Fascinating F1 Fact:80

It is a strange irony that the automobile club that ran the very first Grand Prix is today implacably opposed to getting involved in Grand Prix racing.

It was 111 years ago, in the early part of 1906 that the Automobile Club de la Sarthe was founded in the city of Le Mans. This group of racing fans went quickly into action, hosting the very first Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France a little over five months later. Even with the help of the ACF this was an impressive achievement. The event was designed to replace the  ACF’s Gordon Bennett Cup, which had been the biggest international motor racing event of the year since 1900. A circuit was laid out on country roads to the east of Le Mans, running from the start-finish area near the village of Champagné, just outside Le Mans, towards the city and then going into  hairpin and heading off east, down to Saint-Calais, where it turned north to Vibraye and La Ferté-Bernard, where it headed south-west back to Le Mans. It was 65 miles in length.

Grand Prix racing did not return to city until 1921, by which time club been renamed the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. There was a new road circuit was laid out to the south of the city, running from the suburbs down the RN138 to the village of Mulsanne and then turning to the west and returned to Le Mans through the forests close to the village of Arnage. This would become the basis of the circuit used for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was held for the first time in 1923. The Grand Prix de l’ACF returned to Le Mans in 1929, being won by a Bugatti, but after that the race settled at the Montlhéry autodrome near Paris and then on the magnificent road circuits at Reims and Rouen.

The problem with road circuits is that they cost a lot of money to prepare and generate nothing between the big events. By the 1950s, the idea of having a permanent racing circuit at Le Mans, in order for the track facilities to be used more efficiently, with a racing school and for industry testing, was a sensible one. To the south of the pits and grandstand area was a great deal of land, much of it was sandy and pine-covered and so expanding the facilities was relatively simply. The project called for the pits, grandstands and the paddock, plus the start-finish straight, to be integrated into a new circuit behind the paddock. The project was supported by ACO President Jean-Marie Lelièvre, its managing-director Raymond Acat and the head of its competition committee Pierre Allanet. Charles de Cortanze (a member of a famous racing family) was also involved as was Charles Deutsch, a civil engineer with the French government’s Corps des Ponts et Chaussées, who designed the track, when he was not running his own sports car firm called Deutsch et Bonnet (DB).

Deutsch’s new circuit split from the main track just after the Dunlop Bridge with a curling right-hander that sent the cars back towards the paddock. This was followed by a long curling left-hander which went up to a double right set of corners which led on to the back straight, which headed back towards the paddock, kinking left when it arrived there and then going through some tight corners before rejoining the main circuit just before the pits. The construction work was completed in 1965 and the track was opened, being named after the great Ettore Bugatti.

Two years later, the French Grand Prix returned to Le Mans to try the Bugatti Circuit. The event took place on the weekend between two Formula 2 races, the Grand Prix de Reims and the Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts. Thus the racers arrived from Reims and found that the Bugatti track had none of the gradeur of where they had been, nor where they were going. They were not impressed. It did not help that there were only 20,000 spectators (which meant that the ACO probably took a big financial hit). The fans who did attend saw Graham Hill in the new Lotus-Cosworth 49 leading the field away, before Jack Brabham got ahead of him in the Brabham-Repco. Jim Clark then passed both and Hill overtook Brabham and so it was a Lotus 1-2 until both Hill and Clark both suffered transmission failures, leaving Brabham ahead again. Second-placed Dan Gurney retired his Eagle-Weslake and Denny Hulme in the second Brabham-Repco passed Chris Amon’s Ferrari and so it ended up being a Brabham-Repco 1-2 with Amon third.

The only Frenchman in the field was Guy Ligier in a Cooper-Maserati, but he was not classified, having finished several laps down on the winners.

The Grand Prix never returned. Le Mans stuck with its 24 Hour race and ran the Motorcycle GP on an irregular basis thereafter until 2000, when it became the race’s permanent home.

But whenever Formula 1 is mentioned, the ACO firmly says no. A strange thing given that it is within easy reach of Paris and could draw a big crowd…

The new McLaren


McLaren has unveiled its new MCL32, the first car to be produced since the departure of Ron Dennis. The team clearly wants to change the image of the team with a new dramatic new orange and black livery, designed to reflect the team’s long and glorious F1 history.

The car follows in the evolutionary footsteps of its two immediate predecessors, MP4-30 and MP4-31, but it has been redesigned in every area as the designers have worked with the new aerodynamic regulations. The RA617H engine has been thoroughly revised by the Honda engineers.

“At McLaren-Honda, we’re fully focused on returning our team to the top step of the podium,” said Mohammed Bin Essa Al Khalifa, the Executive Committee Principal. “It is a task we view as a multi-year project that requires thorough strategic planning and execution. Having analysed our corporate culture and structure with great care and attention, and having consequently made important improvements, we’re now confident that all the building blocks are in place, and that we now have the expertise, the experience, the energy and the enthusiasm successfully to make the journey back to the front. We knew changes were required – and, now, with Zak [Brown], Jonathan [Neale] and Eric [Boullier], and of course our drivers Fernando [Alonso] and Stoffel [Vandoorne], backed by a superb team of men and women in both Woking [UK] and Sakura [Japan], we’re fully equipped to tackle this year’s exciting changes to the Formula 1 regulations.”
Fernando Alonso says that he will think about his future in F1 only after the summer break. 

The new Ferrari

The Ferrari SF70H was launched this morning. The car is completely new and Ferrari hopes it will close the gap to Mercedes. The engine is also new and the team says the 062 engine is a definite step forward compared to its predecessor, when it comes to chasing performance. The layout of some of the mechanical components on the hybrid power unit has been revised, while other areas maintain a similar layout to the 2016 car.   


Fascinating F1 Fact:79

Formula 1 is a world in which people come and go all the time, either because they were not up to the job, did not want to live the lifestyle or, in the some cases, because they wanted to move on to bigger things. Mike Kranefuss was one of those who passed through F1 on his way to bigger and better things.

Michael Hans August Kranefuss was born German. His family owned a laundry in Munster, in the north of the country, when he arrived in 1938. He was a fan of racing from a very early age, following the exploits of Wolfgang Von Trips in the late 1950s. He worked in the family business but dabbled in racing as well and it was through this that he met a number of German aristocrats, who raced at the time among them Baron Juup Kerckerinck zur Borg, who raced Alfa Romeos and Abarths, and Baron Karl Von Wendt.

As a result of this he became involved in Von Wendt’s campaign to build a racing circuit in the Sauerland in the late 1960s. The region was hilly and heavily-forested with few inhabitants and Von Wendt wanted to build a permanent facility to attract people, and to allow those living in the north of Germany to go racing more easily. The project failed in 1968 and Wendt left the sport in disgust while Kranefuss was taken on by Jochen Neerpasch, who has also been involved in the project, to work as his assistant at the new Competition Department of Ford Germany.

In 1972 Neerpasch went off to BMW and Kranefuss inherited the Ford job and embarked on a programme to develop the Capri in association with Zakspeed. The Zakspeed Capris would enjoy huge success with drivers such as Dieter Glemser, Jochen Mass, Klaus Ludwig and Hans Heyer. Glemser, Mass and Heyer all became European Touring Car Champions in the cars in 1971, 1972 and 1974 and Glemser won the 1971 Spa 24 Hours with Alex Soler-Roig and the following year Mass won with Hans Stuck.

The success led to Kranefuss becoming head of competition for the whole of Europe at the age of 37. While Ford continued to do well in touring cars, he increased the company’s involvement in rallying and in 1979 Bjorn Waldegard won the World Rally Champion in 1979 with the Ford Escort RS. The following year Kranefuss was called to Ford headquarters in Detroit and appointed head of the new Ford Special Vehicle Operations, in control of all of Ford’s global sporting programmes. Ford’s activities grew in TransAm and in NASCAR, with Bill Elliott winning the Winston Cup in 1988 and Alan Kulwicki in 1992. There was success in CART in 1992 and 1993, with Nigel Mansell winning the title in the latter season, and in Formula 1, Kranefuss supported Benetton with Nelson Piquet, Sandro Nannini, Roberto Moreno and ultimately Michael Schumacher.

He quit Ford in 1993 and tried to establish his own Indycar team, but that did not work out and so he went into business with Carl Haas in NASCAR, the team running its first full season in 1995 with John Andretti. The team did not win a race and late in 1997 Haas sold his shares to Roger Penske and the Penske-Kranefuss Racing enjoyed rather more success with driver Jeremy Mayfield, who won three races between 1998 and 2000. At the end of 2000 Kranefuss sold his shares to Penske and retired with plenty of money in the bank. Two years later he tried to start Falcon Cars to build cars for the Indy Racing League, but that never really got off the ground. By then he was 64 and he disappeared to a quiet retirement in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Here’s the new Mercedes

2017 Silver Arrows Launch - First Shots2017 Silver Arrows Launch - First Shots

Mercedes-AMG Petronas has launched its new W08, which is now officially known as the W08 EQ Power+,  the additional EQ Power+ having been added because this will be the technology brand for all future Mercedes-AMG hybrid models. The launch formed part of the team’s official 100 km filming day, with Lewis Hamilton driving the car in the morning, despite windy conditions, and Valtteri Bottas due to drive in the afternoon. The car has all-new aerodynamics to meet the new rules, which the team believes could result in the cars become the quickest in the history of the sport, while the M08 EQ Power+ engine is the fourth generation power unit.

“Any rule change brings with it a big reset but also a big opportunity,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “This is the time to stay humble and keep our feet on the ground. None of the teams has raced under these rules and we all have the same points right now: zero.
But the dominant feeling in the team right now is one of excitement – the factory is buzzing with anticipation. It has been a really motivating challenge to develop a brand new car concept and I have never seen our determination to succeed higher than it is right now. We had a curve ball from Nico late last year that left us scrambling a little bit in the winter, but we found a great solution with Valtteri and I am sure that he will form a strong partnership with Lewis.”

Wolff says that  in-season development will play a big role in determining the championship outcome.

Lewis Hamilton is keen to make up for last year’s disappointment and is glad to see the team is not resting on its laurels.

“After all the success we have had, people could be sitting back and resting on their achievements,” he says. “So it’s inspiring to see how everybody is pushing even harder than ever and taking nothing for granted at all. This is the most exciting period of the year when the car comes together – and my privilege as a driver is then to get to feel what it’s like and what all the team has worked for. There’s not too much point setting goals until we’ve really driven the car, so I’m going to go with the flow until we understand the possibilities. I’m feeling in a positive place with the team – we talked about a lot of stuff over the winter, I was able to get some things off my chest and now we are communicating better than ever and continuing to grow together.”

The team says that because this is the first major regulation change to occur under the Aerodynamic Testing Regulations (ATR), which limit every team to 65 runs per week in the wind tunnel, the development of the W08 concept began before the end of last season and the car has already had over 2,000 runs.  The M08 power unit has been comprehensively redesigned for the new season. The emphasis has been on improving the primary energy source, the combustion process, but a lot of work has also gone into the energy-recovery systems.

Fascinating F1 Fact:78

Most people get one chance to make it in Formula 1 – and it doesn’t always work out well.

Before the war Gianpaulo Volpini tuned Lancia Aprilia sports cars in his garage in Milan and when the war was over he went back into the same business, but this time building his own chassis with 1100cc engines and bodywork by the Milanese coachbuilder Carrozzeria Colli. This proved to be quite successful and Volpini then diversified into the 500cc Formula 3 in 1951, his Gilera motorcycle engine-powered cars enjoying some success, despite the fierce competition in the formula. In 1953 Frenchman Georges Chazelet even managed to win a race in Marseilles in a Volpini.

It was at this point that the 26-year-old Mario Alborghetti arrived on the scene. He was the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer who started racing in 1950 in a Fiat Topolino before moving on to win the Argegno-Lanzo d’Intelvi hillclimb, near Como, in 1951 with a Lancia Aprilia. He took part in the Stella Alpina Rally and the Mille Miglia in a Lancia Aurelia and drove a similar car for Lancia Corse in 1953 in the Susa-Moncenisio hillclimb, finishing third in class. He also competed in the Coppa Sant’Ambroeus at Monza and in the Giro di Sicilia and Coppa della Toscana road races. His experience was entirely in sports cars, but he dreamed of becoming a Formula 1 driver and asked Volpini to build him a F1 car.

Like many engineers, Volpini was a practical man and concluded that there was more chance of success if one bought a decent racing car and modified it, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Thus he used Alborghetti’s money to acquire one of the Scuderia Milano Maserati 4CLTs, which had raced F1 in 1950.

These had been powered by a pre-war supercharged 1.5-litre engine, designed in 1939 by Ernesto Maserati. After the war the cars had been acquired by Scuderia Milano and the engines were modified by Mario Speluzzi, a Professor of Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano, who had developed the engine for use in powerboats. He added two-stage supercharging and the engine was renamed Speluzzi. It first appeared at the French GP in 1950 in the hands of Felice Bonetto. It was clear straight away that this would not be able to compete with the latest machinery at the time and the project faded away.

However with a new engine formula in 1954, Volpini reckoned that a reworked chassis and a stretched Maserati engine, the result might be competitive and called in engine-builder Egidio Arzani to transform the 1.5-litre engine into a 2.5-litre. Attractive new bodywork was created by Carrozzeria Colli.

Scuderia Volpini was ready to go into action by April 1955 and headed off to Pau, in the south-west of France for a non-championship F1 race. The Arzani-Volpini 001 was well-presented and well-engineered but it was not very fast and Alborghetti qualified well off the pace, 19 seconds slower than Alberto Ascari’s pole position.

The race, held of the Easter Monday bank holiday, attracted a big crowd and while they cheered for Jean Behra’s Maserati 250F against the Lancias, no-one paid much attention to Alborghetti, who made three early pit stops. At the start of his 20th lap, he came down to the tight right-hand hairpin near the Station, the first corner, and Jacques Pollet went down the inside to lap Alborghetti. For reasons unknown, the Arzani-Volpini went straight on, apparently without any attempt being made to slow the car. It ran into hay bales with considerable force, the driver’s helmet flew off in the impact and the driver died almost instantly as the result of fractures to the vertebrae in his neck. A number of spectators were injured in the crash, although the car itself was not badly damaged. The team was not seen again until the Italian GP at Monza in September, where Luigi Piotti was due to drive, but things went wrong and he did not take part in qualifying.

Volpini turned his attention to building a record car in 1956 and then when Formula Junior began in 1958 he bought more racing cars, continuing production until 1963.

There are still a few tickets left for my annual pre-season chat with F1 fans in London on Friday, this week – in the wake of the McLaren and Ferrari car launches. We won’t know much about the relative performance of the 2017 cars, but there will still be plenty to discuss before the teams go off to test in Spain.

It’s been a winter of change in F1 so there are likely to be loads of questions that need answering – and insider stories to be told, including the departure of Nico Rosberg, the exit of Bernie Ecclestone and a whole lot more…

The Audience with Joe will take place at One Knightsbridge Green, SW1X 7NW, next door to the Knightsbridge underground station. This is the home of Prism, F1’s pioneering sports marketing agency,  part of the WPP empire.

The event will be by ticket only so there is no possibility of walk-in tickets on the night, so please book now if you want to be sure to get a ticket, as these are limited in number.

Joe not missed a single Grand Prix since the autumn of 1988 and keeps up with what’s going on in F1 circles so its a great opportunity for you to learn some of the stories behind the headlines, in a convivial atmosphere, with other fans of the sport.

The Audience will run from 7pm-10.30pm and there will be a food served mid-way through the evening.

Drinks will be available at normal bar rates.

It’s a bargain at £39.00 per head.

Click here for more information.