Fascinating F1 Fact:40

The current Formula 1 tyre supplier, Pirelli, has been owned since June last year by the China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina, a state-owned enterprise, based in Beijing. This may seem a little odd for a celebrated Italian enterprise, but from a motorsport point of view, it is apt.

Pirelli’s first success in motorsport was an adventure which began in the Chinese capital: the Peking-Paris race of 1907.

The idea of such an extraordinary challenge came from the French newspaper Le Matin, which announced in January that year, that it would promote the race, starting in June, to prove the power of the new-fangled automobiles. The prize would be a single bottle of champagne. The cantankerous Autocar in England dismissed the idea as “one of those hardy annuals that crop up when there is nothing else to talk about in the automobile world” and dismissed the whole affair as self-promotion.

There were 62 expressions of interest, which became 40 entries, but there was little time and only five cars appeared in Peking. There were no rules beyond the fact that the cars had to be driven. There was no route, mainly because there were no roads. It was 9,300 miles of do-it-yourself adventure. The plan was simple. The racers would follow the telegraph lines across the Gobi Desert and then run close to the Trans-Siberian railway. This would provide guidance and suitable stopping off points so the competitors could access the telegraph, so that the story could be told.

The Marquis Albert de Dion, owner of the De Dion Bouton automobile company, sent two of his cars to China by ship, while the crews went by train, organising fuel supplies along the route, something which involved sending a camel train into the Gobi Desert to create fuel dumps. They were also supposed to get authorisation for the event from the Chinese government, but they were not very successful in this respect. The racers did not care. They were going to set off whether the government liked it or not. The two de Dions were joined by a Dutch Spyker, a lightweight three-wheeler called a Contal and a hefty-looking Itala. The De Dions were to running on Dunlop tyres, the Spyker had Michelins and the Itala was on Pirellis. The Italian firm had only been making automobile tyres for seven years and the company founder’s second son Alberto, then in his early twenties, was enthusiastic about using the Peking-Paris to promote the products.

It helped, of course, that the Itala was driven by a full-blown Prince. Luigi Scipione Borghese, the 10th Prince of Sulmona, who was accompanied by his chauffeur Ettore Guizzardi. The 35-year-old Prince was the son of an Italian father and a Hungarian Countess. He had climbed mountains and had travelled cross-country from Beirut to the Pacific and had written several books about his adventures. He was also a member of the Italian Parliament. He was cool, calm and aristocratic. Guizzardi (25) was the son of a train driver who had joined the Prince’s staff after a train crash close to the Borghese family castle in 1897, when he was 16. His father had been killed in the accident and Borghese took Guizzardi in and organised for him to be trained as a mechanic with Fiat and Ansaldo. The third crew member was a 33-year-old journalist Luigi Barzini, a war correspondent who was familiar with China, having covered the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War for Corriere della Sera. He was to report on the event for his newspaper and the Daily Telegraph.

The Itala was specially-built with a truck chassis, fitted with a detuned seven-litre Itala Grand Prix engine, and very basic bodywork, with planks of wood being used for mudguards (a brilliant idea, as it turned out). It had two seats in the front and one at the rear, the fourth seat having been replaced by two large fuel tanks.

A French military band played as the cars departed the French Embassy in Peking on June 10 and for the first few days, the cars remained in contact, meeting up each evening at refuelling stops. Borghese felt he was being held back and eventually lost patience and so went ahead on his own. The crew would have a series of adventures including being stuck in a marsh, which required rescue by a large number of oxen. The telegraph stations added interest as at one they found the operator drugged with opium and at another the operator explained that he had not sent a message in his entire six year stay.

Once in Russia they used an old military road, which dated from the construction of the Trans Siberian Railway but had become rather overgrown in places and on which many of the wooden bridges were rotting away. The Prince’s answer was to cross them as quickly as possible, before they fell apart. On one such occasion Guizzardi was driving tentatively across such a structure when it gave way beneath them, flipping the car over, throwing Barzini and the driver out and leaving the Prince hanging upside down, under the car.

Later they drove along the the railway lines, but this caused a near-miss with an express and a later wheel to collapse from the vibration. When they reached Moscow the Itala crew was so confident of victory that they diverted to St Petersburg before heading down the ever-improving roads to reach the Russo-German border on August 4. They had a complicated moment in Belgium when stopped for speeding, as the local policeman refused to believe that Borghese was an Italian Prince who had driven from Peking, which was not altogether surprising…

They arrived in Paris to claim their champagne on August 10. Barzini would later publish a book in 11 languages, called From Beijing to Paris in 60 Days. He would go on to move from journalism into politics and became a strong supporter of Benito Mussolini, a senator and a member of the Fascist government. He died destitute in 1947 after the fall of the regime.

Pirelli’s first taste of competition was a huge success and the company would move on to Grand Prix racing, winning its first major victory with George Boillot’s Peugeot in the GP de l’ACF at Amiens in 1913.

Fascinating F1 Fact:39

The World Championship showdown in 1964 took place in Mexico City on October 25 that year on the Magdalena Mixhuca circuit, now known as the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. There were three British drivers all with a chance of winning the title. Graham Hill in a BRM led the points standings with 39, five ahead of Ferrari’s John Surtees with Lotus’s Jim Clark with 30 points. At that time Championship points were scored only by the first six cars, with a  9-6-4-3-2-1 system. It was the first time that three constructors went into the last final round of the championship all with a chance of winning the Constructors’ title: Ferrari having 43 points, BRM 42 and Lotus 37.

Clark had won three races, but had been winless since the British GP in July, while Surtees and Hill had each won two, as had Brabham’s Dan Gurney, although he was not in the running for the title. The other victory had gone to Surtees’s Ferrari team-mate Lorenzo Bandini.
Clark took pole position with Gurney alongside and the two went off into the lead with Hill dropping back to 10th because of problems with broken elastic on his goggles. He fought up to  third by lap 12 and seemed to be set to win the title until he came under attack from Bandini, who made several attempts to pass the BRM before he made an overly-optimistic lunge on lap 31 and the two cars made contact. Hill spun backwards into the barriers but both cars were able to rejoin, although Hill had a damaged exhaust which meant he was losing power. He made a lengthy pit stop for repairs. His only hope was that Clark would not win the race.
With Hill out of the points, the title was suddenly within Clark’s grasp. Surtees had to be second in order to beat him and with Gurney firmly in second, Surtees was in trouble, even if Ferrari ordered Bandini to drop back and let him pass. On lap 64 of 65 Clark’s engine failed. Gurney took the lead with Bandini second and Surtees third. Hill was back in a championship winning position with 39 points to Surtees’s 38.  As the last lap began, Ferrari signalled frantically to Bandini, ordering him to let Surtees overtake. Fortunately, the Italian understood the message and duly allowed Surtees to pass, which meant that he gained two extra points and that gave him 40 points to Hill’s 39.
Clark was classified in fifth place, a lap down, but this meant that the Constructors’ Championship also went to Ferrari with 45 points to BRM’s 42, whereas Lotus would have won it if Clark had won the race.
After the race some suggested that Bandini’s move on Hill had been foul play but not even BRM boss Louis Stanley believed the stories. Bandini, Ferrari team manager Eugenio Dragoni and chief engineer Mauro Forghieri all went to visit Stanley after the race to apologise, and Stanley reported that the driver was almost in tears.
It would remain the most exciting World Championship showdown until 1976, but even the amazing finish at Fuji could not beat the finale of 2008 when Lewis Hamilton took the title from Felipe Massa on the very last lap.

Fascinating F1 Fact:38

British influence at Ferrari is not new, dating back to the 1950s, when Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins made a big impression, the former winning the World Championship for the Italian team in 1958.

A string of other British drivers raced for Ferrari, notably Tony Brooks, Cliff Allison, John Surtees, Mike Parkes, Jonathan Williams and Derek Bell. Then there was then a very long gap before Johnny Dumfries was signed up as a test driver in 1985 and four years later Nigel Mansell joined the team. And then, of course, there was Eddie Irvine.

There have been plenty of British engineers as well,  from Parkes in the early 1960s to Harvey Postlethwaite, John Barnard, Ross Brawn, Pat Fry and James Allison.

What is often forgotten is that the team’s first full monocoque chassis (as opposed to a semi-monocoque) was also built by John Thompson, who ran a company called TC Prototypes, in Weedon, a small village on the A5, in Northamptonshire…

At the time, it was 1972, Ferrari had not won an F1 World Championship title since 1964. The Italian fans were impatient.

The change to “the 3-litre formula” in 1966 saw the team introduce the Ferrari 312, designed by Mauro Forghieri, which was used until 1969. This was followed by the 312B in 1970 with which Jacky Ickx won three Grands Prix. This in turn was followed by the 312B2 in 1971 and the same car was revised for 1972. Ickx won the German GP that season, but Ferrari dropped to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship and pressure for change grew. 

Forghieri intended to take the world by storm with a new car with a full-width nose and square bodywork, unveiled in August 1972. The 312 B3, as it was known, soon earned the nickname “spazzaneve”, meaning snowplow. It was tested by Jacky Ickx and Arturo Merzario and neither was impressed and Enzo Ferrari blew his top and banished Forghieri to the Special Projects department. Soon afterwards, team manager Peter Schetty decided to go back to his family’s business in Switzerland.

In Forghieri’s place, Ferrari appointed Sandro Colombo, a graduate of the Politecnico di Milano, who had worked mainly in motorcycle design, with Gilera, Bianchi, Ossa and then Innocenti, which he had joined in 1960. He got to know Ferrari in 1963 when Innocenti tried to make a sporting coupé, which was to be powered by a Ferrari engine. Later, when Innocenti was taken over by British Leyland, Colombo left and went to work at the Centro Ricerche Fiat in Orbassano, near Turin. He was then seconded by Fiat to Ferrari, joining the company in April 1972. He was 48 and a man who understood the practicalities of engineering. His conclusion was that Ferrari was being regularly beaten by British engineers and so the best thing to do was to go to the British to broaden the Italian team’s knowledge. The spazzaneve project was discarded and a new full monocoque car was designed, although (oddly) it retained the same 312 B3 nomenclature, presumably to avoid embarrassment.

Colombo did some research and heard about the 32-year-old metal-working wizard who had been working in motorsport for a decade, initially with Bruce McLaren, where he first gained the reputation of being a magician. McLaren designer Robin Herd then took him to Cosworth to work on the engine firm’s F1 car in 1969 before they both moved on to March Engineering, where Thompson worked on the early March designs.

At the end of 1970, however, Thompson decided to set up his own business, TC Prototypes, and work for whoever was willing to pay him.

A fortnight after the 1972 season ended, Colombo went to England for the London Motor Show at Earls Court. He arranged a meeting with Thompson at Weedon, and arrived with a briefcase full of drawings, asking Thompson how much it would cost to build three bare monocoque chassis. Thompson was impressed by the quality of the draftsmanship and jumped at the chance. This kept TC Prototypes busy that winter.

The F1 season in 1973 started in Argentina at the end of January and Ferrari had no choice but to use the old 312 B2s. Ickx was fourth in Buenos Aires and Merzario was fourth in both Brazil and South Africa, which followed. There was then an eight-week gap before the European season began in Spain. The three Thompson chassis had been sent out to Italy by then, but only one car was ready for Ickx and he finished a miserable 12th. There was still only one car for Belgium and Ickx retired with an oil pump failure. Ferrari returned to running two cars in Monaco, but both had mechanical failures and Ferrari began to lose heart. There was only one car sent to Sweden, although Ickx finished sixth and in France he was fifth with Merzario seventh, but then it was back down to one car again for the British GP. Ferrari then missed both the Dutch and German GPs as upheaval followed in Maranello. Colombo went back to Fiat and Forghieri returned from his exile. The car was revised in Austria, but Ickx had lost interest, although Merzario finished seventh. Ickx rejoined the team in Monza before leaving completely, so Ferrari sent only one car to the final two races. The Italians like to blame the poor season on the decision to buy a British product, but Forghieri retained the monocoque, even if he changed most of the rest of the car. Luca Montezemolo was called in to become the new sporting director and Ferrari abandoned its sports car racing projects, in order to concentrate solely on F1. New drivers, Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, were hired from BRM.

It was easy to blame the “Thompson B3s” and Forghieri had no desire to give the English any credit, but the 1973 car provided him was a good starting point for the  1974 B3s, which were much more competitive and set the team on an upward path again.

Colombo became the product manager for the Fiat 131 and then moved on to become head of development at Magneti Marelli.




Troubles for Fiat?

It is worth keeping an eye on a developing story in the United States, where Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been accused of not telling the authorities there about software which regulates emissions in some of its diesel vehicles. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that FCA has broken the law by using such technology in more its 2014-2016 Jeeps and its Dodge Ram products.

Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne has dismissed the EPA allegations as being “absolute nonsense”, but the news has resulted in FCA’s share price falling dramatically in both New York and Milan.

Fiat Chrysler said that it would demonstrate that the emissions control systems were not designed to get around emissions tests.

The Department of Justice said VW had a long-running scheme to sell about 590,000 diesel vehicles in the US fitted with a defeat device to cheat on emissions tests.

Marchionne is head of Fiat and Ferrari, although the two are separate entities. there is believed to be a strategy for Fiat to use Ferrari technology to give Alfa Romeo an F1 presence, but this might be impossible if a scandal develops.

Fascinating F1 Fact:37

Switzerland is a place where quite a few F1 drivers choose to live. There are tax benefits, the people are respectful and everything works. The country is one of only three that has a Formula 1 team based on its soil (although Haas might argue that). The FIA is officially based in Paris, but much of the federation’s activity is run from offices in Geneva.

The country has produced some very talented and successful drivers, notably Clay Regazzoni, Jo Siffert, Marc Surer, Sebastien Buemi, not to mention Romain Grosjean, who is half-Swiss and half-French. Switzerland won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007-08, while Marcel Fässler has won the World Endurance Championship and is a three-time Le Mans winner. Neel Jani is also a WEC champion and Le Mans winner, while Fabio Leimer won the GP2 title a few years ago. It is a hotbed of motorsport activity – and yet motor racing is banned in Switzerland…

It was not always the case. Switzerland hosted its first Grand Prix in 1934 and for many years it was one of the highlights of the Grand Prix calendar, with the races taking place on the spectacular Bremgarten circuit, in the forests just outside the city of Berne. The track consisted of one sweeping curve after another, with trees all around, different road surfaces and, often, poor weather. It was considered one of the great racing circuits.

When the Formula 1 World Championship began in 1950, Bremgarten was the third race in Europe, following Silverstone and Monaco.

The Le Mans disaster in 1955, in which more than 80 people were killed after Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes ran into the back of Lance Macklin’s Austin Healey and was launched into the crowd, led to the laws being changed in many countries.

The Swiss introduced the Loi Fédérale sur la Circulation Routière in 1959. Article 52 of this states that motor racing is banned. There can be hillclimbs and slaloms, as cars are not racing one another, but rather against the clock.

In the 1960s there were some major hillclimb events, notably Ollon-Villars and Sierra Montana-Crans, which hosted what was known as the Swiss Mountain Grand Prix, but the law forced the Swiss racing fraternity to organize circuit races in neighbouring countries. In 1982 there was even a Swiss Grand Prix, run on the Dijon-Prenois circuit, although this was really only a ruse to allow France to have an additional race that year. The event was won by Keke Rosberg in a Williams, the only victory he scored in his World Championship year.

In the last 15 years, there have been several discussions about whether the ban should be lifted, but many Swiss people are  deeply conservative. There was considerable resistance to motor racing even before the Le Mans accident, specifically related to the holding of races on Sundays. The power of religion is waning, with adherence to churches having declined from close to 95 percent in 1980 to about 7o percent today. But now environmental questions are central to the discussion, although the Swiss own more cars per capita than many other European countries, including Britain. In 2009 a motion was passed in the Swiss Lower House, known as the Nationalrat, to allow racing, but it was defeated in the Upper House, known as the Ständerat.

In March 2015, however, the law was modified to allow Formula E, although the electric car racers will still have to abide by a maximum average speed set by whichever canton holds a race.

Some of the roads which made up the Bremgarten circuit are still there, but much has disappeared beneath urban development. Amazingly, however, there is one permanent Swiss racing facility, a tiny circuit called Lignieres, on a mountain plateau in the Jura, near Neufchatel. This was built in 1961 in the hope that the government would change its attitude to racing. Today it is owned by the Touring Club Suisse and is used for driver training.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some racing in the country…

Just keeping up…

I am going to do a quick round-up of the recent news but I’m afraid regular service will not resume until mid next week, as there are still things to be done, in relation to my sister.

I would like to say thank you to the many hundreds of people who have taken the trouble to send their wishes to me and to my family, and to those who have been kind enough to donate (some very generously) to the Jill Saward Fund, which is being administered for the moment by the Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre. In the last few days this has raised nearly £7,000, which we hope will continue to grow so that there can be some kind of permanent trust in the future, as a memorial to Jill and her work. The more money arrives, the more we can do, so write off some tax and help an important cause.

I haven’t had much time for the racing world in recent days but I remain sure that Valtteri Bottas will join Mercedes, Felipe Massa will return to Williams and Pascal Wehrlein will join Marcus Ericsson at Sauber. Esteban Gutierrez has announced a limited Formula E programme, but I doubt his F1 career is over if the Manor team can be saved. It would be crime if it is not, as the team is still in a very decent position if somone has some investment to put in. As I understand it, there are two nearly completed 2017 monocoques and a well-developed plan to be on the grid in Melbourne, but if that is going to happen, an investor is needed now and the investment needs to be considerable. If it does not happen, the team will have to be closed and the assets sold, which will not help anyone. One can hope that the administrator can find some sort of a deal with one of a number of group that were interested in the team, but were driven away by financial demands of the previous owners, which do not seem to have much base in reality. The word is that Ron dennis may be backing one of the bids, which would be very good for the team.

Elsewhere, it is confirmed that Paddy Lowe is leaving Mercedes and we expect that at some point in the not-too-distant future, he will be named to an important role at Williams, the title of the job will be interesting.

The director of racing at Renault Sport F1 Fred Vasseur is leaving. This is a loss to F1 as Fred is a racer from top to toe, but it seems that he was stuck in a situation where he had the responsibility but not the power to change things. Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul is now in charge and the F1 world is hoping that he will do a better job than he did in a similar role at Caterham. He ought to be able to, because this time he has some money behind him.

It is interesting to note the news that Jonathan Palmer’s MSV has bought a lease to run Donington Park for the next 21 years. This is interesting because it means it is unlikely that MSV will pursue its bid for Silverstone. He may have the funding to do that, but running all of the circuits that MSV now have would likely create questions of over competition, as there is not much else left in the UK. Silverstone’s future remains rather uncertain (as always) but the circuit will be fine if it can convince the Formula One group to reduce its fees. That would  be unlikely to happen with Bernie Ecclestone in charge, but when the Formula One group is taken over by Liberty Media, Ecclestone will have to answer to new bosses. That may not be a very comfortable situation…

The last clearances required are from Liberty’s shareholders, who meet in Colorado on January 17. No-one is expected to stand in the way of the deal. The FIA World Council will meet in an extraordinary session on January 18 and will presumably be asked to vote through whatever deal has been agreed by the FIA and the Formula One group. The FIA clubs are not expected to raise any objections to the deal, which will hopefully see the FIA take back some of its regulatory power. There are some last desperate attempts by interested parties to stir up troubel within the FIA clubs, but these will fail.

That’s about it for now.

Fascinating F1 Fact:36

At every FIA Prizegiving Gala, the Formula One Constructors’ Association Award is given to the best race promoter of the year. It is a little known fact that this was designed and made by one of Great Train Robbers.

Known in the criminal world as “The Weasel”, Roy James was a villain, best known as a getaway driver, but he had many other skills as well.

Born in Fulham in 1935, James grew up keen on sports. He excelled in waterskiing and was a top British contender in the late 1950s, while he also had a trial for the QPR football team. From quite early on, however, he used his athletic prowess as a cat burglar, who would scale buildings and break into apartments to steal jewellery and other valuable items. He was also a car thief and at one point nicked a Jaguar belonging to Mike Hawthorn. He used the car for a robbery and then left it parked near a celebrated racing club so that it would be returned to Hawthorn.

He had learned to be a silversmith, which was a useful talent for a cat burglar as he didnt need to pass on stolen goods and could simply melt down precious metals and create new products to sell, without fear of the object being recognised. Some of his work was sold by Harrods and he settled down to work, ostensibly, as an antique dealer, living in the chic Nell Gwynn House on Sloane Avenue in Chelsea.

He began racing karts in 1960 and quickly became a top star in the relatively new sport. On one occasion he discharged himself from hospital after a car crash to race for Britain against the French at Carpiquet, near Caen. He was then 25 and had dreams of being a Formula 1 driver. He used crime to fund his racing, notably with a couple of profitable robberies on the Cote d’Azur. He then began an association with a group known as the South West Gang, led by Bruce Reynolds, a talented heist organiser. In 1962 the gang stole the BOAC airline payroll in dramatic fashion at Comet House in Heathrow Airport. It was a violent attack with several security men being clubbed unconscious by the gang and then the money being put into a Jaguar driven by Micky Ball, with a second car, driven by James, running interference if they were chased. At one point a car tried to block a gateway and James used his Jaguar to knock it out of the way. Similarly, he blocked a junction when faced with a red light, allowing Ball to motor through. The police would later arrest both men but James got away with it as he was not picked out in an identity parade. Ball got five years.

James used his share of the money from that robbery to buy a Brabham BT6 Formula Junior, paying for the car with cash, and he raced in 1963 against the likes of Denny Hulme, Peter Arundell, Brian Hart, Frank Gardner and Alan Rees. He won one round of the national championship and a string of other events.

In August the South West gang, in league with another gang from the Brighton area, hit the Aberdeen-London mail train, using a rigged signal at Ledburn, south of Leighton Buzzard. James uncoupled the back carriages of the train, where mail sorters were working, and the front section of the train left them behind and stopped a few miles further down the line at a bridge over a country road near Cheddington. The gang smashed their way into the High Value Mail coach and, with military precision, transferred 20 mail bags to a truck and two Land Rovers. These were then driven to Leatherslade Farm, near Brill, not far from Bicester. The robbery netted an astonishing £2.6 million, about £38 million at modern prices.

The plan was to stay at the farm for two weeks, but the police guessed that the gang must have a hideaway and began searching the region. The gang dispersed rapidly, each robber taking £85,000, which is about £1.2 million at today’s value. James gave £12,500 of his share to Ball’s wife, and then returned to his normal activities in Chelsea.

The police went over the farm carefully and found James’s fingerprints on a Pyrex plate, a St Johns Ambulance first aid kit and on a page of an American movie magazine. He turned up at Goodwood, for the next race and completed practice but then failed to appear for the race itself because the police had issued wanted posters for some of the gang members.

For two months he disappeared but in December a woman informant told the police that James was hiding out in St John’s Wood and even gave them details of a planned escape route he had. The police raided the flat and James was arrested, after a chase across the rooftops. In April 1964 he was sentenced to 30 years in prison at Aylesbury Crown Court.

He served 11 years, being released in 1975. He was then 40 and the money from the robbery was gone, used it seems by his criminal friends. He went to see the new boss of Brabham, Bernie Ecclestone, who told him it was too late for a serious racing career, but gave him the job of creating a new trophy. Others helped him to get a Formula Ford car and he did well and was looking to move up to Formula Atlantic in 1976. That summer he was testing a Lola at Silverstone when he put a wheel on the grass and crashed heavily, breaking a leg.

That was the end of his racing dreams. He went back to making trophies and probably some less-than-legal activities. In 1984, at the age of 48, he married an 18-year-old, Anthea Wadlow, ironically the daughter of a bank manager, but soon afterwards he was arrested for allegedly importing gold, without paying duty. He was acquitted on that occasion, but in the years that followed his marriage broke down. He won custody of their two children but he failed to pay a £150,000 settlement to Anthea. This resulted in a confrontation between James and her father David Wadlow, and ended up with James shooting him several times and injuring his ex-wife as well. He turned himself in and was sent to jail for six years in 1994 for attempted murder.

He soon began to have heart problems which led to a triple bypass operation and early release from prison in 1997, but he died of a heart attack later that year, at the age of 62.

One wonders where he got the silver for the trophy…