Belgian Grand Prix reflections

BY winning this year’s Belgian G.P. Jim Clark now has his name in the record book four times, on each occasion finishing first and in consecutive years, so that by any standards he must be considered a first-class Grand Prix driver. The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is an easy one to drive round slowly, but a very exacting one to drive round fast, and lap speeds approaching 140 m.p.h. are fast. On each of the winning occasions Clark has driven Lotus cars and the power unit has been a Coventry-Climax V8, while this year it was the new 32-valve version.

The earlier Climax engines were reaching their limit as regards r.p.m. and cylinder filling, and the four valves per cylinder layout was adopted with these two considerations in mind. With four small valves instead of two big ones it was possible to get a lighter valve gear mass and to improve the porting and breathing and raise the maximum engine speed to 10,500 r.p.m., this higher speed also being encouraged by a change in the bore/stroke ratio from 2.675 x 2.03 in. to 2.850 x 1.790 in. This new valve layout enforced a different shape of combustion chamber, from a dome to a pent-roof, as shown in the accompanying photograph, and at the same time the pistons had to be vee-shaped on the top surface, with four indentations to provide clearance for the valves, with the 12-to-1 compression ratio. In conjunction with the higher r.p.m. and increased loadings on the camshafts the drive to the four overhead camshafts has been changed from a simple rollerchain system to a gear drive, this being cleverly designed to fit into the existing castings. This 1965 Mark IV Coventry-Climax engine, which develops 210 b.h.p. at 10,500 r.p.m., ran in its first race at Goodwood on Easter Monday, fitted to Clark’s Lotus 33, and though it won the race, it would not have done had the race been one lap longer, for it suffered an internal breakage just after crossing the finishing line! It next appeared in Jack Brabham’s car at Monte Carlo, but had an unfair time, being driven without an r.p.m. indicator and also losing oil from a leak at the rev.-counter drive. It broke a connecting-rod due more to lack of oil than over-revving, it was felt afterwards when the wreckage was dismantled. The third appearance of this Mark IV engine was the Belgian G.P., where it won handsomely, and while not as fast as the best B.R.M. in practice this was more due to Lotus troubles than Coventry-Climax troubles.

Jim Clark’s four wins in a row must be impressive, even though last year’s victory was a lucky one, but the performance by Stewart cannot be overlooked or brushed aside as luck. On some circuits this could be true, but not at Spa, where many an up-and-coming Grand Prix driver has been disillusioned in the past and, sadly, some have been killed or injured. To scratch round Brands Hatch or Oulton Park on the door handles is not very difficult, or as Frank Gardner says, to do a “balancing act” round the grass tracks of Silverstone or Goodwood is skilful but not really motor racing. At Spa you have to average a speed about equal to the maximum reached on most English circuits, if you are going to do any good or make an impression. The long downhill righthand bend at Burneville, which has a blind approach under a bridge, is taken at around 140 m.p.h., and the equally blind essbend in the gently descending Masta straight is approached at close on 160 m.p.h., and many a well-known driver has frightened himself through this left and right kink. A top driver will take the two right-hand curves on the return leg from Stavelot absolutely flat-out in top gear and though he may not consider it difficult, few of the top drivers made their first Spa appearance in a works B.R.M. that was capable of making fastest practice lap. There can be no doubt that Stewart is a “natural”, high-speed driver, like Clark, for he does not appear to have to work at it, like some drivers, as was instanced by the complete lack of perspiration, nervous tension or fatigue after his very fast practice laps, his best lap getting him on the front row of the grid. Many other well-known drivers were hot and sweaty after trying for a really fast lap, and they were not on the front row of the grid. Over the years B.R.M. have employed a lot of number two drivers, but never have they had one who backed up the number one driver quite so well, and in such a short time. Whether Stewart is “running” before he has really learnt to “walk” only time will tell.

The problems that beset Graham Hill in the race were most unfortunate and could not be blamed on anybody, but must be put down to his own choice being unorthodox. On a dry circuit Graham Hill likes his car to ride firmly, not have too much roll, and to be capable of being provoked into a violent tail slide, or over-steer position at will. This is one reason why he was so fast round the Gasworks hairpin bend at Monte Carlo and why you will see him taking Paddock Bend at Brands Hatch, or Woodcote or Goodwood, in a full-lock slide. This condition is achieved by a combination of a number of variables, such as tyre pressures, shock-absorber settings, spring characteristics and anti-roll bar strengths, as well as such fine details as camber angles and toe-in on the wheels. All these things add up to “setting up the car for the circuit” and is the whole point of practice. That Graham Hill had arrived at the right combination of adjustments on Saturday was indicated by his lap time of 3 min. 45.4 sec., over 2 sec. faster than Clark and all the rest. The rain on Sunday made the circuit very slippery rather than soaking wet and in these conditions Hill’s B.R.M. was relatively uncontrollable and there was nothing he could do about it, apart from spending an hour experimenting with various adjustments. Any violent application of throttle would make the rear wheels slide outwards and he lost all confidence in the handling of the car, but it is to his great credit that he kept going, suffering the embarrassment of being overtaken by all his rivals one after the other!

In the Ferrari camp there was a certain air of coolness, for after the Monaco race, where Surtees ran out of petrol right at the end of the race, and lost a certain second place, an English newspaper published an article that was very derogatory to Ferrari, and the impression given was that Surtees wrote the article. At the time he was in Canada winning the Mosport race with his Lola-Chevrolet sports car and this article caused quite a stir in Milan and Modena, and caused some pretty cutting replies to appear in the Italian papers. On the face of it all one got the impression that Surtees had fallen out with the Ferrari team, and I am sure many of the people in the team believed this, but what they did not know was that Surtees did not write the article, it was written by an irresponsible journalist who added it to the article Surtees did write. The whole trouble stems from the popular press getting interested in motor racing. Each paper wants to boast that they have a well-known driver writing for them, and if they can get the reigning World Champion they are one-up on rival papers. This is achieved by paying money and successful drivers invariably fall for it, regardless of the possible pitfalls. If the driver in question is not very good at writing or is very busy, a staff journalist will write the article, ‘phone the driver and read it to him and, if he agrees, it appears under his name as if he had written it. This is all right up to a point, the point being when the driver cannot be contacted or there is a printing panic; then an irresponsible staff man might slip an extra paragraph in without getting anyone’s permission, and then the trouble starts. One ex-World Champion driver got caught by this some time ago, fortunately without serious consequences, but he was so incensed by the poor ethics of the whole affair that he virtually tore up the contract and stuffed it down the Editor’s throat. Being committed to engagements in Canada and England, Surtees could not get to Modena to refute the allegations made, so naturally the Ferrari team did not greet him with open arms when he met them at Spa.

There were some happy, smiling Japanese faces at Spa during practice, and the race for that matter, for Ginther had the Honda V12 going really well and, while not yet a winner, it was certainly competitive. It showed its possibilities very briefly at Monza last year and it was unfortunate that the team had to make its first appearance in 1965 at Monaco, for the whole effort there was pathetic, but at least they learnt some lessons. The showing at Spa was much more like everyone expected and 3 min. 49 sec. in practice by Ginther is not to be overlooked, for it means that one of the really top-class drivers might have got it on the front row of the grid. For Ginther to be in the second row, alongside Gurney and just behind Hill, Clark and Stewart was no mean effort, and in the race the important aspect was that it finished with no stops and no obvious troubles. After Monaco I suggested that Honda had a lot to learn; they still have a lot to learn, but are making progress, unlike the A.T.S. team, for example, that arrived in Grand Prix racing with a fan-fare of trumpets, knowing nothing when they came and possibly even less when they disappeared shortly afterwards.

There was a bit of a “storm in a teacup” over the question of qualifying and starting money for the private entrants, which basically amounted to the fact that the organisers considered they had a certain amount of money to distribute as starting money, and by the unofficial agreements made with the manufacturers this permitted sixteen people to be paid varying amounts the World Champion getting maximum and the struggling private owner at the end of the list getting minimum. Now twenty-two people wanted to take part, and the organisers would have liked twenty, so you would think it would be a simple matter to divide 20 into the total sum available, instead of 16, keeping the same proportions between a top driver and a bottom driver. This was not possible because of a rather dubious agreement drawn up by teams like Lotus, Brabham and B.R.M. whereby they demand a fixed price for their entries, irrespective of whether the organising club can afford it or not. Quite beside the point, this is part of the reason why all the small races have gone to Formula Two or Three and the Grand Prix cars no longer run on some of the more interesting circuits in Europe. This financial agreement is fine for those in the “ring,” and Honda have just been invited in, but it is very hard on people like Rob Walker and Tim Parnell, who run serious teams costing nearly as much as a factory team to operate.

I am not suggesting that some of the money should be skimmed off at the top of the list and spread down to the lesser lights, without some reservation, but there certainly ought to be a more even share-out of the money that is available. It would be a simple matter for the number one driver of each works team to estimate the minimum required lap time for qualification, for they are going to have to lap the slower drivers, and then anyone who gets below “bogey time” is in and the total available starting money is shared out among those who are fast enough, the others not being allowed to start. As it is at present, you may take the fastest four or six non-works cars, but this does not guarantee that the last one is going at a reasonable pace. Another point that a lot of people overlook is that the private owner has little hope of ever winning any prize money, whereas the top drivers have every chance, and also the top drivers are bound to get more money in the way of retaining fees from accessory companies and so on. I am not denying the fact that they earn this money, for it is hard to become a works driver and even harder to remain one, and once you’ve lost your job with a factory team you are not much use for anything else. The private teams have been getting a pretty rough deal all along and the affair at Spa was the final straw.

If there is ample money for everyone, and at some circuits and in some clubs the word ample means “excess,” then the more successful drivers and team may well skim the cream off, for their position at the top is not an easy one, but when there is a shortage and I feel there are going to be further shortages in the near future, then it seems reasonable to me to expect everyone to give a bit back. This may be naive and I know that motor racing is big-business, and big-business is ruthless, but it could strangle itself with its own greed if it doesn’t watch out.—D. S. J.