Jenks on...

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The driver’s job, 1969

During a recent discussion on grand prix drivers past and present, the inevitable Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart battle raged. It did not seem reasonable to compare Nazzaro in 1907 with Stewart in 1967, because the things the drivers had to do were so different.

With the Cosworth V8, Lucas introduced a limiter that can be set to any rpm; the driver of today can almost forget his engine and can certainly drive it as hard as it will go for the whole race. He can also virtually forget his gearbox: with six close ratios you just flick a small lever with finger and thumb; no need to grasp a large knob on a long lever. Perhaps the biggest advance has been the disc brake: the driver of today can use his brakes as hard on the last lap of a GP as on the first. He can forget tyre wear, too: there is no need to conserve tyres or stop for new ones. And grand prix races today only last two hours, so he does not need to be built like an all-in wrestler, witness Stewart or Ickx.

We began to wonder just what our driver of today has to do. He can barely break an engine, can’t muff a gearchange, can’t wear out his brakes or tyres, he just has to lay there and drive. But while it is different, there is still a great deal to do, and the things which are unchanged are much more critical. Because so many cars have equal performance he has to make every movement to almost millisecond accuracy. He still has to judge braking distances, but due to improved brakes and tyres he can brake later, at higher approach speeds. Because of better reliability he can race for the whole two hours, and often has to. He has to put more effort into the driving than yesterday’s counterpart, with more concentration and keener judgement. The GP driver still does an outstanding job: it’s just that he must apply his skills to different things.

Yours, DSJ

Denis Jenkinson was our famous Continental Correspondent for more than 40 years.