Letters, August 2016

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Formula 1 out of touch

Whenever a tragedy such as the Orlando, Florida shooting takes place, it provides the opportunity for any civilised country to reflect on its policies and treatments of all peoples living within. Similarly, global organisations such as Formula 1 have the ethical and moral responsibility to do business with countries where all individuals are treated equally.

When the F1 machine actively pursues business partnerships with countries where homosexuality is still punishable by death, it tacitly condones the murder of men and women whose only crimes are to be themselves and to love one another freely.

Is it then any wonder that those who run F1 are befuddled when it comes to progressing the brand and increasing their shrinking audience?

It’s almost laughable how the powers-that-be grope about, looking for progress in technical specifications, when the key to any popular form of entertainment has always been about the human connection.

Unfortunately, F1’s power brokers view the world through a gilded straw. Until they can cultivate a sport that not only reflects a global audience, but respects the humanity of the audience it seeks to attract, progression shall remain an elusive concept. It is a sport run by the wealthy elite, for the wealthy elite, who cannot possibly be bothered with the trivialities of basic human rights.

T Mill, Los Angeles, California, USA

Sky’s the limit

I can’t think of any other sport that changes the rules, equipment and venues as much as ours does. The goal width at this year’s European Championships in France is no different from Wembley in 1966. The stumps at this summer’s England-Pakistan test are in the same place as they were for the Botham Ashes test at Headingley in 1981.

But look at the changes in the cars and tracks from ’66 through to today. 

There is one thing that’s been constant all this time, however, and that’s the free-to-air TV coverage. Who knows what the cars will look like come 2019, but the one thing we do know is that’ll be the start of a new dawn as far as TV coverage goes. I believe this will be the biggest, most damaging and long-lasting change to our sport, robbing a large percentage of the population of a chance to watch their motor racing heroes. 

I can hear the emails chattering already – “Just get Sky TV” – but that shouldn’t be the point. Surely our sport has enough cash sloshing around that it didn’t need to be sold off to the highest bidder? It’s not like cricket or darts. On the radio a few years ago someone came up with the phrase “England Cricket team syndrome”, meaning that the average sports fan could no longer name the England cricket team due to his or her lack of access to TV coverage. 

When each sport is competing not only for viewing figures but, more importantly, for future champions, are we in danger of cutting off our supply of the next generation of Lewis Hamiltons or Adrian Neweys?

Sadly, the facts are already plain. The viewing figures for F1 are dropping year on year. Take this year’s Monaco Grand Prix. Thanks to it being a highlights show on free to air, the race was viewed by the smallest number of people since 2006. And this event is meant to be our jewel in the crown, our blue riband, our Ashes.

It’s too late to change the contract Bernie has signed with Sky TV, so the rest of us will have to get used to reading the post-race review courtesy of Motor Sport

Matt Cope, Wanborough, Wiltshire

Distraction and destruction

Following on from recent letters relating to illicit circuit excursions, I can relate my own Silverstone experience.

While at Stowe School in the early 1960s, a number of us got together and somehow managed to procure a Norton motorcycle, which we hid in an overgrown air-raid shelter on the circuit grounds.

These were the days when most sporting events took place on a Saturday, so we used to visit on Sundays and take turns to ride around the track. It was always better to be at the helm – I remember being absolutely terrified when I drew the short straw one wet Sunday and had to ride pillion.

We used to inspect areas such as the commentary boxes and collect memorabilia, some of which I still have in early scrapbooks. 

Unfortunately a few other pupils got to hear of our exploits. When we went up to the circuit after one of the major meetings we found our beloved Norton lying on the concrete floor of the air-raid shelter, completely trashed and unusable after some of our fellow scholars had a comprehensive accident. Obviously this was something we could hardly go to the headmaster to report, so that was the end. We never did find out who the culprits were…

Ian Harrower, Putney, London

Point of view

When I first saw Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull fitted with a high windscreen for a brief test during practice for the Russian GP, my own thoughts went back to a dispute over windscreens in sports car racing in 1960. Full-width screens were originally made compulsory as part of the special regulations brought in for Le Mans in 1956, after the accident involving Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes the previous year. Initially the minimum height was set at 20cm. Some, but not all, of these new rules were incorporated into the FIA’s Appendix C regs for international sports car racing for 1957, while the height for screens was reduced to 15cm. In 1960, as part of further changes to make sports cars more like GT cars (compulsory luggage space, for instance) the height of the screens was changed to 25cm.

After the first race of the season in Buenos Aires the top drivers of the day got together with the recently retired Juan Manuel Fangio and signed a strongly worded protest letter, written by Jo Bonnier to the FIA, about visibility problems with the high screens. This letter had little or no effect at the time, but Bonnier himself would be one of the leaders in founding the GPDA to replace the moribund UPPI in May the following year. 

David Cole, Oakham, Rutland

Wrong number

In your list of youngest champions (July issue, p40), you state that Emerson Fittipaldi’s first win in 1970 secured the title for the late Jochen Rindt, the sport’s first posthumous champion, and also at 28 its youngest. I think you will find that Jim Clark was the youngest champion prior to Fittipaldi, having won his first championship in 1963, aged 27.

John Hostler, Norwich, Norfolk

Open letter to Bernie

I’d previously attended the Monaco Grand Prix in 1976 (your mate Niki Lauda won). My ticket, which cost about a fiver, was for a three-row ‘grandstand’ on Avenue d’Ostende, on the hill up from Ste Dévote, and for my pleasure I received a perforated right eardrum. Fast forward to 2016 and, when seated facing the harbour, the guy selling programmes came round the stand offering ear plugs at €5 a pair. Before negotiating the price down, I waited for the F1 cars to come round and found I didn’t need the plugs.

I just had to write and thank you for making the cost of attending a modern Grand Prix that much more affordable. Keep up the good work.

Andrew Hodgson, Bury, Lancs

Chants would be a fine thing

With reference to your readers’ stories about Brands Hatch 1976, I was also there. For me 80,000 British fans were more important than the regulations. I had a press pass; the McLaren lads said they needed bit more time, so I walked across the main straight and suggested a chant. The rest is history and I am very proud of it.

Andrew Frankl, via email

Back to his Rootes

Living in Australia means I get my edition of Motor Sport a couple of months after publication, but it’s worth the wait. Adam Cooper’s article on Mike Parkes in the April edition brought back lots of happy memories. When I lived in the UK back in the 1960s, my copy of the magazine was pushed through the letterbox and I could eagerly read Jenks with my cornflakes before going off to work at Humber in Coventry, or more accurately the Rootes Group Competitive Vehicle Section, where vehicles were road-tested, stripped, inspected and weighed – and ideas were stolen! We tested competitors’ vehicles at MIRA. I remember a Porsche 356 Carrera (rear engine, alloy motor, might glean something to help the Imp project), Ford Cortina (Hunter), Simca 1000 (Imp), a technically brilliant 7-litre Oldsmobile Toronado FWD automatic and others.

The CVS cars were available to executives and engineers at the weekends, and Mike Parkes always booked a Fiat 1500 saloon, often leaving a navy blue Jaguar E-type roadster for us to lock up in the shed for the weekend. Why, one may ask? I did and with a glint in his eye Mike said, “I prefer the back seat in the Fiat.” Enough said.

Bob Walton, Roleystone, Western Australia

Crewe cut

I went to spectate on the Mille Miglia recently. Coming from Bologna to Modena on what we would class as a cross between A- and B-roads, we were horrified to see a 1920s open-top Bentley coming up behind us, forcing its way down the centre of the road. Other cars were obliged to use the extremities of the asphalt, or even the grass verges. Worse still, what we assumed to be a service crew followed through in a Mercedes M-class, keeping pace with the Bentley.

It will not be long before there is a major accident. You cannot ‘race’ on public roads when the rest of the world is using the same route. In my ignorance, I’m not aware that the Mille Miglia is a race; I thought it was an opportunity for people with lovely cars to enjoy themselves. If things carry on in this manner the ‘do-gooders’ will have a legitimate case to close it down.
Mike Boothroyd, Tavistock, Devon

Frankel appreciation

I would pay the monthly cover price just for Andrew Frankel’s contributions.  I think his car reviews are in much the same vein as those of Bill Boddy, years ago – very insightful. 

Tony Milbourn, Great Stukeley, Cambs