There used to be a time when Ferrari couldn’t hit a barn door from three paces. They were publicly loved, privately ridiculed — all that money, all that failure. These days, though, they run like a Swiss timepiece, fabled Latin temperament subjugated to the process of winning. Right now, they just can’t miss — as Herr Schumacher proved in Australia.
Formula One without Ferrari, heroic or chaotic, is unthinkable. But it was a distinct possibility 28 years ago, when I attended my first grand prix. The trip was a sixth birthday present. It was a gift akin to the Hornby 00 or Scalextric a father buys his new-born son — or daughter — but handed-down tales of motor racing meant I was on the edge of my seat (we stood, actually, adjacent to the Copse braking area) come race day. I was straining to see the Ferraris — and the BRMs.
Little did I know that both teams were in a slump. Ferrari, riven by industrial action back home, entered just one car for the 1973 British GP, to be driven by a disenchanted Jacky Ickx. I am pleased to say that in between sight-bites of black-and-gold Lotuses, Frank Gardner’s Wagnerian Camaro and a stardine shunt in a single-seater support race, I can picture the Belgian star’s gold-wheeled Ferrari shimmering over the rise to Maggotts. He finished a distant eighth, and his second spell with the Scuderia only had one more race to run.
Ferrari’s batten-down-the-hatches approach made sense. Regroup. Assess. Act. And in 1974, they were one of the top teams again, winning races, challenging for the title — a remarkable turnaround, when you come to think about it.
BRM sent three cars to Silverstone, at a time when two-car teams were the norm. Such practice was not unknown at the time — McLaren memorably had an extra car for Jody Scheckter that race — but what was different was that this was BRM’s idea of battening down the hatches. They had regularly run four, even five cars, the previous season. This grapeshot tactic was a desperate bid to raise revenue (Marlboro’s first Fl deal had a strong performance-related element to it) but it bankrupted the team — in terms of human resources as much as financially. They soldiered on, almost in denial, until 1977, but there was to be no Ferrari-like turnaround. Formula One without BRM, chaotic or heroic, was unthinkable. But it was reality.
Like Ferrari, BRM were loved and ridiculed. Like Ferrari, they were prone to theatrics. Like Ferrari, there were times when, and tracks where, they just couldn’t miss, and times when the barn was as safe as houses.
Big egos, tall stories, stranger-than-fiction truth, BRM was this country’s Ferrari. It’s a shame they went under, not Down Under.