Reflections on the Austro-German activities

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THE German and Austrian Formula One races were held on consecutive weekends only a week after the British and French races were held on consecutive weekends. Four races in five weeks. Admittedly the races themselves only last around one-and-a-half hours, but there are five hours of testing and qualifying before each race, to say nothing of the extra half-hour on race morning. In Germany there were only 11 cars circulating at the end of 1½ hours and in Austria there were only seven, each race having 26 qualified cars to take the start. This is an appalling reliability rate, both mechanical reliability and driver reliability, for there were as many accidents as there were engine and chassis failures. It all suggests that Formula One is over-doing things and suffering in consequence. Somebody must be making good money from the activities of Formula One or there would not be so many organisations and people clamouring to hold a Formula One race. For sure it is a Golden Goose that is laying Golden Eggs, but the eggs are not going into everyone’s pocket, only into a selected few. We should be careful that we do not kill the goose, for dead geese do not lay eggs.

Pironi’s accident at Hockenheimring in the pouring rain on Saturday morning was one of those things that happen which you cannot see any way of avoiding. It is ironic that Pironi ran into the back of Frost’s Renault which was obscured by spray, and only two months before Paletti had run into the back of Prioni’s Ferrari in the start-line accident in Canada. Add to that two enormous accidents that Pironi suffered at Paul Ricard during private testing, one when the throttles stuck open and the other when a front wishbone broke, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Pironi was accident-prone. It seems that he will recover from the accident in Germany, but he will not be racing again this year, while nobody knows about next year. It could be that he will be forced to join poor old Regazzoni as being a relatively young man who escaped death but lost out in the long run.

After the accident Patrick Tambay looked suitably glum, but philosophically said, “Well, it’s all down to me now”. He rose to the occasion splendidly in Germany and did another meritorious drive in Austria, which raised the whole standard of Formula One driving. Hairy “rock-ape” type driving is rife in Formula One at the moment so it is good to see the likes of Tambay and Lauda driving with that polished smoothness that marks a true Grand Prix driver. Smooth driving has always been the hall-mark of a truly great driver from the days of Felice Nazarro, through Rudolf Caracciola, Alberto Ascari, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. This year the driving scene has been in a bit of a wilderness, with no standard by which to judge others, or for others to aim at. In one fell swoop we lost Alan Jones, Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti, when they withdrew from the scene, and then we lost Gilles Villeneuve forever. All four were accepted pace-setters or standard-setters and suddenly we were left with nothing except some fast, brave and courageous drivers, some hopefuls and some hopeless ones with nothing by which to judge them or evaluate what they were doing. Lauda’s comeback was very welcome for his speed, smoothness and race-craft brought back some of our lost standards. His drives at Long Beach and Brands Hatch made everyone else look like amateurs. Now Patrick Tambay is following in his footsteps and bringing a bit of class back into Grand Prix driving. Added to that he is a pleasant and intelligent man to talk to, which is rare in Formula One.

At last we saw the Brabham team’s pit-stop routine in action in Austria, and it was well worth waiting for. In addition it would have paid off if the BMW engines had not let them down. The cars are fitted with three air-jacks, not four as previously reported, two at the front by the lower wishbone pivots and a central one at the rear under the rear aerofoil mounting on the back of the gearbox. These are operated by inserting an air-line into a socket at the back of the car, this being done by a mechanic whose sole responsibility it is. Each wheel is attended by two mechanics, one to operate the compressed air wheel-nut gun and to put the rear wheel off and spin a new wheel-nut on. The wheel-nut that comes off is left to roll away as the number two mechanic is pulling the wheel off. Meanwhile number one puts the air-gun down, picks up the new wheel which is standing by held stationary in a small wooden box, puts it on the hub and while he picks up the air-gun number two mechanic spins a new nut on the threaded hub and number one locks it on with the air-gun spanner. They then both leap back with arms raised. If all goes well all eight wheel mechanics leap back together, at which time the mechanics at the back lets the car down off its built-in jacks by releasing the air pressure.

While all the wheel activity is going on two more mechanics are occupied with the refuelling. Number one has the large bore flexible fuel hose that is fed from a pressurised steel beer barrel. The hose end has a bayonet fitting that pushes into the tank filler on the right hand side and the one-way valve is not open until the hose fitting is twisted and locked into place. Number two petrol mechanic has a similar hose and fitting which he plugs into the filler on top of the tank. When he locks his hose on and the valve is opened, air in the tank escapes out and hose feeds it into a collector box placed some way away from the car. The petrol will not flow into the tank until the vent is opened and petrol vapour is then safely taken away from the car. The flow of petrol through the nozzle has been carefully calculated so that the time in seconds is known for putting in 20 or 25 gallons, or whatever is needed, so a third mechanic with a stop-watch times the flow and taps the number one mechanic on the shoulder when sufficient fuel is in. At the signal both men release their bayonet fittings and the one-way valves slam shut, sealing up the tank. All this time the driver has been keeping the engine running, but with the car in neutral as no clutch frees sufficiently well to risk staying in gear. Over-seeing the whole operation from the front of the car is the Team Manager, and when all is done he steps aside and waves the driver back into the race.

Patrese’s pit-stop went perfectly and the mechanics worked on the wheel changing and refuelling for 13.8 sec. Yes, thirteen point eight seconds, but the car was stationary for 15.6 sec. as there was a slight hesitation before Patrese got bottom gear engaged. The whole operation is a calculated gamble and even if the second or third place cars go by while the pit-stop is taking place there is still a good chance of the Brabham-BMW catching it up for it is on new tyres against their rivals’ half-worn tyres. The new set which are fitted have been pre-warmed in a gas-heated wooden cupboard, so that in theory the driver can re-join the race confident that he can drive on the limit instantly. The whole idea has certainly livened things up and when BMW get 100% reliability from their engine it is a certain winner, especially as the driver can cut the boost down in the closing stages if he has a commanding lead.

One of the nicest things about the Austrian Grand Prix is the number of drivers who openly admit to thoroughly enjoying themselves on the Österreichring, loving every minute of the high-speed swerves and swoops uphill and downhill. Let us not forget that it was only built in 1969 and first used for Formula One in 1970. I did not hear any of the drivers saying “I hate this place” or “what a stupid circuit”. Most of them were smiling and saying “This is what Grand Prix driving is all about”. A lap speed of around 150 m.p.h. is something that you and I cannot do, and it gives you respect for the true Grand Prix driver. Many of them suddenly realized that “Mickey-Mouse” circuits like Monaco, Zolder, Detroit and Las Vegas were not “the real thing”. Some of us have been trying to tell them that for a long time. After making a very fast lap on the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit Chris Amon used to say “You really feel you’ve achieved something”. The same must go for an 150 m.p.h lap pf the Österreichring.

A closing note is that Renault have done a deal to supply Team Lotus with V6 turbo-charged Renault-engines for the next two season. 1983 will see de Angelis and Mansell in Lotus-Renault cars, not the old Europa models but very competitive Formula One cars. The engines were not offered to Team Tyrrell as Renault were not amused by his protests and court actions against them. Verb Sap. – D.S.J.