As the Editor pointed out last month, Grand Prix racing has never been in such an open state, with every race wide open as to its outcome. No driver, or make of car, has been dominating the scene and this must be a healthy state of affairs to encourage everyone to put every effort into their racing. Over the years there has often been one team or one driver who has dominated the Grand Prix scene, and this can be viewed either as a satisfactory state of supremacy or the makings of dull and uninteresting racing. Sometimes there has been good purpose behind the efforts by one man or a team to achieve domination and it has been fascinating to watch the steady progress to the unassailable position; other times the domination has been because of a lack of opposition or one team being ahead on a development programme, even though they may not be so advanced technically.
With the very open situation that is prevailing at the moment it was rather a shock to see Lotus cars in the first three positions in the early part of the Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. The works cars had been first and second in practice and they led the opening laps, with the privately owned Lotus driven by Siffert in third place, with the rest of the field struggling to keep up. As the three cars swept round the circuit, nose to tail, with only one Ferrari keeping up, the scene recalled similar situations in the past, but whereas the classic examples had reason behind them, the Brands Hatch scene did not. Due to a rain-shower at the start many rivals had fitted the wrong tyres and were out of contention, so that the Lotus trio were dominating by reason of other people’s mistakes. It meant that the Lotus decisions had been correct, but it was not an example of complete domination from all angles. As it was the domination did not last, for the two works Lotus cars fell by the wayside, but the signs were there to think about.
In 1955 the Mercedes-Benz team achieved complete domination of Grand Prix racing by reason of technical superiority, larger resources and two of the best drivers. Their progress during 18 months of racing was such that it left Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini and the odd British contender way behind.
In the British GP at Aintree that year, Mercedes-Benz entered four cars and they finished 1-2-3-4, which by any reckoning must be considered complete domination. In that year Tony Vandervell was making progress with his Vanwall team and this progress continued at a steady rate, encouraged by the withdrawal of Mercedes-Benz so that by the end of 1957 the Vanwall team had climbed to the top and in 1958 the team of Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans dominated Grand Prix racing. The green cars from Acton had gradually conquered Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini, BRM and others and were winning as a team, with only Maserati offering any real challenge, and that due mostly to the inspired driving of Fangio.
In the years 1959 and 1960 the Cooper-Climax ruled the roost, but this was mostly due to the withdrawal of Vanwall and Maserati, so that the opposition was poor. This was like the Ferrari monopoly in Grand Prix racing at the beginning of 1952. During the years 1950 and 1951 the Ferrari team battled away at the dominating Alfa Romeo team and eventually conquered them. When Alfa Romeo withdrew at the end of 1951, Ferrari had no one to race his 4½-litre cars against. Alternatively, in 1961 when the 1½-litre Formula began, Ferrari was ready with his V6 cars, whereas all the opposition were a year behind in development, so that the Maranello cars were unchallenged apart from the brilliant driving of Moss with an out-oi-date Lotus. Although Ferrari dominated it was not a healthy state of affairs.
During 1937 there were some great battles between Mercedes-Benz and the Auto-Union, but when the new Formula began in 1938 these battles fizzled out, for Mercedes-Benz were ready with their 3-litre cars long before Auto-Union, having superior technical resources and a superior team of drivels, whereas Auto Union were in a muddle with their designs and had lost their star driver, Bernd Rosemeyer, in an accident. Mercedes-Benz achieved 1-2-3 domination against negligible opposition, but not as bad as Bugatti in the vintage years when they often had a 1-2-3 victory due to the whole entry being Bugatti cars. A monopoly or domination is seldom a good thing, like the years when Dunlop were alone in supporting Grand Prix racing, so that every competitor was on Dunlop tyres. To advertise “another victory on Dunlop” wore a bit thin after a while. Now with the two great rivals Goodyear and Firestone supporting Grand Prix racing, a win by Dunlop, such as the recent German GP, really means something.
When everyone is more or less on an equal basis, such as the German GP or the Spanish or Monaco races, and the results are shared among a variety of makes and drivers, as shown last month, then it is a healthy situation. If this situation is changed by the increasing success and improvement of one team, until such as Matra or Lotus achieve a 1-2-3 result by reason of having driven the opposition into the ground, then that will not be a bad thing for technical brilliance deserves success. To watch a three-car team take off from the front of the grid in team formation, and cruise round nose-to-tail completely confident of ultimate success against any opposition is a satisfying sight, but it must be against worthwhile opposition, otherwise it can become boring and uninteresting. DSJ