Nigel Roebuck

Reflections
– Lord March’s memories of Goodwood
– The strategy behind Hamilton’s “best race”
– Why Bernie wants more points for winners

The Speedway Motel. For years, before I finally went to Indianapolis for the first time in 1981, there was such an evocative quality about that name, and it’s a certainty that no hostelry on earth presents quite the same view. Take a back room there, look out of the window, and before you is the back of gigantic, looming stands on the outside of turn one. You are literally on the spot.

The place opened in 1963, which coincided with the first venture of Team Lotus to the Indy 500. Jimmy Clark, Colin Chapman, timekeeper Cyril Aubrey and journalist Jabby Crombac crammed into one room. “We didn’t know the form,” remembered the lamented Crombac, in his beautifully quaint ’50s English, “so we booked too late to get more than one room. Colin and Jimmy had the beds, Cyril had a sort of cot, and I was on the floor…”

In spite of his team’s ad hoc sleeping arrangements, the immortal Clark, it will be remembered, led a chunk of his first 500, and finished a close second to Parnelli Jones.

It was in the Speedway Motel, too, in a scene from the movie Winning, that Paul Newman found his wife in bed with Robert Wagner. Led to much trouble, that did, and my friend Donald Davidson, who knows more Indianapolis folklore than any man alive, tells me that fact has often been stranger than fiction. There is, he says, a book to be written about the Speedway Motel, and I have often implored him to write it.

In the autumn of 1964, after playing Indianapolis in the course of an early US tour, the Beatles were whisked out of town and installed in a couple of rooms at the motel, the thinking being that the screaming girls and paparazzi would not think of looking for them there.

You couldn’t fault the logic of the plan, for the Speedway Motel was never a ritzy place, as I know from having several times stayed there, but, oh, what tales those walls could tell.

It’s still there to this day, but sadly – and unfathomably – a few years ago someone had the idea of renaming it, so that it now rejoices in the title of ‘The Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort and Inn’. Yes, I’m aware that the Speedway houses a championship-class golf course named ‘Brickyard Crossing’, but surely the place is better known for staging the most famous motor race on earth. Still, what do I know?

Lord March, I fancy, is most unlikely to make a change to the name of Goodwood House, yet after 15 years of the Festival of Speed, and 10 of the Revival Meeting, a most impressive list of racing’s great and good have stayed there, as Charles’s visitors’ book attests. Although Indy’s Speedway Motel and Goodwood House have about as much in common as Gordon Brown and mea culpa, the one did spawn thoughts of
the other.

“Well, it’s true,” Charles smiled, “that we’ve had some… interesting moments over the years, I must say. After the Festival one year, we went into a room which had been used by a well-known F1 driver. There was a large orchid at the end of the bed, and as we looked at it, we realised there was a tiny thong, G-string sort of thing, hanging in it! Clearly, it had been removed with some speed, and hurled away, and it was still lodged in the flower. I imagine they hadn’t been able to find it afterwards…”

As I skimmed through the guestbook, among the messages of goodwill I saw on one page the imprint of red lips, pursed as if for a kiss, and noted the name of the signatory: Debbie Harry. His Lordship burst out laughing.

“Oh, that was 2005. We’d tried to book Blondie for the Saturday night party at the Festival, but nothing could be done because they were on tour. Bryan Ferry, who lives near here, very kindly said he’d do it, but a couple of days beforehand I got a call from his manager, to say that Bryan had a bad throat, and his doctor had told him not to sing. At lunchtime on the Friday they finally had to call it off, but very kindly lent us all his kit, which we set up, even though he wasn’t going to be able to play.

“That caused a real panic – this was the day before, after all! Then James Parker, the house manager, checked Debbie Harry’s website, and found that a gig in Holland, scheduled for the Saturday night, had been cancelled. I rang her agent in LA, and asked if we could do a deal – which was done in about 10 minutes! And so we had Blondie here on the Saturday night…

“At the first Festival, I remember looking out and seeing a Rocket parked under a tree by the house, where it shouldn’t have been. I said, ‘Who the hell’s parked there?’, and they told me it was George Harrison! We got to know him, and one day Gordon Murray brought George in for tea. He played a harp, and then started playing the piano. I said to my daughter, who was then about eight, ‘If you go next door you’ll find George Harrison playing the piano’. Of course she said, ‘Don’t be stupid’…”

Whenever I am asked which race, were I able to attend only one a year, I would choose, my answer is swift: Monza, without any doubt at all. But my affection for Goodwood and its two annual events is such that nor would I countenance missing either the Festival of Speed or the Revival Meeting.

Of the two, Charles said, the Festival weekend is the more intense, and definitely the more demanding for all who work at Goodwood. “For one thing, the preparation time is much longer; for another, at the Revival everyone’s doing the same thing all the time, and attention is very focused on the track. After both, though, one does feel pretty drained.”

The two events, perennially sold out well ahead of time, have proved a highly successful commercial venture for Lord March, but be in no doubt that here beats the heart of a true enthusiast, who loves to gossip about motor racing, past and present.

“I always adored motor racing when I was a boy, and one of the greatest pleasures of putting these events on is meeting, and getting to know, people who had long been heroes of mine. Mario Andretti, for example, who drove that gorgeous Lotus 79. He was here in ’98 – Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan were here, as well, and they all brought their wives, and stayed in the house. It was a very wet year, unfortunately, and the wives tended to stay in quite a lot. They ended up doing the puzzles – there’s always been a jigsaw puzzle out on the table in the large library, and it’s always used a lot in the week of the Festival.

“Well, we got to Saturday evening, and the girls thought they were about to finish the puzzle. It was going to be a very big moment – but the last piece was missing! There was a sort of general air of disappointment, I remember. Then, next morning, after breakfast, everybody was in the large library, and suddenly Mario comes in: ‘Ah, the puzzle! We’ll just finish it now’, and he pops in the last piece!

Of course he’d removed it days earlier, because he – being the racing driver, and ultra-competitive – had to win… “We’ve been very lucky with American drivers over the years. Dan Gurney, for example, was such a big hero of mine – obviously I can remember Dan racing at Goodwood in the old days, in the Daytona Cobra and so on, and he’s always had such charisma, hasn’t he? Getting him here was a really big thing, but when he and his wife Evi came for the first time they were exhausted – long flight from Los Angeles, and everything. We left them in their room, and they didn’t appear for about 36 hours – we were sending food up, and beginning to wonder if Dan was really there! Eventually he appeared, though, and we were to become great friends.

“The thing was, we had the ’67 Eagle here, too, and I’ve always thought it was about the most beautiful racing car ever built. I remember having a bath on the Sunday, before the prizegiving… my bathroom looks out over the hill, and there was Dan going up in the Eagle… One of those moments you don’t forget.

“It was great, too, to have Richard Petty staying in the house in ’06. The big man himself. The King. I’d been trying for years and years to get Richard to the festival, and every time he’d write me an absolutely charming letter, saying he was sorry he couldn’t make it this year, but he would the next. When he finally did have the weekend free, he duly said yes, and that really was a milestone for me.

“I’ll admit that I’ve got a bit of a thing about getting A J  Foyt here, because he’s really the last racing ‘institution’ who hasn’t been to Goodwood. Every time I’ve tried AJ, he’s said, ‘Why do I want to be there, boy?’ Tony George has offered to fly him over in one of his private jets, and everything, but… so far it hasn’t worked. I’ll keep trying.

“Tom Sneva’s coming this year, and he’s a new one – hasn’t been here before. I’ve been trying to persuade Mario to come back again, but I don’t think he can do it this year. Paul Newman’s a possibility, which would be just great, of course. I know he’d love it at Goodwood. I’ve developed a relationship with him on the phone: he’ll ring me, at Christmas and things – but I’ve never met him!

“Apart from Foyt, the two I’ve been trying to get for ever are Rosberg and Prost. Alain’s told me he’s coming, actually, so let’s hope. I’ve got to know him a little bit, and he’s always very charming. He’s fanatical about cycling these days, of course, and we’ve even tried to persuade him to ride his bike up the hill! As for Keke, I’ve phoned him countless times, and he always finishes the conversation the same way: ‘Ring me next year…’ Someone told me that if I could get Nico here, that would guarantee Keke’s presence, so of course I spent hours trying to fix that, and then rang Keke to tell him, and he said, ‘Oh, well, if my son’s going, I don’t want to cramp his style!’”

Any others? “Well, of course, there’s always Schumacher…”

For someone like me, who has been around racing a year or three, the great attraction of the Festival of Speed is meeting up with old friends, many of whom, like Chris Amon, live on the other side of the world, and rarely venture to Europe any more.

At Goodwood you can revisit childhood dreams, that’s the point. Charles always had a thing about Chaparrals, and was thrilled when Jim Hall agreed to come to the Festival. “I was able to drive the 2F, and I think only about half a dozen people have ever done that. Phil [Hill] raced it in its heyday, of course, and he drove it again here.

“One big moment I remember was on a wet Friday morning. You can walk straight out of the dining room, which is one of these round rooms, and I went out across the front, and a chap walked right into me, and sort of fell over. He said, ‘Oh, gee, I’m so sorry – I’ve come all the way from Chicago, just to see the Chaparral!’ I thought that was really great, and showed how rarely those cars were seen at that time. I’ve got Jim’s hat, actually – he left me his Stetson, which now lives in my office, and I’m very proud of that.

“For years I tried to get Jacky Ickx to Goodwood, and he kept saying no, but when he finally did come, he loved it, and we’ve become great friends. There’s a chap called Martin who drives for me, and has been a big family friend – when I was in London, as a student, he was my dispatch rider. Well, he went to pick up Ickx from the airport one time, and as he got out of the car his back went!

Anyway, he made contact with him, and Jacky said, ‘Oh, you cannot possibly drive ze car’ – so Martin was driven, in a big BMW, all the way from Heathrow to Goodwood by Jacky Ickx! Doesn’t happen to many people…

“What’s great about motor racing is that almost all the people involved in it are good to spend time with. There are very few people I’ve met that I… haven’t taken to, let’s say.”

Nostalgia apart, a highlight of the Festival of Speed, of course, has been the attendance of contemporary F1 cars, driven over the years by such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Nick Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and Martin Brundle. It was a very big moment, Charles said, when Ron Dennis agreed to send a car – the Peugeot-powered MP4/9, driven by Brundle – for the second Festival, in 1994.

“Ron was the first team owner to do that, and I’ve always been very grateful to him – it was fantastic to have a current car here. Later, of course, Luca [di Montezemolo] said he’d send a car, too. I remember sitting at Bologna airport, after my meeting with Luca, and thinking, ‘Yeah!’ Of course you always try to persuade people also to send the right driver, and we couldn’t have Schumacher, but at least Ferrari agreed to send Eddie – who of course broke a driveshaft on the startline! Ferrari were breaking loads of driveshafts that summer, and I remember Luca on the phone, going mad

“One year, in the early days, all the Ferrari mechanics went off clubbing – in Worthing, where the average age is about 80! I can’t really remember all the details now, but… they were not here when needed, and in the end had to be extricated, and brought back! Of course these days they’re all here at the party on Saturday evening, so we don’t have that problem any more.”

These days the current F1 cars are no longer timed up the hill, and Lord March thinks that probably Nick Heidfeld’s record run, in a McLaren-Mercedes in 1999, has something to do with that. “Nick was the test driver at the time, and he was one of very few drivers of that calibre who spent all three days driving – now they tend to come in just for the day. Nick did Friday, Saturday, Sunday for three years, and eventually he did that unbelievable 41-second run. I didn’t see it, unfortunately, but I heard it, and I knew something special was going on – I mean, that engine was screaming, all the way up the hill! Mind you, Rod Millen’s Pike’s Peak car is still only just off that pace…”

One of my abiding memories of the Festival of Speed, I must say, is seeing Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson climb the hill in 1995, in the number 722 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. Normally Jenks was not a great one for reunions and the like, but this one, only a year before his death, was different, and briefly revived for him that wonderful May Day in 1955. There were tears in his eyes afterwards, I remember: “Now I can die happy,” he said.

Charles and I were talking in a favourite room of his, part library and part study, and it was here that DSJ came for a cup of tea after that run up the hill.

“It was terribly emotional. Jenks was so frail by then, and after they’d gone up the hill a lot of people were crying. We virtually carried him in here, laid him on the sofa, and gave him tea. Mind you, he might have been frail, but, being Jenks, he had to go on about it not being the actual Mille Miglia car! I’ll never forget that day. One of the absolute milestones, without a doubt…”

*****

He didn’t win the Turkish Grand Prix, but he did succeed in splitting the Ferraris – in itself quite some task at the moment – and Lewis Hamilton reckoned his drive at Istanbul to be the best of his career to date.

In after only 16 laps for his first stop, Hamilton was stationary for just 6.4 seconds, which meant not much fuel had been taken, which in turn suggested a three-stop strategy, relatively uncommon these days. There were many occasions, in the Schumacher-Brawn era, on which unorthodox strategies brought Ferrari a victory the team would not otherwise have had, and immediately one thought of this in the Istanbul race: had McLaren concluded that a three-stopper might be the only way to put one over on Ferrari?

In a lighter car, after all, Hamilton quickly ran down Felipe Massa, and put a typically brave pass on him.

Over the radio, though, Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley told his boy there was no need to panic, and that was a smart thing to do for it is not unknown for Felipe to falter in moments of stress. And sure enough, when Lewis – after another 16 laps – dashed in for his second ultra-quick stop (6.2sec this time), the race duly came back to Massa and Ferrari. Hamilton’s third stop (after only 11 laps) required but 5.9sec, and if Massa were now out of range, he was at least able to keep Kimi Räikkönen at bay to the flag.

Had the three-stop strategy been a gamble that didn’t quite come off? Lewis momentarily hesitated before offering the true explanation: based on what had happened in Turkey the year before, Bridgestone had advised McLaren, on safety grounds, that he should come in thrice.

In 2007 Hamilton, like everyone else, was on a two-stopper, and on lap 43 (with 23 laps on that particular set of Bridgestones) was about to come in for the final time. Immediately after the dauntingly quick left-handed turn eight, he put the brakes on for the next corner – and saw his right front tyre disintegrate.

Now run in May, rather than August, the Turkish Grand Prix this time around – 14 degrees, rather than 35 – might have been thought a rather different proposition, and for some it was so, Ferrari one of a number of teams finding it difficult in practice to get sufficient heat into their front tyres.

On a McLaren, though, Bridgestones tend to run higher up the temperature range, and even in the springtime chill Hamilton’s MP4-23 was giving cause for concern. Hence the advice from the tyre supplier.

“Although we obviously didn’t advertise the fact,” said Martin Whitmarsh, “we were concerned about it on the Saturday. It particularly affected Lewis, and fundamentally what caused the problem was turn eight. Our chassis generates a lot of front-end grip, and Lewis runs a slightly different set-up from Heikki [Kovalainen], which puts more load on his front tyres. He was very quick and aggressive through turn eight, and although he changed his line and style through there on Saturday, still we were concerned. Last year we had a chunking problem with the right front tyre; this time it was sidewall delamination, due to the high vertical loads we’re generating through a corner like that. Bridgestone acknowledged the problem, but they’re good, strong, partners, and we’re working with them to make sure we don’t have any recurrence.”

It was hardly surprising that Hamilton looked elated after the race, for in the circumstances second place – and the trimming of Räikkönen’s championship lead by two points – was better than he might have dared to envisage. Twenty-four hours earlier, though, Lewis had appeared a touch preoccupied, for as in Malaysia he had been out-qualified by his team-mate – and on both occasions Kovalainen had more fuel on board.

True enough, Kovalainen had set his time on the softer Bridgestones, whereas Hamilton had used hard, but this was only because – thanks to the drivers’ different styles and set-ups – he could get along with them, whereas Lewis could not. Thus, Heikki was able to work with a traditional two-stop strategy in Turkey, and that, combined with the fact that he was on the front row, and fuelled up to go further than Massa in the first segment of the race, pointed towards an excellent shot at his first Grand Prix victory.

As it was, contact with Räikkönen on the first lap resulted in a rear puncture, which put him out of the picture immediately. Without it, Whitmarsh reckoned, Kovalainen would have won.

Grand Prix drivers are made of strong stuff, as we know, but Heikki’s performance in Istanbul was the more impressive for coming only a fortnight after his 26g accident in Barcelona. It’s a fact that he was not McLaren’s first choice to replace Fernando Alonso, but the team has every reason to be happy with him. Uncomplicated and apolitical in a way top drivers rarely are, Kovalainen fits in perfectly, as happy with the McLaren environment as he was sometimes disconcerted by that at Renault.

It’s true that his F1 career did not get away to the smoothest of starts, and true, too, that his confidence was in no way boosted by acerbic comments from Flavio Briatore, but how strange are the ways of team principals sometimes: young Nelson Piquet’s early showings, after all, have been lamentable, but from Flav there has been not a critical public word.

By mid-season in 2007 Kovalainen had come to terms with a Renault which did not enjoy a good relationship with its Bridgestone tyres, and begun, as had been widely anticipated, to assert himself over team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. But what really marked Heikki out, both as a fighter and as one who didn’t falter in treacherous conditions, was his second place in the rains of Fuji, where he held off a charging Räikkönen in the closing laps. I shall be surprised if Kovalainen doesn’t win at least one race this season.

It was in Turkey, too, that Riccardo Patrese’s long-held record of 256 Grand Prix starts was broken, and it was satisfyingly appropriate that this should have been by Rubens Barrichello, in many ways Patrese’s counterpart in the current era.

There have always been drivers of this kind in F1, men not routinely at the very top level, yet well capable of greatness on a given day. I remember, for example, Patrese’s victory in Mexico in 1991, one of many Grands Prix that year in which he outpaced Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell in both qualifying and race. Similarly, when Barrichello partnered Schumacher at Ferrari, there were quite a few occasions on which Rubens was plainly quicker, as at Silverstone in ’03.

As well as that, Patrese and Barrichello both fall into that category which Martin Brundle defines as ‘proper blokes’. To put it another way, remember John Hogan’s immortal line: “If you’re going to sit next to a Grand Prix driver on a flight from London to Sydney, for Christ’s sake choose a number two – that way you might get to talk about something other than him…”

I wouldn’t classify either Riccardo or Rubens as strictly a number two, putting them rather on a mezzanine level somewhere, but it’s pleasing that at least one record is in the hands of other than a rarefied superstar. Both Patrese and Barrichello raced in F1 for 15 years because they loved what they were doing, and wished for no other life. Raise a glass to the pair of them, say I.

*****

Bernie Ecclestone recently said that he would like to see the scoring system of the World Championship revised, so that the driver with the most wins in a season automatically takes the title, with ‘place’ points coming into the equation only in the event of a tie.

In one way, the idea has a certain appeal, for I’ve always had a preference for drivers who go out and seize a race, rather than those who carefully stash points in a deposit account. The only problem with Bernie’s plan is that it would effectively rule out those very rare drivers who – often by the plain superiority of their driving ability – win the title in less than the most competitive car, as, notably, did Alain Prost in 1986.

Still, I spent an idle hour reviewing every World Championship since the title’s inception, and examining how the Ecclestone formula might have changed the course of history.

Less than you might think, actually. We have had 58 World Championships, and, had Bernie’s rule been applied, only eight would have gone to a driver other than the one in the record books. Taking them in order, in 1958 Stirling Moss, rather than Mike Hawthorn, would have been World Champion; in ’67 it would have been Jimmy Clark (Denny Hulme), in ’77 Mario Andretti (Niki Lauda), in ’79 Alan Jones (Jody Scheckter), in ’82 Didier Pironi (Keke Rosberg), in ’83 Prost (Nelson Piquet), in ’84, Prost (Lauda), in ’86 Mansell (Prost) and in ’87 Mansell (Piquet).

Over the years the scoring system has changed many times. For years it was 8-6-4-3-2-1 (plus a point for the fastest lap), but in the ’60s the winner’s score was increased to nine, and then, in 1991, to 10. This indeed put more of a premium on winning, but the downside was that to-the-wire World Championships became almost a thing of the past, particularly when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari got into their unstoppable stride.

Hence, for 2003, the system was revamped once more, now paying points down to eighth place, rather than sixth, but greatly diminishing the value of winning: 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. Thus we went off to Suzuka for the final round of that year’s World Championship, with Kimi Räikkönen challenging Schumacher for the title, even though he had won but one race, to Michael’s six.

To me, it would have been a nonsense if Kimi had become World Champion in those circumstances, but the objects of the FIA’s exercise, in changing the system, were to offer the smaller teams some opportunity of scoring points here and there, and, more importantly, to keep the outcome of the World Championship alive as long as possible.

In both respects, you would have to say that the governing body’s aims have been met, but still it’s easy to sympathise with Ecclestone’s contention that winning a race should carry a bigger point bonus.

At the moment, after all, the difference between first and second – two points – is the same as that between second and third, just as it was 50 years ago, when we had the absurdity of Hawthorn, with one victory, winning the World Championship from Moss (four wins) and Tony Brooks (three). Shades of what could have happened, between Räikkönen and Schumacher, five years ago.

A couple of years ago I asked Ecclestone if he were happy with the current points system. “No, I’m not,” he said at once. “It doesn’t seem right to me – I really think there should be more emphasis on winning. All those years ago I was the one who changed the points system, from 9-6-4 to 10-6-4, and for just that reason. With the system as it is now, you could easily win the championship without ever winning a race, and that can’t be right.

“If you ask me,” Bernie went on, “we’ve devalued the World Championship because we seem to have adopted a very communist society in Formula 1. That silly, one-by-one, qualifying thing came about because people like [Flavio] Briatore were arguing that the little teams weren’t getting on TV, and that if we had single-car qualifying, at least they’d get seen for one and a half minutes.

“All right, in one way they had a point. But we’re not running races for people – who can’t perform – to get television coverage, OK? Same thing with the race points. They said, ‘Well, it’s nice if we can say to our sponsor that we’ve got two points, from finishing eighth in two races’. I said, ‘Well, it’s much better if you get a point for being sixth – and 10 for winning’. They said, ‘But we’re not going to win’. I said, ‘Well,
if you’re not going to win – and your sponsor knows you’re not going to win – then he must accept the fact that he’s not going to see any points. I mean, no points and three points – what’s the bloody difference? It seems crazy to me – but that’s democracy for you...”

Well, I asked, seeking to phrase the question delicately, if you were against this points system, who – in a position of authority – was for it?

“Well, Max [Mosley] was promoting it. And you know something about our meetings, with all the teams? When they’ve gone on for three hours, people want to leave, so in the end they vote for anything. So what happens is that the controversial things get left to the end – and then people don’t seem as if they can be bothered to continue...”

Did I detect a note of waning patience with such meetings?

“Yeah, probably. In the good old days we got more things done. Most people used to rely on me, hoping I’d got things right. Now everybody wants to be in charge…”

It seems unlikely that Bernie will ever get his way with the ‘winner takes all’ plan, but you never know. After all, for years he expressed dissatisfaction with the format of qualifying, and long ago told me of his plans for the system we have now.

“This one-by-one thing sent people to sleep, but if you have a free-for-all, like qualifying always used to be, no-one goes out until the last few minutes, when the track’s got quicker – for the first half an hour nothing happened, which was bad for TV. Basically, what I wanted was cars on the track for the full hour, so we came up with this idea of three separate segments, with people getting dropped, so only the
10 fastest compete for the first 10 grid positions, and on a relatively uncluttered track. Now I think that’ll be exciting – it’ll be like a golfer not making the cut. I think it’ll work.”

By common consent, it has worked, even if some tweaking has been necessary. The ‘fuel burning laps’ of last year were a bit of an absurdity, but they were duly removed, making the last segment very concentrated indeed. Given that the top 10 cars now go to the grid with the fuel remaining in their tanks at the end of qualifying, it might have been anticipated, surely, that drivers not on a banzai lap would tool round, intent on saving as much juice as possible – and that this would be potentially lethal for those going for it. It was terrifying to watch Heidfeld and Alonso needing to slalom between the McLarens at Sepang, and brought to my mind, I must say, the circumstances in which Gilles Villeneuve lost his life at Zolder all those years ago.

A little tweaking was necessary, and by the time of Bahrain the problem had been addressed to some degree, by requiring drivers to complete their ‘fuel saving’ laps in a minimum time. It was yet another rule, yet another source of possible penalty for a driver, but in the circumstances something of the kind was necessary. Every solution spawns a new problem, though, and the drivers, mindful of the ‘minimum time’.