BRITAIN AND GRAND PRIX RACING
FOR many years now I have stood on the edges of most of the circuits of Europe watching Grand Prix racing and have had to spend a considerable time groaning inwardly, and often outwardly, at pathetic attempts being made by British cars and drivers in an endeavour to become part of the Grand Prix circle. This accepted all-time high in motor racing has been the happy hunting ground of’ foreign ears and drivers for a very long time, and British efforts in this field have been such that each individual occasion can be well remembered. During the passing years there have been numerous occasions when a faint glimmer of hope appeared on I he horizon and it looked as though we might see a British racing car getting somewhere, but invariably it did not last or was too late in the day. There were many happy times in the early 1950s when the I I.W.M. team netted good second or third places, and occasionally a first, such as at Chimay and the international Trophy, but this was in the days of Formula I and Formula 11 and the H.W.M. team could do no more than make a name in the “boys’ class.” Indeed it was creditable, but one had to keep a sense of proportion and bear in mind that the absolute top of motor racing at that time was being dominated by the 158 Alfa-Romeo team. Then there were good performances put up by early Connaughts and Cooper-Bristols, but always with some sort of qualification having to be added, such as the fact that there was no serious opposition, or that it was only a second-class event, or was not a full-length Grand Prix. Also there were numerous flashes of inspiration that lasted only a lap or two and then the green car had to stop at the pits and be repaired, while the red or blue cars went on to victory.
There was the memorable meeting at Albi when Fangio drove a supercharged B.R.M. and made the works .44-litre Ferrari blow-up, but again there was the qualification that the race was meaningless because by that time most races were being run for unsupercharged cars and the old Formula I was on its way out. I well remember that on that particular day the performance of Trintignant with an unblown 21-litre Gordini was of far more significance, for it was the first appearance of a car to qualify for the new Formula I that had just been announced. On other occasions there were equally impressive motor-racing efforts being made by British drivers with other out-of-date cars, and many of them came under that delightful British heading, “a jolly good show,” especially bearing in mind that stout-hearted things were being done on one pound sterling against the Continental’s 100 pounds, but all the while they could never be taken seriously, nor did they give anyone a feeling that Great Britain was ever going to get anywhere in Grand Prix racing. In sports-car racing and Formula III things were very different, and a British entry in either type of racing was something to watch and to expect to win. Even Jaguar’s magnificent victories at Le Mans and Aston Martin’s efforts in the Mille Miglia had to be ,qualified with the thought that it was only sports-car racing and the top target of all racing teams was still the Grand Prix events, where there were virtually no holds barred. Even though a small patriotic cheer was raised in appreciation of some of these results, it was still in the realms of the elite that I was looking for British ears to make their mark. No matter how fast and furious sports-car or Formula III racing may be, most of the competitors cherish the hope that one day they will be able to get in on pure racing-car event, using sports cars for basic schooling. Being something of a purist, I naturally have tended to agree with this idea that Grand Prix racing is the be-all and end-all of a successful racing career, and when Hawthorn was taken into the works Ferrari team, and later Moss joined Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, I made a note that here were two 13ritishers able to hold their own with the best; it was
the beginning of a British foothold in Grand Prix racing. Then Hawthorn trounced Fangio at Reims in 1.954 and later trounced everyone at Barcelona, thereby putting a British name in the lists of the highest and mightiest, making his mark in the absolute top of motor racing with no qualifications needed at all; no ifs, no buts— a real triumph. In 1955 the Mercedes-Benz sweeping victories with Moss playing a close second fiddle to World Champion Fangio. added extra weight to Hawthorn’s brilliant opening, but the efforts of both these chaps were made in Continental racing cars and it was still to see a green car at the front that I was waiting for.
Now, at the end of the 1955 season, I am delighted to say that on four separate occasions during the Grand Prix season I was able to cheer loudly with an open heart at the efforts of a British car in pure Grand Prix racing. It was not because they were winning. but because I could really see that the particular effort was praiseworthy by any standards and needed no qualifications. At last, after many years of hopeful waiting, I was being convinced that what I was seeing was genuine and 100 per cent, as good as anyone could wish for. Ifs and buts were not needed; it was unnecessary to think of it as “a jolly good show” or “a sound sporting effort.” Here were four occasions when I stood up and cheered and urged a green car on to greater things, for it was at grips with the reigning stars of Grand Prix racing, and it was an occasion to be proud of.
The first of these four occasions was preceded by a quiet moment of satisfaction and was at Aintree, for the British Grand Prix. On the third row of the starting grid was a green Vanwall car, with snore red cars behind it than in front of it. Admittedly a whole team of silver cars was in front of it, but Ferraris and Maseratis were good enough opposition for anyone, and the leading Vanwall was only beaten by two Maseratis during practice. That the driver, Harry Schell, was not British and also stalled his engine on the starting line, 40 that he was last away, was relatively unimportant, for the way that Vanwall went until the throttle pedal broke off was a wonderful sight. To see it sail past the entire Ferrari team and some of the Maseratis in an attempt to make up lost ground, brought forth cheers and waves of encouragement. Even though that particular car did not finish the race, Schell proved that the Vanwall could really go by taking over Wharton’s car, now many laps behind, and continuing to lap at undiminished speed.
It was the same combination of car and driver that brought forth the second cheer, this time at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix. Here, in the heart of Continental motor racing where everyone was having an end-of-season blind, there was a bunch of six cars fighting bitterly. They were not battling for the lead, but that did not matter; there were three red cars and two blue ones, all factory entries, and they were being led by a green factory car. It was not tailing along at the back, feebly keeping up with this mid-field group; it was out in front of them, setting the pace and making the others puff. It did not last long for the de Dion tube broke, but that was another matter; the important thing was that it had been really fighting when it went out. Not long after this event, another rousing cheer was given from the heart for the sight of Peter Collins driving the new B.R.M. at Outten Park. Against the two best front Maserati and the two best from Lancia/Ferrari the new B.R.M. put up a short but meteoric fight and, like the Vanwall at Monza, it had gone out with all its fangs and claws really extended in a valiant attempt to tear the opposition to pieces. It was not lukewarm opposition in a minor event or under an out-of-date formula, it was in the racing of’ the minute, today’s Formula I racing, and for that matter the formula of tomorrow and the day after.
As a climax to this most encouraging season of Grand Prix racing came the loudest cheer of all on a, day that was pure history, a day that I sincerely hope is going to become the one by which we remember the beginning of an epoch. I refer, of course, to October 23rd, 1955, when young C. A. S. Brooks, driving the Grand Prix Connaught entered by the factory, wiped the eye of the entire Maserati team, with no ifs or buts, or qualifications. There were barely more than a dozen people from Great Britain present to see this great happening, but I am sure they will all remember that day with satisfaction.
However, I hope it is not going to be a question of remembering the day Britain won a Grand Prix; it has got to be “the day Britain began to win Grand Prix races.” It is unlikely that Italian people can remember the first occasion when a red car won a Grand Prix race, and at one time the French could not remember when a blue car was first victorious. Now the Italians remember the occasions when they v are beaten and the French remember with nostalgia the last Grand Prix they won, while the Germans are probably looking forward to the first Grand Prix a Mercedes-Benz gas-turbine racing car will win. We, in Great Britain, can remember the classic win by Napier in the dark ages, the win by Sunbeam in the middle ages, and now the win by Connaught in the present, and this third occasion mast become the opening phase in an era that will become known as “when green cars were the backbone of Grand Prix racing.”
With the season finished I was able to spend a memorable day at Silverstone when one of our top drivers had three different Formula I Grand Prix cars at his disposal to test and see if he would like to drive one of them in the 1956 World Championship series. All three were green, designed and built in Great Britain, and they were all capable of lapping Silverstone in a time that would have got them on the front row of any starting grid. There have been British Grand Prix cars in the past, some of them having reasonable possibilities, but never before has there been three different makes all worthy of the best drivers in the world. Worthy that is from the point of view of potentiality, whether capable of being race-winners is another matter; one of practical application depending largely on the quality of workmanship. But, undeniably, all three, B.R.M., Connaught and Vanwall, are practical up-to-the-minute designs ready to take on all corners, and if they never win another race between them we can be certain that they will all be in the running.
The 1956 season could very easily prove to be the real beginning for British Grand Prix cars, for the past season has shown the possibilities. Both B.R.M. and Vanwall have strong resources behind them and are capable of fielding three ears apiece, while Connaught could do the same if someone would put up the money for they have the brains, the know-how and the car. If there were nine British cars in the World Championship events of 1956 the law of averages alone would give us a victory, and once the cars had proved themselves then every top driver in the game would fall over himself trying to get one to drive. At the moment only the Connaught has proved that it is a race-winner, the Vanwall has shown itself to he a serious contender, and the B.R.M. has started off on the right foot, but all that is not sufficient for the top drivers like Fangio, MOSS, Hawthorn, Castellotti, Farina, MUSSO and Behra to be prepared to sign on the dotted line and drive these green cars. To these professional drivers the aim is to win races and the hope is to become World Champion, and what car they use is not so important, but deep down they all have national pride and the day our drivers can be certain of winning with a green car they will be ready to do so. It is a fine thing that we have some drivers who can battle for positions in the top six, and if during 1.956 our three teams can prove their cars to be race-winners then 1957 will see not only British drivers winning with British cars but Continentals as well. What of the immediate future ? Moss put a great deal of time and effort into trying to convince himself that one of Britain’s Grand Prix cars was ready to help him become World Champion. In one day alone at Silverstone he drove nearly a full Grand Prix distance, jumping out of the Vanwall into the Connaught, out of the Connaught into the B.R.M., and then back into the Vanwall again. He drove on a dry track and on a wet track, he tried with full tanks and with empty tanks, he went to Oulton Park and risked his neck on wet leaves, and he went back to Silverstone in pouring rain. He really wanted to convince himself that he should drive a green car in 1956, but in the end he signed on for Maserati for one year. It was not that the British cars were no good, for we know the Connaught has beaten Maserati, we have seen the B.R.M. pass Lancia and Maserati, and the Vanwall has won races and shown excellent engine reliability, but still none of them are certainties for World Championship honours. What is certain is that all three are capable of being driven round a given circuit as fast as the opposition, but for how long is another matter, and that is an important factor to a driver whose ambition is to become the first World Champion from Great
Britain. The B.R.M. engine is delivering more than enough horsepower, it has excellent torque characteristics and the power is usable, but the handling is far from right, and in a crowded opening lap at Berne or Spa, when everyone is nudging everyone else, even the master Fangio would not be happy. The Vanwall handling appears to be more than satisfactory and is such that the driver could go on throwing it about whether the day be wet or fine, at the beginning of’ a race or at the end, as Schell demonstrated at Aintree, but little hits and pieces are still falling off. The Connaught has amply demonstrated its capabilities, but the bottom of the barrel has already been scraped and professional Grand Prix drivers have got to live.
That we are on the threshold of 1956 with three makes of Grand Prix car wearing the green is a fine effort, but it is not enough and every move must be made to show the world that all three can keep going and justify that the top six drivers have got to use them for the 1957 season. Never before has there been an opportunity like the coming season, for Mercedes-Benz are not playing, the Gordini team is no longer to be feared, the Bugatti is new and untried, the Scuderia Ferrari are still a bit out of breath from their last two seasons of defeat, and only Maserati are in 100 per cent. condition, but they are far from perfection. The 1956 season is the crucial one for Great Britain, for if our cars do not get right into the thick of Grand Prix racing this year it will be too late. By 1957 the Bugatti may turn out to be a winner, the Gordini may have a revival, Ferrari will have certainly found his feet again, and Maserati will be another full year ahead of everyone. In Grand Prix motor racing there is always a note of urgency, as with any racing, and in the past we have missed the boat. But this time it must not happen for we shall never again see quite such a golden opportunity as this. We have already got our foot on the bottom rung and the next few steps are clear, and the way in to full-scale battle is open to us. When we have become a force in Grand Prix racing it will not mean that the world will buy B.R.M., Connaught or Vanwall cars, it will mean that British engineering will be respected once more. If British-built racing cars win Grand Prix races as well as sports-car races then a degree of confidence will be borne in all British cars, and eventually it will go farther than that and any British engineering product will be respected. Naturally, the manufacturing industry will have to back up the racing efforts by making sure their products are good anyway, but there is no doubt that if Britain was to sweep the floor in all branches of motor racing and British-built goods had inherent quality then trade would boom. Already we sell some of the best over-the-counter sports ears and our efforts in this type of racing are far from mediocre, but it is not enough. We must go on to bigger and better things, and now that we have the potential and our foot on the Grand Prix ladder every effort must be made to get in and stay in.
With Moss, Behra and Coffins driving for Maserati, and Fangio, Castellotti, Musso, and possibly Hawthorn, for Ferrari, some people may feel that our teams have no hope, but we must not forget Brooks, Scott-Brown, Titterington and similar drivers, and while they may not be as good as Fangio they can all go well enough for the Fangios of the racing world to think ” Hmtn. if ‘ X’ can make that green car go like that, then I could really go to town with it.” As I have said already, October 23rd, 1955, must be considered the opening day of the new epoch, and the day one of the top six drivers thinks the above remark while driving in a Grand Prix race, then I shall consider that the second day in this coming epoch has arrived, and I hope that day will be very soon. It has been suggested that Mr. Owen and Mr. Vandervell, the respective owners of the B.R.M. and Vanwall teams, should amalgamate and buy Connaughts, and the combined operation could then wipe up the Italians. It is an intriguing suggestion, but one that I am sure would fail, for during 1955 the only thing that kept Ferrari and Maserati plugging away at the might of Daimler-Benz was their own personal battle to become the best Italian team. Had they combined in an effort to beat the Germans then I am sure they would have succumbed by joining in a mutual and lonely despair. In France, Gordini has suffered from loneliness and the advent of Bugatti may be the shot in the arm that he has been waiting for. During the combined B.R.M., Connaught and Vanwall test day at Silverstone it was heartening to see the friendly rivalry as each group tried to convince Moss that their car was the best. Had they been a single unit there would have been no competitive spirit and complacency would have settled. Competition and continual struggle is the essence of motor racing, and if our three teams go all out to beat each other and prove themselves to he the best British car then they cannot but help getting involved with the Continental opposition and they could easily find that not only have they beaten the other green cars but some red and blue ones
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