Reflections in an icy blast

There were several winds blowing across the Jarama Autodrome, some of them winds of change, some were winds of discontent and some were mingled with an air of apprehension. The all-pervading wind was the one coming from the snow-covered mountains to the north of the circuit. Situated as it is in a once arid plain, but now growing houses at an alarming rate, there is nothing to break the wind as it comes from the north and throughout practice and race day it was an ice-cold wind, leavened only by the sun as it broke through patchy cloud. Before the Long Beach GP there had been some Goodyear tyre testing at Jarama and chatting with one of the Lotus mechanics in sunny California I made a remark about sunny Spain. He gave me a withering look and told how he had spent a week at Jarama freezing to death, and only once was he able to dispense with an anorak under his overalls. At the Spanish GP I understood what he meant, and noticed that he still had an anorak under his overalls, as did most of the mechanics.

The wind was blowing sand and dust onto the circuit, for unlike England the green grass doesn’t grow very well, so the edges of the circuit are fairly barren desert. This sand was getting up the “skirts” of many of the cars and causing them to stick. Observing out on the circuit during the Sunday warm-up period it was remarkable how few of the “side-skirts” were functioning properly. Either they were stuck up and were not touching the ground or they were not sliding freely so were not following the track contours; some were touching the ground at the front but were two inches off the ground at the rear. It made you wonder about the whole aerodynamic theory. One good thing that this aerodynamic fashion has brought about has been the total enclosure of all the mechanical components. For years racing cars looked nice, with attractive body shapes, but then we went through an ugly period when nobody bothered to cover anything up, mainly because it taxed their ingenuity too much. The CSI (as it was then) were very lax, as were scrutineers, in not insisting that engines and gearboxes should be covered. About the worst looking contraption was the Cooper-Maserati V12 of 1966/67, but Formula One was only following the popular trends of the “Swinging sixties” when ugly was said (by the advertising men) to be beautiful. I could never see this myself and ugly men and women have never been attractive to me, nor has ugly music, dress, styling, humour or any other fact of life, and for ugly you can also read “sick”. Thankfully the seventies have seen a return to good taste and a degree of elegance (women’s shoes are a prime example!) and the aerodynamic fashion in motor racing is encouraging total enclosure of the mechanical components, resulting in some very beautiful racing cars; not the T4 Ferrari unfortunately.

Before the Spanish meeting Team Lotus sent part of its squad down to the South of France to do some testing with the Lotus 80 on the Paul Richard circuit, so while the main transporter carrying the three Lotus 79 cars was heading south-west from England, the smaller transporter carrying the Lotus 80 was travelling due west from the Marseilles area, their running schedules arranged for them both to arrive at the Jarama Autodrome on Thursday afternoon. The big transporter crossed into Spain from France at Hendaye, near San Sebastian with no trouble at all and headed due south through Burgos to Madrid, but the smaller transporter crossed from France into Spain at Figuras north of Barcelona. There the customs officials at the frontier refused to accept the paper-work because it was written in English, and demanded that everything be translated into Spanish. The paper-work for moving a racing transporter and all its contents across a frontier is mind-boggling, for every item has to be listed, from complete engines down to spare suspension bushes. To have all this lot translated into Spanish was enormously time-consuming and frustrating, especially when the western frontier had accepted the English documents. The result was that the weary mechanics arrived at the Autodrome at 3.30 a.m. Friday morning, with practice due to start at 10 a.m. They had to unload everything, change all the gear-ratios from the Ricard ones to the Jarama ones, check everything, change oils, tyres, refuel and so on. At 10 a.m. they were nowhere near ready but were greatly encouraged by Andretti telling them he was prepared to wait until the Lotus 80 was ready, rather than dilute the team effort by demanding to start practice in the spare Lotus 79. That is the sort of driver for whom mechanics will sweat blood and work right through the night. As luck would have it there was a hold-up in the race organisation and practice was two hours late in starting so the Lotus 80 was ready when the track eventually opened.

Just why the Friday morning session was delayed for two hours was not clear. A Press bulletin from the club said that it was due to the Formula One Constructors’ Association’s private doctor, a Mr. Brown, demanding to verify the medical security arrangements. However, next day a Press bulletin from the FISA stated that they had ordered an official enquiry to be made into the reasons for the two-hour delay. In the meantime various explanations had been forthcoming, from Bernie Ecclestone deliberately holding up practice so that the Lotus lads could get their car finished (very unlikely) to a dispute over the television rights and payments between the television moguls and Ecclestone and Mosley, who were holding the financial reins of the Spanish GP (?). It was said that Mr. E. and Mr. M. refused to let their performers go out onto the stage until their financial terms for the televising of the performance were agreed to. Did I say there were winds of discontent blowing?

When it was said that FOCA (the Formula One group) ran the German GP at Hockenheim last year it was not strictly true. The constructors themselves were not involved, either in the organisation or the financial gamble, it was Ecclestone and Mosley, backed by a German banking and monetary syndicate, said to be related to the German strains in Max Mosley’s family. Before a Formula One World Championship takes place the race organisers have to deposit in a bank the total sum of money being asked by FOCA for their performers. This varies from race to race, but in round figures we can call it £250,000. The organisers; job is to get this money back any way they can, from spectators, advertising, television coverage and so on, most of them succeeded with a margin of profit for the club. If they fail they are the losers for FOCA still scoops up the deposited £250,000 even if the race has no spectators and is a financial disaster. Now, if FOCA were financing a race it would mean that they were gambling with their own money, and might lose. In no way can I see Chapman, Tyrrell, Meyer, Ferrari and the rest gambling with their own money.

The Ecclestone/Mosley consortium of unknowns took over financial control of the Brazilian GP this year and also this Spanish GP. They already have the German GP and are negotiating for some more, their aim being to acquire complete control of all World Championship Formula One races. It is just this which Jean-Marie Balestre is fighting in the corridors of power in the FIA in Paris.

The FIA have asked FISA (the sporting authority) to look into the constitution of FOCA and have asked the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain to make an investigation into its legal identity. This is going to prove embarrassing for some people, for much of the money some teams are making is spirited away into foreign bank accounts. The £250,000 fee charged for a Formula One race is divided up between the twenty members of FOCA in a very complicated way, in which the successful teams get the lion’s share. This announcement caused the Constructors’ Association to put out a pompous statement which didn’t exactly say anything, but countered the FISA bluff. Part of the icy wind in Spain was that blowing between the ranks of Mon. Balestre and his FISA supporters and Mr. Ecclestone and his FOCA supporters.

After the race the time-keepers issued everyone’s complete list of lap times throughout the 75 laps and study of these refuted a number of statements being made by drivers who didn’t win. There are some who philosophically admit to being out-driven, out-smarted on tactics, or having made mistakes, and others who blame everything from tyres to pit-signals. Scheckter, for example, was blaming his Michelin tyres for wearing out, yet his lap times were nearly all in the 1 min 19 sec. bracket, showing a commendable consistency of hard driving. Of the 75 laps only seven were down in the 1 min. 20 sec. Bracket and his best was lap 73 in 1 min. 18.71 sec. proving that he was driving as hard at the end as he had all the way through the race. So much for blaming Michelin tyres for not allowing him to win! Andretti was nearly as consistent, with only 11 laps in the 1 min. 20 sec. bracket, all the rest in the 1 min. 19 sec. on lap 56.

A study of these lap times against the lap chart shows that the drivers behind the winning Ligier were all hard at it throughout the race, even though it might not have looked that way. Depailler and Laffite were in the 1 min. 18 sec. bracket in the opening stages, but when Laffite retired Depailler eased into the 1 min. 19 sec. bracket which was the pace of all the other top runners. His fastest lap in 1 min. 18.39 sec. was done on lap 3. Alan Jones, on the other hand, was in the 1 min. 20 sec. and 1 min. 19 sec. bracket to start with until his tyre started to deflate and he was forced to stop. When he rejoined the race he was into the 1 min. 18 sec bracket for seven successive laps, then he had four in the 1 min. 19 sec., but got back into the 1 min. 18 sec. again, only to drop to 1 min 26 sec. and 2 min. 42 sec. with his second flat tyre and second pit stop. He was straight back into the 1 min. 18 sec. after this pit stop with a best of 1 min. 18 sec. on lap 47, but lap 54 saw him retire with a broken gearbox. A really hard trier is Jones. A list of everyone’s fastest race lap is appended and the lap on which they did it makes interesting reading. That so many of them made their best lap late in the race indicates the general tempo.

Very few of the Formula One people seem to like the Jarama Autodrome and many long for the old circuit in the Montjuich Park in Barcelona. Most visitors seem to find Barcelona a more attractive city than Madrid, but the powers that control the destiny of motor racing have decreed the Montjuich Park circuit as unsafe for Formula One. One off the big problems was providing sufficient protection for the spectators, for Formula One cars with cornering forces approaching 2g fly off the road in a big way if something breaks or a driver makes a mistake. Nobody complained of the shape of the Montjuich circuit, in fact, most drivers found it exciting and challenging, whereas they find Jarama a bit silly. It occurs to me that if a leaf was taken from the Long Beach organisers on the use of concrete blocks, old tyres and wire netting for lining the circuit the Montjuich Park could be reinstated and made safe, and we’d have another street-race on our programme. Perhaps Jackie Stewart ought to ask the King of Spain to invite Chris Pook, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill over from California to look at the Montjuich Park circuit in the light of their Long Beach City experience. Not only would the wives and families of the racing drivers enjoy returning to the elegance of Barcelona, but the King himself could make a more dignified attendance by arriving by car with the necessary entourage. At Jarama he arrives by helicopter in the most awful and unseemly dust cloud that doesn’t endear him to anyone in the paddock area. – D.S.J