t is easy to see how F1 changed between the ’50s and ’70s. The route from Connaught to Brabham via BRM is not just simple to figure, it’s right before your eyes. You start with a high, bluff fronted car and it is not until you move the engine behind the driver that you have the ground-hugging, dart-like profile, epitomised by the BRM. It took the recognition that the air around the car was to be exploited, not avoided, before the next step could be taken; then came a tyre revolution. Wide, smooth tyres appeared and the slicks and wings era was born.
The road from Brabham to Tyrrell and, indeed, to today’s F1 cars, is more difficult to see. The engine position hasn’t moved, the gearbox remains conventional (albeit electronically actuated) and of the oft discussed continuously variable transmissions, there remains no sign. The pursuit of downforce remains in refined formed and slicks seem to be on their way back.
The differences today, therefore, exist in practice much more than they do in theory and, to quantify this, we need Brundle.
“Ten years ago, we had 3.5-litre engines, today they are 3-litres. Then they produced 600bhp at 11,000rpm, today they extract 800bhp, by spinning them at 18,000rpm. But the real change is in the downforce. Approach Copse in the Tyrrell and, despite the fact you’re going much slower than in a modern car, you still brake, change down and turn in. Today you barely lift. It is a mindblowing experience, turning in at 185mph and there is nothing any of these cars can do, not even the Tyrrell, to approach this. And then, of course, there is the change to carbon brakes which makes life very different too.” Yet would Martin rather drive today’s F1 car? On the contrary: “I got out of a 1990 Tyrrell and into a ’53 Connaught and the pleasure in driving wasn’t different at all in overall terms. It was just how they functioned that was different”
He has put his finger on the issue. These are all Fl cars and each was built by the finest talents of their eras with the aim of going faster than any other in history. All shared that goal. We all have our favourite eras. Martin is an ’80s man, because he was there and because there never was another period with a broader range of super talents. He reels off a few: Senna, Prost, Lauda, Mansell, Piquet, de Angelis and his point is made. For me, it’s the ’70s because I don’t believe F1 cars ever sounded or looked better. If I could drive one of the five again, it would be the Brabham, though Wit were in a race, I can’t imagine a man of my ability enjoying any more than the BRM.
It is, of course, a privilege even to see such cats in one place, let alone witness them run. But you can. Every one of these cars will be among 50 F1 cars at Silverstone on 21-23 July to celebrate half a century of F1. It is not to be missed.