Continental Notes, September 1962

At the French Grand Prix in July we had an accident of serious potential, but fortunately without serious consequences, apart from material damage. At the German Grand Prix in August there was another accident of a similar unnecessary nature, this being the affair of the television camera that caused a B.R.M. and a Cooper to be extensively damaged and two drivers to have very lucky escapes. Both these accidents need not have happened, for they were caused by something unconnected with the actual business of racing. If a driver tries too hard on a corner, in practice, or in a race, and over-cooks it and crashes then he has only himself to blame, and he suffers from a known and calculated risk; but when he has an accident caused by a risk that is not only unknown but unnecessary then it is time to complain. For a long while now film companies and television companies have been allowed to make films while practice has been taking place at Grand Prix races, and many of the activities they get up to have been all wrong in the eyes of the motor racing purist. Two outstanding examples of this were one year when a sports car with a cine-camera mounted on it was allowed on the circuit while practice was in progress (this at a British race!) and the other when one of the cars on the starting grid actually started the race with a movie camera mounted in the nose fairing. Of recent years there has been a lot of activity during Grand Prix practice of fitting a movie camera to one of the Grand Prix cars and letting it follow another one round the circuit. Now if the track is clear there is no harm in this; but while other people are out practising it is all wrong, because the drivers doing the film-making are obviously not getting on with some serious practice laps and could well get in the way of someone who is.

For a long while I have been bleating about drivers and cars that are out on the circuit not doing serious practice for the job in hand, which is to win the Grand Prix, and to see Number One team drivers indulging in this filming “horseplay” has always saddened me. I never thought for a moment that such activity might cause a serious accident, but I just felt with an instinct born from nearly 30 years’ interest in motor racing, that it was not right and was not part of practice for a Grand Prix race. Some people look upon a Grand Prix race as a bit of fun and a diversion, but I have always looked upon it as a serious business and I think that everything connected with it should be treated equally seriously. Having this outlook I quickly see things going on that I feel are not part and parcel of Grand Prix racing, and this business of film-making, for cinema or television, during a Grand Prix meeting has always struck me as being wrong. Where motor racing is concerned I am a purist, for to me it is a religion and a way of life, with certain obvious rules. When I went for that now classic ride with Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia lots of my friends expressed surprise that I did not take a camera with me to take “snaps” during the race. That exploit was a serious one, the object being to win the race, and there was nothing on that car or in the cockpit that was superfluous to the job of winning. A camera would have been. We spent many hours discussing cockpit fittings and layout for that 10-hour drive, and because we were both so strict in our thoughts of what was necessary and correct, there was no room for thoughts about cameras. Had there been we would have probably been deflected on to other unnecessary items. I have always thought that if you are going to do a job there is only one way to do it and that is properly, without side-issues creeping in because one day these side-issues will catch you out. If I am going to watch a motor race and report on it, I do just that, I do not attempt to take photographs of an activity I am supposed to be observing. It saddens me when I see people who are supposed to be observing a race and writing a report on it, busy looking through a view finder. It also saddens me when I see a flag marshal or race official carrying a camera, unless he is an official photographic recorder. I see people who are apparently official photographers spending more time making notes and trying to write a report, and I am saddened. All these things only seem wrong if you are a purist for motor racing and I am a purist, especially where Grand Prix racing is concerned, which brings us back to the regrettable accident at the Nürburgring when a television camera fell off the back of one car and another one ran over it and trashed as a result, while a second car crashed on the oil that was spilt. When I see a dog at a race meeting my back hairs stand on end, and the same thing always happens when I see a cine-camera. Since the German Grand Prix I am sure I am no longer alone in this matter.

The irony of the whole affair was that just prior to this meeting the drivers had been discussing this question of cine-cameras and film-making, where it encroached on practice. One driver, who has been at racing longer than most, but one never thinks of him as a “wise old bird” because he looks too young, was dead against all forms of film-making during practice. He was shouted down and one of those involved in the Nürburgring incident was the leader of the idea that it was “good for publicity,” though they all agreed that such activity needed strict supervision and should not take place on tight circuits like Monte Carlo. Luckily this driver did not realise it was a cine-camera that he hit, or he would have suffered remorse as he went crashing through the undergrowth as a result. I know the whole affair is over and done with apart from getting the television company to pay for the damaged cars, and it is unlikely that we shall see a movie-camera on a car in practice again, at least for some while, but if anyone in the future Las thoughts about action films I hope they remember the German Grand Prix. In passing we might all give a thought to the simple words “No smoking in the pits or paddock,” for that is a subject I could write many words about, and though I hope it does not happen, I feel the day is coming when I shall be forced to write in a similar vein about a disaster caused by this stupid habit.

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In July we had four Grand Prix races on successive weekends and this was followed by a break of one week and then the German Grand Prix on the first weekend in August. Apart from two small “private-owner” races there has been a lull throughout August in the Grand Prix world, which in some ways is a good thing, for it allows Lotus to build another Type 25 “Monocoque” car, B.R.M. to replace the car lost at Nürburgring, and Cooper likewise, and we hope for Ferrari to sort out his new car, finish off the 4-valve engines we have been waiting for, or produce something new, like the suggested air-cooled straight-eight Ferrari-Gilera engine. Whether the lull in August is justified by the pandemonium and hard work in July is debatable, but this seems to happen most years. The Italian Grand Prix has been postponed until September 16th and because of this a projected Formula One race at Albi has been abandoned as it was due on September 9th, just one week before Monza. Originally Monza was to have been the week before Albi, so that teams could have gone there on their way home from the Italian Grand Prix, but now they have lost interest as risking machinery on the way to an important Grand Prix is a different matter. All this is very hard on the Albi club, who have been trying to get back into Grand Prix racing for some time, and have spent a lot of money on building a closed circuit on the local aerodrome. In the days of real road-racing, down the Routes Nationale between the tall trees, the Albi circuit was a good one, and a very fast one, but the changing scene of motor racing killed it off like so many good road circuits and now it is gone for ever, to be replaced by a stadium-like circuit in a field. However, Albi town is still the same, and the enthusiasm of the Albigoes has not changed so that a Grand Prix in that town would have been very enjoyable. As it is going to be for Formula Junior cars now, this is yet one more event which the Juniors will enjoy at the expense of the Grand Prix world. I am not begrudging the Juniors their fun far from it, but I do envy them as they can still race in towns and on circuits that once were the play-ground of Grand Prix cars.

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A thought to close on. What happened to the Inter-Continental Formula that so many people spent so much time prattling about?—D. S. J.