Ask Nigel Roebuck August 6

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 6



Yes, I'd like to see more retired F1 drivers 'coming out to play' in lesser formulae, in the way that, say, Keke Rosberg came back, first to drive sports cars for Peugeot, and then for Mercedes and Opel in the DTM, but I don't hold my breath, waiting for it to happen.

The thing is, most drivers today have tunnel vision about F1, and by the time they're done with it, unless they have a compulsive love of driving, they prefer, as Clive James put it, 'to retire, and spend more time with their accountants...'

Of course there will always be some drivers, like Mario Andretti, who literally cannot imagine life without driving racing cars, but most, once they have retired, claim not to miss it. And it has to be said, too, that while motor racing is immeasurably safer than it was, most forms of it are far less safe than F1. Michele Alboreto's fatal accident, at the Lausitzring in 2001, was a terrible reminder of that.

In his heyday as an F1 driver, Rosberg always said that he would never, for example, contemplate doing Le Mans. "Mulsanne straight...350kph...maybe wet...some idiot part-timer in front of you...no, thank you!" was how he put it. Then, years later, he accepted the offer from Peugeot - and did Le Mans...

Therefore, it's always possible that a retired F1 driver will reappear in a lesser formula, as Jean Alesi has done in the DTM. But, in terms of loving driving racing cars for its own sake, Alesi is very similar to Andretti and Alboreto. That said, after driving an Alfa Romeo in a touring car race at Pau years ago, he told me he would never, ever, ever , do another touring car race!

The days are long gone when a man like Jim Clark, very much the greatest driver of his era, would take part in several races at a single race meeting. Given all the testing, PR stunts, and everything else that goes with F1 these days, it is an absolutely fulltime occupation, allowing little time for trying other forms of motor racing (even if their contracts allowed it), so when they quit F1, they know nothing else. I don't think a guy like Michael Schumacher is much interested in 'showcasing' his 'all-round' ability, quite honestly...



No, I truly don't pretend to be a two-wheeled expert - when I'm home, and there's a World Championship, or World Superbike Championship, race on TV, I'll watch it, and much enjoy it, but I can't claim to know a great deal about it.

It's true that, over time, many riders have made the switch to cars with great success, and some - not least Tazio Nuvolari and John Surtees - have even contrived briefly to race both successfully at the same time.

I'd stop short of saying, though, that many ace riders have gone on to become great drivers.

Of those you mention, Surtees undoubtedly came into the 'great' category in both disciplines, but Hailwood, while probably the greatest on a bike there has ever been, never attained the same level in cars - as he himself recognised. He was quick and brave, and became a good Grand Prix driver, but a great one, no.

As for Cecotto, yes, I know he won a lot of touring car races, but in F1, frankly, he never raised much of a blip at all. And it was the same, in the 1950s, with Geoff Duke, an all-time great on a bike, but unremarkable in a car.

I'm afraid I don't quite get your point about drivers who never amounted/would never amount to much on a bike - as much as anything because I can't actually think of any who have tried. Maybe I'm missing your point...maybe you're thinking about a guy like Damon Hill, who had a middling, national level, career on bikes, went on to become World Champion in cars, and still - for the fun of it - turns out on a bike, at events such as the Goodwood Revival Meeting.



You sum Dan up extremely well: he is indeed a cool guy, and four Grand Prix wins are no kind of reflection of the kind of ability he had.

In April 1968, as the world's grand prix drivers sorrowfully headed to Chirnside, in Berwickshire, for the funeral of Jimmy Clark, among their number was Gurney, who had travelled from California. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had revered Clark, both as driver and man.

After the funeral he talked with Jimmy's parents. "You know, Dan," said Mr Clark, "you were the only one Jim ever worried about." In its way, this was the ultimate accolade. And Gurney, always a man of sensibility and compassion, almost broke down.

Those few words put his status into perspective more clearly than anything else ever said or written of him. The stark facts of history will not substantiate them, for Gurney's career - in terms only of results - has been eclipsed by many men with but a fraction of his talent. Statistics take no account of class, and Gurney had it to throw away.

"When I had my first F1 drive for Ferrari, at Reims in 1959," said Dan, "I doubt that I'd had more than 20 races in my life. When I started racing in '55, I'd done my military service in Korea, and I was already 24 years old. I was only racing about half a dozen times a year."

His arrival at the top level was nothing less then meteoric. The beginnings of a lifelong obsession began when his father retired, and moved the family from New York to California. Here was the heart of America's sporty car set, and the Gurney family moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside, which later became famous as the site of a great road circuit.

Dan raced for the first time with a Triumph TR2, which he later traded in for a Porsche Speedster. By 1957 he was racing Ferraris for wealthy private owners, and two years later joined the Ferrari factory team, living in Europe, driving both sports and F1 cars for the Commendatore.

Gurney came to Europe in the summer of 1958, and if he didn't drive much, he learned a lot about European racing as he travelled around - it pleases him still that he was at Reims to see Juan Fangio's last grand prix.

That was also, however, the last time around for Luigi Musso, who was killed while chasing his Ferrari team-mate, Mike Hawthorn. On a young man contemplating a career in grand prix racing, those weeks could have had a devastating effect. From Reims, Gurney moved on to Silverstone, where Peter Collins won, and then to the Nurburgring, where Collins was killed, the second Ferrari driver to die in three races.

"It didn't put me off, but it did get across to me that this was a pretty serious business I was trying to get into..."

In the course of that summer, Gurney got to know Hawthorn, and when, at the end of the year, Mike retired as world champion, Dan got 'The Call' from Ferrari.

"My contract said I was going to make the equivalent of $163 a month, and I also got half what they called 'starting money' - which was never defined - and one round-trip ticket from the US to Modena. And that was it. So, you see, with an offer like that, how could I refuse?!"

Although Gurney's ultimate ambition lay with F1, his season began with sports car racing only; it was a matter of being patient,

At Reims, where he made his F1 debut, he retired, and the next race on Ferrari's schedule was in Germany, where, for once, the grand prix was run not at the Nurburgring, but at Avus, a ludicrous track in Berlin made up of two long straights, with a hairpin at one end, and a notorious steeply banked turn at the other.

"There wasn't a lot of skill involved at Avus, but it was tremendously exciting to be lapping at close to 150mph - this is more than 40 years ago, after all..."

Gurney finished second, between team-mates Tony Brooks and Phil Hill, in only his second grand prix, and then, in Lisbon, took third. "For the first time, I was the fastest of the Ferrari drivers, which was kind of pleasing."

On to Monza, where he finished fourth. As it turned out, Dan was never to race an F1 Ferrari again, for he missed Sebring, the final grand prix of the season, and the first ever in America.

"I was naive. In my great wisdom, all I could see was that Ferrari was still stuck on front-engined cars - and rear-engined cars were the future, and so I went with BRM, who seemed to be on the rise."

The move to BRM proved disastrous, and Dan's only success in a desperate season was a victory, sharing a Maserati with Stirling Moss, in the Nurburgring 1000-kilometre sports car race.

For 1961, the first year of the 1.5-litre F1, he moved to Porsche, and Reims should have brought his first grand prix victory, but he was beaten on the line by the sheer power of Giancarlo Baghetti's Ferrari. Dan was also second at Monza and Watkins Glen, and finished third in the World Championship.

The elusive first win finally came at Rouen the following year, but it was to be Porsche's only grand prix victory. At the end of the season they withdrew from F1, and Gurney went off to drive for Jack Brabham's new team. He remained there for three years, during which his ill-luck became legendary.

There were a couple of wins - at Rouen and Mexico in 1964 - but there should have been so many more. Gurney was the main competition for Clark and Lotus, but was let down constantly by his car's unreliability.

Throughout his career Dan had always been an active racing driver, eager to drive all kinds of car as often as his schedule permitted. He was prominent as a sports car driver, not least in the CanAm series, and every year, too, he drove a NASCAR stock car in the season opener at Riverside, and usually won.

As well as that, Gurney was by now thoroughly involved in Indianapolis. He had first driven in the 500 in 1962, and it was he who persuaded Colin Chapman to build cars for the Speedway. The following year Clark and Gurney drove Ford-powered cars there, and Jimmy finished second to Parnelli Jones's roadster: the revolution at Indianapolis was underway.

As 1966 approached, Dan made up his mind to build his own cars, for both F1 and for Indianapolis. It was an ambitious programme, but did not begin successfully. In the 500 he was eliminated in a multiple accident at the start, and his F1 season was blighted because the new Weslake V12 engine was a long time coming, and the Eagle ran with an old Climax motor. But Gurney was encouraged by the car's excellent handling, and was confident that all would be well when the new engine was developed.

At first it seemed that he had been right. The Eagle-Weslake won its first race of 1967, the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, and later scored a superb victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

Gurney always excelled on the classic circuits, where driver ability is all. At the Nurburgring he led most of the way, but the car failed. And that was really the story of the season. Spa apart, Dan's only other championship points came from a third place in Canada. Everywhere else the Eagle retired.

There was, however, some consolation in a dominant win at Le Mans - the race which, ironically, requires more luck than any other. Gurney and A.J. Foyt pounded their 7-litre Ford MkIV around the Sarthe for 24 hours, averaging over 135mph.

The F1 Eagle was far less competitive in 1968, and at the end of the year Dan gave up the unequal struggle of trying to run teams on both sides of the Atlantic, deciding to concentrate on the US. Although, in nine attempts, he was never to win the Indy 500, he came close a number of times, and in his last three outings at the Speedway finished second, second, third. In 1968, Bobby Unser, in another Eagle, scored the first 500 win for the marque. Many more would follow.

At the end of 1970, Gurney announced his retirement as a driver, at the age of 39; in future, he would simply concentrate on running the company, which went on producing winning Indy cars for many years.

Today, at a quite astonishingly youthful 72, Dan and his enchanting wife Evi keep an eye on the progress of their youngest son, Alex, who competes in Formula Atlantic in the USA.

Gurney has been through good and bad times - several of each - but his famous boyish grin is never far away. His sense of humour remains. He is one of the most loved personalities the sport has known, not least because he was a consummate race driver who had a feel for the sport's roots, who loved it for its own sake. You watched his face during a demonstration by Fangio, and you saw a schoolboy's enthusiasm, untouched by the hostile Fates.

Mario Andretti counts Dan Gurney as one of his heroes. Nothing more need be said.



On a certain level, I agree with you that IRL racing can be very entertaining. Certainly you get lots of order changes, and wheel-to-wheel dicing, but then that's probably no more than inevitable when one considers these are cars with rev-restricted engines and a huge amount of downforce - indeed, many have been prompted to compare them with NASCAR Winston Cup cars in 'restrictor plate' races.

IRL cars have way less horsepower than the CART cars of yore, yet considerably more downforce. Juan Montoya, who had two years in CART, and then drove an IRL car but once - when he won the Indy 500 in 2000 - told me he thought it was akin to driving an F3000 car after an F1 car.

Certainly, they can provide good entertainment, and I much approve of the complete ban on weaving, blocking, etc, which I would love to see adopted in F1. But I confess it worries me how often drivers get hurt in IRL accidents: yes, I know they compete on ovals only, and therefore any accident is going to be a high-speed one, but more than once I've watched what looked like a relatively innocuous shunt, and been surprised to learn that injuries - sometimes serious - have been sustained.

I confess, too, that I don't really like the dumpy appearance of the cars. To me, a CART car is both elegant and brutish, and the sight of a bunch of them flying round Indianapolis matched anything I've seen in racing. They also sound glorious. I haven't been to the 500 since the CART/IRL split at the end of 1995.

As you say, 'some of the better US-based teams and drivers' are now running in the IRL - but they've all come from CART! Doubts about CART's future remain, and it's very possible that at some point in the future there will be only one major single-seater series in the US again - just as there was until the end of 1995. Difference is, it will be running lesser cars than it used to - that, and the fact that, in the meantime, massive damage has been done to the standing of open-wheel racing in America.



Forgive me, but I have neither the space nor the time to go into my opinions of the whole Silverstone/BRDC/Ecclestone/Mosley affair! Suffice it to say that I would be the first to agree that Silverstone was indeed in need of serious attention, particularly in terms of access (which used to be plainly unacceptable), but I feel that a great deal has been achieved, and this should be acknowledged.

Frankly, I'm bored to tears with the endless vilification of the place by Bernie and Max - indeed, it has gone on so long that it has almost ceased to register. Quite how, when a place like Interlagos survives as a World Championship venue, anywhere else can be seriously criticised is a mystery to me.

I'm well aware that I'm fortunate in not having to pay to get into race meetings, and that the admission charges at most grands prix - not least Silverstone - have become unacceptably high, but I really can't let your comparison with Wimbledon go by without comment. Yes, a Wimbledon final ticket may cost 'only' £75, but what's involved here? A man/woman, racquets, tennis balls, shirts, shorts/skirts and shoes, plus the upkeep of the courts, and so on. Michael Schumacher needs a little more than that to do his thing, and it costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nevertheless, your point is well made. Last weekend, at Hockenheim, I chatted to Flavio Briatore about what is wrong with grand prix racing, why its audiences are falling, and so on. He said this: "Simple. We are too far from the fans. We're too clinical - we arrive as if we were working for a Swiss bank! And...the tickets are too expensive.

I've been saying this for years, and now finally I think people are starting to listen..."

The problem, frankly, is that spectator admission charges are the only source of income for circuit owners these days. They have to pay a huge fee for the privilege of putting a grand prix on, but they do not get the income from on-circuit advertising, the Paddock Club, or whatever.

At Silverstone I mentioned to Jackie Stewart that many folk were complaining about the cost of attending the British Grand Prix. "I know," he said, "but, even so, Octagon are going to lose around three million this weekend..."

The stars, as you say, are locked away these days, and to a ridiculous extent, in my opinion. No surprise that a guy like Juan Montoya was besieged by autograph-hunters at the Goodwood Festival of Speed: whenever else are fans going to get near their heroes?

It's true, too, that the track 'is miles from the spectator enclosures', as you say, but that's a safety thing. To have an accident involving members of the public is the overwhelming dread of every race promoter, and in today's ridiculously litigious society they are obviously going to err on the side of caution. Not much can be done about that, I think. Only a street circuit, like Monaco, provides an opportunity to watch an F1 car at close quarters these days.

shares
comments
Grapevine: McNish to Compete in Classic Rally
Previous article

Grapevine: McNish to Compete in Classic Rally

Next article

BMW wants effort put behind Montoya

BMW wants effort put behind Montoya
The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams Plus

The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams

What happens, asks MATT KEW, if the old adage of win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday is no longer true for F1 manufacturers?

Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie? Plus

Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie?

The Australian rising star is fast, consistent, confident, adaptable and has shown excellent racecraft, but there’s already a taint to his reputation. That hasn’t stopped him becoming the hottest property in this year’s F1 driver market and why McLaren moved fast to snap up the 21-year-old

Formula 1
Sep 30, 2022
The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver Plus

The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver

Formula 1's incoming engine rules shake-up has multiple targets. But it may also solve what has been a bone of contention since the hybrids arrived in 2014. The new plan will allow the series to pump up the volume

Formula 1
Sep 29, 2022
How de Vries made himself impossible to ignore for a belated F1 chance Plus

How de Vries made himself impossible to ignore for a belated F1 chance

Nyck de Vries appeared to have missed his opportunity to break into Formula 1 as he was passed over for more exciting talents who have now become frontrunners and title fighters. But after catching the eye outside of the F1 sphere, before his stunning impromptu grand prix debut in Italy, will it lead to a delayed full-time race seat?

Formula 1
Sep 29, 2022
Can Hamilton produce another Singapore magic moment? Plus

Can Hamilton produce another Singapore magic moment?

The Singapore Grand Prix has, explains BEN EDWARDS, played an important role in Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 career. As the series returns to the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the first time in three years, he faces the latest challenge with an underperforming Mercedes car

Formula 1
Sep 28, 2022
Why Sainz is key to Ferrari achieving its chairman's F1 goals Plus

Why Sainz is key to Ferrari achieving its chairman's F1 goals

Although Ferrari's chances of title glory in 2022 have evaporated, chairman John Elkann expects the team to have chalked up both championships by 2026. Both require drivers to play the team game and, having now become more comfortable with the F1-75, Carlos Sainz may be Ferrari's key to title glory

Formula 1
Sep 27, 2022
How F1 has tried to avoid repeating its 2014 engine rules mistakes Plus

How F1 has tried to avoid repeating its 2014 engine rules mistakes

With Formula 1’s future engine regulations now agreed, MARK GALLAGHER wonders if they will provide a more competitive field than past attempts actually managed

Formula 1
Sep 26, 2022
How its faltering first turbo car advanced a Williams-Honda glory era Plus

How its faltering first turbo car advanced a Williams-Honda glory era

STUART CODLING charts the development of the Williams FW09, the ugly duckling that heralded the start of the title-winning Williams-Honda partnership

Formula 1
Sep 25, 2022