Is it surprising that the two Golden Ages of grand prix racing should feature forced induction? Those Silver Arrows sucked in (or, in the case of Mercedes-Benz until mid-1937, blew in) their potent brews at a prodigious rate during the latter half of the 1930s — and contemporaries and historians have waxed lyrical ever since. In the latter half of the 1980s, turbochargers whistled, chirrupped and flamed…
You might already be disagreeing with me about this choice of Golden Age number two — possibly with my first — but allow me to put my case.
Caracciola, Varzi, Nuvolari, Rosemeyer — even with rose-tinted spectacles removed, this is a very impressive roll-call. But with 11 world championships between them, Prost, Senna, Piquet, Mansell make for a comparable quartet. Add Lang and Stuck, then add Rosberg and Amoux, and it’s still neck and neck.
And why were these drivers able to rise so dearly above their peers, to be remembered so reverentially? Bhp, and lots of it Until Renault impelled Elf and air into its burbling V6, the Mercedes W125 stood atop grand prix racing’s pantheon of power at 600-plus bhp. The ground shook and the crowds took a step back. This, truly, was awesome. A gut feeling as much as a cold, mental assessment By the end of 1986, however, little Teo Fabi, who excelled on fast tracks, wrestled with 1400bhp to plant his Benetton-BMW on back-to-back 150mphplus pole positions at the old Osterreichring and Monza. The ground shook and the crowds took a step back.
Even those with encyclopaedic knowledge tend to hark back to a handful of moments: Rosemeyer’s foggy Eifelrennen win, Nuvolari’s Donington success, Mansell’s Adelaide blow-out, Rosberg’s 160mph lap at Silverstone. For me, these jump out because of the heroism involved. And heroism requires ‘distance’. Heroes should be ‘untouchable’. To walk past a Lotus 25 — as lovely as it is, as successful and trend-setting as it was, as fantastic as Jim Clark was — hardly causes the hairs on my neck to hackle. Instead there is a feeling, a misplaced one I admit, of `I could do that’. A feeling heightened when its Climax fires up. It doesn’t send you running for cover. Walk pasta C-Type Auto Union or a Williams-Honda, check out their vital statistics, and you know, just know, that with all the will in the world, even with hours and hours of testing, that never, not even in a month of Sundays, could you cope. Not even come close. Almost 200mph on Pescara’s straights, ‘skiing’ around Mellaha’s sand-swept sweepers, cranked-up boost and sticky Q tyres ready for a banzai lap at Spa, right foot hard in for Mexico City’s bone-shaking Peraltada — no way. Not even if you forced me.
Bhp is racing’s gold standard, so it should be no surprise that the Golden Ages have been driven by an excess of it.