I CAN ALMOST guarantee that as I cross the paddock at Brands Hatch, during the Race of Champions, to look at the new UOP-Shadow I will meet someone who will say “Grand Prix cars are not what they used to be, are they?” hoping to draw me into conversation over his pet aversion. This sort of thing seems to happen at any motor-racing gathering that I go to and I have to refrain from the obvious reply, which would be, “No they are not. If they were they wouldn’t win races or break any lap records” but instead, if I have time for a chat I try and find out more behind the opening remark. These people usually say things like, “I’ve lost interest in Grand Prix racing these days”, and when I enquire why I get answers like, “The cars look like roller skates on rubber wheels.” I find that the ones I meet at motoring gatherings other than Grand Prix events are the most vehement, so I ask the question, “When did you lose interest?” to which I get evasive answers and a lot of chat about “I don’t go to Formula One races any more, can’t stand those wide tyres and also those wing things; more like aeroplanes than racing cars.” The objections cover a wide range of things, like “they all look alike”, “can’t see the driver working”, “all those fancy sponsors’ colours they paint them nowadays”, “can’t see the driver’s face with those space helmets”, and “they’d all got Cosworth engines”. While listening to all these moans I can’t help feeling that for people who have “lost interest” they have a remarkable knowledge of the current scene!
Further questioning about when they lost interest, and why, will produce remarks like “not since the war, when Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union gave up. They were real cars” even get the remark made “can’t stand rear-engined cars” to which I reply rather unkindly, “Not even an Auto-Union?” which usually causes confusion and a covering up remark like “they were real cars, with real power in the back”. At times like this I feel like giving up, thinking of 450 b.h.p. in the back of a modern Grand Prix car weighing about half as much as an Auto-Union. But undaunted, I persevere and press the question again “when did you lose interest?” Occasionally I can track down an actual point in history of Grand Prix racing, like “when Alfa Romeo withdrew the 158’s” or “when Hawthorn and Collins died” or even “when Jim Clark died” but these are rare and most of the moaners cannot say exactly when they lost interest, but they know full well that they don’t like “Stewart and his lot” or “their black and gold Lotuses” or “the little rollerskate wheels” or “the advertising and funny colours”, in fact, they don’t like anything that is on the current scene. To tell the truth they are professional moaners who keep in touch with all the latest trends just so that they can complain. Underneath they are probably as enthusiastic as any of us, but there is a cult today that it is fashionable to be “bored by it all” and in that cult you are not permitted to show any enthusiasm for anything, unless it is enthusiasm for being bored.
It would be refreshing to find someone who could give me a definite date or point in history when they lost interest and gave up completely, and who could say with all sincerity, “The last Grand Prix car I saw was a Vanwall, are they still winning today?” or “I haven’t seen a Grand Prix race since 1939, did Auto-Union and Mercedes return after the war?” or even “I couldn’t stand that litre Formula for Grand Prix cars, I lost interest then. Are they still racing those little cars?” These people I would love to talk to and tell them about all the exciting cars and races, and the great drivers we have had since they lost interest. In order to try and combat the modern moaners and with the hope that I might find a genuine loss of interest in Grand Prix racing I gathered together a series of photographs and showed them to people in sequence and in chronological order with the question “say at which point you lost interest”. They would say: “There”, but even so they seemed to know what the rest of the photographs were going to be so I ask you, the reader, to look at the accompanying photographs of cars and drivers and say when you lost interest in Grand Prix racing. Or are you like me and are still interested, intrigued by the UOP-Shadow project, wishing that Matra would relent on their decision to withdraw from Formula One and waiting to see the 1973 Lotus, in its John Player black and gold. Did you lose interest when a certain driver died or retired, or a make of car or manufacturer withdrew; was it when there was a change of Formula, or when there was a revolutionary mechanical change, or have you not lost your interest?
Of course, we all have high points in our interest, and low ones as well, usually tied up to a particular happening. I enjoyed the Monoposto Alfa Romeo as it was the first Grand Prix car of which I became aware. I loved the sheer dominance of the Mercedes and Auto-Union, but I prayed that the 1938/39 Maserati would one day beat them. The post-war Alfa Romeo 158’s were marvellous, but the 4 1/2-litre Ferraris that beat them were even better, and Fangio’s reign was terrific, but what a high point it was when the Vanwall conquered everyone. The Cooper/Brabham era was a bore, but the rise of Jim Clark and Lotus was refreshing while the return to power with the 3-litre Formula put things back into perspective. Ferraris have always sounded wonderful, but the Lotus 72 was really exciting and the Lotus gas-turbine, in spite of its failure, had me on tip-toe with excitement. The abortive 4-wheel-drive season depressed me, but the G-forces being developed in cornering in 1972 were staggering, as were the lap records. The almost total disappearance of British drivers from the leading group in Grand Prix today is depressing at the moment, but the end is not here by any means. I don’t think it is possible to “lose interest” in Grand Prix racing, once you have discovered it. Moments of disenchantment may appear, but loss of interest is unlikely. I may be wrong.—D.S.J.