The Formula One Scene

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Muddled and confused is the only way to describe the Formula One scene at the moment if you try to follow the reasoning and thinking of all parties with vested interests. If you accept the fact that the Governments of most civilised countries have invested the control of motorsport in their countries’ National motor club (in our case the Royal Automobile Club), and that all the National clubs are members of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) then there is no problem and the situation is clear. Just as the Royal Automobile Club has handed the control of motorsport in Great Britain to its subsidiary, the Royal Automobile Club Motorsports Association (RACMSA) who specialise in the competition and sporting side of motoring, the FIA has handed the control of International motorsport to its subsidiary, the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA). Anything sanctioned by the FIA or its subsidiaries. and that means affiliated National clubs and all their member clubs, is automatically granted Government authorisation, and is consequently “inside the law”. This means that your local motor club, through its affiliation to the RACMSA, and hence to the RAC and the FIA, has authority on its side once they have been given an RACMSA permit to organise a 12-car rally, or a driving test. Anyone doing this without a permit could find themselves “outside the law” and would no doubt have difficulty in obtaining any sort of insurance cover, whereas an authorised event with a governing body section is acceptable to the insurance world.

In my estimation it is just as “illegal” to trv to organise a Formula One Grand Prix without the sanction of the FIA via its nominated representatives, as it is to organise a night rally or treasure hunt without the authorisation of an affiliated club. The FIA calender of events for their World Championship of Drivers and Manufacturers was made clear last December and since then has been modified slightly in view of various factors. Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Osella and the new Talbot-Ligier combine have all nominated their teams to take part in this Championship; the other well-known, and not-so-well-known, teams who are members of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) have not nominated their teams for the World Championship series. This would indicate that they do not intend to participate, but that is hard to believe. As the collective group FOCA, they are suggesting that they want to join in but not under the rules laid down by the FIA. If the FIA (through its sporting arm FISA) will accept some FOCA rules then they are prepared to join in. The FIA say “sorry, here are our rules and we already have five confirmed teams accepting them, with the likelihood of three more joining soon”.

The season should have begun on January 25th with the Argentine Grand Prix in Buenos Aires but this did not happen. The date has been changed to February 22nd, “for reasons beyond our control”, which are obviously connected with the fact that the Williams team, for whom Carlos Reutemann is driving again, did not indicate their intention of entering the race, and it seemed likely that there would only be ten cars entered anyway. Added to this was the Goodyear Tyre Company’s withdrawal, which has left a lot of teams without tyres for the moment. The next race on the list was the South African Grand Prix on February 7th, but this date was changed by FISA to April 12th, for similar reasons that not enough teams would be ready. The South African organisers and owners of the Kyalami circuit have said that they cannot accept this date change, because they are too far advanced with their organisation, so cars or no cars, they want to hold a Formula One event on February 7th. The FOCA have said “All right, we’ll be there” so presumably the event will run without an FIA licence and will either constitute a “pirate” event or be sanctioned as a non-championship race. Renault, and presumably the other factory teams, and all the industry that supplies petrol, oil, brakes, brake pads, sparking plugs, shock-absorbers, clutches, ignition systems and other industry-related components are still preparing to go to South Africa on April 12th! In the meantime, to cause an aside, the FIA has mentioned that Brazil and Austria have not yet been issued with a licence to hold a World Championship Formula One event as they have not completed circuit improvements demanded after last year’s track inspections. The work in Brazil has been promised, and at the Osterreichring it is only a formality and a question of time.

Returning to the South African question and Kyalami, the Grand Prix was started some 19 years ago (at East London) and run by the South African Motor Racing Club (SAMRAC) non-profit-making organisation of members of the recognised motor club who wanted to get a proper Grand Prix onto their sporting calendar. This they succeeded in doing and it became an established event, but last year SAMRAC withdrew from the scene and sold all their interests, which included the Kyalami circuit, for a sum of money to cover all their liabilities, which is all they were allowed to do, being registered as a non-profit-making organisation. The buyers were some international financiers who hoped to make money from the Grand Prix, but they lost heavily and sold out to cover their losses. The new owner is a young businessman who, presumably, is prepared to gamble on making money or losing it. It is the cost of transporting the whole Formula One scene half way across the world which is so prohibitive, and since Bernie Ecclestone got his troops organised the cost of their performance has become unrealistic. Money has had to be found from outside advertising, but it seems that even that has not been enough to cover the cost of “importing” 15 complete teams. If an organisation makes a loss on an event there is never a suggestion of sharing the losses between the organisation and the racing teams. T’he teams get their money whatever happens. Mind you, if a race makes a handsome profit the organisers do not give the teams a bonus; it cuts both ways. As these words are being read, the fate of the South African Grand Prix should be known, for everyone concerned with the event should be on their way south by British Airways on the driest route over Africa, or by the longest way round on South African Airways, skirting around the western coast of that vast and troublesome continent. At the time of writing “Bernie’s Boys”, or the FOCA members, are all planning to go to Kyalami and Ecclestone claims to have found substitute-tyres to replace the missing Goodyears that they were all running on.

On the official front, the manufacturers teams are preparing for their first race in Argentina on February 22nd and they all seem to be in pretty good shape. Renault and Ferrari are still with Michelin tyres, and a seems that Alfa Romeo will also be on Michelin tyres, while the newly-formed Talbot-Ligier (Matra) team have been added to the list. Michelin are not interested in supplying tyres to every Tom, Dick and Harry, but would be prepared to take a fifth team, and possibly a sixth. It is pretty obvious that all their experimental and development work will be done with Renault, so a fifth or sixth team would have to make-do with what they were offered. The proposed Toleman team, which is unlikely to materialise before the Belgian GP in May, will have the support of Pirelli tyres, with whom they worked so successfully on Formula 2 last year. Pirelli are putting their racing F2 tyres on sale to anyone who wants to buy them, but are treading cautiously into Formula One.

Renault once again have the enormously powerful backing of ELF, which means not only financial backing and material backing in the form of petrol and oil, but all the research facilities of the giant French petrol company, its specialist knowledge in the fields of science and its backing in the corridors of power in Government circles. While this bodes well for the Renault Formula One team, it has its benefits right down the sporting line to the amateur clubman about to start in competition with a Renault 5 saloon. Leading the team of turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre V6 engined cars is Rene Arnoux, the wiry little Frenchman with the sparkling vitality that has put some life into Formula One in recent years. The original “turbo” driver, Jean-Pierre Jabouille has transferred from Renault to Talbot-Ligier, to join his brother-in-law, Jacques Laffite. The parting was amicable, and one wonders whether there was not some “industry connivance” between the two French car manufacturers. Replacing Jabouille in the Renault team is the quiet and peaceable Alain Prost, transferred, not without protestation, from the McLaren team. Renault will start the season with slightly improved RE20 models as raced last year, but have new RE30 series cars planned for the opening of the European season.

Once the Scuderia Ferrari produced their turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre car at Imola last year, that was the end of the flat-12 cylinder 3-litre as far as the technicians were concerned. All the winter work has been done on the new engine and the new car to go with it. With Jody Scheckter retiring from racing, Gilles Villeneuve automatically became team-leader and a piece of smooth manipulation by Ferrari lured Didier Pironi away from Ligier to join the Maranello team. A more powerful pair of drivers would be hard to find, like having Nuvolari and Varzi on the same team, or Moss and Fangio, or Clark and Stewart, or Andretti and Peterson, or Villeneuve and Pironi. . . .!

Of the new Talbot-Ligier team little is known as yet, but Guy Ligier founded a very successful team from the remains of the Engins Matra team and then sold a large interest to the Talbot concern (for Talbot read Simca, Chrysler, Humber, Hillman, Singer etc. etc.). The Matra connections in the Ligier team were never severed and they are still there in the equation, the powerful French Aero-Space firm returning on the engine side in particular. As already mentioned Laffite will have the support of Jabouille and it would seem that Matra will start with an updated version of their famous V12 engine until a new 1 1/2-litre turbo-charged engine is ready.

The little Osella team, that builds racing/sports cars for sale and joined into Formula One with a British-type kit-car using Cosworth power and Hewland transmission, is planning to run two cars with two new drivers, Beppe Gabbiani and Angel Guerra, the former Italian and the latter Argentinian. The state-owned Alfa Romeo team ended last season on an ominous note for its rivals when Bruno Giacomelli nearly ran away with the USA (East) Grand Prix. For this year they have signed up Mario Andretti to support the enthusiastic Giacomelli, and though their V12 cylinder car is going well, they are working on a turbo-charged V8 to be ready about mid-season.

Expected to join fairly soon is the Toleman team, riding high on their F2 Championship year of 1980. Their car is due to be powered by a turbo-changed 1 1/2-litre version of the successful Brian Hart Formula 2 engine. Also hovering in the wings, so to speak, is a Formula One project from March Engineering. Standing well back at the moment and trying to stand solidly behind little Bernie Ecclestone and his breakaway group are the all-important Williams team, with Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann signed up, Ecclestone’s own Brabham team, busy testing a car powered by a turbo-charged 4-cylinder BMW engine driven by Nelson Piquet, and the never-to-be-ignored Lotus team of Colin Chapman, with Elio de Angelis as its driver mainstay. The rest of the FOCA teams, Tyrrell, McLaren, ATS, Arrows, Ensign, Fittipaldi and Shadow are really all dependent on what Ecclestone can drum up for them. Enzo Ferrari has a very apt Italian word for these racing car constructors who build cars from components. He refers to them as the “assemblatores,” while he refers to firms like his own, Alfa Romeo and Renault as the “grande construtores” — (the “assemblers” and the “great constructors”) — and while Ferrari enthusiasts will no doubt agree with this, Lotus fans will disagree strongly.

What it all boils down to really is that the technical trade and industry of the automobile World are accepting FIA control and rules, as they always have done, while those who make their living from motor racing are revolting. Unlike the rest of the world’s workforce that always seem to be wanting more money for less work, the “assemblatores” often want more money, but they are always prepared to offer more work in return. In the “good old days” (whenever they were) a team could get by on seven or eight races a year. The FOCA lot were prepared to do seventeen races a year, admittedly for a lot more money, but one FOCA principle that was always good was that the harder a team worked and the harder they drove the more money they could earn, and success really reaped the rewards. FOCA had a lot of very good things going for them, but their leaders became greedy and they wanted power as well as money, and that was their big mistake. If we don’t see all the old familiar faces at Zolder or the Belgian GP, I feel sure we will see them at Monaco and I cannot believe anyone will miss the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone this year, I’m happy to say. – D.S.J.