Reflections on the British Grand Prix

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AFTER the recent Belgian Grand Prix there was a great deal of admiration for Clark having won that race four times in a row. After the British Grand Prix a lot of people overlooked the fact that Clark has now won our own Grand Prix four times in a row, and what is more, on three different circuits. In 1962 at Aintree, in 1963 at Silverstone, in 1964 at Brands Hatch and now at Silverstone again. It was only to years ago that Stirling Moss made history by being the first British driver to win the British G.P. and two years later he made more history with Tony Brooks, by winning it with a British car, now Clark has won it four times and each time in a Lotus-Climax V8. I wonder if some of us are getting complacent and not really appreciating that we are seeing history being made before our very eyes. Although it was a close thing, and Clark and Lotus fans were sweating in those last few laps, it was a worthy victory for if Clark had not put in some really cracking opening laps and kept up the pace, Graham Hill would not have relaxed and let him build up a strong lead. The psychological aspect of racing plays a great part, and to see the number one Lotus in front of you must be demoralising, especially if you are driving on the limit just to keep it in sight. What some drivers may forget is that Clark may well be driving on the limit, as well, except that he has a moral advantage by being out in front. With four cars on the front row, any of them could have got to Copse corner first in the wheel-spinning “drag race” that took place, and for once it was not Jim Clark, but he soon put things right. It’s one thing to beat him to the first corner and another thing to stay in front. Like the Belgian G.P. the Silverstone race was not a “typical Clark race,” for though he led on every lap, he did not take the lead at the first corner as he normally does, and he can be beaten, but not consistently.

It would be interesting to know how many drivers can say in all honesty after the race, that they were driving “right on the limit” for the whole 80 laps. I would say there were none. Graham Hill worked up to a grand finale of setting a new lap record on the last lap, but it would have been more impressive if he had done that more times and earlier in the race. Similarly, Suttees made his fastest lap when he was getting rid of Spence on lap 60 to 62, while they were lapping slower cars, and having done that why didn’t he keep up the pace for the rest of the race? After all you can never be certain that the leader is going to have a trouble-free run. The 12-cylinder Ferrari lapped in 1 min. 33.0 sec. on laps 60 and 62 and Clark’s fastest lap was 1 min. 32.8 sec., which he recorded on lap 5. Graham Hill got down to 1 min, 32.2 sec. on the last lap, yet he and Surtees are probably both convinced that the Lotus is a much faster car than the Ferrari 12-cylinder or the B.R.M. Most drivers settle into a good last pace for a race and few are capable of more than one or two laps right at the limit of the car and their own capabilities, but any driver who can stay at the limit will win races. In 1961 at Monaco Stirling Moss admitted freely that it was the first time he had done a whole race as near to the limit as possible. He drove 100 laps of the town circuit using all that he and the car could give, in order to stay in front of the Ferrari team. It was a rare occasion and one that was a joy to watch.

While Honda reduced their team to one car, Brabham increased his to three cars and there is much to be said for both arrangements. If you have three top line drivers available and the cars and organisation to support them then a three-car team can be a great asset in dominating Grand Prix racing, assuming that is the reason for works teams taking part; but if you only have one good driver then you might as well put all your efforts into one car. Some years ago Tony Vandervell was running his team of Vanwall cars with the sole object of dominating Grand Prix racing and winning the Manufacturers Championship. He ended up with one of the finest at teams of all time, with Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans and at Zandvoort they filled the front row of the starting grid, which was more than enough to demoralise the Ferrari and Maserati opposition. They did the same thing at Monza, but the organisers pulled a fast one by changing the starting grid to four in the front row so that a Maserati could join them. Nowadays works teams only seem able to run two cars as a rule, making the excuse that they can’t afford to run three cars. I suspect that their main interest is to run a racing team to make money rather than build prestige, for most of them have to be self-supporting and they do this by demanding vast sums of starting money and bonus money from the fuel companies. With somebody like Tony Vandervell racing was a hobby, supported by his huge industrial empire, and he didn’t mind how much money he spent to achieve his objective. Personally I would like to see more three-car teams from the more important racing manufacturers, and at the same time to see more effort being put into winning the Manufacturers Championship, rather than all the effort going into making a World Champion Driver. Let us have a return to three-car teams, team tactics and team driving.

Operating so far from the home base the Honda team have found it difficult to keep two cars fully race-worthy and to develop them at the same time. They needed a spare car as well as the two for Ginther and Bucknum so that any new parts needed had to be made or modified in triplicate, and Bucknum’s driving abilities are not up to Ginther’s so it seemed a waste of effort to run two cars. The performance by Ginther throughout practice and briefly in the race looked as though the one-car decision was a wise one. Brabham’s three-car entry, which organisers will not always accept, could be a good thing for him for he has a good team of drivers. The catastrophe of Gurney’s brand-new 32-valve Coventry-Climax engine was sickening to everyone, even his rivals, for Dan is one driver whom everyone is happy to race against, he can drive as hard and as fast as the best and is a rival who is not only hard to beat, but if you do beat him you know you’ve done a good job. It appeared that the engine had a duff sparking plug when he arrived on the starting-grid and his mechanic removed the plug only to have the thread in the cylinder head strip, which looked as though the plug had been put in cross-threaded, an unlikely occurrence with racing mechanics, so investigation went further and the end of the plug was found to be damaged and it transpired that a valve had broken, the head damaging the plug thread, which in turn ruined the thread in the aluminium cylinder head. The start was imminent when Brabham gave Gurney his car, even though it meant that he didn’t fit in the cockpit and the windscreen was too low.

Alongside this panic the Goodyear tyre technicians were also in a panic for such is the fine technique of tyre knowledge these days that they know exactly how much rubber each of their drivers will consume in a given race. The rate of wear depends on a number of factors, such as lap speeds; circuit conditions and individual driving technique, and from practice they knew that tyres that would last Brabham a race would not do for Gurney, but it was too late to change tyres and they could only hope that Gurney would not set too high a pace in Brabham’s car. A racing tyre is at its best for cornering power when it is part worn, so drivers like to start with the minimum permissible amount of tread and due to driving styles Brabham can always start a race with less tread on the front tyres than Gurney. When the panic of the starting line cleared and Gurney was off in the race on Brabham’s tyres there was a lot of finger-crossing in the Goodyear pit and Gurney’s progress was watched with anxiety. He finished with a completely bald left front tyre and not much tread on the right one either, and in the closing laps he eased up and kept getting up in his seat to have a look at the tyres in case the inner casing was beginning to show.

In my time I have been in some pretty badly organised pit areas in practice but Silverstone took the prize. The elevated ramp on which the pits are built is quite a good safety precaution in view of the dangerous arrangement of having the pits round a blind corner, but it is hopelessly too narrow and the idiotic pit allocation added to the confusion. There is a long line of pits and yet Ferrari, B.R.M., Lotus, Cooper and Brabham had to occupy the first five pairs of pits at the top end of the line, while at the opposite end the private owners had all the room in the world for one car. Apart from there being insufficient room for three works cars, the teams were all on top of each other and works teams naturally attract all the Press, Radio, T.V. and trade interest so that the top end of the line of pits was a complete shambles with people getting run over, cars bumping each other and long-suffering, mechanics working under impossible conditions. Why the works teams could not have been spread out along the line of pits, interspersed with private owners and trade pits is beyond me. This chaotic situation was obvious in the first practice session, yet nothing was done to alleviate it, and there were empty pits at the opposite end. It was bordering on the criminal and it was only the infinite patience of drivers and mechanics that prevented any serious cases of crushed feet or broken legs. This situation also brought another serious error in its wake for it meant that the works cars had to run the whole length of the pit area when coming in during practice.

If a driver cut his engine on the approach to Woodcote, for plug reading purposes, it meant that he had to make sure he mounted the ramp with sufficient speed to coast the whole length of the pit area and this speed meant that he was in danger of “bottoming” as he mounted the ramp. A speed that would ensure no “bottoming” was insufficient to coast to his pit so it meant that mechanics had to then push the car, with more chaos and confusion. The B.R.D.C. ought to visit the pits at Francorchamps for the Belgian G.P. sometime, they would get a better idea of layout.

It was amusing to see that the Gurney and Stewart fans had been at work with brushes and whitewash on the track in front of the pits with slogans such as ” Viva Dan Gurney.” It was very noticeable that the 104.000 crowd of spectators were most spontaneous in the appreciation of their favourite drivers, without the need for the “sick-making” commentators to play at “cheerleaders” with remarks like “Come on chaps, give Clark a big hand.” An intelligent crowd can appreciate valour without being told to cheer, and it was most satisfying to hear the way they spontaneously applauded Graham Hill for his efforts in the closing laps, and Clark received a truly great ovation when he first appeared on the starting grid, before he had even won the race.

In the supplementary regulations the R.A.C. laid out a new plan for starting money, which seemed very sound and logical and it boiled down to the simple rule of “the faster and farther you go, the more money you get.” It was done by paying £50 if you practised and then in the race you got £10 a lap for each lap you completed that was within 10 sec. of the average lap time of the winner of the race, with a maximum of £250 for 25 laps, which meant that any private-owner was guaranteed £300 starting money, providing he made some sort of effort. Unfortunately the works teams are tied up with an agreement made in Paris in 1963 whereby they work on fixed sums in the region of £800-£1,000 per car, but I would like to see a similar arrangement to that produced by the R.A.C. applying to the stars. Too many of them seem to give up and relax once Clark has got the lead. If they could see the £10 notes ticking up as each lap went by maybe they would try a bit harder to keep up with Clark throughout the race. For the private owners at Silverstone the conditions were not impossible for even 10 sec. on the fastest lap in the race would have been 1 min. 42.2 sec. which is nearly 1 sec. slower than Roy Pike’s lap record with a Formula Three car, and anyone who cannot lap Silverstone in a 1 1/2-litre V8-engined car as fast as a 1,000-c.c. 4-cylinder pushrod-engined car, should not be in a Grand Prix race. I am all for racing drivers earning a lot of money, but I think they should work for it and starting money on the principle of “the faster and farther you go, the more you get” seems a sound idea.

Since the last British G.P. at Silverstone it would seem that the R.A.C. timekeepers have acquired some new watches, for this year they were timing practice laps to one-tenth of a second, whereas previously it was to the nearest one-fifth of a second. This is still inadequate, as instanced by Ginther, Stewart and Surtees all recording 1 min. 31.3 sec. I feel the time is ripe to take a leaf out of the Indianapolis book and have four lap qualifying runs on a clear track. This could easily be done at Silverstone and it could replace the practice for the supporting races, for if handled properly it could be as attractive to spectators as F.3 or sports-car races.—D. S. J.

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