On Grand Prix Racing

The year 1961 saw the introduction of a new Formula for Grand Prix racing, in which engine capacity was limited to a maximum of 1,500 c.c. or 1½-litres, and superchargers, alcohol and nitro-methane were banned, there being no aids to power production other than the basic design of the engine. Weight of the car was restricted to a minimum of 450 kilogrammes (990 lb.), and on the face of things the resulting cars did not look as though they were going to be very exciting. In effect, the new Formula for Grand Prix racing was what had been used previously for “voiturette ” racing, or Formula Two, which was a sort of second division to real Grand Prix racing. There was much speculation about how bad Grand Prix racing was going to become under the new Formula, mostly because people did not take the trouble to think about the matter clearly; they just assumed that it would be like the old Formula Two, in which development and mechanical progress was practically at a standstill, the cars being simple and comparatively cheap machines, effective but in the main unimaginative. There being very little at stake in the old Formula Two there was no incentive for engineers to make much effort over the cars, and some quite successful ones even raced with sports-car engines. To assume that this state of affairs would continue in 1961 under the new Grand Prix Formula was absurd, for with the Manufacturers’ Championship at stake, plus the winning of the Grande Epreuve meetings, it was obvious that development would proceed apace and that the simple “cyclecar” type of racing machine would soon be a thing of the past. In pure Grand Prix racing there is inevitably strong competition among designers and engineers and, with no-one having much of an advantage at the beginning of 1961, the season opened with good prospects for the future.

Personally I found that the Grand Prix scene advanced further than I anticipated in the past season, and far from the new Formula getting away to a slow start and being dull and uninteresting, it was precisely the opposite. With engine size cut from 2½-litres to 1½-litres the bhp. available in the new cars was obviously considerably less, and one could not expect the cars to be anything like as fast on maximum speed, nor would the acceleration be comparable, while up steep gradients as at Monaco, Nurburgring or Solitude, the 1½-litres were going to be lacking in steam. In spite of all this, lap speeds on most circuits were remarkably rapid, almost equalling the old ones on occasions, whilst most important was the fact that overall race averages were increased on a number of occasions by these seemingly underpowered Grand Prix cars. The main reason for this was that no particular make had a complete monopoly and in a number of races the unpredictable happened. In addition, although the Scuderia Ferrari had by far the faster cars, they did not have the fastest drivers and the result was that competition was much keener than it has been for some time. During the past season I watched more races being run as races to the bitter end than I would have thought possible. I had become very used to watching exciting racing to about quarter distance and then a procession develop, or at best a “pursuit” in an attempt to gain a good position, by someone who had had trouble. This year, however, I watched really exciting wheel-to-wheel racing in Grand Prix events from the starting flag to the chequered flag, or if not wheel-to-wheel they were “pursuit” races with the odds weighed against the leader and everyone trying his hardest right to the end of the race distance.

In the early part of the season this happened at Siracusa, when practically every “star” in the Grand Prix world was overdriving to the most hairy limits in his endeavours to catch the new Italian driver Giancarlo Baghetti in a works Ferrari. Dan Gurney, in the Porsche, drove as hard as he knew how, to try and wear down the slender advantage of the Ferrari and kept the pressure on right to the finishing line, failing to win by a mere 5 sec. after nearly two hours of racing. At Monte Carlo the whole Ferrari team tried their utmost to catch Stirling Moss in his Lotus. The new-boy Ginther, driving the 120-degree-engined Ferrari on its first outing, kept thrashing away in his endeavour to catch Moss so that they finished 3.6 sec. apart after 100 laps of the Monte Carlo twists and turns. In keeping ahead of the Ferrari by this small amount Stirling Moss showed his wonderful ability as a driver to the full, and I have watched him on the limit many times, and been sitting alongside him when he has driven on the limit, but this year at Monte Carlo he was trying harder than I would have thought possible, and what a wonderful sight it was to behold. At Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix these same two drivers had another race-long battle, finishing in fourth and fifth places side-by-side, which the timekeepers decreed as a gap of point-one-of-a-second! This tiny space of time was all that separated the first and second finishers in the French Grand Prix on the fast Reims circuit, and that race had me almost weeping with excitement, as Baghetti, Bonnier and Gurney battled away in the closing stages of the 432-kilometre race. After racing for 2 hr. 14 min. and 17.5 sec., Baghetti won by mere inches from Gurney, and they had been really racing. Their average speed was way and above anything I even see for a fleeting moment on the speedo. when driving about Europe, and they were doing it under blazing hot conditions.

As if that wasn’t enough there was a similar dice, probably the greatest of all time, at Stuttgart for the Grand Prix on the wonderful Solitude circuit. Here Innes Ireland fought against Bonnier and Gurney from start to finish and beat them across the line by inches, which were again interpreted as tenths of a second, their finishing times ending with 4.6 sec., 4.7 sec. and 4.9 sec., and that little fracas had gone on for near an hour and three-quarters. In all these closely-fought races the drivers had been trying really hard for a considerable length of time; one expects this sort of wheel-to-wheel stuff in a 5-lap dash round Brands Hatch or Goodwood, but to see it repeatedly in full-length Grand Prix races was terrific. At the beginning of the season there were those people who said Grand Prix racing would become dull with the 1½-litre cars. If the 1961 season was dull then I doubt whether I shall be able to stand the mental strain when it becomes exciting. It is significant that this was only the first season of the new Formula and it was not until the end of the season that new cars were beginning to appear, much of the racing being done with virtually obsolete designs left over from the old Formula Two.

I recently had occasion to watch some films of the age of the mighty Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union and AIN Romeo teams, and it was outstanding how fatigued the drivers were after a gruelling Grand Prix race. Someone who is enthusiastic for that age of racing was voicing the opinion that “those were the days” and suggesting that today’s drivers did not have to work like that and the modern Grand Prix car was so easy to drive that drivers used little more energy than that required by a round of golf. Now I reflected on this and, realising that the person in question had not seen a modern Grand Prix race for some time, and certainly not this year, I smiled to myself. If he had seen Ginther when he got out of the Ferrari at Monaco, or heard Moss say quietly and confidentially after the race, “Boy, I was on my personal limit for the whole of that race,” he would have realised that some drivers do still have it rough. Or had he seen Ireland, Bonnier and Gurney when they finished at Solitude he would not have seen any relaxed smiling faces; all three were looking grim and bitter with sheer exhaustion. The past year has been an excellent one in Grand Prix racing and the “boys” have been trying as hard as ever did Nuvolari or Carraciola.

As for tough conditions, anyone who was at Aintree for the British Grand Prix saw a miracle take place on that opening lap when thirty cars went round in such a thick cloud of spray that it was impossible to pick out any one car. Yet no-one hit anyone and they all finished that first unbelievable lap. For a long while Moss drove almost blind, following the leading Ferrari, having to guess which cloud of spray in front of him was the Ferrari and which was a slower car they were lapping. He had to “divine” which side the cloud of spray containing the Ferrari was going to overtake the slower moving cloud of spray, and he just had to follow-through with his fingers crossed for he was having to drive hard to keep up with the Ferrari and once he lost it out of his sights he could never have made up ground again. That was a drive that Moss does not want to experience again, and he admits freely that there were times when he thought of giving up. Of course, he did not give up, for he seldom does, but a lesser man would have carried out the dicey overtaking once, or even twice and then decided that discretion was better than valour. However, with Moss it was neither discretion nor valour, it was motorracing and a challenge to him. While on the subject of Stirling Moss it is interesting to recall that before the season began, and frequently during the season, he was quoted in interviews as saying how much he hated the new Formula. In 1958 when the Formula was laid down he said he hoped by 1961 he would have retired so that he would not have to drive these new little cars. In 1960 he practically boycotted the new Formula, suggesting that he would not take part in Grand Prix races. He still maintains he has no time for the 1½-litre Formula, yet during 1961 we were able to see Moss at his very best. Against the superior speed of the Ferraris he had his back against the wall, in trying to challenge them with his Lotus, but that is just the situation that brings out the best in him. Make the odds reasonable and he’ll put on a reasonable show, but make them impossible and he will do the impossible. The Monte Carlo race and the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring will live for ever in history as the two outstanding performances of the year. We still remember how Nuvolari beat the two German teams with his slow old Alfa Romeo on the Nurburgring in 1935, and later we remember that meteoric drive by Fangio when he dusted-up the Ferrari team in the same race in 1957. At the moment, the way Moss dealt with the Ferrari team, to say nothing of the Porsche team, the works Lotus and works Cooper drivers, in the 1961 German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring is too recent to be history, but I feel sure that in five years’ time it will be remembered as a classic.

To return to the young lads of today having it easy, I wonder when the last occasion was when a driver did so much battling as Baghetti did at Reims. Throughout the three sessions of practice he was the continual prey of Coopers, Lotus and Porsches, for the three regular Ferrari drivers were very much faster and were out on their own, but by dint of some real “scratching” the rest of the runners could keep up with young Baghetti and use his car for slip-streaming down the long straights. The red Ferraris in 1961 were to the rest of the Grand Prix runners like the proverbial red rag to a bull, and the number of times I saw drivers taking-it-out of Baghetti during practice was incredible. Then in the race the same thing happened about one-third of the way down the field and as the race progressed this little lot found themselves battling for the lead, and from that point on the pressure on poor Baghetti became really nasty. The calm way he dealt with all his attackers at all times was an object lesson and never was a victory more deserved, but to suggest that the drivers in 1961 had an easy time is to be looking at Grand Prix racing through very dark glasses. Another occasion when things were rough and tough, unfortunately with disastrous results, was the opening lap and a half in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. I am very used to seeing racing cars in close company, but when the first seven cars came off the banking at the end of the first lap and went by the grandstands I was petrified; and they were not hanging about either, for the lap speed was over 213 k.p.h. (132 m.p.h.).

During the season there were many memorable occasions that will remain as pleasant memories of 1961, and one of these was the first appearance of the Coventry-Climax V8 engine. This was in August at the Nurburgring when the first one was installed in a Cooper chassis for Jack Brabham. Until this moment the combination of Brabham, the existing World Champion, and Cooper the existing World Champion Car, had been depressing. The Mark II Coventry-Climax 4-cylinder engine was just not powerful enough to enable the works Cooper to challenge the Ferrari or the Lotus, and it was becoming sad to see Brabham not at the front. After a lot of practice trouble the V8 Coventry-Climax-engined car was sorted out and in only a handful of practice laps Brabham got himself on the front row of the starting grid, with second best time. In a rather depressing season for Cooper enthusiasts it was heartening to see the new car on the front row on its first time out. Unfortunately the effort was all wasted as Brabham went off the road just after the start, through no direct fault of his own. However, at the next Grande Epreuve, at Monza, the V8 Cooper lasted a number of laps and there was Brabham mixing it with the Ferrari team, showing that the new engine had the necessary potential and that he still had the ability to use and match most other drivers. For Ferrari enthusiasts there were even greater moments of joy, for the Maranello engineers produced a brand new engine for the first Grande Epreuve. This was the V6 with the two banks at an included angle of 120-degrees and at the beginning of the season I was able to watch this new car out on test at Modena. It was sounding superb with Ginther using 9,000 r.p.m. but was not without its troubles, for the oiling system was not right. I watched it circle the Modena airport until darkness had fallen and Ginther was going round more from memory than vision. The potential was obviously there and once the oil circulation could be sorted out the car was obviously going to be very exciting. The first race appearance of the 120-degree engine was Monaco where a single car was entrusted to Ginther as an experiment and it was such a worthwhile experiment that he finished second behind Moss, as mentioned earlier.

At the following Grande Epreuve, at Zandvoort, the Ferrari enthusiasts had the biggest chuckle of the season. At the first practice session there was no sign of the Scuderia Ferrari and all the opposition were hoping that it meant they were not coming. All sorts of suggestions were made as to why they were not there, but during the lunch break the big red transporter arrived, which caused a gloom to descend anyway, but it became even worse when three new 120-degree-engined cars were unloaded. In one race the Scuderia had become confident of their new engine to such an extent that the whole team used them in the next event.

The 1961 season for Porsche enthusiasts was a bad one, for the team went from bad to worse. They started with their 1960 Formula Two cars, and had a new flat-8-cylinder engine running on the test-bed, but that was as far as it ever got. They produced a new chassis with wishbones and coil-springs at the front, and fitted fuel-injection to the old 4-cylinder engines, and later tried disc brakes of their own design, but all these things came to nought and they finished the season with the same old 1963 Formula Two cars with which they had started. There were a few joyous moments, such as when they nearly won the French Grand Prix, and nearly won the Solitude Grand Prix, but nearly winning is not quite the same thing as winning. However, there was some satisfaction in the fact that they could nearly win with a 1960 model Porsche, as they obviously have the drivers, and when the 8-cylinder, the fuel injection, the disc brakes and the new chassis all get in tune we might well see a different story.

The Lotus activities were full of ups and downs, but on balance came out with an improvement overall, thanks to Moss and Rob Walker, who combined to win two Championship races for Lotus, using a 1960 model. The works team had some beautiful new cars that improved on what was supposed to be the last word in small Grand Prix cars, to wit, the 1960 rear-engined Lotus. Unfortunately, both of these new cars were crashed on their first appearance, through no design fault but by “cockpit errors.” Jim Clark had already compensated for his damage by winning the first Grand Prix of the season, at Pau, using a 1960 Lotus, and also by making a very fast practice lap before he crashed at Monte Carlo. Innes Ireland made up for his write-off by recovering so well and so rapidly from his injuries that he was able to dust-up the entire Porsche team on their home ground at Solitude. This put Lotus followers at least three feet off the ground for weeks afterwards, and rightly so. At the end of the season Ireland really made up for past errors by winning the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in the 1961 Lotus.

The situation at Bourne never seems to change. The B.R.M. team get new cars, new engines, new drivers, new mechanics, new team managers, but still they do not win races; it’s most odd. They seem to do everything extremely well, except win races, for the cars look right, seem to go right, are always beautifully prepared, and yet never had even a lucky win. The new V8 B.R.M. which appeared briefly at Monza during practice was a joy to behold, incredibly small and compact, beautifully made, and it sounded wonderful, but whether it is going to prove a race winner is another matter. Their 1961 season was certainly not one to bring joy into the hearts of their followers, yet it would be difficult to point a finger at anything particularly wrong anywhere. As can be seen from the results of 1961, printed elsewhere in this issue, the best they did in a Championship race was a third by Brooks at Watkins Glen, while in other Formula One races the two team drivers each scored a singleton third place.

From a technical standpoint the 1961 season was full of interest, with new V6 engines, two new V8 engines, new chassis frames, new suspensions, new gearboxes, and the making of history by a 4-wheel-drive Grand Prix car, when the Ferguson won at Dutton Park, but all will be dealt with in “Trend of Design ” next month.

For me the 1961 season holds one incident above all else, and that was the sight of Stirling Moss holding and controlling, a 100-m.p.h. spin in the wet at Melling Crossing on the Aintree circuit, during the British Grand Prix, and he didn’t touch the grass. Yes, I know, I am a Moss fan!

In conclusion, let me say that while the 1½-litre Formula has come up beyond expectations I am not particularly in favour of it, neither was I in favour of retaining the old 2½-litre Formula. I have no control over the decisions of the F.I.A. and must accept their Formulae along with everyone else, but my choice is still for Formule Libre, with everyone using superchargers, nitromethane, 3-litre or even 5-litre engines, all-enveloping bodies on high-speed circuits and so on. As the title suggests, a Formula Free of Rules. I don’t doubt for a moment that the resulting cars would be fantastic and there would probably only be two, or at the most three, drivers capable of driving them to their limit, but what a sight it would be, and what absolute gods those drivers would be.—D. S. J.