Reflections in the Harbour

IT WAS not too difficult to reflect in the Monte Carlo Harbour as these days the yachts are all fairly small and there is quite a lot of space. Gone are the days of veritable ocean-going linen filling the harbour and today the only exciting craft are a few Italian-owned powerboats, as sleek and purposeful as a Ferrari Boxer. To watch some of these burble slowly out of the harbour and then get on to full power when they reach the open Mediterranean is rather like watching a Boxer thread its way through the outskirts of Modena to the Autostrada and then unleash its power on the motor road. The only difference being that the boat gets up on to its step and cruises at 60 to 70 m.p.h. all the way to San Remo or Genoa while the Boxer has to brake heavily from 130 m.p.h. for the Fiat Strada that moves out to pass a big lorry. Watching some of the power-boats until they were a dot on the horizon followed by a long white wake almost made me envious, except that I still love racing cars and things like Ferrari Boxers and Porsche turbos.

Thinking about the Monaco GP, the 40th to be run since 1929, I was most impressed by the fact that all 20 of the Formula 1 lads got round the opening lap without an accident, especially getting through the Ste. Devote chicane immediately after the start. After watching the old Grand Prix cars and those in the Alfa Romeo parade gathering speed up the hill to the Casino Square the sight of a Formula 1 car rocketing up the hill was shattering, and I fail to see how people can be unimpressed. It makes me step back a pace and whistle through my teeth. Naturally you get used to it, but the opening laps of a Grand Prix always leave me breathless. Even the lowly “rabbit” at the back of the field has got his foot hard down on the accelerator pedal, unleashing 500 horsepower. Thanks to the good work of the PR people of ELF and their hospitality unit, we had a video film of the television coverage available tons after the race, which we could run through and stop and study at our leisure. A study of the way that Arnoux threw the race away indicated that his proprioception is very poor, for as he spun down the centre of the road the car reached a point where he could have twirled the steering wheel on to the other lock from that which he had provoked the car into a tighter and quicker spin and caught it when it was pointing the right way and driven on, just as Stirling Moss, Jim Clark or Gilles Villeneuve would have done. As it was Arnoux held full left lock for too long, way beyond the point of no return and waited for the car to stop, by which time he bad stalled the engine. If you have not been borne with an acute sense of position in space (proprioception) there is nothing you can do about it; it is just one of the many natural faculties that “superman” has that you and I as ordinary mortals lack. Alain Prost’s accident was something entirely different and the more we played the video through the more convinced we were that his was none of his own doing. The Renault turned sharp right too suddenly and too violently for it to be the result of an oversteer slide due to cornering too fast and the speed with which he applied left steering-lock suggested that he was not expecting such a manoeuvre. This indicated that something must have broken, but when the wreckage was inspected after the race there were no signs of a mechanical breakage, apart from impact damage. The only untoward thing they found was damage to the left rear wheel rim, caused by his brush with the guard-rail at Ste. Devote when he had to force de Angelis and his Lotus out of the way. This would indicate that the accident may have been due to the left-rear tyre losing pressure, and at the 12 to 15 psi. they normally run at, it does not need much pressure loss to have far-reaching consequencies.

After the race there was a suggestion that someone might protest that Patrese had been push-started after his spin at the Loews hairpin (which was the old Station Hairpin), in which case it would have been embarrassing if it had been upheld. Patrese was the only driver to complete 76 laps and the regulations stated that the race would be run over a distance of 76 laps. If Patrese was disqualified them would have been no official winner for Mansell, de Angelis and those who had stopped had only covered 75 laps. The race would have had to have been declared null and void, or run all over again! If Patrese had been unable to bump-start his engine on the hill down to the sea front and Mansell and de Angelis had kept their cars “on the island” for another lap they would have been first and second. Truly a race is never won until it is finished.

One thing that is puzzling observers this year is the fact that young Andrea de Cesaris, the Italian lad with the funny eyes and the facial “tick” who had so many accidents with the McLaren team last year that he had his mechanics breaking down in tears, has been avoiding accidents this year with the Alfa Romeo team. In addition he has been going very fast with the new Alfa Romeo Tipo 182 and causing his team-mate Giacomelli some anguish. You could be forgiven for thinking the McLaren was a trickier car to drive than the Alfa Romeo, or a car more susceptible to having accidents except that John Watson showed all the time that it was a very good car. Probably the truth of the matter lies in a psychological answer, for de Cesaris is barely out of school and last year he was very unhappy living in England and trying to understand the polyglot mentality of the McLaren team, apart from the language difficulty. This year he is living back in his Italian home-land, working and driving amongst a team of Italians and feeling mentally a lot happier all round. At Long Beach there was a moving, and very Italian, little scene in practice when he stopped after claiming pole-position with an all-out effort. He was wound up emotionally to the point of tears and his mechanics were overcome with joy to the point of tears, so that when he got out of the car and took his helmet off they all clasped each other not sure whether to laugh or cry and in the emotion of the moment the tears can down everyone’s cheeks. Andrea de Cesaris was a very happy young lad at that moment.

Somehow you cannot get away from Italy and racing cars, like England and chips, or America and hamburgers. The parade of old Alfa Romeo racing cars was nice, and for me the sound of a Tipo 159 “Alfetta” is still one of the most glorious sounds in Grand Prix racing. Even after shiny years the exhaust note from that supercharged straight-eight 1,500 c.c. engine makes the back of my neck tickle. The V16 BRM, the big Ferraris the Maseratis and so on are all right, but that 159 Alfa Romeo is glorious, like the sound of an ERA to an English racing car enthusiast or a Type 51 to a Bugatti enthusiast. In the old car race, among some spurious historic Grand Prix cars, were some real delights, notably the factory owned D50 Lancia V8 in 1954/55 form with pontoon side tanks and the engine stressed to form the top rail of the space-frame chassis. Unfortunately it was running rather badly and the brakes were hopeless so that Paul Frère could not do justice to it, but it was interesting that the Lancia factor made an official entry in the “2nd Grand Prix Historique”. With David Owen entering Victo Norman’s P25 BRM on behalf of Rubery Owen how long will it be before Daimler-Benz enter Stirling Moss with a W196 and GKN enter Tony Brooks with a Vanwall? Historic racing might then mean something.

An interesting newcomer to the scene was the single-seater Porsche Special that Jean Behra constructed in Modena in 1959 with the help of Valerio Colotti, using the mechanical component from an RSK Sports Porsche. It has been rebuilt for Murray Smith, but as Jean Sage of Renault said when he saw it “Tiens Jean’s old F2 Porsche but why silver with a Union Jack on it? It should be blue”. The historic race was very entertaining and Bruce Halford drove his Lotus 16 very neatly to win from the hard-driving Patrick Lindsay in his ERA “Remus” with over-size engine. Willie Green was third in Nick Mason’s resurrected 250F Maserati, while Martin Morris was fourth with his ERA on five cylinders due to a plug-lead being off. Then came Roddy Macpherson as impressive as ever in his Cooper-Bristol and Alan Cottam in his Connaught A-type making you realise how far ahead Connaught were on chassis design in 1953. One observer enquired why Amschel Rothschild’s 250F Maserati (2507) sounded so different from the other 250F Maseratis, to which the answer came “because it is totally original and unmodified”.

The reason Pironi’s Ferrari 126C2 died in the tunnel on the last lap was very interesting and could be traced back to the start of thence. The Ferrari is a rare Formula 1 car in that it still use an electric starter motor rather than compresssed air motor. When the Ferrari mechanics started the car for Peroni to drive round to the assembly grid the driving pinion did not free and the battery was running the starter motor all the time. On the assembly grid they hastily fitted another battery and sent him off into the race. Unfortunately in the panic the battery they fitted was not a fully charged one and the alternator on the engine was unable to balance the discharge due to the number of slow corners which kept the r.p.m. down. As the race went on the battery was getting flatter and flatter, whereas on a high-speed circuit the alternator could have more than balanced the drain put on the battery by the fuel pump, the ignition and the Marelli electronic fuel injection. In the last few laps alternator just balanced the discharge on the fast parts of the course and everything worked well, but down through the slow twists of Mirabeau and Loews the revs were too low, as they were at Rascasse, and when the engine died at the entrance to the tunnel Pironi was puzzled because he had enough fuel pressure but what he didn’t realise was that there were no amps left for the injection system. His retirement can be traced to the trouble when he first left the pit lane before the start. — D.S.J.