Ask Nigel Roebuck: September 18

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: September 18

Dear Michael,

A while ago I talked to Juan Montoya about Franchitti, and he was firmly of the opinion that Dario - who tied him on points in the 1999 CART Championship - belonged in F1. He is indeed a very accomplished driver, and it's unfortunate that the only F1 test he ever had was a badly conducted, and thoroughly inconclusive, affair with Jaguar in the summer of 2000.

Sad to say, I think Franchitti's chances of ever getting into F1 are over - particularly since he has now opted to abandon CART, with its concentration on road and street circuits, to go to the ovals-only IRL.

Dear Marcello,

Time will tell. I think Felipe Massa has tremendous car control and great natural speed - but he's been off the road an awful lot in 2002, and sometimes one has the impression that he's driving over his head. I don't doubt that he has the talent to make it in F1 one day, but I do wonder if perhaps he arrived in it a year too early. As things stand, it doesn't look as if he'll find an F1 drive for next year, but I'm sure he'll be back sooner or later.

As for Frentzen, all one can say is that, despite the lack of money and testing at Arrows, he showed several times this year that he has lost none of his pace. Sauber is his natural home in F1, the team with which he started, and it will surprise me if he doesn't have comfortably the better of Nick Heidfeld in 2003.

Dear Christopher,

In the old days, before the disastrous CART/IRL split at the end of 1995, I was a tremendous enthusiast of oval racing - indeed, some of the best races I've ever seen were at tracks like Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Phoenix.

Since the split, however, we have had two mediocre series, rather than one great one. From the outset, the IRL was all ovals (although that may change a little in years to come), and increasingly CART has decided to concentrate on street and road circuits, which I think is the right way for them to go in the future.

Right now, however, with so many teams and drivers being seduced by Japanese money into the IRL, the worry is that ultimately CART may not survive at all, and that would be a tragedy from many points of view, not least that circuits like Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio would then be left without a major race each summer.

Dear Colm,

Ronnie Peterson was a hero, not only for the spectators, for also for everyone in the Formula 1 paddock. We all loved his aggressiveness on the track, his extraordinarily spectacular style, but beyond that there was also a tremendous affection for him. As well as being a great driver, he
was a good man.

"Mad Ronald," Mike Hailwood used to call him. In the Peterson era, 20 and 30 years ago, F1 may have been infinitely more dangerous than now, but it lacked the hard edge of today, and friendships between the drivers were the norm.

Peterson was never a textbook racing driver, in the Stewart sense of the word, but rather one who could make a car dance to his tune, a man of reflex and instinct. Rene Dreyfus once said of Nuvolari that understeer and oversteer were an irrelevance in his case; whatever the car's inclinations, it would do what its driver required. Ronnie was like that.

In fact, it was just as well, because he was a terrible test driver. "He was amazing in that respect," Colin Chapman said. "You could change a car quite fundamentally - and he'd still turn in the same sort of times! So you'd ask him how it felt different from before, and he'd say, 'Ummmm, slides a bit more...' Where? At the front, the back, both ends? And he'd say he wasn't really sure! Made me tear my hair out. Then, of course, he'd go and put the thing on pole position, so you couldn't really get too mad with him..."

Chapman always reckoned that Ronnie was at his best when partnered with a supreme test driver, and it was lucky that, in two spells with Lotus, his team mates were Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti. "He'd mess around in practice, while Emerson worked on his set-up, then copy his settings - and nick pole position from him! Used to madden Emerson, that, and you couldn't blame him."

Ronnie's talent was such that he could drive around any problem his car might have, and have the confidence to commit to a flat-out corner in the certainty that he could sort it all out.

"I don't think Ronnie ever had the mental application that a complete racing driver needs," said Jackie Stewart, "but I admired his ability tremendously. Any number of times, particularly in 1973, I'd follow him into a corner and think, 'Oh-oh, Ronnie, this time you've overdone it, you're gone!' But he always seemed to get it back somehow. It never surprised me that the spectators loved him - he was exciting to watch from where I was, too!"

As with Jochen Rindt or Gilles Villeneuve, Peterson was a driver who made you seek out a particular corner for the privilege of watching him through it. In all my years of watching F1 drivers, I have never seen anything better than Ronnie's Lotus 72 through Silverstone's original Woodcote Corner.

So what was my opinion of him? One of the greatest chargers of all time, as you say, but also a lovely bloke, a loyal team member, a man of complete integrity.

Was Mario Andretti a worthy World Champion in 1978? Absolutely - and none would have agreed more wholeheartedly than Peterson. For one thing, it was Mario who brought back Lotus back from the doldrums. In 1977 he won more Grands Prix than any other driver, but poor reliability kept him from winning the title, and when Ronnie rejoined the team, for 1978, it was on the understanding, from Colin Chapman, that this was to be Andretti's year.

The other thing, of course, was that - as Ronnie freely acknowledged - the Lotus 79 would not have been the car it became without Mario's supreme skills as a test driver. So, yes, there's no doubt in my mind: undoubtedly he deserved the World Championship in 1978.

Dear James,

I haven't really seen enough of Bruno Junqueira to be able to offer a worthwhile opinion of his ability, but I confess I'm surprised that Bill Pappas would compare his natural talent with that of Juan Montoya. When JPM joined Ganassi Racing, in 1999, he immediately took the CART scene by storm, winning the championship in his first year there, and doing it, let's be honest about this, when CART was in rather stronger shape than it has been in the last year or so.

Overall, Junqueira has done a very good job for Ganassi these last couple of seasons, but there's been no sign of his dominating CART, as Montoya instantly did. That said, yes, I suppose it is surprising that Toyota have not chosen to give him an F1 test, as with da Matta (who has now signed for 2003, I understand) and Castroneves.

When Junqueira and Jenson Button were up for the second Williams seat in 2000, Patrick Head said that, in the tests, there was as good as nothing to choose between them, so there is some sort of yardstick for you. As it was, Jenson got the nod, and Bruno went off to CART. As we have seen over the years, very rarely does a driver get the opportunity to back from CART to F1, unless, as with Montoya, he has merely been sent there for a couple of years (already under contract to an F1 team, in this case Williams) until a seat becomes available.

I'm sure Junqueira is easily good enough to be in the F1 of today; whether or not he'll ever get the chance to show it is a different matter.

Dear Jim,

No, I wasn't at all surprised by the tifosi's response to the Ferrari 1-2 on Sunday, frankly. I've been to 30-odd Italian Grands Prix, and not too many of them have been won by the home side. Whenever a Ferrari wins at Monza, they go nuts, and they always will.

It's fact that they admire Michael Schumacher more than they love him, and that, after all his years with Ferrari, is not going to change now; they have more affection for Rubens Barrichello - and he, after all, won the race. No, for the tifosi there can be nothing better than a Ferrari 1-2 at Monza.

What did surprise me was the size of the crowd - just 60,000 - which was apparently the lowest attendance at the Italian Grand Prix for more than 30 years. In fact, I can never remember Monza so quiet and peaceful!

Prices were up this year. For the first time it was not possible to buy a grandstand seat for Sunday only - the ticket was for Saturday and Sunday, and came out at 500 Euros (around £330). As one of my Italian colleagues pointed out, that's around the same price as a week's package holiday in the sun.

As well as that, there's no doubt that even the Italians have got fed up with the lack of opposition to their beloved Ferraris this year - they like to see them win, yes, but prefer it when they have had to battle for it. TV viewing figures in Italy are sharply down this year.

All that said, when they're there, on the spot, and they see the red cars come in 1-2, the tifosi are always going to climb the fences, and swarm on to the track afterwards, because that's the way they are!

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