Roebuck: Week two answers

First of all many thanks for the hundreds of e-mails you have sent in. Naturally I can't answer them all, so apologies for that. But here is a selection of the more interesting ones -- and keep the questions coming to autosportnews@haynet.com.

Roebuck: Week two answers

Nigel Roebuck

Dear Nigel,

I cannot resist asking you how come that in the 'politically correct' 21st century you're portrayed with a lit cigarette in the new Fifth Column heading? Is it some kind of plot with Max against the EU tobacco ban? Seriously, I don't mind, I'm just amazed that even in the corporate age it is still possible to show personal preferences in such an outward fashion. A Marlboro or a West? Thanks for your time and looking forward to reading your next column.

Martin Zustak, Galway, Ireland

Hi Martin,
Thanks for your question - a somewhat off-beat one!

No, my being photographed with a cigarette for the Fifth Column heading is not a plot with Max against the EU tobacco ban. We shot a load of pictures, and in a couple of them I just happened to be smoking, that's all. Not a Marlboro or a West, by the way...

I'm well aware that it's not a desperately intelligent thing to do, but when I started, the whole world smoked, and political correctness was mercifully decades away. Back then, we tended to feel more strongly about breaking up city centres, and things like that.

A few years ago, in Los Angeles, a policeman berated me for smoking in the street, near an office building which had a sign requesting people not to smoke in front of it. I could hardly see the cop for the dense industrial smog which envelopes LA much of the time, and gently drew this to his attention. "That's different," he growled. "That's part of nature..." There didn't seem a lot of point in pursuing the conversation.


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Dear Nigel,
I recently attended Pembrey Circuit where my 11-year-old son was racing cadet karts. Eurocars were racing on the long circuit for the inaugural Tom Pryce Memorial Trophy. My son wondered what helmet colours that he raced in and did it display the Welsh dragon? Also, what line of progression did he take to F1 and did he start in karts? All of our searches on the Web etc have revealed very little and we would be very grateful if you could answer these questions.
Kind regards, Russ and Lloyd Eveleigh


Dear Russ and Lloyd,

Nice to talk about Tom Pryce, among the most pleasant people ever to get into a racing car, and remembered fondly by everyone who knew him.

Tom was not one of those who started in karts. In fact, he went to Motor Racing Stables, the school at Brands Hatch, and there won a Formula Ford car in a competition, sponsored by the Daily Express. This was 1970, and he progressed swiftly, moving from F3 to F1 by 1974.

Pryce had huge natural ability and sublime car control. Driving for Shadow, he won the Race of Champions at Brands the following year, and also started the British Grand Prix at Silverstone from pole position. He died in a freak accident, at Kyalami in 1977, aged 27.

Throughout his career, Tom wore a white helmet, with black vertical stripes, and, yes, latterly it had the Welsh dragon on the sides. A charming bloke he was; I'm glad to hear there is a trophy in his memory.

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Dear Nigel,
I believe you've had rides as a passenger in a number of racing cars over the years, which has been your favorite and how would you react if asked to ride in the rear seat of McLaren's MP4-98T? And what machines have you driven?
Regards Jason Quant


Dear Jason,

Over the years I've been driven by a good many racing drivers, and very rarely been frightened - indeed, the last time I saw the late James Hunt, once a hell-raiser of some consequence, he was a model of decorum as we drove into Wimbledon for a hamburger. We were, mind you, in James's beloved A35 van.

As a youth, I went to the Brands Hatch racing school, drove Formula Fords and the like, and then later, as a journalist, drove machines such as a Lola T70 sports racing car. Thought I knew a bit about driving on a track, in other words. Then, in 1975, Chris Amon took me around Oulton Park in a Ferrari 330P4.

This, to me, was the most beautiful sports racing car ever built, and had won at Daytona and Monza in 1967, driven by Amon and Lorenzo Bandini. Now, eight years on, its current English owner wished to see it driven properly once more.

Amon was an artist in a car. He could steer as readily with his foot as with his hands, and Old Hall Corner was a favourite. Crammed into a passenger seat never intended for actual use, I watched as he went to work with the throttle, his hands barely moving, beyond applying just the right touch of opposite lock. Every time round, the left rear wheel would kiss the grass at the exit, and Chris would glance across, as if to say, "How was that? Was that OK?"

Yes, I would like to experience the F1 McLaren two-seater, although folk who have been in it say the major frustration is not being able to see much of what the driver is doing. In that respect, two-seat racing sports cars were better.

In 1978 the Le Mans 24 Hours was won by a turbocharged Renault A442B, driven by Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, and later that year I was invited to Paul Ricard, to be driven by Pironi.

It remains the most electrifying 'motoring' experience of my life. At first everything seemed stupefyingly fast, but after a lap or so I was accustomed to the pace, and able to concentrate on the road ahead, and how Pironi was dealing with it. There were great lunges of power, and brakes to drag the breath from you, but a pattern of the circuit took shape, and I thought the surprises were done.

The one really daunting corner at Ricard is Signes, a right-hander at the end of the back straight, and our last lap through there was altogether different from those before, with the Renault was sliding much more, and Pironi working harder, flicking the wheel this way and that.

The moment was over almost before it had begun, the car back on the straight and true. Pironi looked at me, winked, and gave one of those floppy-wristed French gestures that means something like, "That was a close one, huh?" At over 150mph, we had hit oil put down by a Renault F1 car, which was out on the circuit at the same time...

At the same track, late in '82, I drove the Renault F1 car. Actually, that's not quite the truth: we journalists were allowed to try it on the airfield, to experience the acceleration and braking. It was wet and freezing cold, but I was very impressed with the car - until I somehow contrived to spin it in a straight line! I can still remember Eddie Cheever's glee afterwards.

A few years ago, Michael Schumacher drove me around Silverstone in a road-going Escort Cosworth, and what made the experience memorable was the realisation - yet again - that ordinary mortals have no clue as to what a car can be made to do. I was reasonably familiar with Cosworths, but the day was horribly wet, and at first Michael seemed to be going into corners at an impossible speed.

It was kids' stuff for him, of course; on our last lap he simply showed off, rescuing the car from impossible angles - and doing it all with his right hand, while the left remained on the gear lever. "Did you enjoy that?" he grinned, as we came in. I nodded assent. "Well," he said, "imagine what it's like in F1 cars. When we mean it..."

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Dear Nigel,

If the British Grand Prix is hosted at Brands Hatch do you think that great corners such as Paddock Hill Bend will be 'watered down' in the interests of safety? I for one would love to see the British Grand Prix at Brands, but would hate for it to be turned in to just another sterile modern F1 circuit.
Cheers Ian Knight

Hi Ian,

I'm one of those who has doubts that the British Grand Prix will return to Brands Hatch, not least because I don't see the site - the sheer acreage available - being big enough to host a 'modern era' Grand Prix. That said, I've been wrong before.

As a circuit, pure and simple, Brands was excellent, with every kind of corner and gradient, but enormous changes would be necessary to bring it up to contemporary safety standards - indeed, the plans I have seen, outlining the revisions, suggest a track very different from the one used in 1986, the last year in which F1 cars raced at Brands.

The big problem with Paddock is the relative lack of run-off at the exit of what would be an incredibly quick corner in a modern F1 car, and unfortunately the space to extend the run-off is not available. Therefore, the profile of the corner itself would inevitably have to change. Pity, but there we are.

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Dear Nigel, How long, do you think, until the next American driver makes it into F1? Granted, it doesn't seem that there are any truly amazing proven American talents that would be interested in F1, i.e. Jeff Gordon & Tony Stewart (all of our best drivers are going NASCAR unfortunately for us open wheel fans) but surely guys like Memo Gidley, Alex Barron, & Richie Hearn are at least worth taking a look at, maybe as a test driver if nothing else. What do you think?
Jason Mulveny, Washington DC, USA

Dear Jason,

I share your regret that there is currently no one from the USA competing in F1, and I fear it may be some little time before that situation changes.

Part of the problem, as you say, is that NASCAR increasingly dominates racing in America, and it saddens me that the IRL-CART split has done so much to weaken open-wheel racing over there. Tony Stewart and, particularly, Jeff Gordon had the potential to be great single-seater drivers, but they opted instead for stock car racing, whose profile is higher, whose rewards are greater. A great shame.

Jimmy Vasser had talks with BAR when the team was being set up, but decided to stick with what he knew best. You're right that Gidley, Barron and Hearn have shown some promise in Champ cars, but that, frankly, is not going to get the attention of F1 team owners: they can find plenty of promising guys in Europe, to say nothing of the constant flow of talent from South America.

It is a fact that team owners are very sceptical about Champ cars as a breeding ground for F1. Yes, Jacques Villeneuve made the move without problem, but Michael Andretti (in '93) and Alex Zanardi (last year) fell way short of expectations when they came to F1, and this has coloured attitudes here, I'm afraid. Considering that both were hugely successful in CART, and failed to make much impression in F1, it's pretty unlikely drivers such as Gidley will attract attention.

That said, F1 is back to America now, at Indianapolis, and you may be sure that both Bernie Ecclestone and Tony George would like to see a US driver involved - if not this year, at least some time in the future.

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Hi Nigel,

What a great idea this is that we can communicate with one of the greatest authorities of our fabulous sport. I have read every copy of Autosport since you have been a contributor and enjoy your writing immensely, keep up the good work. I would be pleased to hear your opinions of the current F1 car and also what you consider to be the most effective way of changing the regulations to improve overtaking and bring back the spectacle we all crave.
Best wishes, Tim Lumley

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your compliments, and also your question.

My opinions of the current F1 cars: well, for a start, I find them unsightly. When the rule changes, calling for much narrower track and grooved tyres, were announced, Patrick Head said the cars would be ugly and ill-proportioned, and he was on the nail. I dislike the 'pinched in' look of them, as if they've been clamped in a vice, and squeezed. One of the reasons I find Champ cars so much more attractive is that their proportions remain right, in the classic sense.

If I had my way, too, the high noses of F1 cars would be banned! Aerodynamically superior they may be, but the look of racing cars is important, too, and, aesthetically, high noses are a disaster. This is not, you won't be surprised to know, a point of view I can easily sell to the designers...

As for changing the regulations to increase overtaking, everyone seems to have their own opinion. There does, though, seem to be general agreement that aerodynamics are at the core of the problem, that downforce must be seriously reduced. At one stage, in fact, Head suggested the banning of wings - but would never happen because the team owners would baulk at the loss of such an area of advertising space!

Given that a goodly amount of the total downforce - some put it at over 30% - is created by the rear diffusers, some reckon that a ban on these would be a good place to start.

Whatever else, it is plain something must be done to improve the actual racing. Max Mosley tells us that these days we should look at a Grand Prix in terms of a chess match, concentrate on the strategies, the pit stops, and so on, but most F1 fans to whom I have spoken on the subject find that ridiculous. No one is suggesting overtaking should be easy - but certainly it should be more so than at present. When a driver like Schumacher sits behind a much slower car for 30 laps (as he did at Silverstone), and talks about "waiting for the stops", there is something fundamentally awry.

Aerodynamic changes there must certainly be, so that a car is capable of following another very closely through a corner, so as to have a fighting chance of overtaking on the following straight, or into the next turn. To that end, I would also get rid of carbon brakes, and replace them with steel.

What next? Well, ban semi-automatic gearboxes. For one thing, changing gear was always supposedly part of the racing driver's art, and those who were good at it were rewarded by a gearbox which worked perfectly through to the end of a race; for another, a missed shift usually meant losing places, and at somewhere like Monaco to pressure another driver into such a mistake was traditionally your best hope of getting by him. Now it is impossible to miss a shift, and impossible, too, to over-rev.

Last, I would get rid of refuelling. Apart from being - in an era preoccupied with safety - a wholly unnecessary danger (and not merely to the drivers), it was brought back to F1, after all, only as an artificial means of achieving order changes which could not be made on the track. It has also reduced a Grand Prix to series of short sprints between pit stops, and I rather preferred it when a driver had to work for a set-up which performed well with both heavy and light fuel loads.

Realistically, though, this is all pie in the sky, Tom. For now, I think we have to concentrate on chopping into the downforce.

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Dear Nigel,

I am a regular reader of your column in Autosport, and I am always intrigued by your views. I have been browsing the web these last few days, and there are rumors circulating about Damon Hill possibly making a return to Formula 1, do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing? I ask this because I'm sure he would not like the constant rumors about his retirement coming up again if he was not competitive. Who knows, he may well have done an Alain Prost and taken a sabbatical.
Yours Sincerely Emyr Williams

Dear Emyr,

Perhaps one should never say never, but I would be astounded if Damon Hill were to return - as a driver - to F1. Throughout last season, he looked like a man who wished he were somewhere else, who simply did not want to be a Grand Prix driver any more. Too many lacklustre performances in 1999 rather tarnished the considerable reputation built up over the six preceding seasons.

When Alain Prost took a sabbatical, in 1992, he made it plain that it was just that; it was always his intention to return in '93. I don't see that happening with Damon, who made it clear he had had enough - in part, I think, because he really didn't like the current breed of F1 car.

He was, however, at both Imola and Silverstone, and I certainly don't discount his being involved in F1 in the future. Not as a driver, though.

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Dear Nigel
Who do you think are the biggest lost talents in racing?
Pekka Hacklin


Hello Pekka,

Who are the biggest lost talents in racing? I'm not sure if you're talking about drivers of today who have not, for whatever reason, had the opportunity to drive truly competitive cars - or if you're speaking of the past, of drivers who died before their full potential was realised.

If it's the latter, I would pick out Tony Brise, Tom Pryce and Stefan Bellof. Both Brise, who died in a plane crash in 1975 (together with Graham Hill and several other Hill team personnel), and Pryce, who was killed at Kyalami in 1977, were hugely gifted - unquestionably potential World Champions.

So, too, was Bellof, who lost his life in the Spa 1000Kms in 1985, when on the point of joining Ferrari. A delightful individual, he had freakish car control, and was also abnormally brave. It was this, sadly, which led to his death.

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Dear Nigel,
At first, sorry for my terrible English (I am trying to improve it reading your articles in Autosport, that I buy here in Sao Paulo, Brazil). I would like to ask you: what do you think about Luciano Burti, Jaguar's test driver? How do you rate him? Do you think he can really take Herbert's place this year, as gossip says? Thanks a lot. Regards from Brazil
Fernand Alves


Dear Fernand,

It's really a little early to say much about Luciano Burti's potential as an F1 driver.

However, what we know so far is that he did a very fine job for Stewart Racing in F3 - and that Jackie Stewart rates him very highly indeed. "Luciano," he said recently, "is the Jaguar team's official test driver, and if either Eddie Irvine or Johnny Herbert slipped on a banana skin tomorrow, I would be extremely relaxed about putting him into one of the F1 cars at a Grand Prix. He's now well enough prepared, I'm quite sure of that."

As for Burti's replacing Herbert in the team this year, however, I doubt that will happen. Not long ago, there were indeed rumours to that effect, but at Silverstone Johnny was assured that his Jaguar place was secure for 2000. Next season, however, could be a different story.

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More from Nigel Roebuck next Wednesday. Send your questions to: autosportnews@haynet.com.

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