Letter to readers, March 1991

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This and That

Dear Reader,

Not surprisingly my list of “greats” among the top racing drivers of the past 45 years, which I published in the January issue of Motor Sport, has brought forward a lot of response. Older readers asked why I had left out Fangio, while younger ones wanted to know why Prost was not in the list. Fangio won five World Championships and Prost has won 44 Grand Prix races, but my list of Ascari, Moss, Clark, Villeneuve and Senna was not made up from statistics or the use of hindsight, it was made from personal knowledge and experience of “how” they achieved things at the time, rather than “what” they achieved. Each was judged within his own time and in direct comparison with his contempories at the time, no nostalgia, no PR hype, no statistics. It was a case of observing their “greatness” as it was happening.

To observe the precision and judgment of Ascari, the speed and confidence of Moss, the versatility of Clark, the uncanny judgement and reflexes of Villeneuve, the confidence and brain power of Senna, were just a few of the things that were part of the overall analysis. Nobody has disputed that my five drivers were truly “greats”; it is more a case of the list not being long enough. I am not saying that drivers like Juan Fangio, Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda and Alan Prost are not great drivers, it is just that they are not on my short list. Equally, I did not include any drivers from periods of racing that I did not watch, for undoubtedly many of those I read about in my formative years were also “great”, such as Caracciola, Nuvolari, Lang, Rosemeyer and Wimille.

Believe me, it is very difficult to decide on five, or even six “great” drivers. You have to apply some pretty ruthless standards and guidelines, and I recommend you try it some time. It is probable that no two people will agree, which is fair and reasonable and makes for good healthy discussion, which can pass away many an after-dinner chat, so much more entertaining and enjoyable than a discussion of last night’s television programmes.

Another subject that always raises comment is that of “fake” cars, these days so prolific that they almost outnumber the “real” ones! Although auction prices reached their artificial peak last year, and values have fallen dramatically, or are non-existent, old cars are still fetching prices by any standards, and few motoring enthusiasts can afford them even now, unless they have some “unreal” money from the sale of a family house or painting. People who have to buy what they want with money they have earned still have a pretty bleak outlook when it comes to buying an old car. Consequently there would appear to be a market for “fake” old cars, providing the price is reasonable and the sales talk is honest.

Peter Garnier, who used to be Sports Editor of The Autocar and with whom I had many European adventures thirty yeats ago, is now retired and living in Cornwall, viewing today’s scene from afar. He wrote an interesting letter in reply to my article on “Buying a Fake” from which I quote:

In an odd way I don’t go along with the word “fake”, although agreeing with you wholeheartedly that they are fakes. But the word “fake” has dishonest connotations, whereas the people who build them are being “open” enough in their sales talk — and only just open enough, mind you — for the cognoscenti to catch on. The ignoramuses, I suppose, fall for the blurb. Surely, though, ‘reproduction’ is the fair and honest description? My wife and I, in our time, have bought beautifully made pieces of reproduction furniture — openly advertised as reproduction and in no way intended to hoodwink the unwary. If you happen to like that sort of thing you can buy reproductions of Gainsborough’s or whoever’s paintings. You can also buy replicas — but those, by rights I believe, have to have been done by the “master’s” pupils, under his eagle eye, and smaller than the original.

Now, that last sentence appealed to me enormously, and recalled a NASCAR saloon car racing story of long ago of the American racer who made an outwardly standard (stock) saloon that was something like 7/8ths the size of a real one, being careful to have it scrutinised when no other cars were about, and keeping it well out of the way in the paddock. His hope was to win by reason of lighter weight and smaller frontal area, so important on the NASCAR oval tracks. Unfortunately he got found out, which I always thought was a pity, for that imaginative “cheating” deserved to win. However, the idea of “replicas” of famous old cars being made to a smaller scale sounds like a good, honest and straightforward idea, especially as a lot of people who buy these sort of things only want them to look at or to “be seen” with. Equally we could make our “genuine replicas” larger than the original, like the vast green 2-seater Bugatti featured in our report of the Essen Motor Show in the January Motor Sport. A car that size must surely be a genuine fake, though people tell me that Ettore Bugatti really did make a 2-seater car that size back in 1932, but it was not the one on display in Essen.

If fakes are to become ‘respectable’ by being described as “reproductions” I just hope the Trade and the advertising world call them “reproductions” and not “repros” — (abrevs avulg). Though I still prefer the simple word “fake”. It cannot be shortened to become an advertising “in-word”, it cannot be mistaken for anything else and if it has sinister, dishonest connotations, so be it. Mind you, there are some nice variations and degrees on the word, such as “very good”, “poor”, “honest”, “perfect” and so on. You can also call them ‘model cars, to 1 to 1 scale’ or “full size model cars”. I still prefer that all fakes, reproductions, replicas or whatever were made to 3/4 scale, so who is going to be the first honest faker to make a 3/4 scale Grand Prix Bugatti? Don’t make it too small or it might be mistaken for a genuine Type 52!

To move into modern times (I know the ‘repro industry’ is of today!) the FISA who control Formula 1 Grand Prix racing have made some interesting rule changes, one in particular involving drivers and the World Championship, or ‘points racing’. Until now the first six places in a Grand Prix collected points in the order 9, 6, 4,3, 2, 1 and of the 16 races that are normally held, a driver can only score from 11, obviously his best eleven, so near the end of the season the media-mathematicians spend a lot of time calculating who could be World Champion. Similarly, some of these people get very excited after the first race when a relative newcomer finishes a lucky second, proclaiming: “He is second in the World Championship.”

A true statement of fact, but fairly meaningless, like a lot of media wordage. Starting this year the World Championship “points system” has been changed. The winner will now score a good round metric 10 points, and the following five places will be unchanged, so Senna could amass 160 points during season, and whereas previously he could only have counted his best 11 scores, he can now count the best 14 races, or a maximum of 140 points.

There was quite a strong feeling that all 16 scores should count, but at the last moment FISA weakened and settled for 14; they don’t like simple solutions, like only 1st place to count! The points scored by each driver during a season has a direct, but rather complex and obscure, bearing on how much money he can earn during the following season, so this new arrangement of points scoring means that winners will be able to earn more money, which seems a reasonable idea. That the points to money system is calculated, behind the scenes, from midway through one season to midway through the next, is not really of our concern.

Another FISA financial change is that new teams who want to register an entry for the 1991 World Championship series of 16 races have got to put down a deposit, as an act of faith and intent, of a sum of money that is 5 times as great as in 1990. Inflation? No, safeguarding the creditability of the World Championship from new teams who might try to get on the bandwagon of Formula 1. And to think that at one time teams used to be paid good money to help make up a full grid for a Grand Prix. Those were clearly “the good old days” that the “nostalgiaphiles” talk about, when everyone had a Cosworth DFV engine, except Ferrari, or was it when everyone had a Bugatti? Whichever it was, today is different.

While on the FISA numbers game it is interesting to see that the new Jordan Grand Prix team of Irishman Eddie Jordan has changed its new car type number from Jordan 911 to Jordan 191 and that they have won sponsorship from the soft-drinks brand 7-UP. Didn’t Michael Bentine, or someone’s, father spend years of experimenting making a fizzy non-alcoholic drink that he called 1-UP, but it was a failure so he tried a new formula and called it 2-UP, that was a failure as well so he invented 3-UP? This went on until he got to 6-UP, whereupon he got disillusioned and scrapped the whole idea. He died never knowing how close he was to success!

In these days of Formula One advertising “double-standard” over cigarette and alcohol advertising it is refreshing that Jordan had got a “soft-drinks” sponsor that is uncomplicated to the “do-gooders” in this world. “Refreshing” said the man in the green and red jacket “that’s exactly what 7 UP is, have a can.” The only unfortunate part of the business is that the Jordan Grand Prix team hope to field two cars, and they will both carry large number 7 on the side, which at the moment is Martin Brundle’s Brabham number. The Olivetti-Longines electronic timing system won’t be bothered by this, but think of the poor spectator who only goes to one Grand Prix a year, and Murray Walker trying to do a television commentary from a black and white monitor screen! “Spectators?” said the man from FISA, “what are they?”

Yours DSJ