Letters, October 2014

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Letter of the month
War of words

War of words

Having just read Nigel Roebuck’s chat with Niki Lauda about drivers’ freedom to voice their opinions, I find it interesting that the blame is laid at the feet of the teams.

I would say that before a team could give a driver carte blanche to speak to the media, we would need a media that could be trusted to act responsibly – and sadly I don’t see that happening. In the days when Niki and co would talk openly, Grand Prix racing was mainly covered by the specialist press who, you would assume, would be less likely to cause trouble. The mass media that the sport needs to attract today, to bring the money in, is a different thing entirely and it thrives on controversy and sensation. If I was a driver, the last thing I’d want to do is say anything that could be taken out of context; why waste energy spending the next week defending your comments?

We have created a world where lack of personality in our race drivers, actors, politicians, musicians etc is bemoaned, but the minute any one of them goes ‘off message’ and speaks their mind they are leapt on by the professionally outraged members of the press, social media and so on. Sadly this press only exists to feed the people who consume it, i e the general public. Before we hear the opinion of anybody, it seems to me that we have to show that we can listen properly.

David Fisher, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Notts

Pequignet manufacture

The writer wins this Pequignet Gents Moorea Ranelagh model in stainless steel with an automatic movement, anthracite dial with date, worth £835.

For a few dollars more

It beggars belief that the accusation of a bribe can be made to go away with the payment of a ‘cash settlement’, i e a legal bribe. Why should one’s personal wealth provide particular individuals the opportunity to circumvent the application of a law that would otherwise ensure poorer defendants go to prison? See: German man sent to prison for accepting alleged bribe.

I am given to understand that in Germany, such payments to the Treasury or a charity (or both) are quite normal. But does this make it right? Would the wider global community accept a payment from Vladimir Putin to ‘put to bed’ the question of his involvement in the funding of the pro-Russian rebels who shot down a civilian aircraft? Contrary to popular belief, money is not what makes the world go round; the earth keeps spinning thanks to mankind’s prevailing ability to retain strong ethical values and to apply common sense in the face of adversity. If a culture of paying for one’s mistakes with a cheque is really where we are headed, then wars will be we waged with the aggressors unashamedly offering to pay for the privilege.

Peter J B Green, Saffron Walden, Essex

Pawn cocktail

Max Mosley may no longer run the FIA, but he casts a long shadow over Formula 1. Some years ago, in an interview with Nigel Roebuck, Max suggested that an F1 race should be like a chess match. When I heard this, I probably laughed as hard as Nigel must have. But looking at the current state of F1 it looks as if Max has achieved his goal. Between fuel saving, energy systems, DRS and the constant radio instructions from engineers, F1 drivers have been reduced to pawns who can only move at the will of their masters on the pit wall. Want to pass? Better ask first. Want to push harder? Better ask first. Want to adjust the car while racing? Wait for instructions. The next step will probably be F1 drones: cars controlled by drivers sitting on the pit wall, like the way war is waged from the air now. A truly sad state of affairs. Time for an F1 revolution indeed.

Sean Martin, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Only obeying orders

I have been following F1 since the mid-1960s and heard something a few weeks ago, towards the end of a race, that I never expected to hear from a four-time world champion. He said over the radio to his pit, ‘What do you want me to do?’ It stopped me in my tracks.

Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and even Nigel Mansell had to know what they were doing, because they were the only ones who could make the decisions. There was no two-way communication between driver and team, no multi-function dashboard read-out. There was just a steering wheel, a gear lever and the driver’s experience, instinct and skill.

We’re often told that F1 drivers from different eras should not be compared because there are too many variables. It is true that the cars, the technology and the racing are all different, with in my opinion too many outside influences supposedly to spice up the show. Lap times are sometimes slower than in the past, which makes me wonder how all this technology benefits the racing.

In an ideal world, drivers at the highest level should be able to drive flat out for the duration of a race while dealing with changes in the car’s behaviour, as tyres degrade and fuel loads decrease. That’s what drivers have to do in the lower formulae, so why not at the highest level?

The technology in today’s F1 cars has relegated a driver’s role to that of a mere ‘operative’. Decisions during the race, previously made by the driver, are now being made by people who have never driven an F1 car! Those decisions are then communicated to the ‘operative’ behind the wheel – and they spend as much time making adjustments to settings, saving fuel and managing tyres as they do steering the car.

Today’s F1 driver no longer has to think for himself; maybe Vettel’s question shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Andrew Andersz, Aston Clinton, Bucks

Armchair fewer

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, we can stop all he navel gazing as to why F1 TV audiences are falling (as mentioned in Nigel Roebuck’s interview with Niki Lauda). The answer’s simple – pay TV.

If you just have to turn on the set to watch the races, millions will. It’s still a great spectacle. If you have to pay a supplement for a sports package, on top of the normal satellite subscription (as in France, where I live), then only the really committed fans will pay for the privilege, regardless of DRS, double points, engine noise or whatever other irrelevancies come and go.

The ready cash from the satellite channels might be good for the short-termism of Bernie and his boys, but is less good for the sponsors who pay to make the thing happen and see their exposure decreasing. Maybe the free channels have lost interest anyway by now, and with them the bulk of the audience. Out of sight, out of mind. But if your strategic horizon is only next month’s share price, I guess you don’t care.

Neil Webster, Chelles, France

Channel flaw

That was an excellent article with Niki Lauda in the September edition. However, I am surprised that he is confused about the drop in viewing figures and interest in F1. Having been an avid supporter since the mid-1960s and watched almost all races on TV, the move to pay TV left me feeling excluded and betrayed. I do not think the drop in figures needs any investigation. The correlation is obvious: pay TV gets you more money but loses viewers. Don’t complain when you bite the hand that feeds. Presumably, sponsors will follow.

Robert Jennings, Exmouth, Devon, UK

RIP, Denis Welch

In recent years my passion for racing has been rekindled with the discovery of historic racing. The sight and sound of older cars racing in close proximity provides an intoxicating spectacle. We admire the skill and competitiveness of the drivers yet, I suspect, rarely consider the risks involved.

For those of us who witnessed the tragic accident at the Silverstone Classic in July, the risks were brought home in an instant. As a cruel reality check it illustrated the dangers faced by those we respect and admire, and revealed their true vulnerability. In an age when it appears that society is increasingly risk-averse, we must continue to celebrate those who choose to pursue their sport in the presence of such danger.

Never again, however, will I take the spectacle for granted.

May I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Denis Welch.

Chris P Daw, Leire, Leics

Bishop’s move

Thank you for the fabulous photo of Mike Ryman and myself chasing each other in our DKWs at Cadwell Park, my favourite UK circuit as its twists and turns suit our cars so well. It is such a shame that here in the UK we have no real competition (ie we generally come last but have great fun). I have just returned from the Copenhagen Historic, where there were NSU 1200TTs, Fiat 850s, Abarth Fiat 600s and a plethora of other interesting, small-engined cars to race. It seems the British public want muscle and the authorities want silence, neither of which I can achieve with 940cc of two-stroke triple!

On a separate note, I could not have written Gordon Cruickshank’s article on the new Jaguar XF any better. For years I have been bleating on about the fact that it is nearly 50 years since the motor industry managed to combine superb ride with handling and grip beyond the boundaries of normal drivers – and give us space, airiness and visibility to boot (I cite the Jaguar XJ6 and NSU Ro80 as examples). It is unforgiveable to use the excuse of safety to sit us inside letterboxes from which we emerge unscathed after having sent a motorcycle in one of our many blind spots into the hedge (or worse). We should by now have moved on, not sideways.

In the Sixties we did not realise how green we were being when our cars rusted away after 10 years. Easy to scrap and without nasty rust-inhibiting chemicals, they provided valuable mechanical parts for other vehicles to prolong their usage. We now build cars with everlasting bodies but with electronics that render them hard to scrap after a similar 10-year cycle. We all like nice features, but this is another sideways move rather than progress.

Tim Bishop, via email

The Rockford file

In reference to your comment in the magazine about James Garner, I feel compelled to say that ‘Grizzly’, as he was affectionately known, was a real racer. I was a mechanic in F1 and then Indycar until the mid-80s. Grizzly used to show up at Indy annually and knew everyone.

One of my weekend warriors was an off-road racer, so Grizzly would always drop by to see this guy and spend time with the team. He was a good guy, really low-key and very knowledgeable about racing cars.

He was an off-road racer of some skill and also the owner of AIR, American International Racing, who ran Lola T70s in endurance racing and in F5000.

The biggest problem with Grizzly is that he did not toot his own horn, so the public doesn’t know much about him and his racing.

Steve Roby, Asheville, N Carolina, USA

Royal mail

I can remember marshalling a time control in the good old days on a Motoring News road rally in the Lake District (probably the Illuminations), when Prince Michael and Nigel Clarkson were entrants. In those perhaps more respectful days we debated whether a salute was necessary as their car approached.

In the event we just gave them a time.

Jack Butterworth, Royton, Oldham, Lancs

Bird, not bush

In the September Letters column, reader Carl Slate claimed that the Chaparral racing cars were named after a shrub. Well and good, as there is a chaparral shrub. But he also rather emphatically claimed that the car was not named after the road-runner bird. Here is where he is wrong. Various periodicals of the early 1960s printed that Jim Hall named the cars after the road-runner bird. It seems that ‘chaparral’ is a southwest United States nickname for the bird. Hence, and I am sure that Jim Hall would quickly corroborate this, his cars were indeed named after the bird and not the shrub.

Tom Schultz, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, USA

Dancing in the shadows

Congratulations on your article featuring the 750 Motor Club. In a world obsessed with F1 this was a breath of fresh air. Nearly every week, from February to December, there is a motor sport event occurring at venues all over the country yet very little publicity is given to these events. This is grass-roots motor sport without which the motor racing cannot survive. We should encourage the promotion of these events and let the public know about them.

There is a lot of exciting and interesting racing going on out there. We should be encouraging people to come to some of the club events, where races last 15–20 minutes, not two hours, and there is a mix of interesting cars.
Chris Whitlock, Silverstone, Northants

Mr Whitlock – see p99 and p123…

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