Grand Prix vignettes

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Team work: You may think that drivers win races, or you may think that cars win races, or even that engineers win the races, but in truth a race is won by the whole team. However, there is one combination that is a sure recipe for success, and that is the relationship between engineer and driver. It is not much good having a brilliant engineer and a mediocre driver, nor is it much good having a brilliant driver and a mediocre engineer. They both have to be of equal value, first-rate in their own sphere; even this does not ensure success, for they have to be able to work together, have complete faith in each other’s ability and must be on the same “wavelength”. It does not often happen that this combination gels, but when it does, and you are able to stand by and watch it in action, it is very satisfying. Over the years we have had many notable examples, the first really outstanding combination being Colin Chapman and Jimmy Clark, but equally Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac were a powerful pair. In recent years we had this same “rapport” between Alan Jones and Patrick Head with the Williams team, and today Gordon Murray and Nelson Piquet are a prime example. During a recent qualifying session I watched these last two working together. Piquet had made his first run on his marked qualifying tyres, and as the end of the qualifying hour approached he made ready to make his second run. His first time had put him in the running for pole position, so this second and final run was to be the ultimate effort. The special Brabham “sprint car” BT53/3, which is lighter than the others and uses carbon fibre brakes and has the maximum permissible turbo boost, was all ready to go. Piquet sat in the cockpit with Gordon Murray standing alongside. They were waiting for the right moment. Murray was surveying the scene, keeping an eye on who was out on the track and who was in the pits, and putting a stop watch on any likely contestant for pole position. Piquet sat quietly in the car looking up at Murray and there was little to see in the expressions of either of them, Murray calm and collected, Piquet alert and ready. Prost went out for his final fling in the McLaren-Porsche, Murray clicked his stop watch. Prost finished his run and Murray read the watch, glanced down at Piquet and gave a tiny shake of his head. Piquet knew that meant “you are still all right, Prost failed to improve”. When Murray was satisfied that conditions were right, he looked down at Piquet, nodded and stepped aside. All this time the chief mechanic on the T-car was at the back with the air-fine plugged into its socket, ready to start the engine. Piquet raised a finger, the starter whirred, the BMW engine burst into life and car number 1 eased out of the pit lane and went out onto the track.

First time past the pits Piquet was doing about 130 mph instead of the normal 190 mph, warming things up and surveying the scene. Next time he went by at 190 mph and “he was on his flyer” giving it all he had got. A slowing down lap and he was back into the pit lane. As he pulled up alongside Gordon Murray the tall South African shook his head, Piquet climbed out of the car and the two of them disappeared into the back of the pit, the little Brazilian’s shoulders giving a small shrug as he shook his head, which said it all. He had tried as hard as he knew how, but it was not good enough and he knew that Gordon Murray and his mechanics had given him everything they could. No words were spoken, no words were necessary, the whole team knew that it wasn’t their day for pole position, third place was the best they could do, yet it was only hundredths of a second behind pole position time.

There were no explanations, no excuses, no recriminations, just total confidence in each other. Nothing was questionable, they had tried all they knew but it was not good enough, by their standards. There were 24 other competitors who would have loved to have achieved the Brabham time. Although this little scenario only concerned the designer and the driver, it was a reflection on the whole team, not that they had failed to get pole position, but that they had made their attempt with so little fuss.

Murray will tell you that what he likes about Piquet is his ability to give 100%, effort at any time. Piquet will tell you the he enjoys driving like that because the Brabham is a good car and he had complete faith in Gordon’s ability as a designer and engineer. When you see the Brabhan mechanics working their back-sides off on Piquet’s car, they will tell you they love doing it because they know that when it is ready he will use everything it can give.

To see an attempt at pole position done like that, with total confidence and calm is truly refreshing. In other pits such a failure is often accompanied by excuses, complaints, recriminations and general dissatisfaction. Of course, Piquet was dissatisfied, Murray was dissatisfied, the whole team was dissatisfied for they had failed to gain pole position. But there was big difference. You knew that they were all thinking, “Hmm, tomorrow”. —D.S.J.