Britain and Grand Prix Racing
Quoting passages from one's own articles of the past is something I do not like doing, and it can bounce back and strike one down in an embarrassing manner, but over the question of Britain and Grand Prix racing, which to me is the only true motor racing, I feel I must look back to previous articles. In the Motor Show issue of last year I wrote a long harangue about the miserable efforts made by British Grand Prix cars during the 1956 season of World Championship races, and slated all three of our Grand Prix teams, B.R.M., Connaught, and Vanwall for the mediocre performances they made and for the troubles they had allowed to happen to their cars and teams. I concluded with the words: ". . . the only gratification was that at least there were some green cars on the starting grid, but I sincerely hope that 1957 will produce something a bit better." In the January issue of this year, after having found out some of the reasons for the poor state of affairs of the 1956 season, I wrote again, trying to analyse why our efforts in Grand Prix racing were so hopeless, when our sports-car teams did so well, and I finished that article with the following paragraph.
"What I do sincerely hope is that I have now written the last of such harangues, for nothing will give me greater joy than to write an article full of praise for a sweeping success by a British car in a major Grand Prix race, and if 1957 is a British season then rest assured that Motor Sport will be the first to cheer loudly." That was in January 1957. By July 1957 we were cheering loudly, in August we cheered again, and in September we cheered loudest of all. Nineteen fifty-seven has been the season we have all been waiting for; all my moans and groans of the past can be forgotten, for this year has seen Britain get right to the top of the tree. Not quite perfection, for the 1957 World Champion driver used a Maserati, but Italian racing-car supremacy was swept aside and the green Vanwalls forced their way to the head.
As a comparison with last year, let us review the activities of British Grand Prix cars in the World Championship events. No green cars went to the Argentine, the time and expense not being considered justified, but they were all ready for Monte Carlo, the first Grande Epreuve in Europe. In January I said I wanted to see a British car win at Monte Carlo; well, we very nearly did, and but for Stirling Moss making one of his very rare errors of judgment we might have seen a Vanwall victory. What we did see was the Vanwall team right up alongside the opposition during practice, Moss being on the front row with third best practice time, and Brooks being just behind with fourth best. When Moss crashed he was in the lead, and for me that is good enough, had he crashed when running in the middle of the field it would have been boring and intolerable. The other car, in which Brooks was having his first World Championship drive for Vanwall, ran perfectly, and this new driver finished a worthy second to World Champion Fangio, not a miserable second place many laps behind, but on the same lap only 25 sec. in arrears after more than three hours' racing. This was obviously the right sort of beginning. Of the other teams Connaught started two cars, one finished a rather slow fourth and the other retired, while B.R.M. entered two cars, but only one managed to qualify, and that retired with engine trouble. These two teams were showing no improvement over 1956, but the efforts of the two Vanwalls was so good that it could carry the other green cars along, in the way that the six-cylinder Maserati was covering up for the failings of the new 12-cylinder Maserati. As if three complete British Grand Prix teams was not enough, that hard-trier John Cooper joined in the fun by enlarging the Coventry-Climax engines of his Formula II cars to nearly 2-litres and putting yet more green cars on the starting grid. With Australian Jack Brabham "ear-'oling" round the tight little Monaco circuit a Cooper had worked its way into third place until a few minutes before the end of the race. Then a broken fuel-pump mounting delayed it and dropped it back to the end of the field, but until this happened it was doing a great job of work, adding more fuel to the fire of green that was menacing the red fire of Italy. Already the green cars had taken the places on the starting grid from France, for the Gordinis were now so much of a back number that they gave up Grand Prix racing.
The Belgian and Dutch Grand Prix events were not held this year, so that it was not until July that the next round took place, but in the meantime disaster had befallen all three British Grand Prix teams in various ways. During the lull between the middle of May and the beginning of July the time had been filled in by sports-car races and other events, and first Vanwall temporarily lost the services of Brooks. Driving for Aston Martin at Le Mans he had an accident that put him out of action tor a long time, his injuries taking longer to heal than expected. The number one Vanwall driver, Moss, also suffered a health setback due to carelessness, for, eschewing a track race at Monza, he went water-ski-ing instead and as a result of too much salt-water submersion he contracted violent sinus trouble and had to miss two weeks of racing. This meant that the Vanwall team arrived at Rouen without their regular drivers, and this was a circuit that had every prospect of favouring the Vanwalls.
While Mr. Vandervell was having these troubles, Rodney Clarke had suffered the most serious set-back of all, for his financial backer, Kenneth MacAlpine, decided after Monte Carlo that he could no longer go on supporting the Connaught Racing Team. Finding no other monetary source to carry on the racing activities, Rodney Clarke had to make the bitter decision to withdraw from racing, and Connaught's as a racing team folded up. This unfortunate happening was a sad blow for Connaught Engineering, but it turned out to be a good one for Vanwall. With no more Connaught racing their drivers had to look elsewhere, and young Lewis-Evans, who had been showing a remarkable natural ability with Grand Prix cars, became involved with the Scuderia Ferrari. However, by the time the French Grand Prix arrived there was no sign of even being allowed to try a Grand Prix Lancia/Ferrari, and seeing Vanwalls with an acute driver shortage he offered his services and got a drive at Rouen. The other Vanwall car was driven by Salvadori, he having despaired of ever getting confidence in the B.R.M. having signed up with the Bourne team at the beginning of the season. With the Vanwalls being driven by two drivers new to the cars the showing at Rouen was mediocre and to add to this both cars gave trouble and had to retire from the race. After the Monte Carlo efforts this was depressing, but lacking their two first-line drivers it was slightly excusable. The B.R.M. cars had been showing improvement on test, some major changes being made to the chassis design with obvious benefit, and at Rouen they began to show a little promise. With Salvadori leaving the team, the ever-faithful Flockhart was left to carry the burden of driving until the American driver Mackay-Fraser was given a try-out and found to be suited to the car. In the race Flockhart crashed due to spinning on some oil dropped by another car (one should whisper this -- it was a Vanwall), and suffered severe personal injuries, while Mackay-Fraser ran quite well for his first Grand Prix but retired with suspected drive-shaft trouble. After this promising beginning it was unfortunate that this American should be killed the following week in a sports-car race. Having got the cars greatly improved, B.R.M. now found themselves at a complete loss for drivers.
All the hopes for a successful British Grand Prix season now seemed to be dwindling away, and for none of the reasons that occurred in 1956. Driver shortage, financial shortage and sheer misfortune were now plaguing our teams, and it looked as though Britain just was not meant to succeed in Grand Prix racing.
The next Championship event was the British Grand Prix, held this year on the flat and twisty Aintree circuit, and prospects brightened when Moss was announced fit once more and Brooks fit enough to start, but carrying no guarantee that he could last out the whole race. Another ray of hope was Lewis-Evans, for since Rouen he had driven in a non-Championship race and was now getting the hang of the Vanwall and going very fast; so Aintree saw three cars from Acton on the starting grid. With the two leading Vanwall drivers back in the fray these cars now got back into their stride and carried on from where they had left off at Monte Carlo. Moss made fastest lap and Brooks was third fastest during practice, so that the starting line saw a lone red car sandwiched between two green ones on the front row, and this really was the beginning of the end. The next step was to get all three Vanwall cars on the front row and then stay in the lead until the finish. The Aintree race was what everyone had been waiting for. Moss rushed away into the lead and was completely uncatchable until his engine blew up; but, as I said last year, I am not going to complain about that. If it had blown up when lying fifth or sixth I should have groaned loudly, but the first Vanwall had gone out fighting, and if you must retire then there is no better way. At this point Lewis-Evans was lying a firm fifth and Brooks in sixth place, though slowing as he was not yet 100 per cent. fit, so he was called in and Moss took over the car. Right back on the top of his form, Moss took the green Vanwall through the field in an unforgettable manner, and just as he took third place the two leading red cars ran into trouble, so that Vanwall went into the lead again, with the other one now second. For a brief and glorious moment Vanwall Cars were first and second in the British Grand Prix, but then Lewis-Evans had mechanical trouble, inexcusable but possible to tolerate in view of the race positions. Moss swept on without a falter and gave Britain her first victory in a Grande Epreuve in modern motor-racing, not forgetting the efforts of Brooks who had kept the car on the boil in the early stages. Lewis-Evans managed to effect a repair and finally finished seventh. This had been a real team effort, all the other teams had had their share of troubles, just as Vanwall had, but the green cars had come out on top; not a clear decisive victory, but one mixed with misfortune and luck. But does it matter how you win in Grand Prix racing, as long as you win? This was victory over the Italians, the reigning kings of Grand Prix racing, and that was all that mattered.
The B.R.M. team had entered with Leston and Fairman as drivers, but never showed any real promise throughout the meeting, both cars finally retiring with engine troubles. Bringing up the rear, and doing it very well in view of the material being used, were the little Coopers, not full-blooded Grand Prix cars, but green cars filling the results lists, one of them finishing fifth. In 1956 one British car out of nine starters finished in the British Grand Prix; in 1957 four finished out of eight starters, and one of them was undisputed winner. Not perfection. but no grumbles; to win is the thing.
The next race was the German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring and only Vanwall entered, the B.R.M. team being in mechanical disorder and not happy about the driver situation. This was the Vanwall team's first attempt on the Nurburgring and it is not a circuit to be taken lightly; in fact, it is true to say that competitors in the German Grand Prix race against the overwhelming odds of the circuit rather than against each other. After the victory at Aintree the Nurburgring was a complete and utter flop for the British, for the Vanwall suspensions were all wrong for the mountainous circuit and the drivers just could not stand the physical battering and mental strain of driving unmanageable cars. The Italians swept the board from start to finish, the best Vanwalls could do being fifth and ninth, the third car of the team retiring after a crash. While this was rather depressing there was no cause for despair, for it was quite obvious that the team had been caught out by unknown local conditions, though they were to blame for not investigating the situation more fully -- the difficulties of the Nurburgring are not new. However, they quickly learnt their lesson and by the time the next big race was held, at Pescara, alterations had been made and they were more or less right for the Italian mountain circuit. The three cars were once more driven by Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans, and here they achieved a resounding win, Moss leading for most of the race and only being challenged by Ferrari. The red challenge was brief but fierce, and Vanwall had already vanquished the Maranello car before it blew up. Maserati were just not in the picture and this victory now proved that we could win by ability as well as luck. B.R.M. missed out on this one for the same reason as Nurburgring; they did not consider the available drivers were good enough, and Flockhart was still convalescent.
The final round of the Championship was the traditional Monza race, an end-of-season flat-out blind, with no holds barred, if ever there was one. This race was the climax of the season and it proved to be the climax of all Mr. Vandervell's and the Vanwall team's efforts. The happenings are so recent that they must still be fresh in the memory of all Grand Prix followers, so there is no point in dealing with detail, but suffice to say that Vanwall swept the board from start to finish of the meeting. Never at any time during practice nor in the race did the Italian cars show any signs of getting the better of the three green cars. They fought tooth and nail, but the Vanwalls fought back and gave better than they got, so that Moss recorded the greatest British victory of all time, and the whole team put up the finest performance that any British team has ever done since Grand Prix racing began. With three Vanwalls entered and taking first, second and third fastest practice times, the Italians were fighting for survival. With a race result of first place, seventh place and the fastest lap of the race, the Vanwalls concluded the 1957 World Championship series and Moss (Vanwall) ranked second in the Drivers' Championship.
This is just the beginning, the beginning we have all waited for and for which so many people have worked so hard and suffered so many bitter disappointments. Now we must go on to greater things, to the sort of complete mastery that Mercedes-Benz achieved in 1955, where we can see three Vanwalls enter a race and know for sure that they will finish first, second and third. We must strive to achieve the position where the Italian teams openly admit that they are only racing to try and be the first Italian car to finish. Only by striving to achieve this aim can we be sure of meeting the challenge that might come from Stuttgart next year, the year after, who knows when, but come it surely will, and we must be in a position to fight them hard and beat them, for they are not infallible. Britain must get to the top. We have been laughed at and derided for too long. British engineering has lost its pride of position; "Made in Britain" no longer has any significance, but it is not too late, the efforts of the Vanwall team in 1957 can save the day. Already the smiles have gone from our competitors faces; they are wondering if perhaps Britain is on the up and up -- maybe she is going to put the "Great" back in front of her name. We can and must, and Mr. Vandervell has forged a truly wonderful way back to recovery for us. Let us all now give him our support, not by collections, for he does not need money, not by material for his resources are sufficient, but by making sure that everything else that is British achieves the results that the Vanwall team have begun to achieve.
The year 1957 has been a memorable one in Grand Prix racing, but it is only the first, there must be many more. The B.R.M. cars have begun to show ability, admittedly only in minor races, but let us hope that next year they will be in all the Grande Epreuves battling it out with the Vanwalls, so that the Italian cars and any other competitors that appear have an even more difficult task to get near the front of the racing.
I cannot say how truly happy I am to be able to write an article of praise on Britain and Grand Prix racing. It was not a pleasant task to write the harangues of the past years, but I always felt it was necessary, for I believe in Grand Prix racing above all else, and unless voices like mine cry out in the wilderness no interest is aroused in unhappy situations. When there is success everyone can see it, but when there is merely hope the world in general overlooks it. I have seen rays of hope for Britain becoming a force in Grand Prix racing for a number of years now, not by any clever insight, but by the good fortune of being able to be present and on the inside. It always caused me great anguish, and still does, when I see opportunities lost or bungled, but, believe me, nothing like the anguish experienced by those people behind our Grand Prix projects. They are always too busy trying to improve things to cry out in pain, but I have felt for them and in giving vent to my feelings on the matter I have inwardly hoped that it would do some good, even if only to make an individual conscious of his shortcomings, or to make up for those who have worked hard and conscientiously. By continually battering away, invariably on a critical and harping note, I have hoped to maintain interest in a difficult and complex business, for if nothing is ever said things might slide into obscurity. The 1957 season has seen British Grand Prix cars really achieving results. There have been failures and there have been bungles, and those that committed them know full well who was to blame, but no longer do I feel it necessary to criticise these happenings, for our results this year have been good enough to carry the responsibility of the failures.
To end on a happy note let us recall the British victories: Vanwall finished first at Aintree, Pescara and Monza; second at Monte Carlo; third at Syracuse and Reims; fifth at Reims, Nurburgring and Pescara; seventh at Aintree and Monza; and ninth at Nurburgring. Connaught finished first and second at Goodwood; third at Pau; fourth at Monte Carlo; and fifth at Pau and Syracuse. B.R.M. finished first, second and third at Silverstone, first at Caen and third at Goodwood. Cooper finished second at Caen; fifth at Aintree; sixth at Syracuse and Monte Carlo; seventh at Syracuse, Rouen and Pescara; and 12th at Reims.
British cars are indeed making their mark in Grand Prix racing. -- D. S. J.