THE CASE FOR GRAND PRIX RACING
HOW BRITISH MANUFACTURERS COULD COMPETE WITH STATE SUBSIDISED FOREIGN TEAMS
GRAND Prix racing always has been and always will be a subject of controversy. But it is as well to bear in mind at the outset that the Formula under which the races are run is devised and approved by the national motor clubs, including the British Royal Automobile Club, which together make up the Association Internationale des Automobiles Club Reconnues. In fact, the Grand Prix is what we care to make it. Recent discussion, however, has not centred on the Formula so much as whether Grand Prix racing is really worth while at all.
To deny that it is of any value, and that the knowledge gained by it is of service in the manufacture of production cars, is to ignore aspects of automobile design which owe their development entirely to the lessons of Grand Prix racing. Probably the most convincing example is that of four-wheel brakes, which were a normal feature of every Grand Prix racing car before they were universally adopted on production cars.
In the matter of suspension, Grand Prix racing must inevitably have the effect of increasing the safety factor of passenger car travel. The data obtained in ensuring adequate road adhesion for a racing-car travelling at 180 m.p.h.—not only in regard to suspension, but also to weight distribution—is bound to result in a greater margin of security in a production car travelling at 80 m.p.h. The same thing applies to braking, about which valuable experience in obtaining the greatest power and endurance has been discovered in Grand Prix racing at speeds which are far higher than any that can be attained on production cars. In none of these features, be it noted, does the price factor prevent the full value of the knowledge gained being made use of by the manufacturers of production cars. It is an unfortunate truth that the present-day conditions of the motor industry do not encourage individual firms to expend the considerable amount of money necessary to design, build and run a team of racing-cars. And as long as Grand Prix racing continues there is
By GRAND PRIX
nothing to prevent other firms from reaping the benefits of the discoveries it undoubtedly brings about. As for the firms spending the money on private research work instead of racing, this is an attractive possibility only utilised in actual practice to any great extent by RollsRoyce and one or two others. There is left, then, the alleged method of firms receiving state assistance in order to take part in Grand Prix racing, and this immediately introduces the question of motive on the part of the state or states which agree to this course. It has been suggested that the German racing teams, for example, are being run principally to raise the prestige, and to demonstrate the power, efficiency and strength of Ger
many all over the world. But surely there is a lot more in it than that. I suggest that the reason prompting the German Government to finance their racing teams —if they do—is a commercial one : to demonstrate the merits of German cars all over the world. Their aim is to expand the export trade and therefore the productive capacity of the German motor industry. That the prestige of Germany as a nation is enhanced is merely an agreeable incidental result. It is usually admitted that the German scheme has succeeded from the national prestige point of view, although the qualification is sometimes added that it is only due to their having the field virtually to themselves. In parenthesis, it may be remarked that to complain that the German Grand Prix cars are vaunted beyond their merits is to try to subdue a natural instinct of any intelligent man, which is to praise the best thing of its kind the world has ever seen, irrespective of its country of origin. Such a criticism, I think, has a dog-in-the-manger air about it. What would we have thought of a German who, because his country had not a representative entry in the race, said that our Schneider Trophy seaplanes were vaunted beyond their merits, and that they succeeded principally because there
was no competition ? Let us give credit where credit is due.
The critic of German racing methods likes to claim that the British motor industry is in a much better state than that of Germany, even though our manufacturers do not take part in Grand Prix racing. His argument is not in accordance with the facts. Since the year 1929 the British and German motor industries have both increased at the same rate, 100 per cent. But numbers are not everything. One would have to be a dyed-inthe-wool patriot to assert that the ‘British motor industry is superior to the German in the design of its products. Both have their merits.
The point arises : should these statesubsidised foreign teams be assisted to compete in this country by having entry fees waived and their travelling expenses paid ? There is indeed a case that they should not be assisted any more than home drivers are, but to deny that aid because the foreign cars are being used for propaganda purposes is to introduce a dangerous element of discrimination. By all means make it plain that the German cars have the advantage of ours by being state-assisted, but at all costs refrain from allowing the propaganda aspect, whether it is on behalf of the nation or its cars, to influence our treatment of the subsidised teams in relation to others. To do so is to make motorracing a political issue. But after all is said and done, whether or not the entry fees are waived, and whether or not hotel expenses are provided, are surely matters which only concern the organisers of British motorraces. If, as the Donington Grand Prix has proved incontestably, a bigger crowd can be attracted to a race when the world’s best racing-cars are taking part, it is understandable that (a) the owners of those cars should ask for some alleviation of their expenses, and that (b) the organisers should think that this demand is a perfectly reasonable one. In regarding Grand Prix racing from the circus angle, one could of course suggest to race organisers that it would be easier for
them to make money by providing a simpler form of entertainment. But it would be so easy for them to reply “That’s our affair.” Critics of Grand Prix racing complain that we give a great deal of publicity to foreign teams when they visit this country. Again this is only natural, because the cars are the best of their type in the world, and automatically merit praise. It is not true to say that British successes are treated in a lukewarm manner abroad. The E.R.A. victory at Peronne this year was described in French newspapers by headlines reading: ” Clear Superiority of the English
1,500 c.c. Racing-cars.” And France, too, is one of those countries which give state assistance to their racing manufacturers.
So much for the criticisms of modern Grand Prix racing. Now let us see whether there is a solution possible by which Great Britain could compete on level terms with the state-subsidised German and other teams.
The suggestion has been put forward that a cost limitation should be introduced into the Formula, but a moment’s reflection is enough to convince anyone of the impracticability of this idea. Design, research and experimental work are extremely difficult to assess in terms of money, and it would be impossible for organisers to make an accurate check of the work involved in producing a new racing-car. But production of the cars is only half the battle ; there still remains the expense of running them in races all over Europe. For this reason alone no manufacturer is likely to enter racing, even if a cost limitation could be evolved, which is extremely doubtful. We are faced with the undisputed fact that participation in Grand Prix racing does benefit the prestige of a country’s motor industry, particularly in. the export trade, and the equally undisputed fact that the British Government will never be
induced to part with public funds for the necessary subsidisation of racing teams. The answer lies with the manufacturers themselves, who would be the people to benefit from British successes in Grand Prix racing. At present they are making an expensive co-operative effort, solely by means of Press advertising and propaganda, to preserve the home market for British cars. This money would go far towards financing the construction and maintenance of a team of British racing cars. In order to avoid the objection of one make having to be selected to represent the country, as used to happen with the Gordon Bennett races, let them make use of the existing organisation which is at present not a competitor
in the production car field, namely English Racing Automobiles. A more appropriate title it would be difficult to find. Given financial backing beyond the heroic individual capability of Humphrey Cook, E.R.A,s could bring world-wide repute to British motor-cars, and thus stimulate our export trade. In this way the British motor industry would benefit by an increased output, with a consequent lowering of costs and the chance to expand
its business still further. G. P.