The recent cancellation of the French Grand Prix and other races meant that there was something of a lull in Continental reporting, apart from some minor events, until a return was made to the homeland for the British Grand Prix. This break allowed the opportunity to journey to Stuttgart where a select little gathering took place amongst the heads of the racing department of Daimler-Benz, at which a presentation was made to Fangio and Moss. It is now a regular thing at that firm for them to present to their drivers some token of their gratitude for outstanding achievements, and it takes the form of a Mercedes-Benz star made in gold, in the form of a lapel pin. Fangio, on this occasion, was receiving his stars for his World Championship wins at Spa and Zandvoort and these Grand Prix wins merited the star having a surround of diamonds, the whole thing being nearly an inch in diameter, while he also received a normal gold one for his win with the 300 SLR at the Eifelrennen. All told Fangio now has a valuable collection of eight Grand Prix diamond pins, the gold one and a truly magnificent diamond and emerald one to commemorate last year’s World Championship. On the occasion in question Moss was receiving his first gold pin, for his win in the Mille Miglia, and in view of the outstanding performance he made and the record speed, the directors had decided to make the pin larger than that for a normal sports-car win. With the name of the race on the surround and a neat little Italian flag set into the scroll underneath the star it made a really handsome memento of a great occasion, apart from its intrinsic value. A similar star, but of a slightly smaller size, was also prepared for the writer, as a token of appreciation for accompanying Moss on that epic drive.
This presentation was, of course, only of importance to those directly affected, having no connection whatsoever with the Federation Internationale Automobile who arrange World Championships and such like, but it does show a rather nice appreciation on the part of Daimler-Benz of the efforts made on their behalf by their drivers.
Since the Le Mans incident many people have felt that the German firm have been taking a rather pompous attitude, saying they would only race on “safe” circuits, and offering their views on safety and so on. While not denying that some of their outpourings have savoured of the pompous and big-business angle, there is no getting away from the fact that they are the firm with the longest racing history, and successful at that. Also that this year they are the most powerful racing team, powerful in drivers, machinery, organisation and know-how, so that it is not surprising that race organisers, such as at Zandvoort, should ask the opinion of Mercedes-Benz officials. In France there has been a slight “impasse” due to a panel of high officials and experts who know all about everything, except motor-racing from the competitors’ viewpoint.
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The most startling happening in the past month has been the complete winding up of the Lancia Grand Prix team and the handing over of the cars and equipment to Enzo Ferrari. On first thoughts this seems a wild idea, but reflection recalls that in the early ‘thirties Alfa-Romeo withdrew from racing and handed over all their latest “monoposto” eight-cylinder cars to the same Enzo Ferrari. The Scuderia Ferrari Alfa-Romeos during 1933 and 1934 were virtually unbeatable, having the top drivers of the day at the wheel, such as Varzi, Chiron and Moll. Now it seems that we shall see the Scuderia Ferrari Lancias with Hawthorn, Castellotti and Trintignant at the wheel, a team that will want a lot of beating, even by Fangio.
With Mercedes-Benz withdrawing from Grand Prix racing next year and concentrating all their efforts on sports-car racing, and with the Lancia/Ferrari merger, it leaves the Grand Prix field with some vacancies. One hopes that these places will he filled by British Grand Prix teams and there is no reason why next year should not see the starting grids of the World Championship races having a preponderance of green cars assembled instead of the usual red ones. This year Maserati and Ferrari have made up the bulk of any Grand Prix entry, but if the Vanwall, Connaught and B.R.M. teams work really hard and can find suitable drivers, we could easily see next year’s races being monopolised, in numbers, by British cars. Much as I would like to see a British car win a Grand Prix, and I should certainly cheer as loudly as anyone, I am prepared to face up to the simple facts that Maserati and Ferrari will take a lot of beating. For my part I shall be more than content if we see a green car in each of the first five rows of the World Championship Grand Prix races. Approaching rapidly is the best opportunity this country has ever had to get a strong foothold in Grand Prix racing, for already the Vanwall and Connaught cars have shown their possibilities and now there is more than enough room for them on the grid. Drivers will certainly be a problem, as they always have been, but as Mercedes-Benz will be releasing Moss for the Grand Prix events, retaining him only for sports-car racing, there is another wonderful opportunity for one of our Grand Prix teams to snap him up before he looks towards Italy for a single-seater racing car.
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One of the biggest setbacks this season has been the cancellation of the Swiss Grand Prix and the German Grand Prix, and though on the face of it both events have been cancelled as a result of the Le Mans incident, or so the newspapers would have us think, there is more to it in each case. The Swiss Automobile Club have been treading on very thin ice with their meeting at Berne for many years now. Back during the mid-‘thirties the Burgomasters of Berne were worried about the lack of tourists to their town and the Motor Club offered to organise races round the Bremgarten Forest in order to attract visitors. It was agreed, in writing fortunately, that the roads could be closed once a year for a race meeting of cars and motorcycles and local trade began to look up. After a year or two world economics improved and people toured Switzerland and visited Berne anyway, so the Burgomasters said they could do without the motor races now, as they were noisy unruly gatherings that spoilt the general peace and calm of the city. The club thought otherwise and produced the signed document allowing one race meeting a year, and under great protest from the city fathers they continued to organise the Swiss Grand Prix on what is agreed by nearly everyone to be one of the best road circuits in Europe. This one meeting a year rule is also the reason why Berne is the only occasion when a car Grand Prix and a motor-cycle Grand Prix are run on the same weekend. This continual battle to be allowed to organise the Swiss Grand Prix has meant that there has not been very much assistance in the way of circuit improvements or modifications, and though the Swiss authorities have cancelled their meeting in sympathy with the French nation over its catastrophe, it is evident that it would not have been possible to have modified the circuit in any great way to avoid spectator risks. Whether or not we have seen the last Swiss Grand Prix at Berne is not known, but it is certain that the Swiss town authorities will not weep over the loss of the Bremgarten meeting; that is, not until they find the tourist trade dropping off again.
The Nurburgring cancellation is yet another complex matter and has little or no bearing on the safety-of-spectators factor, as published in many daily papers. The Automobile Club von Deutschland organised the motor-cycle Grand Prix at Nurburgring a short time ago and suffered a heavy financial loss through having only 18,000 people present, instead of the expected 450,000. The reason for this was partly a big football match on the same day, and also the Belgian motor-cycle Grand Prix the week after, and the fact that Spa was easier to get to by public transport than Nurburgring. While the A.V.D. were counting their losses two elderly gentlemen representing the overall German motor club, the O.N.S., tottered off to the Nurburgring and found it to be almost 100 per cent. safe from every aspect, only a few slight modifications being desirable around the back of the pit area. These were going to cost a negligible sum to carry out and the owners of the Nurburgring were prepared to foot the bill and guaranteed to have them completed at least a week before the practice began for the German Grand Prix. Meanwhile, the A.V.D. was looking in its empty coffers and rather than risk another terrific loss decided to cancel their Grand Prix. Instead of giving the financial reason they said the circuit could not be modified in time and the newspapers believed them. Even when the opposing German club the A.D.A.C. offered to run the meeting it was turned down, so due to internal ill-feeling and some tottery old men the sport has to suffer and lose the German Grand Prix for 1955. For very similar dubious reasons that are not wholly connected with the interests of the sport of motor racing, the French have had to put up with having their Grand Prix on the rather dull circuit of Reims and the British had to journey to the slums of Liverpool instead of the wide open spaces of Buckinghamshire for their Grand Prix.
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I recently had the pleasant experience of following two of the top Grand Prix drivers while driving across France for 100 miles or more and during that time my eyes were opened to one of the things that make a good driver better than the rest. People are always asking what it is that Fangio, Moss, Behra or Hawthorn have that others haven’t got and why could not Joe Soap do the same given the same opportunity. One can give reasons galore and explain this and that technique but it is never convincing, and the sort of people that make such inquiries never get the opportunity to stand right on the edge of the track and watch the top drivers cornering. Following Jean Behra across the south of France a while ago, he was motoring along at his normal reasonable rate for going home from a race meeting, cruising at 75-80 m.p.h. There was not much traffic about and the road wound gently, but I was very conscious that his brake lights were not working, bearing in mind how often I had been using my own brakes, until suddenly they did work and I realised that for many miles he just had not used the brakes, but had been lifting off and cornering quite rapidly in spite of this. Paying greater attention I began to realise that this lack of braking was deliberate and calculated and that he was approaching corners or possible incidents on a trailing throttle and waiting seconds longer than I was before he either braked or accelerated, depending on the road conditions, whereas I found I was braking as soon as the next move was not obvious. Nine times out of ten the next move was to accelerate and by the time this was obvious I had lost too much speed. Following about 50 yards behind I studied Behra’s brake lights and the road conditions ahead and soon realised just how smooth his driving was, and a glance at my rev-counter rather shook me as to the speed at which everything was being done. After some 20 or 30 miles I found that I was far more relaxed than usual and I could feel the smoothness at which the two cars were travelling. Fortunately Behra was making no attempts to hurry round the corners so that I was able to keep up and enjoy the driving lesson; had he decided to take the corners on the limit we should have had to progress into lesson number five, on the visual appreciation of the speed at which corners can be taken, and then I should have found myself in the ditch. Some while later I had occasion to follow Stirling Moss, running in convoy for many hundreds of miles across France, he driving at five-tenths, and I driving at eight-tenths, so that our average speed was the same. Once more we were cruising around the 80 m.p.h. mark and I soon realised that exactly the same set of circumstances were appertaining. At points where I could not see whether the next move was to brake hard or accelerate hard, I found I was braking and Moss was on a trailing throttle still waiting to see what the road conditions were going to develop into, and again nine times out of ten the result was acceleration which meant that I was on the wrong foot. After a severe talking to over lunch, I paid great attention and followed Moss closely, the line through corners being easy to reproduce, and as he was not trying, the speed was also easy to follow, but still this business of judgment of impending circumstances was foxing, though after a whole afternoon’s teaching I am glad to say that I showed a marked improvement. Naturally the reply to all this is what happened on the tenth occasion when the next move was not to accelerate but to brake? Simply that I was braking anyway, but Moss had to brake really hard and also do a little winding of the steering wheel, and most important, not to worry if the car was sideways on for a time.
I do not wish to give the impression that the foregoing is the reason why one driver becomes a Grand Prix driver and another remains a bus-driver, but it is one of the many hundreds of reasons, and together they all boil down to exceptional judgment of conditions and quick reflexes. This remarkable lack of braking, during main road driving, was clearly an attribute of both these drivers, and that it is not normal is shown from the fact that I have followed many friends at quite high speeds on main road runs, and until I followed the Grand Prix boys I had found my brake reactions were well up to standard for fast club drivers. Closely connected with this braking business is also the judgment of relative speeds, when motoring on public roads. The fine degree of judgment that Moss has when travelling at 80 m.p.h. and viewing from a distance a car going the same way at 40 m.p.h. another approaching at 50 m.p.h., for example, and the closing gap approaching the brow of a hill over which someone may appear on the wrong side of the road, is one of the reasons he is among the select few at the top of Grand Prix racing. Just how one learns to appreciate such conditions I am hoping to learn in future lessons. It was interesting that during the Mille Miglia practice in the 300 SLR Mercedes-Benz even Moss had difficulty in judging relative speeds. On a number of occasions while we were travelling at 155 m.p.h. we would see ahead of us, too far away to recognise the makes, two cars abreast and it was quite impossible to tell whether they were going opposite ways or one was overtaking the other. To be looking that far ahead will give you some appreciation of the concentration needed to drive at really high speeds on the open Ix road.
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