Ask Nigel Roebuck: August 7
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
As you surmise, Nick Heidfeld was, indeed, 'surprised' when Ron Dennis opted for Kimi Raikkonen, rather than himself, to replace Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren team. Nick was, after all, supposedly 'a McLaren man', following his spell in F3000, and acquitted himself well against Raikkonen at Sauber in 2001. He wasn't pleased when Kimi got the drive, and made no bones about it.
Dennis suspected, though, that potentially Raikkonen was in a different class from Heidfeld, and I think he was right. Kimi may be a dead loss at press conferences, with his unsmiling, po-faced, monosyllabic mumblings, but in the car he's dynamite, and down the road that's what counts with team owners. What you have to bear in mind, too, is that Kimi is still very inexperienced, which makes his performances the more remarkable.
Think of Hockenheim the other weekend. At the start he got ahead of Montoya, whose Williams-BMW bogged down as it left the line, and although Juan was very quickly on his case, looking to go by at the first opportunity, Kimi - in an undoubtedly slower car - resolutely held him off for a number of laps. The scrap between them was the best I've seen all year, and spoke volumes for both drivers. At the time, I wrote that people were already talking of Montoya and Raikkonen as the next great rivalry in F1, and I wouldn't take issue with them.
Yes, Kimi has made quite a lot of mistakes this year, damaged quite a lot of cars, but Ron was ready for that when he signed him, and said as much. He's very young and, as we've said, still very low on experience, but there's no doubt that his essential talent is from the top drawer. Like you, I find it hard to imagine Heidfeld's pushing David Coulthard as hard as Raikkonen has done - in fact, I think there's no doubt that, race for race, he's pushed DC harder this year than Mika Hakkinen did in 2001.
Moving on to Felipe Massa, I have to say I don't quite know what to make of him yet. Undoubtedly, he's a character, which is always welcome, and undoubtedly he's very quick - and very brave. That said, he has made a great many mistakes this year, and some of them have been frankly absurd, as at Magny-Cours, where, for reasons unclear, he inititiated his car's launch control before the lights went out...
Massa is also very young, and very inexperienced, but his fundamental car control is impressive, and when he calms down a little, I suspect he will make a real impact in F1. For now, though, what he ain't doing is scoring much in the way of points, and those Peter Sauber very much needs - which is where Heinz-Harald Frentzen comes into the picture.
I liked Stefan Bellof immensely, for he was a down to earth character, with a great sense of humour. I also believed he would be Germany's first World Champion, that he had the kind of once-and-for-all talent you see only a couple of times in a generation.
Bellof came into Formula 1 with Tyrrell, in 1984, and what we should remember is that, in a year which also saw the debut of Senna, he was not overshadowed. Everyone recalls that Ayrton was catching Prost for the lead of that year's wet Monaco Grand Prix when it was prematurely stopped - but how many remember that, at the same time, Bellof was catching Senna?
Ken Tyrrell once told me that he thought that, of all the drivers he had had through his team, the two best were Jackie Stewart and Stefan Bellof. For me, Stefan was the great lost talent of his generation, one who never had his days in the sun. On the point of signing for Ferrari, he was killed in the 1985 Spa 1000 Kms, when his Porsche 956 crashed at Eau Rouge.
Martin Brundle was Bellof's team mate at Tyrrell, and would often compare him with Gilles Villeneuve. I knew what he meant. Both had talent in abundance, and both were lovely guys. If they had a fault, it was that they were, if anything, too brave. Bellof died after trying to pass Jacky Ickx into Eau Rouge, which, as anyone will tell you, is simply not an overtaking place. But Stefan, irrepressible as he was, simply went for it.
In my doubtless old-fashioned opinion, both Senna and Schumacher often resorted to what I would call underhand tactics - in other words, leaving a rival driver with a choice of backing off or having a huge accident - and it is for that reason that I cannot put either of them on the level of such as Fangio or Moss or Clark, none of whom ever did anything questionable on the race track in their lives. A lot of people laugh at 'sportsmanship' these days; I do not, and I never will.
On sheer driving ability, however, there's no doubt that both Ayrton and Michael belong in the very top bracket, and if, in my mind, Senna is ahead, it's because he, unlike Schumacher, had charisma to throw away. Ayrton was a presence, a special force, in a car and out. As with Gilles Villeneuve, you would go out on the circuit to watch him in qualifying, choose a particular corner, and wait.
In the turbo days, when qualifying boost gave some drivers close to 1400 horsepower, and when each had but two sets of one-lap qualifying tyres, pole position was Senna's almost by right. He developed a freakish ability to time his runs so as to have a clear track all the way round, and when he did encounter traffic, the sight of him in the mirrors was usually enough to persuade other drivers it might be a sound plan to give him room.
If they did not, by reason of inattention or - less likely - bloody-mindedness, Ayrton simply took it, and times without number we sucked through our teeth as some backmarker's car was shaved by a blur of McLaren. "He literally frightens them out of the way," James Hunt said, and it was true, prompting Alain Prost to murmur that maybe he should get himself a yellow helmet.
Senna won 41 of his 161 Grands Prix, the majority of them consummately, and he started from pole position 65 times. There was something almost primeval about him on a qualifying lap, and that is how I chiefly remember him now.
In that situation, he would say, he did not even look at the rev counter - if he did, he would be a fraction less committed to his driving at that moment; therefore, he changed gear by sound. Yes, that's right, they had to do that themselves in those days...
"When I have finished a lap, I can recall it completely, and always there is somewhere you know you lost time. That's why your second run should always be faster than your first - you have more information to work with."
On a qualifying lap, Senna maintained, he did not consciously think of the corner he was in, but of the one beyond. "Preparing for a lap like that, I concentrate as deeply as I can. I isolate all outside interference, whether it's photographers, fans, people around me. And in that state I am somehow able to get to a level where I am ahead of myself - maybe a fifth of a second, who knows?
"When my car goes into a corner, I am already at the apex, and so on. It's the same whether I'm braking, changing gear, putting on the power, or whatever. In effect, I'm predicting what I'm going to face, so I can correct it before it actually happens.
"You need a lot of concentration for that, as well as instant reactions, so a lot of tension goes through the body - like electricity. In race conditions, though, you can't keep to that level. There's too much stress, both mental and physical, so you have to be content to come down a little bit."
For sheer power, sheer drama, I don't believe I've ever seen anything better than Ayrton on a qualifying lap.
Years ago, over a degustivo or two, Denis Jenskinson was reminiscing about the Mille Miglia, which he won, navigating for Striling Moss, in a Mercedes 300SLR in 1955. "I've often thought," he said, "what fun it would have been to do it in a Porsche 917."
Driven by whom? I asked. Rodriguez? Siffert? "No, no," he replied. "Given a choice, I'd have chosen Brian Redman. He was as quick as they were, and far more intelligent. With Brian, there'd have been much more chance of getting to the finish..."
There is, I think, a case to be made for proposing Brian Redman as the most underrated racing driver this sport has known. True, he drove in only a dozen Grands Prix, but then it was always important to Brian that racing be fun, as well as a living, and even back in 1974, when last he drove a Formula 1 car, he thought the paddock a touch precious.
It wasn't that Redman lacked the ability to hack it in Formula 1. On the contrary, he finished third in his first Grand Prix, at Jarama in 1968, and in the rains of Monaco in 1972, subbing for Peter Revson at McLaren, he was fifth, in the process trouncing team leader Denny Hulme.
Although Redman made his name primarily as a sports car driver, his prowess in single-seaters was amply displayed in Formula 5000, notably in America, where he defeated arch-rival Mario Andretti more often than not. "A good professional," is probably how he would describe himself; he was much more than that.
Brian has lived in Florida these 20-odd years now, but his Lancastrian accent is happily intact, and complements a wonderfully dry wit. Now 65, he looks remarkably well on it, and the once cruel scars on his face - legacy of an accident at the 1971 Targa Florio - have faded to nothing, absorbed into a deep tan. A witty fellow, and a born raconteur, he told me about the Porsche 908/3 in which he crashed that day.
"I first saw the car, at Weissach, at Porsche's Christmas party. This thing was in a corner, under a sheet. 'Herr Redman, you would like to look at the new 908/3?' I said yes, I would, and I took the sheet off. Then I took the front bodywork off, and sat in the car - and saw that my feet were in front of the front wheels! I got out, and Helmut Flegl said, 'So, Herr Redman, so what do you think of the 908/3?' I said, 'It looks like a bloody good car. For Douglas Bader...'
"Before the start of the Targa, Flegl advised me that if I was going to have a shunt, I should have it on the left side of the car - because the fuel tank was on the right! Seppi (Siffert) had crashed it in practice, and although they repaired it, the steering broke on the first lap. I hit a wall. On the right, of course.
"I was on fire from head to foot, and couldn't see anything. I somehow got out of the car, and ran across the road, but it was 45 minutes before the helicopter came. Then they couldn't land anywhere, then they couldn't find me... Finally they took me to the wrong hospital, and nobody knew where I was. I was there 12 hours, without being able to talk to anybody - and without being able to see. Not a pleasant experience."
Redman had first come to national prominence in 1965, winning endlessly in a lightweight E-Type, entered by Red Rose Motors of Chester, which was owned by Charles Bridges. The following year Bridges bought a new Lola T70 for Brian to race, which he did with distinction, and in 1967 another member of the family took him into single-seaters.
"What a family that was... When Charles got out of racing, at the end of 1966, his brother David says to me, 'D'you want to drive Formula 2, spud?' - he always called me 'spud', for some reason. Yes, I said, what's the deal? He says, 'I'll give you thirty pounds a week, guaranteed for a year.' Right, I said.
"He never came to a single race! We'd be away for a month, racing all over Europe, and we'd get back. He'd be sitting there, 10 o'clock in the morning, having a glass of whisky. 'Hello, spud! Where've you been?' 'Well, I've been to Barcelona, and the Eifel race at the Nurburgring, and so on...' 'Eeh, that were a grand trip. How did you do?' I said, 'Well, we were fourth here, and sixth there...' 'Eeh, well, that's all right, then. Where are you going next?' Very casual it was, really."
That same year, 1967, took Redman to Spa for the first time, there to share a Ford GT40 with Peter Sutcliffe in the 1000Kms. "Red Rose Motors paid for me to drive with Peter. You know how much? Sixty pounds!"
Twelve months on, now a member of John Wyer's legendary JW Automotive squad, Redman won the Spa 1000Kms in a GT40, partnering Jacky Ickx, but when he returned, a fortnight later, to drive a Cooper in the Belgian Grand Prix, a horrifying accident awaited. At Les Combes, the left-hander at the top of the hill, his car's front suspension broke.
"I went over the Armco, and as I did so, my right arm was trapped between the car and the barrier. As it turned out, I was very lucky not to lose it. Big one, that. When the car landed, it hit a Vauxhall Cresta that someone had thoughtfully parked there. I suppose he probably thought it was out of reach..."
For all that, Brian adored the 'old' Spa. "I thought it was the most difficult circuit, because mentally it was so hard, simply because the corners were so fast. I got more satisfaction from a good race there than anywhere else. And generally it was a lucky circuit for me: I think I won five times there."
Years later, the accident at Les Combes was to pay dividends of a kind. In the 1972 Spa 1000Kms, Redman was leading in a factory Ferrari 312P, but Ronnie Peterson's similar car was closing. "After my shunt at Les Combes, I always took an odd line there, went in early, to give myself more room. I saw all this activity, which always means an accident round the corner or something, and I backed off and just got round. It was raining at that part of the circuit, and the activity was people putting umbrellas up. And Ronnie never made it - he went right round the corner on the barrier. We won."
In my mind, though, Redman is synonymous more with Porsche than any other marque, and doubtless his remarkable lack of ego was appreciated there, as it was elsewhere. "When I first drove for them, in 1969, they were running five 908s, and 10 drivers. And after the first race, at Daytona, they asked me if I wanted to be the number one in my own car, or drive with Siffert. I knew, in going with Seppi, that I'd be the number two, but I just thought we'd win more races that way, so it didn't bother me."
He got on famously with the mercurial Siffert, but admits that the partnership was not without its frustrations. "Seppi only had one speed - flat out all the time. We had a four-lap lead at Le Mans in 1970, and when he missed a gear, right in front of the pits...that was mildly distressing!
"The 917 evolved into a very good car, but at first it was terrifying. Very early on, I got a call from Porsche to come and test it, and I thought, 'Hmmmm, they've got 10 drivers in the team - why do they want me?' So I said I had some very important business, but I'd see if I could put it off, and I'd call them back in an hour. I rang Siffert: 'Seppi, have you tested the 917 yet?' 'No, no, Brian. Not me. We let the others find out what breaks first!'
"I drove one in practice at Le Mans in '69, and it was the fastest I ever went there - 238mph. But it was all over the road; on Mulsanne you were constantly having to correct the steering, and you just hoped that when you arrived at the kink you were on the right side of the road... If you weren't, you had to brake!
"The spaceframe of the original 917 was pressurised, gas-filled, so that if the gauge lost more than so much pressure, you knew you had a crack. When that happened, they'd go round all the joints with a cigarette lighter!"
Redman rocked with laughter at the memory. "Times have changed a
bit, haven't they?"
Yes, I suppose I have! In fact, I've seen very little of da Matta, because the calendar precludes my getting to many CART races, but there's no doubt that he's taken the series by the scruff of the neck, and I'm not surprised that Toyota are so taken with him.
Just the other weekend, at Hockenheim, I was chatting to Juan Montoya about who goes where next season, and the name of da Matta came up. JPM raced against him during his two years in CART, of course, and I asked him what he thought. "Good," he said. "Very good. For sure he's worth a place in F1."
That was enough for me.
I am, I admit, a bit of an obsessive collector of 'high quality racing memorabilia' - in fact, I would hate to try and calculate how much I've spent on it over the years. At the last count, for example, I had close on 2000 racing books...
If contemporary F1 is my profession, my passion, when it comes to collecting, is with times past, in particular the '50s, which was when, as a kid, I first fell in love with this sport.
As model collectors say, to keep the hobby in any kind of bounds at all, you have to be selective, to concentrate on certain items. Some people have a thing about 'complete runs' of magazines, but I'm not one of them: in any given magazine, there are only certain items of interest to me, and, rather than have my office completely taken over by endless bound volumes, I tend to tear out the bits I want, and file them. Heresy to some, I know, but that's what I do...
I have a great love of race programmes, and over time have built up a considerable collection, going back as far as the 1923 French Grand Prix. And of course, as I've written many times, one of my great obsessions is with American racing in the '50s and '60s. Here I'm a sucker for anything, from books to programmes to autographs to photos to ashtrays to you name it!
Recently, for a sum of money I have sought to keep from my wife, I bought a copy of Wilbur Shaw's autobiography, 'Gentlemen Start Your Engines'. It was a book I already had, but this copy was different. Released just in time for the month of May in 1955, it was bought by a marshal at the Indy 500, and he went up and down Gasoline Alley, getting it signed. Thus, it bears a total of 47 autographs, from such as Bill Vukovich (who was sadly killed in the race) and Bob Sweikert (who won it), together with virtually every other driver in that year's 500, plus retired legends like Peter DePaolo, Tommy Milton, Mauri Rose and Bill Holland.
I have one other item that comes into a special category. Back in the late '70s, one week I was stuck for a subject for Fifth Column. At the weekend I'd been at Hockenheim, but the race had been pretty uneventful, and no obvious topic suggested itself.
Then I thought of Bernd Rosemeyer, the great Auto Union driver of the '30s. Rosemeyer was killed in a record attempt on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn in January 1938, and at the spot where he died there is a memorial, to this day always surrounded by fresh flowers.
Although Rosemeyer was gone eight years before I was born, he captured my imagination when I was a young boy, reading every word about racing I could get my hands on. Every year, driving down the autobahn from Frankfurt airport to Hockenheim, I would pull off a few minutes, and visit the memorial. That's what I'll write about, I thought, and I did. The response in the paddock frankly amazed me, all manner of people, including Gilles Villeneuve, asking me about this man, wanting to know more.
A few weeks later, at Zandvoort, Murray Walker came up to me. "I read your piece on Rosemeyer," he said, "and I'd like you to have this." He handed over a drawing in a plastic envelope.
In the '30s, there was a famous racing artist named Jock Leydon, who had been a great friend of Murray's father. Although Leydon had primarily concentrated on motorcycle racing, he did not confine himself to it, and this particular original pencil drawing, done in South Africa, he had given to Graham Walker, who had passed it on to his son.
Superbly done, it is of Rosemeyer in profile, and beneath, also in pencil, is the great driver's signature. I had Murray's extraordinarily generous gift framed, and wild horses wouldn't drag it from me.
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