I’ve never had much time for the Drivers’ World Championship — especially after 1958, when Moss won four races, Brooks three, and Hawthorn was World Champion with only one win but lots of second places.
Since then, the awarding of the World Champion title on the collection of points rather than wins has thrown up a lot of controversial World Champions. Some of them have been undisputed top-line drivers, as Mike Hawthorn was and as Piquet is this year, but if you are from the school of thought for which winning races is the name of the game, then Mansell’s performance this year ranks very high.
I was involved in the World Champion lark right from the beginning, for the World Championships began in motorcycle racing in 1949, the year before they began for Grand Prix racing. In the motorcycle and sidecar category there were only three events which counted for the World Championship in that first year, and I was riding passenger for Eric Oliver, an undisputed champion.
We won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and the Swiss GP on the Bremgarten circuit at Berne. We had the Italian GP sewn up at Monza when a “team error” caused us to stop and change the sparking plug, resuming in last place. We battled our way back to fifth place by the finish, and to us that was total failure; quite simply we had not won the Italian GP and were prepared to go quietly away and bury our sorrows.
Instead we were hauled up on to the winner’s podium and acclaimed as World Champions. We were not very enthusiastic, but had we won the Italian GP we would have bounded up the steps to receive the acclamation, knowing that “three-out-of-three” couldn’t be bettered. As an aside we had won eight other races that season, not of Grand Prix status, but worthy events nonetheless.
I’m not a great Ferrari fan, but I do like to see Ferraris winning races, for it makes the whole team so happy and they are not afraid to show it. More importantly, it gives a small amount of stability to Formula One. Stability is something which is otherwise sadly lacking.
When a Ferrari car wins you know it has a Ferrari-designed and built chassis, engine and gearbox, and most of it was made in Maranello. It is red and it is Italian. You know that a Ferrari is a Ferrari, unlike a lot of the teams today which change the names of their cars from “Jack Woodbine Specials” one year to “John Thomas Specials” the next.
Since mid-season when “Il Principe Nero” John Barnard decided to stay at home and design next year’s car, leaving the activity in the fields to Dott lng ‘Arvey Postlethwaite, the visible morale of the team has been rising steadily, and Gerhard Berger’s Japanese victory must have been a real tonic for them.
Many people forget that Enzo Ferrari was in Grand Prix racing in the 1920s and 1930s, when his Scuderia Ferrari was running the factory Alfa Romeo hardware. The Grand Prix cars with the Ferrari badge on the nose may have only been on the scene since 1947, but the Prancing Horse emblem has been part of Grand Prix racing for longer than most people care to remember, and long may it remain. A Grand Prix without a Ferrari entry is not a real Grand Prix; there have been one or two, but they are easily forgettable.
While on the subject of the past in Grand Prix racing, a very solid tome arrived the other day, which would take a lifetime to read and absorb, but makes an invaluable reference work. This is the product of Paul Sheldon, Duncan Rabagliatti and others, who formed the Formula One Register many years ago to collect and collate every possible fact and figure about GP and Voiturette racing.
These chaps do not go to the races like you and I and all our regular colleagues do, but they collect all we put in our race reports to form a remarkable data bank of information. As and when they feel they have all possible information on a particular period of Grand Prix racing, they compile a pretty weighty volume and have it published by St Leonards Press in Bradford.
The one which arrived the other day has 1954-1959 laid out in chapters year by year, with every race included — not just World Championship events. It is an expensive work (£36 plus postage and packaging) but if you saw it in the specialist bookshops you would finger it lovingly and think: “Hmm, expensive, but I really would like to have it”. It is not a book you read from cover to cover and then put on the bookshelf, it is a book of facts and figures “for ever”.
Talking of statistics, if you ever have occasion to visit the Indianapolis Speedway you will meet the USAC historian Donald Davidson. If it is out-of-season, so much the better, for Don will have time to relax and talk motor racing — and not just Indy racing.
From the word go you know you are with a one-hundred-per-cent motor racing enthusiast who is on your wavelength. No need to waste time on explanatory introductions, it is straight into racing talk: “Remember when Jim Clark . . .” or “Mario Andretti always maintained that . . .” And it is the same with cars: “They were the first team to . . .” or “That engine ran to 12,500 rpm . . .”
It was Donald Davidson who introduced me to the game of Trivia — inconsequential questions on the nitty-gritty of motor racing in which you try to catch each other out or offer a statement of fact which is of no consequence, but is of interest all the same.
Back in the summer I came across a splendid piece of Trivia. It was an old racing car gathering, and owners of historic cars were kicking the tyres and saying “You know . . .” (the owners of fake historic cars, like some VSCC members, were in the bar keeping a low profile!), when the owners of a K3 MG Magnette and an 8CM Maserati were appreciating the fact that both cars had been supplied new to Whitney Straight — the MG in 1933 and the Maserati in 1934. Both cars have led fully documented lives, with no “grey areas”, and Peter Green, the owner of the racing MG said: “Have you appreciated that not only were both these cars supplied new to Whitney Straight, but they also have the same chassis number?”
Now, that was something I had not appreciated, even though I have known both cars more-or-less since they were built. The 1933 K3 MG is chassis number K3011 and the 1934 Maserati 8CM is chassis number 8CM-3011; the long arm of coincidence, which I always find fascinating.
While this letter is being printed you will be standing on your head “down-under” at the Australian Grand Prix. Good luck, and next year is already on the horizon.