Reflections in the harbour

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The drive by Niki Lauda in the 36th Monaco GP will go down in the history books of Monte Carlo, whether he likes it or not. It was a classic performance and a rare exhibition of “tiger” by the rather sour and embittered Austrian, ranking with that of Fangio in 1956 and Rindt in 1970. Lauda has no interest in motor racing history or anything from the past, it some of his interviews are to be believed, but to those of us who enjoy the continuity of motor racing and respect and admire the efforts of those drivers who have gone before, Lauda’s 1978 performance will not be forgotten. In years to come we’ll look back on it with pleasure, even if he only looks back on it as money well earned. In practice his best lap was 1 min. 28.84 sec., using the best qualifying tyres Goodyear Could supply and with everything on the Brabham-Alfa Romeo tweaked up just right for a sprint effort. He could not match the 1 min. 28.34 sec. of Reutemann and his Michelin-shod Ferrari, and stopped practising as he felt he could go no faster. In the race he had everything nicely sewn up, Reutemann had been punted into Hunt, delaying them both, Watson had gone up the escape road at the harbour chicane, and he was breathing heavily down Depailler’s neck, and after the race Depailler admitted he was much more worried by the heavy breathing from behind than by the flying Ulsterman in front. Then a tyre deflated on the Brabham and Lauda had to make a pit stop, rejoining the race in sixth place. His climb up to second place was fairy-talc stuff, and so hard and relentless that the inborn racer in him had obviously overcome the outward calculating, computer-brain automaton we read about. It was Lauda at his best, as neat and tidy as ever, but very determined and just before the end of the 75 laps, with everything about the circuit against him (if we are to believe practice excuses, like too much oil, or too much rubber on the surface), he set a new lap record in 1 min. 28.65 sec., faster than he’d gone in practice. That has to be history-making, even if he does poo-poo it and give technical explanations.

Normally in a GP no-one approaches his practice times during a race, the average pace on race day being anything up to 2 seconds slower than practice, unless there have been some untoward circumstances in practice. Just such a case was that of Patrese, who lapped faster in the race than he had gone in practice, but this was due to not having reached his limit in practice. He had an almighty accident, entirely his own fault, and was somewhat detuned during the final hour, so it was no surprise that he improved during the race, even though it was by only two-hundredths of a second. However, what was creditable was the fact that he made second lastest race lap, albeit nearly 2 seconds slower than Lauda’s record.

The closeness of the competition during practice, battling tor grid positions which are all important at Monaco, was brought home by the number of drivers who were one place further back by reason of a mere one-hundredth of a second.

Watson 1 min. 28.83 sec.

Lauda 1 min. 28.84 sec.

Hunt 1 min. 29.22 sec.

Peterson 1 min. 29.23 sec.

Scheckter 1 min. 29.50 sec.

Jones 1 min. 29.5 sec.

Patrese 1 min. 30.59 sec.

Latfite 1 min. 30.60 sec.

Stuck 1 min. 31.30 secs.

Keegan 1 min. 31.31 sec.

Stommelen 1 min. 31.31 sec.

The closeness ran from front to back of the grid, and only a good electronic timing apparatus can measure that accurately. If the pairs had been running together for a lap it is very doubtful if they would have crossed the line that close. Once again I would suggest that the time is long overdue for the adoption of the USAC individual qualifying runs on a clear track. With only 24 cars it should be possible to give each driver two flying laps, the best to count for the grid. He would draw a ballot for qualifying order, leave the pits on a warm-up lap, do two flying laps and pull off into a reserved parking area. When he is half way round his first flying lap, the next competitor would go out and start his warm-up lap, and so on. With a competent announcer sitting alongside the time-keeper everyone would be kept fully informed on the instant, not live minutes after it had happened, And spectator interest would be high. All this would be on Saturday afternoon alter the regulation hours of practice and testing, and if it rained too bad! It has rained in the last hour of the present system many times.

While in California for the Long Beach race I went to a USAC Midget meeting at Ascot Park Speedway (USAC Midgets are anything up to 21litres we used to call them Grand Prix cars in 1954-60!), where the first event on the programme was qualification over two laps. They got through 5o competitors and weeded out the fastest 32 for the evening’s racing, and it was very interesting and exciting. The four-or-five-abreast, wheel-to-wheel racing was something else. As Formula One progresses towards its own extinction, with smaller circuits and shorter races, the time is ripe to adopt the USAC qualifying system. There would be problems and snags to begin with, but with a bit of driver discipline and a modicum of intelligence it would not take long to sort out a workable system that would have to be better than the present system ‘ which is nothing short of chaos.

This year’s Monaco GP was over 75 laps and ran for 1 hour 55 min. 14.66 sec, comfortably inside the CSI limit of two hours. Some years ago when friends were trying to tell me how marvellous American Can-Am sports car racing was, I used to smile and refer to them as sprint races, as they only lasted a bare two hours. It’s amazing how things can creep up on you, especially it there is a lot of noise and fuss to keep your mind on other things! In 1957 the Monaco GP was run over 105 laps (I bet Lauda would have liked 105 this year), in 1958 it was reduced to 100 laps, in 1968 it was down to 80 laps, in 1973 it was down to 78, in 1977 to 76 laps and this year 75 laps. It doesn’t take much to calculate when 0 laps will be sufficient, and if you were not concentrating on the correct wavelength you would miss the Monaco GP in the year 2046 AD. When I put this reasoning to Karl Kempf, the ELF Tyrrell “boffin” who is measuring all aspects of Grand Prix racing and feeding them into a mathematical system, he laughs hysterically and then concentrates on wiring up Depailler’s seat for measuring G-forces!

The battle of the tyre companies continues apace, which is much more interesting than when Dunlop or Goodyear had a complete monopoly. Goodyear’s victory in this year’s Monaco GP was a lucky one, for without doubt if Lauda had not banged into Reutemann, or to be more accurate, it Reutemann had made a good start from his pole position, he would have run away with the race. When he rejoined after his pit stop, just in front of Watson and the pack, he pulled away Irom them, and the Ferrari ran faultlessly to the finish. The remark I like best from the very lox made by the Michelin people was “we don’t know much about motor racing, but we do know about tyres.” Presumably they believe that Ferrari knows about motor racing, so why should they worry. They could be right in their outlook. On the other side Goodyear have a big problem on their hands, for they have to supply tyres to 27 of the competitors compared to Michelin’s three. It is impossible for all 27 of the Goodyear runners to have equal tyres, and at the moment they are hard-pressed to keep the top live teams well supplied. There are signs that this might diminish to three teams, it Michelin keep getting on the front row and winning. Some people in Formula One think that Michelin should take on some more teams, thus easing the load on Goodyear and spreading the effort, but these people are the ones who are trying to turn Grand Prix racing into an entertainment, and they are way off beam. Michelin came into Grand Prix racing to win, not to ease Goodyear’s problems or help the entertainment husincss. l’here may be some people around who are trying to entertain, but people like Colin Chapman, Ferrari, Michelin and One or two inure are in motor racing to win, and that means beating the opposition, not helping them. Winning is the name of the game, it always has been and I hope it always will be. D.S.J.

The Ulster Tourist Trophy

ENTRIES for the commemoration run round the i3jmile Ards circuit in Northern Ireland in memory of the first Tr held there in 1928 are coming along nicely, with five Talbots making the journey from England, along with Rileys, MGs and Frazer Nashes. It is hoped to get E. R. Hall to make the journey from his retirement in Monte Carlo, and if the 4} Bentley he raced in 1936 could be persuaded to come over from the Briggs Cunningham museum in California, the day would be complete.