Continental Notes, September 1963

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It was less than ten years ago that the idea of a British car winning a Grand Prix was considered by most people to be impossible. There were British-built green cars in Grand Prix racing, but they were invariably on the back of the starting grid and seldom finished races, though occasionally green painted Italian cars in the hands of British drivers made some sort of show.

In those days the aim of most private-owners was to acquire a Ferrari or Maserati, have it maintained at the factories in Modena and if possible, to borrow a works mechanic to look after it at the races. In fact, if you gave your own mechanic some blue Italian overalls and a white cap, and said nothing, the word soon went round the paddock that “so and so has a works mechanic looking after his Maserati” and this was reckoned to be the password to success, but then as now, it was the driver who won races.

This season in Grand Prix racing we have seen a complete reversal of this situation, just as in Grand Prix racing everywhere green cars and British drivers dominate, apart from an occasional lapse, and have done for some years now. We now have the situation of an Italian private-owner and driver racing a British car, painted red, maintained at the parent factory in England and looked after by two works mechanics.

This, of course, is Bandini with the Centro-Sud B.R.M., who has been causing quite a flutter recently. The Scuderia Centro-Sud is the hobby of Guglielmo Dei, who used to be the Maserati agent in Rome, for Central and Southern Italy, hence the name Centro-Sud, and he has run a private team of cars for many years now. He has long had great faith in the ability of Lorenzo Bandini, the young Italian from Milan, having discovered him in the original Formula Junior days. This season, with the financial help of the petrol firm of B.P. the Scuderia Centro-Sud acquired a 1962 works B.R.M., brought up to 1963 as regards the engine, it being the actual car that Graham Hill used in the early part of the 1962 season. It was being used by the factory team as a spare car, and they would not release it to Signor Dei until they had a new car of their own, which eventually appeared at Zandvoort.

Just as Maserati owners in the past realised that the best place for maintenance was Modena, so did Dei realise that the best place for maintenance on a B.R.M. was at Bourne, and he was fortunate in being able to obtain the services of two factory mechanics to look after the car at meetings. They provide the transport for the car, travelling in an open lorry from the Rubery Owen Group, and look after the red painted B.R.M. independently of the factory team. With Bandini speaking a few essential words in English, like “O.K., very good, no good” and so on, and the B.R.M. lads’ few words of Italian, such as “Candele, motore, cambio” they get along fine together and have proved a very happy combination.

At the Nurburgring the Centro-Sud team acquired a new 1962 Cooper, which the Portuguese driver Mario Aruyo Cabral was using, and when they were in trouble with the gearbox they had to get the help of a Cooper works mechanic to sort things out. All this takes one back many years, except that the situation is now reversed, and instead of private-owners looking for the chief mechanics from Ferrari or Maserati to assist them, it is now a question of depending on B.R.M. or Cooper mechanics.

The racing scene has indeed swung its pendulum to the full, and the interesting thing is to wonder what will be at the other end when it swings back again. Will the private-owners be bowing politely to the Japanese and asking for “honourable assistance” or will they be saying “hey bud” to a gum-chewing American. It would be nice if we could go the full circle back to the French, as in the 1920’s, but I think that is out of the question.

***

While on the subject of private-owners the name of Giorgio Filipinetti keeps appearing in race reports, and some further light on the situation might prove of interest. He is a rich Italian, living in Switzerland, with a passion for fast cars and motor racing, and last year he got a number of Swiss amateurs together and formed the Scuderia Filipinetti, the idea being that banded together they would be more of a power when it came to negotiating with organisers and manufacturers and so on. Those who had racing cars, sports cars or G.T. cars of their own pooled them and while still running as private-owners they entered under the Filipinetti banner.

One of these Swiss drivers was Joseph Siffert, who was beginning to show more than average ability, and he had an early Lotus-Climax 4-cylinder. Realising that Siffert had good prospects Filipinetti bought a Lotus-B.R.M. V8 for him to drive, but the big drawback was a lack of competent mechanics, especially to look after a V8 B.R.M. engine. Filipinetti tended to assume that a racing car did not need skilled attention, it merely wanted driving, and the result was not very good for Siffert, the car being troublesome and unreliable. Early this season Siffert decided to branch off on his own, not being too impressed with Filipinetti’s organising powers, and having found a first-class Swiss mechanic to maintain the B.R.M. engine, Siffert bought the car from the Scuderia and set up on his own.

At the same time Filipinetti’s only other Formula One driver was Heinz Schiller who had an old Formula One Porsche, and he decided there was no future in Grand Prix racing for him, so he sold the car to de Beaufort and bought a Porsche Carrera for GT racing.

Since leaving the Scuderia, Siffert had much more success and his new mechanics made the Lotus-B.R.M. V8 very fast and reliable, which upset Filipinetti and he promptly bought a brand new Lotus-B.R.M. V8 with the sole idea of beating Siffert and he looked around for a suitable driver. He fixed up with Ludovico Scarfiotti, but at the last minute Mr. Ferrari snatched the Italian away to use in his own team and Filipinetti was without a driver. His good friend Giorgio Billi, who finances the A.T.S. project, had a good driver signed up and no cars for him to drive, so they agreed that Phil Hill should drive the Filipinetti car when he was not driving for A.T.S. and Hill was directed to go to Reims and race the new car.

The Lotus factory supplied the new car, but after that it was up to Filipinetti to find mechanics to maintain it and prepare it for races, and so far that is what he has failed to do, and Phil Hill has had some degrading experiences with the red and white car, not the least being when Siffert goes sailing by with his B.R.M. engine on full-song, as the Filipinetti car pops and bangs its badly prepared way round the circuits.

***

It is my hope that one day after a Grand Prix the winning driver will say in all honesty, “my car ran perfectly, and everything was marvellous.” Almost without exception winning drivers today seem to have a gripe at the end of the race; perhaps gripe is not quite the right word, but they always have an explanation of why they did not go faster, as if winning the race was not enough.

If you congratulate them and say “that was a fine race you drove” they will say “Yes, but the car was uncontrollable until the fuel tanks began to empty,” or “With all that oil on the track and my car having the wrong roll-bar, it was understeering so much I could hardly get round some of the corners.” Sometimes they have legitimate grumbles and will show you blistered hands from holding a gearlever in position, or blistered feet from overheating cockpits, there being insufficient lagging round the water and oil pipes, or you have already heard that the engine was not firing on all cylinders. Another after-race explanation is the oil thrown from other cars, from which the winner may have suffered until he got in front, his oil covered goggles bearing witness to this.

Listening to all these stories I often wonder that anyone finished the race at all, let alone won it. However, I still live in hopes that one day a Grand Prix winner will say afterwards “Marvellous, I enjoyed every minute of it and the car went like a bird.” I am sure a lot of team-managers and mechanics would like to hear the same thing.

***

And now a technical word. In the accompanying photograph is illustrated the rear of the cockpit of the 1963 stressed-skin-and-tube chassis B.R.M. and just behind the driving seat, protruding front the body is the “bete-noir” of mechanics, the transistor box that supplies sparks for the Lucas transistorised ignition that is used on the British V8 engines, both B.R.M. and Coventry-Climax.

I do not profess to know what goes on inside that little black box, but I do know that it must be kept cool and that it generates sparks, but also it has often been known to suddenly stop producing sparks, without giving any warning. Many cars have been driven from the pits to the starting grid, revved up and switched off and that is the last sign of life that comes from the engine until a new transistor-box is fitted. The situation has become so fraught recently that the latest boxes fitted to the works Coopers have been designed to be held in place by an aircraft elastic for easy removal and replacement, whereas previously they were bolted in place and took a long time to replace.

Just why these things suddenly give up the ghost is an electronic problem that will obviously be overcome, for Lucas don’t just sit down and keep putting new ones on in place of duff ones, they are as concerned about the failures as drivers and mechanics. This sort of thing takes the mind back to the days when new-fangled low-tension magnetos were coming into use, and until complete reliability was achieved the magneto was a dreadful cause of worry. It lost many a race due to going dead at the wrong moment, and now that a replacement for the magneto has been found, to cope with 10,000 r.p.m. and more, the replacement is having its teething troubles.

No Grand Prix mechanic is happy on the starting grid today until his engine has actually burst into life, and equally drivers are getting nervous as well. Today the Grand Prix car has so many electrical things on it that it actually has a wiring loom and diagram and each team should really have a qualified electrician on the staff. All this electricity came about with the F.I.A. ruling that Grand Prix cars should be started from the cockpit, by the driver, with an automatic device, and everyone immediately plumped for a conventional electric starter motor, which meant carrying a 12-volt battery. Having got a battery on board a dynamo or alternator was required to keep it charged, and having it fully charged it was then decided to use it for working fuel pumps and ignition. Had some designer schemed up a system of cartridge starter, or inertia starter, then the battery would not have appeared and neither would all the electrics and we may well still have been using magnetos and not be having trouble with transistor boxes.

Also visible in the photograph mentioned are two “sops” to F.I.A. regulations, one being the “arc of security” or crash-bar behind the driver’s head and the other the regulation fire-extinguisher. I refer to these two items as “sops” to regulations as they are both within the letter of the law, but are both virtually useless from the practical point of view. The tiny crash-bar is supposed to be strong enough to support the weight of the car should the driver invert it, and the regulations call for this bar to “exceed in height the driver’s head when he is seated at the steering wheel” and “exceed in width the driver’s shoulder’s when he is seated at the steering wheel.” I know there are some slim young men in racing, but not as slim as many racing car constructors imagine, and also that they sit low in the cockpit but not as low as most of the crash-bars. It so happens that my picture is of a B.R.M., but it could easily have been any of the other Grand Prix cars. Some of them do comply, but most of them do not, while some comply when the driver is not wearing a crash-hat which is a very funny way of interpreting regulations.

The other “sop” is the diminutive pocket-size fire-extinguishers most of the Grand Prix cars carry in order to satisfy the scrutineers. The tiny things would extinguish a cigarette lighter, but certainly not a petrol fire, though I did once see a driver try and use one on a carburetter fire. Luckily, only one of his three down-draught carburetters had lit up and the miniature extinguisher was just sufficient to keep the fire in the one place, but it could not put it out, and it was very fortunate that a fireman arrived on the spot with a proper-sized extinguisher just as the miniature one ran out of fluid. Had the fire-brigade not been prompt there might well have been one racing car less.

This hazard of motor racing was brought to mind when a German enthusiast produced a colour photograph of Innes Ireland watching his works Lotus burn out completely during the 1961 German Grand Prix, a photograph which he gave to Ireland in the paddock at Nurburgring this year as a grim reminder of a dodgy moment.

In the rules for the construction of Formula One cars there is the statement that the driver must be able to enter or leave the cockpit without the removal of a panel or door, or the steering wheel. There is one Grand Prix design today which has a detachable steering wheel, could it be that the designer has not read the regulations. Few of them have read the crash-bar regulations, so I suppose it is possible.—D.S.J.

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