Continental Notes, August 1960

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SO far this season the record of the Cooper works team has been outstanding, with Brabham winning four Grand Prix races in a row and McLaren being second, third and fourth on the last three occasions. Even the most keen Lotus fan must have noticed how the two Cooper drivers keep finishing and are well placed, and how very little bother the two works Coopers seem to give. These gratifying results cannot be laid at the door of any one man, or any one item, such as the Cooper chassis, or the Climax engine. Race-winning is the result of a number of variables coinciding with one another to form a static and balanced unit, and in the Cooper team we have an excellent example of the harmonious blending of these variables. This success probably stems originally from John Cooper’s decision to concentrate solely on Formula 1 racing, and to not try and do too much, or at least not more than he felt his small organisation was capable of. Having made a success of most of the projects he has launched over the past 10 years, though not all of them, anyone working for John Cooper must have sufficient confidence in his ability, to work for him unquestioningly. In having Brabham as his number-one driver he has with him a man he has known and worked with for many years, long before Brabham ever took up Grand Prix racing, and the two of them can work closely and with very little difference of opinion. His second driver, young Bruce McLaren, is obviously a skilled driver, determined as far as his ability will allow him to be, sensible and intelligent enough to not drive “over his head” and, above all else, a great admirer of Jack Brabham. At no time does McLaren suffer from any high ideas about being able to beat the number-one Cooper driver, and he is more than content to follow Brabham and learn from him, while, equally, Brabham is only too happy to teach a keen pupil. Both of them have mechanical knowledge and do not mind getting their hands dirty, and Brabham in particular knows as much about engine preparation as anyone, so that they are both an enormous help to the Cooper mechanics, who, after all, can only prepare the cars in the garage; when they are being driven round the track they can have no idea of what is going on and a mechanically sensitive driver such as Brabham is an enormous asset.

The chief mechanic of the Cooper team has been with John Cooper for a number of years, and literally grew up with the Cooper-Climax cars, haying served an apprenticeship in the meticulous school of the Connaught Racing Team and then learnt about Coopers under Bill James, who last year retired from racing after a long period of service.

So there you have the make-up of a highly successful little unit, where everyone has his own particular part, and they all work in happy accord with a high degree of mutual respect for each in his own sphere. Heading the organisation and shouldering all the responsibility is John Cooper, who has always been noted for the speed at which he can get things done, and even if he occasionally does things the wrong way, and makes mistakes, they are invariably well done and solid. The real secret of the success of the Cooper works team is their ability to work together in a reasonably happy unison, which in itself is encouraged by the group not being too big and is partly one reason why they only run two of the 1960 works cars. Having tried running a team of three cars and drivers last year, John and his father came to the conclusion that they were trying to do more than they could really cope with, so that the whole set-up was getting too big for them to keep personal contact. The wisdom of running only two cars, with two extremely well-blended drivers, can be seen by the results. There is nothing more difficult for the human being to get along with than another human being, and the fact that John Cooper has gathered around him a small band of men who work so well together must be considered as luck, and all credit to him for exploiting his luck.

The question of accord between drivers in teams is vitally important to the suceess of the team, and though two drivers may be quite friendly enough to all intents and purposes, it is rare to get two that blend so perfectly as Brabham and McLaren. When you see them set off for practice one behind the other—and very promptly nowadays, being on the job from the word go—you are seeing the 1960 versions of Ascari and Villoresi in the days of the 4CLT Maserati, Fangio and Gonzalez in the A6GCM Maseratis, Manzon and Simon in the Gordinis, Fangio and Moss in the Mercedes-Benz, or Hawthorn and Collins in the Lancia-Ferraris, and such a combination of drivers is not only good for the morale of the team, it is also good for the drivers concerned and helps a great deal towards race winning.

In reporting race meetings there is often too much emphasis put on the troubles that occur to racing cars, rather than the lack of troubles. This is easily understood, for when something goes wrong it is easy to see and describe, whereas when a car goes perfectly and does its job without fault there is not a lot that can be said about it. When a Grand Prix race starts the first car to visit the pits should be deemed a failure, whereas it often gets more space than the winner, as details are given about bits that have broken, or bodges that are made by mechanics in order to get it running again. At Zandvoori recently a car lost a wheel in practice because someone had forgotten to do up the hub nut properly; at Monaco the leading car had a plug lead come adrift, presumably because it was not affixed properly in the first place. Cars stop at the pits to have fuel lines tightened up, which could not have been tightened properly before the race, or oil pipes leak because they were the wrong ones, or were badly fitted; big-end bolts break because they were not inspected and renewed at the right time, and so it goes on. All this makes good copy for the reporter and, presumably, interesting reading for the consumer, but I feel it is all wrong, and more space should be given to the mechanic whose big-end bolts do not break, whose plug leads do not come off, whose oil pipes do not leak, and so on, but it is very difficult unless you live with each mechanic, watching every detail of his work, but that is impossible for good mechanics are proud beings, and successful ones are somewhat secretive, and rightly so, for it is their good work that allows their driver to win races, so why pass on the knowledge to others.

It would be nice to give more details about the preparation of the successful racing cars by the mechanics, but as that is not possible, one can only instance the failures, in the hope that by inference, credit is being reflected where it should be. In other words, the team of mechanics who never get mentioned can consider themselves the most successful ones, and when I say team of mechanics, it applies equally to the designer and builder of the car and engine.

In 1955, when Mercedes-Benz got a stranglehold on Grand Prix racing and finished 1-2-3-4 in the British Grand Prix, and dominated most of the events in which they competed, there were people who did not enjoy it and wished they would go away. This they did at the end of 1955, leaving the 1956 Grand Prix Season wide open to the also-rans, and there resulted some very interesting racing. This year the engine-building firm of Coventry-Climax have taken over the position of Mercedes-Benz for both Cooper and Lotus use the twin-cam Climax engine, and if one make doesn’t win the other one does, so that the Coventry firm have won every Grand Prix race so far this season in the World Championship series: Argentine (Cooper), Monaco (Lotus), Zandvoort (Cooper), Belgium (Cooper), French (Cooper), British (Cooper). In the recent British Grand Prix Climax engines filled the first five positions, in the French Grand Prix the first eight positions, in the Belgian Grand Prix the first three positions, and so it goes on.

Now if Coventry-Climax said, like Daimler-Benz, we have learnt all we need from racing, and there is no more opposition, so we will retire, we should be left with an interesting scene where the “special builders,” Cooper and Lotus, would have to give up, and racing would be between Ferrari, B.R.M., Aston Martin, Vanwall, Scarab and Maserati, all of whom build their own cars complete, chassis, engine, suspension, etc., instead of assembling “a bit from here and a bit from there.” Race speeds might stiffer a bit, but that would not matter greatly. Alternatively, of course, we could hope that some new engine manufacturer could come along and beat the Coventry-Climax engine, or we could change the Formula for Grand Prix racing—come to think of it, isn’t that what has been done?

In the cycling world the Tour de France is considered the peak and in the car rally world the Tour de France might well rank equally. For those who like driving and dicing the 9th Tour de France takes place between September 15th and 23rd, starting at Nice and finishing at Clermont-Ferrand, having taken in Mont Ventoux, Nurburgring, Spa, Montffiery, Rouen, Le Mans, and plenty of mountainous going as well. There are plenty of money prizes and as the French Shell-Berre petrol company are sponsoring the event there should be fuel in abundance.