Reflections in the Monza sunshine

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The reflections left by the Italian Grand Prix at Monza are a mixture of joy and sadness, for the Ferrari victory by Regazzoni and the Lotus loss in the death of Jochen Rindt. On Saturday afternoon, even when it was known that Rindt was dead, there was an air of unreality about the pits and no-one seemed to believe it was true, while certainly no-one wanted to believe it to be true. The whole affair seemed so unnecessary and totally unbelievable to anyone remembering all the drivers who have had big moments at the South Curve and got away unscathed it seemed impossible that Rindt could have been killed in an accident at that point of the Monza circuit. Had the Lotus been seen to go end-over-end in the Curva Grande, or at the Lesmo corners, or even in the very fast Ascari curve, everyone would have thought “Poor Rindt, he must have bought it”. But to swoop off to the left into the guard-rails when braking for the South Curve seemed no sort of accident in which to get killed. When Rindt first started driving fast cars he looked decidedly accident prone, until you realised he had remarkable judgement and feel, and lightning-quick reflexes, so that he could drive on the verge of an accident and never actually have it. The thought in the minds of many people on Saturday evening was that fate could be very strange, that a driver who has looked to be about to have a fatal accident for at least four years, should be killed in an accident that was probably not his fault, for though nothing can be proved it would appear that something may well have gone wrong with the Lotus braking or stability at a crucial moment. There were those who pointed an accusing finger at the Lotus 72 design, but they completely overlooked the fact that the Lotus 72 had just won four Grand Prix races in a row; doubtful designs do not do that.

The Ferrari victory, while expected, was not expected to be at the cost of two of the team cars, but it was complete justification for those people in Italy who have been attacking Ferrari for running only one car in past years. They kept saying he could not hope to beat the Cosworth stranglehold with one car, the odds were far too great, and it looks as though they were right. However, Ferrari’s reply was always to the effect that a three-car team needed three good drivers; there was no point in running a slow driver. He certainly seems to have found a strong trio at the moment, but whether he will keep them is another matter. The red Ferraris made an impressive sight as they were wheeled out to the start in line-ahead formation, not only in order of practice times but by coincidence in team order and number order, with Ickx first (2), then Regazzoni (4) and Giunti (6). The grid was formed in pairs, with the three Ferraris on the left one behind the other, a sight to enthuse any Italian. It is no wonder that the Italians get wildly excited for they are united at a Grand Prix race, the Scuderia Ferrari is virtually their national team (they don’t count the De Tomaso as being Italian), just as at the French Grand Prix the Matra team have the support of the whole nation as representing France. The British enthusiasts cannot enjoy this singleness of purpose; our enthusiasm has to be divided a number of ways, between BRM, Lotus, McLaren. Brabham, March, Tyrrell and Surtees and between BRM V12 engines and Cosworth V8 engines, and there is not a sign of British Racing Green amongst them, we have to cheer for cigarettes, perfumes, teabags, oil or aluminium. There are times when I envy Italians, and when Ferrari wins a motor race this is one of them. There was some small consolation in seeing the Yardley-BRMs of Rodriguez and Oliver on the right of the grid, the Mexican alongside Ickx and the Englishman in the third row alongside Giunti, while between them was Stewart in the Tyrrell March, the only Cosworth-powered car in the first six. I am one of those who believe that all Cosworth engines are more or less equal and that the March is not the “wonder-car” of 1970 that last winter’s popular-press journalists would have us believe, and the way Stewart took off when the flag fell and got in amongst the 12-cylindered cars was wonderful to see.

It is interesting that exactly twelve months before this race the first flat-12-cylinder 312B was on test at Modena and we all waited at Monza anticipating its arrival for practice. The word from Modena previous to this was that it was a very exciting car, with its horizontally opposed engine hung below a backbone extension from the rear of the cockpit, and that it was producing a lot of horsepower but kept going “pop” as bits broke in the engine with monotonous regularity. Eventually Chris Amon arrived at the 1969 practice to say that the new Ferrari would not be coming as it had gone “pop” again, and that he would not be starting in the race with the old V12-engined car as he did not consider it competitive. What he omitted to say was that he had more or less made up his mind that he was finished with Ferrari as he was going to join the March set-up as soon as his contract with Ferrari terminated, presumably because he felt he was never going to win a Grand Prix with a Ferrari. It is worth recalling that Rodriguez stepped into the vacant cockpit for that race, and finished 6th, not as good as winning I’ll admit, but much better than not racing at all. In twelve months the Ferrari engineers have taken the 312B from a nonstarter to a winner, which is not bad going when you remember that they designed the whole car, chassis, engine and gearbox, and have also been developing the 512B sports car, production cars, and the big Can-Am engine as well. They must work very hard down at Maranello.

Stewart spent practically the whole race battling against 12-cylindered cars. If it wasn’t a Ferrari it was a BRM, and if they weren’t there it was a Matra, so that he must be getting fed-up with the sound of 12 cylinders on full song. After the race he said he had been fighting really hard, but was out-numbered and needed help, being nice enough not to say that his Tyrrell-chosen team-mate was not in the same league. What he did say was that he badly needed the help of Hulme, who was up there with them, but he could hardly expect a rival firm to help. Pity it wasn’t a National Cosworth V8 team against the V12s from Bourne, Velizy and Maranello. Before the race someone asked me what the most important requirement was to win the Italian Grand Prix and I told them it was a strong and powerful engine. There are people who don’t like the Monza race because of this, but I am glad there is one race in the calendar like it; I would not like to see all Grand Prix races run as flat-out blinds. The fascination of Grand Prix racing has always been the variety of conditions under which the drivers compete so that those at the top cannot be said to be there merely because they “specialise”. While Grand Prix racing is held on such varying circuits as Monza, Monte Carlo, Nurburgring, Silverstone and Francorchamps any car or driver that can win them all must be good.

Last year Beltoise made the fastest lap in the race at 1 min. 25.2 sec. with a Matra-Cosworth V8, which he did on the sixty-fourth lap. This year Regazzoni made the fastest lap in the race with a 312B Ferrari in exactly the same time and on the sixty-fifth lap. Stewart’s winning time for the 68 laps last year was 1 hr. 39 min. 11.26 sec., an average speed of 236.522 k.p.h. with a Matra MS80-Cosworth V8 and this year Regazzoni won in 1 hr. 39 min. 06.88 sec., an average speed of 236.698 k.p.h., so it looks as though Ferrari is about where he intended to be in 1969. This year Stewart was second with his March-Cosworth V8 in 1 hr. 39 min. 12.61 sec., 1.35 sec. longer than his winning time last year with the Matra-Cosworth V8. Last year Beltoise was third in a Matra MS80-Cosworth V8 in 1 hr. 39 min. 11.43 sec., this year he was third in a Matra MS120-V12 in 1 hr. 39 min. 12.68 sec. It all looks as though the 3-litre Grand Prix Formula is beginning to stagnate technically and is due for a change. It is certainly time for Chapman to introduce his turbine-powered Lotus, or for a Wankel-powered car to come from Stuttgart or Japan, or even an air-cooled car from Zuffenhausen. To anyone sitting high up in the main grandstand at Monza awaiting the start of the race two things were outstanding: one, the size of the crowd and, two, the view of the mountains over beyond the Lesmo corners. That all the grandstands were full was known well before race-day, for the organisers had sold all the reserved seats almost immediately after the Austrian Grand Prix victory by Ferrari. By midday on the Sunday of the race Monza was so full that not only were some of the regular advertising hoardings festooned with spectators, but many of the lesser ones as well. Firms like Gulf, Agip, Esso, Pepsi Cola and so on pay to have vast wooden structures erected carrying their adverts, and they make splendid grandstands for Italian enthusiasts, who climb up inside and punch a hole in the plywood or hardboard through which to stick their head and shoulders, while the braver ones continue up and sit on the top, fifty feet or more from the ground. By the end of the race these advertising stands are a complete wreck and have to be rebuilt for the next race. It is not hooliganism or wanton destruction, the way British youths wreck trains or telephone kiosks, it is sheer enthusiasm to get a better view of the racing and is good publicity for such advertising stands are often featured in papers, magazines and on television as part of the racing scene, whereas a firm whose advertisement is not used as a temporary grandstand probably never gets featured. The view of the mountains this year was outstanding, for the air was so sharp and clear that they looked as though they were just at the end of the circuit, whereas they were actually some 60 miles away and some of the peaks were nearly 100 miles away. Such visibility in Northern Italy is rare and only happens at Monza race time about once in five or seven years, so it is a scenic view to enjoy, only made possible by the height of the vast concrete grandstand and the flatness of the plains of Italy north of Milan that run right up to the very foot of the Alps.

On the infield at Monza are numerous non-racing features, from permanent fixtures like the motor-museum to temporary ones like the fairground with its swings and roundabouts and dodgem cars. A regular feature at Grand Prix time is the Racing Car Show featuring competition cars from all categories of the sport and looking around you realise that while certain firms and industries give great support to various factories or teams, they also do a great job for the ordinary spectating enthusiast. Among the exhibits were three widely varying vehicles that enthusiasts could see close-up, that were directly, or indirectly due to the support of sponsors. These were the Porsche 917 of the Gulf team, the dragster of Don Garlits of Wynns Friction Proofing and the Andretti Hawk USAC/Indy car, with turbocharged Ford V8 engine of STP Oil Treatment. Naturally, Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Abarth and all the other Italians were there.

When the first Lamborghini Miura, with its mid-engined V12 layout was seen in the paddock and later in the car parks, it caused a stir. Now people hardly bother to look, it has become so common-place, and cars of similar layout are no longer unusual at Monza, so that a De Tomaso Mangusta in the paddock did not attract undue attention, nor did a somewhat similar mid-engined coupe that turned out to be the one-off Serenissima, with its own V8 engine. There must be a next step forward, but it is difficult to see what it is going to be. It would appear that Italy is going through another motorcycle phase, for the volume of motorcycles around the place, from 50-c.c. whizzers to 750-c.c. Honda 4-cylinders was staggering, and in the glorious sunshine and vast traffic jams in and out of the circuit the motorcyclists were laughing. It could be that traffic density has become such in and around Milan that young Italians are realising that buying a Fiat 500 and joining the stationary queues is a dead-loss; a single-track two-wheeler is a much better bet.

The Monza race wound up the European Grand Prix season, and as usual on a high note, with a glorious flat-out win-or-bust blind, and lots of cars did “bust”, some like BRM in glory, others almost unnoticed, while Ferrari came through it all scathed but victorious. Before the race the Yardley-BRM team were wondering what would happen if Rodriguez or Oliver were to win the Italian Grand Prix, the feeling being that the Italians would explode and hurl the whole outfit into jail. When Rodriguez led the race and then Oliver led, the BRM mechanics wondered if they ought to start spraying everything red in the hope of staving off the inevitable onslaught from furious Ferrari enthusiasts. It was a foregone conclusion that Italian enthusiasm was going to burst its bonds if Ferrari won the Italian Grand Prix, and if Ferrari didn’t win, something else was going to burst. Regazzoni saved the day.—D. S. J.

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