Continental Notes, August 1969

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In recent weeks four major happenings have taken place in the racing world, all no doubt with far-reaching effects. It would be a matter of biased opinion to put them in any order of importance, so I put them alphabetically. B.R.M., Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have all made major announcements of great importance. Back in the winter the B.R.M. team held a Press Conference at which Sir Alfred Owen more or less said that if they did not win the World Championship in 1969, or at least come a close second, he would close the Owen Racing Organisation down and there would be no more B.R.M. cars. He was not very convincing in his speech, and gave the impression that he was only joking, for with Surtees as number one driver, Rudd in charge of the technical side, Mays on the management side and the full backing of Shell and Dunlop, how could B.R.M. fail to sweep all before them? I felt like singing “Rule Britannia”, with British money, British industry, British drivers, British petrol and oil and British tyres all seemingly pulling together, except that it was very obvious that Rudd and Surtees were not seeing eye-to-eye, Sir Alfred Owen had to be nice to Surtees having persuaded him to sign a contract, and I know that Shell were supporting Ferrari, as always, and Dunlop were supporting Matra and had already got some pretty staggering tests results from them at Kyalami. I left Sir Alfred’s party thinking: “Who is fooling who?” The dismal record of B.R.M. racing in 1969 is too recent to dwell upon in detail; suffice to say that they look about as likely to win the World Championship as the American astronauts not getting to the moon, which means that if Sir Alfred was serious last winter, then this is the end of B.R.M. After the dismal showing at Zandvoort there was a big reshuffle in personnel and Tony Rudd was sacked, although the official announcement said that “Sir Alfred called for his resignation”. Now Rudd has been with B.R.M. since their very early days, working his way up from a lesser engineer until he was in full charge of the racing team, which indicates that he must have had a pretty fair ability, for you don’t stay with one team for nearly 20 years and rise to the position of top man without some justification. Suddenly Rudd is to blame for all the 1969 failures of B.R.M., and presumably all the previous ones, and he is given the sack. To anyone in the paddock at Zandvoort it was very obvious that Rudd and Surtees were not seeing eye-to-eye and if the words of certain eye-witnesses at the last-lap pit stop of that race were printed the legal boys would be in full flight with wigs and gowns flying and libel actions in all directions. It was quite obvious that someone would have to go, and Sir Alfred decided it would be Rudd, who has been with the firm for nearly 20 years, rather than Surtees who has only been with them for six months. Presumably Sir Alfred has been wrong all these years in promoting Rudd to the top position in the B.R.M. team! Mean-minded people say of U-Thant, leader of the United Nations, that wherever he goes there is trouble. This is true on the face of it, until you realise that trouble starts, and then he goes. I could say the same of Surtees, but I dare not, for his legal advisers would sue me immediately; however, one can look back on his association with Ferrari, Lola, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and B.R.M. and facts are facts. Sir Alfred has reorganised his team and new names have been quoted as being in charge of this and that. When Surtees and a B.R.M. lead a Grand Prix race, let alone win it, every true British racing enthusiast will cheer loudly. Until then we can only wait and see.

* * *

One thing I like about Italians is that when they are happy everyone around them has to be happy too, which is why I really enjoy seeing an Italian car win a race. On the other hand, when they are miserable they are very grey. Recently there have been some pretty grey, if not black, clouds hanging over Maranello for Ferrari successes have been pretty meagre recently. That is something that Enzo Ferrari has learnt to live with, but one thing that even he must submit to is the fact that he cannot go on for ever. The day must come when he is forced to retire from active leadership of the Ferrari empire, and ultimately he must die. At one time all was set fair for his son Dino to take over the reins, but poor Dino died of ill-health at an early age and Enzo Ferrari was left with no future for his empire, which he had built up from scratch.

He was always quick to point out that he alone was battling for the technical honour of Italy against the rest of the world in motor racing, even though Maserati were not doing a bad job. He was always trying to enlist the financial help of the Government, not for his own personal gain but to help pay the way on development costs, for, unlike most British Grand Prix teams, Ferrari is self-contained as regards chassis, engine and gearbox. Research and development on engines has to come out of his own pocket, as does gearbox design work, so it is no wonder that he was continually crying out for help from the Italian industry. Finally Fiat came to his rescue with some hard cash, as an annual grant, apart from the money that Shell, Englebert, Pirelli, Dunlop and Firestone have poured into the Ferrari team. Some years ago S.E.F.A.C. Ferrari was formed, which made the firm a sort of public company rather than a family affair. Now Fiat have taken over Ferrari completely, so far as finances are concerned, and precisely what the outcome will be is anyone’s guess. In Modena it is suggested that we can now spell Ferrari F-I-A-T. What it does mean is that when Ferrari retires and gives up active participation in the firm, or when he dies, the name of Automobili Ferrari will not die with him.

* * *

From Germany have come two interesting announcements, the first from Daimler-Benz and the second from Porsche. The Unterturkheim firm in South-East Stuttgart quietly entered three cars for the 24-hour saloon car race on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit at the end of July. As this is being written before that event takes place the outcome is not known, but the entry of three cars from Daimler-Benz A.G. is not to be taken lightly. Already they have slipped quietly to the Far East and won the Macao race with a 6.3-litre 300SEL saloon and now they have entered three such cars at Francorchamps. The 6.3 Mercedes-Benz must be the world’s fastest production saloon, with a maximum of over 135 m.p.h., so it is easy to visualise just how fast the factory-prepared racing ones must be. Already it has been made known that there is a prototype mid-engined Mercedes-Benz powered by a three-rotor Wankel engine, so what is the next move from Unterturkheim? Your guess is as good as mine, and I bet we are both right.

* * *

From Porsche, in Zuffenhausen to the north-west of Stuttgart, comes the announcement that the official factory team have withdrawn from all further sports-car racing this year, having won the Manufacturers’ Championship. They intend to concentrate on the development of the 917 and have sold off a lot of their 3-litre 908 racing cars to private owners. At the 1,000-kilometre race at Nurburgring we were confronted with the Porsche Construction Company of Austria entering cars, which was a new move. Now the reason is obvious, for Austrian Porsche are running a racing team using the factory drivers, and they won at Watkins Glen. They are also using factory personnel and mechanics, so that the Austrian-owned cars are works Porsches by another name. Zuffenhausen has withdrawn for the rest of the year, but Porsche cars will go on winning, driven by the works drivers.—D. S. J.