Monza Aftermath

The Monza paddock, during the Italian Grand Prix, was a sea of people telling lies, or at best being sparing with the truth; team managers, driver agents, lawyers, team owners, sponsors, trade representatives, team “spokesmen”, public relations people, they all seemed to be at it, saying which drivers they had signed up for next year; which engine manufacturer they were doing a deal with for 1991; who had contracts and who didn’t and on and on it went. If one had listened to it all one might have missed the Grand Prix itself, but luckily all the rumour-mongering and loose talk takes place in the paddock, and not in the pits. In the pits there are racing engines running and even if someone is telling you a lie you can’t hear it. I have always said that if you start up a Cosworth V8 the bullshit stops; if you start up a Honda or Ferrari it doesn’t even get started.

What was obvious was that a Formula One contract is about as binding as a perished rubber band, and a driver’s signature is nothing more than an autograph, to be stuck in an album alongside his photograph. In the end most deals in Formula One are resolved by money changing hands, sometimes “up front”, other times behind the back (or the motorhome!). Out of all the ifs and buts and promises, two things seem pretty definite and they are that Senna will still drive for McLaren-Honda next year, and Alain Prost will continue to drive for Ferrari, so that the keen rivalry that has developed this year will continue and we should see some more good battles.

In the midst of all the rumours the FISA President announced some proposals for next year, that have to be formerly ratified at the Paris Congress on October 8, that were popular or un-popular depending on where you were standing and who you were. The introduction of the 3 1/2-litre Formula last year, and the end of 1 1/2-litre turbocharged engines, was intended to curb the speeds of Formula One cars, but it has failed in that objective though it has proved to be a good Formula as far as racing is concerned. Engine, chassis and tyre engineers never stop development and high G-forces are being generated so that once again the medical profession are getting a little concerned about the effects on drivers. In the aircraft world, these problems were solved by the introduction of G-suits for pilots, but nobody wants to take that step in motor racing, so before things get too extreme some new rules are proposed for 1991 to reduce G-forces when cornering.

As from the Gran Premio di San Marino at Imola next year the present stipulation of a flat bottom to the cars between the wheel centre-lines is being extended to run from the front edge of the complete front wheel, which means the foremost part of the front tyres, to the rearmost part of the bodywork: bodywork being defined as any part of the car that is licked by the airstream, so that means the rear aerofoil, its sideplates, or any covering over the transmission or the exhaust system. This will rule out the Tyrrell 019 as it is today, the McLaren, the Ferrari, the Williams and the Lotus and the Leyton House, with their air-tunnels at the back or their skirts under the front aerofoils, as well as most of the other cars.

In addition the front and rear aerofoils (or wings as they are loosely described) are going to be reduced in maximum size, the details yet to be decided. The minimum weight is to be increased from 500 kgs to 540 kgs, and in 1992 new minimum dimensions for cockpits are to be introduced to make the cockpits less glove-like in their fit to the drivers, especially those tall or bulky ones. The definitions and specification of Formula One fuel is to be reviewed, as some of the concoctions being brewed up by Shell, AGIP and ELF are beginning to emit some “interesting” smells, far removed from the petrol we get from the roadside pumps.

Circuits are continually under scrutiny and the Hungaroring at Budapest is to undergo modifications to permit more opportunities for overtaking, while the start area and entry into La Source hairpin at Francorchamps is to be widened. Other circuits used for championship events are to be scrutinized closely, but hopefully not Monte Carlo, for that could prove embarrassing. The new circuit north of Barcelona is now complete and moves are afoot to transfer the Spanish Grand Prix from Jerez, north to Barcelona. All things point to the French Grand Prix being moved from the Paul Ricard circuit to the rebuilt Magny Cours circuit in the middle of France.

We cannot say we haven’t been given warning, short though it may be.

Among the supporting activities to the Italian Grand Prix there was a demonstration by a collection of recent, but obsolete, Formula One cars, all beautifully turned out and a credit to their owners. It was something of a cultural and engineering shock to see a Lotus 72 in John Player black and gold, for it looked an aerodynamic mess, yet when it was the current state-of-the-art Formula One car I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had seen. The flat-12 Ferrari that looked like a grass-cutter when it was new, still looks like a grass-cutter, and there were one or two Cosworth powered cars that looked awful twenty years ago, and still look awful. That little demonstration made me appreciate just how smooth and sleek today’s cars are, even those using Cosworth engines that look as though they were taken out of a Lotus 49, let alone a Lotus 72.

While on the subject of Lotus, anyone watching the television broadcast will have seen Derek Warwick’s accident coming out of the Curva Parabolica, and no doubt the BBC will show us it ad nauseum to introduce all future Grand Prix TV broadcasts. After the race Warwick explained his thoughts while sliding along upside down. With a clear, untroubled mind, he prepared himself for a quick exit when it came to rest, just in case the remains of the car caught fire, so he made ready to undo his six-point seat harness and prepare his muscular system to extract his body as quickly as possible. But much more important were his thoughts about what to do after he was out of the wreckage. He was more or less aware of where the car was sliding, and where it was going to come to rest, so he told himself not to run blindly from the car, because there were still eight or ten cars behind him, passing the wreckage. He took careful stock of the situation before crossing to the inside of the track, and running back to the pits. As he said, “It would have been bloody daft to get run over, after surviving a shunt like that”. A good solid lad, with both his feet firmly on the ground, is our Hampshire Hog.

After the race the Olivetti/Longines people came up with some interesting statistics culled from their computer timing system. The total number of racing laps of all the 1990 Grand Prix events, up to and including the Italian Grand Prix is 784. The driver who has completed most laps in total is Berger, with 747 laps completed. Senna is next with 720 laps and Piquet is third with 682, followed by Patrese with 650, Mansell with 645, Prost 644, Nannini 604, Bernard 603 and so on, down the whole list of starters. The most incredible statistic is the number of laps that each driver has been in the lead. Top of the list is Senna with 423 laps, and the next best is Boutsen with 91, followed by Berger with 68 and Prost with 65. Poor old Piquet has never led for a single lap all season and nor have most of the other drivers, but CapeIli has a score of 45, Alesi 34, Mansell 27, Nannini 19, and Patrese 12. If I refer to Ayrton Senna as being a pace-setter, you can now appreciate what I mean. Of the total of 784 laps in the season so far, he has led for 423; it speaks for itself doesn’t it.

As darkness began to close in over the Monza paddock most of the teams and trade people had finished loading their 38 tonne articulated trailers and had hitched up their tractor units. To leave the paddock to join the internal road system it was necessary to take a tight 90 degree turn to the right out of the gate. Watching these professional drivers at work was as fascinating as watching racing drivers at work. They were all good, though some were better than others, as they lined up their Volvos, Renaults, Fords, IVECOs, Mann, Mercedes-Benz and Scania units and long trailers to take the tight turn between the wire netting fences. Some had to make a reverse at mid-point, others went round in one sweep; some had to watch their rear wheels and the closeness to the gate posts, and some were marginal on the clearance of their front bumpers with the fence on the other side of the road, but as I said, they were all very competent. Three drivers stood out head and shoulders above the rest, as they left the paddock in line-ahead formation, and these were the Pirelli men. The three big yellow and red articulated lorries swept out of the gate without so much as a moment’s hesitation, judging the exit to a nicety as they turned in one smooth sweep. Regrettably, none of the three drivers looked out of his cab, a quick glance in the mirror was all that was necessary to confirm that their angle of approach had been spot on, and the width and turning judgement had been perfection. No doubt they had spent many years on Pirelli delivery runs all over Italy before joining the racing department, and were used to mountain hairpins and tight gateways. It was a joy to watch. As I walked to my car, to start on my 2 mile drive back to my hotel I thought about some of those lorry drivers who were setting off on a 1200 mile drive or more, through the night while I was sleeping off the excitement of the day. DSJ