Nigel Roebuck

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Reflections

– The strengths and weaknesses of F1’s top three

– A trip back in time, the heights of luxury in 1968

*

Early in the New Year there appeared an interview with Red Bull’s Helmut Marko. It attracted an unusual amount of comment, not least because it contained less than complimentary remarks about one of the team’s own drivers, Mark Webber.

You don’t need to be in a Formula 1 paddock very long to pick up on the fact that Red Bull is not the most popular team within. For one thing, people will tell you, the company spends way more than any other, Ferrari included; for another, they murmur that Red Bull is ‘too close to Bernie’; for another yet, there is a perception — not least among other mechanics — that some team personnel consider themselves ‘a cut above’…

While these are not impressions one gets from talking with such as Adrian Newey or Christian Horner, the interview with Marko served only to bolster them — the more so since it appeared in Red Bulletin, the company’s house magazine.

Marko sets the tone with a curiously glacial response to an early question: ‘You are regarded as very cool and aloof. Does that bother you?’ “You’ll never make it in Formula 1 if you are only addicted to beauty.”

Seemingly the main purpose of the interview was to put across Marko’s conviction that Sebastian Vettel is the only perfect racing driver there has ever been. This has long been his mantra, of course: Vettel was picked for Red Bull’s Junior Team — which Marko ran — in his karting days and, apart from a brief spell with BMW, has been synonymous with the energy drink company ever since. Helmut has long regarded Sebastian as ‘his boy’, and brooks no criticism of him. One remembers the notorious collision between the two Red Bulls at Istanbul in 2010, when he instantly — vehemently — put the blame on Webber.

Not too many agreed with him, but then not too many were surprised, either, for Marko’s ‘Svengali’ relationship with Vettel was already well established, and Webber has never been under any illusions about his status in the Red Bull scheme of things — indeed it is only his excellent personal relationship with Dietrich Mateschitz that has kept him in the team for so long.

Last year Ferrari offered Mark a 2013 drive and he will have been mighty tempted, for few F1 drivers are immune to the lure of Maranello. And whereas the Australian and Fernando Alonso are friends, he and Vettel are not. In the end, though, Webber decided to accept the offer of yet another ‘one-year deal’ with Red Bull, for he could see what Alonso was coping with, week in, week out, and reasoned that an ultracompetitive car still counted for more than anything else.

Following this interview with Marko, though, Webber might have had pause for thought. At the beginning of last season, you will recall that Red Bull — its ‘blown exhaust’ advantage greatly reduced by regulation change — was struggling, and at the first three races Vettel was outqualified by his team-mate. This is dismissed by Marko: “We can say that the ideal Vettel set-up had yet to be found. It is quite different from that of Webber. Only with that set-up can you see the incredible 110 per cent Vettel in qualifying…”

Marko is Mateschitz’s ‘man at the races’, an employee of Red Bull, yet he then proceeds to speak patronisingly of the team’s other driver. “It seems to me that Webber has an average two races per year when he is unbeatable, but he can’t maintain this form throughout the year. And as soon as his prospects start to look good in the world championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates. In comparison with Seb’s rising form, it seems to me that Mark’s form somehow flattens out. Then, if some technical mishap occurs — like with the alternator, for example — he falls relatively easily into a downward spiral.

“For much of his career Mark was never in a top team, but he was always regarded as a high flyer if only he could get into the right team. Then Red Bull puts him in a car — a possible winner — and suddenly along comes this kid, and he snatches the booty from under Mark’s nose. Psychologically it’s not easy, of course; this would gnaw away at anyone’s confidence.” Back to the blue-eyed boy — and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, for the making of Vettel, after all, has also been very much the making of Marko, who at one time was not taken terribly seriously.

“In 2012 Sebastian’s driving was virtually flawless, but he is a phenomenon — it is always like that. After the summer break, his performance curve shoots up. I don’t know how he does it, but to keep doing it cannot be a coincidence. That brings us back to his method of preparation, the way he shuts himself off from the rest of the world, so that he can still call on reserves that other drivers might not have: Fernando Alonso, for example, who is busy with politics and funny comments.”

Ah yes, now it’s Alonso’s turn. “I believe,” Marko went on, “we saw the stress he was under towards the end of the season. Saying things like, ‘I’m competing against Hamilton, not Vettel’, and ‘I’m up against Newey’, these psychological skirmishes. We said, ‘Just ignore him’.”

Alonso, predictably, declined to rise to the bait, wryly commenting on Twitter that Marko’s remarks made him feel ‘flattered’.

It was not the first time that Helmut’s cage had been rattled by Fernando. Towards the end of last season, as the championship battle entered its decisive phase, he went on about his ‘political games’, as if it were somehow underhand to suggest that Newey’s post-Monza improvements to the RB8 might have contributed to putting Ferrari on the back foot. Over lunch with Martin Brundle, the subject came up.

“Yep,” he laughed, “the smart thing would have been to keep quiet, wouldn’t it? Marko goes on about Alonso’s comments, saying he’s told Vettel to ignore them — but clearly he can’t do that himself! When I heard what he’d said, I thought, ‘Mission accomplished, Fernando!’ He’d got under their skin, hadn’t he? All part of the game, and always has been — that’s the way sport is at the highest level.”

It is a fact that Alonso considers Lewis Hamilton his number one rival (and vice versa), because “Lewis can win in the best car — and also not in the best car…” The implication is not lost.

“I think both Fernando and Lewis think Sebastian is over-rated,” said Brundle. “They think he’s just had the best car. I saw you rated the top three in 2012 as AlonsoHamilton-Vettel — actually, I think I’d have gone Alonso-Vettel-Hamilton…”

Well, I said, taking them in order, Alonso was clearly number one, and what I admired most was that, in what was often a very ordinary car, he never once compromised his effort.

“Yes, absolutely,” said Martin. “He’s number one for me, no question. A defining moment was an interview Fernando gave towards the end of the season. He’d had a struggle in qualifying, and he was only eighth or something — and he said, ‘No, that’s good — last week I was there on the grid, too, and I finished on the podium…’ I was so impressed — if he was one of those American preachers, I’d send him some money! I don’t know how he does it — he was convinced he was going to win that World Championship, and so convincing in the way he spoke about it. I thought that was absolutely extraordinary — and he bloody nearly did win it, didn’t he?

“I thought the moment of the season came in parc ferme after the race in Brazil, when Fernando was just staring at Vettel. It summed up the year for me. He wasn’t standing there in disbelief — he was gathering energy from the experience, already fast-forwarding to the moment when he was the one jumping off the car, with his arms up in the air… Absolutely remarkable.

“I remember once being on a podium with Schumacher, when we were Benetton team-mates — it was at Monza, and Senna had won, with me second and Michael third. He was jumping up and down and I was thinking, ‘He’s pretty pumped up for a bloke who’s been beaten by his team-mate’ — and then I realised that you’ve got to maximise the good days, because in sport there are so many bad ones. I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s right, don’t be pissed off at finishing second — be happy with it, and use it…’

“I really admired that in Fernando, and I absolutely wanted him to win the title. I don’t know him that well — I know Seb better — but leaving that aside, I wanted him to be World Champion because he did an absolutely extraordinary job. Had he won, we would have been discussing, ‘Is this one of the greatest World Championships of all time?”

In terms of what Alonso had to work with, I said, his season seemed to me among the greatest any driver has had. His starts and opening laps were invariably stunning, and what impressed me, too, was that his overtaking moves were so clean: he wasn’t always clattering into other cars.

“Absolutely right,” said Brundle. “He took his risks when he had the chance — but if he had to yield, he yielded. I think his only mistake all year long was the first corner at Suzuka, where he squeezed Raikkonen and paid a very high price.

“Having said that, I drove an F1 car last year — the Ferrari at Fiorano — and, believe me, you can see virtually nothing out of the thing. All the cars are the same. So here you are, heading down to turn one at Suzuka — believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks from an overhead camera — and suddenly your race is over. The rest of the year I thought Fernando’s decision-making process was absolutely sublime. OK, what about Lewis?”

Well, I said, after an occasionally appalling season in 2011, it seemed to me that Lewis was fundamentally back on it last year, driving beautifully, really enjoying being a racing driver again. That was never more apparent than in Austin, where I thought he drove a fantastic race, hard and relentless after Vettel for lap after lap.

“Yep,” said Martin. “That was personal! Actually, what I decided through the latter part of 2012 is that I like the real Lewis Hamilton. For so long I never really ‘got’ Lewis — I didn’t get the ‘cap down, permanent sunglasses, sucking on the energy drink, ignoring people around him’ thing — but I don’t think that’s him. I think the genuine Lewis Hamilton is a really nice kid, and hopefully that will come to the fore. His problem last year was reliability, wasn’t it?”

True enough, I said — but even that he coped with remarkably well, even though it cost him several races. By contrast, I wasn’t that impressed with Vettel’s behaviour when Red Bull was relatively off the pace at the beginning of the year, and Webber was outqualifying him. It seemed to me that Seb had a bit of a shock — suddenly it wasn’t a matter of simply showing up and winning the race…

“I think,” said Martin, “the happy-golucky kid, coming into the paddock with his rucksack on, disappeared in 2012— and the real Seb stepped forward. You’re right — he doesn’t cope very graciously when things go wrong on the track and I thought he made quite a lot of mistakes in 2012.

“On the other hand, the bloke’s just won his third World Championship — at 25 — and he’s got a great team-mate: I wouldn’t want to go into battle against Webber in an Fl car, but he’s been comprehensively seen off by Vettel.

“Mark’s like Jenson, isn’t he? On his day he’s got all the skill of the top three, but I think his emotions get involved in his racing. In a small way, actually, I see myself like that — in the same car, on my day, I beat Senna, Schumacher and Hakkinen, but the key phrase there is ‘on my day’: they could deliver like that every day.

“I see Vettel as a sort of mix of Alonso and Hamilton — Fernando’s head and Lewis’s foot. As well as that, after Abu Dhabi and particularly Brazil, ‘lucky’ must be his middle name!”

The first lap at Interlagos was indeed extraordinary. First, Raikkonen drove off the road to avoid hitting Vettel; then Sebastian cut across Bruno Senna — and was not investigated by the stewards; in the contact the Red Bull received a sizeable clout; finally, proceeding backwards down the middle of the track, it was avoided by all the following drivers.

“Yes,” Brundle said, “he was unbelievably fortunate to get away with all that. The coming-together had nothing to do with Bruno — he’d started well and was making a great move when Vettel hit him. Seb absolutely screwed up there — he should have left a car’s width on the inside of the corner, as Alonso would have done — but where he was brilliant, on the other hand, was letting the car freewheel backwards. How on earth, though, did his right rear suspension survive that bash from the Williams?”

How indeed, but it did, and Vettel duly collected enough points for another World Championship. What, I said, of the perception that Red Bull was ‘too close to Bernie’, not least Sebastian? As the owner of four cars — 20 per cent of the grid — Mateschitz is undeniably a very powerful figure within the sport and Ecclestone has long admitted to a soft spot for Vettel. All a bit too cosy?

“I hear what you say,” said Brundle, “and don’t disagree with a lot of it. I think some in the team have cultivated Bernie pretty successfully, and Vettel’s a smart boy, no doubt about it — on Bernie’s birthday he’ll have a present for him, for example. All the clever drivers I know have always engaged Bernie: Niki, Nelson, Ayrton, Michael… They work the system to their advantage, and if my boy were coming into F1, I’d be saying to him, ‘Go and see what Sebastian’s doing.’

“As for Red Bull the team, they’ve managed to cut a financial deal, second only to Ferrari, in the new hierarchy — ahead of McLaren, and way ahead of Mercedes. And that’s bloody clever, however you look at it: if I were running a team, that’s what I’d be trying to do. I know Red Bull are seen as arrogant, and sometimes I think that’s deserved. Longestablished teams see them as ‘New World’ — and, as well as that, they’re winning.

“I must make the point, though, that I’d be extremely disappointed for F1 if people like Mateschitz and Vijay Mallya took their train sets away, because they’re stakeholders in their F1 teams — and how many people are stakeholders in their teams these days? Not many.

“If next week Vijay had to pull out, or Dietrich said, ‘You know what, I think we’ve now maximised our marketing possibilities in F1’, what would we end up with? A third McLaren, a third Ferrari, maybe a third Mercedes — which would wipe out Williams and Sauber, particularly at a time when everyone’s got to spend $22m on the new V6 turbo engine. Three or four years from now we’d have four teams running four cars each — maybe five, who knows?

“How many teams have we seen come and go? I think it’s 70-odd and that will continue to happen. One day Red Bull Marketing will say, ‘Right, done that — what’s next?’, and when that happens I hope there’s somebody waiting to fill the space. Something that really struck me during the summer break — at a critical time, during the Olympics — was that Red Bull had show cars around the world. In those five weeks, no other team did a thing to promote F1…”

All excellent points made by Martin, all of them irrefutable. Mention of PR, though, inevitably put the Kimster into my thoughts. By resolutely ignoring it, I have long thought, Raikkonen actually brings good press to himself and his team: most folk are so bored to tears with political correctness, which confronts them in every aspect of their lives, that when they encounter someone like Kimi, not surprisingly they cheer.

“Yes, the F1 teams are not smart on this sort of thing, are they?” said Brundle. “People are bombarded with boring PR sound bites and flick them away — in the end they will only absorb the characters, and Kimi is a perfect example. That whole Abu Dhabi radio thing — which is already legendary — was positive for him, but also for his team, because it gave them exposure. If you let the guys be themselves, in the end you will get a positive fan reaction. And Lotus had a great season. If Grosjean hadn’t been so accident-prone, and if Kimi had been on it the whole time, the team could have won one of the championships.”

The biggest news story of the year — of course — concerned Hamilton’s move to Mercedes, which some thought understandable, others unfathomable. Before getting on to that, though, there was the question of Lewis’s replacement at McLaren. I was surprised, I said, that, with Nico Halkenberg available, the team had gone for Sergio Perez.

“I was, too,” said Martin. “In fact, I was also surprised that Ferrari didn’t go for Halkenberg — it pleased me to see Felipe Massa back on form towards the end of the season, because I love the bloke, but in all honesty I wouldn’t have re-signed him.

“I like Nico — I like his attitude. He’s calm, he seems intelligent, no bullshit. All right, I know he eventually blew it in Brazil, but the thing is, he was in a position to blow it. He was right there at the sharp end. At Interlagos two years ago he was on pole in the Williams and, all right, you could say he lucked into it because of the changing conditions, but the fact is he delivered. I think the kid’s got it, no question.

“As for Lewis, what does one say? In Singapore I said to Martin Whitmarsh, ‘From everything I’m hearing, you guys believe Lewis is going to stay with McLaren. I’m about to go on air — if I say that, will I look stupid?’ And he said, ‘No, you won’t look stupid, Martin, because they’re indicating to me that Lewis is staying…’ A few days later, of course, he signed for Mercedes, and at the next race I said to Whitmarsh, ‘You told me I wouldn’t look stupid!’ and he said, ‘Martin, I’ve got the email, saying he was going to stay…’

“The fact is that Lewis had Ross Brawn, Niki Lauda, Simon Fuller — and probably Bernie, probably his father — in his car, saying `Jump!’ I honestly thinks he looks at it like this: ‘Right, in three years I’ll be €100 million better off — if it works, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll get another roll of the dice, because I’ll still only be 30’. I think he’s taken a gamble he didn’t need to take, from a career point of view, but… then again, I didn’t think Jenson was right to go to McLaren and he was! Let’s wait and see.

“What I do think about Lewis is that he’s come up with the wrong reason for leaving —he should have been more straightforward. To say he wants to make a struggling team into winners… I mean, do that at McLaren. Why not make a great team into winners again? Why not think, ‘Right, what I see around me is a lot of excellence, and some things that are not right — I’ll make it work’? Instead, Jenson’s nicked his team from him and the concept of him making another team great doesn’t add up.

“I don’t think that’s Lewis’s skill: I believe, since Senna, he’s the most gifted guy I’ve seen in a racing car, and undoubtedly the quickest — although not the most complete: that’s Alonso. I don’t think Lewis is the most intellectual, either — I think he is pure speed, and he should be put in an environment, like Mika Hakkinen, of ‘This is what I do, this is what I want — give it to me.’ The thought of Lewis being part of some master plan to make Mercedes better… it just doesn’t add up to me.

“That’s not where his abilities lie. Nothing wrong in that — you are who you are. Lewis’s skills, like those of Gilles Villeneuve, lie in driving a racing car at speeds — and angles — beyond belief, so isolate that: ‘We don’t want to see you until Thursday night — and then, boy, will we be ready for you…’ I think Lewis has jumped for the wrong reasons, quite honestly, but let’s see if it works out. Luckily, Ross is mature enough to engage his skills, and minimise his weaknesses — provided he’s allowed to do so…”

A few months ago Martin Whitmarsh spoke to me of the importance of ‘hunger’ in a racing driver. “I never knew Gilles Villeneuve,” he said, “but it’s evident from everything I’ve heard that he had it in spades, and so also did Ayrton. They had that hunger to the day they died, and it had nothing to do with how many Ferraris they had in the garage, or any of that stuff. To me the hungriest driver out there today is Alonso: you could triple his net worth, and he’d still have that hunger — it’s in his makeup. I’m sure Ferrari pays him well, but Fernando is actually not someone who would be moved by money…”

“Well, the proof’s in the pudding, isn’t it?” said Brundle. “He’s moved back home to Spain — obviously he thought ‘I’m only on this earth for a short time’, and he gave up the tax-free thing. I can see what Whitmarsh is getting at — I don’t think Fernando’s driven by money. Absolutely not. They’re all different, aren’t they?”

As we finished lunch, with coffee and a Macallan or two, it seemed only appropriate to discuss the great success story of the 2012 season, this the return of Fl to the USA — and a spectacular new venue. I fell in love with Austin’s Circuit of the Americas on sight and Martin felt the same way.

“It was huge, wasn’t it? Couldn’t have been better. I arrived there on the Thursday and a couple of people said to me, ‘This is Adelaide…’ They were absolutely right, too — it’s just the right size and the locals are delighted to have the sport there. Austin and F1 are a perfect fit.

“People at home watched it on TV, heard the fans going ‘Yee-ha!’ saw the drivers wearing Stetsons on the podium and thought, ‘This is brilliant — I want to be part of it…’ It couldn’t have been more different from a place like Korea, where the paddock’s like a prison camp, there’s no one in the grandstands and viewers are going to think, ‘Well, they’re not interested — so why should I be? I’ve got my remote control — I’ll use it to watch something else…”

*

Back in May 1968 I went to my first Monaco Grand Prix, courtesy of Page & Moy, and so, I discovered years later, did Maurice Hamilton, who was to become a lifelong friend. Maurice’s trip, in fact, was a little more elaborate than mine, for after Monaco it went on to the Niirburgring 1000Kms, and in the course of it he got to know another fervent fan, one Neil Oatley, who went on to have a distinguished career in Formula 1 and works for McLaren still.

Oatley, quiet and reserved, has a complete passion for the sport, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history. If I’m quite proud of my collection of racing books, it bears no comparison with his: to his wife’s despair — from a space point of view — Neil buys virtually everything, often on subjects esoteric even by my standards. Invariably, as I wander around the memorabilia stands at Goodwood, I find him there, struggling to carry his latest acquisitions.

What Oatley has, too, is an eye for the offbeat, and routinely he emails me quirky racing photographs and links to movies he has come across here and there. If I eschew such as Twitter and Facebook, I am not totally in the dark ages and have long been addicted to YouTube. Start delving, and an afternoon is gone in a blink.

Neil’s latest email, though, revealed a film clip new to me, although logic suggests I must at some point have seen it long ago. How could I not? Made by the BBC in 1968, it is a 35-minute profile of Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman and I savoured every second.

This was the year, of course, of the trip to Monaco, and the year, too, in which I was considering buying my first Lotus Elan, which was duly delivered — in kit form, to avoid purchase tax, the forerunner of VAT — in January 1969.

More significantly, it was also the year in which two Lotus drivers died: Jimmy Clark at Hockenheim on April 7, then Mike Spence at Indianapolis a month later. A catatonic time, then, for the team and — overwhelmingly — for its proprietor, who briefly considered getting out of the sport.

It didn’t last long, though, for Chapman had racing in his veins. He once told me he had never felt quite the same about it since the death of Clark — his closest friend, as well as his supreme driver — but fundamentally it was part of him, an essential in his life. As he says in the film, shot that summer: “Basically, Lotus go motor racing because I like it…”

My, how the world has changed since 1968. As a fan, I was of course going to races at the time, and saw it all first-hand, but even so one loses sight of just how different everything was, crystallised forcibly in the moment when the film’s narrator observes that, “No one can make much money out of racing…” Bernie Ecclestone, then managing Jochen Rindt, was starting to think maybe he could change that.

A focus of the film is that Chapman just might be a millionaire. In spite of the tragedies of the very recent past, Colin is at his relaxed best during the interviews, shrugging off suggestions he is worth a million — “Oh, I wouldn’t know about that…”

Even so, the narrator tells us that, “Chapman doesn’t spend with a millionaire’s abandon — his one big new venture is the £40,000 house he’s building. Until it’s finished, the Chapman family lives simply, if comfortably: no servants, just an au pair girl…”

Given that ‘no one can make much money out of racing’, Chapman’s wealth, we were told, was coming from his road car operation. The new factory in Norfolk was but two years old, but Lotus would sell ‘3000 cars this year, and perhaps 5000 in two years’.

As anyone will tell you, Chapman was a remarkably charismatic man, urbane — with his David Niven moustache — and a natural showman. When he was in the mood, he could make you laugh like few people I have known, and had a natural gift for sliding out of a tricky situation.

In a paddock somewhere in 1971, I murmured that my current Elan seemed to be using a lot of oil. “Of course it does,” Colin responded vigorously. “What d’you think’s lubricating it? What you need to worry about,” he added darkly, “is the engine that doesn’t use oil…” I felt I should apologise for raising the matter.

For all his charm, Chapman had a reputation for ruthlessness when the need arose, but in the interview he said he thought that the wrong word. “I don’t think you have to be ruthless — I think you have to be prepared to make some unpalatable decisions at times, because frequently you’re faced with making a decision between two evils, and you’re going to hurt somebody. This is the tragedy of trying to run a business — you do end up making unpalatable decisions sometimes, but frequently there’s no way out…”

The times, they were indeed so different. In the film there was great excitement, for example, at the fact that Chapman had his own aeroplane. A modest twin-engined propellor ‘plane, rather than the executive jets that are ten-a-penny in the F1 of today, Colin used it for a variety of purposes, one of which was to fly to the Grands Prix — the great majority of which were then run in mainland Europe.

The BBC sent a crew to Rouen, there to film Chapman in racing mode, and some aspects of the weekend’s footage take your breath away. As I say, by then I’d been a frequent spectator for years, but, even so, found myself thinking, ‘Ye Gods, was this really how it was?’

Anyone familiar with Rouen Les Essarts will need no reminding of how magnificent a circuit this was, but still — although I have driven around it countless times — I was taken aback by the narrowness of it, in a racing context. At the start of the race, the cars — in 3-2-3 grid formation — seem almost to be touching, and the pit scenes, with engineers and mechanics squatting down to talk to their drivers, with no protective wall between them and the track, are extraordinary.

There was, of course, no pit lane speed limit — that wasn’t introduced, remarkably, until 1994 — but then there was no clearly defined pitlane: it was simply the bit of tarmac at the side of the track. There sat Graham Hill in the Lotus 49 — no seat belts (Jackie Stewart alone was using them at that time), and a roll-over bar lower than the top of his head — while Chapman suggested that now he do a quick run with the rear wing, described as ‘the revolutionary aerofoil’, which was lying against the pit wall. It was the work of a moment for the mechanics — including a youthful Bob Dance — to bolt it on, and one shuddered at the flimsiness of the absurdly high struts on which it was mounted.

Most sobering of all, though, is the sight of Jackie Oliver’s 49, utterly destroyed — indeed almost bisected — in a practice accident. This was one of racing’s more miraculous escapes, for Oliver was completely unhurt, if shaken. No routine medical checks in those days.

“Are you all right?” Chapman says to his driver. “You were pretty white 10 minutes ago. I think you ought to sit down in the chair…”

What had caused the accident — which occurred when Oliver was at full speed, in a straight line? “You didn’t hit anything, did you?” Oliver says not, and Chapman’s first thought is that the gearbox bellhousing broke: “You see, the suspension’s hung on that gearbox — so if the gearbox breaks…” He goes over to McLaren, sitting in his car. “Hey, Bruce, I think I’d better tell you, the gearbox bell-housing broke, and the whole of our rear suspension’s hung on the gearbox, same as yours. It’s just broken in half in the middle. You’d better have a look, and see if there are any cracks in your bell-housing. I’m bringing Graham in…”

In point of fact, the Lotus’s failure proved to have nothing to do with the gearbox, and now, as the narrator put it, “Chapman had £18,000 worth of junk metal to examine…” “Any idea what might have caused it?” “Haven’t a clue at the moment. There are so many things that can go wrong with a racing car — the unusual one is the one that finishes…”

This is a fascinating film, to be found at youtube.com/watch?v=oEFSGcdAAzA, and I’m indebted to whomever put it up there, for it’s a memorable snapshot of an era long gone. “In fact,” comments the narrator after the Rouen segment, “the race was something of a disaster and Hill broke down again…” There is no mention of the fact that Jo Schlesser was killed soon after the start, the fourth consecutive driver to die on the seventh of the month. Innocent, deadly, times.

• Don’t miss our podcasts with Nigel and the team — plus special guests — on www.motorsportmagazine.com

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