The good old days?

Dear Reader,

A lot of people these days are complaining and moaning that Formula One racing is dull and boring, which it probably is if you watch it on a television screen, underground and with no sound effects. Suggestions are being made that advanced technology like carbon fibre brakes, electronic and computer-controlled gearchanging, computer-controlled engine management, ‘ground effect’ air tunnels, advanced aerodynamics and so on, should all be banned. If this sort of thinking is going to make racing more entertaining for those who, at present, don’t know what they are looking at, and certainly don’t know what they should be looking for, then why not go the whole hog?

We could return to the ‘good old days’ when racing cars looked like racing cars and racing drivers were iron men, not fresh-faced schoolboys. The trouble is we have become used to today’s projectiles going past at 200 mph, so that an old-type of racing car struggling to touch 135 mph would hardly set the adrenalin flowing, and acceleration would barely be visible. Watching today’s cars averaging over 90 mph around Monte Carlo brought to mind various classic sayings from racing drivers, such as “trying to ride a racehorse round your living room”, or “trying to fly your radio-controlled model aeroplane round your bedroom” or “qualifying is like playing Russian Roulette with a racing car in place of the gun”. I thought, perhaps the moaners are right, we ought to knobble these thoroughbreds and slow them down. I looked back in the history books to the ‘Heroic Age of the Titans’ in the mid-1930s and found that the drivers and cars of that period were hardpressed to lap at 60 mph! If those days were so wonderful why not bring them back as public entertainment in place of the hi-tech activity of today that few people seem to understand.

As most of the drivers of those days have long since passed on and those that are left are of a grand old age we could hardly expect them to perform as they did in their youth. Human beings wither and die, but old racing cars seem to last forever and only get worn out, whereupon another enthusiast sets about rebuilding it to “better than new condition”, making use of much modern knowledge and materials. It would present no problem to assemble a full field of pre-1939 racing cars, and we could put today’s Formula One stars in them, for a three-hour race. The problem would be to decide who would drive which car, so at the risk of starting a storm of correspondence here is my entry list…

Ayrton Senna – Alfa Romeo Tipo B monoposto supercharged 2.9-litre (it would respond perfectly to his delicate touch).

Gerhard Berger – Alfa Romeo Monza supercharged 2.3-litre (a car for the enthusiast).

Andrea de Cesaris – Maserati 8CM supercharged 2.9-litre (an uncomplicated car that would stand a lot of abuse).

Nigel Mansell – Bentley 4 ½-litre supercharged (it would give him plenty to moan about, and he would play-act Sir Henry Birkin).

Riccardo Patrese – OM supercharged 2-litre (a pure Italian car for a pure Italian driver).

Damon Hill – MG K3 Magnette (after all, Whitney Straight and Dick Seaman used them in their formative years).

Michele Alboreto – Maserati 4CL supercharged 16-valve (he would look so right in it).

Johnny Herbert – ERA 1 ½-litre B-type (what else!).

Gabriele Tarquini – Amilcar Six supercharged I 100cc (he would like something better, but…).

Karl Wendlinger – Maserati 8CM supercharged 2.9-litre (a works car for an up-and-coming lad).

Michael Schumacher – Auto Union 16-cylinder (stand back!).

Martin Brundle – ERA C-type (he’d justify it).

Pier-Luigi Martini – Bugatti Type 51 supercharged 2.3-litre (any car as long as he was in the race).

Gianni Morbidelli – Maserati 6CM supercharged 1 ½-litre (an honest little racing car).

Thierry Boutsen – Bugatti Type 59 supercharged 3.3-litre (shades of Jean-Pierre Wimille).

Erik Comas – Delahaye 3 ½-litre (a true Blue Frenchman).

Jean Alesi – Alfa Romeo 8C/35 supercharged 3.8-litre (pride of Italy).

Ivan Capelli – Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 (think of nothing better).

Bertrand Gachot – Amilcar Six supercharged 1100cc (he’d make a good one perform well).

Stefano Modena – Alfa Romeo Tipo 308C (unknown quantity).

Mauricio Gugelmin – Bugatti Type 51 supercharged 2.3-litre (a good old car to look at).

Roberto Moreno – Maserati 8CTF supercharged 3-litre (influential friends in South America).

Perry McCarthy – Alta 1 ½-litre supercharged (nonstarter).

Just how many of these famous old cars would last the 100 laps of Monte Carlo is problematical, while how many of the drivers would last is anybody’s guess, but in the mid-30s they did not know any different. A racing driver drove the Mille Miglia without relief and then did the Monaco Grand Prix, probably followed by the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne, the German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring, the Belgian Grand Prix at Francorchamps and the Coppa Acerbo on the 17-mile circuit at Pescara.

When they carne to Donington Park for ‘our’ Grand Prix they found it a bit small and ‘acrobatic’, but nonetheless they came and they raced, and they left behind an impression that lingers to this day; for some of us it was our first sight of real Grand Prix racing.

As I write about this return to the good old days I am preparing to go to Silverstone to watch some of the cars in my list actually racing, but driven by my friends in the Vintage Sports Car Club, not by the Gods of Grand Prix. It will provide a pleasant break from reality.

Yours, DSJ.

This month’s Memorable Moments come from John Fawell in Canada:

1. At the age of eight or nine he was taken to Brooklands by his father who warned him in advance that they would see cars racing by at 100 mph, when the family saloon was going some at 47 mph. Little did he think that many years later, after emigrating to Canada, he would be racing his sports car at over that speed in Canadian club racing.

2. Later, as a teenager, he went to Brooklands and got into the paddock at the time when the hi-tech all-independently sprung MG R-type appeared and John Cobb set the Outer Circuit lap record at 143 mph in the Napier-Railton.

3. In recent years, while racing his Austin-Healey 3000 both in Canada and the United States, he had many incidents memorable to him, but not really qualifying as Memorable Moments.