Is the end nigh?

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Dear reader,

I was hoping to be at the first Grand Prix in the year 2000, which is only seven years away, but it is beginning to look rather unlikely. Recent rule changes for Formula One cars, and for Grand Prix races, seem to be aimed at a watering-down process to stifle technical progress and to stultify the performance factor of new Grand Prix cars, but that is nothing new. Since 1948 I have watched the evolution of the F1 car change in various directions, invariably to the accompaniment of cries of “too fast” or “too powerful”, while for the last 30 years another cry has been “too costly”. Such gripes have seldom come from the participants. They are usually from journalistic do-gooders who do not compete and certainly do not spend any of their own money on racing.

All this sort of thing I can live with, even if I don’t approve. It seems to be a part of life to weep salt tears for the things I enjoyed that are now gone; the passing of the supercharged engine, alcohol fuels, 2.5-litre engines, movable and controllable aerofoils, engines with more than 12 cylinders, turbochargers and many minor things that were not desperately important. As I say, I can live with these sort of things, but there is a new murmur doing the rounds.

I refer to a casual remark made at a recent official FISA meeting, where the latest rule changes were discussed. The FISA president said that discussions are taking place to introduce some form of silencing in F1 for 1995.

As far as I am concerned that will be the end for me. I shall miss my target date of the year 2000 by five years, for I have no desire to listen to a muted Formula One engine. To those people who are unfortunate enough to have to get their Grand Prix racing by TV, it will be nothing new. Nor will it be for 90 per cent of the press who spend their time at race meetings in the soundproofed media centre, where all powerful press is conducted. For a handful of us who still enjoy the vibrations and noise given out by an unhampered Formula One engine, this elimination of the final link with the origins of Grand Prix racing will be the last straw.

Maybe I will be on my own by 1995, which will probably be a good thing, because then I can walk quietly away and nobody will notice. It will be pointless starting an antisilencer campaign because experience has demonstrated all too clearly that once an idea gets into officials’ brains it stays in. For a number of years now I have had to use a silencer on my hillclimb ‘bike when riding at meetings, but at home I can give it an oldfashioned blast on an open pipe with a megaphone. The neighbouring cows don’t complain, though the birds and the furry people in the woods look at each other and say: “Oh my goodness, he’s at it again.” But they all know they are quite safe. Some years ago I was a keen speedway follower, but enthusiasm tailed off when silencers were introduced. I watched the advent of silencers in hillclimb events with some misgiving, and to see a 3.5-litre Formula One engine in the back of a Pilbeam with two enormous silencers on the back give me little ‘paddock pleasure’. It does nothing to make the adrenalin flow. And if that doesn’t flow, you might as well retire to the British Museum library!

Silencers on Formula 1 cars will, as I said, be the last straw. There are plenty of people who have had the opportunity to hear a Ferrari, a Honda, or a Renault engine on full song at close quarters, and soon they never will. I feel sorry for them because they will never know what they missed. There are also a lot of people who have never known roads without speed limits, or the simple freedom of being able to use any old tyre on your car, provided it held air! Come to think of it I have never known total freedom, and cannot think of anyone who has. We’ve all experienced a lack of freedom in a lot of things. To ruin your personal hearing, resulting in premature deafness, due to listening to a Grand Prix Bugatti, a W125 Mercedes-Benz, a V16 BRM, a three-litre Matra or whatever else was current, was your own choice. If you did not like the noise you could always go away. In 1995 that choice will disappear, like all the other motor racing noises that have gone. The only one that doesn’t seem to go away is the rabbiting on the PA system .

The thing that really worries me is that with less noise in the paddock and pits, the bullshit will become louder. and that is bad. At the moment the bullshit stops when a Formula One engine starts up. Perhaps if I talk nicely to Mr Mosley, and tell him how I supported his father’s campaigns for a ‘brave new world’ in my youth, he will take pity on me and any other readers who enjoy the sounds of Grand Prix engines, and postpone his evil thoughts until the year 2000.

But enough of the future. Spring has sprung and racing has restarted. Lotus Sevens are appearing on the roads, motorcycles with wire-spoke wheels are out and about again, tweaked-up saloon cars are having numbers painted on them, racing cars in workshops are having bodywork and wheels and tyres fitted, trailers and transporters are being dusted-off and there are all the signs of a busy season ahead, with something for everyone.

This month’s Memorable Moments come from Ian Suffield of Birkenhead. He has been following the sport for nearly four decades with no sign of dwindling interest:

I. In 1956, at the age of 18, I was at my first European motor race, at Reims, when Harry Schell really mixed it with the three Lancia-Ferraris driven by Fangio, Hawthorn and Collins. Harry was showing that the Vanwall was equal on speed to the Italian cars. All it needed was more reliability.

2. Again in 1956, this time at Silverstone, for the sports car race before the British Grand Prix. The D-type Jaguars of Desmond Titterington, Ron Flockhart, Ivor Bueb and Duncan Hamilton going four abreast into Copse Corner, chasing Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori in the works Aston Martins. That sight made the adrenalin flow.

3. The 1961 British Grand Prix in the Aintree rain. Moss, in Rob Walker’s Lotus 18, was chasing the powerful sharknose Ferrari 156s of Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther. Stirling lost it on the wet surface and spun through a full 360 degrees. He kept the engine going, and continued at unabated speed. (A classic example of proprioception — DS1.)

Further to the first instance, I was chatting after the race to Tony Vandervell, who was a bit steamed-up over the way the Ferrari team had deliberately run side-by-side on the straights to prevent Schell getting by with the faster Vanwall. “What are we going to do about those bloody red cars?” the old man growled. “Guvnor,” I said, “if Moss had been in your car he would have got by, even if he had had to use the grass.”

In 1957, Stirling led the team.

Yours, DSJ.