Reflections in the River

There was a time, not so long ago, when I could reflect on the Spanish GP while sitting in a bull-ring waiting for the action to begin. Before the Formula One Constructors’ Association organised the Grand Prix events to suit their own financial purposes, the timing of an event was left to the organising club, who usually fitted it in with some domestic happening. The Spanish organisers held their race fairly early in the day so that it was all over in good time for those interested to get to the Sunday afternoon bullfight. The ideal setting for my part was when the Spanish GP was on the Montjuich Park circuit in Barcelona; you could travel from the hotel to the foot of the circuit on the underground train, and when the race was over you could walk to the bull-ring. Having watched men “dicing with death” with 450 horsepower racing cars, I found it fascinating to then watch men “dicing with death” in a bull-ring with a ton of fighting bull, and in many ways similar human characteristics were required for success in both categories.

Today the Spanish GP is stuck at the Jarama Autodrome, out in the country some miles north of Madrid, and though it used to be possible to belt back into town after the race, to get to the bull-fight, leaving others to listen to the excuses from those drivers who didn’t win, now it is impossible. For commercial and money-making reasons, that few people will explain in detail, the race is held late in the afternoon so once the dust had settled all I could do was look down into the Jarama River and reflect on that remarkable chap Colin Chapman, who leads and inspires all the designers and workers at Team Lotus to produce cars like the Lotus 79. The Jarama River featured strongly in a crucial turning point in modern Spanish history, when a particularly bloody and fierce piece of fighting took place north of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War of 1936, and the river was said to have turned red from the blood of the fallen. Today it follows the same path through the countryside, on the opposite side of the Madrid-Burgos motorway to the Circuito Permanente del Jarama, and it is brown and muddy, like any other river. The Spanish GP goes back to an isolated event in 1913, won by a Rolls-Royce, and began as a serious Grand Prix event in 1924. It continued pretty regularly until 1936, when it suddenly stopped, to restart again in 1947. Most other Grand Prix histories run steadily from the early twenties up to 1939, when Germany and Great Britain put a stop to motor-racing by indulging in a war, and they start again in the late forties, when the dust of the world conflict had subsided. In the motor sporting world one tends to forget that Spanish motor-racing stopped three years earlier than most countries, by reason of the Civil War in which the dictator General Franco overthrew the Republic, who in their turn had deposed the monarchy a few years earlier. With Franco’s death the rule of Spain passed back to the monarchy, and the present King Don Juan Carlos de Borbon was the President of Honour of this years event, the 24th Gran Premio de Espana. His arrival in the Royal helicopter made an enormous cloud of dust and by all accounts nearly deprived Autosport readers of their scribe’s practice notes, but it was a nice touch that all the drivers took the trouble to get out of their cars, removed their gloves and helmets, and walked back to the Royal platform to pay their respects to the Royal patron. In most respects the organisation of the Spanish GP was very good, but someone goofed in the end of race organisation. The cars were flagged off into a parc-ferme for after-race scrutineering, way beyond the end of the pit-lane, while the Royal greetings and traditional presentation of cups and garlands to the first three to finish was arranged at the control tower at the beginning of the pit-lane. Colin Chapman was heading towards the Royal gathering to greet his drivers when he realised they were being shepherded into a compound nearly half a mile away. While he returned at the trot, the organisers and dignitaries were waiting hopefully. After a long time Chapman, with Andretti, followed by Peterson and Laffite fought their way through the crowds to arrive hot and dishevelled at the Royal presentation. The presentation was done in a Royal and dignified manner, befitting a Grand Prix, there was none of the unruly and ill- mannered spraying (and wasting!) of Moet et Chandon champagne by ill-bred morons. If the first three cars could have been stopped at the foot of the control tower at the end of the slowing down lap, the Gran Premio de Espana would have ended on a much nicer note.

During practice the Spanish scrutineers were quietly going around the pits checking on various legal requirements, such as heights of rear aerofoils, widths of front ones and so on. While practice was in progress they drew a ballot for three cars, which were swept off the track as soon as practice finished, and weighed just as they stood. This was only a spot-check as there was no knowledge of how much fuel was in the tanks, and the regulations specify a minimum weight of 575 kg. without fuel. At one spot-check the Ensign weighed 608 kg., Rebaque’s long- wheelbase Lotus 78 weighed 625 kg. and Reutemann’s Ferrari weighed 635 kg.

When a racing car crashes unexpectedly it is usually through mechanical failure, rather than driver error. If a crash is driver-inspired there are usually signs leading up to it, like the collision between Laffite and Reutemann on the last lap of the recent Belgian GP, or the inevitable collision between Andretti and Hunt at last year’s Dutch GP. Other crashes that have occasioned little surprise were Andretti in last year’s Japanese GP, or Villeneuve at Long Beach this year. The unexpected one to Reutemann in the Spanish GP caused everyone to ask “what happened?” Some eye-witnesses were convinced that the throttles stuck open, others said he was on the wrong line, but afterwards Reutemann’s team-mate went and looked at the scene of the crash and could only find three sets of tyre marks made by heavy braking. If the throttles had stuck open the driver would certainly have used all the braking possible, leaving tyre marks on the road, but there would have been four sets, not three, so the evidence pointed to something being amiss in the region of the left-rear wheel, whose tyre made no mark on the road. What had happened was that the shaft inside the hub-carrier, or upright, had sheered by one of the bearings, so two things happened; there was no drive from the differential to the left rear-wheel, nor was there any braking effect from the inboard-mounted rear brake. At racing speeds there is no possibility of stopping with only three tyres transmitting the braking effort, and equally, with one-wheel drive there is no possibility of spinning the car or even trying to get round the corner. Poor Reutemann was committed to a nasty accident through no fault of his own. Those who said he was “off-line” cannot have watched on that particular corner very intelligently, for it is one corner on the circuit where there must be six different approaches, depending on a number of things, like your speed out of the previous corner, your method of taking the particular left-hander concerned in the accident, where you want your car to be in readiness for the next tight righthander which follows almost immediately, and the handling characteristics of your car. Watching the top runners on that corner in practice shows a surprising variety of approaches.

When a driver has an accident like that he likes to know the true cause, and when people suggested a stuck throttle, Reutemann was adamant that it was not the cause, and he should know if anyone does. There is a myth that Ferraris do not break things, like some English racing cars, but this accident proves that Ferraris break like anything else. At Zolder Alan Jones had a practice accident in the Williams that observers said was caused by jammed throttles as he approached the chicane. He was quite certain that was not the cause and insisted that on first application the brake pedal had gone right down with no effect. A second jab at the pedal produced some braking effort but by then he was well past his braking point and going too fast into the left-hander of the ess-bend. With the brakes hard on he deliberately “straight-lined” the ess- bend, over the kerbs and ended up in the catch- fences on the far side. People who saw the accident were convinced it was caused by stuck throttles and not brake trouble, because they could see smoke coming from the front tyres. What they did not know was that Jones had made two jabs at the brake pedal and when the brakes did work it was too late. Of course, there are drivers who don’t drive anywhere near that limit, so they can have two goes at a brake pedal and still get round the corner.

This particular accident was eventually traced to tyre or engine vibrations causing “pad knockoff’, where the brake pads vibrate back into the caliper pistons so that the first pedal movement merely pumps enough fluid to move the pads out to the disc, and another movement is needed to press the pads onto the disc. This vibration phenomenon only happened round the series of right-hand bends at the top end of the Zolder circuit, where the brakes are not used. Then its flat-out down the straight and heavy braking for the chicane. Most brake calipers have small springs behind the pads to counteract this vibration, but the spare Williams car which Jones was trying out during untimed practice, had not been modified in this way. The point of recounting this incident is to show that whatever an accident may look like, the driver knows best, and Reutemann knew full well his throttles had not stuck open on the Ferrari, just as Jones knew they had not stuck on the Williams.

Until Ferrari joined Michelin the Goodyear company were not taking the French firm too seriously, for their initial appearance with Renault caused little concern. It was not until the Ferrari/Michelin combine won in Brazil that Goodyear woke up, and nearly fell over themselves in doing so. Until this time there was a more-or-less “standard” tyre for each circuit, which everyone used, but once the battle was on, all manner of special Goodyear tyres began to appear, but only for certain drivers and an air of discontent began to grow amongst the team. Goodyear could not produce a vast selection of tyres for everyone and recently issued an edict. They named seven drivers, all of whom were potential race-winners, and said that these would get the best and most suitable tyres possible. They also added another driver to the list, making eight chosen ones. Of the rest, who would only get a “standard” or “control” tyre, they said that the best two drivers at the end of the first day of practice would qualify for some “super” tyres for the final practice and the race. If one of the “also-rans” proved to be very much quicker than the rest on “control” tyres, then he would get immediate extra assistance. The seven- plus-one drivers were named as Lauda, Watson (Brabham), Depailler (Tyrrell), Andretti, Peterson (Lotus), Hunt (McLaren), Scheckter (Wolf) and Fittipaldi. The last named caused some eyebrows to be raised and started a certain amount of “ticking” in the paddock. Of the first seven being likely winners there is no doubt, but why add Fittipaldi. The answer is simple, Goodyear are in the tyre business, not the entertainment business as people like Stewart and Ecclestone would have us believe, and the tyre business is a very big commercial affair. Brazil is a very big customer for Goodyear tyres, Fittipaldi’s team is sponsored by the state-owned Copersucar firm ... Need I go on?

Among the likely-lads on standard rubber there are some good runners, like Tambay (McLaren), Pironi (Tyrrell), Jones (Williams), Brambilla (Surtees), Patrese (Arrows), and Laffitte (Ligier), so the first-day practice for this lot has become a race in itself. Tambay and Pironi have an unfair advantage because there is no way Goodyear can prevent them using their number one driver’s cast-off “super-sticky” qualifying tyres, although ethics would suggest this should not happen; but ethics went out of the door as Formula One racing took over from old- fashioned Grand Prix racing.

Firms who put money in motor-racing, supporting a driver or a team are in a chancy business as regards what they get for their money. Most of them will say they merely want exposure in the Formula One scene. Their advertising men will tell you that the many thousands who watch Formula One racing are a captive audience who can be brain-washed into buying Marlboro cigarettes, or John Player, Gitanes or chesterfield, depending on who you are listening to. Secretly they all want to be on the band-wagon of a winning team, but if they are on a losing team you will get the old PR “exposure” story. At the beginning of the season there was a lot of ballyhoo about Olympus Cameras putting £250,000 in the Hesketh team with Divina Galica as the driver. Anyone who knows anything about Formula One racing would not put money into the Hesketh team if winning was the objective, nor into Miss Galica if you wanted to beat Hunt, Andretti, Lauda, Peterson, Scheckter and quite a few more. So we all presumed that Olympus Cameras were merely well-meaning philanthropists with money to spare. Not so. They recently reviewed their situation and switched their large bag of gold from Hesketh to Lotus, and their support from the well-meaning Miss Galica to the hard-headed racers Andretti and Peterson. On a Lotus the size of the advertisement depends on how much money you pay. John Player & Sons pay an enormous sum of money to Team Lotus so the Lotus cars are called John Player Specials. Now Olympus Cameras have taken the advertising space along each side of the cars as well as a large area of the drivers’ flame-proof overalls. Spain was the first appearance of Olympus money in the Lotus pot of gold and Team Lotus came up trumps. First and second in the race. What Olympus Cameras get out of it is now up to them. Chapman has given them the opportunity.

Another Team Lotus sponsor is Valvoline Oil, who have bought the nose fins of the Lotus cars for advertising purposes. They follow up victory with advertising of their products, using pictures of “Mario and Ronnie”, but what a pity they show a Lotus 78 and not a Lotus 79, which is doing the winning. Another happy sponsor of the Lotus team is NGK, the Japanese sparking plug firm. There are people who think all Formula One cars run on Champion sparking plugs; true that at one time they did, like they all ran on Goodyear tyres, but not any more. Lotus victories are not so much a feather in the cap of NGK, but a thorn in the side of Champion. There is much more to Formula One racing than there appears on the surface.

One final word on the Spanish GP. The timekeepers gave everyone’s fastest lap during the race. Needless to say Andretti was quickest in 1 min. 20.06 sec., with Peterson next with 1 min. 20.40 sec., but Hunt was right in there with 1 min. 20.44 sec. The next best was Reutemann with 1 min. 20.78 sec. Slowest was Rebaque with 1 min. 23.46 sec., in the prototype Lotus 78, but not to the same specifications as when it was a works car. — D.S.J.