World Champions

Some drivers like Phil Hill and Denny Hulme hardly seemed to realise they had become World Champion Racing Drivers, according to the FIA points-scoring system. Others like Jack Brabham and John Surtees quietly got on with their business activities, smiling contentedly to themselves and satisfied with a “job well done”. Graham Hill did his best to live up to the popular idea of a World Champion as a public figure, but two recent Champions seem to have used the position to further a personal crusade.

When Jackie Stewart frightened himself at Spa, in 1966 before he was very famous, by crashing in a BRM at very high speed and more or less getting away with it, he openly avowed to do away with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. He could have simply said “I’ll never drive there again” and stuck to his word, but instead he worked unceasingly to get Grand Prix racing away from that Belgian circuit. His position as World Champion later on helped him in his crusade against the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and finally drove the nails into the coffin of the Belgian GP as a classic event. In 1973 Niki Lauda had a lurid accident, also in a BRM, at the Nurburgring on the Bergwerk section of the circuit, and it frightened him considerably, but as he was a young unknown at the time, nobody took much notice and it was described as the car swerved into the guard-rail and he was fortunate to escape with nothing worse than a broken bone in his hand”. The accident went on for along time and covered a long distance and imprinted a dread of the Nurburgring on his mind. By 1976 he was leading a campaign to have the Nurburgring removed from the Grand Prix scene, and he was then World Champion driver. Just as Stewart had become paranoiac about the Spa circuit, Lauda was in a similar state about the Nurburgring. His accident in 1976 at almost the same place as his accident in 1973 was nearly enough for the psycho-analysts to trot out the “death-wish” idea. As Stewart led the crusade to get rid of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit from the GP calendar, to has Lauda led the crusade to get rid of the Nurburgring, and his crusade continues. They could both have said “I don’t drive there any more” and simply gone away, but their position on the World Champion pedestal made them lead the crusade and carry the banner.

I wonder what James Hunt, the reigning World Champion, is planning to get rid of during his term of office? I cannot see him leading a crusade to get rid of Brands Hatch, even though the first time I saw him he was stepping out of the wreckage of a Formula Three car on that circuit. If he tries to get rid of certain journalists and newspapers then I won’t blame him! My feeling is he is going to spend his time making sure that anyone who hopes to beat him on any circuit is going to have to work very hard indeed.—D.S.J.