One thing that little Mr Ecclestone and his Formula One Constructors Association has brought into the world of Grand Prix racing is collective organisation and we recently witnessed a prime example. For some years now we have had Grand Prix races in Canada and the United States and they have been arranged to take place on consecutive weekends, sometimes the United States being first, sometimes the Canadian event being first. If you are going to arrange to transport the whole Grand Prix circus, comprising some forty cars, at least twenty spare engines, many tons of tools, equipment and parts, as well as something like six hundred people, across the Atlantic by air, then you might as well make good use of them, so we all went to Montreal for the race on the lle Ste Helene on June 15th, and then moved west for the race round the streets of Downtown Detroit onJune 22nd, a very weary and battled scarred group returning to Europe the following week. Though scarred. some returned with laurels (and valuable points to prove their prowess, they tell me), while others returned sadder but wiser, and some were just pleased to return.
The drivers and engineers were pleased to get these two races done with, as neither circuit permits any pre-race testing, so the first day of official practice is one of guesswork. With Monte Carlo and Spa-Francorchamps taking place before leaving for the other side of the Atlantic, it meant four “blind” circuits on the trot, and one-and-a-half hours on Friday morning is precious little time in which to get a car fully adjusted, having tested all the variables, in time for a serious bout of qualifying in the afternoon. For entirely different reasons the mechanics are relieved to get these two races over, as both of them are a pain in the neck from the point of view of working at the circuit, and believe you me, the mechanics really do work at the circuit. In Canada the paddock comprises a warehouse store area, with the teams sharing warehouse accornodation which is not very well lit and pretty short on facilities. The big pain is that the pits are about half a mile away and consist of little more than a ledge on which to put things; there are no work facilities and everything is exposed to skies. This time they were lucky as the sun shone on race day, but the first practice morning was very wet. Everything, frorn spare wheels, tools, jacks, fuel and oil to clipboards and brief cases, has to be carried the half mile from paddock to pits and back again. Every form of transport imaginable is pressed into service to run up and down the road joining the two nerve centres, the only saving grace being that the road is on the outside of the circuit so is open at all times, and full marks to the race organisers who do their best to segregate pedestrian traffic from wheeled traffic.
This problem of keeping on foot away from those on wheels is something that some circuits just do not bother about, which brings everything down to the speed of the slowest spectator wandering along with all the time in the world to stand and stare. The two worst in this respect are Zandvoort and Monza and nothing is ever done about it. The Austrians soon woke up to the problem at the Osterreichring and made the necessary simple changes to keep the two streams of humanity apart, and the Canadians do a proper job on the access bridge across the St Lawrence river to the island, and along the road leading to the paddock. Detroit does not have this problem as everybody walks everywhere, and nothing is very far from anywhere.
The mechanics’ problem in Detroit is bad, for the only access between paddock and pits it by using the circuit itself, so once the circuit is closed (or “hot” as the Americans say) there is no access between the two. The Detroit paddock is inside a circular sports liesure-centre and the pits are an open-air space alongside the Detroit river. If you forget anything once activity has begun then you have had it, which is why Stefan Johansson had to borrow another driver’s helmet for the Sunday morning pre-race warm-up, having left his own in the paddock. He borrowed one from Nigel Mansell, which confused a lot of people when they saw a Ferrari go by apparently being driven by the Williams team driver! Invariably the racing cars were towed to and fro, using anything from a five ton lorry to a golfing trolley and many teams tied their three cars together and set off with a “road train”, team personel grabbing a lift as best they could. A huge fleet of lorries were laid on by the Ryder Hire firm, and after the race I saw one of these being skillfully reversed up to the Osella pit. I thought the driver looked familiar; it was Enzo Osella himself.
With the sunny weather we enjoyed on race-day in Canada and Detroit there was a bonus for the spectators, (if FOCA had realised it they would have charged them more!) and this was that those who paid to join in the “pits walk about” before the race, were really able to see something With open-air pits there were no garage doors to be slammed shut, nothing much in the way of dark windowed motor-homes for the drivers to hide in, and no plastic look-a-like exhibition cars pretending to be Alain Prost’s McLaren. Everything was real and alive, and there were some visitors from the UK who really enjoyed the scene, having suffered in “walk-abouts” at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Mind you. on the other side of the coin the teams were not too happy for it meant that mechanics had to be put on guard to watch out for the “light fingered brigade” who have been known to steal everything from a pit board number to a complete tool box, while everyone knows that in Italy you could lose a complete car if you did not have everything under lock and key. This aspect is one that people on the outside do not often appreciate, but it is an unfortunate fact of the world we live in where other people’s property is no longer sacrosanct. When you let 1000 people into a paddock how can you possibly tell which are decent enthusiasts and which are thieves and robbers. Fortunately 99% are decent enthusiasts, but the 1% are spoiling it for them. The simple answer for the teams is to bolt and bar the door, but the real remedy lies with the 99% of enthusiasts. All I can say is that you must realise that the chap next to you might be the one with the “light fingers”and he is the one that is spoiling it for you. Don’t blame Bernie Ecclestone and the teams, even though it may look as though it is their fault.
But enough of the asides, what of the two races. The Canadian circuit is quite fast, but full of changes of direction, wiggling this way and that and for the most part boringly flat, while the Detroit circuit is what you would expect in a city in the USA, all stop-and-start and full of right-anle corners. They are both circuits made up from normal everyday roads rather than specially prepared racing tracks, and this was brought home to me in Canada when I saw a small van standing on the circuit before qualifying began and a workman was doing something with arc-welding equipment. I enquired of Derek Ongaro, the FISA circuit-inspector. as to what was going on, and he showed me how a circular man-hole cover lid was being tack-welded to stop it revolving if a car ran across the edge of it. This particualr man-hole to the sewers was in the middle of the track on the approach to a 160 mph corner! There are a lot of them around the circuit and even in the pit lane, and prior to the event they were all tack-welded, but the one I was looking at had been missed, and the Canadians were quickly rectifying their omission. It was an interesting thought that when the race was over someone had to go round and grind off all the bits of welding. It is not a simple matter organising a race on a temporary circuit, as the Birmingham people will soon be finding out when they get ready to run thier F3000 race round the streets of their city on August 25th. The fact that the Formula One world are prepared to race on circuits with man-hole covers on the main straight, and many other places, always amuses me, for when I suggest putting a man-hole cover in the middle of Stowe Corner at Silverstone, just to give it a touch of reality, people look at me and think I have lost my marbles!
Taking the two races together there were two “men of the moment” Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, the former winning the Canadian GP for Williams-Honda and the latter winning the United States GP for Lotus-Renault. In Canada Senna finished 5th and in Detroit Mansell finished 5th, Mansell was on pole-position in Canada and Senna was on pole position in Detroit, so the score would appear to be “even Stevens” but it was not really as simple as that. As an aside, Nelson Piquet made fastest lap in both races, just in case anyone thought he was not there Mansell achieved his results by sheer hard work and application of the job in hand, looking hot, sweaty, a bit breathless and a bit dazed but very happy after his victory. Senna on the other hand looked pretty cool, very serious, almost ernbarrasingly confident and unprepared to accept any deficiency in his own performance, or that of his car or his team. In Canada you could almost hear Mansell thinking. “That was great. I beat him” while in Detroit you could read Senna’s thoughts, “I won that one. I should have won the last one. and If It is up to me I will win the next one. and the one atter that one”. It is all a question of temperament.
The Canadian race was not really a race, it was more of an economy run for the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is very heavy on fuel, so the whole thing boils down to which engine manufacturer can make the best use of the 195 litres that the cars are allowed to carry, and this comes down to the best engine management system, which involves a lot of electronics, intelligent input, deep engine knowledge and good programming. In other words, an engineers race, though most engineers would rather be allowed unlimited fuel and let the drivers get on with it. The Canadian event gave every impression that the Honda designers and engineers have got the upper hand at the moment, and Mansell is their man to make the most of it. That is not to say that Piquet is out of the running, far from it, and had he not had to make an extra stop for rear tyres near the end of the race he would have been second to Mansell.
In Detroit the conditions were very different, for the circuit was not extravagent on fuel so that everyone could race without having to keep one eye on the fuel consumption read-out. This was a good thing for round the narrow street circuit there are plenty of other things that need both eyes kept upon such as slower cars, unfriendly concrete, walls, small escape roads and damaging kerbs. The walls were Piquet’s undoing, for after leading for eight laps during the middle of the race, he stopped for new tyres, rejoined and promptly set up a new lap record and then misjudged a corner, clipped the wall and bounced across the road into retirement with the right side of the car torn off on another wall. It was not a good weekend for Piquet, for during the Saturday morning test session he made a nonsense of the chicane before the pits on the river front. Rather than succumb to a monumental head-on crash, he dissipated the kinetic energy of the Williams-Honda by virtually destroying it as it bounced off the barriers on its way through the corners. Most impressive was the fact that Patrick Head’s carbon-fibre composite monocoque was undamaged and the car was rebuilt in time for the race. Piquet’s crash in the race was much more violent and spelt the end of the road tor that particular car, apart from possible test purposes. I think one can safely say at this moment, that Nelson Piquet’s mind is not fully on the job of being a front-line racing driver. It Is not money, nor is it his racing future, but his mind is certainly on other things at times. Hopefully it will nor itself out in the near future.
Over the two weekends there were quite a few crashes, some explainable, some unnecessary some a bit stupid and some inexplicable. The impressive part of it all was the minimal amount of personal damage that the drives received, especially when you looked at some of the wreckage afterwards. During the first qualifying hour in Canada the road was still damp, though the rain had stopped, and the cars were passing the pits at 150 mph at least. There is a slight bend leading onto the pits straight and the surface is very wavy so that the cars “squirrel about” a bit. It all looked alright until Fabi lost control of his Benetton-BMW and went into a violent but long spin, during which time he hit the barriers on the left and then went across the track and hit the barriers on the right the left side barrier is where all the team personal stand to give pit signals and about 200 people fell over backwards, with boards, signals, and timing equipment flying in all directions. Remarkably there was only one injury inflicted by the tumbling hordes, no-one actually being injured by the car. A Brabham mechanic had been holding out a pit board and so quick was the accident that the board was smashed to pieces by the passing Benetton before he could withdraw it. Gordon Murray was heard to remark to Peter Collins, the Benetton team manager, “We’ll invoice you for that damage, and it will cost a lot of money, for our pit signal boards are made of carbon-fibre”. What ever happened to children’s plywood black-boards and the piece of chalk?
On race morning warm-up Patrick Tambay was going well in one of the Lola-Fords when it turned sharp left past the pits and went almost head-on into the barriers, destroying itself pretty comprehensively. Tambay was unfortunate and suffered damaged feet, which prevented him from taking part in the race in the spare car, and later was to prevent him from taking part in Detroit, though he was walking about the pit lane, albeit rather gingerly. During the Montreal race there was an unfortunate misunderstanding between Johnny Dumfries who was leaving the pits after a routine tyre stop, and Stefan Johansson who was on full song going by, followed by his team-mate Michele Alboreto. The result was that Johansson hit the Lotus-Renault up the backside and both cars were eliminated on the spot, with no damage to either driver. However, Alboreto was the one who suffered for he was right behind the accident and he had a monumental avoidance which involved him spinning between the two wrecked cars without touching anything: gathering it all up and carrying on racing to finish 8th. Later on he was to discover that he had banged his legs badly on the bits in the cockpit during his gyration and in Detroit he was driving very much below par as he was in a lot of pain when he pressed hard on the brakes.
The final accident of note was to Alan Prost. Yes, the immaculate and precise Mr Prost “cocked It up” in the silly chicane on the river front in Detroit during the qualifying hour on Saturday afternoon. Both of the North American circuits do little for Prost, he just does not enioy them, and Detroit least of all, so that he never showed any real World Champion class throughout the whole trip and the McLaren-Porsches were never looking like potential front-runners. The best car in the world will be slow if the driver is not trying hard, but the converse is not true, for the best driver can make a bad car look quite good, and it often happens. Prost suffered no damage and the McLaren was not destroyed, but the accident destroyed Mansell’s bid for pole position.
Mansell was holding fastest time for the Detroit circuit until Senna appeared half-way through the qualifying hour on Saturday. He had been sitting in the shade of the Lotus rnotorhome with his engineer, Steve Hallam. They walked across to the pits in a very leisurely fashion, the Lotus-Renault ready and waiting. Mansell had recorded 1.38.839 and was waiting. He did not have long to wait: Senna left the pit lane, went round on a warming-up lap, recorded 1 38.301 on his flying lap and returned to the pits, just like that: it was almost arrogant. One thing about Nigel Mansell is that he won’t give up easily, to him every moment is “Hero Time”. Out he went, really hard on it, blood and guts, he was going to get pole-position back. He was half-way round on what we all call a “real screamer” when Mr. Prost spread himself and his car all over the chicane and the red flag was out to stop practice. Now the Williams team is one of those with a very efficient pits-to-car radio system, so instantly Patrick Head was able to scream into Nigel’s ears “Back off, red flag”. The point of this is that you are only allowed two sets of tyres for qualifying and quite often one lap is all a set of tyres will do. Mansell was on his second set and it was hoped that he hadn’t taken too much out of them on the searing half lap he had done. When qualifying resumed he was wound up as tight as ever, but could not improve on his first time, so ruefully had to settle for second place on the grid. While all this was going on Senna went out again, “just in case” and put in a lap at 1.39.049 which was third fastest time of the day, but as he already had pole-position with 1.38.301 it did not count.
There are a lot of people who either don’t see what is happening or don’t understand, for they moan about qualifying: high boost engines, sticky tyres, tweaky aerodynamics, dodgy weight recordings and many other things. When Mansell and Senna have a spirited afternoon like the one in Detroit, these people say “Why do they do it, it’s not the race”. My answer to these “dismal jimmies” is simple. “These chaps are racing drivers. If you can’t appreciate that, you shouldn’t be here”.
While “Hero Time” is easily seen up at the front of the field there are many occasions among the lower echelons for “hero time” ( with lower-case h and t). In Detroit one of these was Eddie Cheever, who like Derek Warwick got sort of left out of Formula One this year. With Patrick Tambay on the walking-wounded list the Carl Haas team phoned Eddie and told him to get to Detroit from his home in Italy a .s.a p. He sat in a Lola-Ford V6 for the first time on Friday morning just before official practice began and by the end of Saturday afternoon he was in 10th place on the starting grid. The car was not absolutely right, it was just that the genial Cheever simply got stuck into the job. He knew there was no time to fiddle about trying to adjust all the variables to his every whim in an effort to make the car seem perfect. It was average good so he went out in the final qualifying and really gave it some stick. I must say it was impressive to watch, with smoke pouring off the tyres under braking and the car using all the road and leaping about over the bumps. Talking to one of the Ford people later on he admitted he had shut his eyes, he just couldn’t bear to see one of their cars destroyed in front of him. He was worrying unduly for Eddie didn’t hit anything at all and a Lola-Ford V6 was well up on the grid among the hot-runners. Steady old Alan Jones was in 21st position on the grid. In the race Cheever was enjoying himself and holding 9th place when the Lola part of the combine fell apart again. This time it was trouble with the rear wheel driving pins, and/or rear suspension and Jones had similar trouble. As Keith Duckworth said later “Maybe it’s a good thing the Lola part keeps letting us down, otherwise it would be our engine that would let us down”. At the moment the Cosworth-designed and built Ford engine, with real Ford co-operation. especially on the engine electronic management system, is looking very good and a lot of people have stopped looking sideways at it and are now looking down at it fairly and squarely and beginning to reach out, but Ford is saying “hands off” for the moment at least.
For these two races on the other side of the Atlantic there were a number of driver changes, some temporary and others permanent I have already mentioned Cheever’s temporary replacement of Patrick Tambay. The Brabham team co-opted Derek Warwick to replace their loss of Elio de Angelis in their testing accident at the Paul Ricard circuit. Warwick did not turn out to be the ‘instant tonic’ that it seems that the Brabharn team need, dropping out of the Canadian race with engine maladies and starting the Detroit race on the wrong choice of tyres. However, Riccardo Patrese raised flagging spirits in Detroit by soldiering on to sixth place in a non-stop run. The Arrows team could only run one car in Canada as Marc Surer had a big accident in a German rally in which he was driving for fun, and leg injuries look like putting him out for some time. By Detroit negotiations had been made for Christian Danner to transfer from the Osella learn to the Arrows team and naturally this left a vacancy in Mr. Osella’s team, which was filled by the young Canadian driver Alan Berg.
In a previous report I made mention of the lad t that the Zakspeed team was at last making a bit of progress, even though its path is still fraught. In Canada their number one driver Jonathan Palmer missed the start for a reason that can only be put down to Dr Sodt. They have a fuel injection system, energised by a pick-up on the end of a camshaft. If the engine stops in the wrong place, which is a million to one chance, then the pick-up does not send a signal to the injection system so that when they come to restart the engine the “brain” refuses to co-operate, saying in effect “nobody has told me you want to start the engine” it is very similar to a steam engine stopping exactly on Top Dead Centre so that it will not start either forwards or backwards, and you have to rock the flywheel. By the time the Zakspeed boys had tumbled to this Jonathan had lost two laps.
In Detroit it was Rothengatter’s turn for Dr Sodt’s attention. The alternator output is marginal for the engine’s needs electrically, so that once started you really need to keep the engine buzzing and on the parade-lap the genial Dutchman let the engine revs drop on the tight corners and the thing just died on him. It’s called learning the hard way. However, there was some consolation for the number one car went exceptionally well and Palmer was actually able to get on with some racing. He had a good dice with Philippe Streiff in the second Tyrrell for quite a long way and finished 8th, ahead of the Frenchman and on the same lap as Dumfries who was just ahead of him. You don’t often see a Zakspeed pulling into the Parc Ferme at the end of the race, and this time the driver looked hot and sweaty and very happy. Progress is being made.
A team that was really impressive in North America which was no surprise to anyone who has been paying close attention, was the Ligier-Renault team. Since Guy Ligier took the two Renault men Gerald Larrousse and Michel Tetu onto his pay roll, the Gitanes-backed all-French team has been making steady progress. With Rene Arnoux joining them this year and showing he had lost none of his fire during his year’s sabbatical in 1985, the team has been going from strength to strength. On a number of occasions, such as the Spanish GP, the hot-shoe front-runners have had a blue car hanging onto their tails, and dear old Jack Lafferty has not been far behind. In both North American races “les bleus” were in there with the best of them, and they finished 6th and 7th in Montreal. In Detroit they were on great form and as the top runners stubled and fumbled, the two boys in blue steamed by into the 1st and 2nd place. Craftily, Larrousse had set them off with slightly dillerent tyre choices, and as Arnoux-s rear tyres wore down Laffite was able to go by into the lead. He lead the race from lap 18 to 30, when he made his scheduled pit stop. When things settled again Arnoux was in a strong second place and Laffite was fourth, but there was no way they were going to catch the flying Senna. When Piquet threw himself out of the race, leaving his derelict Williams beside the barriers it took rather a long time for the huge crane to reach over and pluck the car off the track. Meanwhile Arnoux thought it had been moved and sailed round the blind corner to find the Williams still there. He bounced all the wall, hit one of the rear tyres of the stationary car and cannoned into the Arrows of Thierry Bousten that was passing by. The Ligier and the Arrows were eliminated from the race on the spot. Meanwhile Latfite was making up ground after his pit stop and actually had the reigning World Champion in his sighls! With a big grin happy Jack Latfite sailed past the McLaren-Porsche into second place, which nobody begrudged him. No doubt there were serious and complicated reasons why Prost could not challenge the blue car, but McLaren International are one of those tight-lipped teams who never tell you anything, and when you do take the trouble to prise some information out of them it is usually pretty boring.
Most of the teams are very forthcoming with information, and many of them employ men and women to dispense the stuff to those who want to know. This sort of information sheets out to give to everyone Mobil and Honda look after the Williams team. Data General looks alter the Tyrrell team, John Player looks after the Lotus team. West cigarettes looks after the Zakspeed team. Gitanes looks after the Ligier team. Carl Haas looks alter Ford’s interest, backed by Ford itself, and Pirelli looks after its teams which include Brabharn, Benetton, Osella and Minardi. If you were not paying attention you would not know that McLaren International and the Scuderia Ferrari were there. It does not worry me unduly, for my real interest is the machinery, not the sob-stories, and you cannot go to the pit lane or the paddock without being conscious of Ferrari and McLaren. They don’t really need a PR firm to look after them, but just occasionally it would be nice to see an official statement about something, rather than having to rely on your own judgement and information dragged out through tight lips!
Speaking personally I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the other side for the pair of unusual races, but then I would be a bit of a moron if I didn’t enjoy such an opportunity. This particular trip was made all the more emoyable by leaving the Formula One scene for three days and going to Indianapolis, the home of the “roundy round boys” to see how the USAC racers live. Unfortunately there was no racing activity going on at the Speedway, but I did take in some Midget racing, and had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere of “racers” who spend most of their time at over 200 mph, not just for a fleeting mornent at the end of a long straight. I was able Intake in so much that It will have to wait for another day before it can be put down on paper — D.S.J