F1 in the Park
1966, the year of the Stones’ Paint it Black, the year of Clint Eastwood’s third spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the year that Graham Hill won the Indy 500. It was also the year that saw a change in regulations governing Formula 1, when the 1-1/2-litre engines gave way to 3 litres and, incidentally, allowed for the reintroduction of supercharged engines into Grand Prix racing, although it would be a few years before anyone took up that option.
It was a year celebrated by the HSCC at Donington who attracted a wide variety of 3-litre cars, four former World Champions and a whole host of former Grand Prix drivers, at a two day meeting at the beginning of May.
A large part of the programme on the Monday revolved around demonstration laps, firstly by the three World Champions who were present that day (John Surtees was only present on the Sunday) and then by an assortment of former Grand Prix drivers in Formula One cars. It was also a chance to catch up with just a few of them to find out what they are doing with themselves nowadays as well as what had brought them back to Donington.
Jean-Pierre Beltoise, bearing a somewhat aged face from the past, was demonstrating the Donington Collection’s BRM P160, the car in which he won the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.
“The tyres and steering were not quite perfect, for the tyres had no grip and the steering was very heavy,” he commented, “but the engine and gearbox are exactly as I remember them. That car could have had many more wins if it had had more power. If you want to win with a 12-cylinder engine against an 8-cylinder like the Cosworth, then you need to have more power because of the extra weight, because of the extra fuel consumption, because of many things. In fact, we had less power than the Cosworth!” Asked whether it brought back any regrets about leaving the world of Grand Prix racing, he replied: “No, not at all, although I am still racing in the Carrera Cup in France for fun, but I’m not dreaming about coming back into Formula One or sports cars.”
Beltoise now owns a road safety school near Paris and is also involved in the Centre Nationale de l’Automobile Museum in Paris.
Jean-Pierre Jarier raced in 136 Grands Prix, the statistics recording that he achieved only three third places, but believe it or not, he was at one time regarded as potentially France’s first World Champion. He now had a rounder face than when a Grand Prix regular, but had otherwise not aged at all. “When I was told by Steve Lydon of the HSCC that I could drive one of the old Grand Prix cars, that was enough for me — I came straight over. Driving the Tyrrell 009 (the car used by Jarier in 1979 when team-mate to Didier Pironi) brought back all my feelings of the time,” but his strongest memories of that era were of his two years in the Shadows team in 1974 and 1975. It was in his second season with the team that he qualified on the front row of the Argentinian GP, first race of the season, in the DN5, only failing to make the start when the crown wheel and pinion broke on the warming-up lap. He also led the next race, the Brazilian GP, only to be foiled eight laps from the end when the car broke down.
“The Shadow in 1975 was fast, but unreliable, unlike the Tyrrell which was reliable, but slow. At least, though, we could finish the races in Ken’s team and pick up the odd places, but it was not quick enough to win outright.”
Jody Scheckter, World Champion in 1979: “What has brought me here to Donington today? To do something different,” he remarked in his languid, almost diffident, way, “and sit again in a racing car for the first time in 11 years.”
Had he ever thought of returning to the sport since his retirement at the end of 1980: “On a few funny occasions, but not really, no.” This is because he has been busy over the last seven years building up a business in America, making simulation systems for small arms for law enforcement and the military. “I had been retired from motor racing for a few years and was looking around for something to do when I came across the concept that an English company had been doing and thought what a great idea it was and really just started the business on the kitchen table.” Had his title of World Champion helped at all? “I never used my name out of motor racing at all. I remember going to a show of sheriffs in some part of the United States and nobody knew me until one person eventually recognised me. I was actually quite pleased. It was a new world and I started from the bottom. We are now the biggest small arms simulation company in the world, but that’s still small.”
Obviously willing to open up more on his new life and business, it was with some reluctance that Scheckter allowed me to drag him back to the topic of motor racing. Was being the centre of attention at Donington giving him a buzz? “No, not really. The buzz that’s surprised was how much I enjoyed driving the car, and I didn’t think I would at all. Getting into the Ferrari, it didn’t feel like I had been out of the car for more than a weekend, and that surprised me.”
Much to Lincoln Small’s delight, and to Sir Jack Brabham’s as it turned out, the three times World Champion gave demonstration laps in Small’s Formula Two Brabham BT35 since the Formula One car he was due to drive was hors de combat. He then proceeded to set a time that would have got him onto the front row of Lincoln’s race, despite never having sat in the car before and never having driven at Donington.
“I think the last time he sat in that car was when he handed it over to the original owner,” said an astonished Small watching Brabham absolutely flying around the circuit, far exceeding the five laps he was asked to limit himself to. Sir Jack was on quite a high when he finally pitted: “That was fantastic! I never realised just how good these little Brabham cars were!”
“You just got back into it as if you had been doing it without a break.”
“Actually it didn’t feel as if I’d been out of racing, I enjoyed every minute.”
Denny Hulme, World Champion in 1967, retired at the end of 1974. Nicknamed The Bear, he hadn’t changed much in 20 years in either looks or manner. Of all the World Champions present, he is the one who keeps his hand in at motor racing, not only competing in touring cars, but also racing trucks in New Zealand. He also comes over to Europe for the occasional historic event, such as the Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in August.
“The only difference between here and the ‘Ring is the crowd, and the enthusiasm of the crowd,” he growled. “Poms are not renowned for doing handstands or anything like that, so although they appreciate the calibre, I would like to see some more hype somewhere along the line.”
Hulme had come over especially for the event, enduring a round flying time of 30 hours, but was it worth it? “Yeah! It’s good to see familar faces. One tends to forget what people like Beltoise and Jarier looked like, but you see them in the hotel foyer and it was just like we were motor racing a few years ago.”
The crowd was disappointingly thin, but the HSCC have nevertheless been sufficiently encouraged to investigate the possibilities of turning the event into an annual meeting, held at different venues and maybe in different countries. With increased promotion and some ironing out of the programme’s flaws, they could be onto a good thing. — WPK