Monza Reflections

Lying horizontal, sick of the palsy, was not the best position from which to reflect on the happenings in the recent Italian GP. It certainly was no position from which to try and write a coherent report of the race, but fortunately the Editor of Motoring News came to my rescue and put down the facts as they happened. For a long time now A.H. and D.S.J. have spent Grand Prix time together, our similar outlook on the scene being one of the main reasons we can tolerate each other and enjoy each other’s company. We don’t agree on all things, but we agree on most things, especially the important ones, like what racing is and what it should be. We differ on our views about Niki Lauda: A.H. thinks he is winning this year’s Championship by skill, judgement, cunning and dexterity, which to him makes a worthy champion; I think he is gathering points at other people’s expense and amassing his total by craftiness and calculation spiced with other people’s bad luck, and for me that does not add up to a World Champion RACING DRIVER. I am only impressed by the World Champion who wins all the races.

Having spent most of the time at Monza with A.H. and watched the race alongside him from the top of the giant concrete grandstand, where you get the best view of the overall Monza scene, I lay unhappily on my sick bed, content in the knowledge that he was prepared to work overtime on my behalf to meet a pressing deadline from the printers, and to allow me time for my own dust to settle and look back on the Monza scene.

As I said, we agree on many things wid disagree on others: He likes the Shadow team, I like the Wolf team; he thinks a World Champion can be born in Southend-on-Sea and a Grand Prix car can be built in the West Midlands, I think the contrary. On one thing we do agree and that is our belief in Colin Chapman and Lotus. When Lotus hit rock bottom a year or two ago, with their car struggling to qualify on the back of the grid, and their two “ace” drivers colliding on the first corner, people were quick to say that Lotus were finished, the Chapman era was over. But A.H. was equally quick to reply, and to write, that it was nonsense to say that. There was no way that Colin Chapman was going to give up while its was at the bottom, nor was he going to stay at the bottom for long. He said that anyone who thought Lotus were finished knew very little about Colin Chapman or motor racing. At Monza, Lotus won their fifth GP this season, which is not only good with a brand new design, but incredible when you look back to how low they had sunk two years ago. We believe in Lotus, like we believe in Ferrari. Somehow we cannot see the Stanley family’s BRM team climbing back to the top in two seasons, nor, we regret to say, can we see the Tyrrell team regaining the dizzy heights of the Stewart era.

From the Press Tribune at the top of the Grandstand you not only get a good panoramic view of the general scene, but you can see the cars leaving the Parabolica curve leading onto the main straight. As a bonus you have a television screen coupled into the circuit with a good view of the back straight, the entry to the Parabolica, and half-way round it. Once Andretti had passed Hunt it was only a matter of time before he caught Scheckter, and though some of our more serious colleagues were measuring the diminishing gap on their stop-watches, the closing gap was very visible each lap. As they ended lap 8 the Lotus was close down the back straight, the following lap it was really close and as they came towards the camera on lap 10 you could only see the Wolf for the Lotus was right up under its tail. As they braked, the Lotus pulled out, ran wheel-to-wheel into the corner on the outside line and as they turned in the Lotus stayed out wide and ran right round the outside. It appeared in our view already three lengths ahead and that was before they had finished cornering round the 180-degree turn. With one accord A.H. and D.S.J. said, “That wasn’t fair; it couldn’t have been that easy!” Andretti confirmed after the race that it was that easy. From then on the race, as such, was over. When things go right for Andretti, they go really right, and for the rest of the race he just sat there as if on a Sunday afternoon ride.

Not so long ago I said I had got tired of waiting for Andretti to come good, and no sooner had I said it than he started showing the prospects we had all been waiting for, knowing his USAC racing record, and knowing his character. How fortunate that I did not become completely disenchanted with him at that time, for I now get an enormous amount of enjoyment out of watching him at work. If we are to believe all the media-type stories we read about whiz-kid super-stars in the making who are now in their early twenties, or have just left Formula Three or some such category to head for stardom in Formula One, you can’t help wondering a bit at Andretti’s 37 years and something like 20 years of racing experience. He makes it look all so easy, and then floors you by saying it really is that easy and he is not boasting, he is being honest. While other drivers will tell you that a victory was due to their superior skill, and in passing they cast a pious vote of thanks to their mechanics, their team-managers, their sponsors and so on, Andretti invariably talks about “we”, meaning, him, Chapman, Team Lotus, the Lotus mechanics, the John Player sponsors and everyone concerned. He looks at a race as a team effort, of which he is merely a part, and when he says “we are getting it to look good” or “we have found a his of extra speed” you know he is talking about everyone who is working with him, or conversely, everyone he is working with.

Between the Saturday practice sessions I gather that Hunt and Lauda formed a two-man deputation to visit Andretti and reprimand him for the way he drove at Zandvoort, trying to overtake round the outside of the Taran hairpin. They suggested that in Formula One you did not try to overtake round the outside on a corner. Andretti’s reply was pretty simple. It was to the effect that he was in Europe to win races and he would overtake outside or inside, wherever there was room. He must have smiled to himself as he ran round the outside of Scheckter’s Wolf, for Hunt and Lauda were not all that far behind him down the back straight. Andretti is such a full-time professional racing driver that he makes most of the others in Formula One look like a bunch of amateurs; even those who tell us they are professionals. He has a great turn of phrase in replying to questions, especially silly ones or personal ones, and the best to my mind was when someone asked him why, with all his money, he didn’t live in sassy California or exotic Monte Carlo, like a lot of rich racing drivers. His reply was very much to the point: “Because I live in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, that’s why.”

I mentioned that Andretti was 37 years old, but he is not the oldest on the current scene, that is Brambilla at 39, but a remarkable fact at a recent Grand Prix where there were 36 drivers taking part in practice was that the average age was 30 1/2 years. We are always being told that Formula One racing is a young man’s sport and being offered 22-year-old future champions. There would seem to be something wrong somewhere, or some of them have got a long way to go.

Regazzoni, who is enormously popular with the Italian crowds, even though he does come from Lugano in Switzerland, was taking part in his 100th Championship Formula One event at this year’s Italian GP, but he very nearly missed it. As all the cars left the pit lane to go round the circuit to the starting grid, the dark blue Ensign was still up on its rear jack with the mechanics working under the back. The starter motor had sheared its pinion and they were having to change the whole unit. Everything went to plan and Regazzoni zoomed out of the pits with more than enough time, but it looked a bit fraught when all the others were lined up on the grid. Talking to Ensign’s chief mechanic, Ron Bennett, afterwards about what had been happening he gave me his usual unflappable look and said, “It was all right really, it wasn’t much of a problem.” It was nice to see Regazzoni celebrate his 100th major F1 race with a sound fifth place. Yes, A.H. and D.S.J. both have a lot of time for “Regga”.

For as long as I can remember the Italian spectators have indulged in the dodgy practice of climbing up onto advertising hoardings in order to get a better view of the racing. These great wooden structures, many as much as 80 feet high, are beautifully placed along the edge of the track. The Italians climb up the back and that punch a hole through the plywood, or fibre-board facing big enough for their head and shoulders, and hang there throughout the race. It reached a point a few years ago when an advertising man whose hoarding was not full of holes, considered himself a failure, for a tattered hoarding covered in people usually got its picture in the papers. A pristine one never. As fast as the authorities and the police found ways of preventing people climbing the scaffolding, the people found ways around. Barbed wire round the uprights was useless, guard dogs at the foot were not much better, police were powerless. This year the inevitable happened. One of these gigantic wooden structures collapsed under the weight of humanity clambering all over it. A boy was killed and a great number of people were seriously injured. The only serious way of preventing a recurrence will be to ban track-side advertising, but I suspect that the businessmen of motor racing will risk another accident rather than take the obvious safety precaution. The accident happened at about 11 a.m, on race morning, while the Alfa Sud race was in progress and the centre roads of the Autodromo were choc-a-bloc with traffic and people entwined in a chaotic traffic jam. When the emergency alarm went out a fleet of ambulances and police cars went through the chaos as if it did not exist. The sound of an ambulance or police siren has the ability to make an Italian car seemingly disappear into the ground, while a milling mob of Italian people suddenly take up a quarter of the space they have been occupying. It has to be experienced to be believed. One moment I was standing by a mini-bus that was stationary in a two-way traffic jam, next moment it had disappeared and the fleet of ambulances went by. It did not take long for the chaos and jam to re-assemble, but a few minutes later the sirens sounded again and the ambulances returned with the casualties on their way to the Monza hospital, and once more they went through virtually unhindered. The Italian populace may seem a wild, unruly, disorganised lot, but they have this remarkable respect for an emergency and a fantastic sense of responsibility when it is needed.

We all know Martini, and many of us drink it, and we all know that the Rossi family business has been putting a lot of money into the Ecclestone/Brabham/Alfa Romeo project these last two years, as well as the Cosworth Brabhams before that. The Rossi brothers have been racing enthusiasts all their life and the Martini involvement has been one of the better sponsorships. This season a firm called Parmalat have been travelling round to all the F1 events with a huge transporter from which they started giving away spaghetti lunches to all and sundry in the paddock, as well as flooding the scene with some rattler nasty-looking summer-weight rally jackets. The free lunches gradually became less free as the season wore on, eventually becoming rather exclusive for the chosen few. Meanwhile the only visible connection between Parmalat and racing seemed to be the advertising that a number of drivers were carrying on their racing overalls. Nobody quite knew who or what was Parmalat, and few cared; it was an Italian food firm or something but one was never introduced to Mr. Parmalat himself. Now it seems that he or they have paid Lauda an enormous sum of money to leave Ferrari and join Alfa Romeo, but unfortunately someone spilt a dry Martini into a bowl of Parmalat spaghetti-cheese and the whole thing turned sour. Martini want nothing to do with a shared sponsorship of the Brabham-Alfa Romeos and have withdrawn, leaving Parmalat to foot the entire bill of driver and the team. We await the outcome with keen interest, though we probably won’t understand when Bernie Ecclestone explains it all.

A final scene as the noise and shouting died down after the race. Ronnie Paterson was at the ELF-Tyrrell motor caravan with his wife and friends and the enthusiastic Italians were gathered around, kept at bay by a rope. They dutifully kept their distance and implored Peterson for autographs. Now and again the Swede would get up and go to the rope and oblige a few stabs programmes or bits of paper, but there were too many to please them all. Back at his table, having a rest, Peterson felt a light touch on his elbow and there was the smallest Italian boy you could imagine, possibly three years old, holding a paper and pencil and being encouraged by cries from those behind the rope. Peterson smiled and signed his autograph. More encouraging cries and instructions and the tiny tot returned to the rope. The owner of the paper and pencil took them and disappeared, vvhile another paper and pencil were put in the tiny hand and he was shooed back to Peterson’s table. Another touch on the elbow and another autograph. Three times the ferrying system worked, and Peterson was obviously amused by the ruse. Then someone overdid things. A boy of about 14 got under the rope; he was promptly ushered out and the whole business came to a grinding halt. Strange how there is always someone who will foul up a good idea.—D.S.J.