Further Thoughts on Monza

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One of the biggest talking points at Monza was the exclusion of the two American drivers, Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser. The Italian organisers disqualified them from the meeting under the rule that said that no one could take part in two events within 24 hours. In point of cold, hard fact this exclusion only affected Andretti, for Unser had not qualified in the works B.R.M., so it was only half as serious as a lot of people made out. At Monza the practice session on Saturday creates a lot of interest, and it is certain that many spectators turned up to see Andretti perform, for even outside of U.S.A.C. territory his is a name to be reckoned with, and in the unofficial practice on Thursday he had gone very fast in the works Lotus. The fact that he was in America on Saturday, instead of being at Monza, must have disappointed a lot of people, and the same thing had happened the day before. He did his few practice laps between 3 p.m. and 3.15 p.m. and was then gone, just as people were beginning to fill the circuit and look eagerly for Lotus number 18. Whatever the dollar attractions in America, this sort of attitude to the Italian Grand Prix was not keeping faith with the paying spectators, nor with the organisers, and is a repetition of similar nonsenses we have had in the past over the clashing of Indianapolis and the Monaco G.P. Whatever some people may think, a Grand Prix event starts when official practice begins and finishes when the chequered flag falls at the end of the race, and any driver or team who contracts to take part should consider themselves duty-bound to be at the Grand Prix circuit for the whole of that period. Somewhere in the management of Lotus and B.R.M. something was at fault to permit the Monza situation to arise, for both teams must have known that the American event was scheduled to take place on the Saturday. Since the introduction of high-speed trans-Atlantic jet travel there has been too much flitting to-and-fro for purely monetary gain and too many people have lost sight of their sense of values. Before the jet-travel age this situation never arose, because time and distance were too great. While I regret not seeing Andretti taking part in the Italian G.P. I think the organisers were quite right to make an example of this issue and stand firm, for it may cause people to stop and give a little more thought to their actions before running after the almighty dollar. As regards Unser, he was no loss, for on his brief practice performance he would have been racing against Bonnier, even had he qualified. A point was made loudly that even if they had started they would not have been in 100 per cent, physical condition to give good performances, and this may well have been valid. In the past I have watched Graham Hill, Hulme and Brabham drive like old women in European races after flying back from America overnight, and for all their spectator value they might just as well not have bothered to come back.

* * *

The South Curve on the Monza track, that leads into the main straight, has often been the scene of some last-minute do-or-die efforts on the last lap, and if you look back through the years you can appreciate just how critical a corner it can be. Spectating there during the final practice period I was greatly impressed by the way Stewart was driving round it; of all the entry he was by far the smoothest and fastest; taking the long 180-degree bend in a long controlled slide with the rear wheels just out of line, a small degree of opposite lock, and judging his speed so that he could keep a constant throttle opening all the way round, balancing the combination of power, rear wheel adhesion and steering to a nicety. Most drivers were taking two or three stabs at the power in an untidy and unbalanced piece of cornering. The South Curve is also known as the Curva Parabolica, for the simple reason that it has been laid out in the shape of a parabola. Before the banked track was built at Monza the South Curve was further away from the pit area, beyond where the banking is now, and consisted of two right-angle bends joined by a short straight, the whole thing laid in small cobblestones. While it was more difficult in those days it was not so much fun for the driver, for today’s South Curve if taken right must be immensely satisfying.

The accident that took place on the ninth lap, involving Amon and Surtees, was something of a puzzle, for the official Press bulletin given to the journalistic world said that Amon spun on a patch of oil, but it made no mention of how the oil got there, nor did it explain why McLaren did not spin on it. As nobody spun at the Lesmo corners on lap 8 one can only assume that there was no oil there then, and that it was laid after the last car had gone through on lap 8, and before Amon arrived on lap 9. This could only mean that Bruce McLaren laid the oil, for the field started lap 9 in the order McLaren, Amon, Surtees, Siffert, etc., but this is ridiculous for cars do not suddenly lay a patch of oil unless something has broken in the engine or gearbox, and McLaren was not in trouble until lap 26. Apart from this, all Grand Prix cars are fitted with catch-tanks into which oil breather pipes go, so that it is virtually impossible for oil to drop from a racing car unless a pipe breaks or a casting splits or a tank leaks. In a situation like this where information about an incident has to be got from official sources it is all too easy to believe what the race organisers’ Press department tells you. The term “patch of oil” is a stock journalistic platitude to explain something you do not see or understand, like the expression “dropped a valve”, which means that the driver has blown-up his engine but does not really know what broke. Valve trouble and valve-gear trouble usually results from over-revving, seldom from bad design in this day and age, so when a driver explains his retirement as “the engine dropped a valve, old boy”, you would not be far out to say that he had thrashed the heart out of the engine and over-revved unmercifully. In days gone by the expression used to be “magneto trouble” until Lucas transistor ignition put a stop to that. Some drivers have been heard to say they retired “because of low oil pressure”, but if you listen carefully you may hear the team manager mutter: “When did he ever look at an oil pressure gauge, let alone read it?”

At Monza where there is a maximum of speed and a minimum of corners much can be done by tucking in behind another car and using its slipstream to gain more speed. This is a very skilled art that few drivers have ever mastered completely. If you have a slow car then you can tuck in behind a faster car and get a free tow in the vacuum behind the faster car. If your car is of equal speed there is little point in doing this, except that you can back off the throttle, keeping up the same speed, and use less fuel, but you do this at the risk of overheating, for your radiator intake is getting no ram effect and what air goes in is usually hot air from the engine and exhaust of the car in front. If you just sit behind a car with equal speed and then pull out and try to go by all you will do is to draw alongside and then you will have reached your terminal velocity for your b.h.p. and frontal area. If you are skilful you will slowly drop back from the leading car, the distance depending on the speed, and then accelerate up to the leading car’s tail in the vacuum and at the precise moment pull out. The increased momentum gained by accelerating in the vacuum will often give you enough inertia to go right by the leading car. It was by doing this that McLaren and Surtees profited in practice, for they timed their rush to carry them by the car in front just as they reached the timekeeper’s line so that the lap was started behind a car of equal performance and ended in front of it. It was this rush up into the vacuum behind the car in front that Servoz-Gavin did when he jumped Ickx’s Ferrari right on the finishing line. I have seen so many close finishes where the second car comes into view sitting right up close behind the leading car all the way to the line and then pulling out into the wind and getting no more than level with the cockpit of the leader. You can see a mile away that the second car is never going to make it. If the second car drops back a bit as the finish is approached, that is another matter altogether. It is not easy, for you can be too late, or too early, in making such a manœuvre or you can “goof” and hit the car in front! Before the race one of the Cooper Team management was saying how Servoz-Gavin was the only driver they had ever had driving a Cooper in recent times who made use of the “draught” of faster cars. It had been noticeable how, even in practice, if a faster car had gone by the Cooper he would immediately tuck-in behind to gain advantage from the suction, even if he could not stay in it.

After the race Hulme was quoted as saying that he was a bit frightened during the opening scratch, feeling it was all too close and a bit dangerous. This is a sad comment, for I would have thought that a scrap between McLaren, Amon, Surtees, Siffert, Stewart, Hill and Hulme would have been terrific fun for all of them. They all know each other’s capabilities, they are all highly skilled, they all know the characteristics of the cars, and they had a clear track ahead of them. After that memorable Monza race in 1957 when Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans in Vanwalls battled against Fangio and Behra in Maseratis with no quarter given, some of the outflanking and maneuvring being almost homicidal to watch, Brooks was asked whether it had been dangerous. He said that it had been very satisfying, great fun, and quite safe, because all five drivers knew each other’s racing abilities and they could all trust each other not to do silly things. When you raced like that against men of equal calibre and experience it was the personification of Grand Prix racing. None of them had wanted to be conceded an inch and none of them expected it, they were all pitting all their skill and ability against each other with complete trust and faith in each other. Of the leading bunch in the 1968 Monza race I wonder who was not to be trusted? I could have asked the people concerned, but would probably have got seven different answers, so it is best left alone.

The start of the Monza race was everything that one could wish to see and in our weekly contemporary Motor for September 14th was a double-page photograph that no Grand Prix enthusiast should fail to see, being taken a bare second after the flag had fallen, showing Surtees and McLaren side-by-side with just a wisp of smoke from the rear tyres, and Amon already lagging with his rear wheels spinning furiously in a long streamer of tyre smoke. As the two leading cars changed into second gear McLaren took the lead and afterwards when I asked him why this was, suggesting that perhaps Surtees had not made a perfect change into second gear, he said it was entirely due to the Lucas r.p.m. limiting device on the Cosworth engine. This is an electrical device which can be preset to any required r.p.m. so that when the engine reaches this figure the ignition impulses fade and the engine slows, whereupon the ignition comes in again. It is not a simple cut-out, for that would be too violent, but it has a similar effect and prevents over-revving (this could be why you do not hear Cosworth-engine drivers talking loosely about “dropped valves”). McLaren’s description of the start was simple; he just flattened the accelerator pedal and kept it there, pulling second gear as he felt the surge of acceleration die away. There was no need to keep an eye on the r.p.m. indicator like Surtees was having to do. The Cosworth V8 engines were set with a top limit of 9,900 r.p.m. and he said “it was marvellous, you just left the tachometer needle bouncing off the top figure, 9900, 9900, 9900, and made a snatch change into second gear”. On a non-limited engine you have to watch the indicator and start changing before the limit is actually reached, otherwise the brief time-lag when putting out the clutch and lifting the accelerator pedal could see the r.p.m. go 500 over the top.

The Monza race came well up to expectations on all counts, with the possible exception that there was not much in the way of new machinery to be seen. As this is the approach of the end of the third season with the 3-litre Formula for Grand Prix racing it is significant, and would indicate that progress has been good and that now the basic designs of 1966 have been really perfected. This view was substantiated by the fact that for the first time for a long while, apart from Ferrari, other teams were prepared to field three cars for a Grand Prix. It does not mean that we have reached stalemate, far from it, for there are new designs already with us and others on the way. Honda have their V8 air-cooled car, B.R.M. still have the four valves-per-cylinder H16 and four-wheel-drive project in hand, which would have been seen by now if they had not been so badly misdirected up the V12 blind alley, the new four-wheel-drive Cosworth Grand Prix car is progressing and Lotus have many new ideas on the way, while Alfa Romeo are beginning to think that their 3-litre V8 engine could be taken more seriously than just an isolated example in one Cooper.

After the Monza race the F.I.A. gathered together representatives from all over the world to discuss the future of motor racing and as far as Grand Prix racing was concerned there seemed to be general agreement that the 3-litre Formula was very satisfactory and had a long life before it, even as far as 1975. While we have nine different makes of car in Grand Prix racing and a wide variety of engines, with more interesting things to come, all is set fair. What we must not do is get complacent and let a doldrum occur in the final years of the Formula as happened in 1959 and 1960.—D. S. J.