17 Oct 2015

Racing mutterings

I watched the horrific crash during qualifying for last weekend's Bathurst 1000- see BATHURST CRASH -and saw how effective the safety features were. Yes,the driver,Chaz Mostert,received serious injuries-a badly broken leg and wrist-but it could have been much worse.The car and the driver protection features performed well and the catch fencing stopped the car going over the wall which would have been much more serious. It also protected the marshal's post although one marshal suffered some injuries.
Motor sport safety has been transformed in the last 50 years. In my archives I found this photo I took of Swiss driver Jo Siffert at the 1968 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Siffert was driving a private entry-Rob Walker's Lotus 49 and he won the race by 4 seconds from Chris Amon in a Ferrari. Rob Walker was the heir to the Johnny Walker whisky fortune and he was a very succesful private team owner. Stirling Moss drove for him in Lotus and Cooper open wheelers and also in a Ferrari 250 GTO.
In those times drivers were not just F1 drivers they drove sports cars,F1 cars and often touring cars.Siffert was primarily a sports car driver and he was often a Porsche driver.Today's F1 drivers are almost always restrained to F1 at least until they retire from F1 although Force India F1 team driver Nico Hulkenberg is a recent rare exception as he was one of the drivers in this year's Le Mans 24 hour winning Porsche 919.
Next year the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa will coincide with the Le Mans 24 hour race.Cynics may suggest that Bernie Ecclestone has done this to ensure that no F1 drivers can compete at Le Mans.Even more cynical people may suggest that this move is designed to undermine the spectator numbers at the Spa race thereby hastening its demise so that it can be replaced by a grand prix on some fly blown sandpit circuit in a kingdom where no one is interested in any form of racing except camel racing.Or maybe Bernie is angling to give an F1 GP to North Korea.He likes states with strong/autocratic leaders (Vlad Putin is a good mate) although executing-by anti aircraft gun- your uncle/defence minister for falling asleep during one of your speeches maybe a bit too strong even for Bernie. Personally I am sure that there good reasons for this clash of dates as Bernie always has the interests of the sport and the enthusiasts at heart and personal financial considerations almost never influence his decisions.

The 1968 British Grand Prix  was the last time a private entry won a F1 Grand Prix.Lots of points of interest in the photo. Firstly the ungainly wings on the car. Really crude and soon banned in this configuration.No attention was paid to crash performance in the design of the F1 cars at that time. Today's F1 cars have to meet rigorous crash performance standards which is why so often driver's literally walk away from major accidents.
The lack of sponsorship and advertising on the car. The marshal's and photographers standing trackside with minimal protection. The lack of catch fencing. I took the photo leaning over the very rudimentary picket fence. If a car had cartwheeled at this point it would have easily gone straight into the crowd.
The Guards brand cigarette advertising hoarding.The advertisement for BOAC VC10-BOAC has morphed into BA -British Airways-- and the Vickers VC10 airliner is long gone
Jo Siffert has gone-killed in an accident at Brands Hatch two years later. Rob Walker is gone but Lotus is still here although the F1 team is no longer owned by the Lotus car company. Chris Amon is still with us -retired in his native New Zealand.

One thing has not changed.I took this photo on a Leica 3A camera fitted with a 50mm f2.8 Elmar lens. I still have that camera and I still use Leica cameras but of course they are now digital. Now the photo would be in colour but in 1968 colour films were very slow and very expensive so I used black and white which I processed myself.Below is a photo of the Leica-it was already 30 years old when I took the photo at Brands Hatch.I have not put a film through it for many years but I am amazed at how difficult it is to load and use.Times have changed.

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