Ask Nigel Roebuck: November 12

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: November 12

Dear Alan,

Simple answer: because I'm an idiot! Of course Jenson should be included in my - or anyone else's - list of the 20 drivers who should be in F1 in 2004. Just a mistake on my part, I'm afraid, but I'm grateful to you for pointing it out. When I was going through the teams in my head, I completely forgot BAR, for some reason. Simple as that. The pity is, with Button in, either Justin Wilson or Allan McNish have to go...

Dear Steve,

Marc is still on the F1 scene, working as a journalist and broadcaster, and a very nice bloke he remains. As a driver, you'd have to put him in the 'journeyman' class, rather than anything higher, but on his day he was very quick indeed, and - as you point out about his Rio drive in '81 - he was always outstanding in the wet.

Probably, what I remember more than anything else about Surer was his enormous bravery. Although he was never going to be a top Grand Prix driver, his courage served him very well, but when he hurt himself very seriously in a Ford rally car (versatility was always another of his strengths), his career as a professional driver was over.

Not that he is other than very quick to this day, mind you. Most years he drives his own March-BMW F2 car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and his ascents of the hill are something to see, believe me. It may only be for fun, but he drives the wheels off that March, and if you're really getting it on, the Goodwood hill is not for the faint of heart. That bravery thing again.

Dear Kevin,

One of the problems for Tracy, in terms of F1, has been that for much of his career it would not have been easy to find a car in which he could fit! Facetious as that sounds, it is nevertheless true. What we see these days is a very slimmed down version of the young Paul.

Some years ago, I recall, he had a test with Benetton at Estoril, and went well enough - but not well enough to make anyone in the team suggest he instantly leave CART, and move to Europe. That said, he certainly impressed Benetton rather more than Al Unser Jr did Williams, for whom he tested at the same sort of time.

I don't think Paul's fundamental speed has ever been in question - I've seen him many times in places such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Long Beach, and invariably been impressed by his pace and flair. But I've also, it must be said, seen him make a lot of mistakes, and F1 team owners really don't go for damaged cars...

Certainly, he always speaks his mind, and I like that about him - but then I would, because I'm a journalist! Team owners, particularly those in F1, tend to find it a rather less admirable trait, and I think Tracy's mouth would have got him into a lot of trouble, had he ever made it over here.

Another thing I like about him is that he always gives 100 percent, and knows no other way. But you have to face facts, Kevin: if Paul were ever going to be taken up by an F1 team, it would have happened 10 years ago, when he was 25.

Dear Wyman,

I started covering F1 in '71, as you say, but I was blessed in having parents who loved the sport, and therefore had been to countless races even before I left school - in fact, I was present at Silverstone in 1951, when Froilan Gonzales scored Ferrari's first World Championship victory over Alfa Romeo. Given that I was only five years old, I can't claim to remember much about it, but I did get his autograph before the race, together with those of Fangio, Ascari and Farina. I have them to this day.

Now a veteran of nine, I was also at Aintree for the 1955 British Grand Prix of which you speak, but I wasn't watching from the start/finish area, and so didn't see the famous Moss-Fangio finish. I have seen it on film, of course, and it's true that Moss pulls over to one side of the track, and looks over his shoulder for Fangio, as if leaving the way clear for him - but Stirling told me that, as he did that, he had the throttle all the way to the floor! He himself has never really known whether the great Juan Manuel allowed him to win that day, this being his home race, but when I asked Fangio about it, he was adamant that Moss had won on merit.

As you suggest, I would have given anything to witness Fangio's fantastic drive at the Nurburgring in '57, and the same is true of Moss's sensational victory, in Rob Walker's Lotus 18, over the Ferraris at Monaco in '61. I'll always be grateful that I was at Monaco in '70, and saw Jochen Rindt's amazing pursuit of Jack Brabham in the closing stages - his final lap was 2.5 seconds quicker than he had done in qualifying!

As for Jimmy at Spa...well, yes, of course you're right again. Although I went to the Spa 1000Kms - at the 'old' circuit - in 1972, I never saw an F1 race there, and will always regret it. If I had to pick one, it would be 1967: for one thing, Clark was in the 3-litre Lotus 49, rather than the earlier 1.5-litre cars (in which he won four times on the trot), and he dominated the race until the car let him down. Jackie Stewart then led for a long way in the brutish BRM H16 - this despite the fact that it was jumping out of gear, and he was having to drive one-handed, while holding the lever in with his right hand. Eventually, JYS had to give way to Dan Gurney, whose Eagle-Weslake V12 went on to score its one and only Grand Prix victory.

A lovely bloke, winning at Spa, in one of the most beautiful F1 cars ever built. I would love to have seen it.

Dear Paul,

Perceptions change, don't they? It's a bit like the creeping evil of political correctness - you're about to say something you wouldn't have thought twice about not so long ago, but then you check yourself, and decide you'd probably better not, because it's bound to offend someone...

Just as I preferred England when it was a democracy, when plain speaking was still tolerated, so also I have to say the Nurburgring - the proper one, of course - appealed to me rather more than the Hungaroring...

Even if you're not aware of it, though, your perceptions do change. When first we went to the 'new' Nurburgring in 1984, for example, we thought it was simply appalling. In part, I'll admit, this was because they'd dared to give a modern autodrome the same name as the greatest driver's circuit ever built.

Now, though, we go to the 'Nurburgring' every year, and it makes no particular impression. It's OK, we shrug, and certainly better than some - including the aforementioned Hungaroring. Bland is something to which we've become accustomed, simple as that.

When it comes to truly terrible circuits, however, two stand out in my mind. Las Vegas, which hosted two Grand Prix, in 1981 and '82, was totally artificial, situated in the car park of Caesars Palace, and marked out with concrete barriers. In my life I have never been to a race track with less atmosphere, and that was hardly surprising. Any redeeming features? Just one, as pointed out by Frank Williams: "The one good thing about this place is that if you need to go to the loo, you can pop back to your own bedroom..."

The other circuit that comes to mind at once was Aida, a track in Japan so tight and short and fiddly that it was considered unsuitable even for the local F3000 series. But the man who owned it was very rich - at least he was before the F1 world paid its two visits, in 1994 and '95 - and therefore it was suddenly a Grand Prix venue. As Mark Blundell put it, "This place makes Mallory Park look like Spa..."

Dear David,

First of all, you're on the mark about the DFV: its record of Grand Prix wins and World Championships will assuredly never be equalled, and for very good reasons, apart from the fact that it was a magnificent engine. For one thing, it's inconceivable these days that an engine would remain competitive for two or three seasons, let alone from 1967-83; for another, you have to bear in mind that pretty well every team in the paddock was using DFVs, so there was more than a high chance that the engine would be victorious at virtually every race.

Setting the DFV aside, and considering the best technical achievement in F1 for the last 30 years, there are several possibilities worthy of consideration. You could cite a couple of Colin Chapman's cars, for example, the Lotus 78 'wing car' of 1977, and the all-conquering 79 of the following year, which was the first 'ground effect' car, and made all its rivals obsolete overnight.

McLaren-Honda's achievement of 1988 was also spectacular: victory in 15 of the 16 races - and it would have been a clean sweep, had not Ayrton Senna tripped over Jean-Louis Schlesser's Williams at the chicane with only a handful of laps to the flag.

The McLaren MP4-4 was some car, but in all honesty it was only a development of John Barnard's original MP4-2, which had made its debut four years earlier. There was no technical breakthrough here: simply, McLaren built a very fine car, installed the best engine of the time (the Honda V6 turbo), prepared it superbly, and hired the two best drivers in the world - Senna and Alain Prost - to drive it. As Bernie Ecclestone said, "You could start a war with that lot!"

No, for me the best technical achievement of the last 30 years is the Williams-Renault FW14B of 1992. It took Nigel Mansell to the most comfortable of World Championships, but what says even more about its superiority over the other cars is that Riccardo Patrese, Mansell's team-mate, beat Senna to second place in the championship. Riccardo may have been a superb driver, but...

What made this car special was that it bristled with electronic systems. Over lunch in Adelaide the previous autumn, Patrick Head gave me some idea of what to expect: "At Williams we like our 'gizmos'," he smiled, but he was later to admit that a part of him - the racing purist - didn't really like the idea of electronic systems taking over some of the functions of the driver. Still, a dozen years on, they're standard equipment on a Grand Prix car, and that's all there is to it.

FW14B had traction control and so on, of course, but what distinguished it most from its rivals was its 'active' suspension. It was not the first time this had been seen - Williams had previously, and unsuccessfully, run it a few years earlier, and Lotus, too, had evolved a system (Ayrton Senna winning a couple of races with such a car), but it had the major shortcoming of being extremely heavy.

By the time of FW14B, though, Williams had perfected its active ride system, and, being the only car in the field so equipped, it simply ran rings around its opposition. Made for a pretty boring season, as a matter of fact, but in all time I've been covering F1 I think this car the most 'superior', relative to its opposition, I've seen. In that respect, last year's Ferrari F2002 runs it close, but that was a perfectly-executed conventional car, rather than one which stole a technical march on the rest.

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