Readers' Letters, December 2008, December 2008

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America deserta

Sir,

These are depressing times, particularly here in North America. We’re in the midst of a global economic crisis, and to add to the collective gloom fans of motor sport seem to be under siege by the FIA. I defy anyone with a genuine sense of objectivity who witnessed the altercation between Felipe Massa and Sébastien Bourdais at the Japanese Grand Prix to come away with the opinion that the latter was at fault. The race stewards have insulted our intelligence and sense of fair play yet again.

A few days earlier the FIA (in concert with Mr Ecclestone, certainly) inexplicably axed the Canadian GP from the 2009 calendar, thus abandoning North America altogether.

I doubt that there is any host city for a World Championship event which could compete with Montréal for genuine fan enthusiasm and general excitement. But Bernie will instead take his circus to another featureless circuit in an obscure country where there is money in abundance, but hardly a fan to be found. Again, the true enthusiasts are rightly insulted.

I wonder how the people involved in the governance of international motor sport can truly believe their behaviour of late is in the sport’s best interest. I may soon forget about F1, and hope the FIA’s self-destructive disease isn’t caught by the ACO and ALMS.

Gary Donaldson, Braselton, Georgia, USA

Darkness visible

Sir,

I watched the Singapore Grand Prix live, as I do every GP. I feel that I must agree with Ron Dennis when he says “it’s a big step in the history of Grand Prix racing”. In my opinion it’s a big step backwards, watching cars race between parallel fences bordered by darkness where no scenery or landmarks are visible.

Frank Williams suggests that it has a good chance of challenging Monaco as the jewel in the crown of Formula 1, which I find amazing as surely the majority of discerning fans would rather watch cars racing through visible landmarks such as Casino Square in Monaco, Eau Rouge at Spa or anywhere recognisable rather than just blackness.

Should the wishes of the fans come before commercial considerations? I would much prefer the race to be shown live in daylight with a recording later.

Michael Hewett, Caterham, Surrey

Nights and daze

Sir,

While Formula 1’s epic commercial build-up to the Singapore Grand Prix seemed guaranteed to resurrect the curiosity of even the most comatose and jaded channel surfer, the end product failed miserably to deliver on its promise of groundbreaking, must-see TV.

Perhaps owing to Singapore falling on the heels of the verdant, history-drenched Spa-Francorchamps and Monza’s tifosi frenzy, the counterpoint of a two-hour long Armco-imprisoned venue telecast in steely grey hues intermittently blurred with incandescent amber reduced many of us Tivo-equipped Yanks to fast-forwarding to escape the concentration camp trance playing out on the screen before us.

Racing after dark erased whatever aesthetic excitement Singapore’s cityscape, promoted as the Far East equivalent of Monaco, might otherwise have offered. It was like exploring a fog-swept bog at 4am through night-vision goggles. That the street track so restricted competitive racing and overtaking made it pale in comparison to Montréal and Monaco, inducing a NASCAR-like catatonic daze.

Sacrificing marvellously storied races like the Österreichring and San Marino, while Silverstone/Donington and Magny-Cours wait nervously in the wings on life support, in favour of oil-soaked sandscapes devoid of pedigree and provenance, makes suggestions of F1’s imminent Western demise seem closer than tomorrow’s sunrise.

J Christopher Gemmell, Alexandria, Virginia, USA

The root of all evil

Sir,

I read with interest Nigel Roebuck’s article in the latest issue (November) and the final comment regarding Mr Ecclestone’s love of motor racing. It seems to me that his love of motor racing has been tempered by his desire to make money.

I do not know Mr Ecclestone, but it seems to me that he regards F1 as his personal ‘cash cow’. There appears to be an upper limit to the number of Grands Prix in any season due to the sheer logistical problems. There can be little doubt that there will be no British Grand Prix after 2009 since the government is unlikely to fund improvements to the roads around Donington, even if funding for developing the circuit itself could be realised.

The announcement this week of the demise of the Canadian Grand Prix, with a race in Abu Dhabi already confirmed, is not surprising.

If the maximum number of Grands Prix remains at 19 then, with Russia, India and who knows who else vying for races, we will undoubtedly lose some of the existing circuits – Monza and Spa, perhaps?

It would appear that when one of the herd of cash cows is unable to deliver sufficient milk it is left to fend for itself and a new young cow is brought into the herd.

Del Bennett, Sawbridgeworth, Herts

Critical Massa

Sir,

I’d like to give you my answer to the question asked in the headline to David Tremayne’s article on Felipe Massa – ‘Does he have what it takes?’ It’s an emphatic NO! To quote one sentence: “If you see you are in a position to win, you do everything you can to win. But if you see that you are in the position to finish second or third, you need to take the best points you can”. In my opinion a true racer’s attitude is to win races. Therefore he does not have what it takes.

In the same issue (October) you carry an advertisement for ‘The Motor Sport Business Forum’. Having been actively involved in motor sport since the mid-50s, I am disappointed to see that our sport has become a business.

Having got that off my chest, may I make a request? I am chairman of the Veterans of Scottish Motor Sport Association, which has some 250 members, our president being Sir Jackie Stewart. In May next year we are organising a weekend commemorative run to Grantown on Spey in the Highlands. Any of your readers would be made very welcome if they contact me (01292 311470). As we are keen to have vehicles of the period of activity of our members, I am trying to locate a Vauxhall VX4/90, possibly one of the works cars which I drove in rallies, registered 2, 3, or 4FTM. I am willing to hire it for the weekend.

Jimmy McInnes, Monkton, Ayrshire

The silence of Le Mans

Sir,

Regarding the Le Mans engine size cut (November issue), when will governing bodies like the ACO recognise that this is motor sport? Put diesel and petrol engines on a level playing field by all means. But take away the power and the noise and you have a sport without interest. The emissions and fuel usage in motor sport has only a minuscule effect on the environment. Daniel Poissenot, the ACO rules boss, should not in my view be influenced by the manufacturers who are in turn influenced by governments.

Kill noise, kill performance – kill the sport!

Geoff Osborne, Murton, Cumbria

Spa humbug

Sir,

I found the number of letters you chose to publish in support of Lewis Hamilton after the result of the Belgian Grand Prix rather disappointing in an otherwise excellent publication. Clearly had there been a wall or barrier where Lewis cut the chicane he would have had to back off to avoid a collision with Kimi or a crash on his own. He clearly then gained an advantage by not doing so.

If anything McLaren have been let off pretty lightly this year, and Lewis was lucky to get away with some pretty ‘robust’ overtaking moves at Monza, brilliant drive though it was.

Think back to Monaco where Kimi was given a drive-through penalty when his mechanics failed to clear the grid in the allocated time. Contrast that misdemeanour to Hamilton’s in Canada when he drove into the back of the Ferrari at the pitlane red light, taking them both out and receiving just a grid penalty as a result.

Enough xenophobia; let’s just enjoy the McLaren-Ferrari battle while it lasts.

Ken Pugh, Vale of Glamorgan

Keeping real

Sir,

What a pleasing article by Chris Witty on Gunnar Nilsson. In 1978 I was in the paddock at Brands Hatch preparing my MG Midget and my chum’s Hillman Imp for our races when Gunnar came over to talk to us and discuss our cars. Just imagine how we felt – a “real racing driver” talking to us. Even though we knew how ill he was, it was a happy interlude. Thank you for reminding us of a special person.

Paul Bernal-Ryan, Charing, Kent

Albert Hill

Sir,

As ever, Nigel Roebuck summed up the feelings of many in the obituary of Phil Hill. At the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 1996 he drove me up the hill in an Aston Martin DB7, and while waiting to go up the hill he said that in order to live in the family home he’d had to buy out his five siblings. “Moving doesn’t cure anything, after all the travelling I’ve done.”

He gave up car restoration because “Everyone wants a dollar and a quarter’s work for a dollar”. A marshal came over with a spectator’s copy of a book about Phil for him to autograph. “Oh no, not that awful book,” he said. “It was written by someone who didn’t know a racing car from a vacuum cleaner.”

Two years later, at the Revival, I saw him sitting on some tyres in the paddock. I asked him if it was true that at a party during one of the Nassau Speed Weeks he’d recited Albert and the Lion. “Yes,” he said, it was one of his party pieces, and proceeded to recite it in full for me, there and then! Stanley Holloway, eat your heart out.

Roger A Stead, Sheffield

Time for a sharp exit

Sir,

Alan Henry’s excellent tribute to Ronnie Peterson brought back memories of my career at Lotus in the ’60s and ’70s. Ronnie’s first visit to Lotus at Hethel was in fact in the late ’60s, long before he drove for March. I was the European sales manager for the car company and my Swedish importer called to ask if I would pick him up at Norwich station. I arrived in my Elan+2 to find not just the one huge Swede but two! The other was Ronnie who had talked Per into bringing him to meet Colin Chapman and get signed up for the F1 team on the back of his karting success. I crammed the pair into my car and drove to Hethel. I told Colin’s PA Kay Smith that Per and Ronnie were awaiting an audience. Kay told me to keep them entertained while Colin finished a meeting.

I returned to look after the pair, and saw out of my window Colin and his Galaxie 500 heading for the main gate at high speed. He had disappeared for the rest of the day, and I had a very uncomfortable few hours with a very angry Ronnie and an embarrassed importer who felt they had been stood up. I must have done a good job in protecting Colin’s back because the same thing happened to me twice more. A short while after Ronnie’s visit a Brazilian called Wilson Fittipaldi arrived at Hethel and I was asked to find out what he wanted. He had a portfolio of photographs showing his brother campaigning something called the ‘Fittiporsche’ in South America and was convinced that Colin would sign up Emerson on the spot. Once again I contacted Colin’s office and once again was greeted by the sight of Colin’s car leaving at high speed. I spent as much time as I could spare with Wilson before suggesting that he was wasting his time. It is curious that both drivers fulfilled their ambitions to drive for the team with great success. Colin wouldn’t believe me several years later when I told him that both drivers had been refused a meeting with him.

The third unexpected visitor was a wealthy man named Mike Rahal who had a meat packing business in Chicago. He was sure Colin would like to sign up his son Bobby, but he was much more insistent and I had to spend two days with him while Colin avoided coming to the office.

Roger G Putnam, Henley-in-Arden, Warks

Roaring inflation

Sir,

Goodwood was, as usual, stunning. The grid for the TT Celebration was touted as being worth £85million. No one mentioned that it wasn’t that long ago that the entire grid of the St Mary’s Trophy could have been bought for £500!

Jonathan Moorhouse, York

Hawthorn – the other view

Sir,

I am surprised that you published Michael Amechi’s assertion that Mike Hawthorn was ‘quite rightly’ to blame for the 1955 Le Mans disaster [Letters, October 2008] without any editorial comment.

I can only suggest he views the remarkable series of stills that show the accident unfolding at www.mike-hawthorn.org.uk/lemans2.php and reads Paul Frère’s analysis of the events leading up to the accident for a clearer and more dispassionate view.

As to his mention of Fangio’s words with Macklin, was Hawthorn specifically named by Fangio? Could it not have been equally possible that it was Levegh that Fangio had in mind, not Hawthorn? Or even that, having watched the events unfold in front of him, he realised it was simply a ghastly racing accident.

Peter Pearson, Hamsey, Lewes, East Sussex

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