Continental Notes, January 1969

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Before every Grand Prix season begins there are inevitably changes amongst the various teams, with drivers coming and going, and it would be interesting if the laws of libel were to allow us to know the real reasons for some of the changes. Many drivers have agents or publicity writers who send us pages of “hoo-hah” as to why their driver has left Team A and is joining Team B, while the Teams themselves send out the printed word to say Driver X has joined our team as Number One driver, but no word as to why Driver Z is no longer with them. Some changes get no official publicity at all and you just suddenly realise that Driver Y is now in a different team. It would not be difficult to visualise the legal wrangles if the truth was told. You only have to suggest in print that so-and-so could not design a washing machine, let alone a Grand Prix engine, or such-and-such a driver is only in the team because “Daddy knows the Managing Director awfully well”, and the small-print gentlemen are at the door handing out writs in all directions. How nice it would be if a team manager could send out a circular saying: “We have sacked Driver X because he proved quite incapable of reading a rev-counter or an oil pressure gauge, and we can no longer afford to keep him in engines,” or a driver to be able to say in honesty: “I left that team because I got fed up with the team-manager’s wife always poking her nose in the affairs.” Another might be: “I’ll not drive for that team any more until they get some better mechanics who do not leave things loose,” and then there would be the honest comment that “Mr. C. of the XYZ Petrol Company told me I could only drive for this or that team”, or you could substitute Tyre Company for Petrol Company! Drivers like Brabham or McLaren could have no fun at all, for somehow it is obvious which teams they will drive for, unless they pack up like Gurney has done with his Anglo-American Eagle.

Some things have been definitely decided for the 1969 season and after pointing out that Lotus have now won the Manufacturers’ Grand Prix Championship for the third time, Team Lotus announce that Graham Hill will remain with the team (and well he might) and that he is being joined by Jochen Rindt, the Austrian driver. No mention is made that Jack Oliver will no longer be in the team, or why, nor any reason why Rindt has left the Brabham team. I don’t doubt that Brabham or Ron Tauranac could tell us why. In the next post comes an announcement from B.R.M. to say that John Surtees will be their number one driver and Jack Oliver their number two. Again, no explanation as to why Pedro Rodriguez is no longer with them, nor any explanation as to what happened to the “All-American Wonder Boy”, Bobby Unser, who elbowed Richard Attwood out of the team last summer and then drove slower than Attwood has ever gone. Last September one member of the Owen organisation was nearly apoplectic with excitement over the acquisition of Unser. I wonder what he has to say now? The B.R.M. statement goes on with a lot of official bumbledon-type phrases, such as “far reaching”, “reinforced team”, “ever-increasing demands”, “fresh impetus”, and so on, but what it really says is that whoever was responsible for the abortive 1968 season, both as regards drivers and managements, will no longer be in charge and Tony Rudd is going to be allowed to get on with the job. That he is capable was shown in 1962 when he took over from Peter Berthon and B.R.M. won the World Championship with the 1½-litre V8.

Team Surtees have announced officially, on behalf of Honda, that the Grand Prix team have gone back to Japan to sit and think and try to puzzle out why they haven’t conquered Grand Prix racing. Porsche had to do the same thing after their brief foray into Grand Prix racing with the 8-cylinder 1½-litre car. No doubt Honda are looking deeply into the engineering of it all, but surely the reasons are quite simple, and amongst them I would put Colin Chapman, Keith Duckworth, Enzo Ferrari, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. It would seem that Honda may reappear later in 1969, but in the meantime Mr. Honda and Mr. Surtees have mutually agreed that they have used up each other’s ability for the time being. If the French Government decide to tell Matra that they think Matra and the Tyrrell/Stewart combine should part on similar terms, it would be a grave mistake. At the time of writing no official news has come from either branch of the successful Matra/Tyrrell tie-up. In Italy Enzo Ferrari seems happy enough with Chris Amon and Derek Bell, with Andrea de Adamich and Ernesto Brambilla as a pair of likely lads. In Modena Ferrari was heard to ask if Amon needed the help of a superior driver and the answer was “No thank you”. Jackie Ickx has left the Ferrari team, mainly because he wanted to continue to drive for the John Wyer Gulf-sponsored team, whereas Ferrari wanted him for his rejuvenated long-distance prototype team. Ickx has shown commendable judgment in sticking with Wyer, for he has driven in and won some real motor races with the Gulf Team Ford GT40 cars. The fact that Gulf Petroleum have been sponsoring Brabham in 1968 may account for Ickx joining the Brabham team for 1969 Grand Prix racing.

The Walker-Durlacher team are still providing cars for Joseph Siffert and hope to have two cars for the 1969 season, one almost certainly a Lotus, especially after Siffert’s performances at the end of the 1968 season. There appears to have been no dissension in the ranks of the Kiwis so we shall see McLaren and Hulme stirring things up with Cosworth V8 engines, and Gurney in a third works McLaren on occasions would not be a surprise. At such circuits as Spa or Nurburgring Gurney would be a very valuable asset.

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This year the Grand Prix season starts with the South African Grand Prix on March 1st, which is a very good move, as it means that the South Africans could well get a number of new 1969 cars on the starting grid. When they held their race at Christmas-time or the New Year they always got the tail-end of the previous season’s machinery and a lot of the entry were lame-ducks. Following this race is the non-Championship meeting at Brands Hatch on Sunday, March 16th, and the Brands Hatch organisers are going to introduce an innovation for this country. Grid positions will be decided on lap times recorded during individual attempts, on the Indianapolis system. There will be free-for-all practice on the mornings of Friday and Saturday, and each afternoon drivers will make one qualifying run of four laps. One lap to warm up, two flying laps and one to slow down, the best single lap time to count for the grid position, and he can count times recorded on Friday or Saturday. At the moment there are only two well-known names in the Grand Prix “circus” who are not prepared to have a go at this interesting qualifying system, and they shall be nameless at the moment, in case they change their minds. If you want to see Stewart with the Matra or Amon with the Ferrari “on full stic’:” for two laps of the long Brands Hatch circuit, then I suggest you book your seat now. The race is going to seem a bit of an anti-climax!

Two weeks after this the B.R.D.C. hold their Festival of Speed at Silverstone and this will include a Formula One event, so in one month there are to be three Formula One races. In April there is one event and in May there are two. Nothing like starting off with a mad rush, but what a pity some other countries cannot run more non-championship Grand Prix events.

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Recently the F.I.A. seem to have woken up and are going all out to be helpful in International racing affairs, organising free-for-all discussions between the people actually involved in racing and making decisions that are acceptable, instead of ones that upset everyone. The 1968 spate of aerofoils, fins, wings and so on has been worrying some of the old gentlemen who meet in Paris and there was a move afoot to ban such devices, but before doing so the Commission Sportive of the F.I.A. discussed the matter with constructors and the result was that there will be no restrictions yet awhile. One of the strongest speakers in favour of the unrestricted use of aerofoils on racing cars was Rudolf Uhlenhaut of the Daimler-Benz company, makers of Mercedes-Benz cars. Remembering that there was a 300SL “gull-wing” Mercedes Benz coupé at Le Mans during practice in 1952, fitted with a full width “wing” above the roof, used as an air-brake, and that in 1955 the 300 SLR sports cars had hydraulically-operated air-brakes, I cannot help wondering why Uhlenhaut was at the Paris conference! On the aerofoil question an intensive study is to be made at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, on the whole subject as it applies to racing cars, and this has been instigated by the Jim Clark Foundation, an organisation formed to perpetuate the name of the number one Grand Prix driver of all time.—D. S. J.