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Archive for the tag “Monaco GP”

Casino Square – Saturday morning

photo-4There are few better places to watch F1 cars than at Monaco’s Casino Square.  I was first lucky enough to stand by the Armco there in 1973, when Jackie Stewart, Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Reutemann stole the show.  The 2014 version – same stage, same backdrops – was no less enthralling. The sun was golden; course cars blew their sirens.  Marshals waved as I walked up the hill.  I stopped to chat with old friends.  And then the pit lane opened…

Driving home from Gatwick

Thoughts from the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix weekend

Watching from La Rascasse (Part 2)

In Part 2 of Watching from La Rascasse, we look at some of the other drivers who were out on Thursday afternoon at Monaco.  Sadly there was no Romain Grosjean when we were camera-ready:  by then, he had hit the Ste Devote guard-rail.

Paul Di Resta (below, top) looked extremely good here, with a decisively-early approach, a clean rotation from a stable mid-corner and an effectively clean exit.  Adrian Sutil (below, bottom) was all of that but a shade wider, and thus a shade more conservative, on his approach. Both drivers looked excellent; the difference between them was smaller than the difference between the Mercedes boys.Dir

SutilFor all his cool headgear, Jean-Eric Vergne (below,top) is much more Jean-Pierre Jarier than he is Francois Cevert.  A wide, soft approach. Lots of aggression with the brakes, the steering and the release of same.  Lots of car-control, of course, but none of the straight lines that typified Francois, particularly in 1973.  Daniel Ricciardo (below,bottom) exhibited a slightly shorter corner and more seamless transitions.  Like McLaren, Toro Rosso have two “long corner” (but very skilful, very spectacular) drivers.JEV2

RicPastor Maldonado, as stated earlier, was almost scary to watch at Rascasse, if only because his Alesi-like turn-in (and feel) leaves him absolutely no margin at all in terms of the inside rear and the apex. With Grosjean, you’re always thinking “exit oversteer”;  with Pastor (below, top) it’s “early commitment”.  He looked knife-sharp from where I sat – and up at Casino Square, where he was blindingly late on the brakes, he was jaw-droppingly fearless – the more so because the Williams is still a difficult car.  This was the best Pastor has looked so far this year.  Valtteri (below, bottom), by contrast, was for me a bit disappointing – if only because one’s expectations are always so high with this guy. A relatively wide and frequently brake-locked approach was compromised by minimum speeds too high by far:  the back end would judder out, Walter would have to lift, opposite lock would be applied…and finally he was out of there. It was uncomfortable to watch and probably not much fun to execute.  I’m sure it’ll be better by Sunday…MAL

BOTSauber’s pair, by contrast, were surprisingly different from one another.  Nico Hulkenberg (below, top) had more initial steering input than, say, Romain Grosjean, and a longer corner than Daniel Ricciardo.  He played with the throttle early and, like Alonso, always gave himself a touch of oversteer before  main rotation just beyond this photograph.  He gives the impression, in other words, of asking quite a lot from the tyres and, of course, from the car.  Esteban Gutierrez (below, bottom) was for me probably the most surprising driver of  the session.  He was neat, composed, early into the corner, and displayed lots of good handwork and mid-corner patience.  He wasn’t the quickest guy out there, of course, but this was a good way to start a Monaco weekend.  From here he has a useful platform from which to build.HUL

GUTJules Bianchi (below, top) was much tighter on approach than Max Chilton (below, bottom); indeed, Jules was as early, and as rhythmic with his hand- and footwork, as Paul Di Resta.  Despite that sort of talent alongside him, Max Chilton has nonethless chosen to go the long-corner way. Yes, it leaves him more margin for error, particularly on a circuit like Monaco;  no, it isn’t as efficient.BIA

CHII couldn’t see much difference between the two Caterham drivers, Charles Pic (below, top) and Guido van der Garde (below, bottom).  Charles was pretty neat and tidy through the fourth-gear esses in Malaysia but here he was definitely giving himself a nice, soft corner entry with plenty of initial steering input.  Likewise Guido, which must be a bit frustrating for the engineers.PicJEV

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.

Weekend of a Champion: F1 in the raw

S2550025There have been very few F1 films like Weekend of a Champion – films in which one of the world’s best directors has been invited inside our sport to do with it what he wills.  Roman Polanski played the role of that director at Monaco, 1971.  He met Jackie Stewart socially, he became captivated by the man’s aura…and so he made a film about him.  At Monaco.  Over a race weekend.

The result, in my view, was brilliant.  We see Jackie and Helen Stewart in their hotel suite, chatting about Jackie’s shaving or his lack of appetite.  We see the always-cool Editor of l’Equipe, Edouard Seidler, walking down the famous Monaco hill with Jackie and Helen, pulling at his ever-present Gitanes.  We see Francois Cevert, wide-eyed and barritone, asking Jackie about gear-change points and ratios.  We see Yardley BRM stickers on the toolboxes of the Tyrrell mechanics.  We see Jackie talking about that famous gear lever knob with the ever-dour Roger Hill.  We see all the details that the TV feeds then – as now – never show(ed).

Weekend of a Champion was this week re-screened at Cannes (where it won an award in 1972) because it has been re-mastered and added-to.  We reach what we think is the end…but instead we see Jackie (now Sir Jackie) and Roman, in the same Hotel de Paris suite, 42 years on.  They talk about Jackie’s sideburns in the film, and about Jackie’s fear, that day back in 1971, that race day would be wet.  “The Goodyears were just so much slower than the Firestones in the wet around there,” says Sir Jackie, reminding you that not once in the original film does he speak badly of Goodyear, despite the frustrations.  They talk about the terrible death-rates of the time and Roman, quite rightly, highlights the “success” of Stewart’s campaign for safety.

Mostly, though, they have a laugh.  And this is what is so memorable about Weekend of a Champion.  Stewart, in what he now looks back as a “very trendy” time, comes over in situ as the lithe, nimble, athlete-superstar that he was.  “That is why I made that film,” Polanski told me last night.  “I made it because Jackie was this amazing driver who was also so articulate, so lucid.  He is the film.”

And so you watched the reactions of some of the guests.  I sat behind Damon Hill, who was seeing the extensive footage of his father for the first time.   “It was a bit scary seeing my Dad in that form but I loved the film.  Just loved it,” he said afterwards.  Alain Prost, too, was captivated.  “Just amazing.  It reminded me of my early days in F1, when things were also changing so quickly.”  Allan McNish, too:  “You can see why Jackie is who he is.  Even then, he was so much more than just a racing driver…”

I cornered Jackie afterwards and pursued some details:

“Nice to see that NAZA race suit again.  And the lovely Westover shoes…”

“Och no.  They weren’t Westovers.  Everyone thought they were.  You know what they were?  Hush Puppies.  I needed a bit of extra sole support because I always walked on my toes and I was beginning to have problems.  Everyone at the time said you had to have very thin-soled shoes for maximum feel but it was like the gloves:  I started to wear gauntlet gloves with much thicker palms with flame resistance.  Didn’t change my feel at all….”

“Why were you so on edge that weekend?” asked McNish at the star-bedecked post-film party.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a blood imbalance that would become a duodenal ulcer in 1972.  I wasn’t sleeping well.  I was tetchy.  You can see it when I get annoyed with that photographer before the start.  That shouldn’t have happened. It was a sign that things weren’t right.”

We had a laugh about the famous scene in which Jackie and Roman, on the inside of the entry to Casino Square, watch F3 practice.  “Now he’s got it all wrong,” says Jackie, pointing to John Bisignano (who sportingly would say a few years later, “that was the end of my racing career!”).  “But he’s ok.  And so is heHe knows doing…”

“Do you remember who that was?” I asked.

“No.  Who?”

“ Looked like James Hunt.”

This is the film’s most prominent feature – its exposure of the warts as well as the laughs.  It is a reminder that F1 was, and is, a never-ending movie, a 24-hour, 365-day TV show in which all the players must, and should, co-operate.  Certainly this was Stewart’s philosophy of the time.  I loved, too, the post-race Gala.  Jackie and Helen are there with Princess Grace (looking much more like Grace Kelly than the podium photos ever allowed), with the Prince, with Ringo Starr and others – but so, too, are many of the other drivers of the day – the guys who hadn’t won in the afternoon.  Pedro Rodriguez.  Jo Siffert.  Graham Hill.  Jacky Ickx.  Ronnie Peterson.

“When I see that film, I just think of the romance of it all,” said Allan McNish, walking back in a late-night drizzle to fetch his car.  “They were all at the post-race party.  That was lovely to see.”

Weekend of a Champion will be re-released soon in France by Pathe and in other regions thereafter.  This latest version was Co-Produced by Mark Stewart Productions. 

Indy: Second Row for rookie Jim Clark

moremsportshistorySilverstone and that dramatic escape behind him, Jim Clark returned to the cauldron they call Indianapolis, this time residing at the Speedway Motel.  He and Dan Gurney were ready to roll on Monday morning – and to apply, therefore, the finishing touches to their all-important qualifying attempts.  If they didn’t make it on this first weekend there would be no Monaco Grand Prix.  It was as simple as that.  And if there was no Monaco Grand Prix, Jim Clark’s 1963 F1 season was going to become unnecessarily tough.  After losing the title in 1962 by a single point, and now having won Pau, Imola and Silverstone in quick succession, he was keen to keep the momentum going.

Jim was delighted to find that Hinchman and Bell were true to their word.  His brand new overalls were, he thought, a little on the gaudy side – but this was Indy; and the race suit, critically, met all the USAC regulations for flame resistance.  Hinchman didn’t seem to be in the business of two-piece suits (of the Dunlop type to which Jim was now accustomed), so this one-piece overall featured a neat little belt with a silver clip-buckle.  Once he’d decided that regular shirts and pullovers were a little too casual, Jim had never worn anything but blue Dunlop overalls – first in one-piece form and, since 1962, with a separate topped tucked into the leggings.  Now, as he tried on the Hinchmans for the first time, he saw in the mirror a completely different person.  The shiny overalls were a base primrose-yellow with mid-blue stripes down the arms, pin-striped in red.  There seemed to be no logic to the colours but he liked them all the same.  His name was embroidered at an angle below the left chest zip pocked and on the right side was a Pure logo.  Jim shrugged and packed the suit into his Leston bag.  He’d wear it in the car but, between runs, he would change quickly back into his sea-island cotton polo and slacks or perhaps his shirt and tie.  He also found a new Pure jacket waiting for him in his hotel room.  He liked it.  It was dark blue – his colour – with blue and white cuffs and collar.   Very Border Reivers.  And the Pure badge was neat and tidy.  Without even thinking about the implications for Esso, he decided then that this jacket would not only be useful at Indy but also in Europe.images

The new Bell Magnum felt only slightly heavier than his Everoak but was considerably thicker all over.  A neat white peak was clipped into place by four big studs – a significant improvement over the strap/stud arrangement that had caused so much trouble at Spa the year before, when the peak on his Everoak had been blown loose by the rush of air at high speed.  Problem was, the Bell was finished in plain silver.  Jim wanted to wear it right away, enabling him to get used to it in the build-up to qualifying.  In the meantime he would see if Bell could prepare another Magnum in dark blue.  It wouldn’t be ready for qualifying but he’d be able to take it back with him to Europe to use at Monaco.

Jim was amazed by the size of the crowd at the Speedway that Monday – and in the days that followed.  More and more, he seemed to be in demand.  Whenever he was in a public area they jumped on him for autographs and in Gasoline Alley the media were all over him.  For the perspective of a fan at the time (albeit 1966), read Don Fitzpatrick’s comment associated with our 1963 Silverstone International Trophy report.

There was a shortage of Halibrand wheels at Indy – itself a function of the trend-setting 15in Firestones being run on the Lotus 29s;  Dan, not completely comfortable with his set-up, spun his blue-and-white car into the wall; and the wind gusted up as Jim’s qualifying run approached:  it was tense and it was time to go to work.

Jim described his qualifying run thus:

“On the day of qualifying there was a fair-sized wind blowing at Indianapolis.  I knew I wouldn’t get another opportunity, and, though quite a number of cars had been out and had failed to qualify because of the conditions, I had to make a real effort.

“It was a tense time, with the wind blowing in 35mph gusts and the car was very twitchy indeed.  Three hours previously I had been going around pretty steadily at about 151.5 mph, and Colin timed one lap at 153 mph;  but these speeds were not possible when I went out for the official trials.

“Dan’s practice crash had caused some embarrassment, because he wrote-off two of the wide-rimmed wheels I was due to use on my car for qualifying.  So I did my qualifying with none of the rims matching – two wide ones on the outside wheels and narrow ones on the inside.

“Anyway, after a few minutes of gritting my teeth and fighting the wind gusts, I eventually managed to qualify at 149.750 mph, which put me in the middle of the second row.tumblr_m1lr6nfOXQ1r53nlzo1_500  You know, it’s amazing what a difference the track temperature and air temperature make to lap speeds at Indianapolis.  I went out one day and couldn’t do anything better than 148 mph.  Colin was trying to sort out the reason, and though he did everything he knew, the car just couldn’t be got round any quicker.  We realized later that the speed was being cut by the heat, and we also realized that at that time all the other drivers had parked their cars away and weren’t troubling to go out.  Local knowledge does help!

“The technique for the lap was relatively straightforward:  I dabbed the brakes going into each turn and had to smack them pretty hard when I had a full load of fuel aboard.  The difficulties about Indianapolis are the lack of distinguishing features around the circuit and the fact that there is no apex on the four turns.”

Jim had made it – and so, in the spare Lotus 29, painted in Jim’s green and yellow colours, had Dan.  They could relax.  And they could begin the rushed trip, with Colin, back to Europe.  Practice for the Monaco Grand Prix would begin on Thursday, May 23.S2530001

Captions from top: Jim, wearing new Hinchmans, in nail-biting mood as he listens to the pre-qualifying drivers’ briefing and draw; Middle: Jim loved the blue-and-white Pure jackets that came with the American oil company’s Indy sponsorship (via its Ford connections).  He wears it here over his Esso-badged blue Dunlops!; Above right: the official Indianapolis portrait of Jim Clark; Above: Jim, in the new silver Bell Magnum, after qualifying the Lotus 29 on the second row.  Around him, from left to right, are Colin Chapman, Jim Endruweit, David Lazenby and Colin Riley 

Pictures: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Peter Windsor Collection; LAT Photographic

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