From the archives with... Doug Nye

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Pantomime horse…
Ferrari stumbled ahead of the 2014 British Grand Prix, but theatrical mishaps have long been part of the team’s fabric

As Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen failed to survive first qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, it became apparent that Ferrari had screwed up. It wasn’t alone: Williams got into the same muddle about which tyres to mount during a rain-affected session, leaving both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas parked for the day.

Before Peter Schetty and then Luca di Montezemolo – under peerless pressure from Niki Lauda to concentrate – made Ferrari’s works team realise its massive potential, the Maranello outfit was too often an under-achieving shambles in the field. Its pitstops alone were often characterised as “a Chinese fire drill”. From 1964-75, better-run rivals took what many considered to be the team’s proper place on top of the F1 pile.

Relentless internal politics, fought out with almost operatic Italian drama, often proved to be the primary cause of some truly spectacular own goals. Among those, surely John Surtees’s ridiculously forced departure from the team in the middle of the 1966 season was the most deeply damaging…

That was of course the first year of F1’s new 3-litre formula. For most teams it would be a trying campaign as they fought to sort out ambitious new machinery – and none was as complex as BRM’s H16.

Over-size, over-weight and over-thirsty, the project would flop.

Dan Gurney’s Eagle-Weslake V12 was late in appearing, as was the new Cosworth-Ford V8. Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac (characteristically) thought hardest and most clearly.

And in their supposedly outmoded spaceframe chassis the Oldsmobile F85-based Repco V8 would belie its humble origins – and accumulate two consecutive world championship titles – while all around pretty much floundered, Ferrari included.

Ferrari’s faux pas was particularly spectacular. For the new 3-litre regulations the team had selected assorted largely 3-litre sports-prototype parts to cobble together an F1 V12. Like BRM’s ultimately nightmarish H16, it proved big, heavy, thirsty and – on the dyno – disappointing. But with Surtees’s driving ability and mechanical empathy it could power a winner, as he proved in that year’s Belgian GP at Spa. Famously, however, Ferrari’s then manically xenophobic sporting director, the wealthy Milanese businessman Eugenio Dragoni, had earlier denied him use of the full 3-litre car.

He plainly favoured the consequently embarrassed and indeed apologetic Lorenzo Bandini – with whom John had no problem, no fight.

The story is relatively familiar history now – as told in John’s new book, proceeds supporting his Henry Surtees Foundation charity – and it all came to a head at Le Mans that year. John had bounced back incredibly quickly after suffering serious injuries when his Lola T70 had gone out of control due to a suspension breakage at Mosport Park the previous September, and it rolled off-course and landed upside-down on top of him.

Dragoni had adopted the belief that Surtees was finished as a top-line driver. I can think of nobody more ready to use that as a springboard to recovery. John proved as much by winning the Syracuse GP early in that ’66 season, and completely overshadowing co-driver Michael Parkes to win the Monza 1000Kms in the works 330P sports-prototype. He was beaten by the new Brabham-Repco in the BRDC Trophy race at Silverstone – but then as the F1 world championship season began at Monaco, Dragoni insisted that Bandini would drive the team’s nimble, torquey Dino 246 Tasman car, and put Surtees into the hefty new and top-endy 312 V12. To borrow a phrase from Phil Hill it was like pitting a whippet against a racehorse for a sprint around a living room. John was both frustrated and enraged, his 3-litre V12 broke and Bandini’s 2.4-litre V6 was beaten into second place behind Jackie Stewart’s 2-litre BRM P261. Had Surtees been given the car he preferred, the story might have been different – and then, on a course the 312 suited, he dominated the Belgian GP.

But during practice at Le Mans, the wheels came off for Ferrari. Dragoni told Surtees that Mr Agnelli of Fiat was coming to the race, so his kinsman Scarfiotti would drive the first stint. John protested that Lodovico would “not be able to mix it with the 7-litre Fords” whereupon Dragoni resorted to the Englishman’s physical fitness after his Mosport mauling – “We thought if we let Lodovico start it would give you an easier time. Perhaps you might be tired…” Mention was also made of Jean Guichet being on hand as reserve driver. Hyper-competitive, ‘Il Grande John’ detonated – the task in hand was to defeat Ford (once again) yet Dragoni was breaking Ferrari’s bat before the race began. With journalist Eoin Young for company, John drove off to Maranello in his Ferrari 330GT, “to sort things out” with Mr Ferrari himself.

Politically, here was John Surtees’s turn to shoot himself in the foot. Things were said that no racing relationship could survive – and so Ferrari lost its ticket to a probable shoo-in world championship win that year. With regret John would later observe: “I knew how much was in the pipeline at Maranello. With a bit of luck, if they’d kept at it, we could have had two championship years in 1966 and ’67… perhaps even in the next two years.”

Would have, could have… but under-achievement is nothing new to Ferrari, ditto to Williams, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and more. It’s just that Ferrari’s fumblings seem more theatrical and overt than most…

So what sparked this reflection? I just stumbled across a Franco Lini photo of John sitting comfortably on ‘his’ Ferrari 330P3, in conversation with American driver Bob Bondurant. They are in Ferrari’s rented workshop at Le Mans in ’66 – John ready to share the works P3 with Parkes, Bob to share the NART Ferrari 365P2 with Masten Gregory. The storm has yet to break…but this image captures the world champion in his last couple of days as Ferrari’s star driver. Will it be long before Alonso follows him out of the door?

Screen idol
Karting might be the norm, but there’s more than one way to forge a racing career

At Goodwood’s Festival of Speed Saturday bash I was seated beside a very pleasant and promising young driver. Jann Mardenborough is 22 (he won’t thank me for saying he looks about 11) and got into racing by winning the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition in 2011. Backed by Nissan, he has since competed extensively in sports car racing; he’s finished on the class podium at Le Mans and as runner-up in the New Zealand Toyota Racing Series. This year he’s in GP3 racing with Infiniti Red Bull Racing driver development backing for Arden International. Has that covered most sponsors? Modern racing, I ask you…

But Jann is someone special. He started playing racing games on the original PlayStation when he was just seven. His heroes were the likes of John Cleland, Tim Harvey and Steve Soper in the televised British Touring Car Championship, which he followed avidly. Nobody’s perfect. For his A-levels he made himself a gaming pod out of MDF, saved up for a wheel paddle and became super competitive in Gran Turismo racing on-line. Then he beat tens of thousands to win the Nissan-backed PlayStation Academy scholarship and, at 19, with minimal real driving experience, found himself training in an actual 500hp Nissan GT-R at Silverstone.

“For a kid from my background it was unbelievable to be doing something I could never, ever, in any way have afforded,” he says. “In a way, I’m sort of living out my childhood dream, so it’s very fulfilling that gaming has allowed me to do that.”

Of course, driving a real car on a real circuit applies all kinds of g-forces and sensory inputs that no computer game can yet replicate. “You have to pick up that seat-of-the-pants feel,” he says. “The violence does take some acclimatisation, but the biggest difference was that when I’m playing on screen I’m totally focused on the two-dimensional scene in front of me. The view it gives you moves across the screen. But the screen itself is obviously fixed so our eyes move hardly at all. It took me a long time in early driver training at Silverstone to adjust to that part of reality. I’d be totally up for it, totally focused, staring intently through the windscreen – and then my instructor would bawl ‘Hey, the corner goes over there, look left to judge your line, look right… It’s no good being fixated. And to stop myself just staring straight ahead – as if I was still on the PlayStation watching a fixed monitor screen – was really quite hard.”

He’s already old for a new-boy racer, without a decade or more of kart race experience behind him, because there was no way his family could ever have afforded it.

I hope we have a pioneer here and certainly regard PlayStation in a different light.

Hell for leather
How a TT talisman almost came unstuck during the Festival of Speed

Stuart Graham is one of the tiny band who have taken Tourist Trophy victories on both two wheels and four. Son of 1949 500cc world champion Les Graham, Stuart won the Isle of Man 50cc TT for Suzuki in 1967, the same year in which he took two Grand Prix victories in just his second year of competition. In both 1974 and ’75 he would then win the RAC Tourist Trophy in his Chevrolet Camaro.

He is incredibly slightly built, his greyhound figure so accentuated by his riding leathers that in an early Goodwood outing a friend exclaimed “Stuart looks like a paper-clip” as he ripped past the grandstand. This year at the Festival he was riding Honda’s four-cylinder 250cc RC164 on which Jim Redman won the 1963 world championship. But he caused great concern on his return to the paddock when Honda’s immaculately dressed, black-gloved mechanics gathered around for his report. “I’m afraid we have a major technical problem,” he said. “It’s really serious and might stop us running.”

Then he pointed down at his groin – the zip up the front of his skin-tight leathers had burst from the crotch and was peeling revealingly upwards. Stuart’s wife Margaret weighed in:

“I haven’t got my needle and thread.” A storm of relieved laughter preceded Honda’s finest rushing around to find a fix, immaculately achieved with titanium wire, no less.