Ask Nigel Roebuck: September 10
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
Michael Schumacher has won four races in 2003, which is twice as many as any other driver, but you can't say that he, or anyone else, has really put a stamp on this season. I don't think the revised points system has flattered anyone in particular, but you could say that Michael has lost out to some degree, because winning a race used to be worth four points more than finishing second, and now the gap is only two.
Undoubtedly, the competitiveness of the Ferrari F2003-GA has been compromised by Bridgestone's failure to keep pace with Michelin, but Michael has been fortunate in the sense that Williams did not get its FW25 truly up to speed until Monaco, the seventh race of the year, and that McLaren has raced all season with what was originally supposed to be merely an interim car.
Schumacher, Montoya and Raikkonen have all driven superbly - but all have made mistakes. I don't doubt that Michael is still the best driver in the business, but I confess that recently he has seemed a little below par - his team mate, after all, has blown him away in qualifying at each of the last three races. Raikkonen has dominated his team-mate rather more than Schumacher and Montoya have done, but then David Coulthard has been off his game too much in 2003, most notably in qualifying.
For the sake of the sport, as much as anything else, I hope Montoya takes the title, because I think he's so good for F1, an exciting driver to watch, and also an engaging personality.
True enough, with a little more luck both Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello would still be well in the title hunt, but that's the way racing is. Ralf was superb in those back-to-back wins at midseason, and also drove a wonderfully combative comeback race in Hungary, but there have also been weekends when you wouldn't have known he was in the race. As for Rubens, I think his drive at Silverstone - where he scored his only victory - was the best I have seen this year.
There were days, and many of them, when Jacky Ickx was simply awesome in a racing car. He was a 'natural', to whom it came relatively easily, one of those rare drivers who wins a Grand Prix - in his case the French, in the rains of Rouen, in 1968 - in his first full season of F1.
This is how good Ickx was: he left Ferrari at the end of that year to join Brabham - and at the end of '69 Enzo Ferrari invited him back again! Didn't happen very often, that.
Jacky, who was always at his best at real drivers' circuits, like the 'old' Nurburgring and the 'old' Spa-Francorchamps, drove successfully for Ferrari in 1970/71/72, but the team then had a really terrible time in 1973, and at the end of that year he left to join Lotus, as team-mate to Ronnie Peterson.
It was very much Peterson's team at the time, and Jacky's legendary unwillingness to test did not endear him to Colin Chapman. By now his taste for F1 seemed to be waning, but he had one last great drive in him, at the 1974 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. It poured down, and one of my best memories is that of Ickx's Lotus 72 passing Niki Lauda's Ferrari for the lead - on the outside of Paddock Bend!
If he ceased thereafter to be much of a factor in F1, Jacky's sports car successes continued for many years afterwards. It may be hard for you to believe now, but there was a time when I anticipated a World Championship sports car race with virtually the same enthusiasm as a Grand Prix. A large number of F1 drivers also raced sports cars back then, remember, and few things have impressed me as much as the sight of, say, Pedro Rodriguez in a Porsche 917, or, for that matter, Ickx, in a Ferrari 312PB. Particularly at somewhere like Spa, in the rain.
I saw Jacky again recently, at Goodwood, and found him quite unchanged. Still charming, still modest about his achievements, still able to talk about all manner of things with knowledge and enthusiasm. If he had a fault as a driver, it was probably that, for him, racing was merely one of the good things in life. He never dedicated himself to it, in the way that, say, Jackie Stewart, did.
"Between race weekends, you know," he said, "I never used to give racing a thought."
There is depth to Ickx, and a fundamental honesty, too. Although he was a truly great racing driver, he was never World Champion, but that day at Goodwood he said it didn't bother him too much.
He said this: "I look back on my racing career with great pleasure, and...I am a survivor, what else can I say? Of course I was young in my best years in F1, and when you are young, you think nothing can happen to you - it will to someone else, maybe, but not you. And, honestly, that was how you had to think: otherwise, you could not have carried on.
"Sometimes, though, I think of those times, and wonder how it was I survived when others, more talented than I was, did not."
To my eyes, at least, the Tyrrell P34 - 'the six-wheeler,' as it was always known - was about the least attractive creation ever to appear on a race track, but then efficiency, not elegance, was uppermost in Derek Gardner's mind when he conceived the car.
Although the P34 was drawn up in 1975, the idea had come to Gardner some years earlier. When first the car appeared, the immediate assumption of most was that the primary aim of four tiny front wheels was to reduce the frontal area, in the interests of straightline speed. Not so, Gardner said.
"No, the starting point had not been the tiny front wheels. The concept really went back to the 1968 Indy Lotus turbine car, on which I was responsible for the four-wheel drive."
By the end of that year, Gardner had come up a design for a six-wheeled Indy car, with two of the four front wheels being driven, plus the two at the rear. Lotus were now gone from Indianapolis, so Derek put a proposal to Andy Granatelli, whose STP company had sponsored the turbine cars, but it came to nothing, and he simply filed the idea away.
By 1970, Gardner had gone to work for Ken Tyrrell, there to design the very first Tyrrell F1 car, 001. The following season Jackie Stewart won the World Championship in an updated car, 003, and in 1973 took it again, this time with 006.
At the end of that year, though, Stewart's team-mate, Francois Cevert, was killed at Watkins Glen, by which time JYS had already decided to retire. Gardner's new design for 1974, 007, was a neat enough car, but the genius and experience of Stewart were gone, and although Jody Scheckter won a couple of races, Tyrrell finished only third in the Constructors Championship. Derek began to give serious thought to 'the unfair advantage'.
"All the top British teams had Ford DFV engines, and Ferrari's flat-12 undoubtedly had more power. It seemed to me that really what we were looking for was another 50 horsepower, but how on earth were we going to get it? Bear in mind that I was associated with a man for whom the Ford Motor Company was the only company in the world...
"I went searching through my files, and came up with the proposal I'd sent to Granatelli. I did some calculations, and concluded that if I had a car with four small front wheels, contained within the width of the bodywork, I could reduce the amount of lift generated by normal front wheels, and that in turn would allow me to back off on the front aerodynamics. And, hey presto, the figure I came up with was the equivalent of 40-odd horsepower!
"Eventually, I showed it to Ken, who said, 'Good grief! What's this?' But actually it wasn't as difficult to sell him the idea as you might imagine. On the way back from the 1975 South African Grand Prix, I talked my way into First Class, to discuss it with Jackie Stewart. Whether it was turbulence, or something in his drink, I don't know, but he had a fit of choking! He'd never seen anything like it before..."
Having got the green light to proceed, the next step was to talk Goodyear into manufacturing tyres of this curious size, for what Gardner had in mind was nine-inch diameter front wheels. He anticipated it might not be the work of a moment to persuade competitions boss Leo Mehl to agree, but in the event Mehl raised no objections: "The only compromise I had to make was to go to 10-inch wheels, but that was all right."
More remarkable even than Goodyear's immediate agreement was that the project remained secret for so long. "In those days," Derek says, "we operated a simple principle, and it's still the most reliable: if you don't want people to know about something, don't tell them!"
Given the need to produce a test car as quickly as possible, the first P34 was very much a 'bitza', completely new from the roll-over bar forward, but standard 007 at the rear. Once running began, the team did repeated back-to-back tests at Paul Ricard with the standard four-wheel car, and found that the six-wheeler's aerodynamics were, in Gardner's words, "Fairly appalling. The car gained nothing there, but was inherently quicker in other ways, notably on turn-in."
Teething problems are inevitable with any new F1 car, and more than normal might have been expected with so radical a design as P34, but in fact Gardner was pleasantly surprised by the early tests. "They went remarkably well, actually, although there was a problem with the tyres. This was before the days of radials, of course, so if you stiffened up the carcass, in order to control the profile at high speed, you also stiffened up the sidewall - you just couldn't separate them.
"The first time I saw the car, coming down the straight at Silverstone, I was absolutely horrified, because I could see the tyres literally being sucked off the rims! As soon as the driver touched the brakes, they collapsed back down on to the rim, and although they never lost any pressure, it was a hair-raising thing to witness. Fortunately the drivers couldn't see it..."
The sheer smallness of the front wheels also made it difficult to keep the brakes cool. The temperature of the brakes was not in itself a worry; the problem lay in keeping that heat away from the fluid. "Once you got above a certain temperature, you just lost your brakes. These days, of course, you'd just pepper the whole thing, and force fluid through it, like they do with the touring car brakes, but all we could do was push more and more air through - which, of course, tended to be counter-productive on the aerodynamics. But we coped."
It was this problem which accounted for the accident of Patrick Depailler in P34's first race, the Spanish Grand Prix of 1976. "The pedal just went to the floor," he reported. "If you pump, you can get the pressure back, but I didn't have time..."
What mattered, though, was that Depailler had qualified third, and had been running third, in a car which had never turned a wheel before practice began. Accidents invariably left Patrick unmoved; even as he described this one, he was smiling, convinced that the car had boundless potential.
Scheckter was Depailler's team-mate in 1976, and Ronnie Peterson would partner him the following year, but Gardner has especially fond memories of Patrick. "He was always far and away the most committed to the concept. Patrick was an absolutely dedicated racer - to be a racing driver was the only thing he had ever wanted to do. He was wonderful to work with, occasionally a bit...mercurial, but you could forgive that. You always got 100 percent from him."
Having run only a single P34 at Jarama, Tyrrell brought a second car, for Scheckter, to Zolder. Jody finished fourth there, but it was at Monte Carlo where the cars' turn-in abilities really showed to advantage, with Scheckter and Depailler second and third, beaten only by Niki Lauda's Ferrari.
Anderstorp, only the fourth race for the P34s, went even better. Scheckter took pole position, Mario Andretti alongside him, and after the Lotus driver had retired, he led to the flag, followed in by Depailler.
"I'm starting to get used to it now," Jody said. "It turns in very well, and then you get a bit of understeer, which goes towards oversteer when you put the power down. And that's good - that's what you want."
Victory so early in its life seemed to herald a boundless future for the P34, but although it was to score plenty of seconds and thirds thereafter, it was never to win again. At Mosport Depailler fought with James Hunt throughout the race, finishing a semi-comatose second after being sprayed in the face, first by alcohol, then gasoline, when his fuel pressure gauge broke: "In the last laps I was completely drunk, driving on auto-pilot..."
At Watkins Glen it was Scheckter's turn to take on Hunt, Jody leading most of the way before being slowed by worsening understeer. And in torrential conditions at Fuji Depailler, battling with Andretti for the lead, had a tyre failure 10 laps from the flag. Often, then, it was a matter of close but no cigar.
In 1977, though, there was not so much as a whiff. By now Scheckter had departed for Wolf, and Peterson was in with Depailler. Again, Gardner says, Patrick was the more committed of the two. "I liked Ronnie as a driver, but in terms of feedback he was hopeless, frankly. He got into the car, he drove it - and that was it! His natural way was to drive around a problem, rather than try to solve it.
"Ronnie always had colossal brake pad wear - 50 percent higher than Patrick's! - and I deduced he must be using the throttle and the brakes at the same time, the old karting technique. So I instrumented the car, to prove it one way or the other, but in fact he wasn't using them together, and I never did find the reason, beyond the fact that he was simply driving so much on the brakes. Jody's pad wear was always higher than Patrick's, too, because he tended to be rougher with a car. The driving techniques of all three were completely different."
Where the P34 had been a front runner in 1976, it was virtually an also-ran in '77, and the problem, Gardner says, lay fundamentally with the front tyres. Goodyear had a monopoly by now, and although development of course continued, the tiny fronts for Tyrrell suffered somewhat. "I don't really blame Goodyear, because it was an enormous task, supplying everyone, but they tended to develop the rears and the normal fronts - and our fronts just got sort of left. So we were dealing with developed rears and static fronts, and by 1977 that was beginning to show up. The advantage of the six-wheel concept was going rapidly out of the window."
Attempting to counteract the problem, Gardner designed a wide-track front for the P34 - which necessarily increased drag, negating one of the advantages of the original design. But new, too, for 1977 was more streamlined bodywork, and quite often the car was significantly quicker than anything else through the traps.
"That winter we spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel, developing as near an all-enveloping bodyshape as possible. It worked beautifully, in terms of low drag, but unfortunately it was very heavy because it was made in fibreglass. Later on we had Kevlar bodywork, and that made quite a difference, but by then the writing was on the wall: either something had to be done about the front tyres, or we had to forget the whole thing."
In 1976, Scheckter and Depailler had finished third and fourth in the World Championship, with 49 and 39 points respectively, but the following year Patrick scored only 20, placing eighth, while Peterson's tally was a mere seven. And before the end of the season, following the Italian Grand Prix, Gardner himself had left Tyrrell.
Through that summer, though, work was in progress on one of those fascinating 'what if' projects. "I'd begun to despair," Derek says, "of getting more horsepower from the Ford, even though the Cosworth people had put away their toys for a bit, and had started to concentrate on development. A much more exciting prospect was Renault's new 1.5-litre V6 turbo, which was originally destined for a Tyrrell. When I saw the power and torque figures on the engine, I couldn't wait to get it in the car. The project was very strongly tied in with Elf, who were Tyrrell's major sponsor, of course. They were behind the whole thing.
"Anyway, the first thing was to put the engine into a six-wheel car, without interfering with the heavy work load we had with the Grand Prix season. I hired Maurice Phillippe for the job, and it was well advanced by the time I left. It was a great shame that ultimately the project fell through. I still think that if Renault hadn't had delusions of grandeur, and had just concentrated on the engine, instead of trying to do the whole car themselves, they would have had success a whole lot sooner than they did..."
I always liked Guy Ligier - you don't find many team owners offering you an armagnac at mid-afternoon! - and occasionally, as in 1979, with the JS11, his team produced remarkably effective and competitive cars. But why, you ask, didn't he have the same level of success as, say, Frank Williams?
Answer: because he didn't want it as much as Frank. In fact, with the possible exception of Ron Dennis, I can't think of anyone else in the paddock who needs success the way FW does.
As you suggest, Ligier had a pretty good budget for a long time (albeit not on the level of the very top teams), but his outfit, frankly, was never organised on the level of such as Williams or McLaren or Brabham - there was a level of emotion, even occasional chaos, in this most Gallic of teams that would be complete anathema to such as Frank and Ron. One sometimes had the impression that when they were quick they didn't really know why, and the same was true when they were not...
Forgive me, but I think that, if you believe the recent competitiveness of the Renault R23 has much to do with its wide-angle V10, you're making a mistake. Indeed, I would say that it's remarkable that the car has achieved so much in spite of its engine.
It's a fact that, after a lengthy period of questionable reliability, the engine now lasts well enough, but on horsepower it remains way down on such as the Ferrari, BMW and Toyota, and is probably some way short of most others, too.
It is, however, quite a driver-friendly engine, and is mounted in an exceptionally good chassis. Throw in the talents of Fernando Alonso and, when the mood takes him, Jarno Trulli, plus the fact that Renault has probably the best launch and traction control systems in the business, and you finish up with a highly competitive package, notwithstanding the power deficit.
The decision to dump the wide-angle motor at the end of this year, and replace it with a more conventional design, was not universally well received at Renault, and some in the engine department have left as a result. However, to me there's no doubt that Renault have taken the right decision - if you don't have the horsepower, you're never going to take on the likes of Ferrari and Williams-BMW on a regular basis. If all the circuits were like the Hungaroring or Monte Carlo, it might be a different matter, but they are not.
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Ask Nigel Roebuck: September 10
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