The Formula One Scene
IT IS with some relief that I welcome in 1982, for it means that the 1981 season is really over and the sooner we forget it the better. In the past we have had the silly season, which is usually a brief moment at the height of the summer, but 1981 was a silly season from start to finish. It began with the absurd idea that the Formula One Constructors Association was more powerful that the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile and various governments and Bernie Ecclestune and his boys thought they could go it alone. After a kick up the backside by the Goodyear Tyre Company and one or two other influential people behind the scenes the "constructors" toed the line and joined the "manufacturers" and got on with the job of Grand Prix Racing, but the silliness cost South Africa its World Championship Formula One race. All the big names of FISA and FOCA agreed to a new set of rules called the Concorde Agreement, drawn up in Paris at the FIA offices in Place de la Concorde. Some of us eventually managed to get a copy of this document by April last year, but by that time it was almost worthless as meetings between the FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre and B. Ecclestone altered rules almost at the drop of a hat. If the rule itself was not altered then a different interpretation was put on the words, to those that most intelligent people had accepted. Biggest laugh was the ground clearance rule which intended that a car should never be closer to the ground than 6 centimetres, but because it was obviously impossible to check this clearance at 180 m.p.h. a ridiculous rule was included that said it would be checked at point A. So everyone cheated until they reached point A and then the car stood up on tip-toe, thanks to hydro-pneumatic devices, and it was declared legal. Some teams, like Williams and Renault, started off with no idea of cheating, but the Brabham team started the rot and because FISA accepted the Brabham team (Mr. Ecclestone's own team, I would point out) then everyone cheated.
Some idea of the absurd state of everyone's mind during 1981 is best given by a little story that occurred at Monza, which was typical of the "double thinking and word twisting" in which everyone indulged all season. In the Concorde agreement it said in Article 4, paragraph (e), "The name of the driver as well as the make of the car will appear on the bodywork." You would think that that was straightforward enough, wouldn't you? All the teams complied with this simple rule except one, and that was Bernard Ecclestone's Brabham team. The name of the car was there, but no sign of the driver's name until we got to Monza, when the cars had Nelson Piquet and Hector Rebaque printed on the space behind the driver's head. I commented to B.E. that it was nice to see that at last he wan complying with Article 4 (e) of the Concorde Agreement. Smart Mr. E's reply was that the names had been on the bodywork all season and when I expressed surprise and said that I had never seen them, he said they were "in dymo-tape underneath". Now I have a simple dictionary which says "ON — above and touching" and "UNDER — below, beneath, inferior to". The Concorde rule clearly said ". . . on the bodywork". You just cannot talk to people in Formula One when their minds work in such devious ways as the leader of FOCA. With that mentality a behead is it surprising that 1981 was a silly season. To drag the 1981 season up to a climax of stupidity we ended up with the media making much play on the possibility of Jackie Stewart and James Hunt returning to the Formula One cockpits.
If it had not been for drivers like Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, Gilles Villeneuve, Didier Pironi, Alain Prost and Jacques Laffite it would not only have been a silly season, it would have been dull as well. Fortunately the drivers kept the whole thing alive by some spirited driving and racing, and while practice was often boring due to the rules, the races were pretty good. Once the twenty-four cars had set off from the assembly grid, in formation, everything looked good and without exception every time the green light came on there was some good motor racing, which after all is the whole point of the exercise. As we are starting 1982 with no dissension in the ranks about who runs Formula One racing let us hope that everyone has got over their "silliness" disease and will try and act like reasonable human beings.
The South African GP is back on the World Championship calendar and is due to take place on the 23rd of this month, at its regular home at Kyalami. At the time of writing some teams have still not finalised their driver plans and signings, notably the Frank Williams team, for as mentioned last month the 1981 season ended with both Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann saying they were retiring from Formula One. Whether they are sticking to their words I will believe when I view the starting grid on January 23rd. If Jones does not re-appear I will not be surprised, nor will I be surprised if he comes back later on in company with a Japanese manufacturer. Of Reutemann what can one say, for there were times last year when you felt that even he did not know what he was thinking, so how can we know. Anyway, Patrick Head is pressing on with his experimental six-wheeled Williams and Frank himself is continuing negotiations with all those people who are important to the future well-being of his ream.
Other teams have been settled for a long time, notably Ferrari and Renault. The Maranello team have retained Villeneuve and Pironi and are continuing on the V6 turbo-charged engine route, with a new chassis and aerodynamics influenced by Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite, or as he is now known, ingeniere Postlethwaite. The Maranello "tin-bashers" must be shaking their heals sadly as they see Nomex honeycomb and carbon fibre being "baked in the pie" but when the present Ferrari "tin-bashers" were discovering the wheeling-machine and the pop-riveter, the ones before them were shaking their heads sadly as they put away their aluminium welding skills and their tree-stumps and wooden mallets. Times change, even at Maranello, Renault had reached a very strong position by the end of 1981 with their RE30 models and their path looks set very fair, with Prost and Arnoux doing the driving. The other French team, that of Talbot which used to be Ligier, will still be a force to be reckoned with as Jacques Laffite is still in full command, working hand-in-glove with his brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Jabouille. As indicated in MOTOR SPORT last October these two work exceedingly well together and while they will begin the new season with the Matra V12 powered cars we should see signs of their new V6 turbocharged 1.5-litre Matra engine before long. Number two driver at Talbot is pretty academic as it really is Laffite's team, though Guy Ligier and Talbot give the impression that it is their team. It is a situation rather like the Cooper Car Company in 1959 and 1960 when Jack Brabham won everything with the Cooper-Climax. John Cooper used to say "I know it's my team, but really, I can't do anything until Jack gets back from Australia, because I don't know what he wants". Last year Jean-Pierre Jarier "stood-in" for Jabouille while his injuries were mending and then when he decided to retire, Patrick Tambay was invited into the team. Now Tambay has been replaced by the American from Rome, Eddie Cheever, which should not cause Laffite any trouble.
Since the amalgamation of McLaren Racing and the Ron Dennis Project Four organisation, into McLaren International, with John Barnard heading the design team they have made good, steady progress. At an announcement at the end of last year they explained that Niki Lauda was joining them, making a return to Formula One from which he walked out at the end of 1979. John Watson is staying with the team and Andrea de Cesaris has been "passed on" by Marlboro who sponsor him. A much more important announcement was made that McLaren International had signed an agreement with Porsche Engineering for the supply of a new engine, with exclusive rights to McLaren. If Ron Dennis needs a feather in his cap, then this is It. In typically Porsche fashion the announcement said that the Zuffenhausen firm will be designing, building and developing a turbo-charged V6 engine of 1.5-litres and it will be on the test-bed towards the end of 1982 and ready to race in 1983. In the meantime McLaren will continue with the Cosworth DFV engine. This sort of tie-up between a big engineering concern that can design a new engine and a small concern that can handle the chassis and suspension is a trend that could well snowball. We already have Ligier and Matra, and Brabham and BMW are on the brink of becoming serious, so Porsche and McLaren augurs well, and if Honda return with Williams and Toyota with Lotus we will have an interesting scene. There is no doubting that the small specialist teams are much better orientated to the needs of Formula One where it really matters, namely in the pit lane and on the circuit, while the major car manufacturers are better suited to the supply of serious components like engines.
The Brabham team have dispensed with the services of Hector Rebaque and his family money and taken instead Riccardo Patrese and more Parmalat money, keeping Nelson Piquet as team leader, as well they might for he is a natural winner. Testing of the BT50 with its turbo-charged four-cylinder BMW 1.5-litre engine in the back is showing good progress and there is every sign that it might race in 1982. After an incredibly unsettling season Team Lotus are little better off. Double-talk, double-crossing, legal gobbledegook and pontificating over the Lotus 88 nearly drove Colin Chapman to despair last year and while Nigel Mansell did a good iob in his first season and put every effort into supporting the team through thick and thin, team-leader Elio de Angelis spent more time acting like a spoilt child at a time when Team Lotus had more things to worry about. Mansell is staying with the Norfolk-based team but who he will be driving with is still uncertain at the time of writing.
The Toleman-Hart team had a pretty severe introduction to Formula One, which they knew was not going to be easy, but I doubt they visualized it being quite so hard. Progress was made, albeit slowly, and they are looking for better things this year, some December testing at Paul Ricard giving them much more hope. While Derek Warwick is staying on, the future for Brian Henton does not look rosy, not because of his performances in 1981, far from it, for he worked his backside off for the team, but his driving ability is a known quantity and it just is not high enough for the team to make a next step forward. Whether they can find a better driver to replace him is a question a lot of people are asking.
Of the big manufacturers teams Alfa Romeo have had everyone puzzled. With virtual unlimited design and manufacturing resources, good drivers, and a car that appeared to be good, their sum total for 1981 was virtually zero. I do not keep points tables for every Tom, Dick and Harry constructor in the Manufacturer's Championship, but I am told that Alfa Romeo only just scored more points than Ensign! They seemed to have headaches with their comparatively simple car powered by their V12 engine, so what it will be like when they start racing their twin-turbocharged 1.5-litre V8 I hardly dare think. They were seemingly on to a good thing in the days of the Brabham BT46 and BT48 with Alfa Romeo engines, but all the time they felt they could do a better job on their own. We know now that they were in error.
Of all the lesser teams only one got itself organised before the New Year and that was Teddy Yip's Theodore Racing Team, with its neat little Tony Southgate-designed car. They started 1981 in good form with Patrick Tambay driving for them, until he was wooed away to Talbot. Now they bane got him back and I can see this combination doing some good racing and finishing in the money, though not likely to be winners against the big factory teams. Around the back half of the grid there is a large collection of drivers and teams, some good. some mediocre and some hopeless and at the time of writing (mid-December) there is a big melting pot containing names like Tyrrell, ATS, Ensign. March, Fittipaldi, Arrows, and Osella, together with Salazar, Alboreto, Borgudd, Daly, Serra, Rosberg, Stohr, Rebaque, de Cesaris and new names like Moreno, Palmer, Scott, Baldi and so on. It is all swilling around on the Rent-a-Drive or Rent-a-Team roundabout and before the end of this month it will be partially sorted out with A going to B and C going to D and so on, with one or two names escaping out into the front half of she grid, names like Rosberg, Salazar and Daly, for example.
In all the foregoing I have made no mention of Mario Andretti, the oldest and most experienced "racer" in Formula One. The reason is simple in that he has said nothing as yet, though that remark could well be out of date by the time it is being read. Andretti may not be the fastest Formula One driver, and never was, but he was a natural winner and no doubt still could be, given the right car. When you look at him you see a solid, rugged character and think "there is more racing knowledge inside that head than most of the others put together, and he knows its there and knows how to use it". If Andretti has decided to retire from Formula One and stick to USAC or CART racing, it will be their gain and our loss. In just the same way, if Alan Jones stays in Australia racing saloon cars it is their gain and our loss. Grand Prix racing needs drivers like Jones and Andretti. — D.S.J.