Formula One scene

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The instability of some of the entrepreneurs behind the Formula One scene has caused the 1983 season to be sharply divided into two parts with a long mid-summer break. Had we known this was going to happen we could have made suitable plans for the five week gap, but as it was there were a lot of last-minute decisions made, which did nothing to enhance the reputation of Mr Ecclestone and his cohorts as good businessmen. However, the second half of the season brightened up enormously and at the time of writing (after the Austrian GP) the scene is very healthy and getting more interesting each week.

The greatest interest lies in the fact that Formula One racing is fast becoming very serious Grand Prix racing, a battlefield for big motor manufacturers with no quarter given and none asked. As always Ferrari stands alone against all opposition, totally independent, fully self-sufficient and a law unto themselves; the team has always represented Grand Prix racing in ito purest form and no doubt always will. If any team has aspirations about winning in Grand Prix racing it is the red cars from Maranello they have got to beat, and many have done that but none have stolen the overall top position from Ferrari, or if they have it has only been for a short time. Unlike everyone else in Formula One Ferrari does not enlist the help of others to carry the flag of the Rampant Horse, apart that is from suppliers of specialist components like Goodyear tyres, Champion plugs, Agip fuel and oil, Koni shock-absorbers, Brembo brakes and so on.

All the other big motor manufacturers enlist the aid of other teams, either to represent them or to add to their strength. Renault supply engines to Team Lotus to form a back up team to the Regie Renault’s own team, BMW supply engines to Brabham and ATS, Alfa Romeo supply engines to Osella, Honda supply engines to the Spirit team, Porsche supply engines to the McLaren team and Brian Hart engines supply the Toleman team, so we have the very healthy situation of seven different types of engine in Grand Prix racing and all of them are competitive, which is why the Cosworth V8 engine, which monopolised the scene so completely at one time, is hard pressed to find its way higher than half-way up a starting grid. Many people wonder why Keith Duckworth has allowed the name of Cosworth Engineering to sink from the top to the bottom of the Grand Prix scene, but Cosworth Engineering is a very sound business concern and all its activities are strictly business orientated.

With major manufacturers joining in, Cosworth users were inevitably reduced to about eight teams, which is 16 cars, which probably represents about 60 engines in total. Cosworth’s main business lies in America, supplying the 2.6-litre DFX in turbocharged form for Indianapolis and CART racing. When you consider that the Indianapolis 500 grid comprised 33 cars of which 32 were using Cosworth DFX engines, and there have been as many as 90 cars vying for those 33 places, most of them using Cosworth engines, with only one spare engine per car that is an awful lot of engines being sold in the USA, to say nothing of the supply of spare parts. And there is no serious opposition to Cosworth in Indycar racing, unlike Grand Prix racing where the opposition comes from Ferrari, Renault, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda and Porsche. No doubt if Ford were to put up the money for Cosworth Engineering to produce a new Grand Prix engine, as they did when the DFV was born in 1967, Duckworth and his men would come up with a competitive povver unit.

Before this season is finished the Williams team will have switched from Cosworth engines to Honda V6 turbocharged engines, the McLaren team having already made the transition from Cosworth engines to Porsche V6 turbocharged engines, and next year will see the Ligier team using Renault V6 turbocharged engines. Nobody has a monopoly on the engine scene and that has to be a healthy situation, in just the same way that Formula One tyres are supplied by Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli. None of the engine manufacturers or tyre producers are in Grand Prix racing for “show-biz” purposes, they are in it for technical gain and publicity and that means winning, not being second, which makes for hard competition, and that is what Grand Prix racing is all about. *

At the end of last season the rule makers were worried about the cornering speeds being achieved by Formula One cars, partly due to the use of “ground effects” or the use of the passage of the air under the car, so that line of development was banned by the relatively simple expedient of insisting that the under-side of the car should be flat and that nothing other than the tyres should touch the ground. The obsession over “ground effects” caused designers to virtually eliminate suspension movement and rely on the flexibility of the tyres to provide suspension.

This resulted in a number of undesirable side-effects, most noticeably no feed-back to the driver of what the car was doing, with the result that he could approach the limit of adhesion in cornering without knowing it, and unless he was supersensitive (and few are) he was over the limit and out of control. This was seen by the number of spins and crashes that happened during the crucial qualifying session on the two days before a race. Thanks to the continually improving safety measures at circuits few of these crashes were serious, but it was a regular thing to see bent cars dangling from the hook of a breakdown lorry at the end of qualifying.

This year we have seen hardly any at all which must mean something. Without “ground effect” the cars have suspension movement once more and this means they have roll characteristics and transmit “feel” to the driver. He can now sense when the car is reaching the limit of adhesion, and what is more important, the characteristics do not change as the car reaches the limit so it is possible to go over the limit and recover. The cars are much easier and nicer to drive and the sensitive driver can get more from the car now. This vast reduction in the number of practice crashes has been one of the highlights of the 1983 season and some people say the cars are much safer now, but I prefer to say they are more sensible. 650 bhp in a 1,200 lb car can never be safe, but it can be sensible. 

The idea of holding the Swiss Grand Prix in France seemed like a stupid idea from the start, and its cancellation this year, along with a race in New York being a non-starter’ and the race round the Las Vegas car park dying the death, produced an apparent shortage of events, so the Brands Hatch people, backed by the RAC, jumped in smartly and got permission to run a second Grand Prix in England, Silverstone having the British Grand Prix this year. September 25th is the date for the second British Grand Prix, and it is to be called the Grand Prix of Europe. Italy set the precedent for holding two World Championship events in one year when they had events at Monza and Pescara in 1957 due to an economic shortage of events in Europe. Normally the FIA rules only allow one Grand Prix per country, but they waived the rule for the USA and allowed two there due to the size of the country.

Unfortunately the greedy European businessmen seeking the almighty dollar exaggerated and extended this concessicm from two races to four, with ideas for many more. They killed the golden goose in their enthusiasm to grab its golden eggs and now there is only one confirmed race for Formula 1 in America. By close reading of the rule book the Italians found a way of holding a Grand Prix at Imola that counted for the World Championship but was not the traditional Italian Grand Prix. This they did by enlisting the help of the Automobile Club of the tiny principality of San Marino, between Bologna and the Adriatic coast. The Grand Prix of San Marino held on the Imola Autodromo is now an established and very popular fact. Nobody is complaining about two World Championship events in Italy and Italian spectator enthusiasm is such that both Imola and Monza draw capacity crowds. It remains to be seen whether Silverstone and Brands Hatch can draw capacity crowds for World Championship rounds in the same season, though the indications are that they can. Certainly the race on September 25th for the Grand Prix of Europe has a lot going for it for Frank Williams has promised the appearance of the first Williams-Honda car, and Keijo Rosberg is good value in anything, let alone a 600 bhp car. Also Lauda and Watson should be in Porsche powered McLarens which will add to the excitement, to say nothing of all the regular power-teams of Ferrari, Renault, BMW and Alfa Romeo.

Whether this idea of small countries holding two Grand Prix events will spread remains to be seen and most depend largely on economics, but Belgium is well placed for such a thing, with the rejuvenated Spa-Francorchamps circuit and the permanent Zolder circuit. While Belgium itself does not have the spectator capacity to support two races its geographical position is more than satisfactory as access from France, Holland and Germany is simplicity itself and Zolder can be made a day-trip from England if necessary. With the rebuilding of the Nurburgring to present-day Formula One “mickey mouse” standards Germany could well support two races, one at Nurburgring and one at Hockenheimring, holding the Grosser Preis von Deutschland in the Eifel mountains and the Grosser Preis das Rhein on the flat plains of Hockenheim. In England we have a slight diversion on the scene by reason of Tom Wheatcroft wanting to hold a Grand Prix at Donington Park. He is not too worried about it being the British Grand Prix, though that would be nice, but the Donington Grand Prix would be sufficent. The RAC Motor Sports Association have declared their intention to hold the British Grand Prix to the following schedule: 1986 at Brands Hatch. 1987 at Silverstone. 1988 at Donington Park.

The British Grand Prix for 1984 and 1985 are in the existing contract, alternating between Brands Hatch and Silverstone as it has done for years gone by. Next year will be Brands Hatch and the following year Silverstone. The nice thing about this announcement is that we can be sure it will be adhered to, coming as it does from the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain, unlike some of the statements that emanate from Bernie Ecclestone and his FOCA lot. A lot of people are still upset by the announcement that Mr Ecclestone made at Brands Hatch in April when he said that any suggestions of races being cancelled in 1983 was just malicious rumour. His audience are still wondering what happened to the Swiss GP, the New York GP and the Las Vegas GP, so it is not surprising that when they hear of the Russian GP, the Dubai GP, the Honolulu GP or the Kalamazoo GP they tend to say “oh yeah!” The British GP is at Donington Park in 1988; I think we can look forward to that and it might be amusing to try and visualise the driver list. If the 1983 signs are anything to go by Ayrton Senna, Jonathan Palmer, Martin Brundle, Stefan Bellof, Christian Danner and Ivan Capelli could well be challenging Nelson Piquet for pole position.

Another Brabham surprise?

This season has been one of pit-stops and very interesting they have proved to be for those lucky enough to see them, with a car being stationary for a mere 10 sec while all four wheels are changed and 25 gallons of petrol are pressured into the tank. Whether they are justified is open to question, but all the major teams do them, thus running their races in two halves in effect, which has added interest to the races, but even before the end of last season FISA said they were only going to be allowed for one year. In 1984 they are to be banned, but already there is some lobbying to have them retained next year.

As I don’t like anything being banned, I am all for pit-stops in races, but I can’t help feeling that Gordon Murray is going to spring a surprise on his rivals by running Nelson Piquet through non-stop just when the opposition least expect it. After all, Murray started the idea of doing two “sprint” races with a stop in between for new tyres and more petrol. At first it looked as if it was not going to work, but at the 1982 Austrian GP it nearly came off and there was then a mad rush by the other teams to join in. If Murray does pull off a non-stop run for Piquet before the end of the season it will sound the death-knell for pit-stops, FISA or no FISA, for Formula One people are great ones for “catching-on-to-an-idea”. Some people might call it copying. — Denis Jenkinson