Refllections in the Italian Sunshine

As I sat in the Press Tribune, high above the starting line, watching the cars assemble on the grid I thought back to 1957, when I had sat in the same place and watched three green cars and one red one line up on the front row. That was when Stuart Lewis-Evans, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks dominated practice for the Italian Grand Prix and the immortal Fangio was the only "foreigner" to get a red car on the front row with them. In today's system Fangio would have been in the third row, but in those days of narrow cars with low cornering potential it was safe to have four cars on the front row. Watching that assembly I was conscious of the fact that Fangio was the reigning master of Grand Prix racing and Maserati were the top team, but the three British drivers in their green Vanwalls had got the maestro on the run and this was going to be the showdown. The acknowledged master fought like the tiger he was, but the combined force of the three young men in their highly efficient streamlined Vanwalls was too much for him and he had to give the green cars best, but it was a great battle. Looking down on the 1974 grid, lined up in pairs, I got a similar feeling for though Lauda was on pole position in his red Ferrari, he was virtually surrounded by a complete team of British cars, not green this time, but white. These were the three works Brabham cars, no longer the pride and joy of Jack Brabham, nor of his friend and designer Ron Tauranac, but the new-look Brabham team of Bernard Ecclestone and his South African designer Gordan Murray. With Carlos Reutemann alongside Lauda, Carlos Pace behind him and John Watson alongside Pace and behind Reutemann, little Niki Lauda looked very lonely and vulnerable. His only hope of support in the shape of teammate Regazzoni, was in the third row, too far back to be of instant help. It seemed that Lauda was going to be given a bad time by the three Brabham drivers, even though they were an International hotch-potch of Argentinian, Brazilian and Irish, for they were all of one team and of a like mind, to make sure the best Ferrari was fourth. My thoughts were wasted, however, for almost like a frightened mouse Lauda was up and gone before the cats had opened their eyes, and at any other race than the Italian Grand Prix the Ferrari driver would have been reprimanded for jumping the start. The expected battle never materialized for the Brabham team had all sorts of mechanical problems and Regazzoni powered by them into second place to keep a watchful eye on the frightened mouse who was way out in front and running strongly.

Before the start there had been a bit of a lull and some hesitation about getting things under way, for the Goodyear tyre people had decided at the last minute that they would recall all the tyres set up ready for the race and substitute a slightly different rubber. Word went round that there would be a 15-minute test session before the cars lined up for the start, in order that those cars running on Goodyear tyres could check their steering and suspension settings. The Ferraris and Brabhams and Tyrrells began to line up at the exit of the pit road when the team-managers of those running on Firestone tyres, such as Williams and Hesketh, said "Just a moment ... nothing in the race regulations ... unfair advantage . . rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb", and the whole thing fizzled out. The drivers were then all called to a private meeting in the Autodrome boardroom, which went on for quite a time, while the starting procedure was explained and discussed, and a virtual "no overtaking" ban on the opening lap until after the second chicane. If there was going to be a first lap shunt, as has happened all too often this season, the Italians wanted it at the end of the opening lap, not at the beginning. While all this was going on and the time for the start was fast approaching, the grandstands were overflowing with spectators from all over Europe, with solid blocks of Swiss supporters amongst the teeming Italians. They were all sitting in the sun and being very patient about the delay as were the journalists from almost every country in the world who were filling the Press Tribune at the very top of the vast concrete centre grandstand, the only difference being that the Press were in the shadows of the huge cantilever concrete canopy. From high up a paper dart floated gently over the heads of the crowd; it was not a pretty dart, it was square and simple, rather like a Chaparral 2F compared to a P4 Ferrari, but its aerodynamics were superb. It lost height very gradually, made three or four passes across the heads of the people in the grandstand and then made a perfect three-point landing on the grass between the stand and the edge of the track. I felt that some of the teams about to take part in the race could have used the maker of that dart to help them with their aerodynamic problems!

The layout of the Monza track and the grandstands and buildings are just about perfect for staging a "big production" yet every year the opportunity is wasted. The start/finish line runs across the track from the centre of the big concrete stand to a pair of ornate iron entrance gates flanked by concrete pillars and administration building, with an archway over the top surmounted by flags. It would be ideal for staging an impressive entry of the competitors (gladiators!) before the start, to present them to the spectators and the VIPs in the expensive seats, as well as the Press, Radio and Television. Instead of that the racing cars filter out from the far end of the pits, unseen and unheralded, while the majority of drivers slink out from the back of the pits and slip unseen into their cars. If there is one thing that an Italian crowd love to do it is to participate in the manifestation they have paid good money to come and watch. If the cars and drivers were brought out through the main gates, possibly in reverse grid order, and presented properly it would make a magnificent sight and the crowds would love every minute of it. A valiant attempt was made at Silverstone in 1973, but on the grey track in front of the grey stands made of scaffold poles and canvas it was not too impressive. At Monza, in the bright sunshine overlooked by the great white concrete stand packed to overflowing with excitable spectators, it would be almost too much to bear, especially when Regazzoni and his Ferrari entered. As it was the only drivers to emerge through the main gates were Carlos Pace, Regazzoni and Lauda, the Ferrari drivers getting a huge ovation. The average spectator does not get much chance to see a Grand Prix driver as a human being, without his all-enveloping helmet and protective clothing, and those people who say that Formula One is entertainment, not sport, should think a bit about trying to entertain those who pay to keep them in business. When the drivers were called to the briefing before the start the crowds applauded their favourites as they shambled along to the boardroom, Graham Hill enjoying to the full the reception he got. How much nicer it would have been had It been properly organised. Some of the Formula One drivers have been saying that they are "entertainers" like Pop Stars, and should be paid like Pop Stars, but few of them act like Pop Stars. Many of them act like shady businessmen, and many of them are getting paid accordingly.

That Ronnie Peterson should win the Italian Grand Prix for the second time in a row was not so much luck as the return for dogged determination. From the days when he started to drive for March he has only known one way to drive, and that is as hard as he can go. He is not one for trailing round disconsonately at the back of the field, wittering about his tyres, or his engine, or the handling of his car. He is a racing driver of the best sort and earns every penny he gets. Had the situation been reversed on the last lap and it had been Fittipaldi leading Peterson, there would have been some do-or-die tactics during the last lap, with some really desperate stuff on the final corner and up the finishing straight. As it was, he knew he had it made, for Fittipaldi in second place is always going to be Fittipaldi in second place in those circumstances, the Brazilian not being one to throw caution to the winds and let passion over-ride sound business acumen and risk all-or-nothing. The last corner in 1953 was a classic Monza race, so was 1967 with Brabham and Surtees really racing, and 1971 when Gethin took advantage of a lot of fumbling, but this year the finish was only close on paper, eight tenths of a second according to the time-keepers, but an eternity in fact. It has become a habit (I cannot call it a tradition) to present the race winner with a very large bottle of champagne up on the winner's rostrum at the end of a Formula One race. It has also become a habit (again not a tradition, for traditions are good things) for the winner to shake up the bottle and spray the contents over the crowds below, spoiling quite a few camera lenses in the process. I look forward to the day when a Gentleman wins a Formula One race and drinks the Champagne, offering a cup to his friends, instead of wasting it in the rather borish fashion that Dan Gurney started many years ago.

Some people were rather surprised by John Watson's performance in practice, when he recorded fourth fastest practice time, a mere one-tenth of a second behind Carlos Pace, but anyone who has been watching the Formula One season closely this year must have been conscious of the brown Brabham and its bearded driver from Belfast. Until the German GP the small private team financed by John Goldie and the Hexagon of Highgate car-dealers firm, were running one of last year's works Brabhams, BT42/2, and Watson was never far behind the leading pack during a race. When keeping a lap chart you get a row of numbers that this season have been pretty consistent, with 12, 11, 1, 3, 7, 5 and so on at the head of the chart. I always put a vertical line in the list of numbers to indicate a gap in the passing of the cars, the gap varying with each circuit, and often I get to the point of putting two vertical lines, indicating a gap of double my basic distance, which may be the length of the pit straight, the visible distance across a corner, a car being out of sight before the next one arrives, and so on. All this season I have been very conscious of number 28 (John Watson) being just ahead of the first vertical line, or in other words he was keeping up with all the leading works drivers. At the German GP the Hexagon team had a brand new 1974 Brabham BT44 and it hasn't been wasted, unlike some cars that have been brand new and the driver could have done just as well with a two-year old car. Watson is a fairly placid fellow, with no apparent problems, eager to drive racing cars and eager to race, and his performances have been good. Another driver in the same mold is Vittorio Brambilla, who has been putting in good performances all season, even if he has flown off the road a few times, and the number 10 has often been in amongst some pretty impressively low numbers, like 1, 2, 4, and 7. Like Watson, he may not have been winning, but he was having a jolly good go with great enthusiasm. These two have been consistently getting better and better, and while Brambilla is not likely to get much higher, there must be a good future for Watson.

From time to time I have been awarding the Shambles Trophy to deserving teams, though few of them have been keen to keep it, but it now looks as though BRM have got it for all time. Everyone feels very sorry for all the chaps sweating it out trying to keep the team going, but no-one has any sympathy for the bungling and mis-management that is negating all their efforts, and these can only stem for who-ever is in charge. In most teams there is a key man at the top, whom everyone respects and praises when all goes well and maligns when things go wrong. At Lotus it is Chapman, for he generates the design policies, team policies and so on; at Tyrrell it is Ken Tyrrell himself who master-minds the whole operation; at Brabham it is Bernie Ecclestone, and so on. These key people are the ones who are always planning and keeping the team alive. At BRM there is no-one doing this, Tim Parnell shambles about as a sort of team manager, there is an engine man, a gearbox man, a chassis designer and a lot of hardworking mechanics, but there is no human dynamo keeping the whole lot on the boil, and this must surely be the principle reason for the complete failure, almost to the point of ridicule, that has plagued the BRM team for the past few years. To have three cars retired within four laps of the race must be some sort of record, only a little better than having no cars qualifying to start. Apart from their unreliability the BRMs have not been fast enough to keep up this season and while discussing this aspect someone suggested that perhaps they are the only team who are still running 3-litre engines in the present power race! This thought was prompted by the way Lauda disappeared from the opposition on the opening lap. It was suggested that Ferrari had put in a 4-litre engine the night before the race, and some of the Cosworth users smiled and said "It certainly left our 3.4-litre Cosworth engines behind" to which another, but slightly lesser Cosworth engine user was heard to moan "but Duckworth said that our 3.2-litre was as big as he could stretch the DFV". Joking aside, I wonder when anyone last measured the capacity of a Formula One engine?—D.S.J.