Ask Nigel Roebuck July 30

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 30

You must think I'm nuts! If I list my six numbers, and someone else goes with them, too, anything those numbers ever win is going to be significantly reduced - and we wouldn't want that, would we?

Actually, your six numbers sound not too dissimilar from my own. Beyond the odd one here and there, I've never won a thing, but hope springs eternal. The problem with sticking with the same six, of course, is that you never dare pack it in, because the numbers are in your head, and if ever they came up later, the only option would be a long walk off a short pier...

Therefore, in spite of my distaste for what Camelot does with much of the money it gets in, I continue cravenly to buy their tickets, and when it came to choosing the numbers initially, the first that came to my mind was 7, synonymous with Stirling Moss, a great boyhood hero, and also the man I personally consider to be the greatest racing driver of all time.

In the same way, I assume you chose Sandro simply because he was a favourite driver. As for the 'traditional' Ferrari numbers, I guess you're referring to 27 and 28. I have 27, of course, because of its associations with Gilles Villeneuve, but not 28, because, although it was later used by such as Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, whom I very much liked and admired, originally it was carried by Didier Pironi, and thus, given the events of early 1982, in my mind it stands damned for ever.

A lot of people have come up with a lot of different ideas about qualifying recently. Some like the new format, introduced this year, and some don't. Personally, I'm equivocal about it. First of all, I like the one-by-one system, because it guarantees every driver a clear lap, and I'll admit I got fed up to the teeth with hearing, over the years, 'It's not fair - I got traffic on every run...' At Monaco, in particular, you quickly learned to tune that out.

So that part of qualifying in 2003 I strongly support. Apart from anything else, it at least means that there is something for spectators to watch for the entire hour of the session; with the old system, no one of any consequence would venture out for the first 25 minutes or so, and fans were left to look upon an empty, silent, track.

I am also mindful, I must admit, of the fact that if we'd had one-by-one qualifying back in 1982, Gilles Villeneuve would not have been killed at Zolder.

On the question of qualifying with the fuel load with which you will start the race, yes, I'll concede that it robs Saturday afternoon of its absolute all-or-nothing quality, and I regret that. As well as that, yes, it's true that the one-by-one aspect to some degree puts the drivers at the mercy of possibly changing weather conditions - but I'd suggest that, as with periods in the race behind the Safety Car, over time that will even out: one weekend you lose by it, the next you win.

I have to say, too, that while I always enjoyed the final qualifying session at a grand prix, of infinitely greater importance to me was the quality of the race. And if you have 'absolute' qualifying, you tend to find yourself with a grid that almost inevitably leads to a processional race - that's a fact.

In coming up with the revised qualifying format, the FIA was trying to introduce an element of unpredictability into the races, and I think that, to some degree, that has been successful, albeit perhaps not as much so as had been anticipated.

Everyone has rightly raved about the British Grand Prix - but, to a great extent, it was the race it was because events got turned upside down on lap 12, when that buffoon found his way on to the track, and brought out the safety car for the second time. All the front-runners pitted at the same time, and in the course of that much of the pack was reshuffled. Thus we had a set of circumstances which could not have been foreseen - and a situation in which, for a lot of drivers, the only option was to get their heads down, and start overtaking.

We could, of course, achieve a similar thing every fortnight, by the simple expedient of having a grid decided by drawing numbers out of a hat to settle the grid order. No, I'm not, as a purist, putting it forward as a serious idea; I'm simply pointing out that it would inevitably lead to a lot of racing ...

Sunday morning qualifying has been put forward as an idea, by Mosley, by Bernie Ecclestone, and others, as a means of keeping spectators entertained. I'll guiltily admit that the 'dead' Sunday morning actually suits me very well, for it allows me the time - and the quiet - to transcribe tapes recorded earlier in the weekend. But for the fans, it seems an eternity, and I fully understand that, and sympathise with them. Until this year, after all, they did at least have the warm-up to watch; now there's the Porsche race, and that's about it.

The mechanics, I guess, would hate the idea of Sunday morning qualifying, and I'm not too sure about how the organisers would feel about it, either. If there's qualifying on race day morning, after all, why bother to turn up at the track on the Saturday?

At one time, before the race morning warm-up was introduced, fans had no chance to see the F1 cars before the actual race, but they seemed to cope with that all right - so long as there were plenty of other events to watch through the morning. At the British Grand Prix, particularly, that used to be very much the case, and it still is at, for example, Melbourne.

But unless a track receives substantial funding, from either national or local government level, budgets have to be very carefully controlled: once the fee has been paid to Bernie for the F1 race, there ain't usually a lot left over. To put it mildly.

No, sorry, can't go along with that. Piercarlo Ghinzani indeed did a fine job that day, finishing fifth in the Osella-Alfa, but in all honesty it was simply because he was around at the end, while most other drivers were not. Yes, he did very well, on the dramatically deteriorating surface, to keep from hitting the wall, as so many aces did, but he was lapped twice. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was that, over the bumps of the Dallas State Fair Park, the Osella didn't fall to pieces.

To my mind, the truly brilliant drives came from Keke Rosberg, who drove an extremely difficult car - the indifferent Williams FW09, with all or nothing 'light switch' power delivery from its early Honda V6 turbo engine - in highly treacherous conditions, and never made a mistake, and from Rene Arnoux, who had to start his Ferrari from the back of the grid (after it had failed to fire up immediately before the formation lap), and stormed through to second place, again without a mistake along the way.

As for Ghinzani, certainly he was a good racing driver, but never, I felt, more than a competent, brave, journeyman. I think his subsequent
drives with Toleman and Ligier rather bore that out.

Walter Wolf Racing indeed had a short life in F1, but its achievements - at least for a time - were pretty remarkable. Walter, it may be remembered, was originally in business with Frank Williams, and the team was known as Wolf-Williams, but at the end of 1976 came the parting of the ways. Wolf now went on alone, and FW departed, to found Williams Grand Prix Engineering Ltd, the company which still exists - and thrives - to this day.

For 1977, Walter Wolf Racing hired Jody Scheckter, late of Tyrrell, as its one and only driver. Harvey Postlethwaite designed a new car, the
Wolf WR1, and astonishingly the car won on its debut, at Buenos Aires, at the beginning of January. Only a puncture kept Scheckter from winning at Long Beach, too, and a second victory duly came along at Monaco, followed by a third, at Mosport Park.

By the end of the year, Jody was second (to Niki Lauda) in the
World Championship, and Wolf finished third in the constructors' championship. It had been, by any standards, a quite astonishing season
for a new team.

Those three wins were it, though. In 1978, a new, more radical, car was produced, but Scheckter never liked it; although he had a few decent finishes, by season's end he was only seventh in the championship - and very pleased to accept an offer to join Ferrari the following year.

The Wolf team continued in 1979, at first with James Hunt as driver, but by the time of Monaco James decided he had had enough of motor racing - not least because the Wolf WR7 was not a competitive proposition, and he reasoned that if he were to continue to risk his life, he needed to feel there was a chance of success to justify it.

Thereafter, Keke Rosberg took over, but he had no luck with the car, either, and hardly ever finished a race. At the end of that year,
Walter Wolf Racing disappeared from the scene.

Since then, Walter has periodically reappeared at the races, notably Monaco, and rumours of a return have come and gone. Realistically,
though, the days when a man - even a very rich one - could simply decide to have himself an F1 team are gone, I'm afraid. I'm sure that Wolf will continue to be on the scene occasionally, but not as a team owner.

Your key words are, 'It's great for the sport'. We're talking here of
Frank Williams and Patrick Head, after all, not of Jean Todt and the
Schumacher-era Ferrari machine. Frank and Patrick believe, as also does
Ron Dennis, that respect for Grand Prix racing as a sport is vital to its longterm survival. We have seen, for example, the effects on TV viewing figures of Ferrari's way of doing things, notably in 2002, surely the dreariest F1 season on record.

Your point about Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher 'taking points
from each other' is undoubtedly a valid one - it was precisely this
phenomenon which allowed Alain Prost's McLaren-TAG Porsche to beat Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, in the faster Williams-Hondas, to the World Championship in 1986. Frank and Patrick will undoubtedly be mindful of this, but I'm sure there will be no question of 'team orders' until we arrive at a situation where only one of the Williams drivers remains in contention for the title.

Could be wrong, but I tend to think that Juan and Ralf would rather chew on razor blades than help the other to the World Championship! That said, if it comes to it, and either of them is asked to do the decent thing, I doubt that they would decline. When the occasion demands, Messrs Williams and Head tend to make their wishes plain, and in words of one syllable...

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