Ask Nigel Roebuck May 8

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

Ask Nigel Roebuck May 8



Dear David,

There is some truth in the old adage that 'when the visor comes down, the world is shut out', and the Schumacher brothers provided good evidence of that at Imola the other weekend. However, at the end of the day racing drivers are human beings, and, as such, of course fall prey to the effect of personal matters in their lives.

Over time there have often been occasions when drivers have been affected by personal problems which - for one reason or another - were not publicised at the time, and I'm sure that to some extent this must have affected their performances.

Is enough consideration given to drivers when they're dealing with matters outside F1? By this, I presume you mean, 'Is enough allowance made?', and the answer is perhaps not. Obviously, in the case of a family tragedy, as with Michael and Ralf over the Imola weekend, every allowance is made - indeed, Jean Todt stressed that Michael's decision to race was his, and his alone - there had been no pressure upon him from Ferrari whatever, and I little doubt that Williams followed a similar course with Ralf.

For more mundane matters, however, I suspect the attitude of most, if not all, of the team owners would be along the lines of, 'I'm very sorry this has happened - but at the end of the day you're a very highly paid professional, and you've got a job to do'. And, quite honestly, I don't find that unreasonable. I can remember one particular occasion, many years ago, when a driver, completely besotted with his girl friend, was shattered when she ended their relationship, and for quite a while his driving plainly suffered. His team, though sympathetic, eventually lost patience with him, and frankly no one was too surprised.



Dear Peter,

Carlos Pace was a delightful fellow, and a racing driver of considerable natural talent and courage - as evidenced by his performance in qualifying at the 'Ring all those years ago. He had his day of days at Interlagos (now named in his honour, of course) in 1975, and, yes, you're right, he did deserve more than this one Grand Prix victory. On the other hand, I would venture to suggest that a guy like Chris Amon was a better driver than Pace by some margin - and poor Chris never even had that single GP win...

While Carlos was an extremely good F1 driver, with loads of flair, I think it fair to suggest he was less dedicated to racing than many of his contemporaries - his physical fitness, for example, frequently left something to be desired, and Grand Prix cars were much more 'physical' to drive in those days: there was no power steering, for example, and changing gear was still achieved by means of a clutch and a gear lever.

Partnered with Carlos Reutemann at Brabham in 1975 and '76, Pace was very often the quicker of the two, particularly during qualifying in the Alfa-powered cars in '76, but in part that stemmed from his willingness to drive the team's 'lightweight' qualifying car, which Reutemann wouldn't touch. Fundamentally, though, you'd have to say Reutemann was the better driver - indeed, when 'Lole' was really on it, he was as quick as anyone I have ever seen.

For 1977, Pace was joined in the Brabham-Alfa team (following Reutemann's departure to Ferrari) by Watson, but the partnership was still very much in its infancy when Carlos lost his life in a light aircraft accident in March. Although John didn't win a race that year, thanks primarily to the Brabham-Alfa's lousy reliability, he led a great many laps, and I'm sure the Pace-Watson partnership would have been a very strong one.



Dear Cameron,

Mmmm, fascinating question. First of all, I must say that I don't think for a second Ayrton would still be racing today - he would, after all, be 43 years old, and would have called time on his driving career long ago, I'm sure.

How long would he have raced? Jo Ramirez, a man extremely close to Senna, has always reckoned that he would have continued until he had won five World Championships. "I think," says Ramirez, "he would like to have equalled Fangio's record, but he had so much love and respect for him that he wouldn't have wanted to beat it."

I always thought Jo's theory made absolute sense. Certainly there was no doubt that the great Juan Manuel was was Ayrton's earthly god. Once, at Interlagos, I saw Fangio walk up behind Senna, and tap him on the shoulder. Ayrton, in the middle of a conversation, swung round, clearly annoyed; then he saw who it was, and as he put his arms around the old man, the grand seigneur, his eyes were full of tears.

Therefore, I don't believe Senna would have gone on to win 10 World
Championships. And if I don't think for a second he would be racing now, I also seriously doubt he would be relaxing on a Brazilian beach all the time. Why? Because Ayrton was such a driven individual, he would simply have to have found new challenges all the time. By the time of his death, he was already a highly successful businessman, and I'm sure that would have continued. And, as well as that, there was the Ayrton Senna Foundation, to which he was completely committed.

Had it not been the tragedy at Imola in 1994, how would Senna's career have panned out? Alain Prost, Ayrton's eternal rival, had retired at the end of 1993, but very clearly the young upstart Michael Schumacher was coming up on the rails. Here was someone, as Ramirez put it, "who was going to give Ayrton trouble - and he knew it".

However, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that, at the time of his death, Senna was still emphatically the greatest driver in the world. Of course, every driver reaches a peak at some point in his career, and this can be sustained quite a while, after which he begins to go into progressive decline. This may be virtually imperceptible to the outside world, but the driver himself knows when he is no longer quite what he was.

"I don't think we'd ever have seen Senna go into decline," says Martin Brundle, "because he'd never have let anyone see it - he had way too much pride for that. As soon as he had the first hint that maybe he wasn't quite as quick as he had been, he'd have retired on the spot - even in the middle of a season. I've got no doubts about that."

Neither have I. In every era of motor racing, the torch always gets passed eventually - willingly or not. There is always a 'greatest driver of his time', and there is always 'the next great driver'; at some point the one is on a downward trajectory, the other still going up, and eventually the lines cross. Had that point approached, in terms of Senna and Schumacher, I'm sure Ayrton would have called a halt to his career before it actually arrived.

Unquestionably, though, a classic fight between the two of them was in prospect in 1994. Given that ultimately Damon Hill, Senna's Williams team mate, ran Schumacher very close for the World Championship, I little doubt that Ayrton would have beaten him, and probably for a couple of seasons afterwards, but there really wouldn't have been much in it.

Once I talked to Bernie Ecclestone about how the 1994 season might have gone, and he rolled his eyes. "It would have been magic, wouldn't it?" he said. "It would have been magic...

"Senna had appeal across the world, because he was the best, and he
demonstrated it on many, many, occasions. Schumacher's won more races, and more championships, but Senna won a lot of races, in a lot of different conditions - and with other superstars in the same team as him. In my opinion, Schumacher has never been put to the test, in that sense..."



Dear Grayson,

Gilles loved Ferrari with a passion, but there's no doubt he'd about had enough of driving usually uncompetitive cars, and after the controversy at Imola - when Didier Pironi stole the race from him on the last lap - he told me there was certainly no way he would stay with Ferrari for 1983 if Pironi, too, were retained.

Therefore, you're probably right that he was likely to move elsewhere - although, that said, I've always believed that, in the car the 126C2 ultimately became, he could well have won the championship in '82, which might have changed his mind.

How might Villeneuve have coped with Senna? It's a fascinating question to consider, but for a start what we should bear in mind is that, by the time Ayrton really came into his own (with his move to McLaren in 1988), Gilles would already have been 38 years old, and probably not quite the force he had been.

I doubt that he would have had a problem coping with Ayrton's speed, because I'll always believe that he was as fast a racing driver as ever there has been. As far as consistency is concerned, yes, it's true Gilles had a huge number of accidents - but that was perhaps inevitable, given the fact that he usually had poor cars, and always ran at the ragged edge, trying to compensate for the inefficiency of the machinery. When the occasion demanded, and when he was controlling a race - as at Jarama in 1981 - he could be a model of consistency, in fact. He drove that entire race under severe pressure from four pursuing cars, and never faltered.

Where I think he would have suffered, by comparison with Senna, is that he was far less 'political' than Ayrton - indeed, perhaps the most apolitical driver I have ever come across. It simply wasn't Gilles's way to try to take over a team, to have it working entirely for him, whereas, as Alain Prost said to me last year, that is probably what you have to do in order to win endless races and championships these days - as Michael Schumacher has demonstrated all too conclusively.

On the track, too, Gilles would have been no match for Ayrton in terms of ruthlessness. He was hard, certainly, but always scrupulously fair, and Senna, for all his greatness, was often guilty of crossing that particular line - particularly when Prost was his rival.

All that said, I think there could have been some simply fantastic battles between Villeneuve and Senna, and the pity is that we were robbed of the opportunity of ever seeing them slug it out.



Dear Walter,

Each of the four men you mention was responsible for some outstanding
racing cars, but I think there's no doubt that Colin Chapman is remembered with particular reverence, as perhaps the greatest innovator in the history of the sport.

Now, whose car would I most like to have driven? Mauro Forghieri was responsible, among other things, for the design of the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, which I consider the most beautiful GT car ever put on this earth, but if we're talking F1 cars, then you have to consider the McLaren MP4-2 and the Ferrari 641, both of which were designed by John Barnard.

Think of Chapman's great cars, though, and it's difficult to know where to begin...the Lotus 25/33, the 49, the 72 and the 79 all come to mind, and maybe I'd pick the 79, for it was not only stunningly effective, but also extraordinarily beautiful.

That said, there are other considerations to keep in mind. I remember a conversation with Bernie Ecclestone, as he remembered his friendship with Chapman, and also his time as manager of Jochen Rindt.

"Colin was my man. I really liked him. He was good company, one of the boys. He was a good businessman, he was probably the best designer, and he was as quick as half the guys who ever drove for him. In the end he was a little bit different from all the others. As I say, he could get in the car, and drive as quick as half the guys who were doing it for a living - and he'd designed the bloody thing, as well! So he was a special guy, and you've got to miss him.

"I remember very well, at the end of '68, we had the choice for Jochen of the Goodyear deal with Brabham, or the Firestone deal with Lotus. And I said to Jochen, 'If you want to win the World Championship, you've got more chance with Lotus than with Brabham. If you want to stay alive, you've got more chance with Brabham than with Lotus.' It wasn't a bad thing to say; it was a matter of fact. And I'm not saying it now because Jochen got killed in a Lotus. That was what the pattern was, for whatever reason: people did get killed in Lotuses. Maybe Colin took things to the edge a bit..."

I, too, liked Chapman very much, and can easily see why he and Bernie got along so well - trying to argue with either was like trying to read a newspaper in a high mind, and each was always ready with a quick rejoinder.

In my early days as an F1 journalist, in 1971, I had a Lotus Elan, which I loved in every way - save its poor reliability. Although the car was only a few months old, its oil consumption was bothering me, and one day I mentioned it to Colin. Didin't faze him for a second.

"Of course it uses a lot of oil," he retorted. "What the bloody hell d'you think's lubricating the engine? What you need to worry about," he added darkly, "is an engine that doesn't use much oil..."

There wasn't much I could say, really...

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