Reflections on the Austrian G.P.

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Last year the Austrian Club dealt with a small Formula One race very effectively and efficiently, but making the race a World Championship affair this year stretched their facilities and capabilities rather near the limit. They did not exactly fall down on the organisation, but in some directions they stumbled a bit. When an event is raised from a small Grand Prix to a World Championship Grand Prix all sorts of things take on vastly greater proportions, there are more competitors, more competing staff; more transporters and cars to provide for, the number of journalists multiply, the photographers multiply, there are many more trade people and industry people, the “camp-followers” increase tenfold, little things that were unimportant become magnified and appear important, the crowd increases, the car parking has to be greater, the race distance is usually longer, the timekeepers have a harder time, and the whole thing grows from a friendly little village race to a deadly serious affair. On the first day of practice, for example, the beam timing was not working, so hand watches were used, and the official times did not agree exactly with the times recorded by the various wives working for the factory teams. Last year any discrepancy between official times and pit-staff times would have been laughed off with a shrug, but this year it was a serious matter and was the cause of a lot of discussion. Last year the odd journalist and photographer who was present had a track pass more as a formality than anything else, but this year, with the numbers multiplied many times, there were variations of badge or armband and restrictions, and a near-panic when it was discovered that a typing error in the instructions to police and marshals made all issued armbands inadvertently useless. At the end of the race there was a bit of a “rhubarb” over the final finishing order for fourth place and it became a matter of some moment “because Championship points were at stake.” All these sort of things have to be absorbed by the race organisation and it requires quite a powerful and experienced body of people to deal with them; and it was in this that I feel the Austrians wok on a little more than they were ready for, and the poor condition of the concrete surface of the airfield did little to assist them; even though competitors realised it was out of the hands of the Club. Economically the race must have benefited the locality, if only on the sale of petrol and food and drink, so it is to be hoped that the enthusiastic people in the organisation will get greater help from the Austrian Government next year, and may even let them have the use of the public roads or a park to hold their next Grand Prix.

For Team Lotus the Zeltweg race will be remembered as “half-shaft day,” for both Clark and Spence retired with identical failures of the left-hand drive-shaft. Lotus have been using one-piece tubular drive shafts with a Hardy Spicer universal joint at the outer end and a Metallastik rubber-ring joint at the inner end, the “bungy” ring providing the effect of a splined joint to allow for changes in length of the drive-shaft as the suspension rises and falls. While this system works well, the life of the “bungy” rings is limited, and in an endeavour to seek improvement a new pair of shafts were tried on Clark’s Lotus 25 at the Mediterranean G.P. at Enna. These were telescopic shafts, using Hardy Spicer-type universals at both ends, the sliding-spline joint being as used on Mercedes-Benz 220S cars, with small rollers running in guides to take the driving and braking loads, so that the telescopic joint will still operate freely even though under a rotating load. The Mercedes-Benz shafts were shortened to suit the Lotus centres, and the outer universal joint welded on to the shortened solid shaft. At Enna these worked perfectly, so similar shafts were used at Zeltweg, but it would appear that an error of judgment crept in, in fitting both team cars with the new type of shaft for the Championship event. Both cars broke the outer shaft, at the point where they were welded to the universal joint, and almost on the same lap, which rather indicated that it was not a welding fault, but a basic “strength of materials” fault. At the time of the Austrian race Cohn Chapman was in America, at Milwaukee, supervising the racing of the Indianapolis Lotus-Ford V8s being driven by Parnelli-Jones and A. J. Foyt, otherwise I feel that Clark would have used the well-tried “bungy” ring drive-shafts in this Championship event until such time as the new shafts were really proven, either in minor events, or on the second team car. The whole trouble can really be blamed on “too much racing” and Chapman being unable to be in two places at once.

When Gurney’s left-front suspension upright broke during the second practice he was just rounding the double bend by the paddock, and I happened to be watching from the inside of the corner. The Car came to a very quick stop on the outside of the bend, with the wheel leaning inwards, and Gurney got out and helped the marshals to drag the car clear of the track. It was not many minutes before Jack Brabham arrived, in his racing car and stopped to see what had happened, and after a brief consultation with Gurney, he started up and drove back on to the circuit and round to the pits. They had no replacements with them and Brabham realised that he had to get in touch With his Byfleet works as soon as possible, so he drove round the circuit again, and when he got to the derelict car he turned off into the paddock and disappeared into the big hangar. By this time Gurney had crossed to the inside of the corner to watch the rest of practice and we were surprised to see Brabham re-appear from the paddock, still in the Grand Prix car, and rejoin the circuit, to disappear round to the pits again. It transpired that the keys for his hire-car were at the pits, which he discovered when he got to the paddock, and after a few minutes he appeared once more coming round the circuit and again turned off into the paddock, parked the racing car, got in his hire-car and drove off to his hotel to put in a telephone call to England. While he was doing all this ferrying to and fro, practice was still going on, so the timekeepers must have had some very peculiar lap times for him! It was also convenient that modern Grand Prix cars are docile and tractable, and start up on electric starter motors.

Brabham contacted Ron Tauranac, his designer, who at once gathered up some new parts in a suitcase and set off for London Airport, where he caught a plane to Frankfurt, and after a few hours’ wait he got another one to Vienna. Meanwhile, with practice over, the broken car was salvaged and taken apart, and someone set off in a car on the three-hour drive to Vienna to meet the plane, and at 2.30 a.m. on Sunday morning Tauranac arrived in Zeltweg with the replacement parts, Brabham having phoned him at about 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The point of this little tale is not so much the speed with which Tauranac acted, but the fact that had Brabham telephoned 30 minutes later everyone would have been gone from the works, and being Saturday would probably have not been contactable until Monday morning. If he had waited until practice finished before going into the village to telephone it would have been too late; by using his Grand Prix car to get from Gurney to the pits and then to the paddock (and another trip round for the car keys), and “getting on the blower” as soon as possible, he saved the day, and it was an advantage to be the one who makes all the decisions anyway, for that also saved time, and he knew that time was going to be vital. The pity of it all was that Gurney was forced to retire in the race when something else broke.

Phil Hill’s nonsense of crashing twice on the same corner, while not excusable, is understandable, for it was an odd corner anyway. It was where the perimeter track joined the runway and, while more or less a 90-degree turn to the left, it had two apices and in between them a drainage gutter, the line being to place yourself for the second apex for in that way you crossed the gutter at the best angle and the corner could be taken on full-throttle, accelerating from the previous corner, in 3rd or 4th gear, depending on your gearbox. Phil Hill admitted that his practice crash, on the first lap, was entirely his fault and he “goofed,” presumably by aiming for the first apex instead of the second, crossing the drain at the wrong angle, which would bounce the car on to an even worse line, and going into the corner on full acceleration from the previous corner. It would have all been quite harmless had the organisers not built a solid wall of straw bales, two bales high and two deep, so that it was like a concrete wall. The rest of the circuit was lined with single straw bales spaced at equal distances apart, and many a driver was thankful for this as he spun or locked his brakes and went between the bales, but on this particular corner there was no way of escape; spaced bales would have been adequate, and unless someone had gone off with no brakes and the throttle stuck wide open there was ample room to stop before reaching the downward straight on the runway. As the Cooper bounced up onto the straw bale wall Hill said it was like a nightmare and he thought “this can’t be happening to me; if only I could go back five or six seconds in time, right now,” and then it was all over and the car was bent and the Cooper team were bewailing the damage to the car. This was the 1964 car that was bent, so for the race Hill used the rather tired old 1963 car, and from descriptions given by other drivers who followed it during the race, it was about to have an accident all the time and they were amazed that Hill kept going as long as he did. The fact that he crashed on the same corner as his practice crash was pure chance, and it was just unfortunate that fire broke out when it bounced off the solid wall of straw bales. It was much more fortunate that Hill got out of the car as quickly as he did and avoided getting burnt, for cars can be rebuilt more easily than human beings, though John Cooper gave the impression after the race that he did not agree with this, which I felt was not very kind.

Corner indicating signs on circuits are usually sponsored by tyre or petrol firms, they taking the opportunity to display advertising matter beneath the directional arrow, or distance figure used for braking warnings, but at Zeltweg it was noticeable that Ford sponsored the signboards and each one had a large Ford badge on it. They were elliptical stick-on plastic badges about 12 in. x 24 in., as I well know, for I found one stuck on the front my Porsche the day after the race! With Ford taking an interest in the promotion of a Grand Prix event it could be thought that Detroit have thoughts about a Grand Prix car for 1966.—D. S. J.