Reflections on the Monaco G.P.

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I admit freely that tears of emotion welled up in my tired old eyes as I watched Jim Clark pull out a five-second lead in the first three laps of the 1964 Grand Prix of Monaco. It seemed unbelievable that anyone could go that much faster than the rest of the field when for the past three days of practice all the fast drivers had been within tenths of a second of his best time, and yet there are still people who are reluctant to agree that he is an outstanding driver. Not content with these shattering opening laps he had increased his lead to eight seconds by the ninth lap. Then that great charger Dan Gurney got up into second place and reduced Clark’s lead to five seconds, but Clark immediately opened it again to six seconds and held it there. Now one second does not sound very much but it represents quite a long distance as the cars raced down the harbour front towards the Gasworks hairpin, especially when you bear in mind that a mere four and three-quarter seconds was sufficient to cover the whole field of sixteen cars at the end of practice. This demonstration of driving prowess would be sufficient for most people, but Clark added to it when the mountings for the rear anti-roll bar, or stabilising torsion bar, broke away from the chassis, rendering it inoperative and causing the Lotus to have zero roll-resistance at the rear suspension. This happened when he had a six-second lead over Gurney, and during the ensuing laps he opened the gap to ten and a half seconds, until he had to make a pit stop to have the offending pieces removed. Although Clark could not see what was happening to the back of his car, or what had broken, it did not need much knowledge to deduce what was broken for, although the handling characteristics were altered by the lack of roll-resistance at the rear, the difference was consistent on right- and left-hand corners. Anything else in the rear suspension layout, such as a broken spring, a defective shock-absorber, a failing tyre, a faulty suspension linkage or incorrect geometry due to something getting bent, would all have shown up with different characteristics to right and to left. It did not take Clark many laps to appreciate that he had lost all resistance to roll at the rear, but he had no idea that the torsion bar and its linkage system was bouncing up and down on the gearbox, to eventually break up and fall off, except for the left-hand lower wishbone vertical link. However, those drivers he was now lapping were well aware of it as he went by, and most of them eased back instinctively in case the assembly broke off before he was out of their range.

This was the problem facing the Stewards of the meeting, who gathered at the Gasworks hairpin to take a close look at the offending mechanism, for while it was obvious that it was not affecting the handling of the car unduly, or at any rate Clark had adjusted his driving technique to suit, there was the question of the danger to other drivers. Clark could see the Technical Commission peering intently at the back of his Lotus and each lap would give them a raised thumb in an endeavour to assure them that all was well. Meanwhile, Colin Chapman in the Lotus pit was trying to resolve the same problem as the Stewards, and when he finally decided to call Clark in and remove the offending pieces the Stewards had almost decided to give Clark the black flag and force him to stop. At this very instant the anti-roll bar itself and the right-hand link broke free and skated harmlessly along the track, so that when Clark stopped at his pit all danger to other competitors was over and his mechanic had only one short tubular link to remove and he had stopped unnecessarily! What the final outcome of the race would have been if Chapman had delayed his decision for one more lap we shall never know, it is one of those “ifs” that do not enter into the results of motor racing.

That Clark could go as fast without the rear anti-roll bar as he could with it is one of those technical problems like tyre pressures and tyre wear, or shock-absorber adjustments. This mechanism known as an anti-roll bar really came into prominence with modern, soft and long-travel independent suspension, although anti-roll bars have been used since 1920, if not before. Although it is a simple mechanism its use and application is far from simple, and even today it is not fully understood by many drivers and designers. When a car takes a corner its weight is acted upon by centrifugal force through its centre of gravity and its centre of roll, the position of the latter depending on the geometrical layout of the suspension. Roll or lean is very visible when a saloon car takes a corner but not so much on a Grand Prix car, and the lower centre of gravity of the racing car reduces lean anyway. By fixing a torsion bar across the chassis and coupling the ends through links to the suspension members it can be made to resist the roll or lean, while having no effect on the up-and-down movement of the suspension over normal bumps. This torsion bar must be fixed to a very rigid part of the chassis structure, but must be mounted so that it runs freely in its bearings, and if the opposing wheels are raised or lowered in unison the torsion bar rotates and has no effect. If only one wheel is raised then the torsion bar is twisted and its natural springiness will resist this twisting movement, and when the car leans or rolls outwards under cornering forces it is the equivalent of raising the outer wheel and lowering the inner wheel, and this movement is resisted by the anti-roll bar. One can make this anti-roll torsion bar of any required diameter, the thicker it is the greater will be its resistance to twisting, and vice versa; the same effect can be attained by the length of the linkage system coupling it to the suspension and adjustments to the amount of roll-resistance can be made by altering these lengths. On the 1964 B.R.M. the rear anti-roll bar system has a simple but effective adjustment that can be effected in a minute or two by repositioning a clamp. Some teams arrive at a circuit with great armfuls of anti-roll bars, varying from things like knitting needles to great iron bars, while many drivers experiment with no anti-roll bars at all.

All this can be applied to the front suspension as well as the rear suspension, but the important thing is that the mountings for the anti-roll bar must be on a very rigid part of the chassis. On the Lotus 25 the front anti-roll bar was arranged so that the whole mechanism was inside the bodywork, above the driver’s feet, and when it first appeared a well-known rival team rushed away and copied it. Unfortunately, they did not appreciate that the Lotus 25 stressed-skin construction was immensely stiff, whereas their own tubular space-frame had different strength characteristics and they mounted their anti-roll bar on a part of the frame that was not rigid enough, so that instead of the torsion bar resisting twisting it transferred the twist to the chassis, which resulted in virtually a neutral effect. Although the system looked like that on the Lotus it did not work so well and the car was not renowned for its handling! Sometimes the anti-roll bar is called an anti-sway bar, and both of these terms are shortened in motor racing slang to “roll bar” or “sway bar,” while the term “stabiliser bar” is often used and “torsional stabilising bar” is probably as correct as any. This lack of accurate or consistent description often leads to misunderstanding, and when the F.I.A. brought out the ruling that there must be a tubular structure behind the cockpit, on which the car could rest should it overturn, and thus protect the driver’s head, this was incorrectly described as a “roll-bar,” which came from the American term “roll-over bar” or “roll-over cage.” The F.I.A. definition was “arc of security” and it should have been translated into “safety bar” or “safety tube,” but loose talking kept referring to the “roll bar” and the lay-mind became confused. Some years ago a B.R.M. driver had his rear “torsional stabilising bar” linkage break during a race and, being fairly new and insensitive, he had not noticed any difference in the handling. At the end of the race his mechanic said “Good heavens, you’ve been driving with a broken roll bar.” The driver didn’t know torsion from compression and thought he was talking about the tube behind the cockpit, and replied “Does that matter?” and his mechanic told him it must have ruined the handling. The driver became very quiet and admits to going away somewhat puzzled, for he hadn’t the courage to say that he didn’t understand how the “roll-over bar” behind his head being broken could affect the handling of the car. He learnt all about these obscure technicalities later on, but is still not too sure that he understands them, and he is not alone.

To return to the Monaco G.P., there was a phenomenon in practice this year, as in 1963. The lap times recorded in the Thursday session of practice were fast but not outstanding; on Friday morning they were extremely fast, and on Saturday afternoon they were relatively slow again. Now Thursday’s slowness is understandable as everyone has to settle in to the circuit and the cars, Friday they are all well under way, and Saturday should be the climax. Before the Saturday practice the F.3 cars, and last year the Formula Junior cars, competed in two heats for the Monaco-Junior Grand Prix, so that it was not long before someone in the pits suggested that the circuit must be covered in oil and rubber after the small car races, and the psychological effect on a lot of the drivers was that they went a lot slower in the last practice. That the suggestion could be true was encouraged by the fact that most of the drivers watched some of the F.3 racing while waiting to begin their own practice. What they seemed to overlook was that on the previous day, when they recorded their best times, the F.1 practice had taken place immediately after the F.3 cars had been out for two lots of practice. On Friday the F.3 cars practised from 5.40 a.m. to 7.15 a.m., during which time the Grand Prix drivers were waking up and wandering around with their eyes still shut. On Saturday the F.3 cars were on the circuit from 2 p.m. until 3.30 p.m., during which time the Grand Prix drivers were all wide awake and keen to have a final fling at making a good practice time. “Psychology and the Grand Prix Driver” would make a good title for a thesis. One American driver summed up the conditions on Saturday with the words: “Slippery, hell, it’s always slippery on this goddam circuit.”

On a circuit as short and narrow as Monte Carlo the problem of overtaking is a large one, as is the problem of lapping the slower cars, and it is in the solving of situations such as these that the top drivers in Grand Prix racing excel. Just before half-distance there was a wonderful demonstration of this art of judgement, control, confidence and ability that tends to sort out the men from the boys. Near the back of the field Bonnier had just overtaken Trintignant and the dark blue Cooper and the light blue B.R.M. were still close together; behind them Phil Hill was having to ease up slightly because his 1964 Cooper was showing signs of overheating, and this was allowing Bandini to catch him up with the V6 Ferrari. Although Hill and Bandini were behind the other two on the circuit they were in fact about to make up a whole lap on them, and meanwhile the leading trio of Gurney, Graham Hill and Clark were rapidly closing on the works Cooper and the works Ferrari, to lap them for the first time, and to lap Bonnier and Trintignant for the second time. As this situation became more tense on each lap, different drivers had to think differently. Phil Hill was looking for the opportunity to nip past Bonnier and Trintignant without wasting any time, and hoped to be able to get by without Bandini following him through, but meanwhile Bandini could see that if Phil Hill was held up by the two slower cars it was his chance to close right up on the tail of the works Cooper. Behind these four Gurney was getting prepared to pass them all, Graham Hill was concentrating on not letting Gurney out of his sights, and Clark, like Bandini, could see that the situation might develop in his favour and delay Gurney and Graham Hill slightly. Suddenly, on lap 45, the situation broke as they all rushed down the harbour front to the Gasworks hairpin; for a moment the traffic was incredibly dense and one had the fine sight of the big boys of Grand Prix racing at work, and none of the seven cars put a wheel wrong nor did the drivers err in their judgement and actions. It was all over in a flash. Bandini came out best for he was now right on Phil Hill’s tail, while Clark lost ground, with the Cooper and the Ferrari between his Lotus and the Brabham and B.R.M. of Gurney and Graham Hill. By the next corner he was by and up with the leaders again, and that fleeting glimpse of Grand Prix drivers really at work was over. It is not possible to plan such a situation, nor to plan the action to take when it arises, but the good drivers can arrive there and improvise as it takes place, all of which has a lot to do with why multiple crashes were very frequent in Formula Junior and very rare in Grand Prix racing.

Later on in the race the leading trio, now with Graham Hill in the lead, came up behind Ginther’s B.R.M., which was in fourth place, to lap him, and when you are in fourth position you are not going all that slowly. Clearly Ginther was not looking in his mirrors for he did not move over and let his team-mate by, and Graham Hill had to do a bit of elbowing to get through, which was a bit naughty of Ginther. However, once past, Hill was away but Gurney and Clark were stuck behind Ginther’s B.R.M. for a whole lap, as they could not out-accelerate him from corners, nor pass him on the brief straights, and were only lapping faster by reason of faster cornering and later braking. Now, whether Ginther could not see in his mirrors or did not realise that Hill was being chased I do not know, but his first action did not help his team-mate, but his second one most certainly did for it allowed Hill to gain a few extra yards’ lead, and every yard was still counting. Having been held up for a complete lap, Gurney was about to force his way by when his Hewland gearbox broke and he was out of the race. Ginther’s first action could be called carelessness, while his second could be called team-driving, depending on how you like your motor racing—blood and guts or milk and water.

At the end of the race there was a clever bit of strategy that did not come off due to misfortune. Both Team Lotus cars were sick with no oil pressure and both Clark and Arundell had been to the pits but were told to try and finish as the leader had only a few laps to complete. Clark had been in trouble first and was now behind Arundell, while Arundell was a lap ahead of Bonnier, who was next in the running. After Hill had got the chequered flag Ginther arrived soon after, a lap behind, and then came Arundell three laps behind, with Clark half a lap behind him and Bonnier another whole lap behind. Arundell stopped before the finishing line for Clark to tour round the rest of the lap and lead him over the line, thus making them third and fourth, with Clark getting most points for the Drivers’ Championship. If Bonnier arrived before either of them it only meant that he would then be on the same lap as Arundell but still the whole of that lap behind. Unfortunately, Clark’s engine expired on the hill up to the Casino and he never completed the lap, so Arundell had been waiting in vain and he crossed the line to complete his ninety-seventh lap in third place, while Clark walked back to the pits.

The search for Championship points is indeed severe. The situation is not made any better by the continuance of the F.I.A. to list drivers in the results who do not receive the chequered flag at the end of a race. The regulations for Grand Prix races still say that a driver must complete at least a certain percentage of the total distance in order to be classified, there is nothing about the car having to still be in the race or even race-worthy when the winner receives the chequered flag. It is going to happen one day where the car that is second crashes on its last lap and while the driver is being taken to hospital he is being acclaimed as having finished second. In a race like Monaco, where the retirement rate is heavy, you could have the situation whereby there were only three cars left running at 80 laps, with the leader two laps ahead of the others. There being no hope of catching him the second and third men could pack up and go home, leaving the leader to circulate on his own, for they would still be officially classified as second and third. Such a situation is hardly like to arise as racing cars are so unreliable that most people would keep going at all costs in the hope that the leader might break down. Another absurd situation that could arise is that a driver could win the Drivers’ Championship without ever finishing a race. If there was a different winner for each event but the same man kept retiring just before the end, and by F.I.A. rules was placed second every time, he could come out top on points. Perhaps the F in F.I.A. stands for farce!

A few years ago the F.I.M., who look after motorcycle affairs, worded the regulations for motorcycle and sidecar machines for record-breaking in such a way that it was quite permissible to weld a single tube to a solo motorcycle, attach a wheel to the end of it and call it a sidecar outfit. For short-distance records this is what everyone did and they were within the letter of the law, but it meant the end of the passenger-carrying racing sidecar for record-breaking because if was pointless to drag along 100 lb. of dead weight when a “wheel and a stick” was accepted as a sidecar. At long last the F.I.M. have seen the light and have had the courage to admit their mistake. A thick line has been drawn under all existing motorcycle and sidecar records, the rules have been re-written to ensure that sidecars can carry a passenger, and an entirely new set of records are in the process of being established. It is time that the F.I.A. faced up to reality and re-wrote the rules appertaining to classified finishers in World Championship events. They have only to add the phrase “and be driven across the finishing line under their own power” or something similar and all would be well. One reason for bringing in the rule about being classified after having completed a certain percentage of the total distance was to prevent damaged and unsafe cars from staggering round for the last few laps and constituting a danger to those still racing. Now this was a wise move, for a few years ago at Monaco the race finished with a number of wrecks limping round at 30 m.p.h., but surely the scrutineers who are invariably in the pits can have the deciding vote as to whether a car is safe to continue going round, and the Le Mans dictum of putting a maximum time limit on the last lap would stop anyone from becoming a “moving chicane” to the danger of others. It really is time this question was resolved once and for all.—D. S. J.

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