Britain And Grand Prix Racing

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Since the article of the above title appeared in the November issue of Motor Sport, there has been a considerable amount of interest taken. Many agreed fully with all that was said, while others thought certain teams had been dealt with too harshly. Perhaps the most gratifying result of the article was the interesting correspondence that was received from Connaught Engineering, supplied by their Press representative John Webb. While agreeing fully that Connaught efforts taken over the whole Grand Prix season (and I would stress that only the full-length 300 mile or three-hour races were being considered) has not been outstanding, Rodney Clarke and his fellow workers were exceedingly frank about the reasons for breakdowns or retirements, and where the blame was theirs they accepted it without argument. However, they quite rightly pointed out that in races of less than Grand Prix distance Connaught cars had done well during 1956, and that due to financial shortage they were necessarily confined to short sprint-type events in preference to long Grand Prix races. Bearing in mind the cost of repairing a Grand Prix car, they pointed out that a Brands Hatch race was less damaging on a car than 300 miles at Monza and naturally had to take this into account when planning their programme.

All told Connaught Engineering made a very serious attempt to put right some of the wrong impressions that might have been gained after a revue of the 1956 results, and also made an excellent reply as to “why British Grand Prix cars had made such a miserable showing in Grand Prix races in 1956.” While no official representation was received from the Vanwall team, nor any details given by Mr. Vandervell as to why his cars failed to win a Grand Prix race in 1956, certain members of the team who obviously have the Vanwall Grand Prix car at heart, did approach me unofficially and offer explanations of failures, or reasons why the Vanwall cars did not win. At no time did these people try and make excuses for the poor showing, they very reasonably provided explanations and like Connaughts admitted to certain failures which were their own fault.

From the B.R.M. people at Bourne, not a single word was received, not even a curt telegram telling me to mind my own business. Complete and utter silence appears to reign at Bourne. It must be admitted that during the season certain of the technical staff have explained to me various factors which add up to some of the difficulties experienced with the B.R.M., but since the end of the season information has been very short. But for the keen interest in motor racing from a purely neutral and enthusiastic standpoint, of one of the well-known trade representatives, I would still be very much in the dark over B.R.M. matters, and while I am sure that a personal visit to Bourne would elicit all the information I could desire, it does seem strange that of all the Grand Prix teams B.R.M. are the most reluctant to put right any false ideas that may have got around. They are not alone in their lack of supplying information, for Bugatti might just as well not exist as far as the Press are concerned. However, be that as it may, I most certainly do not consider that either Motor Sport or myself are of any importance in the designing and running of a Grand Prix team, and therefore I do not expect anyone to come to me and tell me things, which is why I am always prepared to find things out for myself, but when Connaught and Vanwall do approach me personally it makes me very appreciative of their efforts.

So much for the reaction to my recent article, the whole of which I still stand by, but what of the future, the immediate future that is? At the time of writing the only British cars that might appear in the Argentine Grand Prix are B.R.M., and while it is fully appreciated that South America is a long way off and the trip would upset workshop progress for about eight to ten weeks, I can only say that if Ferrari and Maserati looked on the Argentine in the same light there would be no Argentine Grand Prix. Let us allow that our teams are not strong enough financially or from the organisation side, to tackle the South American season, then the aim is to be the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in May. I say here and now, and without wanting to appear facetious, that I expect to see a British Grand Prix car win. The only opposition worth anything is going to come from Ferrari and Maserati, and if you have seen those teams in action, as I have done, you would wonder why they ever win Grand Prix races. Their only real advantage is that they have been in the habit of winning races for a long time, and habits are hard to break. No one is going to tell me that either team have a more powerful engine than the Vanwall, nor is anyone going to convince me that either Italian firm know any more about suspension and roadholding than do Colin Chapman or Rodney Clarke. If anyone tries to tell me that the Italians have better metals than we do in this country then I shall just scream. They have one thing better than us, and that is Fangio, but we have Moss on the Vanwall and Hawthorn on the B.R.M. and the World Champion is not that much better than our drivers. Add to the Vanwall team young Brooks and that great fighter, Harry Schell, and to the B.R.M. team fast and steady Flockhart, and leaving out Connaught for the moment, how can we possibly fail to win every Grand Prix in 1957? If Archie Scott-Brown and Lewis-Evans with the Connaughts are there, then all the middle-Italians, such as Maglioli, Taruffi, Perdisa and so on are going to be pushed to one side, so how can we fail to dominate the Grand Prix field?

There are many ways we can fail, and l shall not be surprised if we do, for we failed in 1956 and unless someone makes an effort we shall fail for the same reasons in 1957. Connaught freely told me that of 11 failures during 1956 racing, 10—I repeat ten—were due to failure of components or material supplied by firms doing contract work for Connaughts. They were mostly specialist firms, whose maxims are that it is better to consult an expert than to try and do it yourself. Connaught, are not so sure, and but for the difficulty of finding people willing to work hard, they would try to do a lot more of their manufacture themselves. The one failure that was the fault of Connaught Engineering was due to a mechanic who made a mistake, and the firm aceepted the responsibility for that, but of the other failure they quite rightly refused to accept responsibility. What they did admit freely was the fact that owing to shortage of money they could not employ a first-class inspection department, and even if they could they doubt very much whether there are sufficient people interested in Grand Prix racing to staff such a department. This in itself is a staggering statement, but I fear that it is true, for how many people would seriously take a technical job with an industry that is as shaky as our Grand Prix industry? Here is just one way that Connaught could improve their chances in Grand Prix racing; if they had a first,class inspection department faulty workmanship from outside the firm would be rejected immediately, not after it had let them down in a race. I know for a fact, that this problem is one that delays progress with B.R.M. and there are so few firms willing to make an effort that delays in supplying parts take longer than Grand Prix racing can tolerate, without the extra delays caused by poor workmanship. The Vanwall team are in the most happy state, for they are almost self-contained, and the great Vandervell industrial plant can do anything for the team, but even so 1956 saw the Vanwall cars let down due to bad design, lack of thought or bad workmanship, all of which emanated from Mr. Vandervell’s own factory.

I do not expect readers to believe for one moment that Maserati, Ferrari or Gordini are perfect, they are far from that, and do not believe for one moment that those firms never make mistakes, for they do and many of them are unforgivable. But that is entirely beside the point, if everyone connected with B.R.M., Connaught and Vanwall, or any other motor-racing project in Britain, bear in mind the saying that “the best will not be good enough for motor racing” then we may see an improvement in our showing. If everyone, from the chief designer down to the boy who polishes the bodywork, resolves to be sure that what he has done is perfection and then convince himself that even that was not good enough, then I am sure that much of our trouble will disappear. Just watch a mechanic from Ferrari measure the quantity of fuel in a tank, and then watch some of our chaps; one takes it as a serious job of work, the other as fun and games. There are serious-minded mechanics among our Grand Prix teams, and it is easy to pick them out, for they are the ones that stay with the team, and in just the same way the designers can be weighed up, for a good designer will be kept and a bad one will move on somewhere else. But do not forget the man on the lathe or milling machine, or the chap in the forge or foundry, they are just as important, in fact almost more so, and their jobs must he done just as conscientiously, and then the man in inspection, even if he is not working directly for one of our Grand Prix teams, he too must be conscientious. When the whole matter of working is boiled down it would appear that the sloppy, disinterested. lackadaisical type of working, both in manufacture and design, which has ruined our passenger car industry it also ruining our Grand Prix industry. It can be assumed that workers in the passenger car industry are not really interested in passenger cars, they are merely doing a job of work, but for heaven’s sake, we cannot and must not say the same of the people in the Grand Prix industry.

I say here and now, that if there is anyone working for any of our Grand Prix teams who is not interested in Grand Prix racing to an extent that it is an all-absorbing passion, then get out, and get out quickly, for you are not only wasting your own efforts but also those of the chaps who are prepared to give up their complete lives to Grand Prix racing. If we should find that we haven’t enough people with sufficient passion for Grand Prix racing to support our three teams, then let us pack up right now and stop wasting effort. Personally, I think there are sufficient people in Britain to run three teams, and I think there is more than enough ability in this country to wipe the floor with all opposition, but a handful cannot do it on their own, they have got to have the backing of everyone no matter how remotely they are connected with the ultimate car.

We need not worry about drivers, for we have enough, and they are as good as they come, and even if Fangio and Maserati and Ferrari share 1957 races amongst them, I want to see British cars up there fighting, just as Schell fought with the Vanwall at Reims. If it finishes only second or third, then that will be something, but it must do so by only a car’s length; if it blows up, then I want to see it way out in front when it does, like the B.R.M. at Silverstone. What I do not want to see is British cars trailing along at the back, being nursed along in case something breaks, or worse still no British cars at all, as at Nurburgring in 1956. Italian cars have troubles, but they get over them in time and are always on the starting line, the British cars have trouble and miss a couple of races while it is put right; I hope we have seen the last of such nonsense.

What I do sincerely hope is that I have now written the last of such harangues as the above, for nothing will give me greater joy than to write an article full of praise for a sweeping success by a British car in a major Grand Prix race, and if 1957 is a British season then rest assured that Motor Sport will be the first to cheer loudly. —D. S. J.