Francorchamps Monologue

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The Belgian Grand Prix

“Stand back, they are all going off on a warm-up lap. Bonnier is very late starting; something wrong with a rear-wheel fixing; did his mechanic strip the studs?”

“Here they all come, lining up on the ‘dummy-grid’ now. They will have to wait for Bonnier; after all, he is the G.P.D.A. President, they could hardly start the race without him.”

“There’s the 1-min. board; what a magnificent noise all those engines make; no wonder I’m going deaf, after twenty years of Grand Prix racing.”

“They are all rolling down the hill nicely, must be tricky on this downhill start to keep everything on the boil with only two feet to operate clutch, brake and accelerator. I suppose they are all doing a heel-and-toe act on the brake and accelerator. Hardly worth fitting a hand-brake just for this one start. This ‘dummy-grid’ business has stopped all those games of putting bits of rag or rubber under a front wheel to hold the car on the line. Starts used to be much more fun, with all the rubber chocks flying up in the air, to say nothing of the days when portable electric starters were used, or push-starting was the thing. It’s all a bit clinical now.”

“Here we go; stop creeping Ickx, even if this is Belgium; wow! the revs the Ferraris are using, and how fascinating to see the throttle slides jiggling in and out like that. A strange starting grid with Hill in row six and Brabham in row seven. What is the betting they are in the second row when the flag falls! Remember that start at Zandvoort when there were three cars on the front row and as the flag went up there were four! If you are not in the front row you can always jump the start.”

“Five seconds, the revs are fantastic. Oh! Stewart’s goofed. The two Ferraris are away. Was that Brabham going down the pit lane. That was a good clean start, apart from Stewart’s hesitation, got his feet out of phase on the pedals by the look of it, and McLaren really did miss his change into second gear this time, and right in front of his own pit. To see those two red Ferraris going up the hill in first and second place is quite like old times. That was the Honda in third place. Talk about red rags to a Honda. This should make Surtees cast off a lot of worries and inhibitions and show us the great racing driver that he really is. He will not settle for following two Ferraris for long. Bonnier was going slowly, wasn’t he; wonder if he will make it back to the pits to collect his starting money?”

“How quiet it is now they have all gone over the brow of the Burnenville. This really is beautiful countryside, and this must be the finest Grand Prix circuit in the World. It is certainly the best in Europe from my experience. Just driving fast round it is satisfying; to race as well must be terrific, especially in these cool, dry conditions. If it rains, that’s another matter. Trouble with the Ardennes is the unsettled weather, yet the motorcycle Grand Prix in July has not had a wet race since 1947, I’m told. That’s hard to believe. It must be wonderful to be leading that pack round the long Stavelot bend, knowing you have a completely clear run ahead of you up the long incline to La Source, and through those super-fast corners, 170 m.p.h., 175, 180 m.p.h., who knows. Revs, tyres, gear ratios, are all very well, but only an accurate beam would ever record the truth. It must be very fast in places, with a lap speed of 150 m.p.h., for that includes the bottom-gear hairpin at La Source and they are not going over 130-140 m.p.h. while we have them in sight from the pits.”

“Here they come. They are really motoring by the sound of things; no on-off, on-off accelerator stuff here, it’s foot right down, and keep it down, and then really stand on the brakes for the hairpin. Amon is leading, the Honda is second, then Ickx, then Hulme, Stewart, Rodriguez . . . Rindt using the pit lane . . . McLaren a long way back . . . poor Oliver, his first lap in the dry . . . Beltoise is not out to break any records. That was 17 cars, Bonnier hasn’t arrived. This is Grand Prix racing, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Imagine taking that long, downhill sweep of the Burnenville, the car all twitchy and all four tyres sliding, they must be at 136 m.p.h. past the little café. Wish I was there, but I can’t be everywhere. There’s only one place from which you can really see a motor race, that’s alongside the driver. Pity we can’t have two-seater Grand Prix cars. The Alan Mann Ford Prototype is a two-seater Grand Prix car; the F.I.A. wouldn’t allow it, and the R.A.C. would give birth to a regulation at the thought of it. But it would be the best way to report on a motor race. Imagine being in the Honda with Surtees, he must be doing over 180 m.p.h. down Masta, and I bet he’s only inches away from those four exhaust pipes sticking out of the back of the Ferrari, and the other Ferrari is large in his mirrors. No wonder everyone wants to be a racing driver.”

“We seem to have lost Bonnier completely. Wonder if those stripped wheel studs have broken completely. Oh ho! The Honda has nipped by Amon. How about that? Surtees really leading a Grand Prix in the opening phase, that’s more like it. Pity he’s only got Amon and Ickx to race against. He should have Gurney, Hill, Brabham and Stewart all round him. That would really make a Grand Prix, and I suppose poor Clark would have been out in front of all of them. Hill is not really getting into his stride, he ought to be past McLaren by now, and Redman is holding off Brabham. I suppose ‘Black Jack’ cannot see any prize money in view, so he’s not going to strain himself. There’s Rindt coming into the pits; the Repco `4-cammer’ still needs a lot of development. Rindt is not exactly being the Ace of Aces that he thinks he is. That flying lap was at 240 k.p.h., that’s 150 m.p.h. average as near as makes no odds. Surtees has it officially, but Amon and Ickx are only inches away so they must be lapping at the same speed. Bonnier has arrived at last, to retire at the pits. Amon was still leading Surtees as they passed him up the straight towards Carrieres. That means Surtees must have taken the lead around Blauchimont.”

“Here they come again, Surtees still leading; Amon is making it very obvious that he’d like to get by, but he’ll never do it. Nobody goes past Surtees when ‘Big John’ is really having a go, not even Brabham. The race is taking shape now. Surtees, Amon, Ickx, with little between them. Hulme and Stewart, not much difference between those two Cosworth-powered cars, but they are leaving the youngsters behind. Rodriguez, Siffert, Courage. They are having fun.”

“Four laps gone and Amon is alongside, but that’s not the same as getting past. Ooh! Horrid noise from Ickx’s engine. Wonder what’s happened? He’s pressing on regardlessly. He must know something has gone wrong. Not his engine, so why worry. But he’s lost Amon’s slipstream up the hill.”

“I was afraid Ickx would be missing, that makes Hulme third. No it’s Stewart, he’s got past the McLaren on that lap. There’s Ickx, fifth now and still going. Sounds a bit like a split exhaust pipe, or a plug cutting out; he’s not going all that slowly, so it cannot be too serious. About time McLaren joined in with that trio in front of him. That’s quite a scrap for sixth place, and Siffert’s in front of them. There must be some keen nipping-and-tucking going on along the straights, in and out of the slipstream and leap-frogging. Hill seems to be slowing, something going wrong? That’s the end of Rindt’s 4-cam Repco engine. Wonder if he’s ever seen the mess that a loose valve seat makes inside an engine, when the bits fall into the cylinder at 9,000 r.p.m.?”

“Keep at it Amon, you won’t get by Surtees, and you won’t make him make a mistake, but your Ferrari is probably stronger than his Honda. That’s no surprise, to hear that Hill has stopped out on the circuit, something was obviously wrong with his Lotus. Hello! Redman is on his own. Attwood in the pits, and Brabham, and only six laps gone. After all that work the Brabham mechanics did last night, must be heart-breaking. Brabham’s throttle slides are sticking, and the engine-driven fuel pump is playing up, That’s ‘crook’ in Australian language. Hmm! Hulme back in front of Stewart. Said on Friday I thought Hulme might win this one. This is no dull procession. Amon is still alongside the Honda. Oh dear, the ambulance going off, wonder who has pranged. Redman, Oliver and Bianchi have yet to appear on this lap. The loudspeakers say it is Redman. Hope it’s not serious. Nice lad Redman. Been having a good season, too. Unlike him to crash. Wonder if something broke? Virage Combes, that’s the sharp left-hander at the top of the hill, about 110 m.p.h. probably. Slow for a Spa corner.”

“Lap eight now. Where’s the Ferrari, the Honda is on its own. Amon’s coming into the pits. This will make Hulme and Stewart second and third. The slowing Ferrari has put Hulme off line a bit. Oh crafty Stewart; took advantage of that to run round the outside of Hulme, and he’s still leading him up the hill. That will make Hulme a bit niggly. Looks like oil coming out of the Ferrari nose. Poor Amon, last year Brabham threw stones at him at Silverstone and Nurburgring, now Surtees has done it, right through the oil radiator, and there is a wire mesh guard in front of it, too. I wonder sometimes whether drivers like Surtees and Brabham carry a pocket-full of stones, just in case! Some nasty wet-looking clouds approaching, hope the drivers don’t look up, they are jittery enough as it is with the high speeds. Go away clouds, rain doesn’t help anyone, except that Surtees did practise in the wet yesterday and Stewart and Hulme were two that refused to go out on the wet track. Practising in the rain just in case it rains on race day must surely be the hallmark of the true professional.”

“Here is Surtees again, 10 laps gone. That was odd, the Honda seemed to swoop across the track as it left the hairpin; in fact it looked as if he was heading for the pits and then changed his mind. Something going wrong? Hulme leading Stewart again, but they are close enough for a dead-heat. That battling trio are still at it, young Courage is really having a go, and his B.R.M. is not supposed to be a works one. Now that they have caught lckx I wonder if they realise his Ferrari is only running on eleven cylinders? I suppose you are only conscious of the sound of your own engine. Pity Siffert has had to drop back, wonder what has gone wrong this time? Clutch slip again probably, it started to slip in practice. Rob Walker does have trouble with his cars. So there was something wrong with the Honda, au ralentir the loudspeaker says. That information was correct, Hulme is now first. Doubt whether he and Stewart will really race and get nasty; too docile and friendly these chaps and, anyway, Stewart said after practice he could not take any chances with his right forearm in that plastic corset device. Mind you, he’s not doing badly with one good arm. I bet Surtees feels sick, he’d got it in the bag, and it was good to see the real Surtees again. If the rear of the chassis is broken, as they say, it would account for that strange swoop across the road that it did last lap.”

“Stewart leading! Surprising that Hulme let him get by, he must have forgotten all the old Brabham elbows-out training. Matra have now led all four Championship races this season, Cosworth-powered admittedly. Wonder if they can keep it up. This would be a good one for them to win. Ickx is being very determined, staying with McLaren, Rodriguez and Courage. Oh! it’s now Rodriguez, McLaren, Courage. Some keen slipstreaming going on with that little lot. Sucking the sick Ferrari along with them. Bianchi must have wondered what hit him when that bunch lapped him. They really are motor racing, and it’s getting serious now, one of them will be third. PUMP OIL is written on Tyler Alexander’s signal-board, and it’s for Hulme. That will be the Bendix pump that returns the oil from the catch-tank to the main tank. I thought it was switched on all the time. Those Cosworth engines aren’t right, they shouldn’t breathe that much oil. Bet that surprised Alexander, Hulme leading again, surprised me. Siffert’s having a lonely drive now. The V12 Matra still sounds good, but Beltoise can’t be trying; probably thinks it’s not worth scratching and catching a Copper-B.R.M., might as well cruise round and keep it in one piece.”

“Sixteen laps coming up. Over halfway now. Missed the actual halfway point. Twenty-eight laps divided by two, that’s 14, and Stewart was leading at that point. Oh! Hulme, you’ve overcooked it. Straight on at the hairpin, bet Stewart’s beady little eyes twinkled as he dived past on the inside. He won’t wait for you, however nice he may be. The blue car back in the lead. Can’t really bring myself to call it a French car. The V12 is different, that’s nearly all French. The driver certainly is. McLaren leading his bunch again, that’s the orange cars second and third. Where’s Hulme? I spoke too soon. He’s missing. McLaren and his bunch are now racing for second place. This is getting serious, and Ickx is still with them. Here’s Hulme. Oh no! A drive-shaft again. They’ll soon whip another one on, but he’s out of the running. They must be getting very skilled at replacing those drive-shafts. Stewart can coast home and win now. Matra cars first and last, that must mean something. Here’s Beltoise coming in. The French chaps said he’d have to refuel, it’s only doing about 4 m.p.g. He really is last now. Hulme should be back in by now. That’s odd, they’ve stopped working on the McLaren. The flange fixing bolts have seized in with heat. Oh well, he could not have caught anyone. On the other hand the history of the Belgian G.P. shows that you should never give up hope. There’s something about this circuit, the strangest things happen. That Rodriguez is a tough little customer, that makes him second now. Such a gentle nature when he’s not in a racing car, with that timid little squeaky voice. He and his young brother used to stir things up at Le Mans. Has Courage made a mistake somewhere or is he in trouble? That’s a lot of distance he lost on that lap. Ickx is hanging on splendidly.”

“Twenty-two laps gone. Stewart has got it in the bag with 38 sec. lead. Good Old McLaren, back in second place. Courage is missing, he was in trouble. That makes Ickx fourth, and a lot of drivers would have given up when that engine went off song. Courage coming in. Been having a jolly good go. Wonder why he’s sitting forward like that? Looks a bit sweaty. Been working hard. Not seen him driving like that before. Twenty-five laps gone. Stewart’s dropped 10 sec. He’s all right. I expect he’s looking across the fields at Stavelot to keep an eye on them, and McLaren’s orange car must be easy to pick out. With the keen eyesight these chaps have got he can probably see the McLaren at the hairpin in the mirror from the top of Eau Rouge.”

“The Ferrari has lost the slipstream, sounds much worse, probably burnt a valve or piston out by now, but it’s still going. Hope it lasts, he deserves to finish. Only two more laps. Now Siffert has disappeared. Stopped at Stavelot. Interesting how there is always someone to transmit news along the pits. Hill broke a drive-shaft. Surprising that after they stood up to Monte Carlo. Redman has a badly broken arm and slight burns. Coopers are having a bad time. Poor Scarfiotti killed at Rossfeld hill-climb, and now Redman out of action. So that was why Courage was sitting forward like that, the seat had lacerated his back. And the engine was cooked, a great pity; lost the water through a punctured radiator, I suppose. After this time round, one more lap for Stewart. Matra will be so pleased with their victory, it’s been on the cards since South Africa. On Dunlop tyres, too. Long time since Dunlop have won a Grand Prix, and at one time they had a monopoly. Always felt they got over-confident and complacent in those days! Too easy to do. We’ll hear Stewart coming out of Blanchimont soon and through Virage Seaman. Wonder how many people pause to pay respects to that small stone by the Clubhouse that marks where Dick Seaman crashed. Was it 1938 or 1939? Remember actually weeping when I heard he was dead. Have got hardened to racing drivers being killed nowadays. Perhaps I haven’t. Wept genuine tears at Brands Hatch when I heard Clark was dead. Only two months ago. Seems like a different age altogether.”

“Here comes Stewart, one more lap to go. Good grief! He’s in trouble. Coasting down into the pits. Oh my goodness, what a panic. There go McLaren and Rodriguez, racing to win now. Like Monza last year. They are putting petrol in the Matra. It won’t restart. Another battery. The starter motor must be cooked. And here’s Oliver, the Lotus is out of fuel. This is ridiculous, they’ve all miscalculated. Oh Tyrrell, you’ve thrown the race away. That really is too bad. It’s restarted. He’ll finish but in fourth place. Oliver is away again, but that was a lot of smoke from the outer universal joint on the right-hand drive-shaft. It can’t possibly last another lap. The Lotus lads couldn’t have seen it. He’s gone now, we can only wait. Here’s a jubilant McLaren, the lucky devil, to win like that. It’s justice really, for Hulme should have won. Those new heavy-duty shafts on McLaren’s own car are obviously strong enough. That’s amazing, Ickx third on eleven cylinders. Bianchi in the results again. At least the Matra-Matra finished still sounding good. Stewart has made it, but fourth after all that. Oliver is overdue. That shaft must have broken. What a sea of humanity. The whole track has become a shambles. Wait for it all to subside. There’s McLaren. Good for him to win, and with his own car; must feel marvellous. Well done, congratulations. You really didn’t know you had won? Not until Phil Kerr greeted you in the paddock. But you waved your arm in jubilation as you crossed the line. Pleased to finish second! It was some race. Always is at Spa. The car felt great on full tanks, not so good on empty tanks, bit scary at times; the narrow rear track worked out all right. Looked very narrow compared with the B.R.M. It’s true, Stewart ran out of petrol on the last lap. Don’t laugh, McLaren, that’s not nice. I know you are very happy, so are Goodyear, Shell, Champion, Ferodo and all the others. Wonder why Hulme isn’t smiling? You’d think he’d he pleased that his guv’nor has won. Eddy Mayer and all the lads are happy enough. Makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it? And the Belgian G.P. is a real Grand Prix. No Mickey Mouse stuff this, 236.797 k.p.h. average for one hour and forty minutes; 147-m.p.h. average in round figures. That’s motoring. Drink to the health of Goodyear? Yes, I’ll do that, they do win the big ones, don’t they? Here’s to Grand Prix racing; you can’t beat it.”—D. S. J.

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