Ask Nigel Roebuck: September 11

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: September 11



Dear Robert,

Sorry to disagree with you, but no, I don't think it would be more beneficial for Williams or McLaren to try and persuade another tyre company to come back into F1. I don't think it's likely, either.

Goodyear still manufactures tyres for NASCAR, and for other types of American racing, such as dragsters, sprint cars, midgets, etc., but is no longer involved in CART, let alone F1. It was a company extremely loyal to F1 for 30 years and more, but finally withdrew on grounds of cost, and I rather doubt that an F1 programme would be entertained again, for the same reason.

As for Pirelli, again I doubt that we will see them back in F1. For some reason, although they were extremely successful in other forms of motor sport, notably rallying, they never really got a handle on F1, and hardly ever won a race.

To be perfectly honest with you, I'd rather see all the cars on one make of tyre, be it Bridgestone or Michelin. I hate tyre wars! Why? First, because they automatically put cornering speeds way up, and that can lead to expensive technical rule changes to redress the balance, and try to keep them in check.

Second, they introduce another variable. This year Michelin, in my opinion, have done a poor job, which has greatly hampered the efforts of Williams and McLaren to get on terms with Ferrari - who have what amount to 'bespoke' tyres from Bridgestone. I'm not suggesting that Ferrari would have lost the titles if Williams and McLaren had also been on Bridgestones - the F2002 has been quantifiably the fastest and most reliable car of the season - but I do believe it would have been very much closer than it has been.



Dear Jeff,

You're right about the Can-Am cars - they made for a fantastic spectacle, and for a number of years the series was extremely successful. It was sad when it went the way of all flesh...

What we need to remember about those days - essentially from 1966 to 1973 - is that the world's top drivers were not locked into 'exclusive' F1 contracts, and were free and willing to take part in other forms of racing. By comparison with today, there was as good as no testing - and absolutely no 'PR tours' - so thus there was time enough for them to race elsewhere. There were also, of course, fewer World Championship Grands Prix than there are now.

And there was another thing, too. Back then the financial rewards in F1 were hugely less - pro rata - than they are now, and the prize money available in the Can-Am Series was extremely attractive. It was for this reason, too, that such as Lotus, Brabham and McLaren fielded cars in the Indianapolis 500, and other USAC Championship races.

As you say, the calendar was worked out so that Grands Prix did not clash with Can-Am races, and many drivers - Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon, and so on - would take part in both championships, jetting across the Atlantic constantly.

Back then it was the norm for the Grand Prix drivers also to take part in Formula 2 - they actually used to race a lot more than their contemporary counterparts. If you want an extreme example of what a crowded calendar looked like, consider that in August 1967 Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and Chris Irwin took part in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, then immediately dashed away for a 'red eye' flight to London, for all were competing next day in the F2 race at the Bank Holiday meeting at Brands Hatch!

The Brands organisers graciously allowed them a practice session in the morning, and in the afternoon Rindt won, with Stewart second. In 1967, who needed sleep?



Dear Christopher,

The $64,000 question, isn't it? From the way Frank Williams talks, you get the impression that he almost expects to lose Juan Montoya to Ferrari at some point in the future. JPM's Williams contract runs to the end of 2004 - the very time at which Schumacher's current Ferrari contract expires, and at which point most people expect him to retire.

Should a Ferrari offer come Juan's way at that point, he will need to weigh up his options very carefully. From a financial point of view, of course, it will be no contest - Ferrari have the wherewithal to pay driver retainers way beyond what any other team can offer, as evidenced by Schumacher's staggering earnings these seven years past.

Money apart, though, the choice between Ferrari and Williams may be less straightforward than seems the case at present. Schumacher is the first to say that a very considerable part of his success he owes to key members of the Ferrari team, notably Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Paolo Martinelli - indeed, he was instrumental in bringing to the team Brawn and Byrne, both of whom worked with him so successfully in the Benetton days.

If all these people were to remain at Ferrari after Schumacher's retirement, it would be very difficult for Montoya to turn down an offer from the team, but if, as most expect, most of them do not, then a move to Ferrari would look far less attractive. If, say, Brawn, Byrne and Todt were to call it a day simultaneously, it would be mighty difficult for the team - however much it might plan for such a contingency - to maintain its currently extraordinary success rate.

The thing is, we're looking at Ferrari as it is now, rather than how it might be in a couple of years' time. As of this moment, any Grand Prix driver would kill to get in one of the red cars - but it wasn't always so, by any means. To get Gerhard Berger back from McLaren, for 1993, Ferrari had to offer an incredibly high retainer, because, frankly, not too many stars were interested in going there at that time. Jean Alesi spent five seasons with the team, from 1991 to '95, and yet, with all his prodigious talent, in all that time won precisely one race.

From 1984 through to 1997, indeed, the teams for which everyone wanted to drive were, at different periods, Williams and McLaren, and had Alesi gone with his head rather than his heart, and accepted Frank's offer for 1991, who knows how many races he might have won?

Therefore, I suspect that Montoya - assuming he does receive a Ferrari offer for 2005 - will weigh things up very carefully before making a decision about his future. He loves Frank's team, of that there is no doubt, and they feel the same about him. Should Williams go into another 'golden period', it will be hard to leave, but still I suspect that, one way or another, one day we will see him at Maranello - so long, that is, as the right people are running the team.



Dear Nick,

I think you'd be hard pressed to find any drivers in history who were better in the wet than Senna and Schumacher, but there are many who may be considered in the same class.

As you say, Jackie Stewart indeed thrashed everyone in the wet at the Nurburgring (in 1968), and that day there was also a great deal of fog around the 14-mile track, too. Today it would be unthinkable to start a race in conditions like that. For the record, JYS won the race by four minutes, and was already out of his car, helmet off, chatting to Ken Tyrrell by the time the second man, Graham Hill, crossed the line! It's true that Stewart's Dunlop 'wets' were better than the Goodyears and Firestones on his rivals' cars, and true, too, that - being in the lead - he had a clear road in front of him. But four minutes...

Before the war, the greatest wet weather driver was reckoned to be Rudolf Caracciola of Mercedes, whose skills were never better seen than on the wet cobbles (!) of Berne. Think of that: 640bhp on skinny tyres on cobbles...

Since the war, you have Stirling Moss, whose genius in the wet once prompted Jack Brabham to say, "Why didn't someone tell Stirling it was raining? Oh, well, it's not as bad as being beaten by a human!"

Then there was Jacky Ickx, who won his first Grand Prix in the rain, at daunting Rouen Les Essarts, in 1968, and also, in torrential conditions, took his outdated Lotus 72 past Niki Lauda's leading Ferrari in the 1974 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch - around the outside at Paddock!

Ask me to pick out a couple of truly unforgettable days, though, and I'll go for Pedro Rodriguez, in the awesome Porsche 917, in the 1970 BOAC 1000Kms at Brands, and Gilles Villeneuve in wet qualifying for the 1979 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Pedro's performance was simply extraordinary. In absolute terms, the crowd at Brands that day - around 20,000 - was middling for a World Championship sports car race, but in light of the weather it was astonishing. Had it not been for Rodriguez, I'd have left long before the end.

As it was, Pedro made that impossible. It is easy to add layers of folklore to a day, but only rarely do you appreciate something of legend as it happens before you. That day, sodden and cold, the crowd stayed.

This owed nothing to a close race, for it was hardly that. I can speak only for myself, but that afternoon I waited simply for the pleasure of enjoying Pedro's victory.

Vic Elford led at the end of the first lap, tailed by Ickx, Jo Siffert, Chris Amon, Brabham, Henri Pescarolo and Rodriguez. Behind them, way back in the pack, a Lola T70 spun coining out of Clearways, finishing up near the start/finish line, bits of bodywork all over the road. Nowadays they would bring out the Safety Car in these circumstances, and you couldn't quarrel with them. Back then, they waved yellow flags, and hoped everyone would see them.

Pedro didn't - at least, he always claimed so, and his boss John Wyer, for one, believed him: "He would never have gone through the accident scene flat out if he'd been able to see the flag. There was so much spray from the cars in front that he simply missed it."

Whatever, next time around Rodriguez was shown a black flag, and this one he did see. A lap later the Porsche was into the pits, and while the Clerk of the Course bawled him out, Pedro impassively sat there, steely eyes straight ahead. When the lecture was over, he let in the clutch with some vim, and hurtled away down pit lane. By now he was going on a lap down on the leaders - yet by lap 20 he was on Amon's tail, past the Ferrari and into the lead.

Rodriguez's driving that afternoon beggars description. In the course of catching Amon, he had first to deal with such as Siffert, his own team mate, whom he outbraked into Paddock in a move which left everyone stupefied and shaking their heads.

I can still see those two pale blue 917s blasting through the spray down the main straight. Into Paddock Bend Siffert braked where a very brave man would brake, but Rodriguez still kept coming, and on an impossibly tight line he aimed inside the other Porsche. I will never understand how he made it by; in the dip there was the merest shimmy from the back of the car, and then it was gone, seeking out Elford and Amon. They, like Siffert, were sacrificial lambs this day, nothing more.

After that, it was really a matter of waiting out time. There was no race, as such, yet there was something hypnotic about the afternoon, the watching of one man, one car. Until mid-race, anyway. At that point Pedro came in to hand over to Leo Kinnunen, his new team mate. It seemed a good moment to seek out a cup of tea and a sandwich.

An odd fellow, Kinnunen. He had made his name in Finnish rallying, and would prove shatteringly fast at the Targa Florio, where presumably he felt in his element. But at a slippery Brands Hatch he was clearly not so, and in the pits Rodriguez began to fret. He had built up a lead so substantial there was little chance of their car being caught, but he worried that Kinnunen might stick it in the fence. After an hour he could stand no more, and asked Wyer if he could take over again.

It was done. In dry overalls now, Pedro resumed his rhythm, continued on his flawless way. Behind him, Redman crashed the other Gulf Porsche out of second place, and Amon was in and out of the pits with a recalcitrant fuel pump. Ickx, the one man who might have kept Rodriguez alert on a day like this, had stopped countless times for attention to his windscreen wipers... Ferrari electrics had struck again.

The Hulme/Elford 917, though, continued without major problem - save that of having covered five fewer laps than the Rodriguez car. At 6.45 Pedro emerged from the gloom of Clearways for the last time, and took the flag. On South Bank spectators plodded through the mud to their cars, sounded their horns in the time-honoured salute of the day.

On the rostrum Rodriguez looked untouched by his work. The black hair was immaculately swept back, as ever, and there was the faintest of smiles.

What was there about this Mexican that put him at such ease on so English an April day? Siffert, sometimes a match for him on sheer pace, had been dominated, along with everyone else.

"Finesse," said David Yorke, Wyer's team manager for so many years. "In terms of speed, there wasn't usually much between them, but you always had the impression that Seppi did the job with arm muscles flexed, while Pedro sat there resting his thumbs on the wheel. His precision and sensitivity were fantastic. A day like that was made for him."

As for Gilles at Watkins Glen, well, the conditions that Friday afternoon were as bad as ever I have seen at a race track, and he set the fastest time - 11 (eleven) seconds faster than the next man, his Ferrari team mate, Jody Scheckter! I remember talking to Jacques Laffite as Villeneuve screamed by, at 160mph or so. "He's not like the rest of us," said Jacques. "He's on a separate level..."



Dear Dave,

Prior to 1978, TV coverage of F1 was very hit-and-miss, in the sense that certain races - Monaco, Monza, etc - would always be televised, but most Grands Prix were not. Before BBC2 was launched, watching races on TV was a frustrating affair, for there would never be uninterrupted coverage. You'd get to a point where X was on the point of passing Y for the lead, and the commentator would say, 'And now it's back to Trent Bridge, where England are 42 for 7 in their second innings', or something of the kind. Used to drive me nuts...



Dear Harry,

At the moment, I'm afraid your question is simply impossible to answer - and will probably remain so until the beginning of the 2003 European season, next April. Look at this year: Williams-BMW scored a 1-2 - ahead of Schumacher's Ferrari - in the second race, at Sepang, and we all thought we were in for a hell of a competitive summer. We were somewhat wide of the mark, were we not?

The point is, at this distance, I have absolutely no idea what Williams and McLaren will run next year. Yes, BMW will have an even more powerful engine - but will it be more so than Ferrari's? In 2001, after all, BMW had a distinct power advantage, but this season Ferrari are on the same level. From what I hear, the forthcoming Williams FW25 will be a good deal more radical than the current FW24 - but will it work?

As for McLaren, a good chassis is more or less guaranteed - but will Mercedes be able to find enough horsepower to do it justice? And what of Michelin? Will they be able to put what has been a pretty disastrous season behind them, and close the gap to Bridgestone?

So many unknowns, you see. And of course one of the great benefits of having a greatly superior car, and strolling to a World Championship, as Ferrari have done this year, is that, to a great exent, you can suspend further development of it quite early, and get on with your car for the following season.

I'll be amazed if Ferrari have it so much their own way in 2003, but if I were betting now on next year's World Championship, my money would again be on Schumacher. That said, I expect both Williams-BMW and McLaren-Mercedes to threaten them a great deal more strongly, and more regularly, than they have done this season.

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