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…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Then as now…

Browsing through Autosports from 50 years ago, as you do when the talk in the UK turns to the elections, I came across these three gems.  The first is a letter written by my friend, Sheridan Thynne, (future director of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, below, centre, chatting to Nigel and Rosanne Mansell) about the standards of driving in Mini racing at the time:

“Three or four years ago a racing Mini cost little more than half what it does today.  Racing was close and very exciting, but accidents were rare.  Drivers like Sir John Whitmore, Christabel Carlisle, John Aley and Mick Clare could, to put it bluntly, drive.  Lesser lights” (and I think here that Sheridan is bashfully thinking of his own efforts) “considered themselves lucky to be in the same race as they, trying to learn something as they flashed past at impossible angles but in total control.  Formula One World Championship, French  Grand Prix, Magny Cours, France, 5 July 1992.

“Nowadays it seems that, until one has caused the odd pile-up, been pictured regularly out of control and set a deplorable example of lack of skill to the spectators, one cannot be considered a Mini driver.”

The second was the perfunctory way Autosport previewed the upcoming F2 meeting at Snetterton.  By today’s standards, it amounts to a motor race of staggering depth and power.  Back then, it was just the Autocar Trophy meeting, meriting but half a column in the Pit and Paddock section of the magazine…

“Britain’s second F2 international, the Autocar Trophy meeting, is to be held at Snetterton tomorrow (Saturday).  A first-class line-up is assured, with entries from Brabham, Lotus, Cooper, Merlyn and Lola and Honda, Cosworth and BRM engines.  The entry includes:

Jack Brabham (Brabham-Honda); Denis Hulme (Brabham-Honda); Graham Hill (Brabham-BRM); Trevor Taylor (Brabham-Cosworth); Alan Rees (Brabham-Cosworth); Jochen Rindt (Brabham-Cosworth); Jo Schlesser (Brabham-Cosworth); David Prophet (Brabham-Cosworth); Bill Bradley (Brabham-Cosworth); Mike Beckwith (Brabham-Cosworth); Tony Hegbourne (Lola-Cosworth); Jim Clark (Lotus-Cosworth); Brian Hart (Lotus-Cosworth); Peter Revson (Lotus-BRM); Jackie Stewart (Cooper-BRM); John Taylor (Cooper-Ford); Chris Irwin (Merlyn-Cosworth); Richard Attwood (Lola-Cosworth); Mike Spence (Lotus-BRM); Tony Maggs (Lola-BRM); David Hobbs (Lotus-BRM).

Would any sane-minded person have missed this race back in 1965?  I can picture it now: early departure from wherever, Cortina boot packed with the picnic basket; and then that long, tension-filled traffic jam on the A11 as Snetterton draws near. White-coated officials. Race programmes fresh from the printing press. Fluttering flags. Crisp PA announcements. And the thought that anyone who mattered in the motor racing world was there, in Norfolk, racing gorgeous little F2 cars…

Finally, I think Gregor Grant might well have been seeing the future when he wrote about Jack’s new Brabham-Honda:

“Jack Brabham had little joy with the Brabham-Honda, the engine of which the Japanese mechanics couldn’t get going properly at all.  It sounded fine but seemed to lack poke and was the slowest of the 20 cars which turned up.  However, knowing the Brabham set-up, it will not be long before it is sorted.”

 

Selamat Pagi!

…or “Good Morning” in Malay.  Join me and my colleague, Craig Scarborough, as we drive to the Sepang F1 circuit on the Thursday before the Petronas Malaysian GP:

What they’re wearing

Plenty have been the changes in F1 helmetwear over the past few months – particularly with Lewis Hamilton using his customary Arai to win in Melbourne before switching to a Bell helmet for practice in Malaysia and China. At Ferrari, the bastion of Schuberth since the early Michael Schumacher days, Sebastian Vettel is remaining loyal to Arai – and Schuberth have in turn now switched their team supply to AMG Mercedes Petronas. Anyway, before it gets too complicated, here’s the list as it stood in Malaysia:

 

Bell helmetsLewis helmet

Lewis Hamilton (practised only in Sepang and China), Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Roberto Mehri, Ferrari pit stop crew (probably)

 

Schuberth helmetsNico Rosberg

Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, AMG Mercedes pit stop crew

 

Arai helmets2015_Helmet_019-2

Lewis Hamilton (raced in Melbourne, Sepang and China), Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kyvat, Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Will Stevens

Images: LAT Photographic

 

 

 

Reflections from Barcelona

Tighter F1 testing restrictions – both in the wind tunnel and on the track – have characterised the early phase of 2015.  In the very short break between the first and second winter tests, Craig Scarborough and I discuss some of the key F1 developments.

 

We loved you, Leo

Leo Geoghegan passed away on March 1, 2015Catalina_Leo

I first Leo Geoghegan at the 1963 Australian Formula Junior Championship meeting at Warwick Farm. I watched from the Creek Corner bank with my brother and my Dad. I was but a kid. I fell in love.

The black Lotus 22 was gorgeously low-slung. Its chromed suspension glistened in the spring sunshine. The downchanges, on every passing lap, were impeccable and identical. “Total Team Dvr: Leo Geoghegan” it said on its flanks. For his part, Leo was all straight, bare arms, black polo shirt, black helmet and split-lens goggles. Both the car and the driver, in living harmony, were immaculate.

Leo duly won the trophy, and the garland, and later, as the sun was fading over the Farm, we walked into the paddock, where the mechanics were packing up and the cars were being slowly pushed up their trailor ramps. I spied the Total Team flags. I ran to the tent, fearful that I would miss him.

The Lotus 22 was adorned by its garland. I peered down at the red bucket seat, the matching red steering wheel, the little gear lever on the right, complete with its Lotus badge. I drank it in. I was intoxicated. No-one could sit so low in the car, so reclined in the car; no-one could drive with so much elegance.   The whole was perfect and the details were better still. I had found my benchmark.

Then I saw Mr Geoghegan. He was drinking from a plastic cup. He was still wearing his polo shirt – complete, I now noticed, with Total badge. He was laughing with friends (his brother, Ian, I later realized, and David McKay). I nervously proffered my race programme. I could find only a blue Biro that I’d dropped during the excitement of the race. Leo asked me to hold his cup. I remember thinking how cold it was. He signed the cover, added “Lotus 22” below his name, and thanked me. The moment was captured forever in my autograph book.IMG

That summer, as a new member of the Total Racing Team Club, I received a Christmas card from Team Total, signed by Leo, Ian and Frank Matich. I still have it. And soon Dad’s Zephyr was resplendent with Total Team “racing stripes” – horizontal strips of blue, white and red. I was a part of the family. I was a Geoghegan fan of immense proportions.

His golden years, I think, came shortly afterwards. The Geoghegans were Lotus dealers, based in Liverpool. As such, they imported the latest editions of what was then the world’s best racing machinery and those of us who saw it knew that we were a part of something special. The 22 was replaced by Leo’s beautiful monocoque Lotus 27, the 27 by the 32 – now finished in equally-alluring white, with Total Team stripes, and then Castrol stripes, along the flanks. Nomex replaced the polo shirts, a Bell Star the Magnum. Still Leo was the svelte stylist – the fast racing driver who made it look gracefully but absurdly easy. I first saw the 32 up at Craven A corner at Catalina Park. I was struck by the contrast between the delicate beauty of the car and the harsh railway sleepers “protecting” the rock wall. Up against the F2 Brabhams of Greg Cusack and Bib Stillwell, Leo gave us some of the best single-seater racing (and driving) ever seen in Australia. You trembled with fear a few minutes before the flag-drop – and then they were upon you, darting through the Warwick Farm Esses, teasing the Armco barriers.

Next was the Jim Clark era: Jim’s Tasman cars were based at the Geoghegans’ garage over the Warwick Farm week – and Leo bought Jim’s 1966 race-winning Lotus 39. I’m usually appalled by drivers who butcher famous cars with new colours or engines or wings but nothing Leo did was bad. After a race or two with the Climax (below), he fitted a big Repco V8 into the back of it (top). The result was a gem of a car – the Lotus 39-Repco.

I could go on. Leo raced a Lotus 59 in Castrol white, also some touring cars, sports cars, single-seaters and even Lotus 7s. He was a major part of the Australian racing fabric. He set the bar in terms of preparation and presentation. He was a gentleman and he was a racer.

And he filled my still-young life with images that will never fade – with something that touched the centre of all that I love about motor racing but which, in later life, became impossible to reproduce.

Perhaps it was because I was a kid.

Perhaps it was because it was Leo.

8-24-2010 16-58-49_100My shot of Leo in the ex-Clark Lotus 39-Climax taken from my flag point at The Farm in 1967

Top: Leo in the gorgeous Lotus 39-Repco at Catalina.  Picture: Paul Hobson

 

 

 

The Jerez days

It’s a little while yet to the 2015 F1 World Championship…or maybe it isn’t. It depends upon your point of view. Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe, I know, would be quite happy for the racing to commence right now. Indeed, he’s even suggested as much to the powers-that-be. A quick test in Jerez and then let’s go racing. The costs are the same; and the public – in theory – much prefers the purity of the result. I’m sure that McLaren-Honda and Red Bull-Renault – to name but two – feel otherwise but then wouldn’t it be boring if we all thought the same way. Me? I love the idea of the “Flying Farewells” to which we refer in our Jim Clark 1965 narratives elsewhere on this site: a five-lap sprint race just to keep everyone awake. Wouldn’t that be a dazzling end to the upcoming Barcelona tests? Four o’clock? Right. Testing over. The grandstands are packed. The TV networks are ready. Line up on the grid according to the numbers you drew from a hat. Light fuel, soft tyres…

In the meantime, back in what amounts to the world of “Bleak House” – the aptly-named pub near the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey – here are some thoughts on what we actually saw at that first test. I’m joined in Joe Macari’s showroom – our regular base, for obvious reasons – by my friend and colleague, Craig Scarborough. I’m very fond of Scarbs. He’s a racer; he knows his stuff; and he’s a true, hard-working pro.

The series also includes more penwork from the hand of that very talented Argentine design engineer, Enrique Scalabroni.  I first met Enrique at Williams in 1985 – “Henry” designed the rear suspension of the FW10B-update that won the European, South African and Australian GPs that year – and have since been astonished by his creativity and depth of detailed knowledge.  In this instance, Enrique talks – draws – us through the lower front roll centre of the 2015 Ferrari and explains the benefits thereof.

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