Continental Notes, September 1973

Zandvoort Aftermath

Looking back on the whole sad and unfortunate affair of the Dutch Grand Prix makes one realize more than ever that motor racing is getting out of hand and is spiralling upwards in ever-increasing circles until it is going to blow sky-high, with all of us in the middle of it to receive the debris on our heads. We have now had an unbroken run of motor racing for 28 years, longer than ever before, and during the last five or six years we have had crisis upon crisis arising connected with all possible aspects of motor racing. We have had crises before but never as frequently as we are having them now, and if it is not a safety crisis, it is a driver crisis, then we have organisational and manufacturer crises, and about the only thing we haven’t had is a spectator crisis. The whole scene goes blundering along from one crisis to the next, with no time to get anything really sorted out; although improvements are made and a relative control kept over complete chaos, we are always on the brink of disaster, and we are all so busy in our tightly-knit little world that we have little opportunity to solve our problems adequately. If we take a cold hard look at motor racing from well outside its influence we can only come to one possible decision, and that is that all our problems would be solved if we stopped motor racing altogether. For those of us in motor racing this is quite impracticable; but at times there are a number of us who think we should call a truce for a year or eighteen months and try and put our house in order, because surely one day someone in the outside world who doesn’t know about motor racing and certainly doesn’t care about it, is going to be in a position to ban the whole thing.

There are many people in our ranks who are working their heads off to try and solve our many problems, anid we must support them all we can, but equally there are nearly as many who get in a terrible flap and make hasty decisions in their attempts to “do good”. The worst are those who merely want to be seen doing good, but they are beyond the pale. Just as those who are working hard need help, those who are flapping about with good intentions need guidance and a degree of opposition in order to keep a sense of proportion. The sad affair of the fire at Zandvoort caused a storm and committees and organisations have been formed for this and that, but it seems doubtful whether much thought has been given to root causes of disasters. A lot of publicity was given to the pathetic fire-fighting and marshalling at Zandvoort and rightly so, but not enough was given to the inadequacy of the Armco barrier that collapsed when the March struck it and was the prime cause of the car turning over and catching fire. Not only the inadequacy of the installation, but the design and specification. Then further back is the reason the March hit the barriers, whether the suspension or the steering broke or a tyre collapsed, or whether the driver made a mistake. The fact that Goodyear made a special effort to disclaim the possibility of tyre failure on Williamson’s March, and Max Mosley made even bigger efforts to disclaim the possibility of something breaking on the March, to the extent of almost saying that Williamson was incompetent, immediately made everyone suspicious of their motives.

If something breaks on an aircraft then immediately all other aircraft of the same model are grounded until an investigation is made. When something breaks on a racing car the details are beefed up a bit and it is hoped it won’t break again. When a front suspension breaks on a March, or a rear suspension on a Shadow, or an upright on a Lotus, or a brake-shaft drive on a Tyrrell, or a wing mounting on a Brabham, or the monocoque on a Ferrari, then all the cars of that design should be “grounded”. That is, if we want to make racing cars as safe as possible. Much of the detail work on a racing car today is designed to aircraft standards, and by ex-aircraft designers, which is an excellent thing for racing progress, but my feeling is that they do not have the backing of aircraft standards of workmanship and certainly do not have the backing of aircraft standards of inspection and control, while servicing is pretty rudimentary by aircraft standards.

As regards circuit safety and circuit building standards the ideas may be alright but I am sure they are not being carried out to a very high standard of civil engineering. This is where our weaknesses lie, and if we approach the outside world with our problems we are going to find that the only sure answer to be offered will be “give up racing”. Consequently we have to tread carefully and this is why I get a little anxious for our future when people rush madly about after a catastrophe and “shout to high heaven” about this being wrong and that being wrong. One day these people will shout too loudly in the wrong direction and the official clamps will be on before we realize it.

Without doubt the Dutch put so much time and effort into getting Zandvoort working again and making the track surface and shape satisfactory, that they overlooked numerous important organisational details. This can only be put down to inexperience, for much of the organisation was new to this sort of overall responsibility, but not new to actual motor racing. Every year or eighteen months, for as long as I can remember there has been a bad motor racing accident. Someone has left the stable door open and a horse has got out. There is a great cry, a mad rush to slam the door, lots of shouting and yelling which dies away until the next time the door is left open and another horse gets out. I do not know what the complete answer to it all is, I wish I did, but I am very worried that one day we are going to be told forcibly, by law-and-order, that there is no solution and that the stables, the doors and all the horses have got to be done away with.

Formula One

In a similar vein is the question of where Formula One is going. The present 3-litre capacity Formula has been running since 1966 and a lot of people feel it is long overdue for a change, but the problem is to decide where to go. So far nobody has come up with a good answer, in fact few people have come up with any answers at all and my feeling is that a lot of people who should be thinking about the problem are keeping quiet hoping the problem will go away. Others are much too busy in trying to solve more pressing problems that are affecting motor racing, but a new Formula for Grand Prix racing has got to come. As a side issue there has been some muttering about applying limitations to tyres, which to my mind would be foolhardy for the tyre companies like Firestone and Goodyear are spending a lot of money on Research and Development and racing tyres form a large part of this. If you are going to put limits on a firm’s R and D programme they are soon going to go somewhere else. Neither Firestone nor Goodyear are in racing to make money or for advertising purposes, they are in racing as an engineering exercise, to learn things. The Constructors Association have just announced their complete agreement with the tyre companies to the effect that problems of tyres should be left to those who know the subject and that the people concerned are well aware of the existing problems. They say “the interests of safety would not be served by the introduction of restrictions on the design or dimensions of Formula One tyres or by attempts to reduce cornering speeds by interfering with the efficiency of the cars.” A lot of people are ticking away about the number of deflated tyres in Grand Prix racing, and to listen to them you would think that the tyre companies don’t know about the problem. Nobody is more aware of a deflated tyre than the men from Firestone or Goodyear and to imagine that they are not worried about the matter or are not doing anything about it shows a simple-mindedness that is hard to believe.

Tobacco Companies

On the subject of problems in Grand Prix racing a very unimportant one, but nonetheless a very significant one, reared its head at the German Grand Prix. This was the matter of the Government ban on cigarette advertising, with the consequent overnight disappearance of John Player, Marlboro and Embassy. While this left us with Lotus, BRM and Shadow unadorned by any handles I hope everyone is taking this as “the Gypsy’s warning”. If one outside pressure group, backed by their Government, can squash the power of three big companies as easily as that, it can happen again, and if it happens too often the cigarette companies are going to go somewhere else. Do not let anyone be fooled into thinking that such sponsors are spending money on racing purely for their enthusiasm for motor racing. The day we are no longer any use to their big business interests, which is selling cigarettes, we shall be dropped very smartly. Some people are kidding themselves that they are doing a great job of work keeping these non-technical sponsors interested in motor racing, selling them the whole idea of motor racing. They are completely off beam, the advertising world are using us for their own ends, albeit paying handsomely for the privilege. All we have to do is keep racing alive and well with a big following, if not then these non-mechanical fairy godmothers will go elsewhere. We didn’t find them, they found us, and they thought “there is a good way of spending our advertising budget”. When it is no longer a good way they will be gone. Many people will remember the Hire Purchase finance companies getting interested in racing, with the Yeoman Credit Racing Team and the Bowmaker team. The present happy state of affairs with the tobacco companies paying for everything will not go on for ever and if we have any more outside pressures being applied like we did in Germany then the happy days are numbered. D.S.J.