The Grand Prix scene

Now that the dust has settled after two World Championship Grand Prix races and five non-championship Formula One races (this is being written and printed just before the Monaco GP), it might be as well to take stock of the situation. The remarkable thing about 1971 so far is that we have had five Formula One events not part of the World Championship series, and these have allowed new drivers to cut their teeth with a Formula One car and Lotus to experiment with their turbine car.

Unfortunately, three of these events, South America, Ontario and Silverstone were what I call “non-races”; that is, events in which the winner is not known until after the time-keepers have done some sums, for there were two heats in which everyone could take part and the results are worked out from aggregate times or points scored. I have never liked this sort of event and could never see the logic behind the idea. If you have a large entry and split it into two heats with a final for the first 10 or a dozen in each heat, that makes sense, but to let everyone start in the first heat and restart in the second in the order of finishing the first one seems to me rather like starting a full-length race, stopping it half-way through and restarting it again.

The Silverstone event must surely have been the perfect example of how this strange system works for Gethin finished sixth in heat one and fourth in heat two and was classified second overall! Race organisers seem to think this two heat business is a good idea and that it is what the public want, but it is not what I want.

However, more important was the fact that the South American race and the Ontario race were organised as “test-runs” for World Championship events in 1972 and at the moment both have been accepted, the Argentine event in January and the Californian one in April, the latter unfortunately putting paid to a repeat of the event held at Oulton Park this Easter. Strangely little has been said about the Ontario event, it having been held at the brand-new Super Speedway outside Los Angeles, and using part of the banked track and a sort of “mickey mouse” infield roadway. The Formula One circus were taken there en masse, the way they are taken to Watkins Glen and Mexico, but since their return to Europe there has been a relative silence about the whole operation.

Usually the circus comes back either bubbling with enthusiasm about a new venture, full of funny stories about the event, or praising the whole thing, or they come back complaining bitterly about all sorts of things that were wrong or they did not like. About the Questor Grand Prix at Ontario there has been hardly any noise at all, good or bad, but it does seem that nobody was unduly impressed but they all got paid so well that they put the money in the bank and kept quiet. For better or worse the event next year will be in the World Championship, but the Watkins Glen event will still be the United States Grand Prix. As the two races will be six months and 3,000 miles apart it is felt that the calendar can support both events.

Before leaving the question of circuits, it never ceases to amaze me that everyone seems to enjoy the Montjuich Park circuit in Barcelona. I know I enjoy it, for it is my sort of circuit, a real challenge to skill and accuracy and the nearest thing to street racing. When I first went there in 1949 and rode passenger in the winning sidecar outfit I thought it was terrific fun and a most satisfying circuit. One small mistake and we would have been end-over-end into the trees or in amongst the public. That to me was the essence of racing, you had to be spot-on with no margin for errors. I found airfield circuits a complete bore, but people are nowadays telling me I am all wrong and I am muddled in my thinking.

Today, one small error round the Montjuich circuit will put you into a guard rail and smash a wheel or suspension and put you out of the race. Yet the Formula One circus race there and appear to enjoy it and Stewart drove the race of his life. If I were to suggest that someone should take a piece of ground and build a replica of the Montjuich circuit, with tightening-radius corners, downhill braking on adverse cambers, blind brows where all four wheels will leave the ground, absurdly tight hairpin bends and so on, there would be a great outcry to have me put in a lunatic asylum, but in all truth it could be done with modern earth-moving machinery. If you built such a circuit out in the middle of nowhere all the Unions and Associations would scream their heads off. My guess is that the reason everyone likes and accepts the Montjuich circuit is because it is in Barcelona, the city is enjoyable and friendly, the organisers treat everyone in royal fashion and there is a strong social standing about the event.

This means that the drivers’ wives and girl-friends are happy, so that means the drivers are happy, so that makes everything all right. After all, drivers are only human and are paid workers, and if a worker’s homelife is all right then his work-life will be all right.

With all the teams finally sorted out in line for the Spanish GP we can take stock of the situation. Without doubt Ferrari has the most solid combination of cars and drivers. His 1970 car, with up-rated engine is more than competitive on all counts, and he has a set of 1971 cars for when they are needed, the main change being in the rear suspension with better control of the spring movement. The 1971 engines do not necessarily produce more power from the combustion chamber, but they avoid losing so much of what they have, in friction and pumping losses, one move being the use of a mixture of plain big-end bearings and roller main-bearings so that more of the horse-power produced can be taken out of the end of the crankshaft.

Of all the current Grand Prix cars the Ferrari is certainly the neatest and most compact to look at, and would have won all its races this year if it was not for the brilliance of Stewart’s driving in the Spanish GP. Not that Ferrari lacks drivers, for his trio of Ickx, Andretti and Regazzoni would be hard to better, and for once Enzo Ferrari must be very happy with his men. Andretti won in South Africa and at Ontario, using a 1970 car and Regazzoni won at Brands Hatch in the first of the 1971 cars, while Ickx was a very worthy second at Barcelona.

Stewart’s win in Spain, driving the latest Tyrrell-Cosworth V8 in its first race, was not only a personal triumph for the little Scotsman, but a worthy triumph for Ken Tyrrell and his designer Derek Gardner and the very small team of chaps who build the cars. Tyrrell is continuing to “go it alone” with money from Goodyear Tyres and Elf petrol, and compared with Ferrari or Matra the ELF Team Tyrrell, as it is called, is a very small back-yard affair, relying of course, on Cosworth Engineering for engines and Hewland Engineering for gearboxes, as well as all the specialist people who supply springs, shock-absorbers, brakes, electrics and so on. Stewart and his number two driver, Francois Cevert, both have 1971 Tyrrell cars, with the one-off 1970 model as a stand-by.

A problem that confronts most Grand Prix teams is that their drivers are not content to drive in Formula One races only but want to take part in other forms of racing. Some people will say that this is purely mercenary and greedy, but that is not really the reason. Most drivers feel they must race on every possible occasion to keep their eye and hand in, feeling that if they miss a couple of weekends they might not be 100% on form when they start again.

This is probably true, but the real reason is that the overall standard of top flight driver is at a bit of a low ebb at the moment and most of them have got to keep working away at the business of being a racing driver in order to maintain a reasonable standard. We lack a super driver on the scene today, and this is never more evident than during practice for a Grand Prix. The last great driver we had was Jim Clark, and practice was invariably livened up when you saw Chapman and Clark talking quietly together. Then as Clark got into his Lotus, Chapman would murmur “he’s going to do a quick one” and it was really exciting to look at the stop-watches and see a Master Driver in action. One lap to look at situation, one more to get in the swing and then the fast one, and it was invariably the fastest lap of the day. Then Clark would stop, knowing almost to a fraction of a second what lap time he’d done.

This sort of performance was not luck, it was all calculated, Chapman would have been satisfied with the adjustments of the car, Clark would have sized up the conditions of the circuit and which cars and drivers were out on the track, that might baulk him, and would have summed up just where he could afford to have another car to overtake, and between driver and designer there was such a splendid mutual understanding that it was exciting to watch it all happening.

Before Clark there was Moss, doing similar things, setting the pace with 100% confidence and before him there was Fangio who considered pole position to be his as a matter of pride. You would see Fangio sitting quietly in his pit and when the loudspeakers announced that a new fastest lap had just been made he would slowly get up, put on his crash hat, climb into his Maserati or Ferrari in a most laboured manner, for he seldom moved quickly, and then “wham”, a new fastest lap; it was the time to be watching closely if you wanted to enjoy seeing a Master Driver at work.

Nowadays we lack this sort of excitement, everyone seems to thrash round endlessly, seemingly hoping for some miracle that will give them fastest lap. In Barcelona, Amon must have covered the full race distance during practice and others like Hill and some of the newer drivers seem to go on for ever, without any real improvement being visible. Even Stewart, who is undoubtedly the best driver we have at present, does not seem able to produce super-fast practice laps to order, but goes round until he feels satisfied and during that time usually manages to scratch a quick lap, but more by luck than genius.

The lack of a Master Driver in Team Lotus has been very noticeable since the loss of Jim Clark, and even the “press-on” Jochen Rindt did not inspire Chapman the way that Clark did. Today with two newcomers forming the team Chapman does not have his heart in it the way he used to. He hopes that Fittipaldi will rise to great things, and Wisell has talent, but that is all; and though the Lotus 72 is still the mainstay of the team and they keep making small modifications to gain speed, or braking or road-holding, they are very conscious that they lack a driver who can get the ultimate from their car. The turbine-powered Lotus is one of those things that had to be done, sparked off by Chapman’s association with Andy Granatelli on the Indianapolis turbine cars, and it is a possible insurance against Cosworth suddenly stopping making any more Grand Prix engines, which could easily happen overnight, as it did with Coventry-Climax a few years ago.

I started the last paragraph by mentioning the problem of Grand Prix teams having their drivers taking part in other forms of racing. With Ferrari it is all part of the contract, apart from Andretti doing USAC racing, and Ferrari provides his drivers with Grand Prix cars and sports cars, so his problems are few, and the McLaren Team have no problems for Hulme drives the 1971 McLaren M19 in Formula One, the McLaren-Chevrolet V8 in Can-Am racing and the M16 McLaren-Offenhauser at Indianapolis, so the orange cars from Colnbrook give him more than enough racing. Second-string Gethin is kept busy with Formula One, with an up-rated 1970 M14A McLaren, and an M19 later on, and general test driving, for Peter Revson acts as number two to Hulme in Can-Am and Indianapolis.

With BRM it is a different story, for their two leading drivers, Rodriguez and Siffert, are primarily contracted to the JW Automotive Team to drive Gulf-Porsche sports cars, and they drive the 1971 BRM P160 cars as a secondary activity. BRM are very conscious that a sports car accident could deprive them of their leading drivers, but equally the Gulf team are not really content about risking their leading drivers in Grand Prix cars. Tyrrell has this dual-role problem as well, for Stewart is due to do some Can-Am races with a Lola and Cevert drives regularly for Tecno in Formula Two.

The Team Lotus drivers are also racing in Formula Two, but at least they are in Lotus cars, and the STP-March team have a similar situation with their leading driver, the Swedish Peterson, and so far this season he has been having Formula One and Formula Two March cars fall apart under him resulting in some very narrow escapes from serious injury. Their second driver, de Adamich, is rather in the Rodriguez, Siffert situation, whereby he drives in the Alfa Romeo sports-car team primarily and joined the March team secondly, taking a V8 Alfa Romeo engine with him. For a long time the March-Alfa Romeo never seemed very competitive, just as the McLaren-Alfa Romeo last year seemed a dead loss but Peterson drove the March-Alfa in the International Trophy at Silverstone and it suddenly came alive.

Last year I enquired whether the McLaren-Alfa had ever been driven by a really fast driver and the answer was negative, although Hulme tried it for a few laps at Goodwood or somewhere. Two more drivers in the Alfa Romeo sports-car team are allowed out to drive for other makes in Grands Prix, these being Pescarolo, who drives the March 711 for Frank Williams, who is supported by the French Motul oil company, and Stommelen, whose personal backers have bought him a place in the Surtees organisation, driving number two to John Surtees. Whether Alfa Romeo are risking their drivers in March and Surtees cars, or whether March, Williams and Surtees are risking their drivers in Alfa Romeo sports cars is a matter of opinion.

At the moment the Matra team seem able to keep their two drivers, Amon and Beltoise, fully occupied with Formula One races in the 1971 Matra-Simca MS120B single-seater cars, and in testing the Matra-Simca 660 sports car in readiness for Le Mans. Ron Tauranac’s Brabham team of Graham Hill and Schenken seem busy enough at present with Formula One, and Formula Two with the Rondel team of Brabham cars, which is closely tied with Tauranac anyway. BRM and March have third-string runners who are in reality customers, the former team having New Zealander Howden Ganley, thanks to the financial backing of Barry Newman and his associates, and the latter team have the rich Spaniard Alex Soler-Roig, but neither of these are really committed like a fully-paid team driver is.

Some people seem to object to this business of buying a place in a Grand Prix team, and think that it is a new development, but I can assure them it is not. In 1956, as just one example, Maserati had the Spanish Francesco Godia and the Italian Luigi Piotti on similar terms. There will always be rich people who will buy a racing car and join in, or if they don’t want to drive themselves will lend the car to an aspiring young friend, and in some of the non-championship races so far Mike Beuttler has been driving a new March 701 owned by his wealthy friends. There have been other young drivers who have influential friends among race organisers who arrange financial deals with teams or individuals in order to give promising newcomers a chance, and the non-championship events are ideal for this sort of thing.

Tony Trimmer has had races with Team Lotus, but never really got off the ground, Ray Allen made a first-class impression with the Frank Williams team and Cyd Williams blotted his copybook in the same car, wrecking it badly at Oulton Park and very nearly doing himself a serious mischief. Allan Rollinson did a neat job of work in a March 701 that Siffert owns, and could well get another chance, while Siffert has ideas for lending the car, on a financial basis of course, to various European drivers for their National Grand Prix event, as, for example, Gerard Larrousse for the French GP or Gijs van Lennep for the Dutch GP.

All this activity at the lower end of the Grand Prix world is a very good thing, for newcomers are always needed in the ranks and in recent years it has been absurdly difficult for anyone to join in Grand Prix racing at the back of the field. At one time, not so long ago, Grand Prix racing became a terrible “closed shop”, with a minimum of events, no non-Championship events and no encouragement for the newcomer from the “establishment” who had it all sewn up nicely to their own advantage.

Remember the late Bob Anderson, who persevered with a private Brabham-Climax against appalling “closed shop practices” and fought bravely to keep a place on the back of the starting grids? He never aspired to becoming a works driver, but he wanted to race in Formula One Grand Prix events. A lesser man would have been crushed and dispirited by the antagonism of the “establishment” at the time. That he should die in a private testing accident was a tragedy.

While the Grand Prix scene looks pretty healthy from the overall activity angle, it is not terribly healthy from the technical angle, there being little in the way of innovation or trend that looks like making a landmark in progress. Engine development with the 3-litre power plants has been struggling along now for over five years and we are still not at the sort of power outputs that should have been achieved within the first 18 months.

Tyre development, on the other hand, has gone ahead at an enormous pace and suspension development is struggling to keep up. It could be that the effort required to keep up with the “World Wide Travelling Circus”, which Grand Prix racing has become, prevents much serious technical development work, or it could be that the overall standard of technical design brilliance in Grand Prix racing is at a low ebb like the driver standards, which could explain why Gianclaudio Regazzoni can hold a place at the top of the tree with less than 12 months’ experience of Grand Prix racing and why virtual schoolboys can step from Formula Ford into Formula One and appear to be quite competent. Last year there was a period when Grand Prix racing appeared to be very sick. I am glad to say that I think it has recovered from its sickness, but it is still weak and I hope convalescing prior to full recovery.—D. S. J.