In the hot seat



Straight-talking, competitive and risk taking: that’s Alan Jones. And that’s just on the Chiswick High Road… The 1980 World Champion plays a straight bat to your questions on everything from Piquet to Webber

How much of an influence was your father Stan on your racing ambitions? Tony Brennan, Melbourne

He was a major influence. I grew up in an atmosphere of motorsport and ever since I can remember I had gone to races with my father to watch him compete. I often wonder how other young blokes get started, how the butcher’s son or the greengrocer’s son finds a way into the sport From an early age, I just knew I was going to be a racing driver.

Do you have any good memories from your days living in Earls Court? James Davies, Horley, Surrey

I have lots of good memories from living in England, period. I have good memories of Earls Court when I first came over and lots of bad ones too, like eating baked beans out of a can or sharing a bed. They were hard days, but bloody good ones too. We had a laugh and built good friendships. It was a struggle, but I’m glad I did it.

You and Tony Brise were young team-mates at Graham Hill’s team in 1975. Do you think Brise was good enough to win the world championship had he lived? PhiI Pyne, Cambridge

Yes, absolutely. He was very talented, an extremely gifted driver. There is no doubt in my mind that he could have gone on to be a world champion.

Did winning the world championship change your approach to racing at all? Scott Price, Canterbury, Kent

No it didn’t. I drove probably harder and was just as dedicated in 1981 as in ’80. I had some stupid little mechanical failures that let me down. I had a 20-second lead at Monaco and a 19-second lead at Hockenheim, and it was the same thing both times that let me down. I was downhearted about that, but I’m sure Frank [Williams] would agree that I drove better in ’81 than I did in ’80.

Were you ever in a position to help Carlos Reutemann in his world title bid in ’81, but chose not to because of his failure to comply with team orders in Brazil earlier in the year? Chris Hardy, Bucks

No, not really. To be honest Brazil was probably blown up out of proportion. At the end of the day I think had Frank, Patrick [Head] or Carlos come to me and said ‘look, we want some help,’ I probably would have done it. But I was never in a position to, where I was leading a race and by backing off and allowing him to pass I could help him clinch the championship. It just didn’t evolve that way.

Did you laugh out loud in the cockpit when you forced Nelson Piquet into his crash at Monaco in ’81? Nick Thomas, Leeds

Yeah, I did.

I remember you being quoted as saying ‘I’ll stop racing when I’m passed round the outside by… I’d better not say’. Not like you to be so reticent. Who was it? Steve Berning, Shepperton

I don’t know, obviously some wanker! It’s typical me at that stage to pick on some poor bastard who I didn’t think was very good.

Do you regret your F1 comebacks with Arrows in 1983 and the Beatrice Lola team in 1985-86, or in hindsight would it have been better to go out on a high with your win in Las Vegas in ’81? Matthew Knowles, York

What’s going out on a high? Do you race for other people or for yourself, because you want to see something written in a book or because you love it? I’ve always raced for me. People say ‘you had a great record’ and all that, but to me that’s nothing. When I got into motorsport, I never had a calculating manner like that I just wanted to race cars, and that is why I came back. I certainly left Williams prematurely and the other regret is not driving for Ferrari when they asked me to deputise for Didier Pironi after he was injured at Hockenheim in 1982. But that’s all hindsight. You do things at the time because it seems right.

Why did you only ever do one Champ Car race for Newman-Haas? Julia Simmons, New York

It came about because Mario Andretti had had a shunt at Laguna Seca in testing and I had signed a contract to come back to Formula One with Carl Haas for 1985 and ’86. I was over in London waiting for the Fl car to be built and Carl phoned to ask me to deputise. I was a driver in his stable and he needed someone to do the job. I did a rookie test at Firebird in Phoenix where I had to make a pitstop and accelerate away before they would let me race… It was only a one-off because I was going back into F1.

Having won the Can-Am title in 1978 with Carl Haas,why didn’t you do any more sportscar racing? Mick Jones, Birmingham

I liked sportscar racing. I enjoyed my time in Can-Am and loved driving for Carl Haas. I’ve often said that Frank Williams and Carl Haas are the two best guys I’ve driven for. I guess I was getting into that era when driving anything other than Fl wasn’t acceptable. In 1978 Frank allowed me to drive Can-Am for Carl to supplement the income, I guess. It was a bloody hard year doing Can-Am one weekend and Fl the next, but I enjoyed it

Some claim that Mark Webber is the new Alan Jones. Can you see any similarities? Bethan Tinning, West Sussex

He’s a lot more polite and diplomatically correct than me! I think he’s got the determination and nous. It remains to be seen what he can achieve, but I must say that he has impressed me, particularly over the past two years. He has utilised the machinery he has been given to the maximum and that’s all you can ask of any driver.

If you were racing now, would you be bothered by the ‘gizmos’ like traction control? Barry Smith, Horsham, West Sussex

That really wouldn’t worry me too much. A 170mph corner is still a 170mph corner. The technical gizmos are all well and good, but you still need your judgement and to be prepared to go through a corner as quickly as you possibly can. But, in all honesty, I’d probably welcome the gizmos because it would make the job a bit easier.

Have Frank Williams and Patrick Head changed much since the early 1980s? Sean Murphy, London

Well, that is the thing that never ceases to amaze me: no they haven’t. I am amazed every year at the enthusiasm, the drive and the aggression that Patrick still has towards it all. There is no way I could have maintained it for the length of time they have. Patrick still gets on the rev-limiter and Frank flies all over the world. They are as committed and competitive as when I was driving for them.

Did you mind drinking milk on the podium in the Saudia Williams days and did you then hotfoot it to the motorhome for a beer? Bill Arnold, Swansea

Let’s just say I was only on the podium for 10 minutes and the motorhome was not far away…

Is it true that you had to race with an injury after a scuffle on Chiswick High Road? Richard Roberts, Denmark Hill

Yeah, it is true. I was going down the Chiswick High Road and a bloke in a van cut me up. We had an exchange of views through the window and ultimately pulled up. What I didn’t realise was that he was about 6ft 8in with a 6ft 7in mate. So they bounced me up and down Chiswick High Road for about five minutes and as a consequence I had to go to Monza with a broken finger. Frank wasn’t terribly impressed!