North American conversation piece

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Denis Jenkinson

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D.S.J.: Good morning A.H. Since we wept tears together as we looked at the wonderful Circuit Nationale de Francorchamps, declared to be unsuitable for Formula One on that glorious June weekend, you seem to have crossed the Atlantic four times in covering the North American races for Motoring News.

A.H.: Yes, and quite frankly I’m getting a bit jittery about it. My trouble is that I think too much about what might go wrong with the aircraft and my frame of mind was not helped by the Air India disaster the night before my return. I switched from British Airways to Pan-Am in order to get a direct flight from Detroit and ended up wishing I hadn’t. I don’t think I am alone in feeling uneasy about these long intercontinental flights in the present unstable state of so­called civilisation. However, I did look after the races in Montreal and Detroit for you while you were indulging in your insatiable enthusiasm for riding fast motorcycles and keeping your adrenalin flowing. I suppose if you didn’t keep it flowing now and then you would tum into a boring old cabbage, like some people I could mention, but won’t.

D.S.J.: Activating the adrenalin glands is very important to my philosophy of life and I feel sorry for those people who never get the urge to do something a bit “dicey”. I would find their way of life very boring. But about those two races in North America. When I was talking to Harvey Postlethwaite at Francorchamps he said he was pretty happy with the Ferraris, and that if they were not somewhere near right by this time of the season it was too late to do anything about it. He thought everyone should have aimed to have finished their 1985 development by the time of the Belgian GP. With the races in Canada and Detroit on successive weekends, and then the fast circuits of Paul Ricard, Silverstone, Osterreichring and Monza following in quick succession your cars needed to be somewhere about right. There was no more time for major alterations. By the look of the North American results Dr Harvey P. was talking good sense. First and second in Canada and second and third in Detroit was a pretty good result for the Maranello team.

A.H.: Yes, a lot of teams would have liked just half that success. John Macdonald’s RAM team must have come back on the edge of total despair, with four starts and four DNFs, apart from all the damage to their cars, inflicted by their own drivers or being savaged by others like de Cesaris deliberately spinning his Ligier to get it pointing in the right direction in Montreal, and collecting Winkelhock’s RAM in the process. I despair of that young man ever becoming a proper Grand Prix driver.

D.S.J.: It wouldn’t be a bad idea if FISA made him pay for the damage to Winkelhock’s RAM. The RAM team puzzles me. When they re-organised themselves last winter the results looked most promising. Gustav Brunner seemed to have made quite a good car in the D6 ATS with limited resources, and when he joined Macdonald there was more than adequate money and backing from Skoal Bandit and the first car certainly looked neat and tidy. Last year we watched Manfred Winkelhock doing wonders with the shambolic ATS team, and I was quite convinced that with the new RAM-Hart he’d be at least as fast, if not faster, and probably featuring in the first ten in qualifying. Yet he’s been nothing short of hopeless all season, not a bit the hard-charging Winkelhock that we admired last year.

A.H.: I think they’ve had a whole host of minor problems which have added up to an overall disaster. The chassis had to contend with Pirelli rubber, the cooling system had to be redesigned before the first race, and the Hart engines have lacked development time because of the Toleman uncertainty earlier in the year. I think this has made both drivers totally dispirited.

D.S.J.: I was glad to see Stefan Johansson getting into the groove in both North American races. He’s a really enthusiastic racer, and didn’t “Zio Enzo” say he didn’t expect results from him until he had done at least five races?

A.H.: That’s right, and I am sure Stefan has guaranteed his place in the Ferrari team for the forseeable future with those two drives, especially as he didn’t get “cocky” in Montrea1 and try and pass Alboreto, and was more or less apologetic about having to pass the Ferrari number one in Detroit. There are continuing rumours that Marlboro cigarettes is trying to use its influence to channel de Cesaris into the Ferrari team. Can you imagine it!

D.S.J.: A surprismg thing about the Canadian race was the number of finishers. Normally SO. per cent of the starters still running at the end is pretty average, but in Montreal we had 17.out of 25. Was there any particular reason for that?

A.H.: Not really. It was just one of those races, though we did have Senna and Rosberg refusing to, give up, when by some drivers’ standards they should have given up and slunk off to their motorhomes. The real hero of the North American trip was Keke Rosberg. He finished fourth in Canada after a long pit stop to cure boost trouble, a spin which flatted his tyres and another pit stop for new tyres. He just refused to give up. In Detroit he won the race with a pit stop to have rubbish removed from his radiator intakes and a new set of tyres. Can you imagine in this day and age having an unscheduled pit stop and still winning, and he didn’t even lose the lead while he was in the pits.

D.S.J.: Did you know that Mercedes-Benz had trouble with rubbish collecting in the radiator intakes of their W 196 cars in Argentina in 1955 and by the next race the cars were fitted with cockpit controlled spring-loaded radiator grilles to eject paper and rubbish while on the move.

A.H.: Were they the “good old days”?

D.S.J.: It’s hard to believe that Detroit was only Rosberg’s fourth win in 88 starts, because he always seems to be a pace-maker and is the fastest man out on the circuit, regardless of where he is or what he is driving. At least, until Senna came along. Senna didn’t do badly, with new lap records at both races once Team Lotus got his car going properly.

A.H.: He was interesting about Rosberg in Canada. After Keke rejoined the race following his second stop the two cars ran in close company for many laps and Senna ended up very impressed with the way that the Williams driver goes flat-out all the way, never easing up for a moment. And it seems that Rosberg has a healthy regard for Senna, as well, which is not really surprising.

D.S.J.: Unlike Alain Prost who whined, after Imola, that Senna used Formula Three driving tactics. Rosberg and Senna sound very much like Alan Jones and Gilles Villeneuve, when they raced together. This season has really seen the revival of Team Lotus, since Senna joined them. A black and gold Lotus on pole position in Canada and Detroit; how Colin Chapman would have enjoyed that. Remember when we used to “keep the faith” and say Lotus must surely get back on top one day, Chapman was never going to be content to be second-rate, and then I suggested that what they needed was a number one driver instead of Mansell and de Angelis, who were both good number two drivers. . . .

A.H.: Yes, and Elio knocked you down for your trouble. . . .

D.S.J.: But I was right, wasn’t I?

A.H.: Well, yes; but you must agree that de Angelis has risen to the challenge from his Brazilian team-mate in fine style.

D.S.J.: Absolutely. It was exactly that internal challenge that they both needed that was lacking. I’m glad to see the way de Angelis has reacted to the situation, because he is an intelligent and well educated young man, and it would have been sad if he had just gone off and sulked. You know I can’.t help wondering If Renault are not in the 1984 Lotus situation now.

A.H.: How do you mean?

D.S.J.: Having two good number two drivers that don’t “needle” each other just that little bit to make them try that little bit harder. In fact they are both nice guys, but don’t produce a natural challenge for each other.

A.H.: You mean like Andretti.and Peterson did, or Pironi and Villeneuve used to do?

D.S.J.: You couldn’t have .put it better. Anyway, I hope Derek Warwick doesn’t knock me down, because that would hurt. Detroit sounded to be a bit or’a Demdlition·  Derby one way and another.

A.H.: It was.

D.S.J.: It always amuses me to hear the various excuses that drivers give when they crash. My feeling is ·as· someone once said “Don’t give me excuses, just tell me the facts”. Rosberg, Johansson and Alboreto didn’t crash, I notice, which must have something to do with them finishing first, second and third.

A.H.: At least Senna was totally frank about his accident. He had been “pumping” his brake pedal before each corner, as the pads were wearing very thin, and in his excitement to get past · Alboreto’s Ferrari and take third place, he forgot to pump up the pressure, and that was that, he sailed into the corner far too fast. No excuses, he made a mistake. Martin Brundle’s accident was an unfortunate affair, because he was closing on Alboreto when Alliot pushed him off the road. Ken Tyrrell reckoned it was six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other, and he made the point that Brundle didn’t need to follow Alboreto through that gap in such a tearing hurry with the race not even at its half-way point. I know what Ken is getting at, but poor Martin was only trying hard and the whole thing seemed most unfortunate. Uncle Ken can be a hard task-master at times.

D.S.J.: There is an old adage applicable to dicing in traffic and going through gaps that says “There is always room for one more – providing you are close enough”, and Brundle wasn’t close enough. Talking of Ken Tyrrell and his defection to Renault power as from the next race, what was all this big announcement from Ford (Detroit) about the new V6 turbo-charged engine that Cosworth Engineering are building for the Carl Haas I Lola team?

A.H.: This is a highly ambitious programme backed by the Beatrice Group of companies which markets food products worldwide, and owns companies like Avis Car Rental, Samsonite luggage, etcetera, etcetera …. Ford and Cosworth have revived their Formula One partnership and Keith Duckworth is producing a 120-degree V6 engine which will be on test in a car later this year. They couldn’t do a deal with Lotus, McLaren or Brabham, so they have gone with this new company which is fielding a Hart-engined car in four races at the end of this season as a prelude to the Ford-Cosworth turbo-engined car racing from the beginning of 1986. Alan Jones is coming out of retirement to drive this Beatrice-Lola, so it is certainly an ambitious project, which it needs to be to beat the current top teams.

D.S.J.: Apart from Carl Haas being the Lola agent for North America I don’t really see where Eric Broadley’s firm fits into their plans. Could this project appear next year as a Ford-Ford? After all Mike Kranefuss who is master-minding Ford’s return to racing on American soil has always expressed the notion that Ford iii Formula One should be represented by a white car with blue ellipses on the sides.

A.H.: I think Kranefuss has the right idea, but I don’t think it will happen this time.

D.S.J.: How was Detroit City at the end of the three-day orgy of speed? Pretty untidy I imagine. It’s not exactly pristine before the racing begins. Last time I was there I couldn’t get over simple things like bus stop signs dangling in the breeze on one bolt, or parking bollards knocked over and still lying where they had fallen, or broken-down sign-boards and so on, as if nobody cared about the city any more, and those bullet-proof plastic partitions in the taxicabs were just too much, to say nothing of the mechanical condition of some of the cabs. Our MoT inspectors would have had a fit, and yet we are told that the United States is very “safety-conscious”.

A.H.: An ominous city, Detroit. I always feel uncomfortable there, And as a circuit, it is just plain grotty, a view which I know is shared by the vast majority of the drivers. There are moves to transfer the venue to an island in the Detroit river, but Mr Ecclestone would like . it to stay “downtown”, so that is where I expect it will stay.

D.S.J.: Talking of”little Beranie”, how long can Nelson Piquet and Gordon Murray hold on without hope? This season has been a total disaster for the Brabham team and it can’t all be blamed on B.C.E.’s deal with Pirelli tyres, or can it?

A.H.: There seems to be no good reason why Pirelli is having so much trouble, after all they do manufacture very good high-performance road tyres. The Brabham BTS4 is clearly a difficult car to handle, but Piquet is capable of that; still, it seldom runs properly and now that BMW have overcome their unreliability problems the finger of suspicion inevitably points at Pirelli. In Canada Pirelli were blameless, the Brabham gearbox broke as Piquet left the start, and that after two days of practice and qualifying and renewal of everything and race­preparation.

D.S.J.: After your diversions across the Atlantic it’s short-haul trips for us in Europe and some serious high speed Grand Prix racing.

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