alone.

Now we really saw what a racer Rene was - notably at Dijon, in which he fought a battle in the late laps with Gilles Villeneuve which has gone into motor racing legend. Early in 1980 he won his first Grand Prix, at Interlagos, and a month later came his second, at Kyalami.

In 1981, though, his career began to unravel, for by now Alain Prost had joined the team, and from the outset obviously had the upper hand. In these circumstances, Rene's form rather evaporated, and by the end of the year Renault was ready to drop him - indeed, it was Alain who persuaded the management to keep him on.

For 1982 there was no designated team leader - which Rene took as a slight, feeling that he had been effectively demoted. A more realistic fellow might have counted himself fortunate not to be the firm number two.

However, having suffered a great loss of confidence in '81, Arnoux recovered himself in '82. His driving may have lacked the sheer quality of Prost's, but at many races he matched him for pace.

If there were no team leader at Renault, from the outset Gerard Larrousse (then competitions boss at the Regie) made it clear that, as the season took shape, he with the best shot at the World Championship would be given preference. If the Renaults were running 1-2, in other words, the driver in the best points position should win.

And so in July we came to Paul Ricard. Prost had 19 points, Arnoux 4. They qualified first and second, and no one could realistically challenge them. Before the race Rene agreed that Alain should win.

Arnoux took the lead at the start, but Prost didn't worry. An hour and 33 minutes later he was still in front - and now Prost worried a lot. On the rostrum Alain made no scene - this was not his way - but inwardly he was livid and afterwards made his feelings clear to the management.

"If I had been in Arnoux's position," Alain said, "I would not have agreed to Larrousse's suggestion. This was a race, after all, and I thought the idea unrealistic. If Rene had refused, I would have perfectly understood. But the fact is that he did agree, and on that basis we went into the race. He gave his word, and he broke it. That was why I was angry."

France, broadly, took Arnoux's side. Prost was depicted as the villain of the piece, the spoiled star who whinged because he hadn't been allowed to win. Fair and square, the awkward and unsophisticated working class boy from Grenoble had beaten the prima donna, right?

"I couldn't believe the bad publicity I got," said Prost, "and I told Larrousse I would leave Renault if Arnoux stayed. A simple decision. In Formula 1 it's psychologically important to feel at home in a team; feel that everyone is on the same side. Otherwise, it's not possible to drive well and I know I didn't drive anywhere near my best in 1982. You must trust your team mate. I remember what happened with Villeneuve, after Pironi duped him at Imola; I learned a lesson from that.

"The problems with Arnoux were not confined to that day at Ricard," Alain continued. "After I'd won the first two races in '82, he was very upset; stopped working, had no interest in the debriefings, refused to test and so on. During qualifying at Monaco, for example, he twice deliberately blocked me when I was on a quick lap - and we were in the same team!

"After Ricard he went on to the French press about how nothing had gone right for him; that he had fought all this time; that he was always unlucky - the underdog. A martyr, you see. And the French adore martyrs. Some of the journalists wrote that Arnoux had done the right thing, but they simply didn't know the facts, and I was annoyed that my team didn't back me up afterwards.

"There was absolutely no reason for Rene to behave like a martyr, because he had good cars, with everything necessary to win races. He always tried very hard to get all the people and the press on his side - but you have to be honest. If I don't want to speak to someone, I don't. But if I do, then I will speak the truth..."

Prost I liked immensely from the day he came into F1, and at first, Arnoux, too, was easy indeed to get along with. His first Grand Prix season, with the underfinanced Martini team was disastrous, and you felt nothing but sympathy for this shy little fellow who had starred in F2, and often wistfully spoke of returning to it. When he got the big break - the Renault drive - most had rejoiced for him.

In time, though, he changed. And when he moved to Ferrari for 1983, he took on what he saw as the essential accoutrements of the superstar. There were three more wins that year, which brought him close to the title, but in 1984 he was usually outclassed by new team mate Michele Alboreto, and early in 1985 was dropped.

I do know why he was kicked out of Ferrari, but explaining it is very difficult, for a variety of reasons, some of which are delicate. At the first Grand Prix of 1985, in Rio, he had an unplanned pit stop, but afterwards came through from 19th to fourth. That was to be his last race for Ferrari.

The year before, teamed with Alboreto, he was invariably outpaced, and did not respond well to that. For much of the season his driving was erratic, and there were suggestions that his physical condition was not all that it might have been.

A few days after the Brazilian race in '85, Arnoux had a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, and it not go well - in fact, Rene stormed out. Soon aftewards, it was announced that he had asked to be released from the contract, following problems with leg muscles which had required surgery the previous winter.

This 'official explanation' was plainly economic with the truth, let's say, and fooled no one. At the next race, in Portugal, Arnoux was replaced by Stefan Johansson. Later, of course, now restored to health and fitness, Rene returned to F1 with a spell at Ligier. He was never, though, to win another Grand Prix.

These days he seems a happy man, and regularly shows up at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, driving the Renaults in which he made his name. How do I remember his time in F1? Well, I recall days when his presence in a race went completely unnoticed - but also those, when he was really on his game, that were breathtaking, as at Montreal in 1983, when he simply drove away from everyone.

If Dijon '79 stands out in the memory, so also does the one and only race in Dallas, in 1984. Again, this was not a race which Arnoux won, but he put in a quite extraordinary drive. The conditions that day were terrible, with temperatures of well over 100 degrees, and a track surface which broke up appallingly - 13 of the 26 starters finished up in the wall.

Rene, after qualifying third, had to start at the back when his car failed to fire up for the formation lap. This was a tight 'street' track, yet he passed six cars on the opening lap, and eventually finished second to Keke Rosberg, having made not a single mistake on a day which caught out such as Prost, Lauda and Alboreto. A fantastic drive by one who, on his day, was as quick as there was.



Dear Wayne,

The Haas Lola team arrived with a great fanfare - and with an enormous budget from Beatrice Foods, an American conglomerate whose MD of the time happened to be a racing fanatic. In a very short time, the team became unpopular with others, for a great many leading engineers - including Adrian Newey - and other staff were 'poached' from them. They were less adventurous with drivers, however, going for back-from-retirement Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay, both of whom were by then past their best.

After beginning, late in 1985, with the Hart 4-cylinder turbo engine, the team used the Ford Cosworth V6 turbo in 1986, and a tiny jewel of an engine it was. Problem was, rather than risk having it blow up on TV screens across the world, an ultra-conservative policy was adopted, so that it tended to race reliably, but with too little boost. At the Osterreichring, for example, Jones and Tambay finished fourth and fifth, but it was a day of very high attrition, and Alan commented afterwards that his engine would have been great for Le Mans, but not for a Grand Prix...

By the end of the year, the management regime at Beatrice had changed - and so also had the company's attitude to racing. That was the end of the Haas/Lola F1 project, but the Ford V6 turbo was used the following year by Benetton, and proved increasingly competitive. For 1988, though, the last year when turbocharged engines were allowed in F1, Ford took the unfathomable decision to dump its little V6, and go instead for an updated version of the old Cosworth DFV. The idea was that this would prepare them properly for 1989, when normally-aspirated engines were to be mandatory once more, but I was not alone in believing that, had they stuck with their turbo motor in '88, the McLaren-Hondas of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost would have had some real opposition on occasions. As it was, they had none.



Dear Bill,

Yes, it was very close between Salo and de la Rosa in the Hungaroring pit lane, but I don't see how you can 'legislate' against it. People are human, after all, and they make mistakes. The guys operating the 'lollipops' are not irresponsible - but their job is to get the driver on his way as soon as possible, and occasionally there are going to be lapses of judgement.

These days we do at least have speed limits in the pit lane, after all. If you want to feel really horrified, look at a video of a pre-Imola '94 Grand Prix when a driver left his pit every bit as vigorously as he left the grid. Quite often, a car was doing 120mph and more by the time it reached the exit, and it's astonishing, looking back on it, that we didn't have many a tragedy in the pit lane.



Dear Richard,

Over time I have written God Knows how many words on the subject of F1's lack of overtaking, and quite honestly have grown weary of it, because it's evident that nothing is going to be done about it. As far as I'm concerned, the problems lie both with silly little tracks like the Hungaroring (which increasingly predominate in the World Championship schedule), and also with the absurd over-emphasis on aerodynamic grip, which makes it so difficult for one car closely to follow another through a corner. You could also throw in the 'gizmos', which not only damage the spectacle of Formula 1, but also sidestep so many of the mistakes a driver once could make.

You ask me which was the best F1 track for overtaking, and I would say Zandvoort, which last hosted a Grand Prix in 1985. Why? Because, apart from being a real driver's circuit, it also had the essential ingredient of a very long, very wide, straight (past the pits), followed by a very wide 180-degree corner, called Tarzan. Every year I would go down there to watch the Dutch Grand Prix, and would reckon to see in a single afternoon more overtaking than in the rest of the season put together. It was a tragedy when Zandvoort was lost to F1.

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