Ask Nigel Roebuck July 2

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 July 2

DC did indeed start the season brightly - his win in Melbourne owed more to consistency than anything else, but in Malaysia he could well have won again, had not his car let him early in the race: at the time he was ahead of his team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who went on to win, of course.

In Brazil he also looked good, and the significant thing in the first part of the season was that invariably he out-qualified the highly touted Raikkonen. More recently, though, he has had a bad time in qualifying. He makes no secret of the fact that he hates the new rules, but they are the same for everyone, and the fact is that too often he has seemed tentative - and then made a mistake, as at Imola, where he braked too late for a corner, got up on a kerb, and lost about eight-tenths of a second. That meant starting 12th, with a lot of traffic to get by, and although he drove a fine race, and lost no time to Raikkonen from the first stops to the end, he finished fifth, whereas Kimi was second.

There's no doubt that DC has had the bulk of McLaren's bad luck this season, but beyond that, yes, I rather agree with your impression that his head seems to have been a little down recently. For all that, I must say I'd be very surprised not to see him at McLaren next season, but I don't doubt that, if it comes to it, in the concluding races of 2003, he might well be asked by Ron Dennis to support Raikkonen's quest for the World Championship.

Dear Simon,

I trust you enjoyed Maurice's wonderful book, and I must say I'm entirely in agreement with you, with regard to both Stewart and Prost. There's no question that Jackie was the best driver in the world for five years, from 1968 to 1973, his final season, and equally I believe Alain was the best from 1982 to 1987.

As you say, though, both are invariably omitted from people's 'top five' list, and I think you may have a very good point here: Stewart and Prost were never spectacular drivers, in the Rindt-Peterson-Villeneuve mould, and I don't think it was entirely by chance that both JYS and Alain won endless races and championships - and lived to retire. Jackie once told me that, from the outset, his major ambition in motor racing was to survive it, and equally Alain once told me, with great pride, that he had never once been upside down in a car, either on road or track.

Had they been prepared to take some of the risks, pull some of the stunts, that some other drivers did, they might - who knows? - have won even more than they did, but equally they might not have come out of the sport in one piece.

As you say, too, both made the driving of an F1 car look almost absurdly easy - and that's always a mistake in anyone seeking to be considered a hero. You watched Jackie or Alain, and almost believed you could do this yourself; you watched Ronnie or Gilles, and knew you couldn't! Personally, I thought Stewart and Prost absolute artists, both blisteringly quick, yet apparently at their ease: nothing is more difficult than that.

Dear Chris,

What the devil do I think Mr Ecclestone is up to this time? Boy, what a question! If I knew that, I guess I'd own magazines, rather than write for them...

At the Nurburgring Paul Stoddart said that, while Bernie had indeed bought into Minardi, what he had was a minority shareholding, and Paul added that Bernie didn't want any say in the management of the team. "But I think," he said, "he's going to be very helpful in all sorts of ways, including with the GPWC."

Indeed so. As Stoddart pointed out, one consequence of Bernie's involvement in Minardi is that he now 'gets a seat at the table at GPWC meetings', something to which he had not previously been entitled. I'm sure this played no part in his decision to buy into Minardi. Then again, others say he already has a buyer for his shareholding in the team...

Dear James,

Glad you enjoyed the radio show - I did, too! Robin has been a good friend of mine for many years, and I consider him the bravest journalist in the business: to be Indianapolis-based, and to take on the Speedway, requires great moral courage, I think.

I have long felt strongly that F1 was becoming increasingly dehumanised, with more and more emphasis on technology, less and less on the drivers. Yes, I'll accept that a man like Michael Schumacher is among the all-time greats, and would have excelled in any era - but I certainly think there have been times when F1 cars were very much more difficult to driver than now.

In particular, what I despise are computerised systems - be they to control traction, launch from the grid, or shifting gears - which perform tasks once the responsibility of the driver. It was not by chance, I think, that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost - the two great drivers of their era - were both totally opposed to such systems at the time of their introduction. Both felt such things an insult to their craft - and both, not surprisingly, resented anything which artificially closed the gap between good drivers and great.

At Monaco this year I talked to Keke Rosberg, winner of the Grand Prix in 1983, about then and now. "No one's saying it's easy to drive round here these days - but for sure it's different. Think of it: you're left-foot braking now, not having to change gears, so you keep two hands on the steering-wheel at all times, and you don't move your feet on the pedals at all - you just either press, or don't press. So that's it: you steer, and you brake.

"Back then, though, we were dancing on the pedals like mad - non-stop. You thought of Monaco as a one-handed race track. You had a manual gearbox, with a conventional clutch, and you had to keep from over-revving the engine, of course - on a Cosworth you went 150 revs, max, over the eleven-two limit, and the valve springs were gone. So you had to watch that needle the whole time, on that old Smiths tachometer."

Anything else? Keke thought for a second. "Mmmm, well, we didn't have anything like as much power as they have today, of course, so that was
easier." A pause. "Mind you, we were expected to control the power going
to the back wheels ourselves...with the throttle. No traction control in
those days, I'm glad to say."

He burst out laughing. "We're starting to sound like old farts, aren't we? But, seriously, I think the driver did have a little more to do in those days..."

No doubt about it. Down the road 10 or 15 years where we will be? At the moment it's impossible to know. For what it's worth, the FIA says that it is militantly opposed to the introduction of any more 'gizmos' - but then not so long ago it was supposedly opposed to the retention of traction control, and look what happened there.

All kinds of things are possible. It is some years, for example, since I remember conversations about 'active steering', which would apply opposite lock when required, and save the driver the trouble of doing it himself. There again, with the advent of increasingly sophisticated traction control, opposite lock is virtually a thing of the past, anyway...

I think we must just hope that the governing body keeps some sort of control over these things, and stands up to the wishes of the major manufacturers and electronics companies. Let's at least ensure that the drivers still have to do their own steering and braking...

Dear Henning,

Much as I regret to say it, I have hardly ever seen Tom Kristensen drive, for these days I never get to major sports car races - Le Mans, for example, invariably clashes with the Canadian Grand Prix - and Kristensen has never driven in an F1 race.

For what it's worth, though, all I can say is that folk who have worked with Kristensen, and competed against him, rate him very highly indeed, and more than one has said to me that here is a driver who should have been in F1 long ago. Certainly, as you say, Michelin were very impressed with the testing work he did for them.

After Martin Brundle had gone back to Le Mans, in 2001, to drive the Bentley, I asked him for his impressions of the drivers he encountered. He shrugged. "Some seemed pretty average to me, some pretty good - but the only guy who really impressed me was Tom Kristensen. I'm telling you, that bloke is quick!"

Dear Warren,

Sorry to say it, but I never really rated Stefano Modena at all. It wasn't that he lacked talent as much as he didn't make the most of it.

It was in the Monaco F3 race that he first attracted attention - I remember everyone saying that 'Stefano Modena' had to be the perfect name for an Italian racing driver - and he continued to excel there, finishing third for Brabham in the Grand Prix in 1989 (beaten only by Senna and Prost), and qualifying his Tyrrell-Honda on the front row in '91, alongside Senna, and ahead of such as Patrese, Piquet, Mansell, Berger and Prost. That same year, as you point out, he also finished second to Piquet in the Canadian Grand Prix.

I always found him a most quirky fellow, I must say, and it's fair to say that most of his mechanics would go along with that, too! On occasion his manifold superstitions - inside out gloves, hotel rooms facing in the 'right' direction, etc - drove his teams round the bend. On the track, he could certainly be quick, but he was also terribly inconsistent.

Perhaps what shaped my opinion of him, too, was his very first Grand Prix, at Adelaide in 1987, at the wheel of a Brabham-BMW. He qualified reasonably enough, 15th in a 26-car field, but made little impression until lap 31 - when he came into the pits, and climbed out, saying he was exhausted, and could go no further!

Very well, it was a longer race than any in which he had driven to that point, and the car was way quicker than anything he had previously driven, but still he had thrown the towel in with 51 laps to go! I remember something Keke Rosberg said to me at the time: "Forget Modena - I'm telling you now, the guy will never make it. In your first Grand Prix, it doesn't matter if you have to carry the bloody car over the line; whatever else, you never give up..."

I'm afraid I felt exactly that way, too. There are those who really want it, and there are the others.

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