Reflections in the Spanish dust

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The most notable thing about the Spanish GP at Jarama was the number of drivers wanting to take part and the number of people and firms with money who want to spend it on Formula One motor racing. There were 31 drivers ready to do battle and as the Ecclestone/Mosley combine decide on the most worthy “Top Twenty” that left only four ‘places on the grid for the drivers who are not in the F1 Association. Of the 11 who were vying for these four places, those who made it were still not on a winning number, for according to the Gospel of Ecclestone and Mosley, starting money is only paid to the first 20 qualifiers. Those 20 have to work for it, it is not guaranteed automatically, so that if an Association member qualifies twenty-first he gets no starting money, and if a non-member qualifies in the “Top Twenty” he gets the appropriate money. The higher up the grid you get the more money there is available. Similarly, prize money is allocated to only 20 of the 24 chosen ones, so if you are going to retire from the race you want to make sure that four cars have already retired. Those who did not qualify for the race spent a lot of money, risked life and limb and wore their cars out all for the pleasure of it, while those at the top of the tree are raking in good pay for mediocre work in some cases. Among those who did not qualify David Purley reckoned he had spent £8,000, to say nothing of the cost of repairing a broken Cosworth V8 and Brian Renton spent £5,000, and all they got was “blood, sweat and tears” a lot of laps and no racing. Meanwhile the local whizz-kids were enjoying racing on the Jarama circuit in Formula SEAT single-seaters and saloon cars, in some National races.

With all these people prepared to join in Formula One, either for the enjoyment, the kudos or with the hope of making it to the top, the time is long overdue for giving the newcomer a bit more encouragement, and the best thing would be a separate race for beginners and the hopeless regulars, like BRM. If 24 cars are considered sufficient for a full-length (joke!) Grand Prix, then surely 12 cars could have a half-length race on Saturday morning. If there was a 25-lap race on Saturday morning guaranteed, with some prize money, a few more people with last year’s works cars would soon join in to make a flourishing second division. The successful ones could be promoted to the Grand Prix and anyone found “dragging his feet” in the Grand Prix would soon be relegated to the Second Division. It was suggested that the Saturday race could be thrown open to everyone, to race for the Sunday’s prize money, and that the Sunday race should be for World Championship points only, but you could only take part in one event! The choice would be left to the driver or the Team Manager and it would be interesting to see who races for money and who races for sport and acclaim. At the moment the top of the tree gets it all and the whole scene is very lop-sided in favour of the chosen few.

This whole discussion on a First Division and Second Division was prompted by the sight of the confusion on the little Jarama circuit as 31 drivers tried to practise. Some were out to win, others were trying to get used to new cars, some were trying to learn to drive a Formula One car and others were trying to make progress. It was no surprise that lap times were slower than those put up during test-sessions or in previous years, for it is doubtful if any of the “aces” ever had a really clear run. If a newcomer has to spend all his time looking in his mirrors and getting out of the way of Andretti, Hunt, Lauda, Scheckter and the rest, he is never going to learn to drive properly. You could almost guarantee that if one of the “rabbits” set himself up to take a corner on the correct line he would have an “ace” right behind him or carving his way by on the inside shaking his fist. It really is time the CSI stopped nit-picking about aerofoils that are too high or too wide and paid some attention to a matter of far greater importance, which is more and more cars on smaller and smaller circuits.

One of the most important factors in a racing team is the morale of the members, whether they be drivers, mechanics or the chap who sweeps up, and a team’s equipment can have a great bearing on this. Every now and again a team comes up with a morale booster in the way of something special in equipment and the latest appeared at Jarama when the Surtees transporter arrived. Firstly it was a brand-new articulated lorry, and when the back was opened a tiny Honda pick-up truck was driven out. This little vehicle more than earned its keep in moving tyres, wheels, fuel and equipment about the place during the three days of the meeting, and gave the Surtees lads a splendid feeling of being “one-up” on those who were carrying things by hand. The Brabham team built a miniature motorised trolley a long time ago for paddock use, but when it rains they get wet; the Surtees chaps have a nice warm and dry cab on their miniature transporter.

Looking along the imposing line of transporters, mostly big articulated lorries from Scania-Vabis, Fiat, Ford or AEC, it was noticeable how different teams use the sides of the van body to publicise themselves. The designs and wording varied enormously, from “Shadow Ft Racing with Tabatip-Ambrosio” or “Rotary Watches Racing with Stanley-BRM” through “Team Tissot Ensign with Castrol” and “Team Rothmans International” to one which simply said “Ferrari”. There was another simple one which said “Surtees” and when asked about this John Surtees explained that it was his team, he merely sold the racing cars to sponsors.

Talking of racing teams it is always nice to be aware of a team that has a national pride, not only in its cars, but in the whole set-up, for motor racing has always been an International affair. During practice days when there are sessions in the morning and afternoon you will often see lunch being prepared behind the pits. For some teams it is a sandwich and beer from the paddock caterers, while others have staff in motor caravans preparing meals from local produce. In the Ferrari pit you will invariably see spaghetti bolognese simmering on the stove, in the Ligier pit the saucisson, red wine and Gitanes are prominent. In the Ensign pit the kettle is always kept on the boil and the tea-pot is warming. Good traditional stuff, and Regazzoni has developed the knack of drinking a cup of tea with his little finger extended in the best English tradition.

In pursuit of the great gods Safety and Uniformity, the starting of a Grand Prix by a local dignitary with the National flag has long since been consigned to the “traditional” scrap-heap along with many other things. Now, as 10,000 horsepower is held in leash on the starting grid the drivers watch a red light and when it goes out and a green one appears they can go. The clever ones watch the green one. It is all very fair and safe, but extremely dull for spectators, compared to some of the fun that used to take place. I was reminded of this when I heard that Raymond (“Toto”) Roche had died, well over 80 years of age. He was the original Mr. Five-by-five, the original Mr. Toad, the ultimate “frog” and he ran the French GP at Reims for years and years. Everyone hated him yet everyone loved him, and he would state clearly that once the 30-second board had been displayed he would start the race, with the French Tricolour flag naturally, at any point after that. It might be at 20-seconds or it might be at 1-second. He would stand in front of the grid defiantly, then turn and run, waving the flag as he went. He never got run over, though once or twice drivers like Jean Behra “nearly had him”, often making deliberate attempts to bowl “Toto” over. It was Raymond Roche who started the idea of offering 100, bottles of Champagne for the fastest lap in the first practice and he would turn a blind eye to deliberate cheating as long as it was for the good of the sport and to the benefit of the meeting. He soon came down on avarice and greed. His era was the end of Grand Prix racing in the Grand Manner, there is no place for such people in the clinical business-world of Formula One, more’s the pity. D.S. J.