Further thoughts on Formula 2

In the March Motor Sport I looked at the new Formula 2 from a mechanical standpoint and it all seemed most interesting and clear cut, but now I am not so sure. I rather rashly suggested that if you had sufficient money you could buy a Brabham chassis, a Cosworth 16-valve engine and a Hewland gearbox and go Formula 2 racing. As things are turning out it is not as simple as that for the professional teams seem to have a stranglehold on Formula 2 already and the private owner or newcomer has little hope of getting a look in. To buy the essential equipment, such as engine and gearbox, you not only need money, but influence, and friends who can pull strings and the same goes for getting entries in some races. At the time of writing we have had four Formula 2 races in quick succession and they have all been dominated by the professional drivers and the professional “special-builders” all using Cosworth 16-valve engines. One must give full marks to Cosworth for producing so many engines in time for the first race of the season, but it has resulted in a monopoly and “one-class” racing. This certainly provides close racing between drivers, but I feel that motor racing should provide more than just “driver-racing,” the mechanical components should be a factor as well, and there should be some ultimate purpose behind racing. At the moment the purpose behind all the activity in Formula 2 is not very clear, but perhaps it will emerge as the season progresses. The first races have proved to be a very profitable “travelling circus” act for a close little group of professionals, but already there seem to be doubts among organisers about the worth of this “travelling circus.” There cannot be much difference in hiring Team Lotus for a performance with Formula 2 or with Formula 1, with Clark and Hill as drivers and the cars and equipment not so vastly different, and the same goes for the hiring of the Brabham Team. I wonder if some organisers would not make more profit from large crowds if they had a Formula 1 race instead of a Formula 2 race.

I had visualised Formula 2 racing as being a minor-league affair for up-and-corning drivers, and the lesser works team drivers, but when an entry list contains Clark, Hill, Stewart, Brabham, Surtees, Rindt, Hulme and McLaren it can hardly be called a minor league. The F.I.A. were conscious of this problem and drew up rules for a European Championship restricted to non-graded drivers, but made the mistake of letting the graded drivers take part in the individual races, but not in the Championship. Certain organisers agreed on a financial arrangement whereby the non-graded drivers competed for good sums of prize money, that extended right down the entry list, but got no starting-money; in other words, a system of “payment-by-results,” which was not a bad idea. The graded drivers do not compete for this money, but get large starting-money and nominal prize money. This results in a situation where someone like Alan Rees drives splendidly to be first non-graded driver and wins £500, while a graded driver who finishes way behind Rees may get £800 starting money, whether he drives well or badly. Another problem arose here with the French organisers who could not agree to the European Championship arrangement, for it meant that they had to pay Brabham, say £800 appearance money, with the hope that he would draw in a big crowd of spectators, and the French star Beltoise would have to appear for nothing (hoping to win some prize money) even though he would draw as big a crowd as Brabham in a French race. Consequently, the French opted out of the European Championship and are running their own Championship known as the French Trophy for Formula 2. Their series includes Pau, Reims, Rouen, Montlhéry and Albi and the first man home is the winner, there being no differentiation between graded and non-graded drivers, while starting money is by individual arrangement, in the old fashioned way of “what are you worth as a crowd puller?” One or two other European organisers are also getting cold feet about the European Championship arrangements, fearing that some professional teams who have one graded and one non-graded driver, may demand a high enough fee for the graded driver to pay for both, or they may demand that the organisers pay “over the odds” for the number one driver, or the number two will not be entered, and if the number two is in the running for the European Championships this could make a race a bit of a farce. It is all good tricky business, but it is rather unhealthy in the overall picture of motor racing.

To turn to the mechanical side of Formula 2, which is always much less sordid and complicated than the organising and human side of racing, some people have been amazed at the performances of the Cosworth 16-valve-engine-powered “specials.” There is a tendency to think of them as developments of the old Formula 2, but this is wrong, they are more like developments of the old Formula 1 of 1961-65 and when you think that the 1 1/2-litre engines of those days were designed five years ago it is not surprising that the 1.6-litre Cosworth engine is surpassing their performances, even though it has only four cylinders to the 1 1/2-litre 8-cylinders and 12-cylinders. Racing must encourage development, for it it does not it will stagnate and if a 1967 Cosworth combustion chamber is not more efficient than a 1962 B.R.M. or Coventry-Climax combustion chamber, then Keith Duckworth, who designed the Cosworth engine, has been wasting his time these past 12 months. The same goes for tyre designers, brake designers, and chassis designers.

At the moment there are numerous solutions to the utilisation of a Cosworth engine, though no one has yet been different enough to put it anywhere other than behind the driver. Brabham and Cooper use fairly orthodox tubular space frames, Lola and McLaren use bath-like stressed skin aluminium monocoque frames, as do Matra, the driver sitting in the centre of the “bath” and the engine in the back, and Lotus use a combination of the two layouts. The Lotus 48 has a single-piece stressed skin centre section containing the driver, with the front suspension attached to the forward bulkhead and a tubular structure attached to the rear bulkhead. This tubular structure contains the engine and also supports the rear suspension in the fashion of an aircraft engine mounting. A break from accepted chassis design is the Protos, a car designed and constructed by Frank Costin, brother of Mike who is the Cos of Cosworth. The Protos is backed by Ron Harris, who used to run the Lotus F2 and F3 teams in the past, and has a stressed-skin chassis constructed of aircraft plywood. Like most of the other special builders Costin uses a 16-valve Cosworth engine and Hewland gearbox and the car is notable for having a very wide track, swept-back front wishbones operating coil springs within the chassis and a very smooth body profile. It has a large Perspex cockpit canopy that almost envelops the driver, he looking through a slot in the Perspex so placed that little or no air enters the cockpit. The full name of this project is the Harris-Costin-Protos-Cosworth, which is a lot more cumbersome than the actual car.

By the time this is being read the Formula 2 Ferrari should have raced, in the hands of Jonathan Williams and the B.M.W.-engined Lola should have proved more race-worthy than it did on its first appearance. Formula 2 is still in its early days and much will happen during this first season, but whether it will go the right way or the wrong way is a matter of opinion. – D. S. J.