Formula One scene

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Haves and have-nots

The Brazilian Grand Prix certainly got the 1989 season off to a good start, and it also launched the new 31/2-litre normally aspirated formula with a flourish. The outcome of the Brazilian race is now a bit academic, and any apparent trends or signs will have now been confirmed or rejected by the happenings at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, which took place on April 23 while this issue of Motor Sport was being printed and distributed.

It was John Surtees who first said to me “There is always someone who thinks he can win the race on the first corner.” I think this was while Jackie Stewart was still working in a garage and shooting clay pigeons! But I wonder who in Brazil was thinking he could win the race as the field streamed our of the first corner?

Not Berger, for he was spinning to a stop on the grass infield; not Senna, for he had had the nose of his McLaren chopped off, and was heading for the pits; Patrese, in all honesty couldn’t have been fooling himself into thinking he was going to win, for this was his 177th Grand Prix and to that date he had only won two, and both of those were a case of finishing first, rather than winning; not Mansell, as his confidence in the new Ferrari had never shone through, either the engine being “down on power” or the electronic gearchange going wrong under his delicate (!) touch; not Boutsen, because he was still feeling a bit wobbly after his monumental testing accident when the Williams-Renault broke its rear suspension under him; and being realistic, none of those powered by V8 engines, whether they were Judd, Cosworth or Yamaha, could have thought they were going to win (with a bit of luck one of them might have finished first); and certainly not Alliot with the new Lamborghini V12, for he was thankful to have just scraped on to the back of the grid.

The only man who could have come out of that first corner thinking, or even knowing, that he could win was Alain Prost. His is the sort of brain that has everything laid out neat and orderly before the start and as things happen it neatly deletes information no longer relevant to the objective, which is to be the first under the chequered flag. But for his McLaren clutch becoming inoperative he probably would have won the race. He was playing a strategical game, planning two stops for new tyres, but timing them so that when most of the front-runners made their stops, he would already be on new tyres and could make the most of a relatively clear track “to give it ten” as Graham Hill used to say, in rowing parlance. In other words, to do a few laps at maximum effort while his rivals were otherwise engaged.

When his clutch no longer freed properly he had to bring in Plan B, for there was no question of making another pit-stop for tyres if the clutch was not freeing. He paced himself to a lap time that kept him in touch with the pace of the race without straining the tyres, to ensure that he would finish, and if the leading Ferrari had hesitated or given trouble Prost could have cruised into another victory. It didn’t work out that way, but second place was well worth having. Nobody was more surprised when the new Ferrari ran faultlessly for the whole 61 laps than designer John Barnard and driver Nigel Mansell. From wondering how long the car would last on leaving the first comer, Mansell made the most of the situation around him. In his usual way he drove hard, once out in front determined to stay out in front, and it paid off handsomely.

Some drivers look comfortable when they are leading a race, others look out of place; with some you can sense the feeling of disbelief inside their brain, while others have a furtive air about them. I have seen Patrese leading races a number of times but he has never exuded an air of confidence, he has always looked as if he knows he shouldn’t be there and is unsure about how or why he is not going to stay in the lead. Two victories out of 177 races must indicate something. While his team-mate Boutsen had yet to win a race from 90 starts, he drives with an air of someone who looks as if he ought to win races. The day Mauricio Gugelmin gets out in front I feel sure he will look right; to see him on the winner’s rostrum in Brazil, with his third place, enhanced the feeling that he could well move upwards.

Before the Brazilian event and the farce of pre-qualifying for the “rabbit” teams and drivers, there was some muttering about the inequality of the situation. Known drivers like Alex Caffi, Stefan Johansson, Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena were having to”pre-qualify for the chance to qualify” for the race, while two drivers who were making their debut in Formula One did not have to do this. The two in question were Johnny Herbert and Olivier Grouillard, and while people in England were asking “Olivier who?” people in other countries were asking “Johnny who?”. The four drivers mentioned earlier were wondering about the “system” dreamed up by FISA.

Herbert had the benefit of a known team and a known car, even if it was last year’s model, while Grouillard was in a Ligier, now powered by a Cosworth DFR, all brand new and untried. The fact that both of them qualified comfortably for the race, Herbert in tenth place on the grid and Grouillard in 22nd place, and that they both finished, Herbert in a very impressive fourth spot and Grouillard in ninth position, rather suggests that perhaps someone in FISA did know what he was on about with his system of “seeding”.

Just looking at the flat statistics of the Brazilian race we see that Ferrari finished first and last, Williams-Renault didn’t finish at all, though it led for 17 laps, McLaren-Honda had both cars finish and led for five laps, Benetton-Ford had both cars finish but never got higher than fourth, and Tyrrell-Cosworth had both cars finish, but they had been lapped by the leader before half distance. For the Larrousse-Calmels Lola team it must have been complete satisfaction that its new Chrysler-Lamborghini V12 engine was still running at the finish, even if it was three laps behind the winning Ferrari V12.

Of the newcomers the Onyx team can only get better. Its drivers were last and next to last in the pre-qualification tests, so it was all over for them before official testing and practice began. It was a long way to go to achieve “not very much” but such is the stricture of Formula One. It is not an easy game to start in, is an even more difficult game to succeed in, and is a really tough game in which to stay at or near the front. The only team ahead of Onyx in the Wooden Spoon Championship after Brazil was the oddly-name FIRST team from Italy. Having registered a single-car entry for the World Championship it was withdrawn before the first round got underway.

I have read, and heard, a lot about how things are going to be much more equal now that turbochargers have been banned, but most of it seems to come from people who never really understood the turbocharger. When Renault, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Honda were all into turbocharging I thought things were remarkably equal, and I used to look at the variety of engines and marvel how they were all extracting the same horsepower from a mere 1500cc. The inequality lay down at the back of the field, where the teams were that didn’t have the best engines from the factories. It is these sort of people who talk about “equality” when what they mean is they want everyone to be dragged down to their lower level.

We have already seen the lack of equality with the new Formula only just begun. If all your team is capable of buying or using is a 1989 “production” version of the Ford-Cosworth DFR then you are going to get left behind. While we have Honda, Renault, Fiat-Ferrari, Ford-Cosworth, Chrysler-Lamborghini and Yamaha embarking on new engines and some serious R & D, there is still going to be “inequality” between those who have and those who have not.

Those with Judd V8 engines have a sporting chance of joining the “haves” or sinking down to the “have-nots” — the choice is entirely up to the teams. Equality is a dream that I personally don’t want to know about; I tend to equate equality to mediocrity. We nearly had equality a few years ago when the whole Grand Prix scene consisted of Cosworth DFV-powered “kit cars” except for two 12-cylinder Ferraris. Those cars from Maranello prevented the demise of Grand Prix racing. If the whole grid in future Grand Prix races consisted of cars powered by “production” Ford-Cosworth DFR engines, running on “Goodelli” tyres, I for one would find it very dull.

The Brazilian grid showed a span of 7.25 seconds between the fastest lap and the slowest lap, and for me that was a fairly healthy “inequality”. Long may it stay that way. DSJ