Reflections in the Woods

At the end of each season the members of the International Racing Press Association vote for the most amiable Formula One driver and the most friendly Formula One team, and the winners receive the Orange Prize in the form of a large coloured cartoon drawing by a French artist. There are also Lemon Prizes for the opposite numbers but not everyone is in agreement with this idea. For the second year running Mario Andretti has received the journalists’ Orange Prize, almost by unanimous vote. Without question Andretti is the true professional and doesn’t need a PR man to speak for him. He has lots to say and he says it pretty clearly for anyone who wants to listen. Few people disagree with Andretti’s views on racing and all its facets and when he has something to say it is usually worth listening to. Jackie Stewart was a great talker but his words often upset people, and like a politician he could be caught out by someone recalling what he had said a year or two before. Not so with Andretti, he doesn’t talk just for the sake of talking, and seldom says anything without reason.

There is a drivers’ lobby which seems to consist of Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jody Scheckter (though no-one seems quite sure about this) who are demanding another second-gear chicane to be put in the Zandvoort circuit on the fast swerves at the back of the circuit. When Andretti was receiving his Orange Prize the day before the Belgian race at Zolder he was asked about this demand on Zandvoort. He professed to liking Zandvoort, but had to admit that it needed tidying up in certain areas to keep abreast of today’s ever increasing cornering speeds. He put it very succinctly when he said that circuits always needed improving if only to keep the danger-factor constant. He said he was prepared to race and live with an acceptable danger-factor, but there was no excuse to let that factor increase. By inference he was saying it was almost impossible to reduce the danger-factor while power and cornering speeds increase and progress, so let us try and keep it constant. To try and make motor racing safe, as some people suggest, is irrational thinking. There is no way that driving a racing car to its limit can be safe, but it can be made less dangerous and indeed has been made so over the years, thanks to agreements between designers on construction principles. When someone asked if there would be a driver-boycott of Zandvoort if the proposed chicane wasn’t built, Andretti was emphatic. “Boycotts do nobody any good, I wouldn’t go along with that.”

Discussing his practice accident with Jochen Mass he freely admitted to making a driver error, but not a driving error. On the previous lap he had overtaken Mass, while trying for a fast lap, or “flyer” as they are called. He wasn’t going for another “flyer” as he knew there were other cars ahead of him which he would catch within the space of a lap, which would spoil his rhythm. Instinctively he knew just how much “free-space” he needed ahead to make a “flyer” worthwhile and it wasn’t there so he eased off starting the next lap to let the “free-space” build up. Mass was obviously not thinking along these lines and was pressing on as hard as he could. Andretti saw Mass in his mirrors, catching up fast and clearly going to catch up as they went into the left-hand corner after the pits. Keeping a central-towards-left line into the braking area Andretti expected Mass to charge down on the right-hand side, and take a normal line into the corner. Mass assumed Andretti was still travelling fast and would take the normal line, so headed for the left of the Lotus 80 as it loomed up rapidly. As Andretti turned into the corner he looked in his right-hand mirror and was surprised not to see Mass in it. The Arrows was on the left of the Lotus and its right-rear wheel hit the Lotus left-front and they both went off, fortunately with not too much damage. Even so it resulted in the Lotus 80 not racing, and possibly not winning for it should have been ahead of Scheckter on the starting grid, in row three and Scheckter won the race from row 4.

On Saturday afternoon, after Formula One practice, there was a race called the BMW-M1-ProCar event. BMW, I understand, having a BMW car and a BMW motorcycle; the M1 is the exciting mid-engined 6-cylinder racing coupé built in limited numbers by BMW, but ProCar has me confused. The BMW concern decided to take part in Silhouette Formula “production” car racing, along with Porsche and their 935 derivatives. The mid-engined M1 coupé was conceived but by the time it was born the rules had been modified, requiring a fixed number of cars to be sold before the basic model could be used for a racing version. BMW were left with an expensive project under way with no end result because no-one would buy such a car for long-distance racing until the prototype was race-proved. Last year at Hockenheim Jochen Neerpasch of BMW and Max Mosley schemed up a “circus-act”, involving the members of FOCA, aimed at utilising the M1 coupés being built, coining some more sponsorship money into the world of Formula One and getting BMW a lot of publicity on the Formula One scene.

The idea was to promote a series of races at most of the European Grand Prix meetings, to be held after the last practice session, in which all the contestants used identical BMW-M1 coupés. The first five Grand Prix drivers in the results of Friday’s Formula One practice would each take an M1 coupé and the rest of the field would be made up of private-owners who had bought a car or found sponsors to buy one for them. There was bonus money promised to anyone who could stay in front of a Formula One driver. Reaction to this fait-accompli by Neerpasch and Mosley was very mixed. Some thought it would be amusing and fun, until they looked at a racing version of the M1 and realised it was a 150 m.p.h. lethal racing device. Others who had close ties with manufacturers didn’t reckon to support anything that was giving free publicity to BMW, and many didn’t agree with the idea of taking part in such an event on the eve of a World Championship Grand Prix. The suggestion that the race be held after the Formula One event was not at all popular with the BMW publicity department. Ken Tyrrell, in his usual way, proclaimed loudly that if BMW wanted to get in on the world-wide publicity of Formula One, they should build a Formula One car and join in.

From Hockenheim last year to Zolder this year this Pro-Car Circus stunt got under way with various modifications to the rules and on Friday afternoon while setting qualifying times for the Grand Prix, the drivers were also qualifying to take part in the BMW race, or so Neerpasch and Mosley thought. After Friday’s practice the top five drivers were Villeneuve, Jabouille, Laffite, Regazzoni, and Andretti, and problems immediately arose. The M1 coupés were all running on Goodyear tyres, and there was no way that Michelin were going to agree to any of their contracted drivers taking part in a race on Goodyear tyres. That ruled out Villeneuve and Jabouille, the Renault team also not favouring the idea of their driver doing a publicity stunt for BMW. This brought Scheckter into the five, but he was barred for the same reason as Villeneuve, and next on the list was Lauda, and then Piquet, both Goodyear runners and employed by Max Mosley’s friend Ecclestone so all was well. Laffite treated it as a bit of a lark, as did Regazzoni, while Andretti disapproved of it being the afternoon before the Grand Prix but took part to honour his Goodyear contract.

Hans Stuck, de Angelis, Giacomelli and Lauda had already made deals with sponsors to have cars bought for them to take part in the whole series, irrespective of what they did in Formula One practice, and Lauda accepted the position as one of the “chosen five” rather than a “regular” as that way he was in the front half of the grid, the rules putting the F1 drivers ahead of the private owners on the grid. Of the nineteen entries, seventeen actually started the 20-lap race and seven finished, which was not very good publicity for BMW with broken-down M1 coupés all round the circuit. Nobody did anything stupid and nobody got hurt, which was fortunate, but it does seem a rather dodgy “circus-act”. For what it is worth de Angelis won from Hezemans, Regazzoni, Kelleners, Quester, Lafosse, Manhalter and Schuetz, the others all fell apart. I still don’t know what Pro-Car means — perhaps it should be Con-Car!

For one team, namely Lotus, the Zolder meeting is a joy for it is such an easy trip from Hethel. An hour from the Lotus factory to Felixstowe, a pleasant boat trip to Zeebrugge and a couple of hours on the motorway through Antwerp and they are there. During the season the transporters cover as much as 50,000 miles around Europe and Scandinavia and most teams get the opportunity for an easy trip at some time in the season. Ligier are on the doorstep of Dijon-Prenois and the French GP, Ferrari have an easy trip to Monza and the Italian GP, Shadow, Arrows and Rebaque have an easy trip to Silverstone for the British GP, and Tyrrell and Brabham are fairly close to Brands Hatch. Sweden is a long haul for everyone.—D. S. J.