Ask Nigel Roebuck: October 23

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

Ask Nigel Roebuck: October 23

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Dear Richard,

It will depend on money. Jordan is one of several teams facing budget problems for 2003, and to a considerable degree Eddie will be obliged to base his choice of drivers on which company is prepared to pay how much for whom. It's a fact of life in F1 these days, I'm afraid, and there's not much to be done about it. Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and perhaps Renault are in a position to go simply for the best drivers available to them, but, in varying degrees, the rest don't have the luxury. With the best will in the world, how else would, say, Alex Yoong ever got a seat in F1?

Sato did indeed do a tremendous job at Suzuka. I think it's not unreasonable to assume he will have had the very best Honda could give him for this race, but even so to qualify seventh, and finish fifth, was a fine achievement - particularly when one considers all the pressures on him, as the only Japanese driver in the race.

Problem is, these were Takuma's first points in a 17-race season, and while he had often shown some pace and flair, there had been a great many accidents. Certainly, the biggest of these - when he was T-boned by Heidfeld in Austria - was in no way his fault, but the fact remains that his season will have been 'expensive' for Jordan.

Personally, I don't have any doubts that he is the best F1 driver so far to come out of Japan, but Jordan has lost his Honda deal now, and will be using Fords in the future. Will Japanese money be available to back him in a Ford-powered team?

I hope he keeps his place in F1, first because I think he's good enough (although not necessarily to become 'a star'), second because it's good that we have a Japanese driver - just as it would be if we could have an American driver. I think EJ fundamentally believes in Sato, but, as I said, he's not in a position to be able to run him out of the goodness of his heart. If Takuma should lose the drive, the most likely thing is that he would return to (still Honda-powered) BAR as test driver, a role he played in 2001.

Dear Steve,

In a word, no. While I don't doubt that Renault and Jaguar will have a better time of it in 2003, only Williams-BMW and McLaren-Mercedes are going to be in a position to challenge Ferrari. Mind you, I'm basing this statement on the premise that all the cars on the grid will be operating in the same specification! If this 'weight handicapping' idea is introduced, who knows what will happen?

Renault and Jaguar are both 'big budget' outfits (although not on the level of top three), but so they have been in 2002, which proves - yet again - that money alone will not get the job done.

Their prospects for next year? Well, Fernando Alonso joins Jarno Trulli at Renault, and as the season progresses I expect to see him get the upper hand, because I have this feeling he is one of those 'special' talents - mind you, time was when I thought that about Trulli, too, and he's rarely lived up to it. Renault's big problem, I suspect, will be their radical 111-degree V10 engine, which has never been competitive on horsepower. I gather it's to be dropped at the end of next year.

As for Jaguar, well, nothing is confirmed yet, but I understand that Eddie Irvine is out, that Mark Webber is in, and that Antonio Pizzonia may drive the other car: the problem there is that Pedro de la Rosa has a contract for 2003, and it may not be possible to replace him. All we know about the R4 is that it simply has to be better than the R3 - but then we thought that about the R3, relative to the R2, and it proved not to be the case for most of the season. There's not much wrong with the Cosworth V10, and above all, it seems to me, Jaguar desperately need a top-line designer.

Sorry to say it, but unless they're racing 100 kilos lighter than Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, I don't see either of these teams threatening to win a race next year. Hope I'm wrong.

Dear Sean,

By coincidence, I've written about this very thing in 'Fifth Column' this week. Yes, the Ferrari Indycar did run - but only at the team's Fiorano test track. It never raced. Here's how it came to be.

The story began in 1985, when Enzo Ferrari was still alive, albeit very old and frail. At the time we were in the midst of the turbo era, but coming - for 1989 - was a new Formula 1, for 3.5-litre normally-aspirated engines. That was fine with the Old Man - until it was proposed that these new generation F1 motors should be restricted to eight cylinders. That he didn't go for at all, for his plan was to build a V12. If there were to be a limit on eight cylinders, he said, he would abandon F1, and go into CART.

If it were a ruse, you'd have to say it was a mighty expensive and elaborate one. Ferrari made contact with Truesports, one of the leading CART teams of the time, who sent one of their Marches over to Maranello, where it was examined in minute detail, and its turbo Cosworth V8 put on the dyno. Gustav Brunner was hired to design the Ferrari Indycar, and the project continued through 1986. The plan was that Truesports would race the car in '87, with Bobby Rahal as the driver.

When the car, designated the type 637, appeared, it was tested at Fiorano by Michele Alboreto (then a member of the F1 team), but Rahal never actually got to drive it, for the project was dropped - as soon as Enzo knew he'd got his way on 12-cylinder engines in F1!

In point of fact, the car would almost certainly not have been competitive. Its V8 turbo engine - now re-badged as an Alfa Romeo - did ultimately make it into CART racing (with Pat Patrick's team, from 1989 to 1991), but it was around 100 horsepower down on the best engines, and not conspicuously reliable, either.

To read Nigel's fifth column get this week's AUTOSPORT, which goes on sale on Thursday, October 24, priced £2.80

Dear Mick,

One of my colleagues recently suggested that the best way to improve F1 would to be ban Germans! Perhaps, in this day and age, I should stress to New Labour, the Thought Police, and all other members of the politically correct brigade, that he was joking, not being racist, etc., etc., etc. (At least I think he was...)

We have to hope that good times are round the corner, don't we? It seems to me that in this season past several unfortunate factors came together, creating the impression that F1 was in something of a crisis.

First, overwhelmingly, the poor state of the economy worldwide, amplified by the dreadful events of September 11, certainly made its presence felt in F1 this year. The Prost team disappeared before the first race, and Arrows followed suit in late summer. Had it not been for the arrival of Toyota, we would now be down to 18 cars, and while I'm firmly in agreement with Bernie Ecclestone that in F1 quality is infinitely more important than quantity, we really can't afford to lose any more. Even some of the bigger teams plainly ain't spending like they used to do.

As well as that, of course, we've had domination by one team such as I can hardly remember in more than 30 years of covering F1. The two Ferrari drivers scored exactly half of all the points on offer in this year's World Championship - 221 out of 442.

Now, you're going to get domination sometimes. It happens, always has, always will. There have been periods when both McLaren and Williams enjoyed a clear advantage over the rest, but what made Ferrari's domination ultimately so tedious was that - unlike Ron Dennis and Frank Williams, who are pure racers to the core - Jean Todt steadfastly refused to allow his drivers to race each other, even when the World Championship was settled beyond doubt. From a PR point of view, what happened in Austria, when Rubens Barrichello was ordered to surrender a well-earned victory to Michael Schumacher on the line, was disastrous, not only for Ferrari, but also for the sport in general.

All you need to know, really, about this season is that the crowd at Monza - with a Ferrari victory as good as guaranteed - was just 60,000, the smallest anyone could remember.

I've made it clear that I don't believe in the idea of handicapping, be it by weight or whatever. This is Formula 1, not Formule Libre, and to me it should have a purity that perhaps counts for less in some other forms of motor racing.

It's true that it has become absurdly expensive, but instead of coming out with 'one engine per weekend' rules, and things of that kind, I would much prefer to see it simplified. From speaking to race fans over the years, I have no doubts that, by and large, the public couldn't really care less about technology: what they want is to see motor racing live up to its name, with order changes taking place on the track, rather than during pit stops.

How to improve it, simplify it, and make it cheaper? Well, for a start, have 'standard' ECUs. The money spent on electronic R&D doesn't bear thinking about - and none of it contributes a thing to what matters most: the enjoyment of the people who watch the sport (on TV and at the track), who buy the products of companies who sponsor it, and therefore enable F1 to exist.

What else? Hack into the downforce, hugely reduce the importance of aerodynamic grip, and go back to slicks - all of which come from one tyre company. These were essentially the suggestions made by Bernie over the weekend of Indianapolis, and I agree with them completely.

Dear Matt,

I thought Martin Brundle a really superb racing driver, but not a great one, in the Senna-Prost-Schumacher sense of the word. And...I could be wrong, but I suspect that Martin would essentially agree with that assessment.

It's true that he frequently ran Ayrton Senna very close in F3 in 1983, and sometimes plain beat him, but it's also a fact that the junior formulae are one thing, F1 quite another. Johnny Dumfries, for example, was pretty dominant in F3 at one point, yet never made any impression at all in F1. As far as Senna and Brundle were concerned, the other thing you have to remember is that in F1 Ayrton was very quickly into a competitive car, whereas Martin was not.

Certainly, his accident at Dallas in 1984, his first season in F1, when he severely damaged his feet and ankles, hardly helped his career - even now, 18 years on, the first few minutes of his day are physically painful - and I'll agree with you that much of his career seemed to be dogged by missed opportunities and bad luck. But in his time Martin had some extremely talented team-mates, notably Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, and although he occasionally had the beating of both, over the season those two had the edge on him. Certainly, though, I think Martin was worthy of winning grands prix - and a far better driver than many who have.

Brundle has always been one of my favourite people in the paddock. For one thing, he is wonderful company, and has a great sense of humour; for another, he has the ability to be self-deprecating, and can laugh at himself, a trait by no means universal among racing drivers; for a third, he genuinely loves the sport for its own sake - just look, for example, at the amount of (unpaid) time and work he has put into the BRDC, and into Silverstone.

Since retiring from F1, Martin has commentated on it for ITV, and to my mind has become one of the great sports broadcasters, informed, witty and honest. At heart, though, he continues still, I suspect, to think of himself as 'a driver who's on TV.' He tells me he's intending to go back to Le Mans in 2003, for example, and recently, after testing a fairly contemporary Ferrari F1 car, he was almost lyrical as he described the experience.

"There are times," he says, "when I go out on a circuit, on Friday, to watch the cars, and the frustration is huge! Some of the drivers...I could blow their doors off now, I know it! But there are other days, when it's an untimed session at Spa or Suzuka and it's pouring with rain. I'll be watching the monitor, and I'll think, 'I don't need that!'

"It's a great privilege, being a grand prix driver," he goes on, "and there isn't one of them who knows it - just as I didn't until I finished. OK, you work hard, you risk your life, you push your body way beyond the norm, but you're your own man, and your life's your own away from race tracks. As much as they all moan and bitch, none of them have any idea what a major shock it is when you have to get up and go to work. I certainly didn't.

"When you're a driver, you're in meetings all day long, worrying about the car. The pressure's enormous - you stare at the ceiling for half an hour while you calm down and try to get off to sleep, you're up at the crack of dawn next morning, and the weekend just goes past in a blur.

"Now, though, I can stay at the track, and socialise if I feel like it, and I admit it's nice to relax a little. Although I don't drink very much, it's great to have a couple of glasses of wine over dinner, for example, without thinking I ought to go to bed early, and all that stuff. It's another level of activity that you're not part of as a Grand Prix driver. I'm very happy with my life, all in all."

Quite right, too.

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