Matters of Moment
Formula One Policy — No Holds Barred?
No wonder Colin Chapman feels like abandoning Formula One Grand Prix motor racing, following the ban placed on his ingenious new Lotus 88 F1 cars. No doubt D.S.J. will be keeping us informed of developments in the Chapman camp and explaining the rights (if any) and wrongs behind the FISA decision. The way the layman-racing-enthusiast must see it is, surely, that, as Formula One is supposed to represent the very highest pinnacle of International motor racing, it should be seen as a case of no technical holds barred, unless safety is in question.
All down the years organising bodies have been apt to decide that racing cars have become too fast and they have sought means of curbing performance, usually without notable success. In Grand Prix, or what we now term F1, the mimimum of restriction should be placed on technical development and innovation. But is it?
In theory, anything that doesn't constitute a danger or make motor racing look ridiculous should be accepted on F1 starting-grids. Wankel-power, the internal combustion turbine, better cylinder filling by turbocharging or the mechanically-driven supercharger, four-wheel-drive, tyre grip enhanced by skirts, fans or just weight distribution or a combination of the lot, why shouldn't all these things be permissible? If someone by sheer technical brilliance can get more power from an engine than his competitors, why limit his expertise? As constituted today, the rules make a turbocharged or other supercharged engine give away 1 1/2-litres to atmospherically-inducted engines, which are limited to 3-litres anyway and all have to burn pump fuel. But if some engineer wants to get power by using a very big non-supercharged engine, why not? — or is the fear that of too high a performance? ln an age shouting out for fuels alternative to petrol, why not let any fuel be used? Regulations and restrictions usually lead to problems and bickering. In 1938-46 a 3-litre blown engine was regarded as the equal of a 4 1/2-litre non-supercharged engine but by 1947 the blown engine was reduced to 1 1/2-litres, and then in 1954 to a mere 750 c.c. against 2 1/2-litre non-supercharged engines, and as a result no-one then built supercharged engines any more. Progressive techniques were deliberately suppressed, it seems. As an example of such thinking, at Oulton Park on Good Friday, after the wonderful rotary-engined Mazda RX-7 had trounced the Ford Capris, a Ford driver, asked what next, said they needed an extra litre, maybe believing that the 10,000 r.p.m. rotary-motor in the winning car had been leniently assessed at 2.3-litres.
Curiously, almost every time the organising body has panicked over what they have seen as dangerously high speeds, ingenious engineers have overcome the curbs placed upon them — which fortunately is good for progress, one supposes. The early maximum weight limits caused designers to pare chassis parts dangerously, so that immense engines could still be used, as in those wooden-frame, monster 1902 Panhard-Levassors. The top weight stipulation of 750 kg. imposed in 1934 simply meant that the Germans, with unlimited financial and technical resources, were able to use light-alloys and soft suspension, which resulted in the most powerful and fastest road-racing cars of all time, with which lesser companies and countries could not compete.
When reducing engine size was seen as the best means of pulling down speed, so that the GP limit fell from 4 1/2-litres to 3-litres, 2-litres and finally to 1 1/2-litres, very few concerns could afford to build complex 1,500 c.c. cars of sufficient horsepower to win impressively, and racing reached the doldrums, soon being dominated by one make, for Mon. Lory's magnificent supercharged, straight-eight, twin-cam Delage cars left all behind, opposed only by the unreliable Talbot-Darracqs and the low-key, almost amateur, efforts by Parry Thomas, Ernest Eldridge and Frank Halford. So good were they that ten years later Seaman was beating the new ERAs. He who can command the most money can usually build unconquerable cars, as Louis Coatalen did in the 1 1/2-litre class in the first years of the 1920s, when his Darracqs and Talbot-Darracqs were quite invincible. This does not make for exciting spectator-viewing, however. Nor does imposing a limit on how much fuel can be carried, running pseudo single-seaters of two-seater width, or using a minimum weight limit that implies a race between "tanks". Moreover, any mechanical stipulation in the competition field usually means difficult scrutineering. A race for purely catalogue-cars would be impossible, unless cars were to be taken from a maker's assembly-line and sealed until race-day by the race organiser. Some regulations are needed in sports-car racing and rallying, but we all know how fraught is the task of seeing that they are complied with! Telling the paying public at the 1930 Ulster TT that they would have to forgo the thrill of seeing the 1929 winner Caracciola driving the 38/250 Mercedes-Benz, because its supercharger had been found to be a few millimetres too long, cannot have been popular, and there was the case of Alfa Romeo using integral cylinder blocks and heads, which allows a higher blower-pressure to be used, and Alvis thought to have resorted to the same trick, in the TT, in spite of the production cars, which the rules said must be the criterion, having detachable cylinder heads.
The present mania of wanting all F1 cars to have almost identical performance stems from the enormous emphasis placed on the World Drivers' Championship. The men are more important than the machine, in the eyes of many. As at a small dirt-track stadium, they would probably be happy not to refer at all to the different makes of cars competing. This points-deciding Championship can be blamed for many things but one hopes it will never result in a stalemate in technical progress in F1 racing. That hasn't quite happened yet, except to Colin Chapman, in the prevailing context. For those so-minded, it is still possible to visit a Grand Prix in a Ferrari hoping that a Ferrari will win, or in a Renault, or Alfa Romeo with the same hope. Even those who drive to races in a Ford (and why not? — a very sensible choice) can console themselves that if a Cosworth-powered car wins it was Ford who put up the finance for these remarkable vee-eight F1 engines in the first place.
But the overall thought in some quarters is that no one driver must be too far outclassed by the superior machine of another. We suggest that this is all wrong, a sadly distorted way of looking at racing of Grand Prix status. The trend should be towards no-holds-barred, the aim to get racing-car and racing-engine technicians and builders working with the freedom that ensured the truly commendable success of the American Space Shuttle on its pioneer flight.
Only None Is Bad
It is said rather loosely that while some publicity is better than other publicity, it is no publicity at all that is bad.
Be that as it may, we are puzzled by a Michelin "blurb" which has just landed on the Editorial desk. It tells us that a Range Rover driven by a team (unnamed) from the Malmesbury and Tetbury Round Table has just set up a new record for driving non-stop round Britain, which, come to think of it, seems an appropriate thing for a Round Table to do. Not that we wish to sneer at such a record — indeed, we would like to have a bash at it ourselves, although we bet the RAC does not approve.
It seems that this Range Rover conducted by these Round Table chaps got round this little Island in 84 hours 51 minutes, cracking the old record by 4 hr. 28 min. That represents an average of 43.31 m.p.h for the 3,675 miles, according to Michelin's Press Office.
What puzzles us is that the hand-out refers to key factors in the Range Rover's success being helicopter refuelling (obviously this is a ambitious Round Table, well endowed with the lolly), Range Rover reliability (you almost have to say that, although we would be unhappy if we bought one that failed to do 3,675 miles, which is what the "record" embraced, without trouble, even when being unmercifully thrashed) and the, we quote, "superb performance of the Michelin tyres". They were 205/16 XM+S tyres, fitted as standard on Range Rovers. However, to a PRO it is no publicity at all that is regarded as a disaster. It seems to us that that is where the negative publicity lies.
Michelin have made very, very good tyres indeed, for a very, very long time. In fact, when motor touring was in its infancy and rich motorists ventured abroad in cars like Roe Collings' Sixty Mercedes and the enormous Berliet which some of you must have seen J.E. Tanner conducting in last Easter's MCC Commemorative Run to Land's End (well, Newquay actually), the more prudent among them specified Michelin covers and, like the little boy who couldn't quite reach the cake of Pear's soap, weren't happy until they got them. So is there anything particularly newsworthy about a set of Michelin tyres running faultlessly for 3,675 miles, even on a heavy vehicle at an average of over 43 m.p.h.? We know 4WD can play havoc with tyres on tarmac roads but we thought the Range Rover's third differential looked after that. So why the excitement over a presumably no-puncture run of under 4,000 miles? The Editorial Rover 3500 has recently been fitted with a new set of Michelin XVS tyres, the former set having lasted for some 25,000 miles, at averages often exceeding 43 m.p.h. So it does seem that this is a bit of publicity of the negative kind.
We are certainly not "knocking" Michelin, who have made splendid tyres since the very early days and whose wonderful "X" led the way in steel-braced radials, and who are now back in Grand Prix racing. Nor are we "knocking" the "record" set up by the Round-Table Round-Britain Range Rover, because it was done to raise funds for Jimmy Savile's Stoke Mandeville Hospital Appeal.
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Just as we were closing for press, we received a letter from Pauline Hailvvood thanking us for our obituary of her husband, Mike, last month and asking us to pass on her thanks to the huge number of motoring enthusiasts who have sent her their condolences at her tragic loss.
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With meetings at Silverstone (two), Donington Park, Oulton Park and Cadwell Park, the VSCC contrives to hold its races at our best circuits. This year that at Oulton Park will be, as usual, the Richard Seaman Memorial Trophies Meeting, on June 13th. The first race is scheduled for 13.15 hours. With two 16-lap scratch races, one for historic racing cars, the other for vintage racing cars, an innovative 10-lap scratch race for 500 c.c. racing cars, and five or possibly six supporting shorter scratch and handicap events, the usual full programme will be presented, a unique spectacle of the older racing cars in full cry and good form, such as only a VSCC meeting fully embraces. The circuit is near Tarporley in Cheshire, admission costs £3 per adult, £1.50 per child, and the Paddock transfer charge is an extra £1.50. Dogs are not permitted to attend. The new 500 c.c. race is in conjunction with the 500 Association and it remains to be seen whether it will be a bit too long. In addition to the racing, the Cheshire Life and Martini Concours d'Elegance for suitably-aged cars will be held. — W.B.
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The VSCC at Curborough and Donington Park
Lack of space prevents a detailed report of these two events held on a mid-May weekend. Suffice it to say that both meetings were run with the VSCC's customary efficiency and there was excellent competition.
At Curborough, where the rain threatened all day, but never really made it, records fell to David Taylor taking the under 1,500 c.c. Standard and Modified Sports Car Class with his 1933 Aston Martin in 43.4 sec; James Briscoe driving Roger Collings' Speed Six Bentley in the vintage section of the over 1,500 c.c. Standard and Modified Sports Car Class with 45.3 sec.; Tony Jones in the vintage division of the under 1,500 c.c. Special and Hybrid Sports Car Class with Frazer Nash Patience in 44.5 sec.; Tim Llewellyn who smashed both the vintage and general records in the over 1,500 c.c. Special and Hybrid Sports Car Class with a time of 39.1 sec. in the 3.8 litre Bentley and Ian Stirling who, with the Norris Special, took the vintage record in the 1,000 to 1,500 c.c. Racing Car Class with 42.6 sec. FTD went to Alan Cottain's Connaught.
Racing at Donington the following day was just as competitive, and there were some really fine dices, especially in the handicap races. Tim Llewellyn capped his record of the previous day by winning both the Melville Trophy (in the wet, from the back of the grid, having given the rest of the field a whole 90 sec. on the staggered start) and the John Holland Trophy Race after a race-long duel with Ron Footitt in the Cognac Special. Later in the afternoon, on a drying track, Donald Day won the Shuttleworth Trophy in a convincing fashion in his 2-litre ERA, while Paul Colborne must have surprised many a seasoned observer by beating the small ERAs to win the under 1,500 c.c. section of this race taking the Nuffield Trophy with his 6CM Maserati. Bruce Halford had a relatively easy time winning the Allcomers Race with his Lotus 16, but Brian Weeks had to work really hard to take the Geoghegan Trophy (run concurrently with the Melville) with his diminutive three wheel Morgan. — P. H. J.W.