– Ferrari P4 sighting stirs Daytona memories
– The motivation that will drive Kubica onwards
– For Montoya, NASCAR racing still beats F1
Even when u are in entirely familiar surroundings — as I was a few weeks ago in the Daytona paddock — surprises still lie in wait occasionally, and you get stopped in your tracks.
As I have written many times before, they do things properly at Daytona. Where the atmosphere of a Formula 1 paddock — no longer available to the public, sadly — can feel hostile to a newcomer, that at Daytona — still available to the public, happily, for a mere $35 — is entirely welcoming. At Bill France's track you get the impression that the spectator is important, that everything possible has been done to encourage you back.
The garages, for example, each have a window in the back to allow fans to watch the cars being worked on, to see the drivers talking with their engineers, and so on. And immediately behind the garages, laid out neatly — not roped off — sits a selection of cars which have previously run at Daytona. I'll confess that some are of more interest than others — the presence of a Mk1 Escort rather baffled me, until I noted the name of its driver, one PLNewman — but there are gems to be found here, and as I wandered round, following my nose, I could hardly believe the registration plate on which my eyes alighted: 'New York. 330 P4'...
For me there could have been no more beguiling plate. Ever since my first visit there, 40 years ago, New York has been my favourite city, a place which — even in its somewhat `Disneyfied' 21st-century state — enchants me every time I go there. And as for '330 P4'... Ferrari's 1967 masterpiece is for me the most beautiful sports racing car ever built, challenged only by the Maserati 300S of 1956. Aston Martins never did it for me, I'm afraid.
I had no idea there was a P4 on the premises, and thus the impact of suddenly seeing it again — for the first time in 30 years — was all the more powerful. I walked around it and around it, taking photographs, and later on I went back and did the same again.
Long ago I asked Mauro Forghieri who had been responsible for the car's unimprovable lines, and he said he couldn't remember: "Maybe was more than one person... Maybe just happen..." Well, maybe it did. What's certain is that if 'more than one person' was involved, they must have been on very good terms: to my eyes, at least, this car — even more than the 250GT0 — is perfection, somehow elegant and brutal at the same time.
Only three pure P4s were built, and I'm told that all survive. The one on display was the actual car driven to victory in the 1967 Daytona 24 Hours — the 24 Hour Daytona Continental, as it was known in those days — by Lorenzo Bandini and Chris Amon, beating the sister car of Mike Parkes and Lodovico Scarfiotti by three laps. Third was an updated P3, driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Jean Guichet — 39 laps behind the winner, no less.
While the new Chaparral 2F, complete with radical high wing, was expected to be the quickest car in the race (and duly proved to be), the event was billed as a battle between Ferrari and Ford, with an unusual degree of 'grudge' built in. Ford, it will be remembered, had attempted to buy Ferrari some little time before, and the deal appeared to be going through until Enzo — with no explanation to Henry — abruptly said no at the last minute and began serious talks with Fiat, which bear financial fruit to this day. In Dearborn they were not pleased about this, and — spurred by Carroll Shelby, who had had his own disputes with the Old Man — they decided that an all-out effort should be made to beat Ferrari fair and square, most particularly at Le Mans, then emphatically the most important race on earth.
It is easy, in this era of Bernie Ecclestone's Formula 1, to forget that 40 and 50 11191, years ago the Le Mans 24 Hours was of far greater significance than any Grand Prix. "Ferrari's first love was always Fl," Phil Hill once told me, "but in my time there the first emphasis was on Le Mans, because he knew how prestigious it was — how much it mattered to the people who might buy road cars from him. It wasn't that he ever had much interest in the road cars — none, in fact! — but he needed the money from them to pay for his racing..."
John Surtees, who succeeded Hill as Ferrari's number one, told me a similar tale. "In winter testing, you know, you'd go out in the F1 car — and then you didn't see it again for ages! It was always the sports cars that came first, and I'll admit I was taken aback by that when I first went there — it wasn't what I'd expected."
Le Mans in 1966 proved to be a race of immense significance. For one thing Surtees, fresh from winning the Belgian Grand Prix, had one falling-out too many with the obsessively partisan team manager, Eugenio Dragoni, and left the team forthwith; for another Ferrari, after winning the race six years on the trot, was soundly beaten by Ford's 7-litre Mklls, the lead car being driven by Bruce McLaren and his 22-yearold team-mate, one C Amon...
Come the autumn, Christopher was quietly approached by Keith Ballisat of Shell: would he be interested in driving for Ferrari? "I thought about it for a minute, and decided I might be..."
It wasn't as straightforward a decision as might have been thought, for while Amon was highly regarded by Ford, more to the point was that he was driving Can-Am cars for McLaren, and Bruce saw him as central to his blossoming F1 plans. "I always felt a little bit bad about it," said Chris, "because Bruce had helped me a lot, and although he understood my decision, probably my relationship with him was never quite the same afterwards. When I got to Maranello, though, and saw the set-up there I thought, 'I've just got to do this.'
"I went there after doing the Laguna Seca Can-Am race with McLaren — flew from San Francisco to Milan, where Ballisat picked me up. 'This deal,' I said. 'Is it just for sports cars — or F1, too?' It's for everything,' he said.
"When we went in to see Ferrari, I was dead tired after the long overnight flight. I knew he already had Bandini, Scarfiotti and Parkes signed up, and I wanted to be sure he was offering me F1 as well as sports cars. He said he was, so I said, 'Well, how about we put that in the contract?' and he said no. I asked why, and he said, 'This is our standard contract — and if I say it's '5 for F1, it's for F1.'
"Not very reassuring, with three other guys under contract, but in all the time I was with Ferrari, the Old Man never ever told me a lie — he always did what he said he'd do. At the time, though, it was all new to me: I hoped for the best, signed — and then went off to have my first experience of a lunch with Enzo.
"Racing for Ferrari was a little different in those days! To give you an example, I remember testing the F1 car at Modena one day, and the Old Man turned up to watch. We went off for lunch, and when he offered me wine I wondered if this was some sort of test — do I say yes or no? I took a deep breath and said yes — and he said, 'Good! You'll go faster this afternoon..."
In fact, the very first time Amon took the wheel of a factory Ferrari, it was the new P4 at Daytona. There was at the time, as Chris said, a certain amount of bad blood between Ferrari and Ford, born in the days of the failed buyout, which was taken ill by the Ford hierarchy and exacerbated — on Enzo's side — by Ford's defeat of Ferrari at Le Mans, to which Amon had contributed, of course. It would be the sweetest thing, the Old Man concluded, to humiliate the Americans on their own territory, and to that end two P4s were flown to New York at the end of November, then trailered down to Daytona, where all four drivers were on hand to test.
Such an expense — unprecedented for Ferrari in that era — was proof positive of the Old Man's resolution to take his revenge. At Daytona Amon had his first experience of life as a Ferrari driver.
"Although he went soon after, Dragoni was still in charge. I was very much the new boy, and I rather got the impression I was to be treated as such! I was itching to get in the thing, of course, but I was very much fourth in the pecking order. The other guys were friendly enough, but whereas Bandini was warm and welcoming from the start, I sort of felt that Parkes and Scarfiotti were wary of me...
"Anyway, they all trundled round for a while — but none of them had been to Daytona before, whereas I'd done thousands of miles there. Finally they let me get in the car and I immediately went four or five seconds quicker, which I think rather shattered them.
"We were using the road circuit, of course, which uses part of the banking at each end of the tri-oval, and then dives off into the infield. Lorenzo kept talking about the full oval and just before the end of the test, instead of braking for the infield section, he kept his boot in it, went between the cones and headed off towards turn one — I can't remember what speed he did, but it was quicker than the NASCAR guys were running at the time..."
When they went back for the race in February, the Ferraris' triumph was absolute. Phil Hill led at first, but the Chaparral broke, as expected, and the six 7-litre Fords — crewed by McLaren/Bianchi, Foyt/Gurney, Hulme/Ruby, Andretti/ Ginther, Bucknum/Gardner and Donohue/ Revson — suffered mass transmission failures in their efforts to stay with the 4-litre Ferraris. The shot of them taking the flag, three abreast, was to become an iconic photo in racing history. The next morning they ran it on the front page of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal, the headline reading Ferrari: Primo, Secondo, Terzo.
To no one's great surprise, Henry Ford 11 declined to hang around for the finish, and perhaps it was just as well. "At the press conference," said Amon, "someone asked me — as the only guy who'd driven both — to compare the Mk11 with the P4, and I said it was the difference between a truck and a thoroughbred."
(I thought of this again recently when Ford announced it was suing Ferrari for a trademark infringement over the use of 'F150' for the latest F1 car. Ford's po-faced contention is that Ferrari has used the name `to capitalise and profit from the substantial goodwill that Ford has developed in the F-150 trademark'. You might think I'm being facetious — or that it's April 1 — but not so. The company seeks both 'unspecified damages' and a block on Ferrari's using the name in the US — perhaps someone should point out to them that there isn't a Grand Prix there this year. Forty-four years on, it seems Ford's inability to distinguish between trucks and thoroughbreds persists...)
That same sense of humour failure was apparent back in '67. "I answered the question instinctively," said Amon, "and it didn't go down well with Ford. Too bad — the fact is that the 330 P4 was a gorgeous thing to drive, and the Ford wasn't! I guess there might have been a bit of 'edge' in it — when Bruce and I won Le Mans the year before, Ford made a great fuss of us, dragged us to sundry receptions in the States and promised us the earth — including a Mustang each. Bruce never got his, and I'm still waiting for mine...
"The Old Man was thrilled by Daytona," Chris smilingly remembered, "and I think the icing on the cake was that I'd been in the winning car..." It was not by chance that the company's flagship 365 GTB/4, introduced the following year, swiftly became known as the Ferrari Daytona.
Thereafter in 1967 Ferrari and Ford never did battle again until Le Mans, one or other of them skipping the intervening rounds of the World Sports Car Championship. At Monza Bandini and Amon won again, but then, only a fortnight later, the Italian died from burns received in a horrific accident in the Monaco Grand Prix.
Amon, making his F1 debut for Ferrari, finished third, but was devastated by the loss of his friend, and only too aware that Maranello life was going to be very different from now on.
"Lorenzo was a lovely guy," he said, "and it took a while to get over his death. At the Le Mans test weekend he'd been quickest in the P4, and we really wanted to win that race. Just before it I got a letter from Margherita, his widow, saying, 'Please try to win Le Mans for Lorenzo...' Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
"I was driving with [Nino] Vaccarella and maybe, if we'd had both cars running towards the end, we might have had a shot at beating the Fords, but once our car was out, that was it. At a place like Le Mans, Ford just steamrollered everyone on power. I remember sitting with Parkes in the caravan on Sunday morning — he'd noticed how the winning average went up by about the same amount every year, and he had his slide rule out. Mike reckoned it was going to take an average of about 128 — but at that point the leading Ford was averaging almost 140! 'They can't do it,' he kept saying, and it was about the only time he was wrong..."
Ford's interest in the 1967 sports car campaign had been confined to the two American races, Daytona and Sebring, plus Le Mans, but neither had Ferrari competed in every event. As the last round — the inaugural BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch — beckoned, Porsche was in a position to beat Ferrari to the championship.
For the only time in its life, the Chaparral 2F held together at Brands, taking Phil Hill and Mike Spence to victory, but Amon — on this occasion partnered by Jackie Stewart — finished second and that was enough to give Ferrari the title. The factory P4s had raced for the last time.
Amon drove it one more time, though. By 1975 the car with which he and Bandini had won at Daytona had been bought by an Englishman, and resided, as I recall, in Leicester! The car was on display at the Racing Car Show that year, and as I drooled over it anew the owner came up and introduced himself. I mentioned how much Chris had loved the P4, and he said, `D'you think he'd like to be reunited with it? I'd be honoured..."
I rang Amon, and it took him all of two seconds to accept the offer. Thus it was that we drove up to Oulton Park on a sunny June morning, and as we arrived there in the distance was the howl of that 4-litre V12. Into the pits the car came, Chris at once remarking that it looked in better — certainly cleaner — nick than in its heyday.
After Amon had given the P4's owner some idea of his car's abilities, I was invited aboard, and climbed into a passenger seat never intended to take a passenger. No seat belts, either, as far as I remember. Away we went for half a dozen laps I have never forgotten — tail out, power on, through Old Hall...
When the day was done, Chris gazed at the P4 for a long time. "Wonderful," he said. "Like being back with an old girlfriend for a few hours."
It was not only on drivers of Amon's generation that the P4 had a powerful effect, as I discovered in April 1982, when a historic meeting at Montlhery coincided neatly with the end of a week's pre-season holiday in France. The car on hand belonged to David Piper — and was to be driven by Didier Pironi, no less, then Gilles Villeneuve's team-mate at Ferrari.
The F1 cars of the time were wretched things to drive — ground effect, solid 'skirts', no suspension worth the name, and thus no warning of imminent breakaway — and when I talked to Pironi, it was clear he was enthralled by the P4. "It's so comfortable," he said, "and the engine's so smooth and progressive. You can steer it with the throttle if you want. I love this car..."
Plainly he did, for even when an ominous trail of oil smoke appeared and then began to grow, Didier did not back off, screaming past the pits every lap, in the lead by miles. I watched with Piper, his expression mirroring both joy at seeing the car driven like this and increasing concern at wondering how much this was going to cost him... Finally the engine let go, and David took it bravely, I thought.
Never from that day on did I see a Ferrari 330 P4 again until happening upon the one in the Daytona paddock — the very car which had won there in 1967, the very one in which I'd ridden at Oulton. As ever, I greatly enjoyed the 24 Hours, but my weekend was made even before it began.
Such gestures have long been traditional in the USA, in NASCAR and Indycar, but in F1 I can never remember an overt demonstration of support such as that shown to Robert Kubica at the Jerez test a few days after his dreadful accident in the Ronde di Andora Rally. When the cars came out on the first morning, all carried the message, in Polish, 'Get well soon Robert'.
He's a popular man in the paddock, Kubica, and for good reason. As well as being a supreme racing driver — both Jackie Stewart and Martin Brundle have told me they have Robert firmly in the top four, bracketed with Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton — he is an engaging fellow, by no means an extrovert, but one who follows his own path, wryly observing much of the madness of Formula 1, letting the others do their own thing.
In many respects, Kubica is a Grand Prix driver out of his time. One can easily picture him in the 1960s or '70s, relishing the (real) Niirburgring, driving F1 cars one weekend, F2 the next, sports cars after that. What I'm saying is that Robert personifies racer. No creature of the PR age, he finds himself in the profession of which he dreamed — sometimes hopelessly — through childhood in Poland, and the only part of it that matters a damn to him is the driving. In that respect, he reminds one more of Stirling Moss or Mario Andretti or Pedro Rodriguez than any of his contemporaries.
Men such as they counted a weekend without a race as a weekend lost, and Kubica is much the same. The World Championship may be stretched to 20 weekends now, but intra-season testing is banned, which means that time actually spent in an F1 car is far less than it used to be, and not enough to satisfy one of Robert's mentality. He couldn't care less about the superficial glitz of modern motor racing: he simply wants to compete.
In a paddock his default expression is serious, because to him this is a serious business — making the car, and himself, ever quicker. A couple of years ago, Jimmie Johnson described to me how it was to drive a stock car: "The thing is, a new set of tyres lasts no time at all, so the car is never right, never good enough..."
You get the impression that Kubica sees an F1 car in the same terms: it can never be good enough. Teams for which he has driven testify to the fact that he drives everyone relentlessly, but they have no quarrel with that, for they understand that he is at least as uncompromising with himself. As well as that, they know — as Ayrton Senna's engineers and mechanics knew — that if they can find the minutest improvement in the car, it will be instantly reflected in the lap time.
Kubica has not had it easy. He grew up in a country where F1 meant almost nothing, and thus offered no help at all to a talented kid on a kart. "I know it sounds hard to say that," he told me last year, "but that's how it was. On the other hand, I'm quite sure that the difficult times I had in the past made me stronger — as a driver and as a person. And, you know, one thing I believe is that there are always positive things about a situation which seems negative..."
Certainly that's a philosophy on which he must be putting great call at the moment. Just a few days after setting fastest time in the opening test of the season at Valencia he went rallying, and... the rest we know.
I remember a similar circumstance 30 or so years ago. In 1979 the gentlemen of Ligier — for reasons I was never sure they fully understood — found themselves suddenly with a car competitive beyond belief. Messrs Laffite and Depailler were in clover, Jacques winning at Buenos Aires and Interlagos, Patrick at Jarama.
After that race in Spain Depailler shared the lead of the World Championship with Gilles Villeneuve, and although he finished at neither Zolder nor Monaco, still he was on course for the best F1 season of his life.
Hard to believe now, but in 1979 there was not a single Grand Prix in the month of June, and Depailler was never one to sit around. One day he went hang-gliding, and got thrown by turbulence back into the mountainside, severely breaking his legs. "The worst of it," he told me, "was lying there all those weeks, not knowing if I would recover properly. For a long time there was the possibility of amputation, and I was very frightened — not for five months was I sure to drive again..."
The reaction of his team was chilling, I thought. Not only had Depailler behaved irresponsibly, Ligier said, he had also broken his contract. Patrick insisted that was not true. "I had no restrictions in the contract. For sure I wasn't allowed to do things like that when I was with Tyrrell — I waited five years to go hang-gliding when I was with Ken, and I started it the week after I left his team..."
In the aftermath of Kubica's accident a rumour arose that he had not had permission to do this rally, that the Renault folk were angry, and so on, but such was not the case. They were, of course, mortified by what had befallen their star driver, but team principal Eric Boullier stamped firmly on suggestions that Robert had gone against his contract. Renault knew what kind of a man he was, understood his need to go rallying, and had no wish to put strictures on him.
Boullier did not want "a corporate driver — a robot", he said, which I must say I thought refreshing in this era. Whether that attitude is shared by those who pay the bills, on the other hand, may be less certain. Of course one always loves a free spirit in motor racing, one not muzzled by dreary PR speak, but the fact is inescapable that Robert's team (still 'Renault', in spite of the fact that the company no longer has any financial interest in it) is facing probably an entire Grand Prix season without a number one driver. No small thing, that.
Still, Boullier's contention is that to restrict Kubica's extra-F1 activities would be to put his contentment — and therefore perhaps his motivation — at risk. Make no mistake, a committed F1 driver he may be, but Robert loves rallying, and always has. When Tasked him who, if any, his childhood heroes had been, he mentioned not Senna or Prost, but Sainz and McRae.
An aspect of Kubica's driving is that, while being blindingly fast, it is also astonishingly free of mistakes. "I was always the type of person who liked consistency," he said. "McRae, who unfortunately is not here any more, really impressed me when I was young. But once I started young. once racing at a high level I became much more impressed by Sainz — OK, the way he drove was not as spectacular as Colin, but he was always very quick, and he was delivering. In the same way, I put pressure on myself to be consistent — and to deliver. That was my only way into F1 — I had very few chances because I was coming in from nowhere, I didn't have any big sponsors, and if I didn't deliver in half a year I was gone. Of course it's important to be aggressive, but somehow you have to get the balance just right — so you push, but you don't go over the limit..."
Kubica has had difficult times before. His accident at Montreal in 2007 was perhaps the most horrifying of recent years — "To go from 260kph to zero into the wall was not ideal..." — but he was virtually unhurt and missed only one race. More serious was a road accident, in which he was a passenger, during his F3 days. His right arm — so grievously injured again recently, of course — was badly broken, and for a long time he was unable to race.
"When something like that happens, during the time you are away from racing you are not the same person — you are much more motivated, you are looking forward to coming back. I remember that I was training afterwards for seven or eight hours a day — it was incredible! I would like to be so motivated every day of my life..."
In the coming months, while we regret the absence of a man who looked set to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari and McLaren, he will need all that motivation, and more. Get well soon, indeed, Robert.
Since I was last at Daytona, in January of 2010, they had resurfaced the entire track for the first time since 1978, taking it right back to its 1959 core before starting. The place is now spirit-level smooth, and not all the NASCAR drivers are thrilled about it, feeling that the elimination of the bumps on the banking has reduced the driving challenge.
A year ago Juan Pablo Montoya was one of several to regret the imminent change, but now the work has been done he said he was quite happy about it.
"Certainly it's more easily flat now than it was, but even before the resurfacing it was like that — the main difference is that, because of the bumps, the tyres used to wear really fast. Halfway through each stint it stopped being about drafting, and it became about handling — how much grip you had left — and that was always fun. Now I think it's going to be all about drafting, like Talladega — except that Talladega is really wide, and Daytona isn't! I think you're going to see a very different sort of Daytona 500 this year.
"We have to use the [carburettor] restrictor plate here and at Talladega, of course, which halves the normal horsepower, but on the new surface we're still lapping at close to 200. And if we took the plate out, I'm sure we'd be well over 220, which would be a little too much..."
I was at Indianapolis on the day in 2003 when, for a stunt, Montoya (above right) and Jeff Gordon swapped cars, when JPM had his first experience of NASCAR. Now he has been in stock cars for all but five years, I wondered if ever he wished for a day in an F1 car — simply to experience it again.
He made a face. "Mmm, in some ways, yes. What I always say to people is that nothing drives anything like an F1 car — nothing. But — but — as well as it drives, it's hopeless to race. By contrast, a Cup car doesn't do anything incredible — but to race one is fun, because you're always in a race with someone, and it's possible to overtake.
"It seems to me that in F1 it doesn't really matter what they do with the rules, this overtaking problem is still there. OK, this year they're going back to KERS and bringing in moveable rear wings — but everyone's going to have them, so...
"Now, the way the rules are, they have to push lots of buttons all the time — and, from what I understand, these buttons operate things that have nothing to do with driving skill. I mean, are we racing here, or are we being electrical engineers?"
Clearly Montoya is happier in the environment in which he now finds himself, and misses little of what he left. I asked him about Michael Schumacher, with whom he crossed swords on many an occasion, yet never once — in half a never once — a dozen seasons — exchanged a word...
To my surprise, Juan Pablo had some sympathy for Schumacher's plight in 2010. "The cars had changed a lot since he retired, and you don't have testing any more. I don't care who you are — whether you're Schumacher or Prost — if you don't have the time in the car, it's difficult. At the end of the year he seemed to be coming around a bit."
Do you think, I said, that Michael might be a real factor again in 2011?
"Yeah, he might..." A pause, then the familiar grin. "But Nigel, if I said I cared, would you believe me?"