Continental Notes, December 1998

It was less than ten years ago that the idea of a British car winning a Grand Prix was considered by most people to be impossible. There were British-built green cars in Grand Prix racing, but they were invariably on the back of the starting grid and seldom finished races, though occasionally green-painted Italian cars in the hands of the British drivers made some sort of show.

In those days the aim of most private owners was to acquire a Ferrari or Maserati, have it maintained at the factories in Modena and, if possible, to borrow a works mechanic to look after it at the races. In fact, if you gave your own mechanic some blue Italian overalls and a white cap and said nothing, the word soon went around the paddock that “so and so has a works mechanic looking after his Maserati” and this was reckoned to be the password to success, but then as now, it was the driver who won races.

This season in Grand Prix racing we have seen a complete reversal of the situation, just as in Grand Prix racing everywhere green cars and British drivers now dominate, apart from the occasional lapse, and have done for some years now. We now have the situation of an Italian private owner and driver racing a British car, painted red, maintained at a parent factory in England and looked after by the two works mechanics. This, of course, is Bandini with the Centro-Sud BRM, who has been causing quite a flutter recently.

The Scuderia Centro-Sud is the hobby of Guglielmo Dei, who used to be the Maserati agent in Rome, for Central and Southern Italy, hence the name Centro-Sud, and he has run a private team of cars for many years now. He has long had great faith in the ability of Lorenzo Bandini, the young Italian from Milan, having discovered him in the original Formula Junior days. This season, with the financial help of BP, the Scuderia Centro-Sud acquired a 1962 works BRM, brought up to 1963 as regards the engine, it being the actual car that Graham Hill used in the early part of the 1962 season.,/p>

It was being used by the factory team as a spare car, and they would not release it to Signor Dei until they had a new car of their own, which eventually appeared at Zandvoort. Just as Maserati owners in the past realised that the best place for maintenance was Modena, so did Dei realise that the best place for maintenance on a BRM was at Bourne, and he was fortunate in being able to obtain the services of two factory mechanics to look after the car at meetings. With Bandini speaking a few essential words in English, like “OK, very good, no good” and so on, and the BRM lads a few words of Italian, such as “Candele, motore, cambio” they get along fine together and have proved a happy combination.

The racing scene has indeed swung its pendulum to the full, and the interesting thing is to wonder what will be at the other end when it swings back again. Will the private owners be bowing politely to the Japanese and asking for “honourable assistance” or will they be saying “hey bud” to a gum-chewing American? It would be nice if we could go full circle back to the French, as in the 1920s, but I think that is out of the question.

While on the subject of private-owners, the name of Giorgio Filipinetti keeps on appearing in race reports, and some further light on the situation might prove of interest. He is a rich Italian, living in Switzerland, with a passion for racing and last year he got a number of Swiss amateurs together and formed the Scuderia Filipinetti, the idea that being banded together they would be more of a power when it came to negotiating with organisers and so on.

One of those amateurs was Joseph Siffert who was beginning to show more than average ability. Realising that Siffert had good prospects, Filipinetti bought a Lotus BRM V8 for him to drive, but he tended to assume that a racing car did not need skilled attention, it merely wanted driving, and the result was not very good for Siffert, the car being troublesome and unreliable.

Early this season Siffert decided to branch off on his own, not being too impressed with Filipinetti’s organising powers and having found a first class Swiss mechanic to maintain the BRM engine, Siffert bought the car from the Scuderia and set up on his own. Since leaving, Siffert had much more success and his new mechanics made the Lotus-BRM V8 very fast and reliable, which upset Filipinetti and he promptly bought a brand new Lotus-BRM V8 with the sole idea of beating Siffert and he looked around for a driver. He fixed up with Ludovico Scarfiotti, but at this last minute Mr Ferrari snatched the Italian away to use in his own team and Filipinetti was without a driver.

With his good friend Giorgio Billi, who finances the ATS project, they agreed that Phil Hill should drive the car when he was not driving for ATS and he was directed to go to Reims and race. Lotus supplied the new car, but after that it was up to Filipinetti to find mechanics to maintain it, and so far that is what he has failed to do, and Phil Hill has had some degrading experiences with the car, not the least being when Siffert goes sailing by with his BRM engine on full song, as the Filipinetti car pops and bangs its badly prepared way around the circuits.

It is my hope that one day after a Grand Prix the winning driver will say in all honesty, “my car ran perfectly, and everything was marvellous.” Almost without exception drivers today seem to have a gripe at the end of the race, as if winning was not enough.

If you congratulate them and say “that was a fine race you drove” they will say “Yes, but the car was uncontrollable until the fuel tanks began to empty”, or “With all that oil on the track and my car having the wrong roll bar, it was understeering so much I could hardly get round some of the corners.”

Listening to all these stories I often wonder that anyone finished the race at all, let alone won it. However, I still live in hope that one day a Grand Prix winner will say afterwards “Marvellous! I enjoyed every minute of it and the car went like a bird.” I am sure a lot of team-managers and mechanics would like to hear the same thing. DSJ