Memorable moments at Spa and Monza
European classics were always held in awe
For one brief period every year Grand Prix racing goes back to its roots: at the end of August we are at Spa, and then we go to Monza, and if you have any feel for the meaning of motor racing, this fortnight is emphatically the highlight of your season.
If Spa, by general consent, is the greatest circuit visited by Formula 1, for many folk Monza constitutes the inest weekend. If limited to one race a year, I would choose it in a blink.
Not always, but invariably, the venerable Royal Park is favoured with autumn sun, and the ghosts abide of Nuvolari and Varzi, Farina and Ascari. Much has happened here since 1922, and it lingers in the air. Monza, like Spa, is strong meat. No bling here.
It is, I suppose, 30 years or so since I began staying at the Hotel de la Ville, which is pleasingly close at hand, but more importantly the favourite hostelry of a great number of racing people, myself included. As I came out of my room one morning I ran into Adrian Newey: “What a wonderful place this is!” he exclaimed as we walked down to the lobby.
Hotels, however ritzy, are merely places to stay, rarely discussed, but this one is different. Imbued with that elegance and style only found in Italy, it perfectly complements the Monza experience. The hotel staff – who never seem to change – somehow achieve a blend of correctness and warmth that comes from another time.
At some circuits a hotel is selected as a kind of race HQ, where credentials are issued and so on, but while the de la Ville would never submit to anything so vulgar it is de facto the natural hub of the Italian Grand Prix weekend. Look around you at dinner, and there are drivers – and ex-drivers – at every turn. Non-residents, too, come from miles around to savour the sublime restaurant, then to while away the early hours with a grappa or two on the terrace.
More than that, I have long suspected there is something in the air at the Hotel de la Ville. For a start, invariably everyone is in an agreeable frame of mind, but there’s something else, too – it’s as if there’s some truth drug in the coffee, so that people are irreverent and coniding to a degree way beyond the norm. You need a thick notebook for Monza.
Because so many drivers stay at the de la Ville, early on race morning a crowd begins to gather beyond the car park’s electrically operated gate, and this is always Italian theatre at its best. Long gone, after all, are the days when a paddock pass could be bought, and here is a rare opportunity to have Webber or Schumacher or Massa sign your programme or pose for your camera.
And then there’s the track, of course, and the atmosphere that is its highest card. In the pure sense it doesn’t compare with Spa, and, as Bernie Ecclestone has always said, it ’s festooned with too many chicanes, the first of which – at the end of the pit straight – is almost guaranteed to produce a coming-together or two in the opening seconds of the race.
It was just so this time but in an unusual manner, for Liuzzi’s HRT went off the road long before the corner, then scudded across the dry grass before slamming into Petrov’s Renault and Rosberg’s Mercedes, accounting for both on the spot, and delaying others too.
A pity for both drivers, of course, and it removed from the race an intriguing possibility, for Nico – alone of all those who made it to Q3 – set his time on the harder of the Pirelli compounds on offer. From Michael Schumacher we were to see ample evidence of the prodigious straightline speed of the Mercedes, and had he survived the first corner Rosberg, too, would have been mighty dificult to pass.
At Spa, as at so many Grand Prix circuits these days, the crowd had been disappointingly small – I heard a figure of 45,000 – and, given the ticket prices, that really wasn’t too hard to understand. A seat in the grandstand at Eau Rouge, for example, set you back €424…
It’s a common tale. Notwithstanding the state of the economy over half the world these days, the cost of putting on a Grand Prix rises hideously each year, and while that may delight the gentlemen of CVC – gotta keep those investors happy, you know – it obliges circuit owners to charge ever loftier prices to those who wish to come in.
Not surprisingly a sizeable number of potential spectators conclude that they can’t run to 400 quid (or multiples thereof, should they be accompanied), and opt sadly to stay home and turn on the box.
For some years it had been that way at Monza, too, but this time around the tifosi turned out in considerable quantity, and, given the supposedly dire state of the economy in Italy, I was rather surprised. A Milanese colleague supplied an answer: “Oh, it’s the mentality here. Things are so bad that people are saying, ‘Oh, let’s try to forget it for a weekend – let’s go to the race…”
Whatever the explanation, the stands were more packed than for many years – even though anyone in the know appreciated that, while Alonso had won in 2010, there was little chance of a Ferrari victory this time. It turned out that way, too, but at least Fernando gave them a moment that, as Stefano Domenicali said, was for many worth the price of admission.
Thirty-two years ago at the Österreichring, Gilles Villeneuve made one of his ‘maximum-revs- slip-foot-off-side-of-clutch’ starts from the third row, rocketing past the turbocharged Renaults of Jabouille and Arnoux, plus the Williams of Jones and the Brabham of Lauda, and leading away up the hill. Ultimately it was fruitless, and he knew it, but that wasn’t the point, he argued: if you were a racing driver, you had to go for it.
Listening to Alonso after the race, there was evidence of exactly that mentality. Red Bull and McLaren were incontrovertibly quicker, Fernando allowed, but he wanted to give the fans a souvenir of the day, a memory of the 2011 Italian GP to cut out and keep. Thus, when the lights went out, and front row men Vettel and Hamilton accelerated away together,
Alonso contrived to join them, so that Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari were three abreast, Fernando declining to lift even as he ran out of race track and brushed the grass. Into the first corner he was in the lead, and the roar from the stands might have been heard in Rome.
There are some moments in motor racing that one never forgets – moments indeed to make one doubt what one has just seen. Think of Häkkinen’s pass of Schumacher into Spa’s Les Combes in 2000, or Alonso’s stupefying outside move on Michael at Suzuka’s 130R in ’05. In the past couple of Grands Prix, remarkably, there have been three such events, one of which was Fernando’s Monza getaway.
In the other two, though, he was the loser. At Spa, as he emerged from the pits after his first stop and accelerated down the hill, Webber’s Red Bull was closing, then jinking left, as if to pass him into Eau Rouge – surely not?
In all my years of going to Spa, I had never seen a pass – a genuine, competitive pass – into Eau Rouge, yet here it was. Into the first left-hand swerve, the Red Bull and the Ferrari were side by side, Mark relying on an assumption that Fernando would see sense, lift fractionally and give him room.
This he did – and a plane crash was averted. Afterwards Webber conceded that Alonso was one of very few drivers he would have trusted in that situation. When he stopped by the table at the de la Ville to chat one night, I asked if – as he closed on the car in front – he had positively known it was Fernando. “Yeah,” he smiled. “They’d told me on the radio it was him coming out of the pits – I had to be sure if I was going to try something like that!”
In the event it counted for little, as on the very next lap Alonso easily took the place back on the climb to Les Combes by virtue of DRS. Whatever one thinks of the ‘opening rear wing’ (and philosophically I hate it), there is no doubt that its effect is more potent in some places than others. At Spa, as at Istanbul, it was ridiculously over the top, so that if you had someone anywhere near you through Eau Rouge, you were a tethered goat on the long climb that followed.
Like DRS or not, Charlie Whiting said one evening in Monza, one undeniably positive effect was that since its advent there was far less weaving than there used to be.
So fast did another car come up on you now, he suggested, that you thought twice before chopping across its bows. When one thought about it, undeniably there was some truth in that – although this was before the race, and made no allowance for the mindset of one Michael Schumacher…
Returning to the subject of moments one never forgets, another came on the fifth lap at Monza, where the characteristics of the car one happened to be behind were of crucial significance. Following the Liuzzi nonsense at the start there were a couple of laps behind the safety car, after which they were given the signal to go again, and if Alonso made sure of getting the jump on Vettel, Hamilton was caught on the hop by Schumacher. It was to prove costly.
Vettel’s Red Bull, daringly short-geared at this fastest of all Grand Prix circuits, had a great advantage in this early, fuel-heavy stage of the race, accelerating out of corners with an alacrity that made Alonso’s Ferrari seem sluggish. Keen to capitalise on his car’s inherent superiority and desperate to get on his way, out of DRS range (when this became operational three laps in), it was only a matter of time before Sebastian got by, but few expected that the move would come at Curva Grande – and on the outside, with two wheels on the grass…
This rather buried the theory of some that Vettel is untroubled when he leads from the front, but rather less confident when he has to ight. In that instant the result of the Italian Grand Prix was settled: Seb simply drove away.
He might, one surmised, have faced rather more of a challenge from the McLarens had Hamilton and Button – rather than Alonso’s Ferrari – been in the vicinity. But a fellow German was doing Vettel a great favour, not for reasons of partisanship or (God forbid!) altruism, but because in a straight line the Mercedes was like a bullet at Monza, and Michael is Michael. Hamilton’s being caught napping by Schumacher at the restart guaranteed that Vettel would be untroubled for the balance of the afternoon, just as he had been – potential tyre problems apart – at Spa.
Even using DRS Lewis was unable to get on terms with Michael, and, as he shadowed him for lap after lap – sometimes it was difficult to see the McLaren behind the Mercedes – I began to think that this was bound to end in tears, that sooner or later the natural aggression of the one and the relentless obduracy of the other would lead to contact and… and then what?
On one lap there was a terrifying moment at Curva Grande, when Hamilton had a run on Schumacher and moved to pass him on the inside – only to be chopped, at some unthinkable speed, on to the grass.
Necessarily backing off, Lewis was passed by his team-mate, and his pain must have been made worse when Jenson at once coolly outbraked Michael on the outside into Ascari and disappeared up the road. Later Button reeled in Alonso (the Ferrari hobbled, as ever, in the ‘hard tyres’ final segment of the race) and took second place, whereas Hamilton spent 11 more laps behind Schumacher before inally getting by, and thus found Alonso still beyond reach as the chequered lag fell.
My feeling was that Lewis, way more patient than one might have expected in the circumstances, was acutely conscious of the need to finish at Monza, determined not to give way to frustration and risk trashing another car.
Afterwards there was plenty of talk about Michael being up to his old tricks, and perhaps, given that he had found himself in a more genuinely competitive position than we have seen since the start of his troubled return, we should not have been surprised. If we are not up to speed on Schumacher’s driving manners by now we never will be, and, in comparison with some of his excesses from the past, this was relatively mild stuff – unsparing rather than psychopathic. Ask Häkkinen. Or Alonso, Montoya, Barrichello – even Ralf…
Afterwards Hamilton was commendably controlled when asked about Schumacher’s tactics. “Hmm… it was motor racing…” he said, but his expression told another story. Some indication of the stewards’ interest in the proceedings was gleaned when Ross Brawn began giving Schumacher coded advice about how he should conduct himself in the fight with Hamilton. Afterwards Derek Daly, the ex-driver on the stewards’ panel at Monza, allowed that probably they should have penalised Michael; in time-honoured style, though,
they did not.
Sebastian Vettel, winner of his eighth Grand Prix in 2011, and about to become World Champion again, didn’t really care one way or the other.
It has always intrigued me that Jimmy Clark’s own motor racing hero was Masten Gregory. This is not to disparage Gregory, who rarely got the drives his talent warranted: quietly spoken, bespectacled, he was always ferociously quick and braver than brave, but many thought he lived too close to the edge. Clark, though, much admired him, and thought his natural ability among the best he ever saw.
The beginnings of that esteem were stirred at the Spa Grand Prix in 1958, this a sports car race run the same weekend as the Monaco GP. Clark, driving the Border Reivers D-type Jaguar, was racing abroad for the first time, and the 8.76 miles of Spa-Francorchamps were way, way quicker than any circuit he had encountered to that point in his short career.
In his autobiography, indeed, Jimmy confides that in practice the place unsettled, even frightened, him and when Masten – in the Ecurie Ecosse Lister-Jaguar – went by him at colossal speed, the car’s tail twitching this way and that, he seriously began to question whether he was cut out for this.
On race day the Listers of Gregory and Archie Scott Brown ran away from the rest, engaging in a fierce duel that ended in tragedy on lap six. Scott Brown, leading narrowly, arrived at the flat-out left-hander (now the site of the Bus Stop chicane) on to the straight (now the start/inish area) before La Source. A very localised rain shower, so typical of Spa, had fallen since the previous lap, and the Lister ran wide at the exit of the turn, clipped a roadside stone marker (which Paul Frère had vainly suggested should be removed), dug into the soft earth beyond and somersaulted. The car finished up on the infield towards La Source, on its side, ablaze, and the following day Scott Brown succumbed to his dreadful burns.
The accident had come at the same spot as Richard Seaman’s disaster 19 years earlier, and the outcome was horribly similar. Both men, indeed, were treated by the same local medic, who said he could do nothing for either save make them as comfortable as possible until they died.
Clark had met his fellow Scot for the first time that weekend, and was devastated, as were all who had known Archie. A dislike of Spa became even more than that when Jimmy went back there two years later, now a member of Team Lotus. Soon after half-distance in the Belgian Grand Prix the precociously fast rookie Chris Bristow, engaged in a freehand battle with Ferrari’s Willy Mairesse, got off line at the entry to the dreaded Burnenville, and his Cooper went end over end. When Clark – no yellow flags were waving – arrived on the scene he only narrowly missed marshals dragging Bristow’s body from the road.
A few minutes later one of Jimmy’s Lotus team-mates, Alan Stacey, went off the road after being struck in the face by a large bird. Stacey, too, was killed, and Clark’s horror of Spa was complete. It says everything about the man that even so he ultimately became nigh unbeatable at the circuit.
Last month I wrote about Langhorne, the almost circular dirt track in Pennsylvania more feared by American drivers than any other. By a quirk of the calendar, the 1960 race was run the same day – June 19 – as the Belgian Grand Prix, and as Bristow and Stacey perished so also did Jimmy Bryan, a winner of the Indianapolis 500 and one of the greatest in US racing history.
If you read the previous column, you will know that Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser disagreed strongly about Langhorne, now long gone. JR said he had found it enjoyable, and Unser wondered if he had been drinking: no one, Bobby insisted, had liked Langhorne. It hadn’t been just dangerous – hell, all the tracks had been dangerous back then – no, it had been extra dangerous, for which read lethal.
Many drivers felt that way about Spa – the old Spa, that is. Jackie Stewart, who had the worst accident of his career in the rainy GP there in 1966, and was fortunate to escape with relatively light injuries, was one such.
After the 1970 GP Stewart was adamant that Formula 1 should not go back there again, and said it was “bullshit that anyone liked the place – either they were lying or they weren’t going fast enough…” Come to think of it he made similar remarks, albeit less trenchantly, about the Nürburgring.
JYS never holds back when he feels strongly about a topic, but just as no one doubts the sincerity of his views about these two circuits – at both of which he was brilliant, incidentally – so neither is there any doubt that there have been drivers who would disagree with him – and with some vigour.
Such as Fangio, Moss, Surtees and Ickx positively adored the Nordschleife, and there were also those – step forward once more John and Jacky – who felt the same about ‘Francorchamps’, as the locals always call it. Surtees, indeed, won the Grand Prix there with both bike (many times) and car.
There were others, too, notably Tony Brooks, most underrated of all the really great drivers of history. “Of course I liked the Nürburgring, but I loved Spa – it was my favourite circuit anywhere. It seemed to me the essence of a true Grand Prix circuit, very quick and calling for great precision, with no margin for error at all…”
In Brooks’s era – the mid-50s to the early ’60s – the world was a very different place, and nowhere more so than in motor racing. Tony was a man more mindful of safety than many of his contemporaries, but only in the sense of not driving a potentially unsafe car. He had learned hard lessons, getting upside-down in a BRM at Silverstone in 1956 (stuck throttle) and in an Aston Martin at Le Mans in ’57 (jammed gearbox).
At the championship-deciding US Grand Prix at Sebring in 1959, where he was one of three title contenders, Brooks was hit at the start by the sister Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips, and at the end of the lap came in to have his car checked over. “My natural inclination,” he said, “was to press on, and that would have been the easiest thing to do, but I made myself come in – lost half a lap doing it, and probably the title, too. After those shunts with the BRM and particularly the Aston, I made a irm mental decision never to try and compensate for a car’s mechanical deficiencies – it seemed to me wrong to take unnecessary risks with one’s life.”
Brooks’s philosophy, though, did not extend to circuits. “The attitude then was that spectators had to be protected at all costs, and that was it: otherwise – beyond wearing the best available helmet and so on – nobody thought about safety whatsoever Towards the end of my career some thought was given to it, in terms of making the car as safe as possible, but the circuits stayed the same, and there was never any question of making them into ‘Scalextric’ tracks – we used to get resentful when we had to drive on artificial, aerodrome-type circuits!
“The big attraction was driving a racing car on closed roads, and we accepted that the name of the game was keeping it on the island. If you went off, you were in the lap of the gods – you might get away with it, you might not. Although no one wanted to get killed or hurt, the challenge was to drive as fast as you could, while realising the consequences of going off the road. No one will persuade me that there isn’t more of a challenge to a driver if he knows he might hurt himself if he goes off.
“Of course you can afford to have a go if you know that a mistake might mean losing a few seconds in a run-off area! I think there’s a lack of discipline among drivers today, but I don’t altogether blame them for it – surely it’s inevitable once you create an environment where they can make mistakes and get away with it. I can remember drivers who were very quick on aerodrome tracks, but no threat at all on true road circuits. Brick walls and trees and ditches instil a discipline, believe me…”
The words come from a conversation I had with Brooks 30 years ago, but his views are the same now as then – and Tony, for all his fantastic ability around a place like Spa, is as far from a gung-ho personality as ever you’ll find. He won the Belgian Grand Prix for Vanwall in 1958, and the next year, now a Ferrari driver, was mortiied when the race was cancelled: “It was a gorgeous thing to drive, that Dino 246 – in that car, at that circuit, I’d have happily taken anyone on…”
Denis Jenkinson told me he had thought Brooks more at ease around Spa than any other driver he ever saw – including Clark and Moss. And Stirling, indeed, has told me he never felt entirely comfortable there, his feelings about the place doubtless influenced by an accident at Burnenville in 1960 when his Lotus shed a wheel, and in the ensuing accident he was thrown from the car and severely injured. This was just a day before Bristow and Stacey lost their lives.
“Spa was fast,” he said. “To be honest, it used to frighten the hell out of me. If you were going to have a shunt, you were going bloody quickly, and it was going to hurt. “In those days we used to lose wheels and so on quite often, and when you went to a circuit like Spa or Oporto, where the corners were very fast and the place was lined with trees and houses, you’d be going through a corner at 140mph or something and you might think, ‘Christ, if a wheel came off here, this’d be real trouble…’ The thing is, though, that there’s no way you’d allow yourself to think about that, because it was too much of a strain – so therefore you drove the place the way it was and put it out of your mind.
“At Spa I had the wheel come off at Burnenville, but when I had to go through there subsequently I absolutely had not to think of that wheel coming off – if I had, it would have been awful. Spa was an exhilarating circuit, but personally I didn’t ind it as rewarding as the Nürburgring…”
Different folks, different strokes. There is not a trace of affectation about Brooks – when he says he adored Spa, it is because he adored Spa, not because he’s trying to come across as macho man.
All that said, it seems to me that if you can survey the old Spa – the vast majority of which is today still exactly as it was – without a shiver here and there, probably you should get help, and without delay.
When I arrived there this year, late on the Thursday afternoon, I decided – instead of heading for the car park and thence the press room – to drive round the original circuit and take my time over it, pausing to take photographs here and there.
To my regret I never saw an F1 race at the old circuit, although once the Grand Prix had been lost I went to the 1000Kms in 1972, and watched Brian Redman – whose record at Spa was phenomenal – win for Ferrari, co-driving with Arturo Merzario.
Ronnie Peterson, also driving a 312PB, had been narrowly leading Redman until ‘local rain’ caught him out at Les Combes. Brian noticed umbrellas in the spectator area; Ronnie did not.
No matter how many times I have driven around the old track over the years, the effect is unfailingly as potent as ever. At the highest point on the circuit – Les Combes, at the top of the long climb from Eau Rouge – instead of turning right into the chicane of the current circuit you go left, and begin a plunge downhill. It was here, in the 1968 GP, that Redman’s Cooper suffered front suspension failure, went over the guard rail and hit a marshal’s parked Vauxhall Cresta.
“Amazing the details you remember at times like that,” said Brian. “That always comes back to me, and so does the irst marshal who tried to help me – he had a fag in his mouth…”
The first half of the lap – nearly five miles – is downhill, and it’s easy to understand why the word ‘Burnenville’ lives so infamously in the folklore of motor racing. A swooping right hander, it seems never-ending, and accounted for more serious accidents than any other on the circuit.
Jenks used to talk with mystifying relish about leaning out of Eric Oliver’s sidecar through there, and Surtees agrees with Brooks that it was one of the most satisfying corners in the world to ‘get right’. Chris Amon, too. “In my day, of course, we had cross-ply tyres and no downforce at all until the irst primitive wings in 1968 – and they gave very little. The cars used to slide a lot – and sliding wasn’t necessarily slow, as it is today. As you went through Burnenville the car would be moving around a lot, and you were steering with the throttle as much as the wheel.
“Of course Spa made you apprehensive – if you went off, there was a high chance of hitting a house or trees or whatever, but a lot of tracks were like that then. I remember that wet, miserable morning at Hockenheim – seeing some dirt on the road. This was out in the forest – lat out, no barriers, just trees – and it was obvious that if you went off there was no way of getting out of it. What I didn’t know was that it was Jimmy…
“That’s the way it was then. At a place like Spa you weren’t under any illusions about the consequences of going off, but it’s the eternal conlict of motor racing, isn’t it? The tracks that are most satisfying are the ones that tend to be dangerous – and in my experience Spa was uniquely satisfying.
“The thing is, everyone’s different. I decided against restarting the German GP in ’76 after Lauda’s accident, but that had nothing to do with the Nürburgring itself. What disturbed me that day was the length of time it took to get any medical help to Niki – and I was driving the Ensign, which had already broken twice on me that season, each time causing a huge shunt.
“It was absolutely not the circuit itself – I always enjoyed the ’Ring. The only place that ever spooked me was Indianapolis – it was the proximity of those walls. Bruce McLaren could never understand why it had that effect on me, yet at the same time I was perfectly happy at Spa. ‘Maybe,’ he’d say, ‘we should paint trees on the walls at Indy – it’ll make Chris feel at home.’”
For Amon the biggest test at Spa was not Burnenville, but the Masta Kink in the middle of the long Masta Straight. In point of fact it’s a misnomer, for ‘kink’ suggests something you barely notice, whereas what we’re talking about here is two distinct corners, a left and a right. The approach is downhill, and – like so many corners at Spa – blind.
“On the last lap in 1970,” said Chris, “Pedro [Rodríguez] was leading in the BRM, and I was right behind him in that awful March 701. The BRM had a lot more steam than my Cosworth, but I was clinging on in the tow, and on the last lap I made myself go through the Kink without lifting. I’d been doing that with the Ferrari in ’68, but it was beautifully balanced and stable. The March, on the other hand, was a horrible motor car, and I’m not sure quite how I made it through…”
In an attempt to slow things a little, the organisers that year inserted a chicane at Malmedy, but even so Amon’s final lap – a record, and faster than the pole – came in at a little over 152mph.
“That was the last F1 race run at the old circuit, but I was back there with Matra for the 1000Kms in ’73, and what was amazing to me was that now the Masta Kink was flat every lap, no problem. That was disappointing in a way – to me the best corners were normally not quite lat, but just lat maybe once or twice in a weekend. Now, though, I started to think that maybe Spa’s days really were gone – in terms of F1 – because too much of it would have been easy lat. In ’68, though, it was a magic place to drive round, and the satisfaction you got from a quick lap there was greater than anywhere else.”
During practice 10 years earlier oil from Jean Behra’s BRM engine found its way to the car’s rear tyres – just as Jeannot turned into the Kink. The car started spinning every which way, but somehow in perfect synch with the track. Finally it came to rest without having hit a thing, but so shaken up was Behra – hardly the most timid of drivers – that self admittedly he was off his game for the balance of the weekend. The incident, he said, had gone on too long: “I knew where the houses were, and I was waiting for the impact – I could do nothing…”
Jackie Stewart, as we said, was implacable in his wish to have Spa removed from the World Championship calendar, but that didn’t mean he was immune to the challenge of the place, perilous as it was. He led much of the 1967 Grand Prix, remember, in the cumbersome BRM H16 of all things – and, what’s more, steering with one hand most of the way, the other holding the lever in gear!
“Eau Rouge wasn’t lat in those days,” Jackie said. “Not with the cars we had. But it was still a very quick, tippy-toe sequence – and with no run-off, of course. People always had this thing about Eau Rouge, maybe because of the topography of it, the swoop downhill and then uphill, but it wasn’t that frightening. Believe me, though, the Masta Kink was frightening!
“There’s no doubt that the Masta Kink was a much bigger challenge than Eau Rouge – it was a left, then a right, and I’d say they were the most testing corners on any track in the world. The approach was downhill, completely blind, and you’d go through there at 175-180mph – very tricky, but a wonderful feeling if you got it right. Of course if you got it wrong you’d hit a house – a house with Denis Jenkinson in it!”
True enough. Jenks often told how he would position himself on the first floor of a house (how this was negotiated was never clear) at the exit of the second half of the Kink. This was particularly rewarding, he said, when a car was running alone, its engine note not drowned out by others: “For most of them there’d be a big lift, for others a smaller lift, and for just one or two no lift at all! You could tell who was quick there all right – and who was brave…”
And who were they? He didn’t need to consult his notebooks. “Well, in ’68 they were Amon and Stewart…” DSJ may have had his disagreements with JYS, not least over the future of Spa, but he never had anything other than consummate regard for his ability.
There are of course exceptions to the rule, but today’s F1 drivers are famously ignorant – and in many cases uncaring – of the sport’s heritage. I don’t pretend to understand it, but there you are. The most extreme example, I suppose, was the acutely embarrassing moment when a multiple World Champion (there’s a clue) asked the daughter of a legend what her father was doing these days: he’d been killed in the ’70s.
Sometimes at Spa I ask drivers for their impressions of the old circuit, and some say they have never been round it. I gently point out that unwittingly they have almost certainly experienced at least part of it, simply by driving from circuit to hotel, and then I suggest they watch the DVD of Grand Prix, which features mesmeric footage of Surtees’s victory in 1966.
A few years ago Juan Pablo Montoya was one such, and he was aghast when I pointed it out. “Jesus Christ!” he said. “That was the track? Did they really race round there?” They did.