Nigel Roebuck

– Why qualifying will be key for the world title
– Watkins Glen, the true home of the US GP

As I write, three of the 19 rounds of the 2010 World Championship remain, and Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali suggests that qualifying will play a pivotal role in deciding which of five drivers will end up with the title.

This is not, it must be said, in itself a ground-breaking declaration. The long overdue ban on refuelling (and consequently greater emphasis on tyre wear) has done much to improve Grand Prix racing — one could weep for all those years lost to the numbing sprint-stop-sprint syndrome — and we have had unquestionably the most exciting season in nearly two decades, but still Formula 1‘s abiding problem — ‘dirty air’ — remains. Some drivers, notably Lewis Hamilton, are rather more adventurous than others, but it is not easy to overtake a slower car, and near-impossible — unless the leading driver makes a mistake — to pass one of similar performance.

Look at Sepang earlier this year. Webber qualified on pole position, with Red Bull team-mate Vettel next to him: at the start Mark got away well, but into the first right-hand corner he moved left to give himself the ideal line, giving Sebastian room to sneak by. Game over: an hour and 40 minutes later they went over the line in that order. If Webber hadn’t left Vettel that momentary opportunity, it would have been he who took the flag.

It was this scenario that led to the ‘team orders’ controversy at Hockenheim. At the start pole man Vettel chopped Fernando Alonso so abruptly as to delay both of them, and Felipe Massa was able to snatch the lead. Once everything had settled down the Ferraris were running 1-2, but not in the order suggested by qualifying — or, for that matter, desired by the management. Alonso — Ferrari’s only hope in the World Championship — was behind Massa, but unable to pass him. Thus the radio message to Felipe: “Fernando is faster than you — have you understood…?”

(The thought occurred, in the early laps of the Japanese Grand Prix, as Button (on hard Bridgestones) ran ahead of Hamilton (on soft), that McLaren may have been tempted to make a similar remark to Jenson. Mercedes, meantime, tried to be subtle about it: “Michael, there’s no team orders — but Nico knows to be sensible if you make a move… ” )

In Australia Alonso, after being nudged into a spin at the first corner, was trapped behind Massa for much of the race — and finished behind him, too, fourth to Felipe’s third. On that occasion Ferrari desisted from requesting Massa to move over, something perhaps now regretted as Alonso fights for the championship.

Domenicali is right to emphasise the importance of qualifying in these decisive races to come. In Singapore, after all, Alonso ‘stole’ pole position from Vettel, and went on to steal the race from him, too. Dominant throughout practice, Sebastian faltered on his final qualifying lap — and that also cost him the race. Had he beaten Fernando to pole position, he would — without another mistake, that is — have won, and ahead of the Korean GP been seven points closer to Webber in the championship.

Whether or not Alonso can duplicate his Singapore qualifying performance in the concluding Grands Prix remains to be seen, but on paper the odds lie solidly with the gentlemen of Red Bull. The RB6 has been quantifiably the quickest car of the season, starting from pole in all but three of the Grands Prix, and the average qualifying positions of Vettel (2.1) and Webber (2.4) contrast starkly with those of the other championship contenders: Hamilton (5.2), Alonso (6.3) and Jenson Button (6.9). “I ran just as fast as I had to,” said Vettel after the Japanese Grand Prix, and you could believe him. He and Webber had plainly cruised it.

In absolute terms, you might argue that the new 25-18-15 World Championship point scoring system (introduced this year) has changed little. Following the Japanese Grand Prix, Webber led the standings, with 220 points, followed by Vettel and Alonso (206), Hamilton (192) and Jenson Button (189). Were we still operating on the old 10-8-6 scale, the order would be virtually the same: Webber (88), leading from Vettel (84), Alonso (83), Hamilton (79) and Button (76).

If the revised scoring system has changed little in terms of the order, however, it does have the merit of putting a greater premium on winning, and somehow, too, the bigger numbers have given a fresh impetus to the World Championship.

I have always thought that in a perfect world the title should finish up in the hands of the driver who has won the most Grands Prix that season. As a kid I was appalled in 1958, when Stirling Moss (with four victories) and Tony Brooks (with three) were beaten to the title by Mike Hawthorn (who won only at Reims), and since then the World Champion has frequently been out-scored on race victories.

That said, I don’t believe that this should be the sole criterion in deciding the title. I may instinctively dislike a season-long tactic of ‘driving for points’, but it seems to me that consistency should have some worth. Not often, but sometimes, after all, a driver has won the World Championship in other than the best car — one thinks immediately of Alain Prost in 1986 — and on those occasions it is just reward for a man who has routinely got the very most out of the equipment available to him.

In ’86 Prost’s McLaren-TAG (Porsche) was very much outgunned — to the tune of 150 horsepower — by the Williams-Hondas of Mansell and Piquet, and, as Patrick Head pointed out, that power advantage enabled Nigel and Nelson to run significantly more downforce than Alain could contemplate.

No one more intelligent than Prost ever drove a racing car, however. Not only the best driver of that time, he was also supreme — in the pre-telemetry era — in the art of set-up, in going to the grid with a car as perfect for his needs as could be achieved. As Steve Nichols, who worked with Alain at both McLaren and Ferrari, said, “The really great drivers don’t do it on talent alone — they also work harder…”

Mansell liked to deride Prost as “more of a chauffeur, who likes the car to do the work”, but Alain, far from being insulted, took it as a compliment: “Of course I like the car to do the work!” To him it was a matter of common sense: if the car were spot-on, it would require less work from the driver, which in turn kept him fresher through a race, and with more time and opportunity to think.

It also reduced the likelihood of mistakes — and was ever there a Grand Prix driver who made fewer than Prost? I remember once watching a test session at Donington with Eddie Cheever, whose Arrows had blown up. “Look at that!” Cheever shouted, pointing into the distance. “Prost spun!” Then, after a suitable pause, “Oh, what the hell, he’ll probably do it again in three or four years…”

In a season like 1986, Prost was never going to be the driver who won more races than anyone else: his car simply didn’t allow it. At a place of finesse like Monaco he simply drove away from everyone, but more usually he could only do a perfect job with the equipment he had, and hope to be near the sharp end when the race ended. He hit a wall during practice at Detroit, I remember, and the shock in the pits was tangible when his McLaren, dangling from a breakdown truck, was brought back.

It was his only mistake of the season, which accounted in part for his being in championship contention at the last race. “We didn’t have the best car that year,” John Barnard said, “but we did have the best driver — and it was only right that he won the championship.”

Consistency of that kind — at a very high level — should be worth a lot, as far as I’m concerned, but recently Bernie Ecclestone has again stated his wish to settle the World Championship by means of a medals system: gold for a win, silver for second, bronze for third. At the end of a season he with the most gold medals would be named World Champion, and only in the event of a tie would the silvers and bronzes come into the equation.

Superficially, I suppose, medals around necks would add an ingredient to the podium ceremony, but I can otherwise see no merit in the idea, and know of no one in the paddock who feels differently. Mind you, Stirling would have been World Champion in ’58…

I like to think of this as one of Bernie’s little eccentricities, and doubt that his idea will be adopted, for Jean Todt, after all, so far shows no signs of being another ‘rubber stamp’ FIA President. Ecclestone claims credit for the current ‘drop out’ qualifying system, and right well that has turned out — qualifying is now an event in itself, and few would dispute that it generates excitement.

That said, there are loopier ideas around. Some time ago the highly regarded Tony Fernandes came out with the idea that blue flags, advising drivers of slower cars that the front runners are about to descend on them, be banned. Given that Lotus will run Renault engines and Red Bull technology in 2011, one wonders if Fernandes might one day have cause to rethink his suggestion — which has now also been championed by one Richard Branson.

It’s a fact that, in later days, when the Tyrrell team was no longer the force it had been, the lamented Ken would routinely instruct his drivers that they should get on with their own race, and not move over for faster cars. Over lunch at the Barley Mow in East Horsley, once a noted watering-hole for racing folk, I one day took Tyrrell to task about this. Would he have had similar enthusiasm for this policy when such as Stewart and Cevert and Scheckter were front runners?

I braced myself for one of Ken’s fabled ‘froth jobs’, but one of the many endearing things about him was that he could always laugh at himself: “Something you must learn, Nigel, is that you have to adapt to changing circumstances…” It’s no wonder we miss him still.

We have had this year three teams new to F1, and to no one’s great surprise they have struggled. At Bahrain, the opening race, their fastest representative — Timo Glock’s Virgin — was 5.845sec away from pole position; at the most recent race, Suzuka, Jarno Trulli’s Lotus — quickest of the new intake — was 4.561sec away. In F1 terms, light years.

The new teams, operating on budgets minuscule compared with the McLarens and Ferraris, have had a savage baptism in F1, and all credit to them for braving it out, but the fact remains that on occasion some of their number have qualified less quickly than the front runners in the supporting GP2 race. As we have seen on a number of occasions, lapping them — even when the driver, aware of the blue flags, is trying to cooperate — is not always the work of a moment. In such circumstances, indeed, Alonso lost second place to Button in Montreal. To suggest that the task of coping with backmarkers be rendered more difficult still — by the removal of blue flags — strikes me as absurd. Perhaps, as a final flourish, we might throw in Jacques Villeneuve’s eccentric notion that mirrors be banned in F1.

Not that the Red Bull drivers had any real need of them at Suzuka. Before the race a point of interest was that Button had qualified — and qualified sixth — on the harder of Bridgestone’s two compounds, the only front runner to do so. After countless hours of monsoon weather on the Saturday, qualifying had been postponed until Sunday morning, and now of course the track was completely ‘green’. Before the race, the teams were forecasting that the softer ‘option’ tyre would last no more than a dozen laps, which meant that nine of the top 10 would be in for an early stop, while Button could stay out, make a late stop for the soft Bridgestones — which would be new, and now running on a track well `rubbered in’, of course. On the face of it, Jenson could be in the pound seats.

In the end, though, the tactic came to nought. Two accidents at the start, one involving Petrov and Hulkenberg, the other Massa and Liuzzi, brought out the safety car, which came in only at the end of lap six, having bought the leaders more time on their soft tyres. Not until lap 22 did they start coming in, and although Button now obviously found himself in the lead, he wasn’t able to build up enough of a cushion. Once he had made his stop, and put on soft tyres, he was indeed very quick, but one wondered why McLaren hadn’t brought him in earlier.

During the safety car period — mercifully — Robert Kubica’s Renault shed its right rear wheel, and that robbed the Japanese Grand Prix of an intriguing element, for Kubica had qualified fourth, ahead of Alonso, and would surely have played a major role in the race. The only driver outside ‘the big five’ to invade their space at Suzuka, Robert’s contribution to Renault this year has been profound. After all the tribulations of 2009 — the coming to light of the Piquet/Singapore scandal, the enforced departure of Flavio Briatore, the looming loss of Alonso to Ferrari — Renault’s position looked dire this time last year, and there were suggestions that the company might join BMW and Toyota in the exit queue. In the end, after selling off a major chunk of the team to private interests, Renault kept its name in F1, and it was their good fortune that Kubica — a free agent following BMW’s departure — was available.

Recently Kimi Raikkonen, who has lost his Red Bull Citroen drive in the World Rally Championship, let it be known that he might be interested in a return to F1 with Renault — but then became angry when this was revealed, suggesting that Renault had been ‘using his name’, and he would not, under any circumstances, drive for them in 2011.

This all sounded a little bit like grandstanding. Raikkonen, let’s face it, was hardly the hottest property in F1 a year ago, when Ferrari terminated his contract 12 months early so as to bring in Alonso, and after a year in the WRC — predictably spectacular, but lacking in results — there seemed little reason to suppose Renault would bite his hand off. Team principal Eric Boullier said the company was flattered by Kimi’s interest, but for the moment could make no decision about the driver of the second car. The number one driver was set, and that was obviously what mattered most. I doubt there is a better driver than Kubica in the world.


It was with sadness that I recently noted the absence of Watkins Glen from the 2011 IndyCar Championship schedule. There remains the NASCAR race, won this year by Juan Pablo Montoya, but from now on ‘The Glen’ will be without a serious single-seater race, and that can’t be right.

As I mentioned last month, my favourite point in the season is that glorious time when Spa is followed by Monza and the Goodwood Revival, and of course it doesn’t hurt that autumn is the season I have always loved best. At this time of the year Watkins Glen often comes to my mind, for it used to be about now that we would set off for what was traditionally the last Grand Prix of the season.

For me it had a magical quality, the Glen, and if ever Formula 1 had a spiritual home in the USA, this was surely it. Upstate New York in the fall… Long before I went there, I had heard and read all about the leaves of red and burnished gold, but no words can do them justice. More often than not, the weather was ideal – cool and crisp and bright – and into this mix you added a Grand Prix on a great circuit.

As well as that, of course, there was always at the Glen an ‘end of term’ feeling, and even if the World Championship were still up for grabs, the ambience of the weekend was unusually laidback. All the teams were housed together in the Kendall Tech Center, a huge building in the paddock, and over the weekend they would flog off jackets and shirts now redundant at season’s end.

I was among several journalists who wrote articles for the race programme, and on the Sunday evening, when the Grand Prix was all done, we’d go along to the track office, and get paid – in greenbacks – from the day’s takings. All very informal and agreeable. Then, after the Glen weekend, I’d go to Manhattan for a few days and put the dollars back into the US economy.

I’ll admit it stunned me to realise the other day that 30 years have gone by since I was last at the Glen. Could it be? It could. After the 1980 race, we never went back there. In ’81 it was instead to Las Vegas, and that began an endless period in which F1 wandered rootlessly around America, hoping for another permanent home, never finding one. The move from Watkins Glen to Vegas, it has always seemed to me, was the start of the ‘doesn’t matter where it is as long as the money’s right’ World Championship.

The crowd at the Glen was always a knowledgeable one. Grand Prix racing had been there since 1961 (following unsuccessful flirtations with Sebring and Riverside), and it was the fans’ preferred form of motor sport. They knew about the teams and drivers, and they had their heroes. I remember once being in a local store, buying cigarettes, when Jean-Pierre Jarier walked in. At once the shopkeeper recognised him, and requested an autograph.

You didn’t get that in Vegas. In 1981, the year of the first Caesars Palace Grand Prix, as I queued to check in at the MGM Grand, the man behind me grumpily asked what all the fuss was about, why all these foreigners were in town. “It’s the last round of the Formula 1 World Championship,” I said. “Jesus,” he groused, “I hate race cars – I wouldn’t care even it was the American Championship…”

A certain philosophical discrepancy between the two venues, you see. We had left a place everyone loved for a place pretty well everyone detested. Brabham’s Gordon Murray, I remember, spent most of that first Vegas weekend in his (darkened) hotel room, and no one blamed him. After recently witnessing F1 at Monza, this was like Sassicaia in a gilded beaker.

Whether or not Murray was staying at Caesars Palace I can’t recall, but probably he was, in which case he would of course have been able to peek out between the curtains and watch the action, for the race track – at which the destiny of the World Championship, no less, was to be decided – was in the hotel’s car park, a novel twist all of its own.

The move from Watkins Glen to Las Vegas, then, swung a lamp over the path Grand Prix racing would increasingly follow, and in more ways than one. Criticism, for example, was absolutely not to be tolerated: when Jacques Laffite, interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport, said he thought the track unsuitable for F1, Caesars Palace announced a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the journal.

Still, out of the tackiness came at least some good for me that weekend. Vegas lives or dies on gambling, and, F1 being new here, they didn’t know much about motor racing odds. After perusing the board at the Barbary Coast Casino for a little time, and rejecting such as Peron, Grabbiani, Munsell and Cheevers, I put a hundred bucks on Alan Jones at 4/1. On race day he duly dominated, so my weekend wasn’t a total loss. Come to think of it, I also went one night to a small club, where the attraction was none other than Tina Turner, lately separated from Ike, and rebuilding her career. There can’t have been 50 people in the place.

I didn’t see Tina again until 1993, when she starred in the post-race concert at Adelaide, now watched by tens of thousands as she sang ‘Simply The Best’ to Ayrton Senna, who joined her on stage after what would be the last Grand Prix victory of his life.

Of the two races in Vegas, in 1981 and ’82, I confess to remembering rather little. Jones, as I said, won the first consummately, on a day when a perilously unfit Nelson Piquet – almost comatose by the end – finished fifth, which was enough to beat Carlos Reutemann, eighth, to the World Championship. Reutemann had easily beaten Jones, his Williams team-mate, to the pole, and his drive that day – beyond lacklustre – remains the most unfathomable I have ever seen. By any standards, Carlos was a complex character, but in Vegas it was as if he had abruptly decided on race day that he did not want the title.

Earlier this year Reutemann’s inexplicable performance came up in conversation with Mario Andretti, and maybe he shed some new light on it. “In ’81,” Mario said, “I never thought Piquet won the World Championship – I thought Carlos lost it. Threw it away. The night before the race I remember getting a bit of a work-out with a physio, and the guy had just done Carlos – but he didn’t know who he was. He said to me, ‘Jesus, that guy was so uptight – his back muscles were solid!’ And the next day he didn’t drive – just didn’t drive. Handed the championship over…

“You know, Enzo Ferrari once made a comment to me about Reutemann. He said, ‘He’s a tormented individual’, and he was right, actually – Carlos was tormented. He was my team-mate at Lotus in ’79. I remember staying in Northampton for the British Grand Prix, and it was the night before the race. I was by myself, and I hate to go to dinner on my own, so I called Carlos and suggested we eat together. And he wouldn’t do it – he just would not do it. We could never get to socialising together at all, and I have no idea why. I always liked Carlos, but he was so weird in some ways, so intense. Whenever I saw him, I’d think, ‘Jeez, lighten up…’”

A year on, Keke Rosberg clinched the World Championship in Vegas, and there were no such problems with him. As so often that year, Prost led most of the race, then slowed with Renault trouble, and was reeled in by Tyrrell’s Michele Alboreto, who took the flag, accepted the trophy from Diana Ross, and became the eleventh driver to win a Grand Prix in 1982.

On the podium, too, Rosberg celebrated his World Championship, dealing readily with an over-effusive interviewer. Had Kay-Kay found the track different at all this year? Yes, he said, he thought it much better. And why was that, Kay-Kay? “Well, since last year we’ve been to Detroit…”

And so we had. This was, as I said, the period in which F1 scoured the USA for places which might be interested in F1, and came up constantly short. And all the while the Glen just sat there, willing Bernie to go back.

In part it fell from grace with the powers-that-be because the area was hardly suffused with the sort of hospitality increasingly required by F1’s new aristocracy: the sponsors. It was a fact that not all the restaurants were memorable. As I perused a menu one evening, the voice of Rob Walker rang out from the other side of the room: “Nigel, don’t have the fish, I beg of you…”

No one loved Watkins Glen more than Rob, however, and he found the move to Las Vegas hard to take. “Did you know,” he said in his inimitable way, “that on the ceiling of every room at Caesars Palace there’s a huge mirror? Presumably to allow you to shave in bed…”

If the hotel’s car park offered little in the way of challenge to drivers, the Glen was very different, a traditional open road circuit, quite unforgiving, up and down, with every kind of corner. And it had a way, too, of coming up with the unexpected. At the first Grand Prix there, in 1961, for example, Innes Ireland scored the first victory for Team Lotus. Five years later the team was successful again, this time with Jim Clark: nothing very remarkable about that, you might say – save that Clark’s Lotus 43 was powered by the hideously complex and unreliable BRM H16, and this was the engine’s one and only victory. In 1970 Emerson Fittipaldi and Reine Wisell, F1 rookies both, finished first and third for Lotus, just a month after the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza. A year earlier, at the Glen, Rindt had won his first Grand Prix.

My first visit to the track came a year later, and so I saw François Cevert take his only Grand Prix win. Two years later, during qualifying at the Glen, Cevert was killed in an accident at the top of the ultra-fast esses, after which Ken withdrew his other cars, and Jackie Stewart took no part in what would have been the 100th, and last, Grand Prix of his career.

Anyone who ever went to Watkins Glen for a Grand Prix will have a favourite memory of the place, and undoubtedly mine is of 1979, despite the fact that for once the weather was atrocious.

At dinner, the night before first practice, Denis Jenkinson produced one of his lists, written in his tiny hand in one of his tiny notebooks. He had compiled it on the flight over, he said, and it rated the drivers of the moment, with an appropriately cryptic comment alongside each name.

As was always the way of it, you had to work very hard to impress Jenks. Opposite the name of Jacques Laffite (who had won a couple of Grands Prix that season), he had written simply, ‘Good worker’.

Moving up, I came to Alan Jones. ‘On the hill,’ DSJ had scribbled. And, at the top of the page, Gilles Villeneuve: ‘He is the hill’.

That came back to me the next day, as I watched practice with Jenks. The weather was utterly foul, cold and grey and wet, and the temptation was strong to leave the track after lunch and get back to the hotel for a Scotch and a hot shower. Conditions were not dissimilar to those on the Saturday at Suzuka recently, when qualifying was called off.

We stayed, however, even though not too much was happening on the track, for the rain continued to beat down, and the drivers reckoned there was little point in venturing out: all around the circuit were deep puddles, great expanses of standing water, and the forecast was dry for race day, so why bother?

Jenks and I were in the pits, sheltering, when Laffite caught our attention. “Gilles!” he exclaimed, and there was a Ferrari mechanic carrying a tiny figure in overalls and helmet across the pit lane river to the cockpit of a waiting T4.

Only eight of the 30 drivers went out that afternoon, and there was no doubt Michelin’s wet tyre, as used by Ferrari, was the thing to have: Goodyear’s fastest runner, the Alfa Romeo of Vittorio Brambilla, lapped in 2min 24.957sec, and then Jody Scheckter, Villeneuve’s team mate, went round in 2min 11.029sec, which stood as the second-fastest time of the day. Gilles, for his part, lapped in 2min 01.437sec. As Laffite said, “He’s different from the rest of us…”

Jenks was barely able to speak. He had felt the same way, he said, at Monaco in 1964, when Jimmy Clark came by with a three-second lead at the end of the first lap.

Some in the paddock – most, perhaps – couldn’t see the point of what Villeneuve had done. It was supposed to be dry on Saturday, and that would decide the grid, so why the unnecessary risk? Jenks responded with some vigour: “He’s shown them all – again – that he can do things with a racing car that they can’t…”

Saturday, as forecast, was dry, and the Ferrari was out-qualified by Jones’s Williams and Piquet’s Brabham, but race morning was dark and threatening, and clearly rain wasn’t far away. It arrived half an hour before the start, and Villeneuve rubbed his hands.

At the start he passed Piquet immediately, and then outbraked Jones into the first turn. “Couldn’t believe it,” said Alan. “I braked as late as I dared – and he just kept coming…”

Out of the corner, Gilles had two wheels on the grass, but he didn’t lift. “Alan had the better car,” he said, “but I had the better tyres. I didn’t know how long it would be very wet, so I had to build up an advantage.”

By lap 25 he and Jones had lapped everyone but third man René Arnoux, but now the track was beginning to dry, and in merely damp conditions Jones’s Goodyears were superior to the Michelins. By half-distance Alan was right up with Gilles, and on lap 32 went by him.

Soon Villeneuve came in for slicks, and a couple of laps later Jones did the same – but he was waved out before the right rear wheel had been fully tightened, and within half a lap it detached itself, leaving Alan to stomp back to the pits.

Thereafter it should have been a canter for Villeneuve, but in the late laps the flat-12’s oil pressure began to drop, and Gilles had to baby the car home. Had he been relieved to see the Williams parked at the side of the track? Gilles grinned, and said no, actually he had been disappointed. “I was eight seconds behind him, with 20 laps to go – I wanted to pass him on the last lap…”

The following year Ferrari was nowhere, and Jones – World Champion in 1980 – duly won, but it didn’t come easy, for the first half of the race was dominated by Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa, which had taken pole position by more than a second. At the Glen, as I say, you never knew what to expect…

What I remember most about that weekend is Scheckter’s retirement. Jody had won the World Championship in ’79, then, like Villeneuve, endured a miserable season with Ferrari’s recalcitrant T5. Gilles was a separate case, though, in that he simply loved driving any racing car, and he also had the future to console him, or so we all thought at the time. For Scheckter, who had announced his impending retirement back in July, the 1980 season was simply an unremitting slog, a matter of crossing off the races until he could walk away.

He finished 10th at the Glen, brought the Ferrari into the pits, flicked off his belts, then stood up in the cockpit, and walked forward – over the front of the car – into the embrace of his emotional mechanics. “I’d have liked it all to finish on a higher note,” he said. “I was singing to myself for the last few laps, but on the slowing-down lap I realised I was getting much more of a cheer than I should have had after a drive like that. It was a curious feeling, waving to the spectators for the last time…”

As we stood around the Elf motorhome that evening, eating barbecued steaks and drinking wine, we talked of Scheckter’s retirement, and of F1’s impending ‘winter of discontent’, for the FISA-FOCA War was coming, and we all knew it.

Then an Italian colleague arrived, and put everything else out of our minds. He had been speaking, he said, to one of the race organisers: “It’s very bad news – he told me that now it’s finished for F1 at Watkins Glen…”

And it was. Well, never mind, there’s always Korea.