ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 41 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

"Only the icing and the frills have changed."
Denis Jenkinson, 1981
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Recently, I came across the article which carried the title you see at the top of the page. It appeared in the 1981 edition of Autocourse, which marked the occasion of the publication of its 30th volume. I was looking for something else, naturally, but the article - which I had not read for some time - caught my attention and so, naturally, I read it. I did find what I was looking for later - somewhere else of course, but the article stuck in my mind.

Jenks - as he was always known - did not gladly suffer fools or foolishness. While perhaps one may not agree with Jenks from time to time, there was no mistaking where he stood on an issue or his opinion about a driver, a team, a circuit, or the latest foibles of the Powers That Be.

Interestingly enough, Jenks was not the sentimental sort. None of that misty-eyed, "Ah, things aren’t like they used to be," for him. His answer was either, "No, thank goodness!" or, "Yes, they are exactly the same!" Which was vintage Jenks, of course.

When the article was written, Formula 1 was finishing its 34th season and the World Championship crowning its 31st Champion, a certain Nelson Piquet. I was brought up short when I realized that the 2000 season was the 54th season of Formula 1 and the 51st season of the Championship. I have been for the entire time that both have existed. Indeed, my first motor racing was in 1949 and my first Grand Prix was in 1955.

Like Jenks two decades ago, I have seen some changes in the sport. And as Jenks suggested, the analogy of a cake is still quite appropriate. He thought that the basic ingredients were unchanged: the fundamentals were the same, the objective being to win, to be successful. It was the icing and the other frills on the cake that Jenks suggested that have changed over the years. He suggested the icing was thicker than it once had been - and with "a myriad of fairies and pixies" (the "frills") dancing all over the icing. He maintained that once you got through the frills, the icing and into the cake itself, the differences between 1951 and 1981 were essential few to none.

Indeed, perhaps there is wisdom to what Jenks suggests. After all, in 1950, the Alfa Romeo 158 was red steamroller that season, winning each of the Championship rounds and every other race it entered that season as well. Indeed, it had been since June 1946 at the Coupe Rene de la Begue at St. Cloud that the Alfa Romeo team had tasted defeat. In 1951, the challenger to the all-conquering Alfa Romeo team was a name familiar even today: Ferrari…

The grids in 1951 varied from event to event. In 2000, there are 17 rounds in the World Championship. In 1951, there were (including the Indianapolis 500) eight rounds in the Championship, with an additional 14 non-championship Grand Prix events. In 1951, the term "Formula 1" was still relatively new. When the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) originally announced the new formula for Grand Prix racing in 1946 with it taking effect in 1947, it was called "Formula A." However, it soon was known as "Formula 1" and by 1949 that was what it was called by everyone, including the CSI.

A quick word about the Indianapolis 500 and the AAA (American Automobile Association) Contest Board National Championship. In 1938, the AAA Contest Board agreed to use the new AIACR (the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnu, the fore-runner of the FIA) Grand Prix formula for its National Championship events. In 1951, these rules were still in effect, but only a few entries used the 3-litre supercharged option (1.5-litres in GP since 1947). The vast majority used the unsupercharged 4.5-litre Offenhauser engine. This was still the maximum capacity allowed for cars using naturally aspired engines in GP events, so it actually did make some sense to include the Indianapolis 500 that year. Ahem, that means that there was a domestic "F1" series in the United States that year (as well as the 1947 through 1953 seasons).

In 2000, we have Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher contesting the Championship. In 1991, it was Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. In 1981, it was Carlos Reutemann and Nelson Piquet, after Alan Jones dropped out of contention. In 1971, it was Jackie Stewart and, well, nobody to be honest, but the comingman was clearly Ronnie Peterson. In 1961, it was Wolfgang "Taffy" von Trips and Phil Hill. In 1951, it was Juan Fangio and Alberto Ascari. With one exception, it resolves down to two drivers going for the crown, often to the last event. Interesting how it seems to work out that way, isn’t it?

To return to a thought, today there are 11 teams fielding 22 cars for each round of the Championship. In 1951 (excluding Indianapolis, of course), the numbers and teams varied from event to event:

GP der Schweiz, Berne: 21 on the grid
GP de Belgique, Spa-Francorchamps: 13 on the grid
GP de l'A.C.F., Reims: 23 on the grid
RAC British GP, Silverstone: 20 on the grid
GP von Deutschland, the Nurburgring: 22 on the grid
GP d'Italia, Monza: 19 on the grid
GP d'Espana, Pedralbes/ Barcelona: 19 on the grid

However, then as now, there were those at the front of the grid, the middle of the grid, and the rear of the grid. Those at the front then, today, tomorrow, or whenever - would be there be there pretty much regardless. As they say, the cream always rises to the top, although sometimes it is easier for some than others. Today, talented, rich young men buy their way into teams. Using personal wealth and/or the ability to generate money for a team, they end up on the grid. Many have talent and perhaps even a good deal of it, but success is not always to the relatively wealthy.

In 1951, it was little different. Only the technique was slightly different: the rich, talented young men bought a machine and entered it for the races. Or, as was also a practice, the talented, rich young man could also persuade a team to take his money in exchange for a ride in his home race - more often than not it was a privateer team, but the works teams were not above this practice either. Some were actually talented, just as there are those today who might just shine given a seat in a machine that resides at the front of the grid.

In 1981, driving for the Fittipaldi team, Keke Rosberg did not score a single solitary Championship point. Indeed, at the end of 1981 after four season on the grid, he had a grand total of a mere six points to his name, all earned in 1980. In 1982, he would be the World Champion.

The cars of 1951 bear little relation, superficially, to those of 2000. Yet, while the mechanical bits are as different as night and day, the purpose is the same: wring every possible advantage from the parameters laid down by the rules-makers and beat the opposition. The Alfa Romeo 158/159 and Ferrari 375 of 1951 are kindred souls with the Ferrari Dino 156 and Lotus 18 & 21 of 1961, the Tyrrell and March 711 of 1971, the Williams FW07 and Brabham BT49 of 1981, the McLaren MP4/6 and the Williams FW14, and the McLaren MP4/15 and Ferrari F1/2000 of 2000, are all kindred souls. However different they may look, sound, feel, or operate - they are all thorough-bred racing machines without any pretense of being anything but that.

Jenks did mention that he was happy to have been around when they used methanol fuel - with the occasional dab of nitro-methane during practice to "inspire" the driver to a better grid position. Personally, I wish they would go back to methanol, since I too enjoyed the various blends that were created for the teams. Jenks mused about the streamliner-bodied cars and about how they did add a dash to the proceedings. He also liked the idea of moveable airfoils, particularly when they were on the Chaparral cars.

Something that he observes is so obvious that it escapes one at first: the creation of teams that are truly multi-national enterprises. While a team might have something of a international gallery of drivers in 1951 or 1961 or even in 1971, the teams were still "national" teams in the sense that they were products of a specific country and the personnel overwhelmingly from that nation. In 1971, this was less true, but in 1981 and today, teams are truly international in terms of drivers, designers, mechanics, sponsors, mechanical bits, and so forth. There are some teams that this is less true than the norm, but it is only a matter of degree.

One thing Jenks did not do was fret over what he had no control. While he was sad to see the fading away of such circuits as the Bremgarten at Berne or the Montesilvano circuit at Pescara or the changes to Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring or the passing of the Rouen-les-Essarts circuit along with other such little known circuits as Bari, Posillipo in Napoli, Siracusa, Caen, Solitude, and Bordeaux, he accept that as the price of change. The face of Europe changed to such an extent that these circuits simply could not survive. Life goes on, as the Beatles remind us.

True, some of the modern circuits made one blanch, but not everyone was a fan of the circuits back then either. Reims, Monza, Silverstone, and several others were considered boring to drive upon. Monte Carlo was considered too cramped and not all that interesting. The Bremgarten was a hairy track that all respected, but few loved.

However, one obvious change is that at Spa-Francorchamps you can no longer use the roadside telephone poles to figure out where the road goes when the rain gets too heavy. Or plow into the hay bales at about any circuit on any corner. But, the purpose remains the same: serve as the arena for the contest of men and machines.

Stirling Moss once remarked that GP racing today is a "business pretending to be a sport" and that it was once a "sport pretending to be a business." While there might be some truth to that, racing at the GP level has never been cheap. The numbers have a sense of relativity about them. The numbers may have been relatively small back then in today’s term, but in relative terms the outlay was still significant. True, today’s numbers are huge, far beyond even the accounting for inflation and other similar factors. But, what Daimler-Benz spent for the 1954/1955 campaign which saw its Mercedes W196 bludgeon most of its competition into submission, was a significant chunk of its operating capital.

While I admit to not being a devotee of the current brand of Grand Prix - or Formula 1 to be accurate using today's lexicon - racing, it is simply a matter of taste and not of substance. Things do run in cycles. As Jenks said, slice into the heart of the cake and racing in 2000 is truly little different than that of 1981 or 1951…

Enjoy it today and remember that as the great sage Carly Simon told us many years ago when we looked warily at the state of the art then, "these are the good ole days..."


Don Capps© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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