Continental Notes, August 1972

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Circuit Safety

There are some people amongst the readers of Motor Sport who seem to think I am against any form of safety precaution on a racing circuit. This is manifestly absurd. What I am against is hysterical reaction after an accident and hasty decisions that are made without thought and consideration for all aspects of the case. These actions cover such things as Armco barriers in unnecessary places, talk of 120 m.p.h. fire engines with no thoughts about who is going to drive them, making suggestions for drastic alterations to a circuit or to the pits without any thought as to who is going to pay for them, changing regulations regarding the construction of racing cars in the interest of the Great God Safety, without listening to the people who are designing the cars, and above all I am against people who rush to “shut the stable door after the horse has gone” and make far too much noise about doing it. If you have goofed and let the horse out the best thing, if you feel you must shut the stable door, is to do it quietly so that no-one notices. There are too many people about today who must be seen or heard to be doing good, instead of getting quietly on and accomplishing something.

There are many alterations that have been made to the circuits of Europe of which I approve wholeheartedly, others I deplore. At the Nurburgring a chicane was built at the Tiergarten, just before the top of the rise leading onto the starting area and pits. This was the best thing that could have happened for Grand Prix cars were arriving at the brow so fast that they were nearly airborne and the last gentle left-hand curve was becoming acute. It was only a matter of time before someone “overcooked it” onto the finishing plateau and nothing would have stopped the car wiping off most of the car, and people in the pits. The Germans did not call the new chicane a safety corner, but the Bremskurve, or braking corner. At Clermont-Ferrand there is one left-hand bend where the view ahead looks out into space; an Armco barrier here makes sense, for brake fade or a mistake would see a car going on for ever down into the valley. Armco barriers across old escape roads I do not understand. At one time the hall-mark of a good road racing driver was his ability to see escape routes for himself and his car if he made a mistake, or if someone else made a mistake. On some circuits today there is no escape, a mistake or a change of direction at the wrong moment means instant wreckage.

A little thinking by all concerned would not go amiss. At Monte Carlo this year I saw Pescarolo lose control of his March 721 on the water and slide helplessly into the Armco barrier; the car bounced off it at an angle and then struck the Armco again just where I was standing with a friend. After the second “clang” of rending metal the wreckage skated along the barrier until it came to rest. I watched it all with interest, and afterwards my friend said that without the Armco barrier we would have been killed. My reply was that he might have been, but I wouldn’t for two reasons; first and foremost, had there been no Armco barrier I would not have been standing there, and if I had been foolish enough to stand there I would have disappeared right smartly the moment I saw Pesearolo lose control, either behind one of the trees, or across the pavement behind the stone walls. I certainly would not have stayed to see the outcome of the loss of control.

I am not against safety precautions, as some people think, but I do like them to be reasonable and logical.

* * *

Grand Prix Pit Stops

A short while ago it was obvious that the rule makers of the CSI had made an awful mistake. This was in connection with the ruling that said there would be a compulsory pit stop for petrol during a Grand Prix race, and that any circuit whose pits were not suitable for refuelling stops could run their Grand Prix races in two heats or two heats and a final. The whole affair was dropped on the Grand Prix world without much warning and was due to take effect in 1973. The Constructors’ Union, the Drivers’ Union and most of the organisers were completely and unanimously against the whole idea. Now the CSI has climbed down (thank goodness) and the whole proposition has been shelved until further notice. In today’s mini-Grand Prix races the whole idea was ludicrous and artificial and the less said about the whole unfortunate affair, the better.

* * *

Osterreichring

Anyone who has been for a motoring holiday in Austria will know that it is a green and pleasant land full of friendly people. The major National circuit at Zeltweg, named the Osterreichring, is also a green and pleasant place, and is also full of friendly people, and although it has only been in existence for two years it is already rapidly developing a very pleasant character. I cannot refer to it as an Autodrome or Stadium, for it is neither of these things, but it is a permanent circuit, completely artificial, having been built on virgin soil. However, instead of drawing the shape on a piece of paper the people involved walked round the fields and decided it would go “up that hill”, “round that clump of trees”, “down across that dip and up the other side”, and so on, with the result that the circuit has all the character of a natural road circuit. Money not being unlimited it is taking time to finish off the details, but on each visit I find some further improvement to the amenities. First priority was the circuit itself and making sure that it was suitable for modern racing, then came the pits and finally the paddock, which is the right way to do things, I feel. On my first visit the paddock lavatory was a bucket in the corner, now things are greatly improved, but at the time the Austrians apologised and explained that they could not do everything at once and had concentrated on getting the actual track race-worthy, and I am with them all the way.

In the programme recently was a little character-study of the Osterreichring, giving its age as two years, its hobbies motor racing and testing, its problems as “growing pains”, and amongst its desires a sponsor to help with the building of a race control and time-keeping building, for at the moment the time-keepers are still using the old double-decker London ‘bus that was driven out to Austria in the mid-sixties to be used as race control on the old Zeltweg airfield circuit. The Knittelfeld Club have come a long way since those days.

* * *

Grand Prix Drivers

At a drivers’ gathering recently discussion was taking place about the desirability of the race winner visiting the Press Box to give the journalists an interview immediately after the race, the way Colin Chapman does with his winners. The talk was quite light-hearted, Denis Hulme saying he thought it was all right, providing the journalists gave him a couple of beers, Chris Amon said he thought it very good thing to do, whereupon a voice at the back said “How would you know, Chris ?” Just before the meeting broke up the chairman said: “Just a minute, fellers, Fittipaldi’s got a problem”, and another voice, a London driver this time, said: “Good, it’s about time he had a problem”. Friendly lot the Grand Prix drivers. — D. S. J.

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