There are so many occasions when I get sick and tired of the Drivers’ World Championship, and a lot of other Championships as well, but at Monza I had to be very short with a lot of people. They were not saddened by the death of Rindt or the loss to Team Lotus. All they were worried about was whether the rules allowed a dead man to be World Champion. I get equally short with people who ask me who I think is going to be World Champion immediately after the first Grand Prix has been run, and my answer to them is that I’ll tell them who I think ought to be World Champion at the end of the season, after I have analysed all the races, and it probably won’t be the one with the most FIA points. There have been years when I personally would not have awarded a World Championship to any driver, and other years when the choice has been obvious, irrespective of the points scored under the FIA rules. The fact that Rindt was killed while he had an almost unassailable lead in the points race for the title of World Champion, put so many people into a flutter that it was really sickening. I still think that the reason for motor racing is for the combination of car and driver, coupled to the rest of the team that operate out of the limelight, to beat all the opposition and win the race for which they are entered. At Monza the job in hand was to win the Italian Grand Prix, at the beginning of the season the job in hand was to win the South African Grand Prix and at the end of the season it should be to win the Mexican Grand Prix; a car and driver combination, backed by his team, that wins all the Grand Prix races would not need any points system to prove he was the best. To win a Championship by scoring more points than the next man is a bit like winning the football pools. To win all the races is much more impressive. So, dead or alive, Champion or Posthumous Champion, let’s not forget that in 1970 Jochen Rindt had a record that read 1st Monaco GP, 1st Dutch GP, 1st French GP, 1st British GP, 1st German GP. A worthy Grand Prix driver, if not among the great artists of the sport of motor racing.
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One of the few attributes of the Le Mans 24 Hours Race is that it goes on for much longer than most races, but this year the local inhabitants must be feeling that someone is exaggerating, for the Le Mans race is still going on. Hollywood is in the throes of making yet another epic about motor racing. Will we ever forget the Frankenheimer film “Grand Prix” that was destined to end all motor-racing films, and very nearly did ? The latest epic is a film about the Le Mans 24-hour race, and production has been going on since June, with the full Le Mans circuit in use, on and off, ever since then. The locals are making a fortune, for one thing that Hollywood does is to spend money, but just as Monte Carlo got very tired of motor racing after Frankenheimer and his crowd had been there for a week, the people round the Circuit of the Sarthe must be getting equally tired. However, this film is being controlled by Steve McQueen (or was at the time of writing), and apart from being a very convincing actor, McQueen is a chap who does as much as he says. Whereas Frankenheimer took lessons at the Carroll Shelby School of Racing Driving before embarking on his epic, so that he would know what racing was all about, McQueen races anyway and his performances with a 908 Porsche in open competition were no disgrace. Consequently he is trying to present a film about Le Mans that bears some resemblance to reality, but he is having a hard time for his backers think that blood, fire, crashes, bitterness and mean-mindedness are reality. They can’t see that such things are there but only are a small part of reality, they want to enlarge them out of all proportion, just as Frankenheimer did in “Grand Prix”. An interesting sequence that McQueen wanted to capture on film, and managed to arrange to do, was the view that the leader of a race has on the opening lap. He did this by sending his GT40 Ford camera car round the Le Mans circuit at 3.45 p.m. on race day, driven by Servoz-Gavin, so that the camera mounted on the nose filmed the Le Mans circuit completely empty of other racing cars, but with all the “effects” such as marshals, fire crews, ambulance men, police, and the crowds, all at the ready and expectant. The fact that only one man ever sees a racing circuit in that condition had never occurred to me until McQueen’s crew pointed it out, but looking back into the distant past I recalled such circuits as Berne, Francorchamps, Monza, Zandvoort, Mettet, Floreffe, Lugano, Locarno and so on, when I was riding passenger to Eric Oliver on his Norton sidecar outfit, and we always led from the flag fall. The view we had of those circuits, all teed-up and prepared for the race, was unique. We used to practise starts so assiduously that to see another sidecar outfit in front of us was unique! McQueen is a great actor for visual expressions and actions saying more than words, as anyone will agree who saw him in “BuIlitt”, but the word from Le Mans is that he is having trouble with his backers who want to add a lot of corny trash as dialogue, as happened in “Grand Prix”. In that awful film there was some marvellous genuine film footage taken during racing, and who will ever forget the view the camera captured of racing in the rain at Spa ? The year before Frankenheimer started making the film he told me he knew all about “race-driving” and was not going to have any of that rubbish of drivers “sawing away at the wheel”; Bonnier had told him that the “lean-back-arms-rigidly-stretched-out” was the real thing. To my mind the best sequence in that film was the view from the helicopter of Surtees in the rain in a Ferrari, driving on a knife-edge and “sawing away” at the wheel with delicate fingers and thumbs. The car never deviated a fraction from its line, yet Surtees never stopped moving the steering wheel, it was beautiful to watch. If McQueen has his way the Le Mans film should be pretty authentic, but the trouble is we can’t be sure he’s going to get his way. The rot started way back when he had every intention of taking part in the 1970 race as a serious competitor, but his backers found out and because they think that Le Mans and motor racing is the most dangerous thing in the World (they must have seen “Grand Prix”!) they put the clamps on McQueen and forced him to withdraw. He was quite honest about the whole thing, saying that he needed their money to make the film, so he had to agree. Whereas Frankenheimer used faked-up Formula Three cars to represent Formula One cars, McQueen has hired a whole lot of genuine Le Mans cars, such as Porsche 917, Ferrari 512S and Porsche 908 and used Le Mans type drivers, like Redman, Parkes, Siffert, Attwood, Bell and many more to do the driving. The only fake would appear to be a Ferrari that is demolished in an accident, which is actually a T70 Lola-Chevrolet disguised to look like a Ferrari. As a mean-minded friend said “Not a bad use for a T70 Lola-Chevrolet anyway”. If personal wrangles can be held off, and the money holds out, and McQueen remains in control, this film, which is due in 1971, could be a good thing.
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The day after the Austrian GP the Ferrari team did not return in triumph to Italy, but stayed at the Osterreichring to test some new tyres. These were not the usual Firestones on which they race, but were Michelin tyres, and in the paddock were three very plain Citroen vans, in one of which was tyre-mounting and wheel-balancing equipment, while the other two were stuffed with wide-tread racing tyres. Not only did the three vans have Clermont-Ferrand number plates, but so did all the sleek DS21 Citroens and 504 Peugeots that were parked in the paddock. It was lovely “cloak-and-dagger” stuff that all came to light after most people had gone home. Unfortunately the tests were spoilt because it poured with rain all day, but just as Elf petrol and Gulf petrol moved into Grand Prix racing as Esso and BP pulled out, it looks as though Dunlop’s withdrawal may be followed by Michelin’s entry, and Pirelli and Continental still make sniffing noises around the racing circuits.—D. S. J.