Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

Where Upon Our Scribe, Sherman,
and Mr. Peabody Once Again Crank
Up The Way-Back Machine for...
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Imagine my surprise last week when those rascals Peter Goodchild and David South Southworth had an article entitled The Best Season Ever in which your humble & faithful Scribe was not only mentioned by Name - but they even spelled it correctly! Oh, and they established objectively what your Scribe had come to realize subjectively...that 1982 may well have been the "Best Season Ever" in the World Championship. The article caught your Scribe completely flat-footed and was as interested as the rest of you at the results.

I personally extend a well-earned Hoooah! to Peter and David (gee, sounds like a 60's singing group...) for a well-conceived and executed article. Of the many, many lists we have been bombarded with over the last six or so months, this is by far the most original and the most interesting. These gentlemen thought long and hard as to the criteria they deemed important or significant, gathered the data, and then using an algorithm they created, got out of the way as the numbers got crunched. Three of the top five were not a surprise to me - 1982, 1961, 1968; one a mild surprise, 1986; and one was a true surprise - 1999! Whether you agree or disagree with their results, their methodology is an interesting one and beats anybody else by a long shot. Full points for Original Thinking, I say. Excellent!

In an irony that begs belief, your Scribe - at the fevered insistence of Sherman and Mr. Peabody - had already mulled over starting another series of articles covering an interesting and historic year in Grand Prix racing. I mused about several, but one year kept hanging in my memory...


Would you believe that, 1961? Interesting, but did you ever notice that if you turn '1961' upside down it still says '1961?' I made the same observation as a smart-ass teenager in 1961 as well. And, I had no idea that it was going to be Number Two on the Peter & David Hit Parade when I started sketching out the series we are about to embark upon. I hope you enjoy it.

1961: The Season of Low Expectations or Britain Sees Red

Every story has to begin somewhere and at some place in time. The story of the 1961 season might be able to trace its genesis to the decision in early-1956 by the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) to revive Formula 2 starting with the 1957 season. The "Voiturette" Formula was to be contested by cars using engines with a maximum capacity of 1,500cc unsupercharged and use "premium" pump gasoline. There was no alternative for supercharged engines in the formula, a departure from the past and a reflection that supercharging seemed to have had its day. It was uncomplicated by much else in the way of regulations, just a capacity limit and the use of "premium" gasoline. "Premium" was later established to be - more or less - 101.5 octane since that was the most common rating of "premium" gasoline in Europe.

In the late evening of 29 October 1958, the British racing fraternity was riding on a high. At a ceremony and formal dinner hosted by the Royal Automobile Club at its posh Pall Mall headquarters in London, the first British World Champion driver - Mike Hawthorn, and the winner of the first ever Manufacturers Championship - the Vanwall team owned by Tony Vandervell, were honored by an adoring (perhaps even fawning) British audience. The British motor racing press was ecstatic and went to great lengths to tout the superiority of the British Grand Prix drivers and cars. By Jingo, there was no chauvinism in how the twin victories were viewed by enthusiasts and all the others present that evening. "Take THAT!" was a common refrain directed at the only real competition offered up by the Continentals that season: Scuderia Ferrari.

As the dinner wound down and after the appropriate awards were handed out, the last item on the agenda for the evening was the announcement of the formula which was to run during the 1961 - 1964 seasons. Many thought it would be either a continuation of the current 2.5-litre formula with perhaps a return to the 500km and/or three hour stipulation; or perhaps even an increase to 3-litres; most expected that maybe a decrease to 2-litres was in the works. No one outside the seven members of the CSI Committee which had made the decision knew. Only a select few administrators at the CSI and the FIA had been informed of the decision. Then the President of the CSI, Auguste Perouse, rose to read the announcement. Few present truly expected what they heard:

From January 1st, 1961, Formula 1 shall be for cars with a cylinder capacity of from 1,300 to 1,500 cc unsupercharged, running on commercial fuel. A number if other devices will also be compulsory. These are: 1. a protective roll-over bar; 2. an automatic starter; 3. a double braking system - one working on all four wheels and an emergency system working on at least two front wheels; 4. no replenishment of oil to be allowed during a race; 5. "safety-type" fuel tanks; 6. driver's cockpit to be open and all wheels exposed; 7. cars to have a minimum weight, including oil and water but without fuel, of 500 kilograms, this weight not to be made up by ballast.

Needless to say, those in the audience sat in stunned silence as the announcement was read. The damned Continentals had done it again! Albion once again tweaked by the scheming cads at the CSI! The motoring press was outraged and all present were vehemently in support of a continuation of the status quo now that it was BRG - British Racing Green. Many saw the hand of the wily Enzo Ferrari in the decision made by the FIA. In reality, Ferrari was just as displeased as the British were!

The vote by the CSI Committee was 5 - 2 in favor of the French proposal. The two dissenting votes were cast by Great Britain and Italy. That Italy was also a dissenting member of the CSI Committee was largely overlooked by the British then and later. The uproar was contained to only near-riot levels due to the gentlemen present being in their eveningwear and one simply did not riot in said attire.

Phil Hill heading for 3'rd place at MonacoTwo weeks after the bombshell announcement at Pall Mall, the RAC Competitions Committee held a war council. Lord Howe, in a supreme understatement, stated that the CSI had made a decision that went against the input provided by drivers, manufacturers, and suppliers and was not in the best interest of the British racing community. Therefore, he intoned, Britain, Italy, and United States were developing a new series to be called the "Inter-Continental" formula. It would allow engine capacities of up to three litres and would take effect in 1961. To cheers of, "Hear! Hear!" and the occasional "Up their arse!", the British declared the decision of the CSI effectively null and void.

The British constructors, drivers, and suppliers all threw their support behind the proposal and began marching in that direction as their little feet would carry them. Needless to say, the 1959 and 1960 seasons saw BRG (in several hues and with some blue from Scotland thrown in for good measure) dominate. Cooper chassis and Coventry Climax engines emerged victorious each season, with Lotus and BRM (British Racing Motors which was campaigned by the Owen Racing Organisation) picking up the odd scrap here and there.

Nay, it is not to say that the British were in denial. They were in denial of their denial. The 2.5-litre formula was a perfectly splendid thing! They could scarcely conceive why anyone would want to change it. What was conveniently overlooked was that until 1957 the British were basically minor players in the Game and others - Maserati, Gordini, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia - had already tried their hand and departed. Ferrari was still on the scene, but not much in the way of any of the other Continental constructors. It was, the CSI had implied, time for a change. Plus, after the deaths in 1958 of Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, and Stuart Lewis-Evans in addition to those in 1957 during the Mille Miglia and not to mention the dreaded cloud of the 1955 slaughter at Le Mans which still hung over racing like a shroud, something had to be done to slow the cars down. Safety was emerging as an issue that could no longer be shrugged off.

Le Mans had ended that possibility and the deaths of Fon de Portago and Ed Miller in the previous years Mille Miglia on added fuel to the fire. Gone was the Mille Miglia, gone was racing in Switzerland, and there were now restrictions in many countries where none had previously existed. In the far distant United States, the effects had been felt: at the end of the 1955 season the American Automobile Association (AAA) Contest Board had abandoned its capacity as a sanctioning body and forever turned its back on racing. It was replaced by the United States Auto Club at Indianapolis, but its absence allowed other players onto the center stage in America. These included NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing) and the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America).

Implicit in the CSI decision was that the current formula would have a life span of seven years, an eternity for a Grand Prix formula. In addition, a new formula was needed to provide fresh challenges to the manufacturers and designers. Along this line, it was necessary to generate fresh interest and bring in new blood to racing and to keep the costs "reasonable," however one might define the term. And, there was a need to generate some form of spectacle - read close racing, dicing for position, overtaking, and so forth - so that spectator interest would be sufficient to draw them to the tracks so that in turn the organizers could make a profit to continue to provide a venue for the machines. The Great Racing Mandala...

The British were having none of this of course. They did manage to wring one concession from the CSI and that was a revision of the minimum weight limit downward to 450 kilograms. In mid-1960, a sense that just perhaps they might want to start taking a look at the new formula started to crawl over the British teams. Although they were dominating F2, which was the logical progression to the new F1, Porsche and Ferrari seemed to be pretty serious about the next season. When a rear-engined Dino showed up for testing at Modena in March with Martino Severi and Phil Hill putting in laps followed by Richie Ginther putting it on the grid at Monaco, thoughts quickly turned to the sad state of British contingency plans. By late Summer, a number of British teams were getting the sense that they were sadly out of step with the rest of the Continental competition. In addition, Italy had dropped out of the "Inter-Continental" formula scheme. The Americans were essentially bit players at best, although Lance Reventlow did send a Scarab back across the Atlantic, but that is for later.

Giancarlo Baghetti on his way to victory at Reims in the FISA entered Ferrari 156By mid-1959, Ferrari had decided to go with the flow and ceased to resist the proposed formula. He had desired a formula with a greater capacity - three litres - so he could put a vee-12 in one of his cars and blow the opposition into the weeds. However, he did have the germ for what he thought could be a potent package for 1961, the Dino vee-6. After all, it HAD started out life as an F2 engine!

Although credit for the vee-6 was generally given to Dino Ferrari at the time, it was done so more as consolation for a grieving father than as a matter of strict fact. At the end of June 1956, Dino Ferrari died from the lingering effects of muscular dystrophy complicated and accelerated by nephritis. At the time of Dino's death, Scuderia Ferrari were working on an engine for the new F2 which was to take effect the next year. While Dino did participate in some of the discussions concerning the engine, the actual design was that of Vittorio Jano.

Jano chose a vee-6 with an angle of 65 degrees between the banks to provide the space available for the dual overhead camshafts and necessary bits. This also gave (barely) adequate room for the ducting necessary for adequate breathing for the little engine. Unlike the vee-12 designs of Ferrari, the left bank was staggered ahead of the right (just like the Lancia vee-8 which Jano also designed). The dimensions were 70mm x 64.5mm for a swept volume of 1,489.35cc. In tests, the engine was giving 180bhp at its peak - 9,000rpm, but a good 155-160bhp to the average without any problems. The Coventry Climax FPF four-cylinder, by way of comparison, was cranking out all of perhaps 140bhp at 7,000rpm. Even accounting for 'smaller' Italian horses, the Dino engine was looking like a winner. Now they needed a car to put the engine into so it could be raced in 1957.

The first Dino 156 was essentially a scaled down model of the Ferrari version of the Lancia D.50 being campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari under its internal designation as the '801.' The chassis was a tubular chassis with two large tubes - longerons - with supporting tubes for the structure. It was not a space frame, but a variation on the simple twin-tube ladder frame. Unsophisticated is a word that could easily be applied to the design. The propeller-shaft was offset to the left of the driver. The transmission was a large magnesium alloy casting that contained the input bevels, clutch, four-speed gearbox, final drive gears, and the ZF limited slip differential.

The front suspension was unequal wishbones with coil springs, an anti-roll bar and Houdaille shock absorbers. The front brakes were drums using components at hand from the Lancia parts bin. Rear suspension was a de Dion beam that ran behind the final drive and differential. There were forward facing twin radius rods from the end of the beam and transverse leaf type springs mounted above the final drive with Houdaille shocks at the rear as well. The rear brakes were drums straight off the 801 series. The capacity of the rear-mounted fuel tank was about 145 litres. Its wheelbase was 2,160mm; track, 1,270mm front and 1,240 rear; and, it had a weight of approximately 512kg ready to race.

Since it was more or less a part of the current series - it certainly looked like one, only smaller - it was given the next chassis number in the series, '0011.'

Next time: the Dino Hits the Track and Reality Hits the British...

Don Capps© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

[ Back to Atlas F1 Front Page ]