Nigel Roebuck

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Reflections

– The free spirit of Kimi Räikkönen

– Mental gamesmanship in Formula 1

– The remarkable life of Chris Economaki

*

It was just Kimi Raikkonen’s luck that, after coming close on a number of occasions, when he finally won a Grand Prix for Lotus it had to be in a country where the attitude to booze is somewhat at odds with his own. On the podium over time Kimi has shaken the champagne in timehonoured style, but he always took care not to waste it all, taking a hearty draught or two before picking up his trophy and leaving the stage.

In Abu Dhabi he was plainly disappointed that the bottle contained only rosewater — what else could have explained the po-face?

Well, in fact it was just Kimi being Kimi, and I think we all long ago gave up trying to understand what makes him tick. Keke Rosberg reckons it’s something to do with growing up in the Finnish hinterland: “For half the year it’s dark most of the time, and there isn’t much to do — people from there tend not to smile very much…”

It is hard to fathom, though, is it not? From the start of the race in Abu Dhabi Räikkönen was on it, slotting in behind Lewis Hamilton at the first corner, then taking a serious run at him when he made a mistake. Once the McLaren had retired Kimi was in the lead, and there was no doubting, be it from his brusque Fawltylike radio responses to his engineer or the resolute way he held off Fernando Alonso’s late charge, that he really wanted this race.

That being so, you’d have thought it would be impossible to keep from smiling on the podium, but he managed it.

A few weeks ago I chatted to Martin Whitmarsh about Räikkönen, a McLaren driver for five seasons, and while the relationship between Kimi and Ron Dennis was always what may — in 2012-speak — be termed ‘challenging’, Martin has always got on well with him. Kimi, I mean.

“His driving hasn’t surprised me this season,” he said. “Maybe that very last edge has gone, but he’s doing a bloody good job.

“Kimi’s quite a misunderstood individual, I think. Yes, he certainly likes to party, but he’s actually more disciplined about training than people realise, and he’s also very intelligent — one of the sharpest drivers out there, in fact. Because he doesn’t say much, and has a generally flippant demeanour, people wouldn’t necessarily think that. Another thing is that, in my opinion, he’s one of the best drivers when it comes to understanding the car, and to communicating that.

“To put ‘communicating’ and `Kimi’ in the same sentence might seem like a bit of a strange one, but I’m a big fan of his. How many mistakes does he make in racing? Very few. He can be very quick, and he’s smart, so you have to say that he’s got all the ingredients — apart from the dedication.

“I remember one year — a year he was fighting for the championship — when we were in Canada, and going on to Indy the next weekend. On the Sunday night Kimi was off to Vegas, to party with his mates. I remember saying to him, `Kimi, you’re an adult, you’re an intelligent individual — you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and we can’t stop you — but I just want to put this question to you…’ “This was before the days of DRS, when there wasn’t a lot of overtaking, and getting on the front row was pretty important. I said, ‘In Indianapolis, in six days’ time, if you miss pole position by five thousandths of a second — which you could do — and you’ve flown from Montreal to Vegas, into a different time zone, partied and had some drinks, and then flown all the way back to Indianapolis, won’t you want to kick yourself really bloody hard?’ He smiled and nodded — didn’t say it, but seemed to indicate his agreement — and then an hour later he flew off to Vegas!

“Kimi is very insightful, and he’s got a very dry sense of humour, which most people never see. I really like the bloke, but I found it deeply frustrating that he’s as smart as he is, and has all that pace — and yet he compromises it. I don’t think he’s ever realised his potential…”

I’m sure Whitmarsh is right, and equally sure that Raikkonen couldn’t care less, just as he’s a nightmare to interview, because he couldn’t care less about that, either. The only aspect of F1 that has ever interested him is driving the car, and I’ve no doubt that, in the PR-muzzled world of today, that accounts for his huge popularity. There is something fundamentally ‘unmanageable’ about Kimi, and fans always love a maverick. Time was when they were thick on the ground, but it’s not like that any more: eccentricity, which was once something to be celebrated, is today regarded with deep suspicion. As far as I’m concerned, it can only be good that in 2012 there still resides a free spirit in Grand Prix racing.

Years ago Jonathan Williams, the ultralaidback ’60s F3 star and sometime Ferrari driver, came out with a remark I’ve never forgotten: “Not much matters much,” he beamed, “and the rest doesn’t matter at all…” The words seem perfectly to sum up the philosophy of K Räikkönen.

You can’t threaten Kimi with anything, that’s the point. Through much of his time with Ferrari, he did justice neither to his team nor to his talent, a conclusion reached by Luca di Montezemolo, who ended his contract a year early, so as to bring in Alonso as soon as possible. Kimi wasn’t thrilled, of course, but instead of dwelling on it he simply left the scene, and pushed off to drive Citroens for a couple of years.

That didn’t work out quite as he had hoped, and he began exploring other possibilities, including — briefly —NASCAR. Probably that was never going to work out — there are 36 races a year, apart from anything else — and, as he gave his engineer short shrift for talking too much during the race at Abu Dhabi, I wondered how he would have tolerated the ‘spotters’ in NASCAR, in his car constantly: ‘Go low, Kimi, go low…’ It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine his response: ‘Who’s driving the f” “”ing car — me or you?’

So NASCAR failed to hit the spot with Raikkonen, and although he had much enjoyed the physical sensation of driving a rally car, competing against the clock, he found, was less satisfying than racing. Thus he let it be known that he would be interested in coming back to F1, but had there been no offer that truly appealed, one feels, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world: he would simply have gone off and done something else, perhaps — who knows — never to be heard of again. No one ever needed fame less than Kimi.

In Abu Dhabi he drove quite beautifully, as indeed did most of the F1 hierarchy. Lewis Hamilton had one of those weekends when he looked unapproachable, quickest by far in practice, qualifying and the race — until his McLaren let him down, just as it had done in Singapore.

Hamilton’s future, with Mercedes, is something of an unknown quantity, and many think him nuts to have made the move, but there’s no doubt that, since making his decision finally, Lewis has seemed like a happy man again. Of course he wants to end his McLaren years on a memorable note, but the failure in Abu Dhabi was nothing to do with him, and he was relaxed afterwards in the knowledge that he would have walked it.

Alonso, though, did not look relaxed. As in India the weekend before, he had driven another of his typically exceptional races, making up places on the opening lap as usual, and being in the mix throughout. In the late laps he closed on Raikkonen, and second place was a gratifying result for the fourth-fastest car in the race — actually, make that seventh-fastest, for there were two McLarens, two Red Bulls and two Lotuses, were there not?

Fernando may have talked things up afterwards, as he invariably does, but he had good reason to look pensive: for one thing, the raft of Ferrari updates brought to Abu Dhabi had signally failed to transform it, as hoped; for another, alongside him on the podium was his World Championship rival. Although Sebastian Vettel’s last words to Christian Homer before the start had been, ‘See you on the podium’, no one could realistically have seen it coming. He was, after all, in the pitlane.

It was no fault of Vettel’s that he was in that predicament, just as with Hamilton in Barcelona, where he had started last — having taken pole position — for the same reason. Like Lewis, his car had stopped out on the circuit at the end of qualifying, and the team was unable to provide the requisite litre of fuel for testing.

In this circumstance a driver’s qualifying times are wiped — but he is allowed to start last, either from the back of the grid or from the pitlane. In Spain Hamilton drove an exceptional race to come through from 24th to eighth, but he had started from the grid, and thus had exactly the McLaren he had driven in qualifying. In Abu Dhabi Red Bull wisely opted to start Vettel from the pitlane, this not only removing the possibility of involvement in a first corner fracas, but also allowing the team — quite within the rules — to make fundamental changes to the car.

Thus the ‘parc ferme’ aspect of contemporary Fl was to a great degree sidestepped, and Seb went into the race with a car greatly different from the one in which he had qualified. For one thing, he was on medium — rather than soft — tyres, and therefore free of the strategy his major rivals were obliged to follow; for another, he had a way longer top gear, enabling him to make best use of the DRS zones. On Saturday the Red Bulls were slowest of all on top speed; on Sunday Vettel’s car was the fourth-fastest.

Since the end of the European season Fl had gone relatively into ‘sleep’ mode, thanks to various Red Bull updates which restored the car’s superiority almost to 2011 levels, and thus we had once again a succession of Vettel victories in Asian races, which became virtually indistinguishable in the mind, one to another. Four victories on the trot wiped out Alonso’s once formidable points lead, and Vettel appeared to be cantering to a third consecutive World Championship.

As I write there are two races to go, at Austin and Interlagos, and it will amaze me, frankly, if Seb does not emerge from them with the title: he is 10 points ahead of Fernando, and has a quantifiably quicker car.

After qualifying in Abu Dhabi, though, and the revelation that the stewards had put Vettel to the back, Alonso obviously saw an opportunity to make hay, perhaps even to emerge from the weekend with the championship lead again. Not so…

Of late it has clearly irritated Red Bull personnel that some have suggested that Vettel has had it too easy in recent years, thanks to the frequently overwhelming superiority of his car — let’s face it, you don’t find many engineers begging their driver not to set a new fastest lap, for the sake of it, in the closing laps! It’s fact that often Seb has simply not needed to race, as with such as Jim Clark and Alberto Ascari in times gone by. Take pole, take the lead at the start — gone.

No one, I think, has ever denigrated his enormous talent, and for that matter he has sometimes been widely praised for his racing ability, as at Spa, where he started 10th and came through to second. After Abu Dhabi, though, some spoke as if this had been the drive of the century, but honestly I didn’t see it that way.

Of course it was remarkable that anyone should pluck a podium finish from a race that began in the pitlane, but I thought Homer’s pre-race assessment — “Seb should get into the points…” — on the mark. It goes without saying that it was a fine drive (albeit not without its glitches), but it should be borne in mind that Vettel’s final position owed hugely to two safety car periods, each of which wiped a 20-odd second deficit to the leader.

As well as that, Sebastian made a second tyre stop (on to soft Pirellis, when all the other front-runners were on older, medium tyres) the very lap before the safety car came out for the second time, and was thus in perfect shape for the balance of the race. Add in that several of the quicker midfield drivers accounted for themselves — down the order there was some remarkably cackhanded driving in Abu Dhabi — and a script comes into focus that Vettel might have written for himself. At Barcelona — where there were no safety cars — Hamilton’s drive, as we said, yielded only eighth place.

What you can say is that Vettel was mighty unlucky to start last, then mighty fortunate to finish third. The only frontrunner he had to take on was Jenson Button in the late laps, and this surely was the highlight of his afternoon, for his pass of the McLaren was as audacious as it was perfectly executed.

In point of fact, I was a touch surprised that he went for it, for he knew by then that he had 12 points coming in, and third place would yield only another three. There again, at the time he also knew that Alonso was closing on Raikkonen — and that Button, as correct a driver as you will find, would not turf him off the road.

A sensational result for Vettel in Abu Dhabi, then, but not, I think, a drive for the ages. Sometimes the cards fall your way, and sometimes they don’t. No wonder Alonso looked crestfallen.

*

Before the race in New Delhi, India, Alonso remarked that he had to face the fact that he was competing for the World Championship not only with Sebastian Vettel, but also with Adrian Newey.

A not unreasonable statement to make, it seemed to me, being clearly, abundantly true. Not for nothing is Newey paid more than most of the drivers, and if his genius — an over-used word, but no hyperbole when we speak of Adrian — has lately served to dampen the 2012 Grand Prix season, it’s because he does his job better than anyone else. An arch-enthusiast he may be, but he’s paid to make Formula 1 boring if he can, just as he was 20 years ago when Williams unleashed the FW14B, and Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese strolled away with the season.

In India, too, Lewis Hamilton said he hoped Alonso would win the World Championship this year — he was the best driver, and he deserved it more than anyone else. Again, no surprise there: Lewis and Fernando may have had their problems five years ago, but it’s no secret that each considers the other his major rival.

All this — together with renewed suggestions that Vettel had a future agreement with Ferrari — clearly got up the nose of Helmut Marko, who suggested that the intention of these remarks was to destabilise his boy Sebastian, and he gave the impression that it was all somehow a bit.., horrid and underhand.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing — my god, it’s all got so precious! Quite apart from the fact that Vettel, for all his schoolboy grin, is the toughest of nuts, well able to fight his own corner, even if this were some attempt to destabilise him a little, well… what else is new?

Everything, as we know, is minutely scrutinised these days — if you offer even a hint of criticism of anybody or anything, you are routinely dismissed as ‘judgemental’. I have no information that Alonso and Hamilton were obliquely trying to rattle Vettel a touch, but if they were, so what? It’s a tactic that’s been in motor racing — in various guises — for ever, and time was when it was seen for what it is: gamesmanship.

On rainy days, for example, Stirling Moss would rub his hands, as if relishing what was to come: “I didn’t want it to be wet any more than anyone else — but I thought if I looked happy about it, it might give me a psychological advantage…” Similarly, on the grid at Monaco in 1961, Stirling stood at the back of Phil Hill’s faster Ferrari, and shook his head slightly: “Old Phil was always a bit edgy before the start,” he laughed, “and I thought it might wind him up a bit…”

And speaking of grids, what of Ayrton Senna’s tactic at Magny-Cours in 1992? On the first lap, at the Adelaide hairpin, Michael Schumacher’s Benetton tanked into the back of Senna’s McLaren, putting both cars into the run-off area. While Michael was able to continue to the pits for a new nose cone, Ayrton was out on the spot, and not amused.

After 18 laps rain brought out the red flag, and the cars stopped on the grid, awaiting a restart. “Ayrton went to speak to Michael,” said Jo Ramirez, “and he read him the riot act — I could see Michael nodding his head, saying, ‘Yes sir, no sir…’ Ayrton came back all satisfied with himself, saying, ‘Great! Got him just before he got in the car again!’ Within a couple of laps — at the same hairpin — Michael ran into Stefano Modena, and was out for the day…”

Martin Brundle tells the story of a brief encounter with one of his heroes, Dale Earnhardt, universally known as ‘The Intimidator’. “I met Dale when I did the IROC series in 1990, and I think he said six words to me the whole time I was there. I won one of the races, and he says, ‘Good job’. Then I was on pole for the last race, at Michigan, and if I won it I was champion. I passed his car as I walked to my own, and he murmurs, ‘Don’t forget your kids…’ I think he was joking! Then, at the first turn, he passed me on a piece of tarmac that didn’t exist…”

If you think about it, there have been endless attempts over time to try adversely to affect a driver’s performance, some more… creative than others, as Marcello Giambertone, the manager of Juan Manuel Fangio, recounted in his biography of the great man.

“The afternoon before a Grand Prix Fangio was introduced to a charming French actress. We were staying in one of the best hotels in the town, and that night — just as Fangio had taken off his tie, and I was about to leave his room — a bell-boy arrived with an envelope on his silver tray. Juan opened it, and out came a card and a key, with the name of another big hotel in town… and a room number.

“We looked at each other in silence. ‘I’d like to be in your shoes,’ I said. “Take my place — you’re my manager,’ said Juan.

“After a moment he added, ‘The invitation seems odd to me — the night before the race. It’s certainly not a coincidence if a pretty woman sends me her room key. I have an idea it’s been done on orders from someone who would like to see me worn out and short of sleep for the race tomorrow…’ Faithful to his precept that battles are won by sleeping well the night before, he wished me goodnight, and went to bed peacefully.

“The next day Fangio won a brilliant victory. The French actress turned up for the start. She went away with a grimace when Fangio took the lead.

“A few weeks later the sporting director of a certain firm asked me with an innocent air, ‘Is it true that Fangio is not interested in the Stage… ?”

*

One of the reasons I have always adored New York — my favourite city by far — is its inimitable humour. Remember the TV ad from years gone by when the woman says to the construction worker, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Lady, you gotta practise…”

When I was there in June, I noted a huge ad for a storage outfit: ‘Storing at your parents means having to visit…’ And another from an investment company: ‘Waiting for your rich uncle to die is sick. Plus it might take a while…’

Laconic is the word, and I never came across a better exponent of `Noo Yark’ story-telling than Brooklyn-born Chris Economaki, who died this autumn at the age of 91. Chris had been frail for a while, and some years have passed since I last saw him, but I’m glad I still have his voice, glad I thought to set the recorder going during a lunch in New Jersey in the late ’90s.

Economaki was the owner of National Speed Sport News for more than 50 years, and continued to write his weekly column well into his eighties. Always referred to as ‘The dean of American motor sports writers’, for countless years he was also a TV commentator, as familiar to US racing fans as was Murray Walker over here, until being precipitately — fatuously — fired for a remark deemed politically incorrect by timid studio bosses. ‘Never judge a man out of his time’ should be a rule for the ages.

Economaki always considered himself a journalist, rather than a writer, and that was the essence of the chatty, snappy, style of his column: “Always,” he said, “be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. I was never one for flowing prose — what I was good at was getting stories…”

Telling them, too. “I enjoyed my teenage years, when I worked as a helper on various people’s race cars. I was Duane Carter’s mechanic for the whole of the 1938 season, and it was hard work. But then I became, for want of a better word, important in the business — we all have an ego, and I enjoyed that.

“From the point of view of fun, the ’50s was a wonderful time, and I guess it’ll always be my favourite. In those days the drivers would get together at night, and we were all one community. In Milwaukee, for example, the place everyone went was the Casinos Steakhouse — linoleum on the floor, with holes in it, but fantastic food. That changed a long time ago, though, because now the drivers were out with their sponsors, and all that stuff.

“It was a tough time, but the racing was phenomenal. What won races in those days was drivers, not cars — the man-machine equation was weighted in favour of the driver. There was little you could do to a car to make it go better: you changed the tyre pressures, and if it didn’t do any good, you changed the spark plugs; if that didn’t help, you changed the driver…”

If I became besotted with Formula 1 in childhood, so I also came under the spell of American racing — not only the glorious front-engined roadsters that ruled at Indianapolis, but also sprint cars, then still raced by the major stars of the day. NASCAR may be all-powerful now, but back then it meant nothing north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and ‘open-wheel’ racing still reigned supreme in the land, its gods such as Jimmy Bryan, Tony Bettenhausen, Pat O’Connor, Bob Sweikert, Rodger Ward, and later A J Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti. It took Tony George and the IRL to subdue — if not quite extinguish — my love of Indycar racing.

The golden age of sprint car racing was undoubtedly the ’50s and ’60s, but if the racing was phenomenal, as Economaki said, perhaps there was never more lethal a time in any branch of the sport, and he lost an enormous number of friends. As one who has worked in Fl for 40-odd years, I have known tragic times, too, but I couldn’t imagine how it had been for Chris.

“You were inured to it, Nigel — it happened every week,” he said, and he went on to point out that while there were wealthy individuals who raced sports cars in America on a strictly amateur basis, his kind of racing — Indycars, sprint cars, midgets — was still predominantly a bluecollar sport, wherein the drivers raced to feed their families.

“Take a guy like Jud Larson, who was one of Mario’s great heroes. Larson was an artist in a sprint car, but he was forever broke — if he needed money, he would drive far better than if he had $20 in his pocket!

“At the Minnesota State Fair one time I was the announcer, and Larson beat Don Branson by this much. I went down on the track with my microphone, 27,000 people in the stands, and I said, `Jud, that was a fantastic victory. How much trouble did Don Branson give you?”0h, he was no problem, I had him covered,’ he says. ‘Come on, Jud, the guy was alongside of you for 20 laps — don’t tell me you had him covered.’ He says, ‘Oh, yeah, I could have left him.”Well, why didn’t you?’ Well,’ he says, ‘it’s Saturday night — I got places to go, and things to do. I didn’t want to get tired!”

If they were apparently fearless, these people, perhaps that owed something to the fact that many had survived bloody campaigns in World War II, so anything afterwards was a bonus. They lived hard, drank hard, raced hard.

“Take a guy like Mike Nazaruk — he’d been through Iwo Jima, so nothing after that was going to frighten him too much. I was the track announcer at Langhorne the day he was killed, on May 1, 1955 — the same day Stirling Moss won the Mille Miglia. Nazaruk was a friend of mine, and I went to his funeral. He was a Slav, and he had all these women from the Slavic countries.., one of them got in the coffin with Mike at the funeral home, trying to prove she loved him more than the rest… well, it was one way of doing it, I guess…

“One of the reasons there were so many fatal accidents was the way the cars were made. They all had solid axles, so when a car ran over another car’s wheel, instead of something breaking and the wheel coming off — as they would do on an Fl car, say — it would start a series of over-and-over rolls. There were no roll-over bars in the ’50s, of course, so if you got upside down, it was a roll of the dice whether you survived.

“They had seat belts of a kind, but they were primitive: usually a lap strap, and another strap across one shoulder — and made of leather, which could tear. You know how seat belts started in racing? It happened when Joie Chitwood — a native Cherokee Indian, very bright guy — went to Indianapolis for the first time, in 1940. Back then the track was surfaced in brick, of course, and very rough. Joie had a problem keeping his foot on the gas, because of the bumps, and he figured if he could find a way to do that, he had to go faster. So he put this lap belt in the car — and all the other drivers revolted!

“The belief of the time was that if you had an accident, your best chance was to be thrown out, and they were concerned about running into a car that was upside down, with the driver still in it. They petitioned against his seat belt, but he told them the reason he wanted it was nothing to do with safety, and then they accepted it! They were different times…

“One of my closest friends was Johnnie Parsons, who won the Indy 500 in 1950. He told me once about advice he’d given to another driver, Edgar Elder, who wasn’t getting the job done. He’d told him he had to be more aggressive — that no one ever made it in racing without being that way: when you see a hole open up, put a wheel in there… Elder comes back to Parsons, and he says, ‘Johnnie, I took your advice’. ‘Oh, what happened?’ Remember you told me that if I spotted a gap, I was to stick a wheel in there, and something would open up for me? Well, I did that the other night, and I’ll tell you what opened up for me — the door to the goddam ambulance!”

Economaki’s heart may have been with American track racing, but that didn’t mean that he had no interest in a wider world, and he was always well versed in the goings-on of Fl. In the late ’80s for a time he attended every Grand Prix, doing the TV commentaries for ESPN with David Hobbs. One day, in the paddock at Montreal, he said to me, “Hobbs isn’t here this weekend — he’s doing Le Mans. How about sharing the commentary with me?” And so I did — although I felt almost guilty about banking the cheque, for the only opportunity to speak came when Chris paused for breath, which wasn’t often.

‘Multi-tasking’ is a much-used phrase these days, but Economaki was on to it long ago — journalist, track announcer, TV commentator, and also an entrepreneur.

“Every March I used to charter a ‘plane down to Sebring for racing fans. I was the press agent for a race promoter named Sam Nunis at the Trenton Speedway, and one year I took Sam with me — he was a hell of a promoter, but he’d never seen any sports car races. Sam was nonplussed — but also impressed with all the colour and pizzazz, and he said, ‘Let’s get into sports car racing’.

“I set up a meeting with Phil Hill, Peter Collins and Nunis in a New York hotel. This was 1958. I’d looked closely at the USAC Indycar regulations, and, believe it or not, the Ferrari Testa Rossa met those regulations — it could run in an Indycar race! I told Sam this, and he said to me, ‘Jesus, if we could get one of those cars to come to Trenton, we’d pack the place!’

“Therefore I arranged a test at Trenton — a onemile oval — with Hill and Collins in the Testa Rossa. They ran around the track pretty good, but there was a problem with the constant left turns — the engine threw the oil out through the side, so out so in the end it came to nothing, which was a great shame.

“After he’d retired from Fl, Fangio showed interest in doing Indianapolis, and maybe one or two other races. I got him to come to Trenton, to test, and it had to be private — so of course I leaked it to the press, and there was absolute bedlam, with people beating the doors to get in! Fangio was unhappy, though, because he’d wanted to try a roadster, and the car we got was a classic ‘upright’ dirt track car, Johnny Thomson’s DA-Lubricant Special, which he didn’t like.

“I really liked Fangio, but his manager was a guy named Marcello Giambertone, and God, he was tough to deal with! In those days we weren’t used to dealing with agents and representatives, you know…”

The arrival of big money, Economaki believed, fundamentally changed the nature of the sport. “Back in the day racing in the US was constant needle — ‘I’m going to blow you off tomorrow, why have you bothered to show up?’ — that sort of thing. Only 18 cars would start in a USAC Championship dirt track race — 10 or 12 guys would go home, not qualified, and if you didn’t qualify you didn’t get paid. It was a hard school.

“In a way we have the opposite now, although there will always be exceptions to the rule — I mean, a guy like Mario would have raced as hard for a nickel as he would for a million bucks, because it’s in his makeup. But Harry Hyde, the famous NASCAR crew chief, was the first man I ever heard use the phrase, ‘the comfort zone’: a driver races, and he starts winning, and all of a sudden he’s got an aeroplane, he’s got a boat, he’s got a vacation home, an attorney, and a tax consultant — and now some kid comes down underneath him at 9000mph, and there’s a big concrete wall over there, and he thinks, ‘Well, be my guest…”

Not long before he died, I telephoned a Paris hospital to speak to my great friend Jabby Crombac, and we both knew it was to say goodbye. “Don’t worry about me, Nige,” he said. “I’m not in pain, and I’m quite ready to go — I’ve had the most wonderful life…” The same, surely, may be said of Chris Economaki: “When I was 15 years old I saw Tazio Nuvolari win the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island, and I knew my life was set…”

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