Ask Nigel Roebuck: November 26

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: November 26



Dear Gustavo,

I don't think you need worry. Williams and BMW have known since the end of July that Montoya had signed to drive for McLaren in 2005, and I hear tell that McLaren were hoping Frank would be so angry that he'd let Juan go immediately, and thus be able to drive for them in '04. But Frank is more savvy than that: all right, he might be losing him at the end of '04, but he wasn't about to do it a second before he had to. Quite apart from anything else, he knows the extent of JPM's talent, and wants it working for Williams as long as possible.

FW has often said that it is the constructors' championship which means most to him, because this is a reflection of every single person who works for the company, and he adds that, while of course he would like a Williams driver to win the World Championship, he really doesn't care too much which one it is.

Montoya and Ralf Schumacher have been team mates for three seasons now, during which time Juan has scored more points for the team. Although Ralf can be simply brilliant, when he's in the mood, I think Juan has become the more consistent of the two. Either man is quite capable of winning the championship, and therefore, while BMW would probably rather the German driver in the team took the title, you can be sure that Montoya will not be neglected.

This is Formula 1, after all, the top of the tree. There is far too much time, effort and money involved in operating a two-car team to 'concentrate totally' on one driver - I mean, not even Ferrari does that, in spite of the fact that it sometimes looks that way.

As for 'hiding sensitive technical information from Montoya so that McLaren may not profit from it', I think it's possible that Williams may concentrate on Schumacher and Marc Gene when it comes to late season testing of bits and pieces for 2005, but Patrick Head recently pointed out that, from the point of view of information going to another team, he would be far more concerned if it were a senior engineer, rather than a driver, who was moving on.

Just remember this, Gustavo: teams at the Williams level simply want to win. Period.



Dear Grayson,

You're right, the 'rivalry' between Jones and Reutemann was indeed a bitter affair. Throughout their first season at Williams together, 1980, things were relatively cordial, but always cool. It would hard to imagine two more disparate characters than Alan and Carlos.

In 1979 Jones's team mate had been Regazzoni, and he was not thrilled to learn that Frank had replaced Clay with Carlos. "I never wanted Reutemann" - he always pronounced it 'Royt-man' - "in the team in the first place," he said. "We'd had a great year in '79 with Clay. He won a race, scored a bundle of points, and he was totally apolitical, quite content to be number two, and good fun to be with. I really liked him. When you've got a good picture on the TV, why change it?"

Alan won the World Championship in 1980, and for '81 both he and Reutemann stayed with Williams. It was now that the problems really got started, and the ignition point came at Rio, where the team scored a 1-2. Trouble was, it was in the order of Reutemann, Jones...

The year before, Alan had had in his contract a clause making clear his number one status: if the Williams were at any time running first and second, he, Jones, had to win. It was felt at the time that this was Alan's due, that he had put in all the hard work to help bring Williams to the top level, and that it was only right he should benefit from it: he was favourite for the '80 championship, and everything should be done to help him win it.

Fine. And he duly did win it. But the same clause remained in the drivers' contracts for '81, and Frank later conceded this had been a mistake.

In Brazil, round two of the championship, it rained throughout the race, and Reutemann led Jones from the start. In the late stages they held out a pit board 'JONES-REUT', whereupon Carlos had a hard think about whether he wanted to be first or second, and decided he wanted to be first. Alan, meantime, was waiting for him to back off, allow him past. It never happened, and afterwards Jones was incensed.

"I'd like to think that when you shake hands, and sign contracts, on a cold December morning, the other guy doesn't pretend a couple of months later that it never happened. If he didn't like his contract, he shouldn't have signed it."

Reutemann was not surprised by Jones's response - indeed did not criticise him for it. "He had reason to be upset, I can't disagree with that. And it did affect our relationship afterwards. I saw the signal three laps from the end, and I knew the terms of the contract - but still I was in a dilemma.

"From the beginning of my career, I always started every race with the intention of winning it, but now I was being asked to give it away, just like that. 'If I give way,' I thought to myself, 'I stop the car here and now, in the middle of the track, and leave immediately for my farm in Argentina. Finish. Not a racing driver any more...'"

The team 'fined' Carlos for what he had done, but months later Frank Williams had grown bored with the season-long acrimony between his drivers. "All I care about is the team, and the points we earn. I don't care who scores them - why should I? Drivers are only employees, after all."

Reutemann had a more successful season than Jones in '81, and went to the last race, in Las Vegas, as favourite to beat Nelson Piquet to the World Championship. After taking a typically scintillating pole position, he inexplicably faded to nothing in the race, and finished a poor seventh. Piquet, fifth, fared little better, but did enough to win the title. The race itself was dominated by...Alan Jones.



Dear David,

It was at Oulton Park, in August 1954, that I spent my first day around Grand Prix cars, and resolved somehow to spend my life around them.

My father, who loved motor racing, took me to the Gold Cup. Already my hero was Jean Behra, and there he was, in the blue Gordini. In delight I watched him lead the first couple of laps; in despair I watched him pull off, magneto broken.

There was, however, much else to see, notably S Moss, whose Maserati 25OF had arrived only that morning, obliging him to start from the back. By lap four he was at the front, away into a race of his own.

I was eight, and knew it all. "There's Moss," I said to the kid next to me at the fence. "There's Salvadori... Parnell..." A blue Connaught went by. "There's Daddy," the kid said.

In a single day, therefore, I not only fell in love for life, but also learned the beginnings of humility. The sight and sound of Grand Prix cars - particularly that red Maserati - captivated me. And it was only a month or two, my old man said, before I forgave him for being a mere doctor.

Memory sometimes plays you false, of course, but that first Gold Cup meeting I recall as one of those days that come only a handful of times. "Give me Goodwood on a summer's day," Roy Salvadori once said, "and you can keep the rest of the world." I always felt that way about Oulton.

I'm a northerner, so it was my home circuit. We used also to go to Aintree, but I never developed the same affection for it. Where Oulton swooped through parkland, the Liverpool track was flat and soulless, its spectator areas too far from the action.

In comparison with today, I suppose, 'safety' was horribly primitive. I think now of the sand traps and Indy-style debris fences at Silverstone, and then consider how it was in the '50s. In the Gold Cup programme there was a polite reminder that, 'The earth banks around this circuit have been erected as a crash barrier for your protection. It is forbidden to stand, sit or climb on them'.

The drivers took their chances. Earth banks may have protected spectators, but they were not good things to hit. And elsewhere worse awaited. That afternoon Roy Salvadori's Maserati had its throttle stick open, and the car went into trees, which lined much of the track. It was the first racing accident I had ever seen, and it seemed impossible he could have survived. But an hour later, in the paddock, there he was, sandwich in one hand, shandy in the other. Could I have his autograph? Yes, I could. It's faded now, but legible still.

Through the '50s and '60s, I never missed a major race at Oulton. Some years there were two Fl races there, one in April, the other in September, and the images are unforgettable - Stewart twitching the BRM H16 up Clay Hill, Amon's oversteering Ferrari at Old Hall, the Surtees Honda bellowing down towards Cascades, Clark elegantly outbraking into Lodge.

I remember, too, when Jochen Rindt won the second part of the Gold Cup in 1970; how he immediately brought the Lotus 72 to a halt at Old Hall, hopped out of the car and straight into a waiting helicopter. It was the first stage of a journey back to Austria, for a guest appearance at a hillclimb the following day. As we watched him walk from the car, removing his helmet, we were watching the end of his last race.

By this time, Oulton Park's great days were essentially done, although Pedro Rodriguez memorably flung his BRM to victory on Good Friday in 1971, and the following year Niki Lauda gave notice of intent with a brilliant wet weather display in the spring Formula 2 meeting.

That September Lauda placed second to March team mate Ronnie Peterson in the Gold Cup, but by now, under the ownership of Motor Circuit Developments, Oulton was changing for the worse, with the emphasis on such as Formula 5000. Bacon sandwiches were giving way to cheap hamburgers.

Sad to say, I have been back only once in the last 35 years. One Wednesday in June of 1975 Chris Amon drove me round in the glorious Ferrari 330P4, steering on the throttle as ever. It was the perfect way to take my leave of a place where all my memories are fine ones, all my gods intact. Must go back soon and have another look, before some cretin turns it into a housing estate.

I know what you mean about Hermann Tilke's circuits. Sepang is all right, but some of the others are about as interesting as Pop Idols. That said, Tilke is, of course, designing tracks aimed at 'suiting TV', rather than challenging drivers, and he is restricted by the terrain in which the circuit is situated.

Nothing to do with Tilke, of course, but it always amazed me that M. Ricard, when he decided to build a track in southern France, chose the only piece of flat land for literally miles around. You're right: ovals apart, gradient is essential in any great race circuit.



Dear Richard,

You're right; the pairing of Montoya and Raikkonen is going to have to work very hard to warrant comparison with Fangio/Moss and Senna/Prost.

I'm interested that you think it 'great to see McLaren again signing two number one drivers'. It's not that I disagree with you, per se, as much as the fact that I like to see a real charger in every leading F1 team - and Williams are about to lose theirs to a team which already has one.

In terms of potential, JPM and Kimi obviously have it in shedloads, but it's little early to start thinking of them in terms of the two driver pairings we mentioned early - thus far, after all, they have won four Grands Prix between them. However, if both mature sensibly, and properly develop their talents, there's no reason why a Montoya/Raikkonen Pairing shouldn't go down in racing history as among the greatest ever. The ability is there, no question; it remains to be seen what they get out of it.



Dear Chris,

When I think of Graham Hill, immediately I remember that freezing night of November 29 1975. On the late evening news there was mention of a light aircraft crash - of an aeroplane 'en route from Marseille to Elstree'.

The next day the eulogies began. Hill had been one of those racing drivers whose public personality transcended the slim confines of his job. People to whom 'Monza' meant nothing had heard of Graham, knew all about the roguish expression he perfected for the TV camera, the sense of risqué humour that worked more often than not. He was, absolutely, a public figure. And now he was gone.

I worked, on and off, for the Embassy Hill team that year, and the days after the accident were harrowing. Long before I had any personal involvement in the sport, Graham Hill had been important in my life. For so long he had been intrinsic to Grand Prix racing, and many of his greatest drives I had witnessed.

If anything stuck in my mind, though, at the time of his own death, it was an interview he had given shortly after Jimmy Clark lost his life in 1968. On BBC's Sportsnight, Hill spoke at length, and it was intensely moving - the more so from a man whose television manner was traditionally so laidback. People were not accustomed to this face of Graham.

His affection for Clark came through in every word, but beyond that there was the confusion that all Jimmy's contemporaries felt: how could this have happened?

In today's blunt world, probably most people would say that 'something broke'. But Graham trod more gently: "We don't know what happened, but so far the indications are it may not have been his fault..."

A month later Mike Spence, too, was dead. He had been chosen, in the aftermath of Clark's accident, to partner Hill and Joe Leonard in the Lotus turbine cars at Indianapolis, and crashed during testing. Colin Chapman, already devastated by the loss of Clark, was overwhelmed by this new tragedy, and briefly retreated altogether from racing.

There was but one factory Lotus entered for the Spanish Grand Prix, where qualifying began only three days after Spence's accident. Graham qualified sixth, then picked off Bruce McLaren, John Surtees and Denny Hulme; when Pedro Rodriguez crashed, and then Chris Amon retired, the red-and-gold 49 was into the lead, to take as crucial a victory as any man ever scored for his team.

A fortnight later Hill won at Monaco, too, and by now Lotus people were beginning to see a point to the thing once more. Through the season he was into a fight for the title with Jackie Stewart, and in Mexico he clinched it as any World Champion would wish, with conclusive victory in the deciding race. Not even the man who lost was too unhappy about it.

Personally, I thought Graham went on racing too long, but then fans of the sport invariably react that way when they see a man being beaten by those he would once have flicked aside. Hill's attitude was, 'If I still enjoy it, why not?'

Most poignant of all, was the sight of his failure, in 1975, to qualify at Monte Carlo, where five of his Grand Prix victories had been won. We were not to know it at the time, but this had been his last appearance in an Fl car.

After his death, perhaps the eulogies were a little too bland. Certainly Hill had been a superb racing driver, brave and resilient and determined; certainly he had been a wonderful ambassador for his sport and his country; certainly he had worked strenuously for a variety of charities, had a great sense of humour, and could be patient and kind. But his charm could be switched off like a light switch. He could be crushingly rude.

Graham always knew what he wanted, and he had to fight harder than most to get it. The perpetual myth that he charmed his way to the World Championship sells him short. If his stubbornness was sometimes unattractive, it was also precisely this quality that made him the driver he was.

And you're right: I can't think of any driver today capable of being such a good ambassador for our sport.

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