It’s time to resurrect another tape from our Motor Sport audio archive, to look back on the 1979 grand prix season with one of my Track Torque programmes from Radio Victory that are now being exclusively revived here on the Motor Sport website.
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In May of that year our very own grand prix correspondent Denis Jenkinson rode his Honda down to Radio Victory’s studio in Portsmouth to give us his forthright views on the ’79 season which, you may remember, saw Jody Scheckter crowned world champion just four points ahead of Gilles Villeneuve, giving Scuderia Ferrari the Constructors’ Championship. Close behind was Alan Jones, driving a Williams FW06 for what was then called the Albilad-Saudia Racing Team. The following year he would be world champion. A total of 18 teams took part – unbelievable compared to what we see today.
As ever, Jenks pulls no punches, is effusive in his praise of Piquet and Villeneuve and fascinating on the technical aspects of the sport. Asked about Scheckter settling in to Ferrari he replies: “It was a bit fraught at the start of the year because no one really knew Scheckter at Ferrari and he didn’t know them. He wasn’t interested in learning Italian so they had to learn to speak English. They also had this little French Canadian who conversed in a mutual language so the opening part for Scheckter was pretty fraught. Having won Monaco he’ll be world champion says Mr Ferrari. Before Monaco Mr Ferrari said ‘if Scheckter wins Monaco, I’ll make sure he’s world champion’.”
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I point out that “Jackie Stewart also says Scheckter will be world champion this year”.
“What does he know about it? I think Scheckter will be world champion. It wouldn’t do any harm. It won’t impress me. I’m not really impressed with him as a driver. He’s a good runner, a good charger; a bit rough and unruly.”
So much has been written and said about this unusual man whose writings were a ‘must-read’ throughout his distinguished career with Motor Sport. Remember too, he was an accomplished motorcycle racer and navigated Stirling Moss round the 1955 Mille Miglia to win the race in record time. He was a rare bird was Jenks, a feisty individual who did not suffer fools and who combined a gift for journalism with a real grasp of how a racing car worked and a passion for grand prix racing. Now we can put a voice to a name.
“Motor racing is not showbiz, like your little friend Jackie Stewart says it is,” he comments later in the programme. “He’s wrong. It’s hard commercial business and it always has been. It might look like showbiz on the surface, but deep down it’s hard business and I love it.” We were on the verge of the grand prix at Dijon being cancelled because of a falling out between Ecclestone/Mosley and Balestre over the BMW Procar series. “One thing we must be thankful for,” Jenks points out, “is that it’s purely power politics and nothing more than that. Unlike the similar situation in America, in the USAC racing where it started off as big business and power politics and they then dabbled with technicalities and that was fatal. It screwed up the USAC world.”
There’s a short break in the middle of the interview, a few seconds of the day’s news bulletin referring to a certain Margaret Thatcher, and a failed attempt to get some of our audience on a phone-in line… technology was not what it is today.
In many ways this is a valuable piece of the magazine’s archive, a rare opportunity to listen to Jenks rather than read his highly respected reports and jottings. The June edition of the magazine was due to be published the day after this interview was broadcast, the cover price just 40 pence… and you can listen here for just £1.99, so I hope you’ll enjoy reeling back the decades to Ferrari’s last world title for 21 years before Michael Schumacher came along.
In the months to come we will continue delving into the tapes and we’ll hear from John Surtees, Frank Williams, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley and many others.
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