For the first time since the Brazilian Grand Prix at Rio de Janeiro started the 1985 World Championship season back in March, the Formula One fraternity ventured into the Southern Hemisphere for the last two rounds of the series. As I write these words the British motorsporting world is girding up its loins for the Lombard RAC Rally of Great Britain which is scheduled to start in Nottingham on November 24. Its route takes it through Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland and the Lake District: all of which brings me, by an admittedly circuitous route, to reach the point of this aside. The RAC Rally covers a relatively small part of our Island during its route-just as the FIA Formula I World Championship covers a very small proportion of the World, taken as a whole. Still, this year we welcomed a new country on the calendar for the first time since Brazil entered the Championship area way back in 1973. That country was Australia and the manner in which it organised its inaugural Grand Prix should send a very large proportion of rival promoters, many of whom have been running “established” races for years, cringing with embarrassment.
It was interesting to contrast the underlying atmosphere at these two last races of the season. The Australian race in Adelaide was conducted amidst a mood of overwhelming enthusiasm and long-term optimism: “looking forward to seeing you all again next year” was the feeling once the race had finished and the crowd began filing out of the circuit. Two weeks earlier at Kyalami, the South African Grand Prix had taken place under identically sunny conditions, but a tone of sadness and reserve underscored the bubbling enthusiasm of the moment. On the face of it, with a bumper crowd and some splendid racing, this was the good old Kyalami which Grand Prix enthusiasts have come to love and enjoy over the past two-and-a-half decades. But, notwithstanding FISA’s somewhat naive publicly pronounced precepts, it is increasingly difficult to prevent pure sporting interests from being obscured by the storm clouds of controversy which are gathering over South Africa with every day that goes by. Without wishing to comment on the rights or .wrongs of any political system, it is, perhaps, merely an example of taken-for-granted human hypocrisy that people tend to condemn what they consider unacceptable regimes beyond the horizon while, at the same time, displaying-selective blindness to what is going on much closer to home.
We got through the Kyalami weekend without the presence of Renault and Ligier, both teams having been told to miss the South African race by a Government busy washing its hands after the “Rainbow Warrier” sinking in Auckland harbour. Renault then went to some efforts to take its RE60Bs out to Australia for the final race of the season as if somehow symbolically making the point that they chose to miss the South African race. Truth be told, I think that Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick would have been very happy to miss the final race of the season, although they were happy that the mechanics at least got the trip to some new surroundings and the opportunity to take a holiday in Australia once the Grand Prix had finished. True to 1985 form, both RE60Bs retired from the race with transmission-related problems and on that rather flat note, Renault’s eight and a half year turbocharged Formula One career came to an end as far as the works team was concerned. Not on hand in Australia to witness the team’s demise was Gerard Toth, the man appointed to run Renault Sport’s F1 programme after the defection to Ligier of Gerard Larrousse and Michel Tetu. It was probably just as well.
Renault’s decision to quit Formula 1 is a very worrying straw in the wind as far as the future of several drivers is concerned, because if Alfa Romeo follows suit and withdraws from the scene, the number of potential Formula One opportunities remaining for 1986 will shrink dramatically. Niki Lauda has, for the moment at least, decided that he has had enough of driving racing cars, although I’m reliably informed that he might not have been so hasty to publicly confirm his retirement if he had been allowed to see preliminary drawings of Gordon Murray’s stunning new Brabham BT55 a little earlier! Interestingly, Lauda catapulted out of Adelaide in company with Bernie Ecclestone, BMW Competitions boss Wolfgang-Peter Flohr and chief engineer Paul Rosche in time to board a trans-Pacific flight on the Sunday of the race, giving rise to plenty of speculation that Lauda was on the verge of changing his mind yet again and deciding that he will, in fact, go racing for Bernie in 1986. Even as these words are written there is a nagging suspicion in many people’s minds that the three-times World Champion might be seen in the cockpit again next season and one can well understand his wife’s opinion that she will only believe he has stopped racing when he is at home watching the first race of the new season on television! In reality, of course, Lauda does not plan to shut himself away from Grand Prix racing as he did between 1979 and 82. He fully recognises the continuing attraction the business has for him and he has said that he will be present at a good number of Grands Prix next year – either way!
Elsewhere on the driver change market a little bit of history was made when Nelson Piquet, loyal to Bernie Ecclestone and Brabham for seven years, decided he would “cut the umbilical cord” and move on to pastures new, the Brazilian having his last race for the team at Adelaide. The partnership between Piquet and Brabham designer Gordon Murray has been extremely impressive over the past few years, the two men obviously getting on extremely well on a technical as well as a personal level. There seemed no good reason to break up this arrangement, but Piquet could not come to a financial agreement with Bernie Ecclestone about his 1986 contract fee and the two men parted company. Most pit lane observers agree that letting Piquet slip through his fingers has been one of the very rare tactical errors made by the Brabham boss over the last decade, but the Brazilian felt that he could do a better deal elsewhere and didn’t wish to get involved in a “Dutch auction” over his fee with Bernie. By the time Bernie recognised that Piquet was serious, and that there would be no compromise, Piquet had put his signature to a Williams-Honda contract!
The well-oiled way in which the Formula One circus is propelled round the World, to set up its “big top” everywhere from Brazil to Belgium, is one of those things that we tend to take for granted and the familiar sight of the regular mechanics working on Williams, Lotus, Brabham and Ferrari in the garages at Adelaide seemed as comfortably familiar as at Brands Hatch, Silverstone or Paul Ricard. But it is perhaps worthwhile pondering just what an enormous amount of planning and organisation lies behind getting people and personnel to all these diverse corners of the Globe.
It is a fairly open secret that the major airline routes to Australia are hardly bulging with surplus capacity at the best of times, and with both the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Grand Prix taking place within 48 hours of each other, enttiusiasts of turf and track were hurrying to this island subcontinent in their droves. Not only was every hotel room within 50 miles of Adelaide booked up for months in advance, but the domestic airlines, TAA and Ansett, were finding that national routes into Adelaide suddenly requiring the use of wide-bodied aircraft rather than the usual smaller jets. It was not just a question of channelling the enormous number of race personnel through to Adelaide, but also catering for the race fans who flocked in just for the weekend.
Of course, all this international airline ticketing is a matter of course to the Grand Prix teams, but the business of transporting the cars round the World is far more complex and time-consuming. Down at Bernie Ecclestone’s headquarters in Chessington, Surrey, Alan Woollard spends the vast majority of his time organising and arranging future air cargo packages to encompass races which may not be scheduled to take place for another six to nine months.
This particular case, the South African and Australian races were serviced by two aircraft chartered from the French airline UTA, although more frequently FOCA hires from the Flying Tigers freight specialist carrier. The cars are stacked on wooden pallets, minus their nose sections and rear wings, before being fork-lifted into the Boeing 747 freighter, while all the paraphernalia of spare engines, gearboxes, wheels and the hundred-and-one other items and accessories which go towards making up a Grand Prix team’s necessary equipment, are packed in sturdy steel Radford containers. Loading a 747 freighter is a well-drilled procedure and certainly needs to be, because every hour spent on the ground for one of these big jets is an hour when they could be earning money in the air. However, unlike the passenger 747s, which can be “turned round” at major international airports in little more than an hour, the freighter takes around 48 hours to load up its precious F1 cargo and another 24 hours to unload!
The UTA Boeing 747 carries up to 32 cars which may seem pretty impressive, but is not always sufficient and an additional Boeing 707 freighter is often chartered as well, this smaller plane capable of flying five cars along with all their necessary spares. From London to Johannesburg, then Johannesburg to Adelaide and back to London the 747 flew its planned charter flight, but while the cars were occupied racing the plane was away earning money elsewhere. As Woollard points out, it is not like the days a decade ago when a CL44 piston-engined freighter flew all the cars out to Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix and proceeded to sit on the tarmac for 12 days waiting to take them back to Europe!
Interestingly when the 747 freighter carrying the cars arrived at Adelaide all the equipment was immediately loaded into container vans and driven to the circuit where the customs examination was then carried out in the paddock. It should be added that the pit facilities at Adelaide ranked with the very best in the World and it therefore came as something of a major surprise when we were told that they would be taken down, panel by panel, bolt by bolt, and stored away for use in future years once the 1985 race was over. It was organisation, planning and foresight on a scale which was difficult to grasp for many in the Formula One business and will surely make it very difficult for any future makeshift circuit to claim that it cannot erect proper pit lane garage facilities “just for the weekend”.
The necessity for routine maintenance doesn’t stop simply because Formula One cars are away from base, so in addition to the need for the long distance cargo freighters, fresh engines and other ancillaries required after Kyalami for the Australian race were shipped out separately as air freight items in the cargo holds of normal commercial flights. When one glances along the average Formula One pit lane and begins to consider not only how expensive are all the individual items of hardware on display, but the sheer cost involved of airfreighting them round the world, you begin to wonder how any organiser ever manages to foot the bill to stage a World Championship Grand Prix – let alone has any realistic opportunity to make a profit. – A. H.