For anyone interested in the history of Grand Prix racing it can be very difficult. Last month we tried to explain how there had never really been a French Grand Prix, only the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France, and how this died and became the Grand Prix of France. In Great Britain we had our first Grand Prix in 1926, held at the Brooklands Track, followed by another Grand Prix at the same place in 1927. The RAC who were in charge of things then put the Grand Prix away and when Fred Craner and the Derby and District Motor Club held a race at Donington Park in 1935, to the Grand Prix rules of the time, they were not allowed to call it the British Grand Prix, so our major event became the Donington Grand Prix. This took place in 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938, the last two races being the equal of any Grand Prix held in Europe as far as entry and magnitude. Even had the RAC wanted to call the event the British Grand Prix in 1937 it is doubtful whether Fred Craner would have acquiesced. In 1948 the RAC revived the British Grand Prix with a race at the disused Silverstone airfield, starting a long line of events at that central and popular venue. In 1955 Mrs. Mirabelle Topham persuaded the RAC to let her have the British Grand Prix at her new Aintree circuit and the event alternated year by year between the Liverpool circuit and Silverstone until 1963. Then the Brands Hatch group came upon the scene and took the Grand Prix to the Kentish circuit, and it alternated between Brands Hatch and Silverstone from that day to this.
Since 1948 when the RAC revived our Grand Prix it was known as the British Grand Prix, no matter where it was held, and when the International Calendar was published at the end of last season it stated that the British Grand Prix would be held at Brands Hatch on July 20th 1974. Some time later, without any preliminary warning or discussion, the FIA sent out a correction slip that said “Cancel the British Grand Prix, July 20th and substitute the John Player Grand Prix, July 20th”, as simple as that. Some people, who either don’t care or are frightened of losing their “perks” from the cigarette manufacturer, fell over themselves to erase all mention of the British Grand Prix from anything they said or wrote, while others, Motor Sport and Motoring News included, got a bit hot under the collar about the correct title of our premier event being sold from under us by the RAC. Everyone went their own way, referring to the John Player Grand Prix or the British Grand Prix, as they saw fit, and the event took place as planned on July 20th at Brands Hatch. It was very noticeable that certain advertisers supported our cause and referred to the British Grand Prix, among them being Texaco, their advertisement appearing in the same issue of a magazine that was giving away a huge supplement all about the John Player Grand Prix. The Yardley people hedged their bets both ways, referring to the John Player British Grand Prix in their Press handout as far as the title was concerned, but throughout the editorial content they referred simply to the British Grand Prix. Dear old Auntie BBC stated the simple facts about the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, both on radio and television, and so the confusion continued. What is going to be interesting is to see what happens at the end of the year, for John Player sponsor a motor racing annual which is called the John Player Motorsport Year Book, and in it there is a comprehensive history of Grand Prix events, including the British Grand Prix. In the 1975 edition will it start a new history under the heading John Player Grand Prix, or will the 1974 event be placed under the heading British Grand Prix, just as the Donington races of 1935-38 were?
The occasion often arises when you have to explain to someone the difference between winning a motor race and finishing first, and the British Grand Prix result was a classic example of this. It is not meant to discredit the driving of Scheckter, or the performance of the Tyrrell and luck always plays an integral part in the results of most motor races, but by any standards it was Lauda’s race all through. No-one looked like challenging him or the Ferrari and but for the deflated right rear tyre he would have won the race without dispute, while Scheckter would have finished a very worthy second. As it turned out Scheckter finished first. Whether Lauda did the right thing when his tyre started to go down is debatable, for he had three options: he could have come into the pits immediately to have a new wheel fitted and rejoined the race, with little hope of regaining the lead; he could try to keep going at reduced pace as long as the tyre lasted, which is what he chose to do; or he could have slowed and waited near the finish until the leader got the chequered flag. He made a tactical error in going into the pits at the very last moment, by which time the whole pit area was a seething mob of people and he was unable to rejoin the race and claim one more lap. The Ferrari team manager was absolutely right in putting in a protest, but the real mistake was Lauda’s for he should have stayed on the track and waited for Scheckter to finish his 75th lap and then followed him over the line once he knew he could not make another full lap on the flat tyre. Whatever was right or wrong about Lauda’s decision, everything that the organisation did was totally wrong, for he should have been allowed out of the pit lane to complete his 74th lap. That he could not do so because of the authorised and unauthorised people, the circuit car, the dolly birds, sponsors and so on that were blocking his way is just typical of one aspect of Grand Prix racing that has gone off the rails. Everyone’s sympathy was with Lauda, not that it did him much good, but the nicest thing was that he made no bones about having made the wrong decision. For that he blamed no-one, nor did he blame Goodyear for their tyre losing him the race, knowing full well that he has won races thanks to Goodyear. For a young driver rising rapidly to the top Niki Lauda has a refreshing outlook on some things and a good sense of values.
If the finish for the Ferrari was a shambles due to the organisation and the layout of the pits and finish line, it would have paled into insignificance had it rained during the race. If a car starts a race on dry-weather tyres and then runs into rain there is no reason why it should not stop and have wet weather tyres fitted if they are going to allow it to go faster. There are people who point to their road cars and say “We don’t stop and change tyres when it rains, why should the Grand Prix cars?” These people have got their heads in the sand, and I am sure they do not continue to drive with the windows open or the hood down when it starts to rain, and I bet they rush to shut the doors and windows of their houses when a storm blows up. The Grand Prix driver cannot stop and put a hardtop on, or even switch on a windscreen wiper, but he can put on more suitable tyres, and he can have the fuel-injection mixture altered to give him better characteristics at lower speeds, and it’s up to him to spend time on things if he thinks it is justified. However, the circuit should provide the necessary space to do these things, but at Brands Hatch the pits are such a poor joke that the RAC virtually banned tyre changes if it started to rain. In the supplementary regulations Article 37 was entitled GRAND PRIX WET WEATHER PROCEDURE. It was a very long article, but briefly it said that if rain started before the race was 25 laps old it would be stopped and declared NO CONTEST. It would be started again as soon as conditions permitted. If the leader had passed 25 laps but not 50 laps of the 75-lap race, then the race would have been stopped for 15 minutes, after which period of time it would have been restarted as soon as conditions permitted. The grid for the restart would have been in the race order at the time of stopping. The race would then be considered to have been run in two heats and the results would have been calculated by adding together a driver’s times for the two parts. If the rain had come after 50 laps then the race would have been stopped and regarded as being finished. Any decision under these circumstances was to have been made by the Clerk of the Course, and representatives from the drivers and the entrants. What a good thing it was that it did not rain during the 75 laps, though no doubt Lauda was praying for rain during the last part of the race. The pathetic thing about the whole affair is the fact that it was necessary to make these provisions solely because Brands Hatch is completely unsuitable for rain emergencies. Silverstone would have been an even bigger joke and it is sad to think that Great Britain does not have a circuit that can cope with a rain emergency and pits stops for tyre changing. Although the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama was a shambles because of the rain conditions, it was entirely the fault of the teams and nothing to do with the facilities. It is not surprising that various people from other countries were beginning to question the desirability of allowing the British Grand Prix to continue in the World Championship.
After a lot of chat and speculation about practice and the desirability of having 34 drivers competing for 25 places on the starting grid, everything went off smoothly and the right people went fast, the usual people tried hard, the tail-enders did their best to keep up and all the people expected not to qualify did just that. The only possible exception was Derek Bell in the works Surtees, but it was not for want of trying. In sports car racing, with the Gulf-Cosworth V8, Bell is every bit as fast as Mike Hailwood when they share a car, and more often than not faster, but in the Surtees he was not in the same league as Hailwood in the McLaren. It could be that there is a big difference between the Cosworth V8 engines that John Surtees has and those that McLaren have. It is hard to believe that the Surtees TS16 chassis is that much worse than the McLaren M23. Then again, while it appears easy to assemble a British Standard Kit Car, perhaps it is not as easy as it looks, which could explain the other eight non-qualifying “kit cars”, including the Japanese-built Maki. Anyone who was seriously expecting the Italian girl, Lella Lombardi, to qualify for a place on the grid must show a lamentable knowledge of Grand Prix racing today, but this is no reflection on her efforts which were very commendable. Exactly why she was allowed to take part under the number 208 is difficult to understand, but no doubt some “business” was involved. If more attention was paid to the actual business of Grand Prix racing and less to the circus-atmosphere it might be better for everyone; and talking of the circus, what happened to James Hunt and the Hesketh team?—D.S.J.