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Jochen Mass joined Ed Foster and the returning Rob Widdows to talk about his career and to answer readers’ questions in the latest Motor Sport podcast in association with Mercedes-Benz.
The German goes back to how it began, moving from hillclimbs to circuit racing, plus he gives his take on modern motor sport.
Watch and listen to podcast below, and download the podcast from the Motor Sport Soundcloud page
Ed Foster: Hello and welcome to another Motor Sport Magazine podcast in association with Mercedes Benz.
You can probably see that there are a few things that are different about today. First of all that we are at the Kennels at Goodwood ahead of the Revival, and not at Motor Sport Magazine’s base in Finchley, and you’ll recognise not one, but two familiar faces: Rob Widdows – a warm welcome back to the podcast – and Jochen. I have a suspicion this might be quite a lively hour.
Jochen: thank you so much for sparing your time – you have literally just flown in to be with us ahead of the Revival – so thank you.
Jochen Mass: Thank you Ed. It is always a pleasure to talk to you guys.
EF: And Rob, good to have you back.
Rob Widdows: For one night only I think!
EF: We have managed to pull you away from your new venture of the Goodwood Podcast, so thank you for joining us.
RW: No problem, it’s great to be back. These podcasts are so good.
EF: Jochen we have so many readers’ questions and you did so much from sports cars to touring cars and Formula 1, so we’ll have to dip in and out otherwise we’ll be here all afternoon.
I want to rewind right back to be beginning. Am I right that you started off on the sea, and not on race tracks at all? You went into racing quite late?
JM: Somebody asked me this question! [Laughs] Yes, I was on my way to becoming a sea captain and it all changed suddenly, because I got into contact with a hillclimb racer and I got pulled away from my initial romanticism for the sea by the smell and the looks and of course the noise and whole atmosphere of racing. Apart from that I did like driving a car, obviously, but racing had never occurred to me. But when I saw it and heard it I thought ‘let’s do that’. Easy!
EF: Quite quickly you were picked up by Ford and you were offered, compared to what you were earning before, a very generous contract.
JM: It wasn’t quite that easy. I had to come in and work first as a mechanic in an Alfa dealership as they had a race car and that was what I wanted to drive. Somebody else drove it at the time so I bamboozled him into letting me have it eventually. So this was how it started.
My first race was in ’68 and in ’69 I did a whole season of hillclimbs mainly, with the odd Hockenheim and Ulm-Laupheim, which was an airfield race. But for me it was as easy as hillclimbs, so it made no difference if I drove on a circuit. Of course you have to learn a little bit: how to behave in traffic and that, but that came easy to me so it was no problem.
EF: When was it that the Ford contract started?
JM: At the end of ’69 I had an invitation as I was racing against the Fords and I was always very close but couldn’t beat them, because they had the Escort twin-cam which was a very good car, very advanced over the Alfa 1600 GTAs. But I was gnawing on their heels so they invited me to Zandvoort in the winter. There were 30 drivers, from Formula 1, everybody was there – [Jochen] Neerspach, lots of Frenchies, good guys, but there were four guys within four-tenths of a second, and I was one of them.
So there was the two works drivers, [Dieter] Glemster and [Manfred] Mohr and of course Dr [Helmuth] Marko who was very gifted, a very talented guy, and me: also very talented! [Laughs]
So I got a contract very quickly, a generous contract, but everything is generous after 150DM a month! That was what I earned on the tools.
EF: You mentioned Helmuth Marko there and I think the vast majority of people nowadays know him as the Red Bull man, but he had a very successful driving career. As you said, he was very quick. What was he like back then? He must have been a very different person to who he is now?
JM: Helmuth was a very great character and to me he would have been the first Austrian World Champion for sure. He had the talent, he had everything. We raced in South Africa against each other, I was with the Ford Capri still so I wasn’t in the same year the Lola 2-litre, and in the following years I drove the Chevron but he wasn’t in there anymore because he did Formula 1. But he was very good with the ladies, so occasionally he came out of a massage situation in a hotel with red cheek both sides, because she slapped him! She said he was a very nice guy but a bad character! But he was lovely, a great guy.
EF: We mentioned the hillclimbs, it’s such a specific discipline, it was so different to circuit racing. What was it like racing these hillclimbs? Because they were even more dangerous than the circuits back then, which is saying something.
JM: That may be so, but circuit racing was dangerous if you like. Hillclimbs often there were no guardrails, nothing. But it taught you a lot. One thing definitely: focus on it from the word go because you cannot make it up anywhere: what you’ve lost you’ve lost for good. So it made you very focussed and disciplined in your approach to racing. It was nice, I had a very big accident once – I was terribly lucky when I think of it – I often thought about it. I was lucky to survive that one, it sounds a bit corny by that was it. I bounced along a right-hander with the Alfas, just dreaming away because it’s the greatest of ease in the first run in practise, and in the second run it happened and I bounced through it until I realised I was ??? oversteer and it was too late and I couldn’t catch the car and I flew down the hillside with enormous trees everywhere and I hit one of them sideways and I bent forward because my seatbelt had opened luckily, and the tree hit me just behind. Had I sat like this I don’t think I would have survived it from the looks of the car. So that was one of these guardian angels that I had and you must never forget that. It taught me a lot.
But then you try the car, and the Alfa dealer said ‘if you wreck it, that is it.’ So I stood there and climbed up and you had to do a long detour to get to the top and he came along because he was happy with the first run and said ‘how did it go?’ and he looked at my face and said ‘did you wreck it?’ and I said ‘I did,’ and the tears came out of my eyes, I cried quietly because I thought ‘how goddamn stupid can you be? You have it, and now you had it.’
He stood there and was chewing his bottom lip for 20 minutes and he said ‘well then, we build up the other one we have.’ He had another one in parts lying there in the dealership so we fixed that one and continued racing. And I thought people like that you need: and they are amazing. They have faith in what you are doing, obviously this happened, sour grapes, but it happened and it when you race it can happen. It shouldn’t, but it can, so I was very happy that he was so generous that he continued with me.
RW: Can I ask, all those experiences that you are describing were a tremendous foundation for the rest of your career weren’t they? Nowadays it’s so different, if we think of someone like [Max] Verstappen, at 18 he is already in Formula 1, but all those experiences, all those different things you did, did they eventually make you the driver that you were?
JM: Well you have to see first what driver I became! I hope not! But no, I’m joking! It forms the character. And when I look at young Verstappen at 18, he is a great kid, he is driving well, but he is driving reckless and he has to learn a lot and if he is given the time he will turn into a very good driver obviously. But I think 18 years is a little too early and he will have some experiences still in his stairway.
EF: You were doing lots of driving for Ford, so how did the F3 drive come about and why did you suddenly think ‘let’s try single seaters’?
JM: A friend asked me in ’71 – I was nearly 25 – ‘would you like to drive my Super Vee?’ and I said ‘what’s that?’ Seriously. I said I have no idea, I’ve never driven one, never sat in a single-seater, never driven a go-kart, I had no idea. I drove a normal Vee, because the other one wasn’t ready yet, and I thought ‘this is great. This really feels nice.’ And the Super Vee was of course better and we had the first race and I was leading, leading most of the races despite being up to 5 a.m. being silly, but of course then I paid for it at the end. I knew I shouldn’t lead at Hockenheim with the long straights at the back, they will eat you up, and of course they did and I finished fourth or fifth but I knew I could do it, and it felt good. I was racing in the so-called Gold Cup in Europe and after half a season I was leading by a good margin, I won a few races, I won the Nürburgring and a few others and then Ford called me while I was in Finland with Neerspach ‘can you get out of your contract? We bought your Formula 3.’ So I relayed it to my friend and he said ‘do it, do it, it’s great,’ and I went to the UK and changed my license to a National one which was not exactly in the rulebook but we could do it for some reason. I did six races of the championship and finished sixth, because I finished from first to sixth place in these races, which was good. It put me on the map.
EF: And you were racing F3 alongside the likes of [James] Hunt, [Jody] Scheckter..
JM:… [Roger] Williamson…
EF: …it really was a golden era. As you said, you took to single-seaters very well but when you were put up against the likes of Scheckter and Hunt was there a time when you thought ‘I’ve got a lot to learn here’? Because it seems very natural from your results, what you managed getting into cars straight away.
JM: I didn’t feel I had to learn a lot, I felt I was up to it. What I wasn’t so sure about was setting up the car right, doing the right things. Sometimes I was quick, sometimes slow, plus the engines were a bit ??? were good. Sometimes Williamson would have a better motor we assumed because Wheatcroft spent quite a lot of money on him because he loved the guy and Scheckter was like me, up and down depending on the track too. Sometimes I could beat him at places like Castle Combe, and occasionally some other race where I finished ahead of Jody and Williamson was just behind him, things like that.
I remember one race at Silverstone: Williamson had taken off and he was gone and I was with a bunch of the cars – the peloton as the French would say – paddling along happily and I thought ‘being first of that group is like winning a race’. So that is what I did. They honed in on me, nobody wants the other guy to overtake him easily but I managed to get by them and finished second after Williamson which was good. That gave me a lot of confidence too because I knew I could do it. The following year when we did Monaco for the first time there were 80 cars, 20 were allowed to run, so we had to qualify always. So there were various practice sessions and then finally you had to do two qualifying races, two heats of cars, and the first ten of each managed to get to the final.
I was last on the grid, pouring with rain and I might have hit a kerb here, hit a kerb there or the guard rail lightly, my mechanic was all ‘grr. Mass. Ugh.’ He was a lovely guy from Denmark you know, a great guy, a Great Dane, he just looked around and nobody dared to get close to the car because he looked like he was going to bite at any minute. I took 11 cars in the first lap in the rain and on the third lap I was in fourth place and the second and third are tangled up in Mirabeau and we all came just about to a halt and one of them backed up and drove over my nose, so I had a quick pitstop but it dropped me back to seventh and I lost my wings, but I think I would have won it easily.
RW: They were great races.
EF: Of all the things you raced do you look back on that time fondly? Because the racing was so good, there were good names, good drivers in there, the cars were quite evenly matched, it must have been some of the best racing you had?
JM: Oh yes we worked upwards, we could see the road going this way and of course it was nice. Everything was fresh, every race was a new adventure. Nürburgring in the rain, I was running on three cylinders because there was some water accumulating in the plughole, but everybody went around the Sudkurve, which was still the long right corner and then started to rain again. Everyone went down to the inside into the water, I was passing everybody around the top so I was first. I had the whole Nürburgring to myself and I came back after one lap and they looked at me and I couldn’t see anything on the tower, I couldn’t see any signs – I had a one minute lead after one lap! But I didn’t know. I spun at Brünnchen, I had some aquaplaning and I stalled the engine, didn’t hit anything, but sort of sat there on the side of the road looking up to the corner where they should have appeared at any second. I still had batteries, it coughed back into life, I put it into first gear carefully and continued: one minute, ten seconds! [Laughs].
That was nice, I won by a minute, with a broken right rear suspension needing the whole road, but things like that you never forget. You know you can do it, you know you have a little more than most of the others.
EF: We just mentioned James Hunt, who you met in Formula 3, but he came back into your life again when you were at McLaren and he joined for that famous ’76 season. You were firm friends. What was he like in F3 and then when you got to F1, was he very much the same person between those two times or was he a bigger character when he got to Formula 1?
JM: No, he was the same – he got a bigger character of course – once he joined Hesketh and won a race he became… and as the popularity grew around him he felt he had to live up to it, so sometimes it led him into some silly things which we could laugh about but you could also look at it with a doubtful eye whether it was the best thing for him in the long run. I would think ‘what are you trying to run after?’ We sometimes talked about it and laughed and so on. But I knew him from before, I saw him one night I entered from Germany in my Ford Capri at the time, going into London where I rented a little flat on Lansdowne Road opposite Holland Park, and was on my way there. Suddenly from this side street without any sort of looking anywhere this Porsche came out sideways you know? And I thought ‘it can only be James’ the way he drove. So I followed him somewhere and looked and of course it was James. And it was a lively evening – it wasn’t evening anymore! It was a lively night!
EF: Your first Le Mans was in a V6 Capri wasn’t it? And you left absolutely hating it, or did you hate it before you went to Le Mans?
JM: No, ’72 was the first time and of course we drove the Ford Capris but that was the first time I was confronted by this field of sports prototypes and us with a car which was quick all right, but not as quick – 50, 60, 70 kilometres slower than the prototypes, so you didn’t want to make a nuisance of yourself. You tried to drive on the sensible side so you’re not in the way of these Matras and Alfas and Ferraris and Porsches and you thought ‘damn, there’s another one coming’. It was just at the end, I was going right into the Mulsanne, I saw this car with its lights coming up very quick and it was a bunch of four cars – Marko was one of them. I stopped on the left and sort of half turned and Marko was spinning and he just missed me with his nose, and I waved to him and said ‘it’s all yours!’ Through the night it was not very pleasant and it wasn’t racing as such because we couldn’t really race properly. To me it was a non-event in terms of racing. It was not the 24 hours which irked me or anything like that, just a mixture of cars. And I met Joakim Bonnier a few weeks earlier at Jackie Stewart’s house and he got killed in the night running over some Ferrari on the Mulsanne coming down the fast right-hander. You can’t blame the Ferrari driver either because it was just the nature of the race and as a faster car driver you were responsible for all your actions more than the other guy. There was a responsibility for both naturally, but on the other hand you were the faster one and the other guy is occupied with his own line and behaviour of his car that he is unaware that you are coming up at such a different speed. So it was very bad.
RW: Was it a better experience when you got into the leading cars, the really quick cars at Le Mans?
JM: Well it was easy. [Laughs] It was nice, but I’m not quite finished with this Ford Capri race because down the straight at five or six in the morning I thought I wish the damn thing would blow up… and it did! I didn’t rev or force it. I slowly made my way back to the pits and I said ‘it’s broken’, signing it rather than saying it, and they said ‘oh! Then you drive the other one!’ I thought ‘ohh no’ and Gerry [Birrell] came up and quickly and said ‘don’t you want to drive?’ and I said ‘would you like to?’ and he said ‘of course I would.’ So he drove it and it was nice and won that class, but the class win at Le Mans is not exactly a very valuable one. Many manufactures make something of it but nobody looks at it twice. It’s different now, when you get a class win now and it’s hotly contested with different groups it’s different. But it wasn’t that hotly contested. We were sort of trying to be polite.
EF: I’m going to take some readers’ questions. You shared cars with so many drivers. Who do you think was the best of your teammates and with whom did you most enjoy racing together?
JM: The one I drove longest with was Jacky Ickx. A really great kid, wonderful co-pilot. It was really a team partner – there was no competition between us as such. Sometimes I was quicker, sometimes he was quicker but we had no problems with that. Of course I drove with Jackie Stewart, with Jody Schecker in the Capri, with [Gerrard] Laurrosse, with [Arturo] Merzario, with [John] Fitzpatrick… they were all nice, we never had any misgivings. I never had a very unpleasant sort of team-partner. I couldn’t think of one. I had much more difficult ones later, in the forms of Michael Schumacher who wouldn’t leave the car alone. At night, when I would say ‘leave the car alone. It’s good.’ He said ‘no, maybe we can do something.’ I said ‘what?’ He said ‘well I don’t know, but maybe we can improve it.’ At 10 o’clock at night he was still at it and I thought ‘just leave it alone!’ because that’s irksome for someone who is 20 years old. But he didn’t change so it was ok! I don’t think he ever gained much by doing that but that’s the way his mind ticked and that’s the way he worked.
EF: You were a mentor to that trio of Sauber Mercedes drivers: [Heinz-Harold] Frentzen, [Karl] Wendlinger and Schumacher. Could you tell even then that he was different? That he had something else?
JM: Oh ja I could tell then. He was different, he was more meticulous. He didn’t seem to be outwardly that much quicker than the others. Of course they all reached about the same time after some laps, but the freshest and easiest one seemed Frentzen, driving-wise. But Frentzen was a happy-go-lucky guy more in my line: quick but didn’t reflect too much on it. But Michael always worked on it and in the end he knew why he was quick and how he could improve and so on. He always honed his driving or his style so it suited to the car best, and he wanted the car to be driven in a very specific way.
Sometimes after a race we could come back and he would say ‘are you coming go-karting tomorrow?’ I would say ‘don’t you want to rest?’ and he would say ‘no let’s go go-karting.’ Then he drove and I drove a few laps and he laughed himself silly over that! I was quick in the quick corners where you don’t have to back off, but was not so quick in the technical areas.
But I took times, and he wanted to see what was quicker, what was better in various sections and I would say ‘well here you improved, here you lost a bit’ and I could see, he said ‘I want to drive in Formula 1 like that. I want to adjust the Ferrari to this sort of go-kart driving style’, and he did, he braked left and then he was already on the throttle and he kept it sort of on a constant slide. And I could see it, but to do was another thing.
In the beginning I remember one particular race with the GTA with the 1300 in Zolder, driving against the Mini which was from Wooding in Hamburg, Christian Schmarje – a quick driver too. Anyway I drove and I had these funny driving shoes which had leather socks if you like, and I braked and I had the side of my foot on the throttle at the same time and I could drive it like this and it was exactly what they later did. I could sense it then that this was the right way of doing it, it was perfect– you got it in and you held it with half your foot. Later we never had the option of driving it always because of the different cars, different pedals, it didn’t always work the same way. Later the brake on the left and left-foot braking generally made it all different.
EF: Jumping back again, the move into Formula 1, putting aside the first race at Silverstone where there was a big pile-up, you went to the Nürburgring and passed five cars on your first lap. You must have thought at that point ‘what am I doing? This is easy.’
JM: I don’t remember how many I passed at some stage, but funnily enough it was pleasant, the car was good, so this was not bad this TS14. It felt good. At the end I realised I was quicker than some others at Schwalbenschwanz and the following Galgenkopf onto the straight. I felt I could overtake Emerson [Fittipaldi] in the Lotus, he was going slower there and he was much slower over Galgenkopf for some reason, I was taking it nearly flat and backed out a little bit and he braked. But then suddenly on the last lap someone got stuck there and spun so there were lots of flags and I had to back off anyway. He accelerated first and I couldn’t get him anymore on the straight, otherwise that would have been points, that would have been sixth.
Jackie Oliver was all upset because he wanted to overtake me and I saw and moved over a little bit to block him and then in the old ??? he said ‘you’re Jochen Mass?’ I said ‘yes?’ He said ‘you nearly drove me in the wall.’ I said ‘you mean the hedge. There is no wall!’ [Laughs] He was not very happy about it but he accepted it. I said ‘it’s the last lap. I had to brake because of Emerson and da da da…’ that’s the way it was.
RW: I guess local knowledge is a big thing at the Nürburgring?
JM: All the guys who drove there were pretty good at the ‘ring obviously. It’s just some liked it better. We all did many races there so it’s not that I was that much advanced because I knew better; I think I imbibed the rhythm and characteristics of the Nordschleife better than most others. It was interesting to see in ’75 I felt I’d win the race. The first lap I was fourth down the Fuchsröhre and my right-front delaminated completely because they put an old type tyre on. To the end of my days I will not know why. They could never answer the question. They said ‘we don’t know.’ They brought in a whole jumble of tyres because they were not capable of doing a lap without blowing up one way or the other in practise, so we very nearly didn’t have a race altogether. They came up with these new tyres, they lasted and they were good, except the one didn’t. And it was in the Fuchsröhre and if you go through it you go flat-out at 280 (kph) and suddenly flop, flop, flop this thing came apart. Not funny. And then you have a left-hand and I crashed hard and of course I got out my heap of McLaren M23, which was not recognisable as such, and the spectators: ‘idiot! Can’t you go slow on the first lap?’ because they didn’t know what happened, they just saw me crash. I was disappointed of course, because in practise I was second quickest behind Niki by two-tenths. He was just under seven minutes, I was just over. 60,000 more people turned up just because of that. It was a pity because you disappoint so many people and things like that happen and I felt I could have won, and of course the following year the same story: I was in the lead, I would have won it for sure, then Niki’s accident stopped it all and I finished third at the end… Anyway, it’s a different story.
EF: The German Grand Prix would love an extra 60,000 tickets on their door come race day nowadays!
Coming back to Touring Cars, at that time a lot of F1 drivers came and raced the Capris and things like that. Some were better than others, you raced with Jackie Stewart, was he quite good in a Capri?
JM: He was excellent. This bloody Scotsman! He was never driving these Capris, he came along at the Nürburgring and he had these Goodyear tyres, he had to have them because he had a contract – we were all on Dunlops. I went a little bit quicker than him, 2 seconds or whatever, so he went up to ??? and said ‘can Jochen try my car because I’m not sure if it’s right. Maybe his car is a bit quicker.’ So I did one of the short laps, and this is a little bit slower than if you would come from Antoniusbuche past the straight because they have a greater speed than if you go on the little concrete loop past the tower and start from there where the pit entry is, so you’re still in the accelerating phase.
Anyway I came around and did a lap and the car felt for me pretty good, and I was a little bit quicker than him and he said ‘hmm, must be me then,’ and he impressed me to no end how he handled the car – he was such a professional. Emerson was twenty-five seconds behind him in the same car. Emerson never got very warm with these sort of cars, he was splendid with single-seaters, but at the Nürburgring he took it with a little too much respect, maybe. I don’t know.
So Jackie Stewart impressed me a lot. Scheckter was very quick, needless to say. We were all pretty much a group, even Laruosse was quick and Alex Soler-Roig, [Dieter] Glemser was very fast.
RW: Jackie was an absolute master of the Nordschleife though wasn’t he? Some of those laps he did, especially in wet weather were out of this world.
JM: He was so analytical it was amazing. And it was something which I looked upon with the greatest respect. I thought ’that is how you have to drive.’ Peter Revson was another one who was very clean and sweet and totally unspectacular. Jackie was only spectacular because he was so quick and so at the Nürburgring he flew sometimes because he had the speed, but he was not spectacular because he went sideways and all of that, he was avoiding all of this and he knew that was the quickest way, and I felt exactly the same, so instinctively I learned a lot from these guys and how they drove their cars.
EF: We have a question here about Carlos Pace. What was he like to have in the same team and what do you think he could have achieved if he didn’t leave us prematurely?
JM: Carlos was a great guy, very gifted, very talented, he drove very well. He was a very nice man and I liked him a lot. But he was also very quickly disappointed, especially with the Surtees cars in that particular year, and so on, so when he left the team he later drove for Brabham and won the race in Brazil so you could see how good he really was. You always need the best car or a very good car to prove that.
When he crashed in his plane it was outright dumb… he was with his teacher and flew right into a heavy thunderstorm. Nobody else flew but they took off from the city airport in São Paulo, right into the thundercloud and they had no chance because it just hits you on the head and you go down in a great hurry. Nobody understood why his instructor did it. It’s a sad story but he was very gifted, one of the many gifted Brazilian drivers.
EF: I have a question about the Spanish Grand Prix win in ’75 and Le Mans ’89. Which gave you more satisfaction? I’m guessing Le Mans
JM: That’s not a wild guess! Pretty accurate. The Grand Prix in Barcelona, Montjuïc, was a beautiful circuit. It was a city circuit, like Monaco. In fact I think it was even nicer than Monaco because it was more fluent and had different corners. Similar in a way, but to me almost better. But when this tragic accident happened with [Rolf] Stommelen and Pace… We had tried to boycott the race: all the drivers wanted to. We said ‘no we are not going to drive’ because the covers were not bolted on to the stanchions, the nuts were all missing at the back. All the teams and drivers went around trying to fix as many as they could, in the most obvious places where you needed them. So that accident had nothing to do with the relative insecurity, it was a group of people: journalists, photographers, who had nothing to do other than watching it in that particular spot, and of course when Stommelen got airborne and launched over the Armco that’s what happens.
When, much later, Gilles Villeneuve went over Ronnie’s wheels in Japan and he also flew over into a bunch of photographers and journalists – killed a few – it was terrible. That’s the difference when you look back at the older, beautiful pictures of ??? or whatever, who were taken right there, photographers standing on the inside line at Monaco and many other racetracks, fabulous. Formula 1 racing, and you got the most beautiful shots there, but later you couldn’t do it anymore because of obvious speeds and that.
RW: You know it was the same for the fans as well, and all of us who loved racing because I think how close we could get in those days was part of the excitement. You could really sense the speed and the skill and nowadays at a lot of tracks it’s a long way away.
JM: All tracks, except Monaco, but you sit behind this sky high fence, which I understand of course. But that’s what attracted us in the first place, you go to a race and you see it close up. It happened at Pflantzgarten – they came out of the woods. I remember because there were two announcers – one was at Breidscheid, and he told you who was leading and so on and then with the topography of the Nürburgring you could hear sometimes the noise a bit of the cars coming, and then they were gone again behind the hills. But then you stared up at the entry point of the Pflantzgarten and suddenly they broke out of the words, I mean they came out like a thundercloud, slowed down a little bit for the dip and the following double right-hander… magic. It was so exciting to see close up and you could see the guys steering this way, that way, and so on. The differences between one or the other. Oh magic and that is missing today.
EF: Moving back to F1, you were teammates with Hunt in ’76 and I read in Motor Sport that you could stay with him in corners, but on straights he would always pull away and you later discovered that he was getting better engines than you, is that right?
JM: Number one guys always had the better engines. Keith Duckworth told me many years later ‘you guys never had a chance.’ I said ‘explain?’ and he told me they had up to seventy hp more. They were making these evolution engines but they expected money from Ford to make them for everybody, so they kept it top secret, not even the team bosses knew that: Teddy Mayer or whoever. I spoke to Alastair Caldwell about it and he said ‘never happened,’ because even the spec sheets they got from the test beds were about 14, 15 hp more, 18 maybe, which already was quite a number but nevertheless was manageable. Keith Duckworth unfortunately passed away in the meantime so we can’t talk to him about it, but I know what he told me and I believe it, because those three guys from one point onwards – [Mario] Andretti, Scheckter, Hunt – lapped everybody. We thought ‘how is that? What’s happening?’ and so on. It’s quite annoying that we didn’t come to terms with that, understanding why suddenly, you know?
RW: It’s so interesting to hear you talk about that now in 2016 isn’t it? Because at the time we were all thinking ‘what the hell’s going on here?’
EF: Apart from the deficit in horsepower you had, that car was a lovely car to drive wasn’t it?
JM: The M23 yeah was good. The M25, M26 there were miles of deficiencies. They were not as good anymore, but with the horsepower they could win a race, which it did. But the M23 was a wonderful car, Gordon Coppuck was a fantastic, conscientious designer, that car don’t forget ran for four years almost. It was always good and it was a safe car, so you had faith in them which was nice – it wasn’t always the same with some other cars I drove, namely a certain A.T.S. which if you translate into German is “All Parts Shit” – “Alle Teile Scheiße” [laughs]. So it was a pity, the first years especially with that team, so it was not good.
EF: There a question here about you racing in the Silverstone 6-Hours in the Porsche 935 “Moby Dick” car which apparently only lapped four seconds slower than F1 the previous year. What were those 935s like to drive? They must have kept you on your toes.
JM: To say the least [laughs]. It was a car which I didn’t like for example at the Nürburgring, because it was a very potent car, very strong, but it didn’t have the handling to match. It handled good on most circuits but on some other ones you had to be aware of it. I loved battling it but it was not a nice race car as such, it was too brutal, it was a little too heavy, a little too big, and too powerful – 800+ hp – it was a handful sometimes, but it was nevertheless a good race car. Tracks like Silverstone where you could really floor it; of course it was quick. It was probably quicker in some sections, straights especially, than Formula 1 cars – so much power. For example in ’94 I drove the Williams, [Alain] Prost’s World Championship car, and the car was fantastic. I was doing Signes flat at 347 [kph] lap after lap, it was easy, because the car was so damn good. It was unbelievable. In the same corner, three years earlier, in ’91, with the 291 Sauber, I did 352 [kph] also flat – easy. So the sports cars and the Formula 1 cars were pretty close. And of course later we have the 956, 962s, were a lot better, the 936 which was already quicker than the 935. But 935 to me was a great race car but it was not my favourite.
EF: You mentioned there the later Porsches, the 956, the 962, they were great cars weren’t they? They won so many races. It must have been quite a change going from something like the 935 through the 936 and getting to the 956 and 962?
JM: It was a distinct difference but yet it didn’t really bother me much because we drove them all the time. So we had a six-hour race on Saturday in Dijon and we had a 1,000km race on Sunday with the 936. So you raced the one and practised after that to seven o’clock in the evening and then you raced the 936. So the difference in cars… it was a race car, they were both very good, one was a little more of a handful but you know you can live with it easily and so on. It was good, we won both races, which was nice.
RW: Did you get paid twice?
JM: Oh I forgot to ask! [Laughs]
EF: In sports cars you then went on to Sauber-Mercedes and the “C” cars. Were they a big step up from a 962 in terms of downforce and how tiring they were to drive?
JM: It was a new generation of cars, aerodynamics and chassis building. So it was altogether a more modern machine. The 962s in the first year in ’88 and even ’89 were still competitive for the simple reason they were running on better tyres. We were still running the Michelins which were not very competitive with a higher downforce car because the sidewalls were too soft. They were not bad race tyres, but the sidewalls, as we later saw in Formula 1 and Indy – where they had to step back – was not good. And they never wanted to change it. We won in ’89, ’88 we pulled out because of that. In ’89 we did endless tests at Clermont-Ferrand and I ran at ever-increasing speeds over this measuring device which measured the amount of downforce in weight that you created. So we reduced, reduced, reduced all the time and they told me in so many words ‘Jochen you must change the downforce. You are too heavy blah blah blah,’ and I said ‘yeah but why don’t you make a stiffer tyre?! Maybe that would help too!’ But it’s against the philosophy of the company, so later when they had the super flat ones it played less of a role, but then the tyre sidewalls were still quite high so it wasn’t very good.
But in the slower parts I had trouble keeping [Hans-Joachim] Stuck behind me and of course on the straight I just drove away because we were a lot quicker down the straight. Only later when we changed to Goodyears we were far better off.
EF: There’s a question: which is the most difficult circuit to drive at night. Perhaps Spa?
JM: No, I don’t think so. The old Spa, it was a fast track. But Le Mans was always quite difficult because its pitch black at night, there’s no light at any corner except close to the pits again. And even now at the Classic you struggle if you don’t know the track well. You have a problem. I drove with Brian Johnson and his first time at Le Mans, first time in the Porsche and in the rain. You can imagine he was ‘bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep!’ [Laughs]
The most difficult circuit at night to me was perhaps Le Mans because of the high speeds and you see things a bit too late, because when you arrive at nearly 400 [kph] and you see something lying there you can’t avoid it. You go over it because you can’t suddenly jerk one side or the other, forget it. You just hope for the best and that’s it.
The old Spa we only did with touring cars not with sports cars and I never drove at night at Spa so that was quite a handful. I loved it and it was fast; from Burnenville onwards, the long right-hander all the way along to Stavelot was flat, Masta Kink was flat at 270-280 [kph]. I remember I was getting in there having a slow puncture luckily on the right rear. It started to oversteer going in at that speed and then it came round the other way and I couldn’t stop it from spinning and I spun six times down the road without hitting anything, just mildly kissed the guard rail which broke my rear lights. Then one of the marshals came along and he said ‘you’ve got a puncture.’ I said ‘thank you, I know that.’ So I continued. We won the race anyway.
Interesting, in the night races, when you look at Daytona at the time you didn’t have so many lights as you do today. I remember we had the wrong tyres again. Non-American tyres are not built for high-speed, high-banked corners, so my right rear blew and I spun around a lot. I dipped down to the bottom and broke by oil cooler and while I spun the car twisted so much my right door detached itself and flew away. I said ‘ok fix the oil cooler and we’ll search for a door or drive without one. So I drove through the night with a very draughty machine and there was only one light after the dog-leg. There’s the horseshoe, the dog-leg and you have a right-hander. There was a big spotlight, high up and there was no other car around me, I was going round and suddenly something black shot past me by the open door and I got such a start because I thought I’d overlooked somebody. I really got a shock at that moment. It was my own shadow. [Laughs] That’s the trouble when you don’t have doors! [Laughs]
EF: Was it the Paul Ricard accident in F1 when you decided enough was enough in Formula 1? Or was it a bigger decision?
JM: No, we had the Villeneuve accident in ’82 and then afterwards I had an accident which could have cost me dearly and luckily I had nothing. But that really woke me up, or rattled me, and I said ‘forget it. The team is no good.’ They nicked all the money I’d brought with Rothmans, they never paid me – but we don’t want to talk about that. They didn’t have any to begin with. The other ones did have, but they had to plug up a lot of holes from the previous years, so the usual thing in Formula 1. That’s the way it was.
So I decided to stop and continue with sports cars, not that I thought it was so much safer but at least they were less intense because you did six hours, 24 hours, 1,000km and occasionally 500km. So you took it with a little bit more of a grain of salt. A little bit easier and you were not always flat out like Formula 1. So that was a bit… and the cars were built a little bit better in terms of breakages. When you hit something it was equally as bad because you sat quite far forward. The Saubers later were by nature better because the cars were stronger built and C11 of course carbon would have been a lot stronger in an impact. Fortunately we never found out that way.
EF: A question from me actually. Having stopped racing professionally you now race lots of amazing historic cars: pre-war Grand Prix, later Grand Prix. If you were to be asked to take one car to a circuit what would you take? Would you take something from your professional career? An Auto-Union? Where would you go with it
JM: No no, I want to take a car that I didn’t race in my active years. And I loved these cars from before my time because these were the machines which intrigued me when I looked at them and I was drooling over E-types, or GT40s or whatever. They were fantastic machines, you know the 906s the 910s, 904s. First time we saw them in Hobby Magazine, and there was a German race car made out of GFK and it looked good and it was quick and I drove one not so long ago and I loved it immediately. I thought ‘what a damn nice car.’
And of course the races, Targa Florio, Mille Miglias… well Mille Miglias not so much because they stopped in ’58 but the Targa Florio was particularly interesting and amazing. I regret in a way that this sort of slipped through my fingers because I was too young in racing, I didn’t get a chance to drive that before they halted it as well.
If I could take a particular car now, if it would have been a car from one of my race days it would be one of the Saubers and of course Formula 2. The Marches would have BMW engines and of course the Surtees Formula 2 was a magnificent car, a lovely car. It suffered a bit from the lack of horsepower compared to the BMWs – lack of torque as well. I think the Surtees with a BMW engine probably would have been a better car than even the March, but pretty academic as you could never do that. I did a few races with the Formula 2s with the March with the BMW engines and I think I won them. It was Hockenheim once or twice and Nürburgring and so on, so that was commode as the French say. It was nice. The cars were great. But I loved the Formula 2 because the relationship between horsepower and handling was perfect. When you have a very powerful car you go too quick on the straights, you have to brake harder, and they’re sort of out of balance, like a Formula 5000 car. They could never find the right sort of beautiful balance which a less powerful car might have had. A good Formula 1 was better for that reason too, over a Formula 5000. Less weight to begin with and from the power relationship to the handling was much better.
EF: So you’d take a Formula 2 car to… the Nürburgring?
JM: I tell you what, I would love to drive this Williams for example [FW15C] which I was happy to drive for 20 laps at Le Castellet at the Nürburgring, the Nordschleife. I would have loved it. It would have been such a nice car to drive there. It’s pretty hallucinating! Let’s keep on dreaming!
EF: Thank you for such an entertaining hour.
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