Letters, July 2016

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Taking over from Fangio

Following your recent four-page spread on the Ferrari driven in the 1956 Mille Miglia by Juan Manuel Fangio, and the interest generated by the car’s recent $28m sale, I have a personal story to add.

A friend and I were in Brescia prior to the 1956 Mille Miglia. We spent one whole day at scrutineering, observing the great mass of cars and people crowding the main piazza. As the afternoon dragged on the only thing of real interest was the Porsche team. None of the works Ferraris or Maseratis had appeared and closing time was approaching when suddenly the crowd became very excited, leaping and running about. From a side street about 10 red Ferraris and Maseratis arrived nose to tail. It was like the triumphal march from Aida. The Italians are especially good at anything theatrical.

On the Monday after the race we drove to Maranello and had a letter of introduction that allowed us to have a real look around. We spotted the three Mille Miglia cars sitting out in a field, on their own, so we walked over for a closer look. It rained all weekend, but there had been no attempt to cover them. We took pictures and sat in Fangio’s car, getting our trousers soaking wet – just two car enthusiasts having fun. It never entered our minds that these racing cars would become priceless works of art. Simpler times for folks interested in racing and so much easier to get close to the drivers and the cars. Car 548 was Castellotti’s winner and Luigi Musso drove car 556.

Ken Lyon, Dana Point, California

Mixed emotions at Monza

With regard to Nigel Roebuck’s recollections about Jochen Rindt, the Austrian is to my mind one of the greatest and thankfully not forgotten. I was also at Monza that weekend in 1970, on a weekend coach trip with Page & Moy. The Saturday began so well in the scorching sun and the shock of what later happened was palpable. As Nigel mentioned, nothing was said over the PA as we took our places on Sunday. 

I most remember the incredible sound, the noise of period F1 cars resonating in that famous cauldron. Clay Regazzoni won and back at the hotel (in Lugano, his home town) that evening we honoured Rindt’s memory with fizzy wine. It was hardly champagne, but that’s what the hotelier liked to call it. The locals hooted horns and likewise knocked back the fizzy stuff, but they were toasting their hero. Nigel was right when he said F1 was strong meat in those days. Motor racing, though, had lost a gentleman and a thinker, without doubt one of the greats.

Roy Smith, Milton Keynes

Sweet and sour source

As everyone has a view on F1 and its ills, I’d like to add my two penn’orth and tie it in with Nigel Roebuck’s thoughts about Jochen Rindt. (Good to see Nigel back, by the way.)

The scene is a Formula 2 meeting at Oulton Park in the late 1960s, when Rindt was driving a Winkelmann Brabham. I don’t know if Bernie Ecclestone was there, as I did not know of him as a 15-year-old. But I did know my racing drivers and so politely began to ask for autographs. I can still remember the look of utter disdain on Rindt’s face, which he very quickly turned away from me to look at nothing in particular while he scribbled a squiggle on my programme. For me Rindt was never a hero, because heroes care for people. Perhaps if he had lived he might indeed be running F1 with Bernie today, and perhaps with that same disdain he showed me 40 years ago.

Nobody owns Formula 1; we all do, and we should all get a better deal from it than we do at present. I was lucky to have been raised when it was possible to see our heroes and speak to them. I became intoxicated by motor racing and have followed it ever since. 

I feel that as the older F1 enthusiasts die out, we will not be replaced by a generation of new, young fans who will tramp around the circuits of the world in pursuit of their heroes, because nowadays Grand Prix racing treats most fans with contempt.

David Fisher, Salisbury, Wilts

Let’s keep the fizz in F1

Here’s to Nico Rosberg’s start in Spain, the ballsy move by Lewis Hamilton and cheers to Max Verstappen for bringing it home… May it be an all-out contest at Silverstone. Let them race.

Mark Tyrrell, Burgess Hill, West Sussex

Trading places

I believe that there is a very simple, and inexpensive, solution to Formula 1’s ongoing loss of support.

There are two significant top-level road-racing programmes under the FIA umbrella. One involves open-wheel single-seaters. Driven by some of the best in the business, they race for less than two hours and must be conducted at speeds well below their potential. Using the throttle to pass another car is not possible, since this would cause fuel flow to exceed the maximum allowed. And driving flat out for much more than one lap is not possible since it would destroy the fragile tyres and put the car out of contention.

The other series involves sports cars and prototypes. These are also driven by excellent drivers, who share a car during the race. Races are basically sprints, with the cars bring driven flat out for the entire distance, which might be anything from six hours to 24.

The solution to me seems obvious – switch the names of the two series and let the real racing take place under the Formula 1 banner.

John Tuleibitz, Simpsonville, USA

The reign in Spain

I don’t usually expect too much of the Spanish GP, so this year’s race came as a pleasant surprise. The Mercedes prang looked like a simple racing incident. I think, however, that Hamilton’s part in it shows his immaturity – too impatient, desperate even, to reassert his ‘superiority’ over Rosberg. This tendency to the puerile is more usually demonstrated by his self-obsessed, petulant manner off the circuit.

Their retirements left us with a fascinating race, culminating in Verstappen’s record-breaking victory. For me the one disappointment was the failure of Ferrari to capitalise on the Mercedes DNFs and take victory. I say this as an unashamed supporter of Vettel, whose focus on racing and not ‘celebrity’ makes him everything Hamilton is not. 

Having improved its car technically for 2016, Ferrari now seems to have inadvertently ‘counter-compensated’ for the power and aero gains by consistent under-performance in terms of tactics. Surely, Spain would have been Seb’s race with an alternative strategy. While I don’t think the answer is to fire Maurizio Arrivabene, I do hope he will be able to enlist better expertise to ensure Vettel is able to win again.

I would love to see a driver as great as Vettel winning a fifth championship – and with the most charismatic team, too – but I’ve a feeling that it won’t be long before Verstappen and Vandoorne lead a revised F1 driver hierarchy.

David Buckden, Walmer, Kent

Cinéma vérité

Being only six when the movie Grand Prix was released, I have had to enjoy watching it on the small screen with videos and more recently DVD.

Well, in May I finally had my long-awaited chance to experience it on the big screen when our local Cinema Versailles in Stavelot (yes, that one) decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release with a special one-night showing. The fact it was dubbed made not a jot of difference as I can recite that film word for word!

During the interval, Joseph the cinema owner asked how many of the audience were at the race on the day of the filming at Spa and 22 people raised their hands. The fellow next to me was 14 at the time and reminisced about sitting in the field before Masta with sandwiches his mother had made and just how drenched they got when the storm hit!

It was great to see all John Frankenheimer’s multi-shot and fuzzy-wuzzy stuff up on the screen writ large, and with a modern sound system it made the hairs on the neck stand up. That’s another ambition realised. Now
I just need to drive a Porsche 917…

Neil Leigh, Spa, Belgium

Risk and racing

I am just back from a wonderful weekend at the Historic Monaco Grand Prix. A highlight to me, and many others I spoke to, was the sight but even more the sound of a 1964 Ferrari 1512. 

What did concern me, though, was the size of the grids and the disparity in driver performance, particularly in the more powerful cars. On a circuit such as Monaco, qualifying races would work better so as to limit the number of competitors on the track at any one time. During the final race of mid-1970s F1 cars there were about 40 cars on the track. A car spun below me into Ste Dévote and ended up perpendicular to the flow of traffic in the braking zone. 

With the danger that a car closely following another might pull out at the last minute, and one ex-Lauda Ferrari did, I stopped filming the incident for fear of what I might capture.

In the end a number of very brave marshals dealt with the stranded car under waved yellows. I was surprised that the race was not red-flagged. I think it is time for the authorities to take a good hard look at how risk is managed during historic events.

Patrick Kenny, 

Making plans for Nigel

I’d like to say a very warm welcome back to Nigel Roebuck. I’ve followed him since his Competition Car days in the early 1970s and was very concerned by his recent absence. I’ve just picked up your June issue – and all seems well with the world again!

Tell him to take it easy.

Martin Bull, London NW6

Signs from the times 

I am restoring the AEC transporter that my father Tom Wheatcroft had built for Roger Williamson’s 1973 Formula 1 campaign. I am desperately looking for any photographs of the interior and the signwriting on the rear doors. Any shots or leads would be greatly appreciated. 

Kevin Wheatcroft, The Wheatcroft Collection, Conqueror House, Lutterworth Road, Arnesby, Leicester, LE8 5UT

Meddling in history

What makes Sir Chris Hoy the most successful and most decorated Olympic athlete in history (Motor Sport, June)? According to the records he has won six gold medals and one silver. Michael Phelps, USA, has (so far) won 18 gold, two silvers and two bronze medals.

In Sweden we have Gert Fredriksson, canoeist, with six gold, one silver and one bronze (the one Hoy does not have). He is the most decorated Swedish Olympian, but we don’t claim him to be most successful in history.

I find most Motor Sport articles interesting but, above all, everything is very well written. For a Swede it is an education in English.

Unfortunately the devil is always in the detail and I’m afraid your article is misleading. Making Hoy “the most successful British Olympic athlete in history” would have changed it totally.

Håkan Bäcksin, Lidingö, Sweden

Erratum

In June’s Ford GT story, Simon Arron was confused by his own digital recorder. When Marino Franchitti said, “You had to leave the pits with the torque turned down, because full torque would blow the gearbox,” he was talking about the Peugeot 908 HDi, not the Ford GT. Apologies.