EVEN AT this distance of time, looking back at the wrangling that went on in the paddock before the Spanish Grand Prix still makes me feel sick and very apprehensive for the future of Grand Prix racing. The trouble all stems back to a meeting in Geneva last March, and that goes back to meetings throughout last winter. The European Grand Prix race organisers got together after the end of the 1969 season and decided to take a leaf out of the book of the Watkins Glen organisation. The USA Grand Prix has been run for some years now on a system of no starting money, but substantial prize-money, the rewards going to all the starters, the last placed being guaranteed a sum that would constitute adequate starting money. The European organisers, who have formed an Association amongst themselves, with a working committee, thought this a good idea, as it meant that the further and faster a competitor went the more money he earned and a car or driver that did a miserable one lap would get paid accordingly. When this idea was suggested there was a sharp cry from the Association of Racing Car Constructors and Entrants, who justifiably pointed out that the prize-money idea was all right providing there was enough of it. Nobody had ever complained at Watkins Glen for first prize was in the order of £20,000 and last prize £1,000, and the Constructors and Entrant doubted whether European race organisers could match those figures. Of course they could not, so discussions started to decide a minimum acceptable total prize-money. Agreement was reached with a satisfactory figure based on the minimum starting grid of 16 cars, as stipulated by the FIA for the Monaco GP. Everyone was happy, the race organisers all agreed to put up a total prize-money of so many thousands of pounds, and to apportion it in agreed steps from first place to 16th place.
At this point some confusion began to arise, for first of all the Ferrari team refused to join the Constructors’ Association, preferring to do private business, as regards starting money, with each individual organiser and secondly the organisers of the Italian GP did not go along with the “prize-money only” idea at all. So, on two counts, the decisions being made were not unanimous, and actually had strong opposition. Overlooking these facts the two parties continued to draw up agreements, and the Constructors said that where a circuit could start more than 16 cars, then the prize fund must be increased by agreed sums for however more cars were on the grid. If there were 20 cars, for example, then the total had to be raised to extend the prize-money down four more places from the agreed minimum figure, which would not amount to much, as 16th place was fixed at something like £700, so that four more starters would only cost about another £1,500, instead of £3,000 or £4,000 under the old starting money system. Everyone was still happy, hut then the question arose of what would happen if an organiser could only guarantee prize-money for 20 cars and there were 24 entries, or if they were down to the minimum 16 starters. The Constructors saw no problem, you took the fastest 20 or 16, or whatever, in practice, all practice being timed for deciding the grid, as Monaco have done for many years. However, the race organisers thought differently, each one knowing that his race spectators demanded certain attractions. On past records, especially 1969, and on guess-work, one organiser wanted to be sure he had a Ferrari in his race, another wanted a BRM, someone else wanted Graham Hill, another wanted Brabham, and so it went on.
Finally, at the Geneva meeting, it was agreed that each factory team would have a guaranteed start for its number one driver, and ex-World Champions would have a guaranteed start, thus keeping all the organisers happy. A list was drawn up, comprising 10 drivers, and it was agreed that if there was a limitation to the number of starters, the remainder would have to qualify. If the organisation could raise the money and the circuit was long enough, then naturally everyone would start and there would be no qualifying other than the normal lap-time competition in practice for grid positions. All this seemed reasonable, except that Ferrari did not accept any of it, nor did the Automobile Club of Milan, but ignoring this everyone left Geneva convinced that the “Geneva Agreement” had sorted everything out. The Organisers’ Association told their members and the Constructors’ Association told their members, and the whole plot was offered as a fait accompli to the FIA, who accepted it, and thought the idea of ten “aces” being guaranteed a start was quite sound. The “chosen ten” were Amon (March), Hulme (McLaren), Ickx (Ferrari), Rodriguez (BRM), Rindt (Lotus), Beltoise (Matra), and Courage (De Tomato), as the number one factory drivers, and Stewart, Hill and Surtees as World Champions, but when the list was written out someone realised that poor old Jack Brabham had been left off on two counts, number one Brabham driver and World Champion. There was an embarrassed pause and then the arbitrary deletion of Piers Courage, for the FIA would not agree to more than ten “chosen” drivers. Although Courage was number one driver for De Tomaso, the membership of the Constructors’ and Entrants’ Association was through Frank Williams Racing, as an entrant, the De Tomato factory not being a member.
Everyone went off to South Africa, where the Geneva Agreement was not recognised and never had been, for the South Africans run their race on good old-fashioned bargaining principles. Alex Blignaut tells an entrant how much he is worth and that is the starting price, give or take a little haggling, and it all works very well. The next Grand Prix was in Spain, at Jarama, and the regulations were published stating that 16 cars would be admitted for the start. The “chosen ten” were given race numbers 1 to 10, and the remainder were given numbers 11-26, that being the total number of entries applied for. Nobody queried the line in the regulations that said there would be 16 starters, and everyone anticipated qualification for the last six places on the grid. The organisers of the Spanish GP thought they were following the “Geneva Agreement” to the letter when they arranged special practice sessions for the “non-chosen” drivers to qualify. Practice was neatly laid out. Everyone would practise for two hours, with no official lap times being recorded, then the track would be cleared and numbers 11-26 would have 30 minutes to themselves, sufficient for a good 15 laps, during which period lap times would be taken to decide the fastest six. After that the “chosen ten” would have 30 minutes to themselves, during which period their lap times would be recorded for their guaranteed positions on the grid. In this way there was no fear of Stewart “towing” Servoz-Gavin round for a quick lap, or Brabham “towing” Stommelen, and so on. On the second day of practice the same arrangement was to hold good, except that the “aces” would take the first 30 minutes and the “qualifiers” the second 30 minutes, and it all seemed, very straightforward and uncomplicated, but that was before the Constructors’ and Entrants’ Association Secretary arrived on the day before practice began.
There was a great storm of protest from all directions and about the whole programme of practice, mostly about having two hours of practice with no official timing. The Spanish organisers did not want to upset anyone and agreed to time all the practice, but insisted on the 30-minute qualifying period for the “also-rans”. Then things became really muddled, for the Constructors wanted all practice laps to count for qualification as agreed at Geneva, and the organisers said that the two-hour session could count for grid position and the 30 minutes for deciding who went on the grid. Then there was more muddle, for it was pointed out that a qualifier would probably lap faster in the special 30-minute session than he had in the two-hour free-for-all, so his best time should count. By this time arguments were flying in all directions and there seemed to be no single person making vital decisions. Practice took place in a thoroughly confused atmosphere and as it was finishing the ”shop steward” representing the Constructors suddenly pointed out that there had only been a total of 2 ½ hours’ practice and they had been promised three hours each day. The organisers, trying hard to be helpful, said they could have another 30 minutes for everyone if they wanted it, but it would not be timed. More cries of “Geneva Agreement”, all practice had to be timed. In the confusion Hulme, Surtees and one or two others did not do any more practice, having gone fast enough to their ideas during the first two hours. In addition the Ferrari team manager was putting in an official protest to the FIA because once race regulations are written and accepted by the FIA they cannot be altered, except by a special meeting of the stewards of the meeting, and the Constructors’ Association Secretary had been causing the rules to be altered without FIA authority. When he was told they were merely complying with the “Geneva Agreement”, he smiled politely and suggested that he and De Tomaso would meet in a small village in Italy, at Gorgonzola for example, and draw up a “Gorgonzola Agreement”, which would carry just as much weight according to the strict letter of FIA rules.
All this was only the beginning of a long series of bungles and mismanagement on the part of the organisers, the Constructors’ Association and the FIA Stewards. The last named group really caused trouble when they took charge on the evening of the first practice day and proclaimed that only times recorded in the two special 30-minute sessions would count, all others were null and void. Immediately McLaren and Surtees teams put in official protests, as they had not taken part in the second 30-minute session. So it went on, and even when a final selection of 16 worthy runners were announced as the official starters it did not finish. The non-qualifiers got up a petition, to be signed by the 16 starters, to say they could all start but not race for prize-money, and though the 16 starters agreed and signed, the Stewards did not agree, nor did the organisers’ insurance policy, and the extra four cars were taken off the grid at the last minute. The whole meeting was a sea of confusion from the time the Secretary of the Constructors’ Association arrived on the Thursday before the race, until the race was over, and in the middle of it all preparations were being made to stamp out the proposed qualifying race to be held before the Monaco GP.
Organisers, constructors, entrants, FIA officials are all supposed to be business men, and a lot of them will go to great pains to tell you what smart business men they are, but to me they are like a lot of factory workers. If they carry on much longer like this Grand Prix racing will not show a profit and race organisers will give up organising races and then they will be like the factory workers who complain and strike and demand so much that the factory goes broke and closes down, and they are all Out of work. It is worth bearing in mind that we no longer have an Argentine GP, nor a Morocco GP, nor a Portuguese GP, nor a Swiss GP, and the French and Belgian GP races are very shaky. They all went under in the cause of progress and improvement for everyone, except the organisers.
A lot more happened at. Jarama that calls for comment, such as the BRM debacle of broken front hubs, the ineffectiveness of the interesting new Lotus 72, the way the Matras were going until the engines blew up, Stewart’s very determined driving and really hard work in practice and the race, the obvious superiority of the Goodyear tyres, and the fact that March Engineering designed the car that won, the Tyrrell-prepared March scoring 3rd in South Africa, 1st at Brands Hatch and 1st in the Spanish GP. I look forward to being able once more to look back on a Grand Prix race with pleasure, as I did after South Africa, and I hope I do not have to look back on another meeting like the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix.—D. S. J.
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