The Formula One Scene

The Formula One Scene

WHEN THE non-motoring sponsors appeared on the Grand Prix scene I looked a bit sideways at it all, conscious of some of the troubles that had happened behind the scenes in the past, with sponsors whose livelihood depended on motoring, if not on actual racing. The petrol and oil companies were the ones putting large sums of money into the pockets of racing teams and racing drivers, and there were frequent clashes of interest, which though not announced were the reasons for some apparent anomalies taking place in Grand Prix racing. Among the classics was the question “Why did Stirling Moss never have a Lotus the equal of the Team Lotus cars?” the simple answer being that he was contracted to BP fuel and Team Lotus were contracted to Esso, and the Esso man told Colin Chapman to make sure Moss did not have the latest design. There were frequent cases of drivers not going to the team one expected them to go to, the answer being that they had a personal contract with a rival oil company. When John Surtees left Ferrari in a huff in the mid-sixties he had little option but to go to Cooper, on account of petrol and oil contracts, and when you wondered why a certain driver was paired with another in a long-distance sports car race, the answer was invariably petrol or oil contracts. Way back in 1955 when we all expected Peter Collins to join Mike Hawthorn in the Vanwall team, and it didn’t happen, the answer was that he had sold himself to Esso and Vanwalls were running on BP fuel.

Nothing has changed, only the names and the colours, and drivers now sell their bodies to cigarette companies instead of fuel and oil companies, and if a car or team is sponsored by a rival tobacco firm drivers are prevented doing what seems logical to the unbiased racing enthusiast. And it works in the other direction as well, which was the only possible explanation for Jacky Ickx driving one of the Frank Williams cars for a fleeting moment in North America in 1973. The past season has seen some delightful wrangles going on behind the scenes, as one firm’s PRO has become “very annoyed” with another PRO for transgressing the advertising frontier. In caravans with darkened windows there has been quite a bit of petulant foot stamping, not to mention table thumping, and even the odd “swipe with a handbag”. Fortunately the outside world has not been too troubled by it all, but many of the poignant questions asked by motor racing enthusiasts could have been answered had they been in those darkened caravans.

One Grand Prix was sponsored by a certain cigarette firm who did not own any cars or runners, but were making big publicity out of the national hero, using his photo on posters and so on, even on the programme. Now “hero” was contracted to a rival cigarette firm and not wishing to give away any free advertising, the race sponsors blanked out the name of their rival on the driver’s helmet in all the advertising. Needless to say this caused quite a bit of clucking in the hen-coop, and the poor driver was completely innocent and knew nothing of what was going on. It will have been very obvious to anyone looking at our colour centre-spread photographs. over the past year or two that drivers have lost one of their, personal characteristics. I refer to hats. At one time most drivers had a personal fad for a certain type of headgear when they Were not wearing a crash-hat, such things as Mike Hawthorn’s very English peaked cap, Luigi Musso’s funny little sailor hat, Trintignant’s woolly hat, Fangio’s white peaked cap, and so on. Nowadays, as soon as a race is finished, and the winners are being photographed they are wearing a blue peaked cap with the word GOODYEAR across the front. Now, you may think that the drivers keep these caps in their pockets or somewhere, but that is not the case, they are “throw away” caps provided by the Goodyear publicity department and it is one man’s job to make sure there is one of these blue caps on the winner’s head the moment he removes his crashhelmet, always assuming the winner was running on Goodyear tyres. If second and third were also on Goodyear then they will have a blue cap thrust on them as well. This is to make sure that any photographs taken of the successful drivers will gain some free advertising for Goodyear. Apart from spoiling all the photographs, for one zombie looks like any other zombie under a Goodyear cap, this does not seem to do any harm; that is until rival interests clash. World Champion Fittipaldi runs on Goodyear tyres with his McLaren M23, but the team are sponsored by Texaco fuel and oil and Marlboro cigarettes, the two firms combining to call the set-up Texaco-Marlboro, and they want their finger in the finishers pie. After complaining to Goodyear about their methods, and being told where to go, they counteracted by having one of their men slap a Texaco-Marlboro sticker over the word Goodyear, once the cap was on the winner’s head, which was not at all popular. This little feud reached a climax at one race when the Goodyear chap, standing by the finishing line with an armful of blue caps, was challenged, if not actually threatened, about putting a Goodyear cap on the winner’s head. His response was that he was looking after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th place men, who were all Goodyear runners. While this discussion was going on another Goodyear man, with a single cap, was placing himself strategically to greet the winner with a handshake and a blue cap to replace the crashhelmet!

The rat-race of the advertising world is life and death to those involved, but a child;sh pursuit to those outside its clutches, and faintly amusing at times. The Marlboro cigarette company have run into all manner of complications with their “over-kill’ tactics on advertising, and when the Ferrari team were winning races there were complaints about Lauda and Regazzoni always wearing a Goodyear hat at the finish. Both drivers are contracted to Marlboro for their advertising team, but when Enzo Ferrari heard about this complaint, he told his drivers to continue to wear the Goodyear hat for his cars won races on Goodyear tyres, they didn’t win races on Marlboro cigarettes! When John Player “bought” the British Grand Prix there was not too much activity from Marlboro or any other cigarette firm, and when they all went to Germany for the Grand Prix at Nurburgring there was no cigarette activity at all, for the Germans ban any tobacco connection with sporting events, and everyone was going round with black tape covering up the foul words like Player, Marlboro, Embassy, and so on. Sticky tape has been much in evidence in the past season, for whereas it used to be the prerogative of Formula One mechanics, who used it to patch up split fibreglass on nosecones, wings and things, it was in great demand to cover up Sponsors’ names on transporters when there were “contractual difficulties”, to use a well-worn phrase. What these people really meant was that a team and its sponsor had fallen out and were suing each Other, one because there were no results forthcoming, and the other because the flow of money had been stopped. It was also in great demand when Formula One drivers took part in sports car racing, for most drivers adorn their racing overalls with badges of their Formula One sponsors, and these often clashed with the sports car sponsors. Rather than go to the expense of another pair of overalls the wicked words of the rival concern would be covered, rather obviously, in sticky tape. Of course, thereare sponsors who just do not care about any rival concerns gaining free publicity, hut these are the rare broad-minded ones, or unsuccessful ones. At Dijon on the occasion of the Grand Prix of France Marlboro organised a splendid “retrospective” of old cars and old drivers, and put out some publicity photographs of their 1974 drivers with the Texaco-Marlboro McLarens together with some of the drivers from the past. In one of these an ESSO fuel churn was placed by the nose of the McLaren, which was trying hard to advertise Texaco.

Recently we heard all sorts of rumours that the big-money sponsors are about to withdraw from Grand Prix racing, and the cry went up that “it will he the end of Formula One”. I doubt very much whether it will be the end of Formula One, though it might well be the end of a load of clap-trap and phoney-fairies prancing round the paddock, which will be no had thing. Those teams who find it hard to grub along on £250,000 a year can be heard wailing that the end is in sight, but mostly the wailing is coming from those who benefit most from the sponsors largesse and few of these are directly connected with any rating team. The world of Public Relations will no doubt collapse into its own bubble, as will the world of advertising, and some Of the teams may not be able to afford the luxury of two potential World Champion drivers, and have to make do with one “good ‘un”, and there may not he so many brand new and unused spare cars lying about the paddock, nor rows of Cosworth V8 engines ready to be screwed in the moment a misfire appears in the one in use. Mechanics may even have to learn how to repair broken engines in the paddock or travelling workshop, rather than send engines back by express air-post to Cosworth or John Nicholson. There may not be any plush “motor-homes” as havens of peace and quiet for the drivers and team managers, and there certainly won’t be any troupes of dolly birds cluttering up the pits and paddock, and there might even be some hotel rooms available for ordinary race-goers.

A lot of people will have to buy their own wind-cheater jackets, shirts; trousers, hats, umbrellas, timekeeping boards, stop-watches, shoulder-bags, pens, pencils, race information sheets, note-books and even their own lunches and drinks. Yes indeed, if the big money sponsors pull out, some people are going to be badly hit. No more plush dinners at pricey restaurants paid for -by the “sponsor’s man”, no more free-for-all barbecue parties, where friends and families get fed at the sponsor’s expense, no more parties on luxury yachts n Monte Carlo harbour, no more luxury yachts, though Monte Carlo harbour will still be there, no more free-onloan bicycles or mini-motorbikes, we’ll all have to walk about the place. In fact, people in the fringe world of motor racing, who benefit most from the sponsors’ generosity, will have to rough it like the rest of the woad, but my guess is that there will be a great thinning out, which will make it all so much nicer for those of us who are left. The teams will have to make do with well-worn and well-travelled transporters, no more £10,000 “artics” and no more fancy paint jobs, just a quick blow-over in green for cars and transporters alike, and the team personnel may even have to resort to simple one-colour overalls, as befits an honest worker, even bib-and-brace overalls for some, in place of the colourful clown-like costumes they wear at the moment, and some teams will have to wear the same overalls for a week, instead of changing into Clean ones “every hour, on the hour”.

If the big-money sponsors pull out of Grand Prix racing they will go Unheralded and there will be no “Olden hand-Shakes” or parting gifts, but all this will not make Peterson, Lauda, Reutemann, Pace, or S.checkter drive any slower and I feel sure there will be Ferraris, Tyrrells, Lotuses and so on for them to drive, though they may have to be a bit more careful about having accidents and bending “monocoques” and they may have to nurse their one-and-only Cosworth engine a bit, but they will be racing, which is the important thing. If Cosworth were to stop making racing engines’, or Hewland was to stop making racing gearboxes, now that would be serious.

Once again Firestone have withdrawn from racing, though this rime it seems it is true, which has made life difficult for those who do not normally Win Grand Prix races, for not many people can remember the last time a car on Firestone tyres won an important Grand Prix race. In the same way one might weep tears over the news that the BRM firm has gone into liquidation, though some of us can actually remember a BRM winning a Grand Prix. While Firestone tyres will be re-appearing exclusively for the Parnelli team for Andretti to run on, simply because Vels Miletich, the money-Man behind the team, has virtually bought the Firestone racing division, to continue with it privately, the BRM team will re-appear, and one hopes, blossom anew, with some subtle changes in management. For longer than one cares to remember Sir Alfred Owen, and his sister Jean Stanley, have been pouring money into BRM through the Rubery Owen empire, but this has now ended and Mrs. Stanley and her husband have taken full responsibility for BRM, renaming it Stanley-BRM. Many of the staff have gone, willingly or unwillingly, and “new brooms are sweeping clean” we are told. Just how effective it will all prove time alone will tell, but whatever happens to BRM it can’t get any worse than it was in 1974.

One team that has been forced to change its (colours) face is half of the McLaren team, or one-third to be more precise, for Yardley have withdrawn completely from motor racing. I can hear the wailing and moaning as free supplies of “After-shave, Yardley for men” dry up. No More free Yardley Black Label Anti-Perspirant Deodorant, what shall we do? I shall smell as revolting as I have always done, exuding good honest sweat, and my friends still won’t come too close. Apart from no more yacht parties, free lunches, an endless supply of useful pre-race information, tasteful brown jackets and some pleasant people around, the Yardley withdrawal will mean that the lone McLaren that Mike Hailwood was driving until his accident at Nurburgring, is no more, unless another firm steps into the breech and pays for the car to be painted anew.

It could be that the colour and bickering is going out of Formula One racing, and who knows, it might be replaced by Green Lotuses racing against red Ferraris and blue Matras, or it could be that the colours are merely changing from one kaleidoscopic hue to another and racing will continue to be between one multi-national “mish-mash” and another.—D.S.J.