European Letter

(By means of which our European reporter occasionally keeps in touch with the Editor.)

Dear W.B.,

For a change I am starting to write this one from the offshore island of Great Britain, instead of the Mainland of Europe, the reason being that I went on strike and flatly refused to go and watch the German GP being run at the Hockenheim Stadium. Over the past months we have heard various out-pourings led by Niki Lauda about how the Nurburgring is no longer suitable for Formula One racing, yet only seven years ago, when he was a "rabbit", the Germans rebuilt the Nurburgring to bring it up to the standards required by Jackie Stewart, the reigning mouthpiece of the Formula One drivers at the time. I wonder sometimes whether we have got things all arsy-tarsy, and what we really mean is that the Formula One of today is not suitable for the Nurburgring, not that the circuit is unsuitable for Formula One, which is what everyone is saying.

I competed at the original egg-shaped oval of the Hochenheimring in 1950-52, in motor cycle races, when we ran anti-clockwise, with forest right to the edge of the road. I tested there in 1955 with Stirling Moss and Mercedes-Benz, and watched the building of the concrete stadium in the early sixties, paid for by the compensation allowed by the German government when the new Autobahn chopped off the town-end of the original circuit. I went to the inaugural race-meeting on the new stadium, and to F2, sports car and F1 meetings, all of which were what the Germans called "Farmers races", meaning small unimportant events that were harmless amusement. The serious business of racing in Germany was always at the Nurburgring, whether it was the ADAC 1000 kilometre sports car race or the German Grand Prix. The building of the concrete Hockenheim Stadium caused the death of the very fine Solitude circuit outside Stuttgart, where the annual car and motorcycle races used to be held. The Solitude circuit was on public roads, closed once a year by an agreement with the Stuttgart motor clubs and the German bureaucrats. When the Hockenheim Stadium was built, using the government compensation money, the Stuttgart bureaucrats would no longer give permission to close the roads of the Solitude circuit, and told the organisers to take their silly motor races to the nice new Stadium at Hockenheim, less than one hour away, rather like our bureaucrats closing Silverstone and telling us to go and race at Mallory Park.

There have been many trade and industry gatherings at the Hockenheimring and many occasions to drive cars around the arena and for me it is no place to hold the German GP, and certainly no place for me to go and watch Formula One activity. If that is to be Grand Prix racing German-style I've got something better to do. As you will read elsewhere, I spent the time exercising my imagination, which was far more satisfying to me. The trouble is that the way things are going I shall soon have nothing left except my imagination! This does not worry me too much, because I have a vast store of knowledge to draw from, but I feel sorry for the new-comers to the sport who will be growing up thinking that places like the Hockenheimring represent Grand Prix racing. I was a bit taken aback recently to discover that one young man who is reporting the Formula One and Grand Prix scene had never seen the Reims circuit. It folded up before he started work and he goes by air to all the races, so has never had the opportunity to deviate and have a look at what used to be a very high speed circuit. Nor for that matter has he seen the Solitude circuit, that the Hockenheimring has replaced. Fortunately, he has been to the Nurburgring, so he could assess this year's German Formula One race. He has also seen races on the Montjuich Park circuit in Barcelona, and could see that Jarama was a poor substitute. As I have had to watch the disappearance of circuits like Berne and Pescara, and the degeneration of races from Spa to Nivelles and Zolder, and Barcelona to Jarama, and Reims and Clermont-Ferrand to Paul Ricard and Dijon, to say nothing of the down-grading to lesser Formulae of circuits like Rouen, Chimay or Pau, the degeneration of the German Grand Prix was the last straw for me, so I closed my notebook and went away and left them all to get on with it.

Fortunately all is not lost, and I am finishing this letter to you from Austria, where the rain is pouring down on the Osterreichring, a relatively new circuit that is one of the best there is by any standards. It is fast, difficult, interesting and spectacular, with steep hills both up and down, blind brows, sweeping curves and all out in beautiful countryside with a mountain back-cloth. Our own Silverstone circuit also helps to keep my sense of proportion, for though it was never very high in my circuit rating, being nothing more than a high-speed "grass-track" round a large field, at least it has kept its character over the years and is still a nice garden-party affair, encircled by some pretty high-speed motoring.

A pity you did not come this year, for you would have approved of the Historic racing car demonstration in which Moss, Brabham and Salvadori took part, the first two in 250F Maseratis and the last named in a 3-litre DBR4 Aston Martin. The grid was to be the old-fashioned 3 x 2 x 3 line-up, and Salvadori was actually on the front row by reason of practice times. Neil Corner was very conscious of the fact that the spectators, marshals, people in the paddock and so on, were all fascinated to see these three old drivers back in racing cars again. He suggested to Dean Delamont of the RAC, and the Hon. Patrick Lindsay backed him up, that Moss and Brabham should be given the front row of the grid along-side Salvadori, regardless of practice times he was actually on pole position himself for the spectators really wanted to see these three men, not the regular clubmen who race Historic cars. Surprisingly, in these days of rules and regulations, this was done without asking the permission of the trade union leaders, or Mr. Mosley or Mr. Ecclestone. Nice people these Historic racing chaps.

While on the subject of Silverstone and this year's British Grand Prix, which John Player cigarettes once again supported strongly, and graciously allowed the word "British" to come back into the title, it can only be described as a huge success. The RAC and the BRDC, and all the hundreds of people concerned in its running have more than erased the memories of the fiascos of past years. While the Formula One event may not have been exciting, there was a lot to be learnt from it and altogether it was a very pleasant day, especially if you were in no hurry to go home after the last race. After a day like that there is nothing nicer than to relax round a barbecue with friends, especially as it was such a fine summer evening. By 10.30 p.m. there were no traffic problems!

A final word on the British Grand Prix meeting. In a letter I received from Dr. Jamieson, the chief timekeeper for the event, he told me that his team up in the "crow's nest" above race control, issued a total of 10,425 individual lap times during the four days, during 11 1/2 hours of practice and 31 hours of racing. This represented 31,600 miles covered by competitors, from Historic cars to Formula One cars. During that distance, at an overall average speed of something like 120 m.p.h., there were only two serious accidents. The warning notices say "Motor racing is dangerous" but it seems to me that it is actually pretty safe!


D.S. J.

Dr. Cecil Gibson, i The Green, Anstey, Leicester, asks us to mention that any doctors, St. John personnel, rescue units or anybody involved in medical aspects of motor racing can obtain the latest edition of the British Circuit Doctors' Review (sponsored by Geigy Pharmaceuticals, he points out!) from him at the above address.