Continental Notes, July 1957

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Only last April I was writing about the growing interest in Grand Prix racing and how Formula 1 events were filling the calendar thick and fast. I pointed out how the Classic events were assured and were being supported by races such as Syracuse, Pau and Naples. Now, after the first of the European World Championship events in Grand Prix, held at Monaco on May 19th, there has been a complete cessation of Formula 1 activities due entirely to the sordid question of finance. Organisers have not been prepared to offer as much as previous years, manufacturers and entrants want as much as before, if not more, and a rather unofficial gathering held last winter in Brussels between organisers and certain National Club representatives, resulted in an open battle between the Grand Prix promoters and the firms of Maserati and Ferrari. As a result of all the bickering and money-grabbing there has been NO BELGIAN GRAND PRIX and NO DUTCH GRAND PRIX. The Zandvoort organisers were at least straightforward and said a long time ago that if entrants were going to need as much starting-money as they received in 1955 then the Dutch were not interested in trying to hold a Grand Prix race, and that was that. The Belgians, however, wanted to hold a Grand Prix race, but were not prepared to pay as much money as the Italian firms considered necessary, and after a lot of last-minute panics the whole thing was called off.

Much has been written and a lot more spoken about starting money and many and lurid have been the tales going around the circuits. Starting money itself is simple enough. Mr. Ferrari or any other racing-car owner says he wants X number of pounds per car to take his team from Maranello to a given circuit, and to employ the best driver he can find for them. If the organiser thinks that Mr. Ferrari’s cars with the “best drivers” are worth X pounds to appear on the circuit, then he pays up and has to reimburse himself from the money taken from the public and the trade supporters of racing. If he does not agree to Mr. Ferrari’s demands he barters and haggles, and in the past both sides have come to an amicable agreement. Amicable agreements between the Belgians and Italians now seems to have ended and after much back-chat the Belgians said “We won’t have a race” and the Italians said “We were not going to come anyway” and the result was deadlock and no Grand Prix racing.

Most racing-car owners are pretty reasonable people and they reckon to ask for sufficient starting or appearance money to cover running costs, which is to say, transport, mechanics, accommodation, insurance and last but by no means least the cost of hiring a good driver, in order that the car might have a chance of winning some prize money. Costs have been rising steadily over the years and starting money demands have increased accordingly, until this year the whole affair has blown sky-high. It will be recalled that last April, on this page, I suggested that the “private-owner” might kill his own golden-goose, and now the manufacturer teams have done it for him. In all the writings and discussions that have been going on about this subject one important point has been overlooked. It has been said that a top-line Italian Grand Prix car, with a potential World Champion as driver demands as much as £1,200 starting money (and the back-garden Special builder has remarked that it ought to be possible to build a Grand Prix car for that amount). This sum of £1,200, or maybe it is only £1,000 or even £900, but whatever it is, would seemingly go to the team-owner, but that is where most people have overlooked an important detail. All the top-grade Grand Prix drivers reckon to work on a contract of 50 per cent. of the starting money allotted their car. That is they expect £600 for themselves if the manufacturer gets £1,200 for the car. This, of course, leaves Mr. Ferrari and Mr. Maserati, and all the others, with only £600 per car. If the organisers only offer £500 per car then driver and owner get £250 each.

Now I am not going to say that men like Fangio, Moss, Collins, Hawthorn, Behra and so on, are not worth £600 to drive a Grand Prix car, that is purely a matter of opinion, and if they can get that sort of money for an afternoon’s work then jolly good luck to them. What is more important, there is every possibility that they will be dead before the end of the afternoon’s work, so while they can keep alive they deserve 50 per cent. of the starting money, but ONLY IF IT IS AVAILABLE. If the works drivers had offered to drive for less money, the Italian teams could have accepted the Belgians monetary offer; what would have been left for the manufacturer after paying his drivers, say 20 per cent., would have covered the expenses of running the cars, AND WE SHOULD HAVE HAD A BELGIAN GRAND PRIX. When financial problems go spiralling up and up, someone must give way or the whole system will explode and my contention is that drivers should give a little, as well as organisers and manufacturers.

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Apart from the mere fact of there not being a Belgian Grand Prix, the greatest pity about the whole affair is that the Belgians spent a great deal of money on the pit area at Spa and along the stretch from Stavelot to La Source hairpin. New pits were built, the starting area resurfaced and widened and a wonderful new paddock built, as well as a control tower on top of the pits. The paddock is now truly enormous and surfaced with asphalt, and as the construction involved buying and erasing a farm it can be imagined how much money was spent. All along the fast return leg from Stavelot to La Source hairpin the edges of the road have been lined with flush-fitting kerbs and the banks and hedges cut back many feet, and in some places the banks are more than 15 feet in height. The Spa circuit is one of the finest in the world, and as true a Grand Prix circuit as one could wish for, being very fast and calling for the highest skill in a driver to take a Grand Prix car round in just four minutes at an average approaching 125 m.p.h. There is no driver, who can claim to be a racing driver, who does not like driving round the Spa circuit, and now that the latest improvements to the pits and paddock have been completed it is deplorable that there should be no Belgian Grand Prix.

*

On the subject of the Association formed by the leading Grand Prix drivers of today I will refrain from commenting in detail. If any of the top six or eight Grand Prix drivers consider that they are not important enough as individuals to be taken heed of if they want to say something, then they must have a pretty poor idea of what racing means to those who organise it and follow it. To have to get together behind the screen of an Association makes them look like rather ridiculous schoolboys, in my humble opinion. It would be nicer if they tried practising a little more “sport” and a little less “business.” The “hoo-ha” they caused over the matter of racing round the Monza banked track will have been settled by the time these words are in print, so that readers will know for themselves which drivers stuck to their “Association agreement to refuse to drive” and those who climbed down. Enzo Ferrari was very short with his “stars” when he heard of the proposed refusal to race on the banking, and pointed out very firmly that they were bound by contract to drive as and when he wished. I would not have blamed him if he’d sacked them all on the spot.

If Fangio, Moss or any of the others have the courage to say point blank “I am personally too frightened to race on the Monza banking” then I will raise my soft-peaked-cap to him for his honesty, but nothing more. To gather together behind the screen of an Association, is not only childish, it lacks guts. I have been challenged by the reply “Would you race round the banking?” — a fatuous reply, for I do not profess to be a racing driver, nor do I parade myself in front of the world as such. It seems to my rather purist mind, and maybe old-fashioned at that, that the present-day driver is becoming more like a film-star than a racing driver, and last month’s “stamping of feet and bursts of temperament” and refusals to have a try at another form of motor racing, make me very sick in the stomach.

Everyone keeps crying out for “Safety, more safety” in motor racing and yet everyday man-made machines are being used for social purposes and reeking (wreaking) death and destruction all over the world. If man dabbles with a dangerous machine he must pay the consequences, NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN FORCED TO WATCH A MOTOR RACE, nor have any of the drivers BEEN FORCED TO BECOME RACING DRIVERS, so why all the pandemonium ? Every year racing becomes more and more “milk and water” and real he-man motor-racing is practically extinct, so that in the end one can foresee everyone wrapped in cotton wool, and then I hope they all choke to death in their own safety. — D. S. J.

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