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Close finishes – thoughts on F1

Lewis Hamilton has recently said that the fans are let down if the title is decided too early in the season. Not that it seemed to bother him in any of his runaway years, but it does reflect a trend in motorsport to want the artificiality of every title going down to the wire. NASCAR did it a long way back with the, for me, ridiculous chase and the the stage segments within a race.

I am old school I know, but I have no problem with a runaway race or season. It’s about beating the competition and if you can see them off early, then I’m fine with that. For me that is what competition should stand for, not trying to contrive a cliffhanger. If you want that why not have a one off, winner takes all, race? The answer is easy; money.

It’s not about sport anymore and the modern audience seems to want instant gratification. When I got interested in motor racing things were very different. The 1971 Italian GP at Monza is often thought of as one of the greatest F1 races ever, so let’s have a look at it in more detail.

The reason that it is so lauded is because the first 5 cars crossed the line covered by just 0.61 seconds. In fact the first 4 cars were line abreast and just 0.18 of a second covered them. It was a classic streamliner and won by a master of such races in F3, but it is completely overlooked now that he would not have been in that leading group at the end had not his team-mate, and fellow F3 star, Howden Ganley dropped back from the leading group to tow him into contention. Ganley finished 5th for his efforts that day.

So a fantastic close race, or was it? Finishing 6th that day was pole sitter Chris Amon over half a minute down after a pit stop. Jackie Oliver was 7th for McLaren and almost lapped. Eight place was a lap down, 9th was 2 laps down and in 10th place was the last finisher 4 laps behind. Twenty cars started the race and eleven finished, albeit that the last of those was 8 laps down and not classified.

In qualifying Chris Amon’s Matra was 0.42 seconds up on second place man Jacky Ickx. Howden Ganley in 4th was the last car within a second of Amon and the gap to 24th place was 5.89 seconds. Consider that when there is usually less that 2 seconds covering the entire grid today.

We were happy enough with that back then. At the British GP that year Jackie Stewart won by 21.6 seconds with 3rd place man 50.5 seconds back and everyone else a lap pr more behind. In qualifying 5.1 seconds covered the grid from first to last. I was working that day and could not be there to watch, but I would have happily paid to get there and see it. I would not want to see a modern era GP.

Jackie Stewart won the 1971 world championship title at the 8th race of the 11 round season, so the Monza result was irrelevant in that sense as were those of the subsequent races in Canada and the US. We did not complain. Tyrrell won 7 races, Ferrari and BRM 2 each with 6 different drivers taking victories. Tyrrell won the manufacturer’s crown with 73 points to the 36 of BRM in second with Ferrari 3rd on 33 (scoring was 9-6-4-3-2-1 for 1st to 6th back then).

For me they were much happier days. NASCAR also me as a fan when they came up with the Chase, now Chase and his colleagues have taken F1 from me too.

Motorsport Aspirations

I am not sure when I first wanted to be a racing driver, but it was probably in the mid-sixties when I was about 15. I had no clue about how to become one, despite being surrounded by motorsport history. Brooklands was a ten minute bike ride away and near to that was Cooper’s new yard with Allan Mann a few doors away. My big sister was a secretary at Thompson and Taylor and knew Roy Salvadori (one of my heroes). Ken Tyrrell’s legendary woodyard was a twenty minute bike ride away (if you knew the way through the woods). Bruce McLaren lived nearby and I saw him on the road in the M6GT. I’ll stop now, because you get the picture.

In 1969 we moved away to the comparatively motorsport free zone of Upminster in Essex (little did I know) where I made friends with a lad a year older than me who was an apprentice car mechanic who shared my dreams of getting into racing cars. We decided on trying Formula Ford and, because he liked the name (and had more money than me) wanted to buy a car called the Mistrale. Pete and I took ourselves down through the Dartford tunnel to Brands Hatch where we quickly decided that FF was, perhaps, quite a crowded category and that we should look elsewhere.

Enter Pete’s uncle who was sales director at a Rootes dealership. He was very supportive, agreed that FF was maybe oversubscribed and that if we were to go with a Rootes product he could raise some funds for us. He knew of the legendary Fraser Imps and of Bull McGovern cleaning up in the RAC tin top Cham,pionship with his Sunbeam Imp and pointed us that way. We were not convinced though and so we came to Formula 4 where the Imp powered Vixen was the way to go.

Pete’s uncle was on board and promised that, if we raised £1000, he would give us another £2000. From Motoring News we could see that a chap named Mike Wilds was the class of the formula and Pete’s uncle suggested that, if we got our side of the cash together, he would come in and buy Mike’s car at the end of the season and we could run it in 1971. That August we went off to Thruxton, taking the train to Andover and walking to the track (every penny saved was one towards our dream). We talked to some of the F4 boys in the paddock and were hooked. The Vixen looked more like a proper racing car than an FF and would be our passport onto the grid.

Then it all unravelled. He and I were both big fans of Jochen Rindt. We had watched him at Thruxton and Crystal Palace in F2 and were confident that he was on his way to the world title that year as luck began to go his way. Then came Monza and that dreadful Saturday. Pete saw it as a sign that he should not get into motor sport, joined a Pentecostal Church and got religion in a big way. Motor racing was not God’s work and with that my plans ran aground, my sinking completed when I met a girl…

A couple of years later I had scraped together the money to start the MRS course at Brands where, on my first day, my instructor was none other than Mike Wilds. My cash ran out though and I got into marshalling instead. It was the nearest I was to get to racing. Such is life.

Ciao, Stirling – Book Review

I suppose that I should confess that I was not a Moss fan in his racing days. Like most when offered a choice I took sides and I was a Mike Hawthorn supporter although I did always respect just how good Stirling Moss was as a driver. Later in life I met him and became a fan. <a href="http://<iframe sandbox="allow-popups allow-scripts allow-modals allow-forms allow-same-origin" style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=fayjohnsflorv-21&language=en_GB&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=B09NRSQGZL&asins=B09NRSQGZL&linkId=793b8f4b4cb85e6f797a4eed09f3cc0c&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true">Ciao, Stirling is an interesting new book on the great man.

It makes a good read. There are lots of stories of life in the mews and on the road all told in an entertaining style. Some of the tales are known, but here we see them from another angle. There is also an insight into living in London in the late fifties and into the sixties that makes it something of a social commentary rather than just another motor sport biography.

I did wonder if the world needed another book on Moss, but it does deserve this one. I enjoyed it and it has earned its place on my bookshelf.

Wham, bam, thank you ma’m

So Seb has gone, Carlos and Danny have shuffled and Renault have a spare seat, all for next year. And we haven’t started this year yet. Talk about silly season.

The speed of these announcements suggest that the deal was sorted in advance and that Seb’s departure was, in effect, a firing. The way that it was done is brutal, but Ferrari have done the right thing.

The Vettel you get in the car is not the one you see out of it. There is a red mist that descends and he lacks reason. Multi 21, Turkey and many more incidents point to a problem that few team managers can afford and whilst he clearly has talent, the dark side is coming through too often.

If you can remember his qualifying performance for Red Bull, emerging in Q3 with just enough time for one flying lap and bagging pole race after race. That skill was a major factor in those four consecutive world titles. That record shows that he was something special and it is a record that will endure.

But like the equally talented Alonso before him there is that corrosive aspect that can ruin a team. Ferrari could see that and had no desire to keep him. They have a potential world champion in the team and in Carlos Sainz they have a very strong support driver with the potential to pick up wins. A classic number one and two situation.

That is why Danny Ric would not have been a good choice even if a lot of us would have loved to see him, with his Italian heritage, in one of the red cars. Instead we will have him in a McLaren and that should be an interesting combination. It will do Lando no harm either.

What happens to Seb remains to be seen, but I am not sure that there is room for him anywhere. Maybe his time has come to walk away, for certainly he deserves better than tooling around in midfield. He is pretty toxic though and who would take a chance?

The short 2020 season is going to be interesting though. If I were running Ferrari I would bench Seb and bring in Hulkenberg to see out the year in the second Ferrari. But it isn’t my decision.

In lockdown

How are you getting on without your motor sport fix? Do the virtual races provide any compensation? I am not missing racing hugely, but there is something of a hole there and the virtual races leave me cold.

My pleasure from motor sport came mainly from being there and I was fortunate to be able to see live action at Thruxton, Crystal Palace, Snetterton, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Lydden Hill regularly between 1968 and about 1977 along with a one-off trip to Monaco. Since then I can add Castle Coombe, Daytona, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead to the list.

In my day it was nothing at an F1 race for there to be a gap of more than a second between pole position and second on the grid. You might get some close racing, but a battle at the front throughout the race was a real rarity. There were many times in all classes of racing when someone took off at the start and vanished away to win, sometimes by nearly a lap. I didn’t care and I don’t think that too many others did either because we all turned up again next time.

Being there, seeing the cars and drivers, hearing the sounds and smelling the aromas was what may the day out for us and we would have been appalled at the sort of tactics that have blighted NASCAR and seem to be creeping towards F1 where the artificial levelling of the laying field so that a 5 or 10 lap shootout to the flag results. What is the point of having a 500 mile race or whatever if you are only bothered about the end?

So racing for me these days is a shadow of its former self and I don’t miss it too much. I do miss finding out about how certain teams and drivers have fared though and I feel for those for whom this shutdown is potentially ruining their career.

But in the overall scheme of things their problems are a drop in the ocean. The wider world has a lot to concern it and whilst all sports are a recreation and a necessary part of society, our society needs to survive this crisis first. We can worry about sports another time.

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