In the hot seat - Tony Southgate

His cars won Monaco, Le Mans and Indy. He recalls that Colin Chapman enjoyed acting up to an audience, and that John Surtees was paid well to drive a flexible BRM

You started out designing a 750MC racer. Did you race it yourself and how competitive were you? Paul Sumner, Wadebridge

Yes I did. I built a car called the EMLO and raced it in 1961. It looked good but I wasn't very quick and I soon learned about the fragility of Austin Seven engines after it threw a rod. I sold it later that year on joining Lola.

When you moved on to BRM, what did you think of the P139? Nigel Urwin, London

Was that question asked by a former BRM man, by any chance? I had only just joined BRM but I remember thinking the design was a bit dated. The suspension mounting points tending to flex made it a bit spooky. John Surtees was very unhappy with it and refused to drive the car at the Nürburgring — we had to withdraw his entry. He left at the end of the year. As an aside, he was BRM's highest-paid driver ever. I seem to recall he got £25,000 a year.

Was It a shock when Niki Lauda went so well in the BRM P160 in 1973? Beresford Mills, Bury

Niki was an unknown quantity. I was leaving BRM at the time but I recall that he was bringing something like £30,000 in sponsorship. When he had been at March he didn't do too well, and Robin Herd told him that this was down to his inexperience. He got in the P160 and was very quick straight away because it was a well-balanced car. In the end Niki never did pay up. Louis Stanley didn't want to lose him so told him to forget about it.

When you worked at Lotus, was Chapman's influence inspiring or did his strong opinions cramp your style? Ted Baker, Abergavenny

I had great admiration for him. He was the best British designer by far. I was chief engineer at the time and the first in line to take the blows if he wasn't happy. He was a great one for losing his temper and putting on a show if he knew that people were watching. That said, he enjoyed my input and if you came up with a good idea he was very receptive. Then he would go away and improve upon it. You would just think, 'Oh blast'.

Did it demotivate Pedro Rodriguez to be parked by Tim Parnell for 1969. only to be brought back for 1970 Was he an obvious choice when Surtees left? Nigel Urwin, London

As I saw it, Pedro was very positive and very quick. There was no question of him being demotivated. Everyone loved him. Surtees liked to be involved in every aspect of the team. I have a lot of time for ol' John but he could be hard work. In fact, he was very upset with me when I wouldn't join his own team after he left BRM. He was really miffed, saying that I had made a verbal agreement. I hadn't!

How frustrating was Jean-Pierre Jarier to work with? Did you regard him as someone wasting his talent? Camille Ripley. Paris

I don't know about frustrating: annoying, possibly. He had such fantastic car control and speed but just didn't have the commitment. I'm sure he could have been World Champion if only he could have been bothered. Jean-Pierre got bored very easily and in practice or testing he would adapt himself to the car and do the same times after you had made adjustments. He was a typical French driver in that he was more interested in going out of an evening, eating a good meal and chasing the ladies. It soon became clear that he wouldn't go on to the next level.

What was it like standing In the High Court dock in 1978 over the Shadow/Arrows affair? And what's your take on the situation? Marc Chenery, Denton

Horrible. It never should have gone to court. It all got out of hand and I'm sure it hurt my Formula One career. It was just a clash of personalities and none of us gained from the experience. The moral was, never go to litigation as only the lawyers win. I can remember telling Jackie Oliver that we needed to make a new car (the A1) in anticipation of the ruling. We did it in 57 days and I had to make every short cut possible. When we turned up at the 1978 Austrian GP, Don [Nichols, the Shadow team boss] and his lawyers were all ready to pounce but it was a different car.

Do you still talk to Don Nichols? Peter Surman Poole

I always got on with Don. It was really Jackie and Alan [Rees] who didn't. When I was working on the Ferrari 333SP sportscar project, I bumped into Don at a time when he wanted to get back into racing. He talked about setting up a sportscar team and maybe even doing Formula One again but I'm afraid I wasn't very receptive.

How promising was the Ford C100 before it was suddenly cancelled? Paul Hardiman Denham

The C100 Mk3, as we called it, was a good car but we never got the chance to prove it. Marc Surer and Gordon Spice tested it at Paul Ricard and recorded good lap times despite the interim Cosworth DFL engine rather than the turbo unit we intended to use. We had a small understeer problem and cooling was a bit marginal, but nothing we couldn't fix. Unfortunately, the car was then chopped up. However, some of the ideas were later transposed on to the Jaguar XJRs.

How did you get on with Tom Walkinshaw when you were designing Jaguar's Group C cars? Steve Durrant, Kennington

Very well. Tom was very receptive and motivational. I would say that the TWR years were the best, or rather my favourite, of my entire career. He could be a hard-nosed bastard with others but he knew when you were making an effort and would respond as such. If the cars were quick he was happy. Even when I left, he and I remained on very friendly terms.

How would you rate the Ferrari 333SP among your back catalogue and what did you think when some teams started inserting Judd engines? James Goldstraw, Thatcham

Working for Ferrari was a very pleasant period in my life. Working with Gian Paolo Dallara on the project was very rewarding too. The 333SP was a very good customer car and in two and a half years I think we had only one breakage. What really annoyed me was that we never got all of them out at the same time. People were buying them as investments. That said, if you did a season's racing you would always get your money back. As for fitting a Judd engine, if you want to halve the value of the car, then go ahead!

What do you consider your favourite design, and greatest achievement? Ian Davies, California

I've designed 43 cars, not including the projects I was involved in as a team member at Lola and Lotus, but the Ford RS200 was very rewarding. I knew nothing about rallying and designing in 18in of wheel movement was totally new — much more challenging than doing a GP car where most of the parameters are dictated to some degree. As for my greatest achievement — designing cars that have won the Monaco GP, the Indy 500 and Le Mans; the triple crown of racing.