Notes from Austin
- Fernando Alonso looked fit and well after qualifying despite his recent nerve/back troubles. He was beset by headaches for the week after Abu Dhabi (when a hop over the rumble strips did the damage) but he’s fine now, citing adrenalin as the greatest cure in the world.
- I love the small, relatively cramped team hospitality units at the COTA. You’re there in Ferrari, chatting to Luca Marmorini about the 2014 fuel-flow restrictors, and the next thing you know you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with Felipe and/or Fernando’s Friends. After chatting earlier to Sahara Force India’s Andy Stevenson about his team’s third Brembo brake disc failure this year (Adrian Sutil’s broke in qualifying in Texas), the thought occurred that Felipe is going to have a bit of a pedal-shock when he first drives a Williams. To my knowledge, Felipe has never driven with Carbone Industrie brakes – and they are very, very different from the Brembos. As different, perhaps, as the new V6 turbo engines will be from the current V8s. Felipe said that he’d tried CIs a few times at Ferrari and doesn’t like ’em. “I will have to make some changes at Williams,” he said with a smile. Hmm. It’ll be interesting to see where Williams are at, brake-wise, come January/February next year.
- Speaking of those SFI brake failures, the thinking at Brembo is that SFI have an installation problem. Ferrari, for example, have had no such issues at any point this year. Fair enough – but then you would always expect Ferrari to be atop the Brembo totem pole. It’s a bit worrying, therefore – both for SFI and Brembo. Add a couple of issues at Lotus with Hitco, and you have a surprising number of brakes failures in a year when other (historically-fragile) car components – hydraulic systems, electronics, clutches, transmssions, engines, etc – have been virtually rock-solid.
- One of the sights I miss at modern F1 races is that of the washing line – the drivers’ sweaty overalls hanging out to dry between practice sessions. They all used to do it. Now, like Vespa scooters, I guess such displays are against Community Paddock Rules. I did see this, though, after Friday practice, proving that there’s life in (crowded) F1 paddocks after all. I shot these sun-drying overalls through the fencing in the hope that you won’t report the culprits.
- It’s difficult to have fun on the roads in the US, but that all changes on the motorway leading to the COTA. Not only does the road have plenty of sweeping bends in amongst the prairies and the grazing cattle; the speed limit is also an amazing 80 mph (85 mph on the return lanes, oddly). I can’t think of too many places in the world these days with speed limits that high, so all credit to the Texans. My Hertz Chevvy loved it – and that’s saying something.
- I know I go on an on about “F1 improving its show” but I can’t let this race pass into history without commenting about the almost non-existent support package for the US GP. Last year we at least saw Historic F1 cars – and gorgeous they were too, even if the owners were not allowed to use on-board cameras and the races were confined to the less-populated stages of the day. We also had Porsche Supercup (American version). This year the Historic F1 cars were nowhere in evidence – and nor were the Porsches. The sum total of the USGP race cars was the F1 race (obviously), preceded at 9:30am by an (admittedly fascinating) Historic Formula Atlantic/Formula B race and then a bunch of unruly stockbrokers doing about $50m-worth of damage to expensive-looking Ferrari sports/road cars. Why no Historic F1s in a country in which (a) F1 is trying to “sell its brand” and (b) has enormous F1 heritage, by which I mean Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Peter Revson, Eagle Weslakes and a race history that stretches back to 1959? Why no Eagle on the circuit before the race, driven by Dan himself? Why no Mario in a Lotus 79? And why no Pro-Celebrity race, bringing in some Hollywood stars to spice up the day – especially in a year of relatively-predictable Seb Vettel domination? Americans like shows – they’re used to shows – and it’s not difficult to enhance the F1 show with a few simple bolt-ons. As much as I enjoyed watching (late on Saturday and early on Sunday) a Fred Opert Chevron B39 alongside a Ralt RT1 – and the mid-field laps of a nice Lotus 41C – and seeing Mario on the podium, presenting a trophy – I don’t think this is the sort of event that sits particularly comfortably – alone – as the main support race of America’s Grand Prix. Fred Opert himself? He was in Texas, supporting his man (Nico Rosberg, son of his former star driver, Keijo).
- Which reminds me of one of the first Long Beach Grands Prix, when there was a decent Pro-celebrity race. Poor old Clint Eastwood wasn’t particularly quick but luckily couldn’t hear the large-bellied guy sitting on his Winnebago’s roof on the outside of Turn Two (where I also happened to be watching). “Hey Clint!” he would say, lap after lap. “Where’s Dirty Harry now?!”. Anyway, here’s a flashback to the first Long Beach GP in 1976. Not a bad guest list: Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, Rene Dreyfus, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and Maurice Trintignant. Sadly many have passed away. As I say, though: why no Dan in an Eagle at the COTA – or Stirling, for that matter? He did win the second US GP (at Riverside, 1960).
- Tim Mayer (son of Teddy), was a Steward at this year’s US GP. It was 50 years ago that his uncle, the very rapid Timmy, signed to drive for Bruce McLaren’s new team prior to the (January-February, 1964) Tasman Series. Timmy was instantly quick, almost dead-heating with Bruce at Teretonga and running right up with his team leader on several other circuits. Then in March, at Longford, Tasmania, Timmy died when his little Cooper became airborne over one of the bumps and spun into the trees. Tim, his nephew, is today an FIA Delegate and Director of ACCUS (Automobile Commission of the United States). Timmy brought his mechanic, Tyler Alexander (left, below) to Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd. Tyler then went on to become an integral part of the McLaren success story.
Images: LAT Photographic; Peter Windsor Collection