Swedish Grand Prix
There have been a number of unusual happenings on the Formula One front recently, all of which have caused unrest and much discussion. The Swedish Grand Prix was announced as being cancelled only one month before it was due (June 16th) and basically the reason was that the Swedish organisers had not deposited the £250,000 or whatever the current figure is that the Formula One Constructors demand. This is supposed to be in a bank one month before the race is due to take place, and as it was not there the ruling body of motor racing had no option but to invoke the rules and announce the event as being cancelled, accompanied, no doubt, by a hefty fine. A few days later certain Swedish people were claiming that a sponsor had been found to put up the money, but by then it was too late. A lot of Formula One people openly declared their satisfaction at the loss of the Swedish Grand Prix, for Sweden, Anderstorp and the circuit held little appeal for them. No doubt had the race been held near Stockholm and they could have paraded themselves in the foyer of the Hilton Hotel (assuming there is one in Stockholm) they would have been happy, but Anderstorp is out in the sticks and one of the nicer aspects of the meeting was the absence of glamour.
Nobody seemed prepared to help the Swedes or encourage them, and it was strange that back in the winter a communication from the Anderstorp Racing Club announced that they were going ahead with their race even though Sweden had lost its two Grand Prix drivers, Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson. The Club said that it was their duty to carry on and give every support to future Swedish Grand Prix stars, and they instanced Anders Olofsson and Eje Elgh. Now the current spate of Formula One rules and regulations do not encourage the introduction of newcomers into the closed shop, unless they have a way in through the back door of somebody in power, and there was little sign of encouragement for the Swedish organisers. Another strange thing was that the smooth-talking Max Mosley was explaining earlier in the year how he and his cronies were making bids to take over the financial running of Grand Prix races. They got the German GP last year, the Brazilian GP at the start of this season and then the Spanish GP, and they were negotiating for two more. The financiers behind the group were not particularly interested in the profit or loss of each race, but were more interested in the profit or loss over the whole series with which they were involved. All this was not simply an interest in money, though that was a big interest, but in the power that it provided and the steps it represented to a take-over of all Formula One racing for the Mosley/Ecclestone group. (All this sounds like big business and washing machines!) One would have expected this group to have attempted to gather the Swedish Grand Prix under its wing, to swell its numbers, but this didn’t happen and one wonders why. The suggestion is that there are already plans afoot to introduce another Grand Prix into the calendar in some place where there is plenty of loose cash, and this could only be done by getting rid of one of the existing races. Attempts were made some while ago to get rid of the Canadian Grand Prix and they nearly succeeded, but the Canadians fought back and produced the circuit on the island in Montreal, so now attention has been turned on Sweden.
Whatever the dealings are behind or alongside the Swedish Grand Prix the outcome was that it was not held this year and the Formula One teams had the whole of June without a Grand Prix. At least it meant that race preparation and development could progress unhindered, and judging by the first half of the season many of the teams needed the time to try and catch up.
After the Monaco Grand Prix Patrick Depailler went back to his home near Clermont-Ferrand in the mountains of the Massif Central in France and for relaxation he went hang-gliding, that fascinating but risky pastime of emulating the birds with a large kite-like affair. He wasn’t new to it, nor oblivous to the dangers, but the next thing we know was that he had fallen from a great height and broken his legs and done other serious damage and was in hospital. From all accounts he will be out of action for the rest of this season. Naturally the Ligier team-manager got a bit hot under the collar at losing one of his drivers, and emphasised that Depailler’s contract forbids him to partake in risky pursuits other than Formula One driving. There was little sympathy for the little Frenchman and many people could not understand how anyone so well up the championship table and in with such a successful, winning team could do something as stupid as having an accident hang-gliding. They thought that anyone in such a good position halfway through the season should have cosseted himself in cotton-wool when not racing. Such thoughts show little appreciation of what motivates a top-class racing driver. Most people these days are cosseted in cotton-wool and they are warm and comfortable and nothing on earth would get them out of their cocoon and into a Formula One car, let alone going racing in it. Because individuals like Patrick Depailler have the urge to go racing and to drive to the limits of reasonable safety and try and win races all the time, they see life itself as a challenge to their mental make-up. They are not going to sit down and read a book in front of the fire, they want to be up and doing, preferably making the fire for other people to sit in front of. When you are with these chaps you can sense their feeling of urgency and zest for living. I find it no surprise that a Grand Prix driver goes hang-gliding, bob-sleigh riding, power-boat racing, under-water fishing, flying or any other dodgy pursuit. When I see a Grand Prix driver going to a race with a tennis racket I shake my head sadly. That Depailler has done himself a mischief is sad, and in some ways unnecessary: it is certainly very silly and rather stupid, but it is entirely understandable.
Naturally the next question was who was going to take his place in the Ligier team, for racing drivers are like a crowd of ghouls. If they haven’t enough ability to be selected naturally for a top position, and few have, then they have to lurk around until one of the lucky ones runs out of luck. At the time of writing (mid-June) nobody seems to know who will take the second Ligier car, but by the time these words are being read (July 1st) we should know for the French Grand Prix will be in full swing.
After driving the Wolf WR8 in the time-trials for the Gunnar Nilsson Trophy at Donington Park, James Hunt then did some test-driving for the Wolf team at Silverstone and after finishing that he announced that he was retiring from racing there and then. So all those fortunate people who supported the Donington Park meeting saw James Hunt drive a racing car for the last time in public. A memorable occasion if you are a James Hunt fan.
All I want to say is that I am glad he reads Motor Sport and takes me seriously! In my South African Grand Prix report I mentioned that Hunt had spent a lot of time explaining to journalists how he intended to retire at the end of this season, because he had become frightened of hurting himself. I suggested that if he felt that way he should retire at once, before he did hurt himself. There was the added thought that if he was seriously worried about hurting himself he was not going to drive very hard and certainly not take any risks, which you have to do if you are going to win. So what he was saying, in effect, was that his performances this year were going to be pretty mediocre. He then changed his song and joined John Watson in a bleat about race-winning depending too much on the chassis designers, and that the driver did not count for enough, which was supposed to explain their dismal performances this season. Nice compliments to the teams for which they work and all the chaps doing the designing and building and preparation.
I would instance Scheckter, Villeneuve, Laffite, Depailler, Andretti, and Reutemann as examples of drivers who are getting on with 1979 like any other season, whose sole object is to drive hard and win. There is already too much psychological claptrap everywhere in life, without bringing it into motor racing. So James Hunt has gone from Grand Prix racing, but he has left behind quite a mark, for at times he was a lot of fun, he was often inspired, he delighted his followers and on his day he was a good lad, but his passing will not be mourned.
Quick off the mark, and maybe too quick, the Wolf team-manager signed up Keijo Rosberg, the wild man from Finland who has had a dabble in Formula One but did not make the grade on sheer merit. Now he has his big chance by sheer luck. – D.S.J.