Matters of moment

A splendid garden party!

Those who worry about the health of Grand Prix racing should be reassured by the success of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. At midnight on Friday many thousands of enthusiasts were having the time of their lives within the Silverstone area: two discos (one, in the paddock, run by race sponsors Marlboro), barbecues, eats and drinks stalls were all doing roaring business. The caravan park was full, and the 36,000 people who attended practice was more than any other car meeting of the year would attract.

The Mediterranean weather helped to make the 1983 British GP a truly memorable event which now ranks with Wimbledon, Henley and the Derby as a major British sporting fixture. A total of 84,000 spectators on race day was not a record, and a few grandstand seats remained unsold, but with the British economy still suffering with three million unemployed it is hardly surprising that some were deterred by the £10 entrance fee, and upwards of £20 for a grandstand seat. The costs are not outrageous by Continental standards, but still formidable for a family outing.

Festivities continued well into Saturday evening as well, many race-goers making a full weekend of the meeting and helping to alleviate the inevitable traffic jams. Camping, caravanning and motor-homing is now a norm for the British GP, the spectators no more deterred by recent wranglings between FISA and FOCA than Wimbledon tennis fans are by the antics of John McEnroe.

Nor were the spectators disappointed by what they saw. The latest Ferraris, Renaults and Brabhams were finely matched for pole position, joined now by the latest John Player Lotuses. Nigel Mansell, in a 94T still less than a week old, drove the best race of his Formula 1 career to finish a fighting fourth, in touch with Patrick Tambay's Ferrari at the finish. Derek Warwick went well in the Toleman-Hart, trailing smoke from the engine compartment for lap after lap until the car retired with gearbox failure, and Stefan Johansson gave the Honda-Spirit an excellent, though brief, GP debut until sidelined by trivial fuel pump failure. With the Japanese engine due to be tested in the Williams chassis soon, we can hope to see Keke Rosberg in his rightful place at the head of the field by the end of the year.

With the first three finishers placed in World Championship order, Alain Prost and Renault have now comfortably extended their lead to six points, Renault also now leading the Constructors' Championship. It's six years, almost to the day, since Renault gave their 11/2-litre turbocharged racing car its Formula 1 debut at Silverstone, earning the ridicule of the Grand Prix establishment. No-one in his right mind thought that the car could ever be competitive, the 50% equivalency factor weighing too heavily against forced induction engines.

On Thursday Prost recorded the first-ever 150 mph lap at Silverstone, and by Friday afternoon the top 12 cars on the grid all had turbocharged engines. Thirteen turbos taking part comprised exactly half the field, and with the Williams, McLaren and Ligier teams due to have turbo power before the start of next season it really does look as though the Cosworth V8 has finally met its Waterloo.

Of the manufacturers, there is turbo representation from Ferrari (Fiat), Renault, BMW, Alfa Romeo, and Honda, and the TAG-Porsche engine is nearing readiness for its debut. Can Ford possibly stay out of the front rank much longer? With the regulations up for revision in 1985 it may be tempting to wait a little longer to make a decision, but the evidence is that the manufacturers and entrants will vote overwhelmingly to leave the engine rules alone, prolonging the formula which began as long ago as 1966.

Even Frank Williams admits that he could not afford to buy and maintain a dozen or 15 turbo engines, the bill probably being double that for the ubiquitous Ford-Cosworth V8s, so it is almost imperative to be supported by the engine manufacturer or, as the McLaren team will be, by the TAG Arabian consortium. This will give little cheer to Ken Tyrrell who opposes the turbo teams tooth and nail, nor to the Arrows, Osella, March and Theodore teams who have yet to make, or announce, any arrangements for next year. Their only hope is that the reduction in tankage and banning of pit stops next year will slow the top drivers down a little, keeping them within sight.

We will remember this year's British Grand Prix as a wonderful garden party. The 150 mph practice laps achieved by Prost and Tambay do not go into the record books, but a car which did set a longstanding record was there too: the Vandervell Ferrari Thinwall Special in which Giuseppe Farina set a new lap record of 100.16 mph on July 18, 1953. It oiled its plugs and spluttered round, which was a pity since few of the spectators would have seen it in action before. It does make one wonder whether speeds will approach the 200 mph average 30 years from now! — MLC.