The Formula One scene
As was anticipated around the time of the Austrian GP there would appear to be some changes being made to the management and manipulation of the affairs of Formula One, especially behind the scenes. The CSI feel that within the Formula One Constructors Association there has been too much doubtful dealing, and even sharp practice, going on particularly in connection with demands made on organisers in the financial sphere. Nothing illegal, of course, for Bernard Ecclestone, the father-figure of the Association, is quick to point out that they have never done anything illegal; but no-one has ever suggested they did! The CSI acknowledge that Mr. Ecclestone is a very sharp business man, supported by the smooth-talking ex-barrister Max Mosley. The Italians even go so far as to spell his name ECCLE$TONE. The race organisers and the CSI members consider that they are primarily sporting-gentlemen trying to administer a sport and feel they cannot deal with the business acumen of the Ecclestone/Mosley duo who represent such people as Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrrell, Teddy Meyer, Roger Penske and even Enzo Ferrari. In consequence the CSI and the race organisers have grouped together under the title of the $100,000 Club and have appointed a shrewd International businessman to represent them. In future all dealings with the Formula One Constructors Association will be done with the representative of the $100,000 Club and even before the announcement was made there had been two confrontations over the handling of the Japanese GP by the F1 Association. In effect the CSI have said "If you want to run everything on strict business lines (devious, and doubtful, but not illegal) then here is an International businessman who talks your language (and others besides) who will represent the organisers and the rule makers."
To join the F1 Association a team has to compete in 80% of the races in a year and this means paying full price to go to South America, South Africa, United States, Canada and Japan, whereas the members of the Association can take advantage of a block-booking and a deal with the organisers. Also, Association members get a bigger share of the starting money, lap money and finishing money. It is not easy to join the Formula One Constructors Association, but it is very worthwhile becoming a member. Every year a team has difficulty in joining. Last year it was the Ensign team, this year it is the Ligier-Matra team. Next year it will be the Regie Renault team presumably.
The Formula One Constructors Association is not all bad, and lots of the things they say and do make sense. We recently had the change to the Saturday practice sessions at GP events, to a more logical arrangement, and now they have revised the Grand Prix starting procedure. In the days of the Bonnier/ Stewart safety crusade a !audible idea was thought up whereby the cars were lined up in grid-formation some way back from the actual starting line. When everyone was ready to go the dummy-grid was cleared of mechanics, team-managers and officials and the driver on pole-position led the field forward to the starting grid and when the starter was satisfied that everyone was in position he gave the starting signal. This arrangement seemed to work well when grids were in 3 x 2 x 3 formation, but the next move in the search for safety rather defeated the first objective. This was the 2 x 2 grid, eventually replaced at Monaco by the 1 x 1 grid. By this time the cars on the back rows were almost out of sight and team personnel had a ridiculously long walk back to the pits once the race was started. In Holland the dummy-grid idea was abandoned and the cars were lined up on the proper grid and then did a slow lap with the pole-position man setting the pace. The whole field returned to the starting-grid and as soon as they were all in position the starting signal was given. The same arrangement was used at Monza for the recent Italian GP and while all the teams knew what was going on the Ecclestone/ Mosley lot forgot to tell anyone else, least of all the public address commentators, so that as the cars prepared to set off on the warm-up lap the loudspeakers were getting into an excited frenzy as if it was the actual start of the race. When a commentator starts an excited count-down it is reasonable to assume the race is about to start. At the Dutch and Italian race this happened and must have mystified the public no end.
The way the Italians screwed the McLaren and Penske teams into the ground on the morning of the Italian Grand Prix was nothing short of incredible. The FIA rule book says: "By 'commercial fuel' the FIA intends to designate a 'motor' fuel produced by an oil company and currently distributed at road refuelling stations throughout one same country. May therefore be used all commercial fuels of the country in which the event takes place, with no other additive except that of a lubricant of current sale which cannot increase the octane number, or water
"May also be used any commercial fuel which in France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy is of the highest octane rating, according to the Research Method of obtaining octane ratings.
"If the above-mentioned fuel could not be easily imported into the country where the event is taking place, it may be replaced by another one of similar quality and with the same octane number (Research Method)— with a tolerance of +1—specially made by an oil company. Whenever, in France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy, a new commercial fuel is made available which has a higher octane rating than those sold so far the oil company producing this said fuel shall give notice to the FIA by a registered letter and this new commercial fuel (or its equivalent as specified above) may be used for racing 30 days after the registered letter has been mailed.
"The oil companies who supply fuel directly to the entrants of a race shall have to send to the promoters the characteristics and a sample of the fuel delivered in such quantity as is sufficient to carry out the necessary analyses, and also a declaration stating that the fuel complies with the present specifications."
After practice on Saturday petrol samples were taken from Ferrari, Tyrrell, Lotus, McLaren, Ligier and Penske and tested in a laboratory in Milan. On Sunday morning the results were announced.
Ferrari — 98.6 octane
Ligier — 98.6 octane
Tyrrell — 100.7 octane
Lotus — 99.7 octane
McLaren — 101.6 octane
Penske — 105.7 octane
and it was decreed that McLaren and Penske were illegal! Nowhere in the FIA regulations does it mention 100 octane petrol, it merely says the best available to the public. Texaco claim that their 5-star sold in Great Britain is 101 octane, so McLaren are justified in using it, providing they take it to Italy with them. As I read the rules, if Texaco could not supply their 5-star petrol to McLaren and got the Italian AGIP company to blend them Some fuel then the rules would allow a tolerance of 1 octane. In Italy the best petrol available is AGIP 98.6 octane, just as Ferrari and Ligier were using (and the winning March for that matter). There was a lot of talk about the +1 octane tolerance, but as I see it this is only allowed if the primary fuel company has some fuel blended for them by another company, not if they are doing it themselves. So the McLaren fuel looks as if it was illegal, according to the letter of the law. The Penske fuel, sent over from America, was so far out that translations of methods must be the cause of that error, for errors these obviously are. Either errors in reading the rules or errors in applying them.
All this nonsense began when the Formula One Constructors Association complained to the FIA that the technical commission was not doing anything, merely sitting in Paris and making more and more detailed rules. The CSI descended on the Formula One scene in Spain at the beginning of this year, with the rule-book in their hand and since then there has been continual chaos. The only way to sanity is to scrap the rule book and have Formula Libre, and that means no fuel regulations either. Before the petrol companies tried to rule racing in 1958 you could use any fuel you wanted, methanol, nitro-benzine, nitro-methane, or rocket fuel if your engine would take it. There were no problems.
Naturally McLaren, Texaco and Penske are protesting the findings of the Monza officials and also their methods, but the whole matter of protests, claims, counter-claims, tribunals, and all the other legal phrases is being reviewed by the FIA and all the troubles of 1976 are going to be re-considered, including the Spanish GP where it all started. If we had no rules and no championships the whole business of motor racing would be much simpler.
Among themselves the Formula One Constructors agreed that there should be no approaches made to drivers to change teams until September 1st. Since that date all sorts of new things for 1977 have appeared or taken place. Carlos Reutemann bought his way out of the Ecclestone/Brabham team, totally disenchanted with the Alfa Romeo engine, and got himself a drive with Ferrari at Monza. Where it is all going to lead to is not yet fully explained. Ken Tyrrell did not exactly tire Jody Scheckter, but he signed up Ronnie Peterson to accompany Patrick Depailler in the Tyrrell team for 1977. Scheckter has joined an odd lot that this year was ostensibly the Frank Williams team. Williams has been struggling for years with a lack of money and material, and last winter a wealthy Austro/Canadian named Walter Wolf financed the Williams team, buying the Hesketh 308C and its designer Harvey Postlethwaite when the Hesketh team foundered. A lavish set-up was arranged with Jacky Ickx as the driver, but the whole affair failed to get off the ground. Ickx left and Merzario took his place with no effect. Now Walter Wolf has reformed the whole business, calling it Wolf Racing, with Scheckter as the driver, Postlethv,,aite still there as designer and Peter Warr has left Lotus to run the whole show. It would seem that Frank Williams is out in the cold again.
With these. three major changes coming at the same time, and a leakage about an interesting new Lotus, said to be as big a step as the Lotus 25, the 49 and the 72, it is not surprising that we hardly heard the voice of I3RM saying they were returning in 1977.—D.S.J.