Ask Nigel Roebuck July 16
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
Dear Mr. Crawford,
I agree with you that it would be a great shame if Jacques does not race next year, but I'm not sure I go along with your assertion he is the only driver who can really take it to Michael. Only the other weekend, after all, Juan Montoya 'really took it to Michael' at the Nurburgring, and not for the first time. David Coulthard, too, has done it a time or two, and I don't doubt that Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso can, and will, do the same.
As for JV, I have to say that, frankly, I can't see his remaining at BAR beyond the end of this season. Financially, JV's contract is a huge one, second only to Michael Schumacher's, and if you don't produce an absolutely front-running car/engine/tyre package - which BAR, Honda and Bridgestone have so far failed to do - frankly there's not a lot of point in spending a fortune on a driver.
There have always been folk at BAR who felt that the money spent on Villeneuve could have been better used on improving the competitiveness of the car, while Jacques, for his part, feels that essentially he has wasted - in terms of results - what should have been four years at the peak of his career. He was World Champion in 1997, after all - and has not won a race since.
Therefore, Villeneuve and his manager, Craig Pollock, are talking to other teams about 2004, but their problem is an unchanging one: logically, they would only want to go with one of the four major teams, and where is there likely to be a vacancy?
First, Ferrari. Michael Schumacher is under contract until the end of 2006, and Rubens Barrichello until the end of 2004, but in any case, there's no way Michael would entertain having Jacques as a team mate - for one thing, the two men emphatically do not like each other, and for another, JV - in the right environment - is too quick! As well as that, he would never agree to 'drive for Michael', as seems to be a requirement of Ferrari's 'other driver'.
Second, Williams. Again, both Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher are under contract until the end of next season, and, with Michael now committed to Ferrari the extra two years, both are likely to wish to stay at Williams thereafter. Villeneuve came into F1 with Frank's team, of course, finishing second in the World Championship (to team mate Damon Hill) in 1996, and winning it the following year.
Following Renault's withdrawal, at the end of '97, Williams had to use the company's Meccachrome 'customer' engines for a couple of years, and in '98 found themselves out-powered by other more up-to-date motors. When BAR came into existence (founded by Pollock, of course), and initially were also to use the same Meccachrome engines, Jacques figured there was little to be lost by moving there - for a hugely greater retainer, it must be said.
Financially, he did very well out of the move, but in every other respect he must regret ever leaving Williams; I'd be very surprised to see him back there.
Third, McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen, we must logically assume, is going to be at McLaren for the duration, and although David Coulthard's contract with the team is up at the end of 2003, and although DC has had a middling season, I would be very surprised to see him replaced next year.
As well as that, it is a matter of fact that McLaren puts enormous emphasis on its drivers' PR activities for the sponsors, and this aspect of F1 is something Villeneuve loathes. I find it hard to imagine there could be a meeting of minds on this, between Ron Dennis and himself, frankly. As well as that, Jacques is now 32, and if Ron should think in terms of replacing DC, he might well think in terms of someone younger. A pity, because I've always thought Villeneuve would fly in a McLaren, but there you are.
Then there's Renault, now one of the Big Four. Flavio Briatore has tried unsuccessfully in the past to sign Villeneuve, a man whose freewheeling ways he finds attractive, but Fernando Alonso looks a certainty there for years to come, and Briatore has also recently said that Jarno Trulli's place in the team was secure.
So...I don't know what to tell you. Jacques is now a hugely wealthy man, and I can understand his lack of interest in continuing in F1 much longer just to make up the numbers. On talent, he has long been one of the best in the world, but so far he has a lamentable season, and there's no getting away from that. All right, he has had all the BAR bad luck going, but still I expected him to be routinely ahead of Jenson Button. And he hasn't been...
Boy, what a question! If I sat and thought about it for a day or two, I could probably come up with a list of bad cars which have won Grands Prix, but one which comes quickly to mind - sorry, Frank and Patrick - is the Williams-Honda FW09, with which Keke Rosberg won the one and only Dallas Grand Prix, back in 1984.
Summer in Texas meant crippling humidity, and the track was unusually quick for one through the streets. In fact, it wasn't through the streets at all, at least not in the 'downtown' sense. Situated a little way south of the city, it wound through a park, and a pretty tatty one at that.
Everyone arrived on the Wednesday, took a look at the 2.42-mile circuit, and immediately it was clear there would be problems; the drivers weren't taken with it. Bumpy, they said, and dangerous. Where were the cranes to shift damaged cars? The track was quite quick, but the run-off areas were scarcely in the Texan tradition of 'biggest and best'. On Thursday afternoon there was an explanatory one-hour session, in which Derek Warwick's Renault set the best time. Already, though, there were concerns about the track surface.
The FIA rule book stipulated that no circuit new to F1 may stage a Grand Prix without first holding a race of lesser consequences - a trial run, if you wish. But street tracks were exempt from this rule, and in Dallas the folly of that was clear to all. By Friday afternoon the temperature was 107, and the surface was breaking up, badly.
Late on Saturday afternoon, after F1 qualifying, a 50-lap Can-Am race was scheduled, and in the circumstances the organisers' best plan would have been to cancel it, for it chewed up what little remained of the racing surface. Heavy five-litre cars are unkind to tarmac at the best of times; by the time they'd finished with Dallas Fair Park, it looked like a dirt track.
"It's unbelievable," commented Renault team manager Jean Sage, after a tour of inspection. "There are places where you can lift the asphalt with your fingers..." An over-night bodge job with epoxy concrete compound proved ineffective: in the furnace heat it needed too long to cure properly. There arose rumours that the race would be postponed by a day - maybe even cancelled altogether. This last option had the support of Messrs Lauda, Prost and Piquet.
Most of the drivers stood around and moaned, bucking up only when the TV stars toured the pits. But just as Stirling Moss used to rub his hands at the onset of rain before a race, so Rosberg was in the Dallas heat. While the rest sought water and ice and umbrellas, he sat there on the pit wall, apparently soaking up the sun, chuckling at the politics and ranting around him.
Was there a feeling among the drivers, asked a local journalist with a keen grasp of the situation, that they didn't want to race? "We don't want to break bones," replied Rosberg, always to the point. "Everyone worries about pain. It's crazy to race, but what are you going to do? There's a huge crowd out there, and a lot of countries waiting for TV. There's no point in blaming anyone here in Dallas - this is the FIA's fault - and where are the FIA people? Not here, because it's too bloody hot for them.
"This sort of situation degrades Grand Prix racing, right? But we'll just have to bite the bullet. In the end, we're all whores - if the money's right, we'll do our stuff for anyone. Of course there'll be a race."
And there was. Once the decision had been taken, the drivers asked for 10 laps' acclimatisation, in lieu of the cancelled warm-up, but were told that TV schedules were too tight for more than three. Thus, they ran those, then came to the grid, and gave us far and away the most exciting race of the 1984 season.
"Look at them," grinned a spectating John Watson, as Mansell, de Angelis, Warwick, Senna and the rest stampeded by. "Show them a green light, and they can't help themselves."
Mansell led for a long way, his main opposition initially coming from Warwick, who spun into the wall while trying to take the lead, and Rosberg. After 36 laps Mansell went in for new tyres, having clobbered a wall. So Rosberg now led, in atrocious conditions, and in the most unwieldy car in the place.
The Williams FWO9 was perhaps Patrick Head's least distinguished creation, and the last Williams not to have a carbon fibre monocoque. Lacking stiffness, it was also powered by Honda's early F2-based turbo V6, whose power delivery, Keke said, was like a light switch: on or off. If ever a car were destined for the wall, it was this one.
Rosberg, though, was the great improvisor, the man who adapted perhaps better than anyone. He made no mistakes worth the name, but he couldn't long resist the advances of Prost's McLaren-TAG. Alain went by on lap 49, and began to pull away until, incredibly, he stuck it in the fence.
Five minutes later Lauda, running third, also crashed. So did 11 others. Cool in the wranglings of the morning, cool when it mattered, in the race, Rosberg put in what was probably the greatest drive of his life. In such treacherous conditions, that car really should not have won that day.
I sort of understand what Bernie is getting at; when a driver has been with a team as long DC has been at McLaren - this is his eighth season - there is a danger of everything becoming a little too 'comfortable', and it is always said that there's nothing like a change of team to give a driver a fresh challenge, and reawaken his motivation.
However, that said, where would DC go? The only other teams worthy of his attention are Ferrari, Williams and Renault, and I don't see any opportunities for him there in the foreseeable future. Therefore, assuming Ron Dennis invites him to stay - and I reckon he will - David's best option, even as team mate to the daunting Raikkonen, is to remain where he is.
Tom Pryce was one of the nicest blokes ever to get into a racing car, and is remembered fondly by everyone who knew him. As well as that, he was hugely talented, and his car control was something to behold. Pryce was not one of those who started in karts. In fact, he went to Motor Racing Stables, the school at Brands Hatch, and there won a Formula Ford car in a competition, sponsored by the Daily Express. This was 1970, and he progressed swiftly, moving through F3 to F1 by 1974.
In '74 Tom's entry for the Monaco Grand Prix was turned down by the organisers, who suggested he was insufficiently experienced. Somewhat annoyed, he arranged a drive in the F3 race, then an extremely prestigious affair - and he walked it, in the process annihilating the very highly-rated Tony Brise.
The following year, driving for the Shadow team, Pryce was often phenonenally quick, taking pole position at the British Grand Prix, for example, but the cars were very unreliable, and his only victory was in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch - where he beat Jody Scheckter to pole position by a clear second.
Pryce was a charming fellow, as I said, and a very loyal one, too. Had he moved to another team, I don't doubt that many Grand Prix victories would have come his way, but he remained with Shadow, whose cars were emphatically not the best. In the rain, he was always sensationally good, setting the fastest time, for example, in the wet first session at the South African Grand Prix in 1977; in the dry, the Shadow was good for only 16th.
This was to be the last race of his life. On lap 22, in front of the pits, his Shadow hit a marshal running across the road to a car which had pulled off; ironically it was that of his team mate, Renzo Zorzi. The marshal was carrying a heavy fire extinguisher, which hit Pryce on the head, and killed him instantly. The car then careered on for several hundred yards, colliding with Jacques Laffite's Ligier, before hitting the bank, and coming to rest finally, at Crowthorne Corner.
A truly ghastly accident, and one which should never have happened. Everyone was devastated by the loss of a delightful man who, I have no doubt at all, had the talent to become World Champion.
An easy one for me, actually: 1969. Jackie Stewart always speaks wistfully of that race - maybe he doesn't count it as his greatest victory, but certainly it stands in his memory as the most enjoyable race of his life.
"The great thing about racing with someone like Jochen Rindt or Chris Amon or Denny Hulme - or virtually any of the stars from that era - was that it was so clean," Stewart said. "We were all very good friends, for one thing, and when you passed someone coming out of their slipstream, there was no point in weaving or trying to block them because they were going to pass. And, in fact, if you let them pass your lap times were quicker - because then you got them on the next bit of straight.
"At Silverstone the places to pass were down the Hangar Straight, to Stowe, and then between Abbey and Woodcote. If you got everything right, if you didn't screw up Becketts or Club, you'd pass twice a lap - and it was quicker to do that, so you'd let him through, and that way you'd keep the gap to the guy behind. In the large majority of races, when there's attempted passing going on, everyone goes slower...
"The British Grand Prix in 1969 was special, though. How many times in your career are you going to have a race like that? There was as good as no difference in ability between Jochen and myself, and the same was true of my Matra and his Lotus. From the start we both went hard at it, and the battle went on and on and on! Off the track Jochen was probably my closest friend; and on it he was a man I trusted implicitly - which is something you need to feel about another driver before you're absolutely comfortable racing with him. Yes, all told, the ingredients were perfect that day."
Qualifying - most of it, anyway - had scarcely suggested a memorable fight between these two. Through the summer of 1969 JYS and the Matra MS80, his favourite car, were on a roll, and in practice little suggested any disruption of the pattern. Rindt and the Lotus 49 had threatened, yes, but Jochen came to Silverstone in July without a point on the board. The thing never held together.
Earlier in the year, at the International Trophy at Silverstome, he had driven a mesmeric race in the rain, lagging with drowned electrics in the early laps, then sweeping through the field when the problem cleared. On the line he all but caught the victorious Jack Brabham. He liked Silverstone, had good memories of it. And he took pole position for the Grand Prix.
Jochen, I recall, was delighted. One thing to be on the pole; more important, he suggested, was the financial aspect of the thing. Through the final two-hour session, there was a bonus of œ100 awarded to the fastest man in each 30-minute segment. Stewart took three of the four, but the last went to Rindt. Ah, what a man would do for a hundred quid back in 1969. For that matter, there was only a thousand for the race winner.
Hulme's McLaren joined Rindt and Stewart on the front row, but after Copse he never had a clear view of them again. At the end of the first lap Jochen led narrowly from Jackie, with Denny already more than three seconds adrift. The two leaders were setting up a pace impossible for the rest to sustain.
Nothing to choose between them, really. Rindt's Lotus was marginally better on top speed, Stewart's Matra a shade superior under braking and through the turns. Jochen led for five laps, then Jackie was in front for 10.
On lap 16 it was again Rindt from Stewart, but now it seemed a little more settled. Was Jackie thinking ahead, as always, reckoning that 84 laps of Silverstone was a long way, there was time enough? We didn't know. We waited.
Endlessly they ran like that, routinely going round faster than most drivers had qualified. Such as McLaren, Hill, Siffert and Amon were lapped before half-distance. "You might have expected Jochen to be right on the limit, and Jackie to be neat and calm," Bruce observed afterwards, "but when they came past me, it was the other way round." Maybe Stewart didn't have anything left; maybe he was simply clinging on.
After 51 laps Rindt's lead was out to three seconds, but thereafter it came down, and after 61 the Lotus was firmly in Stewart's sights. Next time around the Matra was in front - and by five seconds; one lap later Jochen was into the pits.
It was a stupid thing, his problem, a matter of poor preparation. The left-hand rear wing endplate had worked loose, and through Silverstone's predominantly right-hand corners was chafing the tyre. Unable to find tools suitable for the job, the Lotus mechanics tore off the endplate with their bare hands, and sent Rindt back into the race, still second, but now 35 seconds away from the lead.
"Altogether, I think there were something like 30 lead changes between Jochen and myself," said Stewart, "although they didn't necessarily register at the start-finish line, because they happened out on the circuit. I've got a Michael Turner painting of me passing Jochen, and pointing at the rear wing, to alert him to the fact that it was rubbing against his tyre."
Anger was fired in Rindt, cheated yet again of his first Grand Prix victory. The bulk of the spectators had been plainly with him all afternoon, and they cheered him one last time as he resumed the charge.
It was all for nothing, and he knew it better than anyone, but still he was carried along by the adrenalin of the day until lap 78, just six from the flag. Then he was a minute overdue, and more, and finally he went into pit lane again, this time crawling, engine dead. The Lotus, incredibly, was out of fuel.
They sloshed a few gallons in, and once more Jochen returned to the race, now fourth and totally disheartened. With three laps left, indeed, he was passed by Courage, but on the last responded to pit signals, and moved past the Brabham again. By now JYS was on his slowing-down lap. The lap of honour, everyone felt, should have been shared.
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Ask Nigel Roebuck July 16
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