— but with reservations, as the headline suggested: ‘It’s fantastic — but is it a car?’
Monaco is Monaco, of course, and close processions have been the way of it there for generations. It was no surprise to see Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa lapping all of a group in the late stages, but no one seemed inclined to make a move, and really the tension came only from wondering if anyone would drop it on an increasingly treacherous surface.
At other races, though, thanks to a combination of DRS and the tyre situation, there have been order changes aplenty — and, as I said, a different winner in each of the first half-dozen races. Plenty to talk about, then, but to paraphrase Car and Driver, ‘It’s fantastic — but is it racing?’
After Monaco ‘fantastic’ was the word Alonso used to describe the season to date, because it had proved so unpredictable, but he then tempered his remark. “It’s good for the audience,” he said, “and good that the races are getting so much attention. On the other hand, we can lose credibility — we can lose that the best teams, the best drivers, the best strategies, win the races, because at the moment it seems that in every race anyone can win.
“It doesn’t matter the talent, it doesn’t matter the team, the performance — it’s like a lottery. What you achieve in F1 is not by chance. We need to make clear that if you win a race, it’s because you did something better — and at the moment I don’t think this is clear for everyone…”
I don’t think it is, either. What say you? I first began going to races with my parents in the mid-50s, it wasn’t long before I sorted out my favourites, and Stirling Moss, it need hardly be said, became an instant idol. I saw him win the Oulton Park Gold Cup in ’54, and at the same meeting laid eyes for the first time on Jean Behra. You could buy paddock passes in those days, of course, and when I saw Behra standing by his light blue Gordini, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth in time-honoured Gallic style, 1111,
I at once concluded that here was my idea of what a Grand Prix driver should be.
Dan Gurney thought so, too: “Even for those days, Jean was something of a throwback to a different time. He wasn’t a moaner at all — he was a fiery guy, and he was there to race. I thought a great deal of him, and I really admired his incredibly combative spirit. He was a proud man, and he was a battler — and, believe me, he wasn’t slow!”
Gurney shared a factory Ferrari with Behra at Le Mans in 1959, and they led until the middle of the night when the car broke. The other Ferraris duly followed suit, and on Sunday afternoon it was a pair of Aston Martin DBR1s which took the chequered flag, the leading car crewed by Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby. As I write, both men have left us in the last month, Roy at 90, Carroll at 89.
Salvadori was the third of my idols when I was a kid. When you’re young and impressionable some drivers’ names resonate more than others. Clay Regazzoni and Johnny Servoz-Gavin, for example, could hardly have gone through life as shipping clerks or solicitors, and in the same way I thought ‘Roy Salvadori’ perfect for one who drove a 250F.
As I mentioned last month, I always had a thing about ‘The Trident’. “Head was Ferrari, and heart was Maserati,” Jenks once said to me, and it summed up how I felt, too. Moss and Behra I always thought of as Maserati men, and Salvadori, too, had a role to play. Back in 1954 he was driving not only a 250F for Sid Greene’s Gilby Engineering team, but also a gorgeous A6GCS sports car, and it was in this that I saw him first, at the British Empire Trophy, also at Oulton. Salvadori may not have been a great driver in the Moss sense of the word, but he was more than merely good, and on certain days could run with anyone. History will remember him primarily for his sports car exploits — in the Aston Martin team he was a match for all save Stirling — but Roy was one of those who could drive anything, and do justice to it. He made his
Grand Prix debut at Silverstone in 1952, finishing eighth in a privately-entered Ferrari, and 10 years on was a member of the Bowmaker Lola team, partnering John Surtees.
In between times Salvadori drove for a variety of outfits, including — briefly — BRM and Vanwall, but his single-seater career is associated chiefly with Cooper. Although Roy was never to win a Grand Prix, on at least two occasions he came close, and at a Goodwood lunch a few years ago he told me about them.
“I was always a realist about my own abilities,” he said. “I saw myself as a damn good pro, and sometimes a bit more than that, but when you were up against people like Fangio and Moss there was no point in kidding yourself. I think, in the right car, I was capable of competing seriously with them some days — but the thing is, they were always at that level…
“To be quite honest, there were only a couple of times in my career when I really felt I might win a Grand Prix. One was at Silverstone in ’56, when I was in the Gilby Maser, and eventually went out with a misfire — the engine was still running, but I packed it in because I was worried about blowing up: Gilby simply didn’t have the wherewithal for a complete rebuild at Maserati. I was proud of that drive, though, because the car was getting quite long in the tooth by then, and I’d been running second to Moss’s factory 250F — I couldn’t do anything about him, but I was ahead of Fangio and Collins in their Ferraris — and they finished 1-2 after Stirl eventually retired… “The other occasion was towards the
end of my Fl career, at Watkins Glen in 1961, driving a customer Cooper for the Yeoman Credit team. I’d had a pretty poor season, but I always liked the ‘Glen, and in the race I really got going well, passing people like Gurney and McLaren, and getting into second place behind Ireland’s Lotus, which I was catching at a rate of knots — until I came up to lap Clark, who had been delayed earlier on.
“There were about half a dozen laps to go, and it was clear that Jimmy was obeying orders from Chapman, and holding me up so as to protect Innes, his team-mate. I wasn’t very happy about it, but I suppose, in similar circumstances, I’d have done the same! Anyway, I finally forced my way by — but almost immediately the engine went bang, and that was that. It was almost certainly my own fault — I’m sure I must have over-revved in my attempts to get past Jimmy— but still I was awfully disappointed. I was coming up to 40, and thought, ‘Well, that’s probably my last chance to be a Grand Prix winner’. Which it duly was…” Salvadori had a wonderfully understated way with him — “I was awfully disappointed…” — and took great pleasure in gently needling his rivals — “Christ, Stirl, is that all Astons are paying you?” — but any of them would attest to the fact that on the race track he was a fierce competitor, well able to take care of himself. In my experience, he was delightful company; I lament the loss of another childhood god. ID