Memorable John Button

What a shame… and what a shock to be informed of John Button’s passing in your editorial. Having seen or heard nothing in the media, my wife and I were taken aback, since we frequently watch BBC news headlines and I admit to being a Facebook addict.

I had the pleasure of meeting him at last year’s Festival of Speed. I had been ushered into the ‘red carpet’ area, for a cuppa and a catch-up with a dear friend, when he appeared. With no introduction we simply connected and had a brief but memorable conversation. I told him how, 20 years earlier, I was racing karts at Clay Pigeon in Dorset, where Jenson cut his teeth under his dad’s supervision. My ‘team’ was a Rastafarian racing fan called Nardo, who used to play drums with the pop-reggae group Amazulu. We were already very much aware of Jenson, then racing in the Cadet class. We were feverishly working on my kart in preparation for the next heat when Nardo suddenly said: “Tim, forget the kart. Jenson’s on track!” We instantly downed tools and hastened to the barrier to watch this young boy in his black, ‘Darth Vader’ helmet carving his way from the back of the field to the front.

John listened keenly, his smile widening as I spoke. He started shaking his head and said:

“I know! We’ve been In Formula 1 for 14 years, and I still can’t believe It!”

He genuinely meant it. I was touched by his enthusiasm, his warmth, and his lack of affectation after so long in that elite world. It seems that folk like him are put on this earth just to brighten up the place. I don’t know who wrote these words, but they were surely meant for John... and for Jenson, to whom I send my deepest condolences, having lost my own father two years ago.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Tim Hain, Lower Kingswood, Surrey

Where was Alesi?

My thanks to Simon Arron for a fascinating article and a thoughtful list of Ferrari’s 20 greatest F1 drivers. I’m sure it was no easy task to leave out such as Patrick Tambay, René Arnoux, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti, Ricardo Rodriguez et al, but I feel that I must really protest the exclusion of Jean Alesi.

For me Ferrari has always been as much about glorious failures and overwhelming passion as it has outright success. Alesi embodied these attributes. Who can forget his supreme car control at a sodden Magny-Cours where, in 1992, he lapped only one second off the pace of the full wet-shod leaders... on slicks? His performances at Monza during his Ferrari years were something to behold as he regularly outperformed his uncompetitive machinery; victory was his for the taking in 1994 until, as so often, mechanical failure intervened.

His 1995 season featured many performances worthy of a multiple world champion. His victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the number 27 Ferrari was the emotional high point of the 1990s for many tifosi. Surely, a list that features Felipe Massa in 12th place could have found room for the diminutive French-Sicilian with the warrior spirit – the spirit of Ferrari?

Daniel Penfold, Folkestone, Kent

Ranking Chris Amon

At the New Zealand Festival of Motorsport at Hampton Downs, I was able to get Chris Amon to sign ‘his page’ in your feature on the greatest Ferrari Formula 1 drivers. It was only then I noticed the irony of his position in your rankings.

Given Amon’s reputation as the least lucky living F1 driver, is it coincidence that he is number 13 on your list?

Robin Fellingham, Feilding, New Zealand

Not entirely coincidental, no – SA

Brass tacks from Webber

Nigel Roebuck’s account of his meeting with Mark Webber in the March 2014 issue is worth the subscription on its own. A lot of down-to-earth common sense from Mark – just what you would expect – packaged and delivered by someone who clearly sympathised with every word. More please.

How about a series of updates from Mark on his first season with Porsche?

Trevor Oxley, York, Yorkshire

Back to our roots

I turned 48 this month and am going to take advantage of modern technology to program alerts into my phone in order to remind me not to watch F1 again.

CART and the IRL ate each other to the point that the surviving series is nearly invisible. NASCAR is only watchable for the last 40 laps. And F1 has lost its status of being the pinnacle of auto racing. The demise of all is due to the rule-makers and money-takers.

I don’t care if the series is ‘green’. DRS, degrading tyres, electronic shift, traction controls, push-to-pass, KERS and all the other competition-regulating devices are killing interest in the sport.

The best drivers in the best cars will always maximise the equipment to win. The F1 drivers are still incredible, as is the engineering; there is no diminishing what they do.

But I scream at the television when someone is closing or passing with DRS or KERS. How can a driver defend something like that? Now you are tossing in losing a championship through a mistake in a singular double-points race? When Bernie goes, rename the show ‘Formula Circus’.

I believe grass-roots sports car racing will continue to grow and will someday dominate because people can better relate to the drivers and cars. At the Rolex 24 I had the pleasure to meet Bradley Smith in his first race in a ‘big’ machine, his first endurance race and his first time at Daytona.

What an exciting day for him and an inspiring day for us. No tricks or gimmicks. Just him and the car against the clock.

Joseph Chimbolo, Madison, Connecticut, USA

Beyond a joke

I would like to put forward a rule change for F1 to work alongside the proposed double points for the last three rounds. I propose that at any GP, before the last three rounds, of course, any team can, only once, play its joker where double points would be awarded (applicable only to those scored during the weekend in question).

So that the public knows which team is playing its joker, the pit wall chief must at all times during the race wear a jester’s hat.

I saw my first GP at Aintree in 1959 and, in all seriousness, have had enough. Goodbye F1 until someone can make sensible rules.

I will continue to watch proper racing, with proper cars with drivers flat out, not touring, at the Donington Historic Festival, the Spring Classic and Spring Start at Silverstone, the odd hill climb and motor cycle racing at (fingers crossed) Mallory Park and Donington.

Andrew Edwards, Desborough, Northants

Petty infringement

I enjoyed Simon Taylor’s piece on Richard Petty. The King’s last NASCAR win at Daytona in 1984 was especially significant for several reasons: it occurred on July, Independence Day, President Ronald Reagan was in attendance and post-race inspection found that Richard’s car had a motor significantly over the required displacement. Richard denied knowledge of the oversize engine and said it was done without his knowledge by his brother, Maurice. NASCAR, following its usual practice, fined the team but did not negate the win.

Richard was indeed a good racer on road courses. I saw him in action at Riverside in 1976, taking the ess bends section as one straight line, jumping all the kerbs. It was sad to see him race back in the pack in later years.

He was asked when his Chevrolet racer would be painted Petty blue, and replied, “When it performs like a Petty Enterprises race car”.

Paul Meis, Winston-Salem, N Carolina, USA

Silver memories

The March 2014 article about the Mercedes 300 SLR coupé brought back happy memories of the 1955 TT at Dundrod.

One of these cars passed scrutineering and was driven by Fangio, who drove Karl Kling around to show him the circuit. This did not last long as the stewards soon put a stop to this breach of the rules.

BP made an outstanding film of the 1955 TT and the coupé can clearly be seen. Also present at Dundrod was the Mercedes-Benz high-speed transporter, which could carry a racing car at more than 100mph. Another Uhlenhaut masterpiece?

The three 300 SLRs finished first, second and third after the Hawthorn/Titterington D-type seized on the penultimate lap.

Donald Grieve, Belfast, N Ireland

Gone in Sixties seconds

In 1956 I persuaded my father to give me my uncle’s 1924 six-cylinder 37.2hp Hispano-Suiza for my birthday – cost £100. As a medical student I spent a lot of time looking after it, but crashed it in 1961 and spent the next two years repairing it. The coachwork and painting were finished at Walkers Garage, World’s End, Kings Road, Chelsea. When I took a job in Ottawa, Canada in 1966, I left the car at Walkers. I returned in December 1967 to find Walkers replaced by an apartment building. No Hispano!

None of my Hispano contacts has been able to find a trace of it. I always wondered where XU 9759 went, and would like to supply its history to the current owner, if he cares to contact me.

Bill Sutherland, Ayr, Ontario, Canada

Responses can be forwarded – GC

Good runner, hardly used…

The Alan Mann Escort XOO 349F was owned by Stuart Oliver, a Carlisle-based engineer who worked with the late Eric Smith, ex-Scottish saloon champion.

In the early ’80s I took my MK1 Lotus Cortina to the pair to have it tuned properly and was offered the Escort as a ‘roller’ minus engine and gearbox for £1500. Stuart had been racing the car up here in the North and had taken the engine out to put in a modsports Lotus Elan he had just acquired. Whether it was a twin-cam or a BDA I can’t remember, but it certainly wasn’t an FVA at that time. The car would have needed a roll-cage fitting while in Stuart’s ownership. By the way, the Elan met an untimely end at Oulton Park when it was destroyed in an accident that took place after the chequered flag!

I’ve always regarded the Escort as my biggest missed opportunity, but money was tight at the time. I even sold the Cortina for £700. It makes you weep.

Andrew Armstrong, Carlisle, Cumbria

Man of manners

The article by Doug Nye on the late Tony Gaze brought back some fond memories and a realisation of how fortunate I was to have had the pleasure and honour of meeting Tony.

While working with Alan Moffat’s Ford touring car team in Australia, I encountered Jon Davison. Jon had been competing very successfully in a Lola and a Matich Formula 5000. I later met most of Jon’s family, including his mother Diana, a charming lady, and her husband Tony. I had no idea of Tony’s background other than that he had raced in the immediate post-war period. He was just a relatively quiet gentleman, always immaculately groomed and impeccably mannered. I believe Diana and Tony attended most race meetings where Jon and his brother Richard were racing.

Doug’s story filled in all the blanks that I didn’t know; what a pity I found out only after Tony had passed away.

John Cooney, Auckland, New Zealand

Chasing shadows

I have admired a number of your editorials over the last year, when you have noted how F1, in its pursuit of a wider audience, does not seem to care about the aficionados, presumably because they know you will always watch. The irony is that recent changes are putting off the only other regular audience they will get – namely general sports fans. ‘Exciting’ innovations such as KERS, DRS and dodgy tyres do not make the sport more exciting, but suggest it does not trust in its own product enough to present us simply with the racing.

Similarly, a world championship becomes irrelevant if all the new tracks look the same: China, India and Bahrain are all entirely interchangeable.

F1 must realise that chasing after non-sports fans will not work. As the lack of a post-Olympics legacy shows, it’s a fool’s errand to rely on those not really interested in sport to retain an interest for any length of time – especially if you annoy your committed fans.

Robert Kirkham, Chelford, Cheshire