Reflections in the Royal Park

The Italian Grand Prix really is a shadow of its former self, for not only have the four-abreast, wheel-to-wheel races disappeared thanks to the introduction of “safety-chicanes“, but the paddock is no longer the exciting place where new cars or new engines appeared, to herald the design thinking for the following year. Before practice began the atmosphere in the paddock was relatively dull and uninteresting for all the cars were the usual “circus equipment” and some of them were beginning to look a bit travel-stained and weary, the Tyrrell team in particular not scintillating as it used to do. The only interesting newcomer was the C-type Hesketh, which we saw before the British Grand Prix and which appeared very briefly at the German Grand Prix and which ran in the little Dijon-Swiss Grand Prix recently. The Ferrari enthusiasts from Italy and Switzerland were pretty confident of victory long before the meeting began and prepared banners and placards proclaiming Lauda and Regazzoni as the architects of Ferrari’s World Championship victory, and Lauda as the new World Champion. Some of these could be seen before the race began, which was tempting providence, but once it was all over the flags and banners appeared from all quarters and the vendors outside the paddock were selling large photographs of the new World Champion and the Champion car, as the happy and contented throng finally dragged themselves away from the Autodromo di Monza.

The rumours and mutterings that the Monza Autodromo is to be closed down continue to circulate and on the Saturday evening before the race a large protest meeting was held, organised by the Committee for the Defence of the Autodromo. Certainly no-one could have been dissatisfied with the outcome of the 46th Italian Grand Prix, with Ferrari cars first and third, the ever-popular Regazzoni leading from start to finish and setting up a new lap record in the process. Lauda’s third place was more than sufficient to net him the Driver’s Championship and the 1974 World champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, went out in a blaze of glory, having apparently fought hard and long to catch Lauda and take second place. For all the glory he was not catching Regazzoni nor did he make fastest lap, but it looked good unless it was that Lauda was being nice to the beaten World Champion. All Lauda had to do was finish in the first six to be assured of the Championship so it was no skin off his nose when he let Fittipaldi go by under braking for the chicane. He could afford to be nice to the man from whom he had taken the World Championship, and he wasn’t going to chance anything stupid happening. He put the reason down to a shock-absorber failing!

Before the race started Fittipaldi drove Lauda round the circuit in a Lamborghini Countach, ostensibly to survey the condition of the track after the torrential rain of the morning, but one cannot help wondering if they were not discussing “tactics” for the race so that everyone would be kept happy, in particular their sponsors who put so much money into Formula One racing. While Lauda is a worthy World Champion, having been the pace-setter and frequent winner all season, he is hardly likely to go down in history as a truly great Champion, for his domination has not been anything like complete. Although Lauda was on pole position. Regazzoni made the fastest lap in the final practice. A great World Champion would have been fastest in all four practice sessions and he would have led the race from start to finish with the lap record into the bargain. Let us hope Niki Lauda justifies his title by being on pole position for the United States Grand Prix on October 5th, and winning as well.

One thing about Italians is that they are not inhibited and are not afraid to demonstrate partiality or blatant bias. Just before the pits is a gigantic scoreboard with the information displayed by illuminated bulbs. During practice the operator of this giant electronic organ was checking it over and getting everything into working order. First of all he ran through all the numbers and letters in sequence, starting with a row of noughts and ending with a row of nines and so on. When he was satisfied that all the bulbs and switch-gear were working satisfactorily he did a “dry-run” tapping out a typical race situation, giving the first three places, the race time and speed and the fastest lap. It read “Lap 49: First 12, Second 11, third 9: Fastest Lap 11”. I need hardly add that 12 was Lauda, 11 was Regazzoni and 9 was Brambilla!

Before the Grand Prix started Alfa Romeo were given some publicity for winning the Manufacturers’ Sports Car Championship this year with the 33TT12 sports cars financed by the Willy Kauhsen Racing Team. At the beginning of the season Alfa Romeo made a lot of noise about withdrawing from racing and selling all their 1974 equipment to the German Kauhsen, but as success appeared the German aspect of the operation faded somewhat and it was clearly an Alfa Romeo works team. Alfa Romeo won the first Manufacturers’ Championship in 1924 with the P2 Grand Prix car and the 1950 and 1951 series with the 158/159 Alfettas. To celebrate the long history of Alfa Romeo and Manufacturers’ Championship the factory resurrected a P2 car which did some laps of the circuit, and this was followed by one of this year’s flat-12-cylinder sports cars. There should have been a Tipo 159 but it never appeared. 1975 has certainly been a successful year for Italy with Alfa Romeo winning the Sports Car Championship and Ferrari winning the Grand Prix Championship. All they lack is a World Champion Italian driver. The starting grid for the Grand Prix looked good to Italian eyes as well, with Lauda and Regazzoni side by side. It was not a question of whether anyone would beat the Ferraris away from the start, but one of which Ferrari would lead away. Driving up to the starting line from the “dummy-grid” Lauda resurrected an old Stewart ploy, that of weaving from lock-to-lock. The story behind this originally was that Stewart knew more about Goodyear tyres than anyone and this weaving motion warmed up the rubber to its ideal working temperature. When Stewart made a really searing start and pulled out a big lead on the opening lap it was put down to his tyres being at the optimum working temperature, or at least nearer to that temperature than his rivals. Consequently everyone started to do it, on the warm-up lap and up to the starting-line and it became fashionable. This year it died a natural death as drivers found a new “fashion note” like “understeer” or “tyre diameters” or “compound numbers”, so it was strange to see Lauda resurrect this notion. Regazzoni didn’t bother with any such fads, rolling up to the line with the engine really screaming and his steely eyes fixed on the starter. Cold tyres or hot tyres, Regazzoni took off when the flag fell and that was the last time Lauda was alongside his team-mate.

Among the people who did not win or gather glory there were two praiseworthy efforts; one was the position on the starting grid of Tony Brise, sixth fastest overall and on the third row alongside Jochen Mass, which must be accredited double-A for effort, and the other was Harald Ertl on the ninth row of the grid with his privately-owned Hesketh, ahead of nine other cars all of them works-team cars. In the race Brise did not get very far, finding himself the meat in a sandwich between Andretti and Peterson in the multi-shunt at the chicane past the pits. Brise appears to be able to drive fast, but as yet unable to keep out of trouble, both his own and other peoples, but no doubt time and experience will solve this problem. The heavily bearded Austrian Harald Ertl, who lives in Germany and edits a German motor racing magazine, impressed many people with his driving of the Hesketh, bought from the Stiller group in mid-season. During the race he kept pace with Tom Pryce, though a lap behind, and finished on the same lap as the Tyrrell twins, all three of them having had a delay; Ertl and Scheckter had pits stops and Depailler had an overshoot at the chicane. I cannot imagine Ertl having aspirations to oust Lauda from the World Champion position, for he is well aware of his ability, but he wants to race for enjoyment and to succeed at the game and satisfy the people who are sponsoring his efforts, and this he is doing eminently.

You often hear the phrase “pity the poor historian”, though I am not too sure what an historian is. Anyone writing a report of today’s race is really an historian, the self-styled ones merely take our reports and analyse them and correct them in years to come. In the official practice results for the 46th Italian Grand Prix Roloef Wunderink was continually marked down as driving a Hesketh instead of an Ensign, while Tony Trimmer was noted as driving a March instead of the Japanese Maki. In years to come some historian writing the history of the Italian Grand Prix will acquire the official practice sheets and find they differ from all the contemporary reports. In twenty years’ time who is to say which was correct, one list is official the others are by reporters working for a variety of magazines. Perhaps we should pity the poor reporter as well as the poor historian, and when you get teams like Brabham, McLaren, and others refusing to acknowledge any difference between one car and another in their teams the reporter is to be pitied. It has always been a recognised thing that if a driver uses a spare car in practice it carries a letter T after its number. Ferrari still adhere to this simple principle and so does Graham Hill and Lord Hesketh, but there are too many “sly ones” in the Formula One game and the disease is spreading.

We have now seen the Matra-engined Shadow DN7 performing in two races and on both occasions it has been fractionally faster than the Cosworth powered Shadow DN5 driven by Pryce, but that is all you can say. Because the Matra sports cars trounced the Cosworth powered Gulf cars and the odd Cosworth powered Lola, a lot of people assumed the Matra engine was superior to all Cosworth engines. I think we are finding out that this is not true and it is not for want of heroic driving by Jean Pierre Jarier. During practice he was returning to the pits covered in perspiration and really showing the strains of his efforts to get the maximum from the Shadow-Matra, but to no avail. If we look at the Matra sports cars as having beaten the equivalent of the Williams cars, or the Surtees or the Ensign, we get things in their true perspective. There are no equivalents to McLaren, Tyrrell or Brabham in sports car racing, and the Matra deception must apply to Alfa Romeo this season.

The multiple-shunt the first time the Cosworth-powered runners tried to get through the silly-chicane: as distinct from the ess-bend chicane was almost as bad as the sort of thing that happens frequently in Formula Ford races. Come to think of it, it was virtually a big Formula Ford race if you still consider Cosworth DFV engines to be Ford engines, for the two Ferraris had long gone, the solitary BRM never got that far and the Matra was lost among the V8s. It eliminated Peterson and Andretti and subsequently Mass, Brise, Stommelen and Stuck. The chicanes at Monza were dreamed up in the days of Stewart to make Monza safe! — D.S.J.