Continental notes, September 1958

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At the recent German Grand Prix at Nürburgring there were some interesting things to learn, and one of these was concerned with B.R.M. It was very obvious in practice that they were in dire trouble with springs and shock-absorbers, to say the least, and after the Vanwall debacle last year I wondered why B.R.M. were making the same mistakes. The Nürburgring is a circuit that is very much a test in itself, apart from any question of racing, for it contains just about every type of bend and corner imaginable, from full-throttle ones to tight hairpins. More important, however, are the great changes in altitude from the starting area down to the bottom of the valley at Adenau, where the circuit crosses the Breidscheid bridge, and then there is a steep climb up to the Hohe-Acht. There are changes of direction from steep down to steep up, such us at the bottom of the Fuchsröhre, that put G-loadings on suspension undreamed of by most designers, and also the heavy G-effects of the Karussel banked 200-degree turn. Then there is the problem of leaving the ground completely up the rise from Quiddelbacher-Höhe to the Flugplatz, or the violent twitch to the left followed by an even sharper one to right at Adenau-Forst, where roll can have an awful effect on stability. There are innumerable climbing upward sweeps, such as Bergwerk, or Brünnchen, and dropping-away but tightening swerves like Kallenhard; and all the while the surface is anything but a billiards table, having series a small ripples which make the best suspension patter.

It can be appreciated that, apart from the driver having to learn the way round the 22.81-kilometre circuit, the car must be tuned to it, for a suspension that might be perfect on all English circuits will almost certainly allow the sump to hit the ground at the bottom of the dip into Brünnchen, or the longest travel suspension will reach its limit stops as the cars leave the ground over some of the humps. It was obvious that B.R.M. appreciated all this, for even though they as a team had not been to the Nürburgring before, Raymond Mays was there in pre-war days, as long ago as 1935 with a 2-litre E.R.A., so the question was,”Why did the B.R.M. not pay a visit to Nürburgring some time before the German Grand Prix?” Having put the question to Tony Rudd, of the technical department, the answer was simple. They had badly wanted to and, in spite of a full season of racing, they had planned to go to the Nürburgring the day after the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, which is only two hours’ drive from the Eifel circuit. The only thing that stopped them was that neither of their team-drivers were available, both having other things to do, such as driving at Le Mans. Having missed that opportunity for a visit to the Nürburgring a pressing calendar of events, with Reims, Silverstone and Caen in view, gave no further opportunity. Of course, they could have gone without their drivers, and Tony Rudd could have driven round, for he does all the test driving at Folkingham, but, as he pointed out, it would have been a complete waste of time, for he did not know the way round the circuit and could not hope to drive as fast as Behra or Schell, anyway, so the more serious problems would not have come to light.

Now the interesting thing is that a first-line Grand Prix team will sign up drivers for a season’s racing, yet allow them to go and drive other makes of car when they might be needed. This situation does not apply merely to B.R.M., for Vanwall suffer from the same thing, and I recall Moss leaving Pescara last year almost as soon as he had received the chequered flag in order to go and drive for B.M.C. in America, AO that Mr. Vandervell was not sure whether he was employing the driver or Sir Leonard Lord. As far as Moss was concerned both ventures were successful, he won at Pescara and broke records with the M.G. at Bonneville, but I would like to see our foremost Grand Prix teams employing their drivers, more exclusively. Enzo Ferrari says to his drivers: “You can drive my cars, but if you do you cannot drive anything else.” What would happen if Mr. Vandervell and Mr. Owen said the same thing? My guess is that they would still get the best drivers, for they must all drive Grand Prix cars and what else is there to drive. I remember Neubauer telling one of his team drivers that he would be free to drive other cars when Daimler-Benz did not need him, but the crafty Alfred made quite sure that there was always something urgent to do in connection with the Mercedes-Benz cars. Whether it was a test day at Hockenheim, a visit to Stuttgart to be measured for a seat, a publicity photograph, or a presentation of something or other, there was always something happening that required his presence, so that when there was a moment to spare there was little interest in taking part in a minor race; the driver was only too glad to sit down and rest. Yes, I would like to see our major Grand Prix teams be a bit firmer with their drivers, if the present arrangements allow situations such as B.R.M. had to suffer over the Nürburgring.

Talking to Colin Chapman recently, I was interested to hear that he was in agreement with my suggestion that the racing/sports car should he done away with and more interest taken in single-seaters. He thought that the present-day so-called sports car that wins races is an absurdity, for it is quite useless for anything other than pure racing, and if you were to alter the design so that it could be used for shopping or the theatre, as extreme examples, then it would no longer win races. Competition with sports cars has become so fierce, that design has had to progress at a high rate and there is a vicious circle of development and usefulness chasing each other around and getting no-where. If we compare, for example, two 2-litre cars, the A.C. Bristol and the Lotus Fifteen, it is obvious which would win races and which could be used every day as a sporting means of transport. As things are now the A.C. Bristol has had to get itself into Gran Turismo so that the owners can race with some hope of success and the Lotus Fifteen might just as well be a Grand Prix car, for it needs to go to races on a trailer and have mechanics looking after it. Chapman could see that if the present racing/sports car was changed into a single-seater racing car and more encouragement was given to Gran Turismo, there would he opportunities to develop more exciting and usable G.T. cars. Surrounded as he is by a multitude of designs, he would be only too pleased to concentrate on the Elite for Gran Turismo and his current single-seater to be used with 1,100-c.c., 1,500-c.c., 2,000-c.c. or 2,500-c.c. engine, for whatever type of racing was desired. He even went so far as to say he would be keen to build 750-c.c, single-seaters for a Junior Formula type of racing such as the Italians have started.

At a recent meeting with the R.A.C. between British racing-car and sports/racing-car manufacturers, he actually made the suggestion that such absurdities as the racing/sports car be abandoned, but came up against strong opposition from Jaguar and Aston Martin. While the Feltham firm obviously want to go on with the DBR1/300 near-G.P. car in order to try and sell the DB Mk. Ill coupés, Jaguar opposition could only mean one thing, and that is the return of the factory to racing with an E-type Jaguar, so if nothing else, this opposition was interesting.

The last two months have been sad ones for Grand Prix racing, for first Luigi Musso is killed and then Peter Collins, while earlier in the year Archie Scott-Brown lost his life. In each case the driver was in second position in a hotly-contested race and was trying very hard to challenge for the lead; all three made a mistake and paid for it with their lives. That is an unfortunate thing indeed, but it is one of the calculable risks that a racing driver must be prepared to take if he is going to get into the top class of drivers. On each occasion a post-mortem of the accident suggested that the actual death was caused by a definite object; with Scott-Brown it was a signpost, with Musso a ditch, with Collins a tree; and after each accident there have been people who have suggested that it was careless, and even criminal, to have left these objects on the edge of the circuit. If you suggested to Duncan-Hamilton that all ditches should be filled in I am sure he would disagree, for it was a ditch that saved him from being crushed when his Jaguar turned over at Le Mans, for it rolled across the the ditch so that his head and shoulders did not touch the ground. If you suggested that every tree be removed I personally would object, for it was a lone tree that prevented Stirling Moss and myself from going end-over-end down into a rocky valley when we crushed in the 1956 Mille Miglia. Perhaps I am a fatalist, but I feel that once an accident has started, or, in other words, the driver has really lost control, there is little that can he done to direct the consequences; it is a matter of sheer luck whether you get killed or not. At Reims one year, one driver was, obviously saved from bad injury because he was wearing a seat belt, while in the same race another driver, without a seat belt, overturned and was thrown out, while his car caught fire. A seat belt would almost certainly have caused his death. At Indianapolis, Pat O’Connor lost his life when his car overturned in the multiple pile-up, while another driver in the same crash went end-over-end four or five times over the retaining wall and was hardly hurt at all. I am quite sure that once an accident has started the outcome is a question of luck. If we can prevent accidents beginning, all well and good, but if we are going to take down all trees and fill in all ditches then the logical conclusion is to end up with sorbo-padded walls round all the circuits.

Scott-Brown, Musso and Collins have died doing something that they really enjoyed doing—they were motor-racing and having-a-go; or, as is often jokingly said, they were “dicing-with-death.” Death threw a double-six stud and they had to pay up; let us not bewail the fact: let us all pause in silent admiration of three fine men and remember the great pleasure they gave us all whether we knew them merely as names in motor-racing, or personal friends. They cannot be replaced, but the memory of their exploits will live for ever. They died fighting, and there can surely be no better death.—D. S. J.

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