Pity The Poor Historian . . .
One day someone will write a further history of the French Grand Prix, and in order to produce facts and figures he will no doubt turn to the bound volumes of his favourite motor magazine. At the moment there are five weekly publications specialising in race reports and the wealth of information on Grand Prix races is truly remarkable. Now the reporting of action and incidents depends entirely on the observer, while observations on the race itself, the cars and the drivers, will again depend on the individual writer, which is why some people buy one publication, others buy another. It is a matter of individual taste and each known writer of Grand Prix racing has his following. When it comes to tabulating cold facts and figures the individual writer is of no importance, and on a simple thing like the plan of the starting grid there is no question of choice among various writers.
At the recent French Grand Prix the layout of the starting grid was decided by Friday evening, when practice finished, but as Jack Oliver had crashed his Lotus, and there was not another one available, he had to be posted as a non-starter. In consequence the organisers reshuffled the starting positions from Oliver’s place to the end of the grid, so that row the read from right to left, Siffert, Attwood and Brabham, the first two having been moved across one place to the right, and the third driver being brought forward from the right of row six, to the left of row five. Similarly, Courage was moved from the left of row six to the right, and Servoz-Gavin brought forward a row, moving from right to left. By practice times the back two should have been Schlesser on the right, Elford its the centre and a blank space on the left, the grid being three-two-three-two, etc.
So far, no problems, but when the cars lined up at the end of the warm-up lap the marshals got Elford and Schlesser in opposite places, and also lined them up directly behind the two cars in the row ahead of them instead of offset to the right. Some years ago the Director of French races was the great Charles Faroux, who always made it a personal matter to see that the starting grid was in order and that his marshals had done their job properly. The present Director of French races is Raymond Roche, who has brought with him a sloppy, casual attitude to start-line procedure that must be making Faroux turn in his grave. Be that as it may, it is a French domestic problem; our problem is to record what takes place, right or wrong. Of the five weekly publications that carried a full report of the French Grand Prix not one of them got the grid order correct; in fact, there were five variations of the starting grid. Considering that two of them go to great lengths, and space, to tabulate the facts and figures of a Grand Prix, I feel they are defeating their object. Taking them in order of age and experience; Autocar published the grid as it was settled on Friday night, complete with Oliver, and nothing to indicate that he was not on the starting grid; Motor did the same except that they had a mirror-image of the grid, with pole position on the left instead of on the right; Autosport published the Friday night layout, with an arrow pointing to Oliver saying “Oliver did not start”; Motoring News did at least leave Oliver off the grid, and put a blank space where he should have been, with an asterisk and a footnote, but left everyone else in the wrong positions; and Speed World left Oliver on the grid with an asterisk and a footnote saying that he did not start.
Now at the moment you might feel that all this is nit-picking and carping, but in ten years’ time there will be much discussion about what really happened. Did Oliver take his place on the grid and fail to start? Was he at the start and failed to complete the first lap? Was Rindt on the right or the left of the front row? Were there three cars in the back row, or two? and so on. If it were a question of describing a driver’s ability to drive on the wet track, or the merits of Ferrari versus Matra, then it would be fair enough, for it would depend on the individual writer’s opinions and knowledge, but a simple thing like recording the order in which the cars were lined up at the start should not be open to discussion.
More than likely I shall hear the age-old cry “It’s all right for Motor Sport, they are a monthly, we have to rush reports through for the following week”. This is fair comment on some aspects of race reporting but it doesn’t hold water over the simple matter of recording the start of the race.
Every now and then we get letters from readers complaining bitterly about the inadequate or inaccurate report in the Daily Newspapers on Monday morning, or the poor coverage of Grand Prix racing by Television and Radio, and much of the criticism is valid, but I do think that we should look more closely at our own house, for it is far from healthy. With five magazines publishing reports of the same race during the week they are falling over each other to be first with scoops and news items, rumours and scandal, with the result that they seem to have lost one of the principles behind reporting, which is accuracy of detail, especially in publications which tend to be kept by the racing enthusiast for future reference purposes. I consider that these journals are doing a serious disservice to our sport.—D. S. J.
(N.B.—The correct starting grid for the French Grand Prix at Rouen will be found on page 685.)