Letters, June 2015

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Non-viewing figure

I did not bother to watch the first few Grands Prix on television. I could just be getting old and grumpy, but even so am puzzled by my new indifference after following F1 for many 50 years. Three pieces in your May issue are relevant.

I agree with Nigel Roebuck that the structure of the actual races – who wins and by how much – hasn’t changed much. Nigel is right that none of us objected when Clark and others dominated. There were close races and not so close races, just as there are now.

But correspondent Peter Phillipson is surely also right that drivers used to be more interesting as people. He writes of the youth of Verstappen and others, but there is more to it than that. Corporate interests that come with money don’t like too much boat-rocking.

In the course of his lunch with Simon Taylor, Frank Williams told us that “Bernie came down from heaven”. Ecclestone brought money, which is what the teams wanted and still do, but all money-based businesses lead to a reduction in variety, dominance by one or two players and increasingly difficult barriers for would-be competitors – currently engines. It is the logic of the system. New entrants will have a hard time: ask Honda. So the money, which is to say television, has resulted in technical dominance by, currently, Mercedes. Good for them.

As with many other sports businesses (soccer, the Olympics), this requires subsidy not just by car manufacturers but by governments in need of some favourable PR. So, no French or German Grand Prix? Hello, Vladimir. Some of us find this distasteful.

For the sake of the sport I hope that my disenchantment is just that of someone who remembers different times and thinks them better, with all the faults of recollection. But those viewing figures don’t look too healthy.

Alan Jessop, Cleatlam, Co Durham

Cole’s corner

“For the first time since 1955 the Formula 1 World Championship will be without a German Grand Prix this year…” (Motor Sport, May). No doubt you’ll already have received plenty of reminders about 1960, but it is interesting to note the different reasons.

That time the Germans chose to run their race for F2, effectively the new 1500cc F1 a year early. The theory was that there would be a German team – Porsche – inheriting the Auto Union half of the Silver Arrows tradition, which would bring out crowds of patriotic spectators in a way that the British and Italian cars never could. Times change…

As for the unhappy Sauber saga at Melbourne, it reminded me of the case of RAM Racing back in 1976, when John MacDonald decided to drop driver Loris Kessel halfway through the season even though the Swiss had brought much of the sponsorship money to get the team into F1.

Also in the May issue, Nigel Roebuck wrote, “Formula 1 never lacks for folk wishing to stick the boot in, and God knows I can be as critical as anyone if I perceive something ill within it.” I wouldn’t argue with that! In fact, I found myself in total agreement with almost all his opinions in Reflections, not least his views – shared by Mark Hughes – on the leading lights at Red Bull and their attitudes to the new F1.

But as long as they are campaigning for the FIA to change the engine regulations to hobble Mercedes, or slagging off Renault for not measuring up, they are not accusing more successful teams of cheating.

I suppose that is progress of a sort…

David Cole, Oakham, Rutland

High rise? Flat…

With the collapse of the German Grand Prix, attention is once again turning to ticket prices, sideshow events fans want when they visit a race weekend and, of course, the obligatory finger of blame pointed at Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.

There are valid points to be made in relation to all of this, but there is one thing I have yet to see mentioned – that of the additional costs associated with Formula 1 race weekends. I attended the resurrected Austrian GP last year and, like seemingly everyone else, was very impressed with the ticket prices. How praise was lavished upon Red Bull! But let us not forget this is a marketing company and the race was a marketing exercise. Having gone to the concert area on both Friday and Saturday nights, I can assure you that, alcohol apart, with no other drink on sale than their own, it is reasonable to assume they made back whatever money they missed out on from the race tickets. Given the price of said drink, I am also certain they will have made a profit.

But it doesn’t stop there, does it? We all know everyone’s prices go up for race weekends. The smallest snack costs an hour’s wage, campsites suddenly become unaffordable, airline tickets go up as far as the aeroplanes, every small player in every nearby town doubles or triples their prices on everything. Do they, too, not share the blame for people turning their backs on race attendance?

I have no doubt the same tactics took place in Germany and now, after crowds dwindled, the race has gone and no locals will be making any money.

It isn’t just the people whose names we love to hate that make a killing out of Formula 1. Thousands of other business do likewise, and they should ask themselves how long they can squeeze their race weekend dry before it, too, is abandoned.

David Herron, Washington, Tyne and Wear

Artist known as Prince

I was interested to read Gordon Cruickshank’s Prince Bira article in April’s issue. As a 14-year-old I saw him race in the 1947 Ulster Trophy races on the Ballyclare circuit in Co Antrim, where he drove the ERA. He won that race, beating Bob Gerard to the flag. On a visit to the Goodwood Revival in 2013 I was pleased to see Bira’s ERA still being campaigned.

Parts of the Ballyclare circuit still exist, but road improvement schemes and housing development have rendered the circuit unsuitable for racing. However, the local council has erected a not-quite-authentic aluminium replica of Bira’s ERA on the site where the pits were located.

William Woodside, Ballyclare, NI

Feast of endurance

In a recent piece on your website, Andrew Frankel was spot-on in his assertion that Formula 1 could learn a few lessons from the World Endurance Championship.

With F1’s restrictive engineering rules leading to a reliance on wind tunnels, why not ban all aerodynamic bodywork except for small wings fore and aft? Combine this with different engine configurations and the cars wouldn’t all look and sound the same. Using the current fuel-flow monitor would give the equivalence in power.

Group C sports car racing was obliged to use F1-derived engines before, but in the early ’90s they were not reliable enough for long distances. Nowadays, a swap the other way could give us open-wheelers powered by Audi and Toyota!

‘Blink and you miss ’em’ pitstops have become an irrelevance. Again, do it Le Mans-style and limit the crew to the jackmen and two mechanics changing the wheels. That might make the stops more exciting.

Stephen Jones, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Lella remembered

With regard to Paul Fearnley’s recent piece on Lella Lombardi, I remember seeing the ‘Tigress of Turin’ driving a Matich at Oran Park in 1974. She made the newspapers as an international star racing in Australia. Sadly, the Matich was not up to the task as the Lola T330/332s were the cars to have at the time. I saw her in the paddock area and was impressed by her professional approach to getting the car ready and set up – a real racer.

David Karonidis, Bermagui, Australia

Nice one Ceril

As a reader of Motor Sport since 1947 I enjoy articles that retrace the history of racing – and Gordon Cruickshank’s piece about Princess Ceril brought back memories.

In the early Eighties I was compiling the story of ERA racer Pat Fairfield (published later in your magazine). I contacted Princess Ceril at her home on Lake Garda and she was extremely helpful, giving me personal insights into her life plus those of Bira and Chula.

I have about 10 hand-written letters from her, as well as Christmas cards.

Princess Ceril sent me signatures from both Chula and Bira, which she had cut from personal letters. She also sent me small box camera shots of the Fairfield Memorial, when it stood in their London garden before being moved. She was most humble and helpful, telling me that Pat had been the role model for Bira and that they were close friends.

Andrew Embleton, South Africa

View from Pedro’s balcony…

I recently went to Monza for some American TV work and stumbled across the Hotel Fossati. It’s not even five miles away from the track and is oozing motor sport nostalgia from when the hotel opened in the 1960s. There are pictures all over the walls of everyone who has stayed there.

These are a who’s who of motor racing through the decades; too many to list here, but hopefully some photographs here give you an idea. Most of them are signed.

“It all started when Jo Siffert wanted a room for his F2 mechanics,” manager Vittorio Fossati told me, “but my father said that as a driver he needed a room too, so gave him a room for free. After that more and more drivers came along. I was lucky growing up around them. One time I went along to Monaco as a teenager, but couldn’t get a ticket for the paddock and so wandered around Casino Square. Pedro Rodríguez came out of the Hotel de Paris en route to the paddock and asked what I was doing.

I explained, so he threw me his room key and I watched the Grand Prix from his hotel balcony.

“It has always been fun. Senna stayed here in his Lotus days, but mechanics got the key to his room and totally emptied the furniture. Many of the other drivers often used the beds for more than sleep. There was one famous guy who would come back from the track on a scooter after morning practice for a ‘lunch session’ upstairs here. He’d come down in the lift, zip up his overalls and go back to the track for first qualifying.”

Vittorio told me it is still popular with the modern drivers, too; good to hear some have a connection with the history of Monza and the sport.

I could have stayed all night speaking Ital-glish with him, but we had to crack on. On my next visit I will make time to while away a bottle of wine with him, but I urge anyone passing the area to do the same.

Toby Moody, Himbleton, Worcestershire