ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 6 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

Three of Three: A Tale of the Life and
Times of the Grand Prix World, 1966 to 1968
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Part 2: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Formula

The 1961 Grand Prix season was marked by loud shouts of "FORZA!" ringing forth from the legions of Ferrari fans. Only the crafty and skillful Stirling Moss in the Rob Walker-entered Lotus-Climax FPF could keep the red machines at bay, and only then on two occasions - Monte Carlo and the N?rburgring. Whenever the red cars lined up on the grid, they were the odds on favorites for victory. It was a tough year for the teams wearing British Racing Green - even the Rob Walker Lotus conspired against them, since it was blue in honor of Walker's Scottish heritage.

Rumblings and mutterings from The Island were heard, but the news at the end of the 1961 season was reason for cautious optimism for the following season. The performance of the new engines from Coventry Climax and BRM was a cause for hope by the teams scheduled to use them. The problems which seem to dog the new Cooper - the Type 58, chassis F1/12/61 - which was using the prototype of the new Climax V-8 engine (the FWMV - for "Feather Weight Marine V8" block number ET/892/1205), were eventually ironed out and discovered to be the result of a head-seal failure under load that defied all efforts to find it until finally traced. The Cooper was consistently quick, but kept falling out of races due to overheating. Cooper and Coventry Climax searched in vain for why this was happening, but it frustrated them until after the end of the season. The cause was discovered to be the result of the different expansion & cooling rates of the alloy block and the cast-iron cylinder liners which resulted in the failure of the joint ring used as a water seal at the point where the crankcase and the liners met. Once this was rectified by using outer sleeves for the liners of the same material as the block, the reliability of the engine was assured and all was once again right with the World. Albion was once again armed...

The Owen Racing Organisation did not race its new V-8 during 1961, but the new V-8 - designated the P56 for "Project" 56 - gave the BRM team real cause for confidence as the start of the 1962 season approached. This was one result of a shake-up with the team. Alfred Owen made it clear that in 1962 he expected success. As he reminded some members of the team, it was entered as the Owen Racing Organisation... Peter Berthon was replaced by Tony Rudd as the technical director of the team. Berthon was to spend much of his time at Rye working with Harry Weslake on various research and design projects, but prior to being eased onto the bench, Berthon and Charles Amherst Villiers designed the P56. It was designed from the outset to serve both the works team and to be available as a customer engine, stealing a page from Coventry Climax's book. This meant that reliability was a consideration. However, the decision was also made to make it as potent an engine as possible. To this end the team benefited from the work undertaken by one of its sponsors - Shell - and the later work by Berthon and Weslake. Unlike Climax, BRM also decided to use fuel injection instead of carburetors from the start.

Additional cause for celebration for the British teams came as it became known that the Ferrari team had essentially imploded. Never the easiest of places to work, the team was rocked after the end of the season with news that Carlo Chiti, Romolo Tavoni, Ermano Della Casa, Giotto Bizzarini, Girolamo Gardini, Federico Giberti, Enzo Selmi, and Giorgio Galarassi had all resigned and walked out of the factory. Giberti was a member of the pre-War Scuderia and Della Casa was the genius behind the finances that kept the company afloat and healthy after some lean moments in the mid-1950s. He would return, but the others were now non-persons to Ferrari. He simply promoted their assistants to replace them. Even today it is not exactly clear what the disagree was really about, but it was probably more the result of a thousand nicks than any one blow. Naturally, World Champion Phil Hill had signed on with the team before he was aware of the troubles. Test driver Richie Ginther in the meanwhile had signed with BRM. Despite the positive notes sounded at the annual February press conference and later, it was clear that Ferrari was in trouble.

There was great joy on The Island as the 1962 season unfolded. Indeed, there was barely a dry eye in the house when the season ended in the far off environs of South Africa - where BRM and Graham Hill delivered the goods and Lotus proved it had found its Man in Jim Clark. The eyes were wet with tears of joy. Albion Triumphant! With the strains of Jerusalem being sung by a boys choir in the background, the Union Jack was once more planted upon the mountaintop. All was once again as it should be.

Naturally, the Italians - now essentially only Ferrari - differed somewhat to the idea as to what "should be" should be. However, they were largely ignored. Enzo Ferrari cast a cold eye at his current realities and decided to bring John Surtees into the fold, a typically calculated decision that gave Ferrari both an inroad into the science and art of the modern racing chassis and suspension as well as the most popular English speaker in Italy - as befits a seven-time Grand Prix motorcycle Champion on Italian motorcycles. Surtees and Ferrari will be the only fly in the ointment for Albion in the next few years. Of course, since Surtees was British it wasn't any entire loss for The Island when there was a red tide in 1964.

The 1963 Grand Prix de Monaco was the site for more than "just" a race that weekend in late May. There were a series of meetings starting on Friday concerning the future of Grand Prix racing. Even at first event of the Championship season, grumbling was heard about the lack of excitement and the rather tame nature of the cars. Recent events were on the minds of many as they sat in on the meetings.

In October 1962, just after the United States Grand Prix, the Chairman of Coventry Climax - Leonard Lee, announced that the company was withdrawing from racing. It simply could not continue to support the costs of building and maintaining the pace of development required for Grand Prix engines. The investment required was simply too much. The costs for the newest engine had proven much higher than anticipated. After much scurrying about and discussion, just before Christmas the funds were found from various sponsors to keep the company in the Grand Prix engine business. The quest for stability and financial security would lead to Coventry Climax agreeing to being bought by Jaguar soon after this.

Another was the impending effort by Team Lotus and Ford at the "Brickyard" later in the week. This was catching a great deal of attention in both Europe and the United States. This was in addition to the Carroll Shelby Cobra effort which Ford was also underwriting. Thoughts about where this might lead were beginning to enter the minds of more than a few folks that weekend.

The meetings were the idea of the President of the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), Maurice Baumgartner. The fracas that resulted from last Grand Prix formula change in 1958 perhaps motivated the Swiss to set about finding out what those involved in the sport wanted to see in the next formula. Whatever his reasons for this extraordinary series of meetings, it was not an opportunity to dismissed by any of those present.

Baumgartner held a series of small meetings after addressing many of those participating in an informal gathering. He had given those he planned to speak with an idea of the subject so they would have time to consider the question and think of a response. To say that it was remarkable is an understatement. The weekend saw Baumgartner move from huddle to huddle all weekend.

There had been several years of off-and-on efforts to bring the United States back into the international racing fold. It was a record with very mixed results. The United States hosted rounds in both the World Driver's Championship and the World Sports Car Championship. It also hosted the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indianapolis 500. Until the 1960 running of the race, it counted as a round in the World Championship. Until the 1953 event this was not too far fetched since the formula for the National Championship cars was very similar to the Grand Prix formula. Then they changed the Grand Prix formula and the and the relatively minor differences were no longer so minor.

There were a few efforts to bridge the gap, but they rarely got very far. After General Motors entered Sebring and mulled over a possible future for its new sports racers, the CSI slapped a maximum displacement of three litres on the Sports Car Championship effective the very next season. Even if Chevrolet had not been maneuvered into giving up sponsoring motor racing by domestic pressures, it would have been faced with developing new cars, a prospect it obviously did not relish. The Lance Reventlow Grand Prix effort, the Scarab, ended up fielding a 1957 or 1958 car for the 1960 season. The Inter-Continental Formula never quite got off the ground outside Britain.

Interestingly, the person designated to present the views of the United States was Colin Chapman. Although a bit surprising at first glance, this was in part predicated upon his many visits to the United States in preparation for the upcoming Indianapolis 500. In preparation for the meeting, Chapman had conferred with various folks involved in American racing as to what they thought should be the direction taken to entice the United States into the fold. The word that Chapman gave Baumgartner was that the United States thought the minimum displacement for engines in the new Grand Prix formula should be at least three litres - and a larger displacement would be preferable.

The British delegation was not surprisingly reluctant to see any change in the formula. Like five years before, they were on top and were determined to stay there. The costs associated with a change to the formula, they contended, would be Significant. They also stated that there was a good of development left in the current formula. Indeed, it was thought that the engines would not even reach their peak until 1966. There was also a suggestion that rotary engines be included considered. However, the overwhelming consensus was that there be no change in the formula.

Those representing the fuel and oil interests met at the same time with the tire interests. Actually, the only tire company involved was Dunlop, but the fuel companies were well presented with Shell, BP, and Esso being the major players on the block since they sponsored the major teams. The fuel companies and Dunlop seconded the British position, but expressed the concern that they had over the rising costs of racing. They were interested in discussing some ideas to reduce the costs of racing at the Grand Prix or at least stabilize them.

Those representing the German interests voiced general agreement with the British delegation. They also recommended that should the formula be changed that the maximum displacement limit be increased to two litres. With the withdrawal of Porsche at the end of the previous season and Mercedes-Benz not expressing any immediate interest in returning to the fray, the German voice in the proceedings was rather muted.

The French delegation simply expressed the thought that whatever the formula might be that it should contain some incentive to bring France back into the mainstream. Along with their Germans neighbors, the French voice in the proceedings was not a very loud one - nor a very shrill one either.

The Italian delegation expressed an opinion at variance with that of the British and Germans. There should be no restriction on engine displacement or the type of engine was the sentiment expressed by this group. The only restrictions should be the use of commercial premium gasoline - defined as 100-octane, some form of minimum cockpit measurements, a minimum weight in the 550 to 600 kilogram range, plus the distance for events in the Championship should cover a minimum distance of 600 kilometres. Needless to say, it was obvious that this group clearly were interested in a formula that placed the emphasis in areas not stressed in the current formula: big cars, big engines, and long races.

The press corps were also asked for their opinion. While they expressed the general idea that they leaned towards a formula with as few technical restrictions as possible - there was disagreement among this group as to whether there should be any fuel restrictions or a minimum weight - there was concern expressed that some elements of safety needed to be addressed. The reinforcement of the cockpit area was mentioned specifically in the discussion, but other areas were also raised. One other notion mentioned was that there be some limits placed on cockpit dimensions. This was in great part due to the fact that now drivers were - as some expressed it - "wearing" their cars. Save for the helmet design, it was getting difficult to distinguish one driver from another in similar cars. Plus, many expressed regret that it was not increasing difficult to see the driver at work.

When Baumgartner met with the drivers, time was set aside by the GPDA (Grand Prix Driver's Association) to discuss the issue. Foremost in their comments was the upcoming re-introduction of Formula 2. Graham Hill presented the general agreement among the drivers that the next Grand Prix formula be pegged at two litres. This was a step definitely above the incoming F2 - which was for racing engines with a maximum capacity of one litre, but not so much so that it too great a jump. The introduction of a three litre formula would result in too great a jump in performance from F2 to Grand Prix. In line with the thinking of the teams they raced for, the drivers also expressed concern over the costs associated with developing new engines for, say, a three litre formula as opposed to the lower costs of an incremental change from the current engines to two litres.

After his round of discussions with all involved, Baumgartner thanked them all and pondered all that he had heard during the weekend. In the meanwhile, the current formula was proceeding along fairly well although Jim Clark was making a shambles of things in the brilliant design of Colin Chapman - the Lotus 25 powered by the now fuel-injected Coventry Climax FWMV - and mopping the floor with the opposition. By finishing second at the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring to John Surtees, Clark actually make bigger news by losing than Surtees did by winning.

Prior to the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen that Fall, the GPDA requested and was granted another meeting with the CSI and Baumgartner. The President of the GPDA, Joakim Bonnier, told Baumgartner that it had reconsidered its earlier stance in support of a two litre Grand Prix formula and now supported a three litre formula. Bonnier said that the GPDA also recommended a minimum weight of 525 kilograms. The GPDA shifted to supporting the three litre formula when discussions among the engine manufacturers led them to believe that development costs for any new engines would be similar for both two and three litre engines. That being the case, the GPDA now preferred the upper limit.

In late November of 1963, the CSI announced the new Grand Prix formula. It made it clear that unless otherwise stated any specifications for the current formula - self-starters, the use of commercial premium gasoline, roll-bars, no replenishment of oil during a race, and so forth - would apply to the new formula. Baumgartner stated that the new formula would allow for a maximum displacement of 3,000cc for normally aspirated engines and of 1,500cc for engines using forced induction - supercharging. There would be a minimum weight - again with lubricants and coolants, but without fuel - of 500 kilograms. Rotary - Wankel - engines were permitted without any displacement restrictions and further information on these would be issued later. This was a move designed to perhaps entice Mercedes-Benz back since they were beginning to explore the possibilities of these type engines for possible use in their production cars. The rotary engines were required to use gasoline as fuel. Turbine engines were also permitted and with no restrictions on the specifications regarding the "displacement" of the engine. As with the rotary engines, further information would be issued late. Unlike the other options, the turbines were permitted to use any fuel available. The formula was to take effect on 1 January 1966 and run through 31 December 1970.

Needless to say, there were some seriously uplifted eyebrows when the formula was announced. However, the initial discussion of the formula was lost in the shuffle as much of the attention of the time was directed to the recent events in the United States. Remember that on 22 November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. That Friday and for days and several weeks following his death, other activities took something of backseat. That his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was gunned that following Sunday on live television only created more drama.

However, Life Goes On and the reaction to the new Grand Prix formula was soon forthcoming. We will take a look at that reaction and other related developments next time. Until then, Mister Peabody, Sherman, Karl Oakie, and I will be frantically scrambling to write that episode.

Next: "Be Careful What You Ask For, Lessons 1,963, 1,964, and 1,965..."

Previous Parts in this Series:    

Don Capps© 2007
Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

 Back to Atlas F1 Front Page   Tell a Friend about this Article