Ask Nigel Roebuck: September 4

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 4

Dear Steve,

No, I haven't read Perry's book yet, but doubtless I will after the season finishes. I well remember his wasted year with Andrea Moda, and the memory that really stays with me is of him trying to negotiate Eau Rouge, of all places. To the best of my recollection, the steering virtually seized when he was in the middle of the corner - he was extremely graphic on the subject afterwards!

I note you say, 'Maybe it's a good thing the Andrea Modas didn't make it in F1' - frankly, I'd do without the 'maybe'. While I felt very sorry for Perry, and any other hapless soul cajoled into climbing aboard the wretched devices, I was well pleased when they disappeared for good. Rubbish of that kind had no business anywhere near something calling it 'Grand Prix racing'. There was not the slightest attempt to do the job properly: they were a disgrace to the sport, as simple as that, and I was absolutely delighted to see the back of them.

I take your point about some small, sometimes single-car, teams adding much to the scene over the years, and agree with you - in certain cases, anyway. If you want to talk about Rob Walker's private team, running a single car for someone like Stirling Moss or Jo Siffert, I'm with you all the way, and there was a certain gallantry about a guy like Arturo Merzario, spending his own money and building his own car, simply because he loved Grand Prix racing, and wanted to continue to be a part of it.

It's a different matter, though, when a team is involved in F1 for questionable motives, which have little to so with trying to make a go of it in motor racing. I will say no more on the subject...

Dear Raymond,

You're quite right about Patrick. He was - and is - 'a true gentleman, of the type that is missing all too much from F1 these days'. One of the most charming people, in fact, I've come across in motor racing. It's a cliche, I know, but the temptation is to say that he was too nice a bloke to get to the very top as a racing driver.

For a start, Tambay's driving manners mirrored his off-track behaviour. He was scrupulously fair, and if - in my book - that can never be a fault in a racing driver, perhaps it led to his sometimes being taken advantage of. Within a team, Patrick resolutely avoided 'polemics' - and quite often his team mates did not.

Although he later drove for both Renault and the Haas Lola team, whenever I think of Tambay, he is in a Ferrari, whom he joined in the saddest of circumstances in 1982, following the death of his great friend Gilles Villeneuve.

At Long Beach that year I talked to Gilles about Patrick, whose F1 career appeared at that time to be washed up. "It's really a shame," he said, "that Patrick has never been with a competitive team. He is a very close friend, sure, but I've always rated him very highly as a driver, and that's a fact. A lot of people go on about the impression I made in my first Grand Prix, at Silverstone in '77, but they forget now that he also was in the same position that weekend. I was not much quicker than him - and I was in a factory McLaren, where he was in a private Ensign. All he needs is a good team and a competitive car, and the sad thing is I don't think he'll ever get it now..."

Well, he did. Villeneuve was killed at Zolder in May, and by late June Tambay was in the number 27 Ferrari, at the Dutch Grand Prix. By early August he had won his first Grand Prix, at Hockenheim, this the meeting at which team leader Didier Pironi suffered the leg injuries which would end his career.

Patrick's win there did a great deal to restore Ferrari's shattered morale, but it is his win at the Imola the following year which really sticks in the mind.

Consider the circumstances. At Imola in '82 Pironi 'stole' victory from Villeneuve on the final lap, when Gilles believed they were cruising in for an easy 1-2. Incensed by his team mate's duplicity, he vowed never to speak to him again, and only a fortnight later died in the qualifying accident in Belgium.

Now, in 1983, here was Tambay, in Ferrari number 27 at Imola - and he qualified third, where Villeneuve had qualified the year before. In honour of that, fans had painted a Canadian maple leaf on the grid slot. This was much on Patrick's mind as he prepared for the start.

I felt great sympathy for him as race time neared. Enough, you might have thought, to be a Ferrari driver in Italy, without all this extra pressure and emotion.

Later in the afternoon, as the race neared its conclusion, all looked lost for Ferrari. Tambay was leading, but Riccardo Patrese's Brabham was clearly quicker. With the flag only five laps away, the Anglo-German car was through, the storybook ending gone. Within 30 seconds of the sentence, though, came the reprieve, and the joy was all the sweeter. It was not that they wanted Patrese to crash, merely that they wanted Tambay - and number 27 - to win.

Afterwards Patrick was understandably jubilant. "Cette course - c'est pour Gilles?" someone asked. "Absolument, absolument..." came the reply. Then, going into his excellent mid-Atlantic English: "After what happened to number 27 in this race last year, you can imagine how I feel..."

It was cruelly ironic that Tambay's chance with Ferrari should have come in the aftermath of Villeneuve's death, a fact he found difficult to put from his mind. Imola was a singularly personal triumph.

Dear Rob,

No, you're not alone - as a matter of fact, I agree entirely what you say about Allan McNish, and I'm pretty sure most of my colleagues in the press room would go along, too.

Allan has indeed done a solid job, relative to Mika Salo, although I wouldn't necessarily go along with your assessment of Salo as 'highly rated'. Mika is undoubtedly a good, competent, pro, and showed very well - against Eddie Irvine - in his Ferrari drives in 1999, standing in for the injured Michael Schumacher, but I can't say I've ever looked upon him as a potential topliner.

He does, though, have vastly more F1 experience than McNish, and it's the fact that's he done a 'solid job' for Toyota in his first year in F1 that impresses. That said, I haven't been surprised by his driving this year because he has bags of experience in other forms of racing - in his time with Porsche and then Audi, he was generally to be a sports car driver without peer, for example.

Sadly, I fear now he may have to go back to sports car racing, or even make a move to the IRL, because, although I hope I'm wrong, I seriously doubt that he'll find another F1 drive for 2003. There really isn't a lot left, for one thing; for another, Allan is one of those drivers who has always found work on merit, rather than because he has brought a bag of gold with him.

Dear Bruno,

Teddy Mayer was involved with McLaren right from the day Bruce founded the company, and played a central role in its development - a role which became even more important after June 1970, when Bruce was killed in a CanAm testing accident at Goodwood. Through the years of Fittipaldi, Hunt, Watson et al, Teddy was indeed the man in charge at McLaren.

In the late '70s, though, McLaren fortunes waned, and, at the instigation of Marlboro, for many years the team's primary sponsor, there was a sort of amalgamation between McLaren and Project Four Racing, a successful Formula 2 team operated by former F1 mechanic, Ron Dennis.

Originally, the idea was that Mayer and Dennis should be joint Managing Directors of the new company, McLaren International, but in practice this was never going to work, and it wasn't long before Mayer was bought out, leaving Dennis in sole command, which remains the situation to this day.

Later, Mayer was involved in the running of Carl Haas's shortlived F1 team, in 1986, but eventually he returned to the USA for good, and for many years has worked for Roger Penske. At the end of last season, Penske Racing abandoned CART for the IRL, of course, but as far as I know Teddy is still working with the team.

I got to know him fairly well during his years in F1, but he was always a fairly abrasive character, and it was never easy to build a close relationship with him. Before getting involved in racing, Teddy was a lawyer, and somehow that always came through in conversations with him: he could be extremely confrontational, and unfailingly gave the impression that he knew more about everything than anybody else...

That said, since he left F1, I get the impression he has mellowed a good deal - funny, that!. I last saw him at Milwaukee, in June 2001, and these days he seems much more relaxed than he used to be. To the best of my knowledge, he is still working for RP, despite the move from CART to the IRL.

Dear Jim,

First of all, I don't think for a moment it's the drivers who can't put on a decent race. The mentality of the grand prix driver - when he's in the car, anyway - doesn't change from era to era: he's a highly competitive creature, who wants to be quicker than all the rest, wants to pass the car in front of him. Simple as that.

Problem is, he doesn't have a lot of say in the path his sport follows. I have yet to come across a single F1 driver who wouldn't, for example, ditch the electronic 'gizmos' - traction control, above all - tomorrow, and equally I have never encountered one who didn't hugely prefer Spa-Francorchamps to a dump like the Hungaroring.

What I'm saying is that the drivers, by and large, like neither the specification of the cars they are being given to drive these days, nor the great majority of the circuits at which they have to drive them. In these politically correct days, what the powers-that-be strive for is a nice, safe, vacuum-packed, lucrative, event, in which not much happens, good or bad.

Thus, we finish up with cars and circuits which might have been conceived to make for poor racing, and I don't think I'm alone in believing that the time has come for a fundamental reappraisal of what Formula 1 is supposed to be. For so long it has prided itself on being the pinnacle of technology in motor racing - but so what, if that technology actually militates against the racing itself? Grand Prix cars, so far as I am concerned, have simply become too efficient for their own good. At a time when F1 is suffering from the current worldwide economic slump, tens of millions of dollars are being squandered on technologies which make the cars less interesting to watch. People like to see cars sliding, for Christ's Sake!

Long ago, Patrick Head said he thought this 'racing improves the breed' stuff was a lot of nonsense, that F1 could stand alone, on its own merits, as simply a sport, an entertainment, without any need to justify itself. I entirely agree with him.

For many years, of course, F1 has been very 'fashionable', a place to be seen for B- and C-list 'celebs', but the signs are that that phenomenon is very much on the wane at the moment - the public's tastes are fickle, and this happens in all activities and sports from time to time.

Having ridden the crest of a wave for so long, I think F1 has become entirely too complacent. Whenever I have dared to suggest that the so-and-so Grand Prix was a bit less than rivetting, the invariable rejoinder in the paddock was, 'Look at the TV figures!'

They're not saying that now, because the TV figures, in many countries, are not what they were - and if anything is going to get the attention of the decision makers in this sport, it is this.

Various rule changes are on the way, but so far I don't think they are the right ones. This 'one engine per weekend' thing, for example, seems to me nothing more than an artifice, a stunt, aimed at occasionally producing an unusual grid.

No, if you want to make racing better, I think you must make the cars less efficient, and put back in the hands of the drivers what were once considered their traditional skills - like gear changing and throttle control and getting a car off a grid. You must make it human again.

Well, we can all dream, can't we?

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