Ask Nigel Roebuck: May 28

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: May 28

Dear Chris,

His cars may have failed to qualify for the 1995 500 (having swept all before them a year earlier), but, by and large, no team owner has ever dominated at Indy like Roger Penske. Having relatively little interest in the Indy Racing League, I don't get to see Roger and his team in action these days, but whenever I attended a CART race in which Penske Racing was involved, it always struck me that it was an operation like no other - the only one, in fact, which would not have been out of place in an F1 paddock.

RP is a complete perfectionist, and it shows. Why was his team never as successful in F1 as in Indycar racing? Essentially, I think, because it wasn't around for very long. Penske dipped a toe in the water back in 1971, hiring a McLaren M19 from the factory for Mark Donohue to drive in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport.

The race was run in torrential rain, and Donohue finished a fantastic third on his F1 debut, beaten only by Jackie Stewart and Ronnie Peterson. In '74 Penske announced he would be running a one-car F1 team in '75, and Donohue came out of retirement to drive the car. It was not, it must be said, a great success, and by mid-season Penske Racing had temporarily given up on it, and bought a March for Donohue to race for the balance of the year. Sadly, in the race morning warm-up for the Austrian GP, at the fearsome Osterreichring, Mark had a tyre failure as he turned into a flat-out corner. The car went over the barrier, and Donohue suffered head injuries, from which he died a couple of days later.

The following year John Watson was signed to drive for Penske, and the '76 car was a very much more competitive proposition. Watson was regularly a front-runner, and in Austria - where the team had suffered its greatest tragedy a year before - he won the race, fair and square. Not a bad achievement for a team in only its second season of F1.

Penske, however, decided at this point that perhaps he was spreading himself too thin, that his operation was involved in too many different racing series. The core of his business empire was obviously in America, and it was on national racing championships that he decided to concentrate thereafter. Therefore, he pulled out of F1 - although to this day Penske Racing remains in business in Poole, Dorset.

RP himself is a remarkable man, I think. The breadth and extent of his business interests is extraordinary, yet he never misses a race, and to this day 'runs' Gil de Ferran's car himself. I wouldn't claim to know him well, but have always been struck by just how 'normal' he is in a paddock, happy to sit down at breakfast time with journalists, and chat about anything under the sun. He may have been out of F1 for going on 30 years, but he remains absolutely up to speed on what's going on within it - I know that from the questions he asks whenever we meet! It's not by chance, I think, that those who work for him tend to stay put.

Dear Jonathan,

Dream on! I have rarely come across a racing driver with less interest in the heritage of the sport than Michael - when we went to Indianapolis for the first Grand Prix there in 2000, for example, it was plainly obvious that 'being at Indy' meant nothing whatever to him: it was simply a new venue for an F1 race.

In spite of his sometimes questionable manoeuvres on the race track, Schumacher is also one of the most safety-minded of all the drivers, and I don't think for a second he would contemplate racing on the ovals, be it in an Indycar or a NASCAR Winston Cup car. And I also seriously doubt that he would be much interested in Le Mans - he's not a 'romantic', like, say, Mario Andretti.

As for the notion of his trying to win Indy, Daytona, Le Mans and Monaco all in one season...well, there's more chance of New Labour embracing democracy than of that ever happening. Michael still loves karting, and doubtless always will, but beyond that his interest in motor racing begins and ends with F1, and that's all there is to it, I'm afraid.

Dear Richard,

I guess probably the most memorable example of 'interpretation of rules' that comes to mind is the 'water-cooled brakes' episode back in 1982.

At the time some teams - notably Ferrari and Renault - were running 1.5-litre turbocharged engines, while others - Williams, Brabham, McLaren, Lotus, Tyrrell, etc - had the 3-litre normally-aspirated Cosworth motors. While the turbos had always had a considerable power advantage, this had been offset to some considerable degree by the fact that they were very much heavier.

By 1982, though, the fear was that now the teams using them were showing signs of being able to build cars close to the minimum weight limit; from a power-to-weight point of view, therefore, chances were that the Cosworths would be outclassed.

It was easy to be sympathetic. Ferrari and Renault, with all their cumbersome and weighty turbo clobber, could just about get down to the limit, whereas such as Williams, McLaren and Brabham had no difficulty in undercutting it. Therefore they took it upon themselves to restore some semblance of equality, by matching lower weight to their lower-powered engines. This was the situation in Brazil at the start of the year, and we had a very good race.

The problem was The Rules. Rightly or wrongly, all parties had signed the Concorde Agreement, thereby accepting the FISA regulations, one of which was that the minimum weight limit was 580kgs. If the rule had been straightforwardly written, there could have been no argument, but it laid itself open to abuse, for it stipulated that this was to be the weight of the car, minus driver, but including normal lubricants and coolants - which could be topped up after the race, prior to the checking of the car's weight.

That being so, for ingenious minds it was the work of a moment to spot a loophole, and what they came up with was 'water-cooled brakes.' The car, equipped with a huge water tank, would go to the grid, run the race 30kgs under the limit, then have the tank filled afterwards so as to be over 580 for the check.

Clever stuff - if clearly against the spirit of a rule to which they had given their consent. And perhaps, if they had been slightly less holier-than-thou about it, the FOCA teams might have had more sympathy in the press. As it was, they would insult your intelligence, asserting the merits of water as a means of cooling the brakes...

Only Frank Williams came clean about the aim of the water tank, arguing its case solely on grounds of power-to-weight ratio. That was infinitely more acceptable.

Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg, in their Cosworth-powered cars, finished 1-2 at Rio, but were subsequently disqualified - and on the heels of that announcement came another, declaring that in future the cars would be weighed as they were when they came off the race track. No more adding of 'coolants', in other words.

Following the FIA announcement, the FOCA teams decided on a boycott of the next race, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. The FOCA heavyweights' argument was that routine topping up had always been allowed, a time-honoured custom, if not actually a rule. That being so, if nothing could now be added, the weight limit was effectively being increased, and that constituted a rule change. On that basis, they said, they felt justified in giving Imola a miss, for they 'needed more time to prepare cars to meet the new rules'.

Nonsense, of course. It was out of petulance, and nothing more, that they missed Imola. Ferrari scored a 1-2 there - and went on narrowly to win the Constructors' Championship that year. Of course one had some sympathy for the plight of the FOCA teams - but no one had forced them to sign the Concorde Agreement. Not much changes, really, does it?

Dear Gary,

You mention what is traditionally taken to be 'The Big Four' at Maranello, but I always feel it should be a 'Big Five', and include engine guru Paolo Martinelli, whose contribution to Ferrari's recent success has been truly immense, and is, I feel, too often overlooked and underestimated.

First of all, I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if Schumacher were to continue in F1 after the expiry of current contract, at the end of next year. Todt, we know, gave some thought to retirement 12 months or so ago, so there must be a high chance he will go through with it when his contract runs out. Brawn, for all his love of life in Italy, has often spoken of his wish eventually to return to England, and Byrne was about to retire - to Thailand - when Ferrari made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

All four, therefore, are unlikely to stay at Maranello much longer I would have thought, although that is not the case with Martinelli. Of course Maranello will have succession plans in place - but it will not be the work of a moment to replace four guys such as these, and it will take longer than that for the new people to gel together as perfectly as Schumacher, Todt, Brawn and Byrne.

I'd think it inevitable that Ferrari would stumble, as you put it, for a season or two, but the infrastructure at Maranello is truly formidable these days, and I doubt that the team would suffer for long - even if I also doubt that the heights scaled in the last three or four years will ever be reached again. It remains every leading driver's dream to go to Ferrari, but as one recently said to me, "Yes, of course I'd love to go there, once Michael has retired - but if all those guys quit at the same time, it's just not going to be the same team, is it?"

Dear Anthony,

If you'll forgive me, I think you're applying 2003 morals and ethics to something that happened nearly 40 years ago, when 'dirty driving' was still considered a sin.

The Mexican Grand Prix was the final round of the 1964 World Championship, and the three contenders for the World Championship were Graham Hill (BRM), Jim Clark (Lotus) and John Surtees (Ferrari). At the time of the coming-together between Hill and Surtees's team-mate Lorenzo Bandini, half-distance was approaching, and the pair of them were running third and fourth, behind Clark and Dan Gurney. Surtees was back in sixth.

Graham was in a tricky position, for although third place would be enough for him to clinch the championship (even if Clark were to win the race), he was under pressure from Bandini, who was thinking in terms of scoring enough points to clinch the Constructors Championship for Ferrari, in battle with BRM.

Lorenzo was a hard racer, and Graham a most difficult man to pass. Into the hairpin, the Ferrari twice took a run at the BRM, then backed off, but eventually Bandini decided he was going for it - and Hill resolutely stuck to his line. In the impact, the exhaust pipes of the BRM were folded over, with predictably dire consequences for the performance of the engine, which ultimately expired.

Bandini was entirely contrite afterwards, and Hill, for his part, never thought for a second that the collision was deliberate or, as you put it, 'convenient'. Yes, it probably cost him the World Championship, but it wasn't the same sort of stunt as Michael Schumacher was to pull on his son Damon in Adelaide 30 years later. Indeed, Graham sent Lorenzo a Christmas present that year, in the form of an LP of driving lessons! More civilized times, were they not?

As for the late stages of that race...I wasn't there, of course, but every account of the race I've ever come across has plainly stated that Bandini simply backed off, and let Surtees through to second place - and the six points he needed to win the title. John, I know, suggests that Lorenzo backed off on the last lap, not to let him by, but because he was worried by his engine's oil consumption.

Whatever, the net result was the same, and a carbon copy of what had happened six years earlier, at Casablanca, when Phil Hill unquestionably backed off at the end, and allowed Ferrari team mate Mike Hawthorn through to second place - and the six points that allowed him narrowly to beat Stirling Moss to the World Championship...

Dear David,

Thank you so much for your compliments.

First of all, I'm fortunate to be blessed with an excellent memory - for anything to do with motor racing, anyway. It probably helps that I fell in love with the sport when I was six or seven years old, and always read avidly about it, retaining most of what was important - or, at any rate, what was important to me. That memory continues, half a century later, to serve me well.

If you ask me who won, say, the 1958 Indy 500, I immediately get a mental picture of the Belond AP Special, with 'laydown' Offy engine, driven by Jimmy Bryan. Mention Le Mans '53, and at once I think of Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, sitting on the back of their C-Type Jaguar, drinking champagne. Etc., etc., etc.

As for dialogue, I seem to have a happy knack, when a given situation crops up, of remembering something very similar from the past, and an ability to recall the gist of what was said, although frequently I'll need to check back to get the precise working.

Much of this stuff comes from interviews I've conducted myself over
32 years of working in this business. 'Keep a diary,' goes the old saying, 'and one day it'll keep you.' I could curse myself now for not having done that (although for some years I have kept a rough, occasional, journal of my travels and encounters), but I do still have the tapes of pretty well every interview I've ever done, beginning with Messrs Stewart, Rodriguez and Amon, back in 1971), and I trust they will serve me well in my dotage...

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