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Archive for the tag “Mercedes”

Even in Solitude he was stunning

20583Solitude.  The name is enough to suggest that this was more than just another circuit – and indeed it was.  The Solitude Grand Prix, held on a sweeping, undulating and therefore very demanding road course under the shadow of the Schlosse Solitude, near Stuttgart, Germany, was in reality the Grand Prix of the German Motor Industry.  Massive crowds flocked to the circuit when it opened pre-war – and continued to do so in the 1950s and 1960s, when over 350,000 people attended the July F1 races.  It was bigger than the Nurburgring;  only Indianapolis, on a global scale, attracted a larger race crowd than Solitude.  Mercedes did their share of winning, as did Porsche. Bosch was based at Stuttgart, too.  Motor-cycle races were a huge success at Solitude; and the post-war F1 non-chamionship Grands Prix, and also Formula 2 races, held at a time when Porsche were on the ascendant, were no less spectacular.

The drivers and key team people stayed at the nearby Eis hotel;  it still exists today.  Legend has it that Innes Ireland once shot a loaded pistol there at a post-race party.  It’s probably true, because Innes in later years became quite irritated when anyone mentioned it.  Baron Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, the wonderful Porsche Team Manager, was the early 1960s Solitude Grand Prix in much the same way that Geoff Sykes would be Warwick Farm, or Mrs Topham ruled Aintree.  It was Huschke’s home race.  He hosted parties at both the Porsche factory and at his residence – often for 400 people at a time, including royalty.  He was everybody’s friend back then – and he was a friend to me, too, in the very early 1970s, when I was starting my F1 journalistic life.  I met Huschke through the indefatigable Bernard Cahier, who described Huschke thus in his magnificent two-volume autobiography (entitled, appropriately, F-Stops, Pit Stops, Laugher & Tears):  “Huschke had been a very talented driver before the war and as a result of his racing successes he’d become an honorary officer in the SS.  This was all well and good before the war but when conflict broke out his status became official.  Huschke wanted nothing to do with the war or the SS and for a time took refuge in Budapest, where he hobnobbed in high society while living with a beautiful Hungarian countess who was part-Jewish.  He was eventually caught and sent to prison in Spandau, where he found himself in real trouble.  Luckily, he had connections everwhere.  It didn’t take long for him to pull some strings and get himself released.  He contacted one of his old girl-friends whose father held an influential position in the German army, who in turn told the authorities that Huschke was going to marry his daughter!  He was very lucky because, a short time later, the plot to kill Hitler was uncovered and there were wholesale executions in which Huschke might very well have been swept up.

“When he was released from prison, Huschke was assigned the job of driving an armored vehicle to the Russian front.  He was happy to do this as it gave him the opportunity to meander around the country and visit all his friends.  He started working for Porsche in the early 1950s as a salesman and, being an avid racer, he was the person most responsible for pointing Porsche in the direction of motor racing.”1961 German Grand Prix.

Huschke operated from “Factory Two” within the Porsche Stuttgart compound and employed an attractive assistant named Evi Butz.  It was in 1962, by which time Dan Gurney had won Porsche’s first Grand Prix victory, that Huschke asked Dan if he would give Evi a lift home, after a long day in the office, in Dan’s “Unsafe At Any Speed” light blue Chevvy Corvair.  Dan naturally obliged and got to know young Evi in the course of a 45min traffic jam that clogged downtown Stuttgart.   For their 25th wedding anniversary, Evi gave Dan another Corvair…1961 Solitude Grand Prix

Dan won the Solitude Grand Prix that year, heading a Porsche one-two, and would never forget his victory lap, in an open Carrera, when thousands of caps and hats filled the air like leaves in an autumn wind;  in 1963, though, with Porsche out of it, he didn’t race.  Instead, he flew straight back to Indianapolis after the British GP in order to drive Frank Arciero’s Lotus 19 at the Hoosier Grand Prix at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  He won – and then flew to Germany for the next round of the Championship at the Nurburgring. Such were the schedules of F1’s front-runners in 1963.

Brabham were thus represented in the 1963 Solitude Grand Prix only by Black Jack.  Team Lotus, by contrast, entered three cars, enticed no doubt by copious starting money.  Jim Clark was in his regular Lotus 25 (prior to racing it the following weekend at the Nurburgring);  Trevor Taylor drove the second car – and Peter Arundell, the FJ star, would finally be having his first race in a Lotus 25 (having briefly practiced at Reims.)  A full grid of 29 cars started this 13th Solitude Grand Prix, with Jim on the pole from Jack Brabham and Jo Bonnier (a former Solitude winner, now driving Rob Walker’s ageing Cooper-Climax).  The two other Lotus drivers filled the second row, Peter ahead.

As it happened – as it frequently happens in Championship Years – Jim went nowhere in this race that didn’t count.  Team Lotus tried a new drive-shaft design which promptly failed as Jim dropped the clutch at the start.  His race prospects may have been over; still there were over 300,000 spectators at Solitude, crammed into the natural grandstands around the circuit, all hoping to see the maestro at work.  Jim’s 25 was pushed back into the pits and re-fitted with the older-type drive-shafts.  Jim waited patiently, helping the mechanics with pit signals to Trevor and Peter (who were running second and third behind Brabham).  Then, donning his Les Leston gloves and lowering his goggles back around his peakless Bell, Jim climbed back into R4 for a few demonstration laps of high-speed precision motoring.

Amazing all who saw it, Jim smashed the lap record with a time of 3min 49.1sec – a full 1.1sec faster than even he had managed in qualifying.  Solitude was as dangerous as you could make it, with its exposed trees and walls;  it was very fast, particularly on the 3.5-mile serpentine return stretch;  and Jim was so far in arrears that he wasn’t even classified as a finisher.  And yet he drove those laps at 100 per cent.  Ten-tenths.  Flat out.  His fastest lap, when the tanks were at their lightest, was but one of 17 that were similarly on the limit.

Black Jack, who had had nothing but mechanical problems from the start of the year, meanwhile breezed home without a worry to win his first F1 race at the wheel of a car bearing his own name.  (Jack won the ’63 Australian Grand Prix in a similar car fitted with a 2.7 litre Climax engine).   Peter Arundell drove beautifully to finish second ahead of Innes Ireland (and also to win the Formula Junior race that morning from Denny Hulme and Frank Gardner); Trevor retired with a broken crown-wheel-and-pinion; and Lorenzo Bandini, the young Italian pushing hard for a genuine chance at Ferrari, finished a spectacular fourth in the two-year-old Centro Sud BRM.  I should also make mention of Chaparral founder, Jim Hall, who again drove well with his Lotus 24, qualifying on the fourth row and finishing sixth on Sunday.  Jo Bonnier won the big-bore support GT race with his Porsche; and Teddy Pilette, son of Andre and future F5000 winner, headed the smaller GT race with his Abarth.

From Solitude it was but a short autobahn blast to the Nurburgring, for the August 4 German GP.  Jim had never won at the ‘Ring but had been phenomenally quick there in 1962 (in both the Lotus 25 and the little Lotus 23 sports car).  An enjoyable, if frustrating, Solitude weekend now over, Jim’s thoughts turned to making it five World Championship Grand Prix wins in a row. 20560

Captions, from top: Lotus 25 re-fitted with standard drive-shafts, Jim Clark lights up Solitude with a lonely but record-breaking display of precision driving; Huschke von Hanstein in his element – organizing a group photograph at the 1961 German GP.  From left to right – Jim Clark, John Cooper, Innes Ireland, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Huschke (in glasses), Jo Bonnier, Dick Jeffrey (Dunlop), Prince Metternich, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney;  the 1961 von Hanstein-created “tractor pull” at Solitude – Jo Bonnier does the driving for Dan Gurney, Colin Chapman, Peter and Wolfgang Porsche (sons of Ferry), Huscke and Jim.  That’s Julius Weitmann, the excellent photographer, running up alongside with the long-lens Leica.  The “flag” was actually made from Huschke’s race passes and for years stood in his house as a form of welcome to guests;  Jim is all smiles after taking the pole at Solitude in 25/R4  Images: LAT Photographic

Watching from La Rascasse (Part 1)

What you see here does not come under the heading of “good photography”.  It is, though, my attempt to try to illustrate some of the principles about which we talk on The Racer’s Edge and occasionally on these pages.  All the pictures were taken at La Rascasse on Thursday afternoon at Monaco (after Romain Grosjean had hit the barrier at Ste Devote!).  I wanted to try to keep the frame of the shot as near-identical as I could for every car so that we could identify some of the differences between the drivers.  I also ensured that each driver was on a quick lap or was not backing-off prior to peeling into the pit lane.  The pose they strike as they reach the pedestrian crossing stripes is pretty much their signature – and those stripes on the road of course provide some sort of useful visual reference. Some drivers, you will see, are already asking quite a lot from the car – as can be seen by the steering angles as they reach the road stripes.  Others are asking less.  Some are “softening” the entry by curving into the apex from about the middle fo the road;  others are well to the right of centre and are “extending the straight” into a relatively low minimum speed rotation-point.  I should stress that La Rascasse is far from being the most important corner on the circuit:  it is followed by a very short, sharp blast before braking into a negative-camber right-hander.  It is, though, what it is – and I can confirm that I have never seen a great Monaco driver (Stewart, Reutemann, Prost, Mansell, Senna, Raikkonen) who was not clean, methodical and super-quick into La Rascasse.   Despite the implications of these quiet, motionless images, each snapshot-in-time is in reality a compendium of the initial brake pedal pressure that was applied about a second or so before (when the cars were in fifth gear on the curving straight between the swimming pool and Rascasse), the rate of release of the brake pedal pressure (taking place as these pictures were captured), the initial steering movements (also taking place) and, yes, the positioning of the car.  In each case, in summary, the “static” cars shown here are actually a mass of dynamic forces being harnessed by the drivers.  All are different;  some are better than others. 

Fernando Alonso (left) photowas (with Pastor Maldonado) the driver who turned-in earliest to Rascasse.  He refrained from applying any soft of substantial steering lock until he was right at the apex (out of the photograph to the bottom left), and this he did with increasing power.  He looked superb, I thought.  The back of the Ferrari would always skip slightly as he rotated the car, which probably meant that his minimum speed was relatively low – but there is no doubt that from the pedestrian crossing to that minimum speed point he was quicker than anyone on the circuit.

Felipe MassaMassa (right) wasn’t a lot different from Fernando… but was different nonetheless.  He braked more to the centre of the road and thus approached the corner with a slightly “softer” line.  This gave him a slightly “longer” corner – ie, he had to cover more road and, thus, he put more initial lateral energy through the tyres for longer.  Felipe was very finessey with his steering inputs and, like Fernando, always honed-in to a lowish minimum speed, the better to rotate the car.

I was surprised by the massive differences between the Red Bull drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.  Although the positioning of the two cars looks fairly similar in these two pictures, look closely at the amount of steering lock SebSeb has applied (relative to Mark).  This was absolutely typical of what we saw all afternoon.  Seb (right) would approach from a relatively wide angle and crank on a massive amount of lock as he was releasing the brakes.  The result was understeer – driver-induced (very graphic) understeer.  Could it be that Seb was working on protecting the rears?  Perhaps.  Mark, Markby contrast, was Alonso-like with the steering applications, even if he was leaving himself a slightly more open approach. I’d say Mark’s Rascasse (right) leaves him slightly more margin for error (or for the unexpected) than does Fernando’s but that their inputs were about equal.  Again, brilliant to watch.

Both McLaren drivers created very “long” corners from wide entries.  Jenson’s inputs (below)Jenson were more svelte that Sergio’s but Sergio began the corner with slightly less initial steering input, in turn enabling him to ask slightly less from the front tyres.  Equally, Sergio (below right)Perez
had a more substantial final rotation.  When you see these two drivers alongside one another like this, you wonder how good it is for a team to be running drivers of such similar style.  It would be interesting, for example, to see how the MP4-28 would perform at the other end of the spectrum – the Alonso/Webber/Raikkonen end – or perhaps at the Vettel/understeer end.

I didn’t get to see Romain, as I say, but I can tell you (from Thursday morning) that he was about half-a-car’s length to the left of Kimi as he crossed the painted lines and was using about a Webber-dose of steering at that point.  Unlike Mark, who would deliberately await the moment of final rotation before accelerating flat and clean, Romain teased the throttle a little, like Alonso and thus ran right out there on the ragged edge, leaving no room for error.  The Ste Devote shunt, I think, was no surprise.  Kimi was of course just beautiful to watch, even if he was locking up the front brakes more than we usually see.  He wasn’t quite as far to the right as Alonso and Maldonado (or Di Resta, as it happens) but his initial steering movements were very slight and very small – a mile away from Vettel’s.  Then, in one clean movement, Kimihe would tuck in the front for the major rotation and accelerate without fuss towards the exit of the corner.  Totally repeatable and extremely efficient (left).

The differences between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were small but significant.  Both drivers turned-in early, like Kimi and Fernando, with delicately-small initial steering inputs, but NicoNico (below) did so from about half a metre further to the right, giving him a slightly shorter corner.  This he managed in Prost-like fashion, never looking unruffled or out of synch. Lewis (below) Lewiswas thus a tad less impressive than Nico through this section of road – which, for me, was a surprise, I have to admit.

Part 2 of our views from Rascasse, featuring the remaining cars on the grid, will follow shortly.

One new F1 car after another…

All the teams (bar Williams) launched their 2013 F1 cars prior to this week’s first test at Jerez.  Here, courtesy of the ever-concise Craig Scarborough, are some additional, brief thumbnails:

 

Fun times at the McLaren Technology Centre

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