Reflections in the dark

ALTHOUGH a Grand Prix may finish at 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon we seldom leave the circuit much before 8 p.m. for somehow there is always someone to talk to, something to see, details to cross-check, facts to verify and so on. Long Beach was no exception and with so many cars crashed into walls during the race it was worthwhile hanging about at the paddock entrance to survey the wrecks as they were brought in by the break-down crews. So often someone who was out on the circuit and saw a crash will give you the wrong information, such as “the right side was torn off’ yet when you see the wreck brought in it is the left side that has been torn off. Or “all the wheels were torn off” reports an observer, but a look at the wreck shows that only one was actually “torn off” the chassis. The remarkable thing about all the accidents in the Long Beach race was that no-one was hurt, though a lot of pride was damaged, which says much for the construction of the modern Formula 1 car. Today cars are designed with the cockpit over the strongest part, so other bits may have been torn off on impact but the cockpit forms a “survival shell”. If you design for an impact load at 150 m.p.h. then the low-speed accidents at Long Beach do very little structural damage, unless you happen to be unfortunate in your “angle of attack” as Patrese was in practice, when a relatively minor accident damaged the suspension pick-up points inside the monocoque.

While waiting for the break-down trucks to return there was a flurry among the crowd as a McLaren MP4 was towed in. It was number eight and had Lauda’s name on the cockpit sides so a murmur went round, ” . . the winning cat. . .”. It was a false alarm as it was the T-car which had been up in the pits before the race, just in case there was any last minute trouble with Lauda’s race car. I thought it looked very clean. The two McLarens that finished the race had performed perfectly and were a credit to Ron Dennis and his team of mechanics. Bruce would have been proud of them and would have fully approved of the cars carrying his name.

By the time we got back to our “all singing and all dancing”, plastic, Hyatt Hotel it was dark, and it remained dark! A transformer had burned out and the whole of our block was in darkness with nothing electrical working at all, not even the hot water system or the computerised telephone system. Candles and matches were available at the front desk and I shall always remember the 1982 Long Beach Grand Prix for the sight of A.H. typing his race report for our weekly Motoring News by candle-light. I offered to lend him my quill pen and ink-bottle but he threw a book at me, so I withdrew to the darkness of my own room to reflect in the dark.

I cannot help but feel that the defection of Carlos Reutemann, the Argentinian driver, from the Williams team had something to do with his country’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. Reutemann was, and I hope still is, a very intelligent man and a thinker, which is rare in racing drivers, he was also very well connected in his own country and above all, he was a very sensitive man. I feel sure he must have got wind of the Argentine invasion and could see that relations between his country and ours would be strained and he would not have been able to accept the embarrassment it would have caused him if he had stayed with the Williams team. Over the years he has often watched someone doing something distasteful, which the media put down to high-spirits, and he has turned to me with a look of embarrassment on his face and said “Why they do that; it is not nice?” and then shaking his head sadly has walked away. In 1938 there was a parallel situation with Richard Seaman when he was driving for the Mercedes-Benz team. The politicians were coming to blows and we had the Munich Crisis which narrowly avoided war between England and Germany. Seaman was a sensitive man and he asked the Lord Howe for advice as to whether he should continue to drive for the German team. Howe told him war was politics and motor racing was sport, they had no connection so Seaman stayed with the German team. He was killed the following summer, one might almost say thankfully on looking back, just two months before England declared war on Germany.

On the flight out to Los Angeles, on a British Airways Boeing 747 “Jumbo” which does the trip non-stop in something like 12-hours, the passenger list contained a lot of important names in Formula One. Names like Murray, Barnard, Dernie, Philippe, all key designers who had been home for the few days between the race in Brazil and the one in Long Beach to which we were heading. It was normal to assume that everyone in Brazil relaxed for a day or two after the race, then packed their bags and boxes and made a leisurely trip up to California, arriving in plenty of time to prepare for the next race. This may apply to some team members, but the key design men were on the plane back to England on the night of the Brazilian race and put in five full days of work in the design office before flying out to California. Any team that is going to keep up with the pace of Formula One has to have new projects on the go all the time. It is not possible to sit back and let the world go by, for if you do you will never catch up again. It is interesting to reflect that those designers I mentioned above had cars finishing in the first five at Long Beach.

The Los Angeles area is pretty vast and Long Beach is at the Southern end of it all and personal transport is a must so one of the International Hire Firms is paid to provide a car, in our case AVIS, though some of my colleagues would not have an AVIS car if it was free! Enquiring about something small I was offered an AMC Concorde, but having experienced one of those last year I declined. Then a Mercury Lynx was offered, with the assurance that it was small. I had never heard of such a car so I took a gamble. Imagine my pleasure and surprise when I went out into the car park and found I had settled for a Ford New Escort, the front-wheel-drive big sister of the Fiesta. Now I had never really liked Fords, apart from the GT40 and the still-born GT70, but last year I experienced the new generation of FWD Escorts and found it very acceptable and the first Ford since the original Anglia that I could tolerate. Later I parked my Mercury Lynx alongside a Ford Escort and apart from one or two minor trim differences they came out of the same mould, so it looks like Detroit or Dearborn have solved the problem of the small car for the USA and at the same time they will undoubtedly curb foreign imports.

Having some time to spare I went for a trip southwards down the Pacific Coast Highway, a fascinating name for a road, to the Mexican border and for a time I began to wonder if I was dreaming. I was heading for San Diego and San Ysidro but I passed Manchester Avenue, then Birmingham Drive and when I got to Cardiff-by-the-sea I nearly turned back, convinced I had become misplaced in time. From the border I turned inland towards Riverside and felt more at ease and California-orientated. I find a lot of the Californian motoring laws very sensible and logical compared to our own. You do not have to wear seat belts, you do not have to wear a crash hat on a motor cycle, you can pass on the inside on a motorway, you are supposed to cruise at 55 m.p.h. but the general run of traffic travels at 65-70 m.p.h. People do not sit on your back bumper, there is always room between cars for someone to pass through if they want to change from lane 4 to lane 1 and turn off the motorway. The signs are simple and to the point. STOP means exactly that and DON’T PASS is self explanatory. If you are quietly cruising in the middle lane of a three-lane road you will be overtaken on both sides without any drama. In Britain the overtaker is invariably hooting, flashing and mouthing at you as he goes by, in California I find it strange but relaxing to have cars pass by on the inside with the driver quietly getting on with what he is doing, leaving you to get on with what you are doing. You don’t have to dodge about from one lane to another.

Reverting to the Long Beach race it was interesting to study everyone’s best lap in the race for it showed the pattern of the event. Most drivers made their best lap very early on and then settled back to cruise round and try and keep out of trouble. Lauda made the fastest lap of the race on lap 12 just after de Cesaris and Cheever had made their fastest laps. Some people will tell you that the “surface broke up” or “the oil went down” or “the tyres went off’ which prevented any more fast laps, but it is not true for Rosberg made his on lap 51 when he thought Lauda might be slowing because he was in trouble. Mansell made his on lap 56 because he was doing the best he could all the time and Borgudd made his on lap 60 because he was striving to make up time lost on his pit stop. Others either gave up trying early on or settled for the difficult circumstances and cruised round hopefully.

The Ferrari double rear aerofoil really was the highlight of the meeting and at first we thought it was a bit of “mickey-taking” on the part of Mauro Forghieri (and Harvey Postlethwaite?), but when both cars were fitted with them for the final practice and both used them in the race we realised it was serious. The rules do not say you are limited to one rear aerofoil, in fact they do not say you must have a rear aerofoil, they merely impose dimensional limits for a rear aerofoil. The Ferrari claim was that they had two aerofoils and each one complied with the letter of the law. In fact the right-hand one was not as far back as the rules allow, while the left-hand one was at the limit. Designers like Gordon Murray, John Barnard and Adrian Reynard complimented Forghieri on the brilliance of this blatant piece of rule bending, though he did not compliment them on the way they bent the rules over minimum weight and their spurious brake-cooling water containers carrying 50 or more pounds of “disposable ballast”. One designer looked thoughtful as he read the Concord Agreement where it said engines were limited to 3-litres normally aspirated and 1 1/2-litres with supercharging or turbo-charging. It said nothing about being limited to one engine, but it did put a maximum of 12 cylinders, so two Cosworth DFV units were out, but two V6 engines would be legal!

After the race Tyrrell protested Villeneuve’s third place, saying the double aerofoil was a misinterpretation of the rules. Nobody seemed to take him very seriously as Villeneuve appears in third place in all the results I’ve seen. The “silly season” is upon us already and 1982 has only just begun, or are we into the “all the year round silly season”?

On the return flight, again in a Boeing 747 “Jumbo”, we were two hours out from Los Angeles at something like 39,000 feet and 700 m.p.h. when the Captain received a report that the airport had been informed that there was a bomb on board. He put that great aircraft down from 39,000 feet to zero in the shortest possible time and zero proved to be at Winnipeg, where the temperature was 10-degrees C below zero. We all stayed in the airport buildings for 4 hours while the aircraft and baggage were searched, and nothing was found, so we loaded up and took off again. However, we had to leave behind all the freight that the Jumbo was carrying as it would have taken another eight hours to go through it all. Among the freight was the Williams T-car, FW07C/14 which the team needed back at Didcot to use the gearbox for a test programme, but we had to continue our journey home without it. British Airways caught up with themselves by the end of the week, but the trouble caused by irresponsible people making bogus phone calls doesn’t bear thinking about. We live in a wonderful world but a small part of it is very sick and like a cancerous growth it needs cutting out ruthlessly. There is certainly never a dull moment in Formula One. — D.S.J.