Fascinating F1 Fact: 16

The story of McLaren really began when 41-year-old New Jersey driver Walt Hansgen crashed his new Briggs Cunningham Cooper on lap 15 of the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, in October 1961. At the exit of The Loop Belgium’s Olivier Gendebien spun in his rented UDT Laystall Racing Team Lotus and came back on to the track, into the path of Hansgen. The Cooper flew over the Lotus and lost its left front wheel and then flew over a guardrail and ended up in a field, luckily sitting on its remaining wheels. Cunningham packed up the wreck and went back to his workshops in New York, where the crashed car remained throughout the winter. Early in 1962, the 25-year-old Roger Penske paid a visit to Cunningham’s place in Woodside, a New York suburb. He saw the wreck of Hansgen’s Cooper and despite the damage, which included the suspension having been ripped off and the chassis twisted badly, he saw potential. He had grown up repairing wrecked racing cars, competing with them and then selling them and decided that he could do the same with the Cooper. Penske took the car back to Philadelphia with him and took it to Leroy Gane’s Updraft Enterprises, which was housed in an old blacksmith’s shop in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, not far from the celebrated ladies college. Gane and Jim Soley, who worked at the nearby Molin Body Works in Wayne, rebuilt the chassis, replacing tubes that could not be bent back into shape. Penske arrived one day with an idea. He had been reading the SCCA rule book and had seen a number of drivers build sports cars that were central-seaters, although the rules said they must have two seats. The rules did not say that there had to space for someone to sit in the second seat and Pete Lovely had won the 1955 SCCA National Championship with a Cooper Streamliner record car fitted with a Porsche engine and nicknamed the Pooper. Penske figured that if one was going to build such a central-seater sports car, it was logical to start with a Formula 1 chassis. He asked Gane to build such a car and he called in local fabricator Harry Tidmarsh, a former US Marine, and he worked in the Molin workshop in Wayne with Bob Webb, a celebrated fabricator from Indianapolis, to create a shrink-wrap aluminum body, while Gane, assisted by Austrian Karl Kainhofer assembled the car and fitted a rare experimental 2.75-litre version of the Coventry Climax FPF engine which had been used by Jack Brabham at Indianapolis in 1959. The finished car was baptised the Zerex Duralite Special, after Penske’s sponsor, a Dupont brand of anti-freeze. The canny Penske has checked with the SCCA that the car would be legal, if not exactly designed to the spirit of the regulations and arrived at the LA Times Grand Prix at Riverside in October 1962. He put on pole and won the race after Dan Gurney’s Lotus 19 broke down, completing the 200 mile race with an average speed of 154 mph. A week later he won the Pacific GP at Laguna Seca. He then took the car to Puerto Rico and won again at the Autopista Caguas. The SCCA outlawed the car for 1963 and so Penske had to modify the car into a true two-seater. He sold the car to Texan oilman John Mecom, but continue to race it in 1963, winning SCCA races at Marlboro Motor Raceway and at Cumberland in Maryland. In June he raced at Pensacola in Florida, sharing the car with Hap Sharp, but the engine was damaged when Sharp missed a gear change. That summer Penske took the car to England and won the Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch. At the end of the year, Mecom sold the car to Bruce McLaren, having first removed the engine.

Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited was incorporated by Bruce McLaren and Teddy Mayer in September 1963 and they rented a shed, with an earth floor, in Wellington Crescent, in the London suburb of New Malden. Tyler Alexander (a pal of Mayer’s) and Walter Willmott (a pal of McLaren’s) began work to rebuild the Zerez Special, modifying the space frame and fitting an Oldsmobile V8. It was was raced as a Cooper-Oldsmobile to avoid problems with the Cooper Car Company, but McLaren was soon working on the McLaren M1A, which was largely based on the Zerex.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 15

Devon is not known for its motor racing. It’s quiet. Farmers and retired folk are joined each summer by tourists, looking to relax in the pleasant countryside and on the sandy beaches and rugged moors.

The county town of Exeter is dominated by its castle, city walls and cathedral. It was in Exeter in the summer of 1897 that Henry Weslake was born. His father, the director of a gas engineering company called Willey & Company, was also called Henry and so the youngster soon adopted the name Harry. His mother was a member of the Lavis family, who had a boatyard in Exmouth and so he grew up with engineering all around him.

Harry attended Exeter School and then became an apprentice with his father’s firm. He was already tinkering with engineering and built his own motorcycle by adding an engine to his bicycle. He then spent his life savings to buy a pair of goggles and rent a motorcycle so that he could blast around the roads on a more powerful machine. His parents decided to buy him a Rudge Multi which he was soon tuning to get more horsepower and competing in hillclimb events. He filed his first patent in 1914, at the age of 17. In 1915 he enlisted and was sent off to join the Royal Flying Corps, which had been established only three years earlier. Recruits were sent to Cadet School in the Queen’s Hotel in Hastings, where they were given military training and taught map reading and meteorology. It quickly emerged that Weslake was best-suited to engineering and he was soon put to work designing carburetors for aero-engines. When he was demobilized in 1919 he started a company in Exeter called Wex (Weslake Exeter) and this developed quickly and he soon moved to London and became involved supporting a young Sunbeam rider called Jack Cobbold, who competed at Brooklands. Cobbold’s success helped Weslake build a good reputation, although Wex went out of business because of cash-flow problems.

Instead Weslake went to work for a firm called Automotive Engineering Ltd in Twickenham, doing consulting work for motorcycle and car engines. His work helped WO Bentley to win Le Mans in 1929 with the Speed Six. He decided to set up on his own again and rented part of the Alta factory in Kingston and set up Weslake & Taylor, in league with Alta’s Geoffrey Taylor. He developed engines for the SS Jaguars and for Austin, which led to Tommy Wisdom winning the Alpine Trial in 1936 in an SS100. World War II saw Weslake doing engine development work with Scammel in Watford, designing truck engines and fire pumps. He was also involved with development of the Rolls Royce Merlin aircraft engine and with the Ford GAA, a V8 that was used to power Sherman tanks.

In 1947 he decided to move his business to Rye in Sussex where he opened a research facility and changed the company name to Weslake & Company and worked for a wide variety for companies working on the Jaguar XK120 sport car before getting involved with the development of the D-Type engines, which won Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957. He worked on the cylinder head Morris A-Series engine used in the Morris 1000 and the Mini. He went on to develop the four-cylinder Vanwall F1, which resulted in the team winning the inaugural Constructors’ Championship in 1958, and also helped improve the Coventry Climax F1 engines. The new 3-litre rules for F1 led BRM to ask him to work on a V12 F1 engine but decided in the end to go with the more complicated H16, while Weslake sold the V12 design to Dan Gurney and it was running in a Eagle by the autumn of 1966. In 1967 Gurney started the year with victory at the Race of Champions and later in the year he won at Spa, the first American in an American car to win in Europe since Jimmy Murphy in 1921. The programme ran out of money but Weslake had plenty to do with the Plymouth Indycar V8 for Andy Granatelli’s STP team and Art Pollard drove one to victory at the Delaware 200 in August 1969. He also developed the Ford RS2600 engine used in the Capri, which enjoyed much success in touring cars. There were also cylinder heads developed for the Gulf-Wyer Ford GT40 which led to two consecutive wins at Le Mans, in 1968 and 1969. Things were less successful when he built a 3-litre V12 for Mirage in 1973 and work on Chevrolet engines for John Surtees’s CanAm programme was also a flop. After that the company concentrated on speedway motorcycle engines with much success. It was at the World Speedway Championship at Wembley in September 1978 that the 81 year old Weslake suffered a fatal heart attack.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 14

Formula 1 engineers do not just appear from nowhere. It usually takes them a lot of time and different experiences to become sufficiently qualified to build Formula 1 cars. It is often fascinating to dig into their histories to see the influences that formed them. Among the most famous of the modern F1 engineers is Sir Patrick Head, the only designer thus far who has been knighted for his services to motorsport.

Patrick’s was a military family, his father Michael having been commissioned as an engineer in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1933 and by the end of the war was a Major, married to the daughter of an admiral. Patrick arrived in 1946, when his father was working in the Fighting Vehicles directorate before being sent off to Sweden in 1949, for two years as British military attaché at the embassy in Stockholm. It was while he was there that he began racing Jaguars, competing in 100 races between 1949 and 1957, winning 26 of them. He was a founder member of the Jaguar Drivers’ Club and today the club has a trophy in his name. In 1958 he was appointed the Director of Fighting Vehicles before being promoted to Brigadier-General in 1961, when he was put in charge of the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment in Chobham, Surrey. He retired with a CBE. Patrick was already ensconced in the racing world because of his father’s activities and knew many of the racers of the day, including Mike Hawthorn who offered the 12-year-old Head a whisky and soda to help him get over flu, while discussing a model aeroplane Head was building. Patrick was then sent to Wellington College, where he was a contemporary of James Hunt and Peter Wright, although the three seem not to have known one another. While there, he built but never finished, a Norton motorcycle-engined hillclimb car in metalwork classes and then went off to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, which he didn’t like it much and so left and began studying engineering at Birmingham University. There he met another student called Andy Dawson, who was rallying with a Singer Chamois (basically a Hillman Imp) and ended up doing some co-driving. Head also spent weekends helping out at Ralph Broad’s Broadspeed, which was running Minis for John Fitzpatrick and John Handley at the time. He ended up failing his first year exams and dropped out of university, although he would later complete his career at University College, London. His father managed to organize placements for him and one year he spent the summer working at Harry Weslake’s factory in Rye, which was then building V12 F1 engines for Dan Gurney’s Eagles. Head raced a little in a Clubmans Mallock U2 but was more interested in the engineering. He also spent six weeks working at Harry Ferguson Research in Coventry, where he worked under Derek Gardner (later the chief designer of Tyrrell) on the 4WD system for the Jensen Interceptor and on the Maxaret anti-lock braking system.
He finished his degree in 1970 and applied to work at Lola Cars in Huntingdon, where he found himself working alongside future rival John Barnard. The pair became friends and rivals – Head was Best Man at Barnard’s wedding – but then Barnard moved away to join McLaren. Head soon decided to set up his own business, preparing engines for SuperVee, in a shed at Geoff Richardson Engines in St Ives. One of Richardson’s customers was Richard Scott, who was racing F2 with a Brabham and it was agreed that Patrick would decide a Formula 2 car for Scott for 1973, working in a converted railway arch in Battersea. While he was doing that the shed at Richardson’s workshops caught fire and the prototype Head Supervee engines were destroyed. The Scott F2 car was not bad but the money ran out and Patrick went off to build a schooner, while also working for Ron Tauranac on the design of the Formula 1 Trojan for 1974, but again money was short and so Head was back under the arches, this time in Clapham, where he built SuperVee engines for a Ronnie Grant, who ran a fleet of London cabs. It was while working there that Head received a call from Frank Williams who wanted him to be chief designer at Frank Williams (Racing Cars) Ltd, based in a portakabin in Bennet Road, Reading. The team was bought shortly afterwards by Walter Wolf and so Head briefly became part of Wolf Racing but then Williams decided to start a new operation, to be called Williams Grand Prix Engineering, and at the end of 1977 Patrick joined the new team…

The rest is history.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 13

The oldest man to have won a Formula 1 World Championship race was the Italian Luigi Fagioli, who shared the winning Alfa Romeo at the French Grand Prix in 1951 with Juan Manuel Fangio. At the time Fangio was 40 but Fagioli was 13 years his senior, at 53 years and 22 days old. It is a record that is unlikely to ever be beaten as we have not seen a Grand Prix driver over 45 since the 1970s.

Probably the least-known World Championship Grand Prix winner, Fagioli was nicknamed “The Abruzzi Robber” by some of the British because of his dark, swarthy appearance and a fiery temperament. Some stories say he was trained as an accountant, others that he was the heir to a pasta fortune. It is hard to find any definitive confirmation because research into his background is greatly confused by the fact that “fagioli” translates as “beans” in English and a celebrated Tuscan dish is pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli). If Fagioli was around today he would inevitably gain the nickname “Mr Beans”. Some was Mr Beans really a bean-counter?

He was born in the picturesque hilltop town of Osimo, near Ancona, in the summer of 1898. Christened Luigi Cristiano, he was the 11th and youngest son of 39-year-old entrepreneur Sisinio Fagioli and Maria Zoppi. The family lived in a large mansion in the town, overlooking the surrounding countryside. Sisinio ran a successful construction business, including brick-making firms and furnaces, but also diversified into other businesses, including farming and the manufacturing of pasta. He would be named a Cavaliere del Lavoro in 1907, for his achievements in business.

A family of boys is a competitive one and young Gigi, as he was known, grew up in this atmosphere before moving to Gubbio, near Perugia, to live with one of his elder brothers and study agriculture at university in Perugia. He was passionate about all sports, which got in the way of his studies, as did his love of the cinema, of hunting and of girls. He excelled at athletics, in boxing, wrestling and bicycle racing and then discovered motorcycles.

He began racing in 1923 with a 500cc Borgo and was soon winning races, battling with the other aces of the day, notably the young Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi. However a crash at the end of 1924 left him with a broken leg and his father banned him from racing bikes and bought him a Salmson cyclecar, which he felt was less dangerous. His father died the following year and Fagioli soon added a Maserati voiturette to his collection. He was already 28 but was soon winning races and he enjoyed much success at national level and in 1933 was asked by Enzo Ferrari to replace Nuvolari, who had moved to Ferrari. He won the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara and followed up with victory in the non-championship Grand Prix du Comminges at Saint-Gaudens and the Italian GP at Monza.

This attracted the attention of Mercedes and he was hired in 1934 to be team-mate to Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola. It was soon clear that he would only be allowed to win races if no German had a chance of winning, which created tension in the team. Nonetheless he won the Coppa Acerbo, the Italian and Spanish Grands Prix in 1934 and won Monaco, the Avusrennen and the Penya Rhin race in 1935. He finished second to Caracciola in the European Championship that year. The following year there were no wins and he departed at the end of the season, joining Auto Union for a couple of races, although this ended badly when he attacked Caracciola with a tyre iron believing that the German had held him up unfairly. He was by then suffering from sciatica, which meant that it was hard to race and he disappeared from the racing scene until 1947 when he popped up again in the Circuito di Pescara sports car race. The following year he reappeared in a Maserati in the Grand Prix des Nations in Geneva and then made a number of appearances in the course of 1949, usually in an Osca sports car. His best result was second in the Giro delle Calabria.

It was quite a surprise when he was named at a driver in the Alfa Romeo factory Grand Prix team in 1950, alongside Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio. The cars were dominant and Alfa Romeo wanted a consistent driver and Fagioli, aged 51, fitted the role. He continued to race his Osca, winning his class that year on the Mille Miglia, but in the six World Championship events in which Alfa Romeo ran cars, he finished on the podium five times, four of them second places. The title went to Farina and Fangio was runner-up, but Fagioli had done a terrific job. In 1951 he was still with Alfa Romeo, but did not get to race until the French GP where he was running third when he was called into the pits after 20 laps and ordered to hand over his car to Fangio, who had run into magneto trouble. Fagioli was sent out in Fangio’s car, once it was repaired, but by then he was 20 laps behind. Up front, Fangio took the lead and won the race and so Fagioli was deemed to have won the race with Fangio, although he himself was furious and quit the team. He would sign to drive sports cars for Lancia in 1952 and drove a remarkable race to finish third on the Mille Miglia, but then he crashed heavily in practice for a supporting race at Monaco and suffered serious injuries. These were not considered to be dangerous but three weeks after the accident, in hospital in Monaco, he lapsed into a coma and died soon afterwards.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 12

George Robertson is not a name that is widely known in the Formula 1 world, although perhaps he should be.

The primary problem is that Robertson was an American, largely forgotten today in Grand Prix racing, where he made his name several different ways.

Born in New York in 1884, he was the son of the superintendant of the Third Avenue Railroad Company, a Scottish mechanical engineer called John Robertson, who had worked his way up through the company during 33 years of service. He left the firm in 1900, when George was 15, and three years later became President of the Automobile Exchange & Storage Company, Manhattan’s first garage. Originally a sales and service depot for the Winton automobile company, it became the home of Smith & Mably, the primary importer of foreign cars into the United States.

At 18, therefore, young George was in the right place at the right time, surrounded by exotic automobiles and rich patrons, and he began racing on hillclimbs, supported by Walter Christie of the Christie Motor Company. Driving an Apperson he hit the headlines in 1906, surviving a huge crash after the car suffered a steering failure.

He raced all manner of machinery, provided by manufacturers looking for publicity. In 1908 he was the favourite the win the Vanderbilt Cup in a Locomobile, built in Connecticut. The race was held on a section of the Long Island Motor Parkway, which was opened that year. This was a private road, funded by William K Vanderbilt, who had raced successfully in Grands Prix in Europe before returning home to establish the Vanderbilt Cup.

The race was boycotted by the Europeans that year and so Robertson became the first American driver racing a car made in the United States to win a major international motor race. Two years later he was signed by Mercedes to try to win the race again but suffered serious injuries when a newspaper reporter he was giving a ride to grabbed the steering wheel in panic and the car flipped. Robertson suffered serious arm injuries that ended his racing career, but it did not stop him joining the US Army and fighting in the Mexican border campaign in 1916 and he then became the head of the US Army Signal Corps’s aviation section. In 1919 he was transferred to the American Red Cross and became its director of transportation in Europe, being appointed as a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in France, for his work helping the country to recovery from the war.

In 1921 he went home and was appointed the team manager of Duesenberg and oversaw Jimmy Murphy’s celebrated victory in the French GP at Le Mans, the first victory of an American car in a Grand Prix in Europe. He would also oversee Murphy’s Indy 500 victory in 1922 and won again two years later with Joe Boyer driving.

After that he became a Ford Motor Company executive for four years before becoming a newspaper publisher on Long Island and, in this role, he was the force behind the campaign to build Roosevelt Raceway, raising support from Willie K’s nephew, George Vanderbilt, the owner of the Boston Redskins NFL team George Preston Marshall, and from former racer, celebrated fighter pilot and industrialist Eddie Rickenbacker.

The goal was to build a racing circuit to host events so that the best Europeans could take on the best Americans. The complex near Westbury was next door to Roosevelt Field, the aerodrome from which Charles Lindbergh had departed for his celebrated transatlantic flight nine years earlier. The circuit was built from hard-packed gravel, with wooden rails and featured double-decker grandstands with seating for 50,000, a clubhouse for VIPs and permanent garages for the teams. The track had no fewer than 16 corners, curling around one another and was designed by an architect called Mark Linenthal. The Vanderbilt Cup was revived with a huge prize fund to attract the best racers from Europe, although the Mercedes and AutoUnion teams did not appear, and so victory went to the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo of Tazio Nuvolari, ahead of the factory Bugatti of Jean-Pierre Wimille and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Brivio. Sadly, the fans did not turn up in large numbers and the race made a huge loss. It was repeated in 1937 on a faster track and was won by Bernd Rosemeyer in his Auto Union, beating Richard Seaman’s Mercedes Benz and Rex Mays in an Alfa Romeo.

The company collapsed soon afterwards and Roosevelt Raceway disappeared, although the track design was modified slightly but used for the new Interlagos circuit that was being built at the time in Brazil. It’s not the same track that is used today but the original design hosted F1 Grands Prix from 1973 until 1980. Robertson went to work for an electric razor manufacturer from 1938 until his death, at the age of 71, in 1955.

A night out in Paris…

It’s Christmas time, so Bandaid informs me, and Andy Williams says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The boys of the NYPD choir are singing “Galway Bay”, merry gentlemen are resting and tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow, are awaiting jingling bells in an otherwise silent night.

Santa will soon be lapping the world at speeds that Lewis Hamilton cannot even imagine as the old fella has a lot to do – and they’ll be more toys coming out of his “pram” than Sebastian Vettel managed in Baku this summer.

It’s also the time of year when the FIA gathers – this year in Paris – for its annual General Assembly and a bunch of other meetings. Later today we will get to find out the composition of the new World Motorsport Council and various other roles. Todt has been re-elected for a final four-year term as FIA President, but will have a slightly different team around him. The President of the FIA Senate, Nick Craw, is over the age limit for top FIA officials and is standing down and will be replaced by New Zealander Brian Gibbons, previously the Deputy President of Mobility. He will be replaced by Belgium’s Thierry Willemarck, while Britain’s Graham Stoker continues as Deputy President for Sport, a post he has held since 2009. Todt confirmed that Felipe Massa is to become the head of the CIK-FIA, the karting federation. He will be replacing Shaikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, who has been in charge of karting for the last seven years.

It is not yet clear what Shaikh Abdulla will do now, but there is talk of a position as some sort of Special Envoy. At the same time, there are whispers that Todt is finally going to appoint a special delegate to represent the FIA in Formula 1 dealings. Perhaps it could be that Shaikh Abdulla will be that person. He’s well known in F1 circles and has done great work in karting, in league with Dutchman Kees Van der Grint, the CIK Vice President.

Tonight the FIA will gather for its prize giving gala at the Chateau de Versailles…

Talking of F1…

Yes folks, Spanners Ready and I have been chattering about F1 once again and you may find it amusing to listen in, if only to discover what Lemsip doesn’t cure… Click here to find out.