Reflections

– Why Fernando Alonso is simply the best
– How Alain Prost stoked the wrath of Ron Dennis
– Mosport Park one day, Brands Hatch the next
– The Rothmans 50,000: good idea, poor execution

These days it always surprises me to hear Formula 1 drivers enthusing about the Hungaroring. It is very ‘technical’, they say, and satisfying to get into a low there. By contrast, in 1986, the year of the first race, the stars of the time hated it to a man, suggesting it was more ‘Mickey Mouse’ than any permanent circuit they had ever seen. Nelson Piquet’s Williams-Honda won, and also set the fastest lap – at slightly under 100mph.

In truth, it probably wasn’t too surprising that the drivers were underwhelmed by this new track, for their terms of reference were somewhat different from those of today.

From Budapest we drove to Vienna, and on to the Osterreichring for the second half of a double-header. “Good to be back at a proper circuit, isn’t it?” Bernie Ecclestone said to me on the Friday morning, and so it was. The following day Teo Fabi’s Benetton, its BMW’s turbo boost off the clock, took pole position with a lap at 160mph-plus.

Changes to the Hungaroring have improved it a little over the years, but still it’s a maximum downforce sort of place, abounding in tight turns and chicanes, and consequently it has spawned a succession of tiresome races, devoid of overtaking. As this year’s Grand Prix showed, even the advent of DRS has made little difference.

In the closing laps Hamilton’s McLaren was under pressure from Räikkönen’s plainly quicker Lotus, but only a mistake was going to lose Lewis the race, and it never came: he was at his best throughout, not least in disciplined use of his tyres, something one would never have said of him not so long ago.

A week earlier, at Hockenheim, Hamilton was unlucky to run over debris on the third lap, a puncture killing his race on the spot. As half-distance approached McLaren folk found themselves in a dilemma, for Jenson Button was chasing Sebastian Vettel for second place, yet the way the pit stops fell Lewis, on new soft Pirellis, was lapping faster than either of them. After his stop, he found himself – on the road – between Vettel and Button, so if he were not to interfere with his team-mate’s race he had either to let Jenson lap him... or get ahead of Vettel. It was no surprise that he chose the latter, and no surprise, either, that Sebastian complained about it afterwards. More to the point, perhaps, was that as soon as Hamilton had outbraked him into the hairpin, Vettel’s anger was clearly evident in his driving, and so the little mistakes began.

None of this had the slightest effect on the result of the race. Alonso took pole in torrential conditions, a position that would have been unthinkable for his Ferrari in the dry, made a perfect start, and then drove 67 faultless laps, in control of the German Grand Prix from irst to last. All my life I have loved it when a driver wins a race in conspicuously not the fastest car.

On Monday, July 30, the day after Hamilton’s win in Hungary, there began the longest break in the Grand Prix season for many years: four successive weekends without a race. We are at more or less the halfway point, so how do we see the state of play thus far?

Alonso has been better in 2012 than ever before. It amazes me that he should comfortably lead the World Championship in a car that, while much improved, is no match in the dry for several others. If his virtuosity has been plain to see, less on public view is his single-mindedness. He has made hardly a mistake in the 11 races to date, and has scored points in every one of them. Uniquely, he and his team have made the absolute most of what they have to work with. No wonder that rival team principals privately concede that Fernando is the best.

Plus – and it’s a big plus – he doesn’t moan. Vettel, on the other hand, is beginning to get something of a name for it this year, going back to Malaysia, where he
was unpleasantly churlish towards Karthikeyan after a coming-together by no means entirely the fault of Narain. At Hockenheim he was furious when Hamilton had the effrontery to unlap himself, and the signs are that perhaps Sebastian is not coping well with life in other than conclusively the fastest car.

There have been occasions this year when Alonso and Hamilton, too, have had cause to bitch about this and that, but neither has done so – Lewis, indeed, has shown an equanimity one thought lost a year ago, and his driving has been consistently excellent.

For all their past history, he considers Alonso a cut above his other rivals, and Fernando thinks the same of him. It was the same with Senna and Prost.

Now we are away to Spa and Monza – the glories of any Grand Prix season – and then the circus heads off to Asia, thence to Texas and finally to São Paulo. It may be that the endlessly inventive genius of Adrian Newey will restore Red Bull superiority (as seen abundantly, until Vettel’s retirement, at Valencia), but McLaren and Ferrari will not have been idle, and nor will it be long, surely, before Lotus comes up with a win. Kimi in Belgium, perhaps? Alonso leads by 40 points, but you get 25 for a win, and with nine races to go Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Räikkönen are all of a bunch behind him. I cannot wait to get to Spa.

The trophy cabinets in Mario Andretti’s Pennsylvania home, it won’t surprise you to learn, are positively cavernous – this was, after all, an unusually long and successful career in motor racing. Lest we forget, Andretti’s first win in an Indycar came in August 1965, his last – number 52 – in April 1993.

Back in the 1970s Niki Lauda casually revealed that he had traded one of his Formula 1 trophies for a year’s free car washes at his local garage, and Mario was aghast at that.

“I’ve always liked Niki, and there’s no one who admires him more than I do, and I know it’s the winning that matters, but… how the hell can anyone do something like that? I mean, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved – maybe I’m not so good at hiding my light under a bushel…”

On display in Andretti’s house are awards and trophies going back to his early days in midgets and sprint cars right on through the very different 500s of Indianapolis and Daytona, to the World Championship, Le Mans in 1995 – where he finished second – and all points between.

I was intrigued by one particular trophy, the Citicorp Cup, awarded to Mario as the winner of the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1977 – intrigued because there hangs from it a card: ‘DUPLICATE’, it says, and then underneath, ‘Original stolen (underlined) by…’ Sadly, the laws of libel preclude my mentioning the name, but think about it and you’ll probably get it.

“I never got it back from him,” says Andretti, “so I had to get another one made…”

My own collection is rather more modest: three, in fact, for journalistic endeavours down the years. I have, though, over time accumulated a goodly amount of racing memorabilia, some given to me, some bought, and among my favourite items is a very small trophy with a marble base. It was presented by the Automobile Club di Roma, and the inscription reads, ‘Campione Assoluto 1957 – Luigi Musso’. There is no wild horse that could drag it from me.

It was at the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1955 that my parents and I had a very brief encounter with Musso. After retiring his Maserati, at the exit of Old Hall, he ran across the track towards us and asked if anyone had a cigarette. My mother tremblingly held out her packet of Player’s, and was rewarded with a kiss on both cheeks. In an instant Musso – he was always ‘Luigi’ after that – attained god-like status in our household, and there was great sadness when he died at Reims in 1958. With a childhood memory like that,

I couldn’t resist this little trophy. Fundamentally, though, I’ve never really seen the point of collecting awards made to other people. All very well, of course, if someone chooses to give you such a thing, but it always surprises me that folk are apparently prepared to dig deep for trophies with which they have not the most tenuous connection.

Fifteen or so years ago I attended an auction, at which there were on offer many items from the estate of Innes Ireland. The first half was given over to more contemporary racing memorabilia, much of it to do with Ayrton Senna, and it didn’t surprise me that many lots went the way of a South American, bidding like a paperhanger in a high wind.

Clearly a very well-heeled paper-hanger, mind you. Anyone with the temerity to bid against him was swiftly crushed: whatever Carlos wanted, Carlos was going to have. What surprised me, though, was that his zeal was undiminished when the Ireland lots began to come up, and several of his acquisitions were such as trophies won by Innes in his club racing days. I couldn’t make the connection.

Only once did I fall prey to such temptation, and this was some years ago at Goodwood, at the auction on the opening day of the Festival of Speed. Two trophies won by Jochen Rindt were on offer, and one of them was from the 1970 Monaco GP, a race weekend I remember fondly.

This was, of course, the mesmeric day when Rindt, madly inspired, chased down Jack Brabham in the closing stages, and took the lead at the inal corner – then the Gasworks hairpin – of the last lap, when Brabham, lapping Piers Courage, went off line and understeered into the barrier.

It was the year before I started working in Formula 1 and I had gone to Monaco, as always, with Page & Moy, and was sitting in that very stand. The world was a more laid-back place then, and as soon as the cars completed their slowing down lap, I was one of many to climb over the barrier and start running towards the pits, then situated on the right of the start-finish straight.

I didn’t have a pass, of course, but no one seemed interested in stopping me, and I arrived in the area of the Royal Box just as Jochen climbed the steps, shook hands with Rainier and Grace, and accepted the garland and trophy. He was visibly shaking, tears streaming down his face, and looked like a man coming out of a trance. Then – a moment I’ve never forgotten, a moment I have on tape – came the announcement from the French commentator: ‘Un record du tour sensationnel! Le dernier tour de Jochen Rindt – une minute vingt-trois secondes deux-dixièmes!’ There was a gasp from the crowd. One twenty-three point two… Rindt had qualified eighth, with a 1min 25.9sec.

It was an extraordinarily potent moment, one of those to make you feel you’re at the centre of the world. It was like that, too, in the evening, after the traditional Gala Ball at the Hotel de Paris. Jochen came down to the Tip-Top Bar to chat with the fans, as drivers did in those days. We were waiting for him, and at midnight he and Nina arrived, swinging the trophy between them. They stayed until well after two.

At the Tip-Top they ran a book on the race and Rindt wanted to know what his odds had been. “Seven to two,” someone said. “Ha!” Jochen grinned. “Was anyone stupid enough to bet on me?”

Memories like that stay with you and now here at Goodwood was Rindt’s trophy – the very one he had brought down to the Tip-Top – together with a large black-and-white photograph of him holding it aloft, Princess Grace at his side. Do you wonder I was tempted? Saying that, my interest was more academic than anything else, for I little doubted that it would go for silly money. Eventually the lot came up, and the bidding was unsurprisingly brisk – but then, at a little more than £2000, it suddenly dried up. So complete was my bewilderment that the gavel had come down before I could react. Sold!

I was mortified. It was another of life’s lessons. Just as, at Monaco all those years before, I had been so stunned by Brabham’s mistake that I took the camera from my eye and forgot to take a picture, now I concluded that if my métier had not been for racing photography, neither assuredly was it for buying at auction.

Nor could I could console myself with the thought that at least Jochen’s cup had gone to a good home, to someone for whom it meant something. No, sir. I knew the gentleman involved by reputation and a few days later was unsurprised to see the trophy advertised for sale in Autosport – and for many times the two grand at which it had been bought.

The price of everything, the value of nothing, as they say. Since Ron Dennis took control of McLaren in 1981, the company policy regarding trophies has been absolute: they belong to the team and go on display at the McLaren Technology Centre.

Picture the scene, then, at Monza in 1989. Through the season the relationship between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had progressively disintegrated, to the point that – whatever anyone might say – McLaren had ceased to be a team as such, the drivers simply individuals who happened to operate out of adjoining pits.

“I always felt,” said Alain, “that I was a McLaren driver, using a Honda engine, and Ayrton was a Honda driver, using a McLaren chassis…” While Prost never questioned the fundamental ethos of McLaren – that the drivers should be treated equally – neither did he have any doubts that this policy did not extend to Honda: “I always seemed to get very good engines at the French Grand Prix…”

It was immediately before the race at Ricard in 1989 that Alain announced he would not be staying at McLaren beyond the end of the year. No, he said, he hadn’t signed a new contract with anyone else, and that was true, but two months later, just before Monza, Ferrari announced that he would be in their squad for 1990. In those circumstances it probably wasn’t surprising that, for all McLaren’s commitment to equality, the emphasis seemed to be more on Senna than ever before. As I wandered around the pits, Ayrton’s car seemed to have an armada of engineers and mechanics around it, Alain’s conspicuously fewer.

It was Prost who won the race, however. Although Senna led most of the way, his Honda V10 – ironically – let go a few laps from the flag, allowing his nemesis to increase his lead in the World Championship. Although Alain beat Berger’s Ferrari, the tifosi didn’t seem to mind: next year he would be driving in red, and as he stood on the podium they cheered
him to the heavens.

It was then that he dropped the trophy into their midst. Many a time we had seen a driver do that with a cap or even a bottle of champagne, but this was something else again, and initially no one could quite take in what had happened.

The supposition of many, of course, was that it was an act of spite, a very public way of giving the inger to the team Prost was leaving, a team which had for years been ‘home’ to him, but which had now focused itself on another.

Alain was stunned that anyone might think that of him: “No, no, it was nothing like that – to be honest, I’ll never understand why I did it. The fans were all cheering for me, and it was just spontaneous, not anything I had planned…”

As he left the podium, he came face to face with his boss and swiftly understood the enormity of his offence. Backstage, an incensed Ron Dennis hurled the constructors’ trophy at Prost’s feet. Later Alain paid to have a replica made of the lost cup and after a suitable interval – six years – presented it to Ron.

Most teams are happy enough to retain the constructors’ trophies when they win a race, allowing the victorious driver to keep his own, but not McLaren, and this has been a significant point of discussion in negotiations with Lewis Hamilton, who – like Andretti – feels these things matter.

“Ron and the team get all the trophies and the drivers get replicas,” said Hamilton, “whereas in a lot of other teams the drivers get to keep the originals. As a racing driver, what you work for and what you want to take home are two things – your crash helmet and your trophy. For me, they are priceless.”

By this time this is read, Hamilton and McLaren might well have agreed terms on a new deal, and perhaps – who knows – an accommodation could have been reached on the contentious matter of trophies.

Contractual negotiations can be a serious distraction, as we have many times seen in the past, and the summer break provides a good opportunity to talk – but in the end where else is Lewis going? Valentino Rossi is rejoining Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha for the 2013 MotoGP season, so nothing is impossible, but still I’d estimate Hamilton’s chances of partnering Fernando Alonso at Ferrari as only marginally better than my own of getting picked for the next Olympics.

And although Hamilton’s showbiz management did the rounds at Red Bull and Mercedes, perhaps in the hope of hiking up Lewis’s price, McLaren has played it very cool through the summer: there has been no question of getting involved in a Dutch auction. If a better offer came in from elsewhere, ine, let him take it – if he were not fundamentally committed to McLaren, there’d be no interest in retaining him anyway.

A David Beckham needs only boots, after all: without the right car, a Grand Prix driver is nothing.

As the Olympic athletes began to leave for home, and London started to become crowded again, there was much debate in the media about the sort of money some of these people are likely to earn in the coming years. Usain Bolt, it was reckoned, was on a different financial level from the rest, and could be expected to rake in about $15m a year. It seemed a lot, until you considered that all it did was put Bolt on an equal financial footing with Wayne Rooney, that he – unlike Rooney – is consummately the best at what he does, and that any sprinter’s top-level career is necessarily short.

During the build-up to the Olympics, there were inevitably those lamenting the loss of the original ‘Olympian ethos’, wherein the participants were amateurs who competed for the joy of it, often at some financial cost, rather than profit.

Maybe it was the appearance, several decades ago, of an East European female shot-putter with a beard that caused everyone to suspect that this particular boat had sailed. The world changes.

Hard as it may be to believe in 2012, when the enchanting Mr Rooney trousers £220,000 a week, there was a time when sportsmen – of all kinds – frequently struggled to make ends meet. The Manchester United team of the mid to late ‘50s – the legendary ‘Busby Babes’ – was emphatically the best in the land, but it was hardly reflected in the players’ wage packets. One of them, tragically lost at Munich in February 1958, was a patient of my father and told him one day of great celebration at the club for the captain, Roger Byrne, had acquired a Morris Minor, thus becoming the team’s irst player to own a car. United’s bonus scheme was simple: £2 for a win, a quid for a draw.

Since acquiring a copy of Gilles Villeneuve’s irst Formula 1 contract (the subject of a feature on page 76), during this summer break I have been thinking quite a bit about money in sport. When Gilles signed with McLaren, at the beginning of 1977, it was uncertain how many Grands Prix he would have in the team’s third car, but he was to be paid at the rate of $1000 a race. Seemed on the tight side to me, but then Villeneuve was desperate to get into F1 and McLaren was a top team, holding all the cards.

Stirling Moss has often been described as ‘the first professional’ in motor racing, and there’s truth in that. Certainly, as he says today, there was a lot of fun to be had in the sport back then, but still he was unusually serious in his dedication to the job of racing driver, paying attention to fitness and so on, when many of his colleagues clearly did not.

In Moss’s era, of course, the top drivers were not required to conine themselves to F1. Through a typical season Stirling was racing something, somewhere, virtually every weekend, and earning a percentage of his cars’ starting and prize money – just as well, really, given that his retainer, on signing for the Aston Martin sports car team in 1955, was precisely £50!

Tony Vandervell, though, was rather more open-handed than David Brown. When I asked Moss what he had been paid in the Vanwall days, he dug out his contract, and was himself surprised by its largesse. “I see I got £1000 a race, plus 60 per cent of my car’s starting money, plus my air fares, plus ‘The sum of £5 a day for expenses’… Pretty good, wasn’t it?”

It was indeed – more generous, in fact, than McLaren’s offer to Villeneuve 20 years later! Stirling’s contemporaries would certainly have had cause to be envious: when Dan Gurney signed for Ferrari in 1959, he was paid $163 a month (plus a small percentage of his car’s prize money) – and that was not only for F1, but a full season of sports car racing, too.

Financially, Moss’s best year was 1961, his last fulltime season, when he earned a total of £32,800. “I had to pay my own expenses out of that,” he says, “so I actually paid tax on about £8000. That was about what a top surgeon was making and I thought it was pretty good to be making that for having fun…”

By 1969 Chris Amon’s retainer at Ferrari was $25,000 – and for that he competed for the Scuderia not only in F1, but also the World Sports Car Championship, Can-Am and the Tasman Championship! “We also,” Chris notes wryly, “got vouchers from Shell to ill up our road cars…”

By now, though, it was becoming possible for a driver – if he were shrewd – to earn a lot of money. When Jackie Stewart agreed to drive for Ken Tyrrell’s new F1 team, late in 1967, his retainer – necessarily paid by Ford’s Walter Hayes – was £20,000. Not an eye-watering amount in itself, but merely a starting point.

“As a matter of fact,” says Jackie, “I don’t think the actual retainer ever changed – but of course the total money did, because we began to get more beneits from outside – performance bonuses if you won a race, that sort of thing. It came from the Elfs, the Dunlops, then the Goodyears – but that still didn’t amount to a huge amount of money, so I was also doing Can-Am for Carl Haas, which paid pretty well, and driving Capris for Ford Germany occasionally, and Alan Mann’s cars – that was how you made money. By 1970 I was earning a million, but it certainly wasn’t all from F1…”

We should remember, of course, that if most F1 drivers were not hugely paid back then, neither did the spectator need recourse to a building society in order to watch them. In 1969 I paid 20/- (£1) to watch Stewart and Rindt fight out the British Grand Prix – plus another 10 bob for a paddock pass, of course, which one could still buy in those days.

You’d have to say the fan was quite well served. At the time, though, Bernie Ecclestone was in the paddock only as the manager of Rindt, and we were still a few years away from the beginnings of his softly-softly takeover of F1, wherein he made the participants rich and himself richer. These days there are about as many F1 races in Europe as there used to be in England: now you get one chance a year to see the stars, so start saving.

As sponsorship grew, so did the PR industry around it, and it was in this environment that the wealth of F1 began to mushroom. Once in a while circumstance allowed a team to sign a driver for remarkably little – Keke Rosberg still describes himself as the cheapest World Champion there ever was, because he needed the Williams drive in 1982, and Frank knew it, and it was the same thing two years later when Alain Prost, unexpectedly fired by Renault, was snapped up by McLaren.

These are exceptions, though. As in football, the money paid to stars has gone up and up, and so has the price of watching them perform. We may have 20 Grands Prix in the World Championship these days, but the top drivers actually race less than they used to do, and testing – once an almost ceaseless activity – has been essentially banned. The great increase has come in public appearances, in driving F1 cars around city centres to please sponsors, and the like. As Martin Whitmarsh recently showed me, a contemporary Formula 1 contract is split into three: a driver’s agreement, a promotions agreement and a third linking the two.

Public appearances, often in places you wouldn’t necessarily choose to visit, can of course be irksome, and it’s hardly surprising that some drivers baulk at the number they are required to make. That said, as Mr Andretti laconically put it some years ago, “If you don’t want to the PR stuff, just give back half the money, and don’t do it…” By 1993 Ayrton Senna was reputedly on $1m a race with McLaren, and for years afterwards we heard tell of ever more ludicrous sums going the way of top drivers, many of whom would routinely
find their way into sporting ‘Rich Lists’, along with the cream of boxing, football, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis et al.

Four years ago, though, the darling bankers’ attempts to fleece the rest of humanity came home to roost and, as anyone will tell you, the effects of that have been felt in motor racing, as in everything else. Perhaps no driver’s retainer will ever equal that paid by Ferrari to Kimi Räikkonen a few years ago, but still, in Forbes magazine’s worldwide list, six are listed among the 50 Richest Sportsmen, half of them – Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton – from F1, the others – Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart – from NASCAR.

All, though, lag well behind such as LeBron James, Haloti Ngata and Ndamukong Suh. So there you are. If Usain Bolt inds himself in the $15m bracket, good luck to him, but it won’t get him near this list.

Back in the day an event not to be missed was the August Bank Holiday meeting at Brands Hatch, its crowning glory the Guards Trophy, a sports car race with invariably a striking entry list. In 1962, for example, it was won by Mike Parkes in a factory Ferrari 246SP, in ’63 by Roger Penske in the central-seat Zerex Special – and in 1964 by the same car, now a conventional two-seater again, with Oldsmobile V8 replacing the Climax ‘four’, and Bruce McLaren behind the wheel. Among those facing McLaren that day was one A J Foyt, venturing out of America for the first time to drive John Mecom’s Scarab.

In 1965 John Surtees won conclusively in that wonderful Lola T70, red with a white arrow on the nose, and the following year he triumphed again, this time by a fifth of a second after a race-long scrap with Chris Amon’s McLaren M1B. Chevy V8s powered both cars and by now we were fully into the Group 7 era, with the birth of Can-Am on the near horizon, a form of what Mark Donohue called ‘knife ight’ racing never forgotten by anyone who witnessed it. At Silverstone’s Daily Express Trophy meeting in May of ’66, a new lap record was set by Denny Hulme’s T70 in the sports car ‘supporting event’.

Remembering the Guards Trophy that year, something else stands out for me. Lotus having put the wretched 30/40 programme out of its misery, Jim Clark seemingly had nothing to drive, but when offered the opportunity to try Peter Westbury’s four-wheel-drive Felday-BRM, he was intrigued, as he invariably was by anything novel and outside his experience.

In practice he tried the car, was impressed, and said yes, he’d like to race it. The Felday eventually retired, but Brands wasn’t a total loss for Jimmy, for he won the saloon car race in a works Lotus Cortina.

Bank Holiday Brands changed course the following year, with the major race for F2. No matter that it was the day after the Canadian GP: Jochen Rindt, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill and Chris Irwin took a ‘red eye’ from Toronto, and on the Monday morning were allowed a practice session in Kent. Rindt then won the race from Stewart. Who needed sleep?

Five years on, John Webb, always looking to put on something ‘different’ at Brands, announced plans for a Formule Libre race – a sort of upmarket version of what Americans refer to as ‘run what you brung’. The Rothmans 50,000, as it was to be known, would run over 118 laps – 312 miles – and be open to F1, F2, Indycars, Can-Am, even NASCAR.

Potentially it sounded fascinating and there was considerable interest, not least in F1 circles, for the prize money dwarfed anything you could make there. Then, little by little, politics and niggles began to intrude. Three hundred and twelve miles was a long way – how, in Brands Hatch’s primitive pits, was refuelling to be achieved?

There was no such thing in F1 and teams were campaigning at the time against an FIA wish to introduce it. Modify your cars, they were told, and refuel them from the NASCAR-style churns used for that purpose by the sports car teams in the BOAC 1000kms. The teams said they didn’t like that idea – they were in the middle of an F1 season, after all. Well, then, add extra tanks just for this race…

Next, gelt. Potentially there was plenty to be won, but not much guaranteed: £1000 starting money per car, and that was it. Not enough, said most of the F1 brigade. Take it or leave it, said the organisers. Most decided to leave it. Throw in clashing events in the States – Can-Am at Elkhart Lake, a qualifying weekend for the Ontario 500, NASCAR at Nashville – and you didn’t need Einstein to figure that American participation might be on the minimal side.

Quite why no one bothered to consult a fixture list will remain a mystery. Some teams, it must be said, did commit to the Rothmans 50,000. Lotus entered a 72 for Emerson
Fittipaldi, who had won the British GP at the same circuit only a month beforehand, and McLaren sent an M19 for Brian Redman and an F2 M21 for Jody Scheckter. Frank Williams had a March 711 there, driven by Henri Pescarolo, and BRM ran a pair of P160 V12s for Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Howden Ganley.

Such as James Hunt, John Watson, Gerry Birrell, Tim Schenken, Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann were there in sundry F2 cars, and there was also a selection on hand from F5000. The nearest thing to an ‘international’ entry, though, was a Lola T280 sports car, entered by Ecurie Bonnier (only weeks after Jo’s death at Le Mans), and driven by Mario Casoni.

It was a long way, 312 miles, and most of the F1 cars, with their extra tankage, handled atrociously – no surprise, really, when you consider that the V12 BRMs went to the grid with 62 gallons of fuel.

The accent, not surprisingly, was on endurance, rather than racing, and that, together with a frankly lamentable entry list (compared with what had originally been envisaged), guaranteed that the Rothmans 50,000 was a dirge that lasted only 2hr 50min, but seemed without end.

Watched by a crowd of only 21,000, Fittipaldi led all the way, Redman was second all the way and Pescarolo – twice lapped – was third all the way… Even now it seems to me a splendid concept for a race – a free-for-all with a big pot – but probably it was a pipe dream. The way it turned out, I don’t think I was ever more relieved to leave a racetrack.

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