This time last year there was a wrangle going on between the Formula One Constructors Association and the CSI and officially no Formula One races were scheduled for 1976. However, it was all sorted out and a very full list of events for the World Championships appeared and only one was axed, which was the Argentine GP. The Canadian GP returned to the list and two new events, one in the spring in California and the other at the end of the season in Japan. This plethora of events caused the constructors to say they would not attend any more non-championship races, but since then they have changed their minds and agreed to support one non-championship event each year and it has been agreed that when the British GP is at Silverstone (as it is in 1977) they will support a Formula One race at Brands Hatch, and vice-versa. So for the coming season the Race of Champions on March 20th will be for Formula One and in 1978 the Silverstone International Trophy will be for Formula One.
On the World Championship scene there really is a scene, for as the CSI made quite clear last September at Monza, they have employed an international businessman to do the international business and deal with the businessmen of the Constructors Association. The ins-and-outs and whys-and-wherefores are much too involved and complicated for normal motor racing enthusiasts to follow, or even to worry about, but just like last winter the year is starting with the threat of no World Championship events, but I can’t see that happening. This year the reasons are all different but the result is the same and it all revolves around money, greed and mistrust, which is the hallmark of the Formula One Entertainment Business, While there might be 100,000 people who watch or are interested in Formula One entertainment, the 50,000 who like motor racing would much rather that it was not entertainment with its surrounding tinsel and razzm’tazz and was plain, simple racing between men and machines.
Once again the Argentine GP has gone under during the winter hassles, but the rest of the events will presumably take place as they did in 1976, with a few modifications. The Japanese GP has been brought forward to April and the Canadian GP now rounds off the season in October, scheduled for the week after the Watkins Glen event. Nearer home, it looks as though the Barcelona Montjuich Park venue has gone for good, as the Spanish GP is due back at the Jarama Autodrome for the second year running, and the Belgian GP has settled down at the funny little Zolder circuit (what ever happened to the wondrous “modern facility” at Nivelles?). The French look like getting the extension to the Dijon-Prenois Autodrome finished this year, so they are due to have the French GP and the British GP is due to go to sunny Silverstone, which is always a good garden party. Our very own Grand Prix has been given the grandiose title of the European GP, so the RAC will be able to put on a really grandiose event, though they will have to try hard. to beat the 1976 event, or some of the previous British GP meetings. I feel sure the “entertainment” that will be put on by the Formula One Constructors, with the help and support of the RAC will do justice to such a grand occasion as the Grand Prix of Europe, and will no doubt alleviate the sufferings of those of us who used to enjoy watching Peterson taking Woodcote corner “flat-in-top” before the safety-chicane was built. Can you picture Peterson in the six-wheeled Tyrrell on the old Woodcote Corner? The adrena lin flows just thinking about it. They tell me “nostalgia is the real thing”, and at times I wonder if “they” are not right.
Following the great orgy of speed and spectacle at Silverstone in July comes the German GP and the venue is given as Hockenheim or Nurburgring. If the German GP is held at the Hockenheim Motodrome I shall go to the Ntirburgring and drive round on my own in the peace and splendour of that magnificent circuit, wallowing in nostalgia and enjoying the feeling of my own adrenalin flowing at merely thinking of a lap at 122 m.p.h. Whenever the opportunity arises I make a detour through Spa, in Belgium, and drive around the Francorchamps circuit. Last year I went with a young colleague and we walked about on the outside of the Burnenville curve and at the ess-bend on the Masta straight and got more satisfaction and “charge” without a racing car in sight, than we did during a whole weekend full of activity at Zolder.
Fortunately Monaco is still fundamentally Monaco, and though some parts have been altered, the rush up the hill to the Casino is still exciting, and the squirt down the hill from Casino Square to the Mirabeau hairpin still makes me step back a bit, especially when Andretti or Stuck are really trying. One of the remarkable things that happened in 1976 was the great awakening among the top Formula One drivers that took place at the Austrian GP on the spectacular Osterreichring. With Lauda and Ferrari absent a whole lot of drivers suddenly realised they could win and in their endeavours they really went racing, like Formula 3 kids, and they found it was fun. This spirit stayed for the rest of the season and Formula One racing took on a whole new atmosphere, so let us hope it is still there this coming season. A well-known designer told me this was going to happen and he was right. He gave this opinion in 1975, when he first saw the symptoms among his drivers. He said “Now that Stewart has retired the hot-headed young lads will get rid of their inhibitions and we shall see some really competitive driving.’ He reckoned that Stewart, through his GPDA meetings, had been brain-washing the “chargers” into a state of not doing anything dangerous or dodgy. I can vouch for this, having attended GPDA meetings where drivers were reprimanded for unruly driving, which meant diving through gaps, chopping other drivers off or running really close, and as for re-passing once you had been overtaken, well that just wasn’t done. Needless to say Regazzoni didn’t attend many meetings, and some of the drivers read comics while Stewart was talking. He had numerous supporters and one of them suffered from a bit of unruliness by a newcomer in one race. Afterwards the Stewart dictum was quoted, that “we don’t drive like that in the GPDA.” The newcomer was very rude in his reply. When the final dregs of this “let’s all be chums” (and share the spoils?) was buried with the collapse of the GPDA, some real spirit began to re-appear in some of the drivers and in Austria last year it all broke out in an uncontrollable burst of motor racing. At Zandvoort the duel between Hunt and Watson was terrific and the days of Formula One processions were over, just as that well-known designer had prophesied.
Leaving the Formula One scene, we will not see much change on the long-distance racing scene, for the CS! have kept the two divisions, of Group 5 and Group 6. Though 1976 was a great year for Porsche, the long-distance scene was pretty pathetic, with poor entries and divided interests and it is difficult to see 1977 being anything better than International Club Racing, and I cannot believe all the events on the list will be held. Presumably the CSI have kept the two lukewarm Championships simply because they cannot think of a way out of the doldrum they have brought about.
Formula Two seems as strong as ever, though without any serious support from British entries, but there are three British events in the list, which makes a change. It was noticeable in 1976 that many of the European events reverted to one good length motor race, instead of the unsatisfactory arrangement of two short races with the results worked out by adding competitors’ times together. It may be nice to see two starts, but most people want to see the winner win, and so often the winner on aggregate time could come third of fourth in the second race, which ended the event in a bit of an anti-climax. International Formula 3 is another category that seems to get along very well without much support by British drivers and the 1977 championship has an impressive list of events lined up.
Once more the Le Mans 24-hour race, like Indianapolis, is standing on its own two feet, having shown in 1976 that it can get along very well without being part of any Championship. In case anyone thinks that Le Mans is the only time you can see night-racing, I would point out that there is still a 24-hour saloon car race at Spa, on the Belgian “Circuit Nationale de Francorchamps,” even though there are people who think the fabulous Ardennes circuit is not used anymore, just because the Formula One crowd boycotted it. —D.S.J.