Matters of moment, July 1971

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The changed face of Formula One
On the face of it, there may seem no cause for alarm. Grand Prix (or Formula One, as it is called these days) racing occupies about as many fixtures as it has done for some years, attracts full fields, and draws the crowds. However, taking things merely at face value can cause disastrously false valuations.

The fact must sooner or later be faced that F1 cars are now slower, no more technically meritorious, and race for far shorter periods at a time than sports cars, and that their drivers have the audacity to refuse to race on certain classic circuits. Circuits which the sports car drivers, such as Rodriguez (inset) take in their stride, cum-rain-cum-shine, for 1,000 kilometres per race. Pit-work adds to the interest of sports car racing and the competing cars consist of makes which are to be seen in the car parks. This applies to F1 only in respect of Lotus, Ferrari and Matra-Simca, and only obliquely to the last-named now that Matra, less optimistic than Jaguar, appear to have dropped their sports V12. By shunning certain circuits the GP circus has been accused of being cowardly. Perhaps foolhardy is more appropriate, because anyone who is prepared to drive a mobile petrol tank which has no more resistence in a collision with the endless Armco than a light aeroplane has in flying into a mountain is obviously brave. It seems to be just that modern GP drivers see some difference between hitting a steel barrier and clouting, say, a house, between spinning into the Armco or into a ditch at the ‘Ring’, which to ordinary mortals and sports car drivers is inexplicable.

Thus on many counts F1 has become secondary to long-distance sports car racing. If the GP circus doesn’t take heed it may find the premier perks, the top sponsorship, slipping from its avid but choosy grasp. Do we wish this to happen? We do not. Grand Prix racing should be motor racing at the highest level, of engineering endeavour, speed, and driver skill. History shows that this has been true until very recent times. There have been periods of low ebb, from 1909 until 1912 for instance, when the classic French GP was in abeyance, when entries ebbed from time to time, and when it became a sports car race in 1936 and 1937. Always, it quickly recovered.

The GP has seen Nation fight against Nation and manufacturer against manufacturer, so that drivers did their best for their country or their team, not solely to promote themselves. This was true from 1906 to about 1962. In those years top formula racing brought prestige and increased business to Renault, Fiat, Mercedes, Peugeot, Duesenberg, Sunbeam, Alfa Romeo, Delage, Bugatti, Maserati, Auto-Union, Ferrari and Porsche. Then it became the preserve of the little firms, only a few of which sold road-going cars. One aspect of the magic, of spectator interest, had gone. Now GP racing is largely a matter of each driver for himself and Gold Leaf, Brooke Bond Oxo, Yardleys, etc. reaping the rewards.

This hasn’t happened to sports car racing, which is longer, faster and more fearless; what the old Gentlemen of Paris are doing about it is discussed on page 677. If the GP circus isn’t to go the way of most of the old animal circuses a solution must quickly be found. Banning aerofoils, wide tyres, reclining driving positions, etc. to please the onlookers should not be considered, because technical restraint has no place in top-formula racing. Perhaps longer GPs are needed, with a return to refuelling, tyre changes and driver swops—remembering that in 1912 the Grand Prix was for 956 miles and that the pre-war GP Mercedes-Benz had to be capable of racing for more than 300 miles? Perhaps larger engines, 7-litres, 10-litres, unlimited, of all types, turbine, Wankel, steam, should be permitted?

A change should certainly be sought, for otherwise, with a Porsche 917, Ferrari 512M or Alfa Romeo T33/3 as enthralling and worthy, or more so, than the F1 machinery, top grade racing may soon take a bad tumble. Let us return to a parallel with the time when, however creditable, a Le Mans 3-litre Bentley ranked below a 1 1/2-litre straight-eight GP Delage, when a sports Talbot or Delahaye was secondary to a W125 Mercedes-Benz….

Having written the above, we wish you a good day at the Woolmark British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 17th—and hope those wooly overcoats will not be needed.

A “Competitors”‘ comments
Last month we published British Leyland announcements relating to the big initial response for Morris Marinas, in which it was stated that the majority of those sales were at the expense of competitors’ products. An indirect reply to this comes from William Batty, Ford of Britain’s Managing Director, who at a luncheon in Sheffield to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Ford Dealer, admitted that fleet sales were becoming something of a battleground in the British Motor Industry. Mr Batty continued:

“Most of them are made to the Transport Managers of the big commercial firms and those Transport Managers are the real Professional car buyers. They are men much too canny to be swayed by gloss or gimmicks. They make their judgements on the cold facts of value, running costs and reliability. We at Ford are rather pleased that we have a far larger share of their custom than any other manufacturer.” Over the past few years, said Mr. Batty, Ford sales to fleets had increased steadily year by year, at a time when the market as a whole was pretty stagnant.

“Other manufacturers have been waking up to the importance of this sector of the business and have been trying to emulate the attention we have been giving it over these many years,” he said. “But Ford have consistently been the leaders in the service provided to fleets and have by far the widest range suitable to fleet business.”