Hunt vs Lauda

Hunt and Lauda. What I wrote at the time. The Guardian 25 October, 1976.
No writer of fiction would have dared drag out the suspense of a world motor racing championship to the closing minutes of a year long, 16 race series. The final laps in the Grand Prix of Japan, when it looked as though Niki Lauda might keep the title as James Hunt’s McLaren suffered tyre trouble, contained the sort of drama only expected in a Frankenheimer movie.The blond hero did not win the race, but he won the cham-pionship, while the battle scarred Austrian, who had seemed unassailable in June, retired
because he couldn’t see through Fuji’s October fog. It was a brave decision. He returns to Europe for an operation to an eyelid which still does not close, a legacy of his Nürburgring injuries.
The season’s acrimony and protests will not be forgotten. The legal wrangles may have failed to get Lauda the drivers’ title, although they did gain Enzo Ferrari the constructors’ championship which, for the 78 year old Master of Maranello, is probably more important. His attachment to his cars is emotional and he remains the most powerful man in motor racing, Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula One constructors notwithstanding. They are no match for Ferrari, who directs events by remote control without ever leaving his shuttered industrial fortress on the plains of Lombardy.
Lauda’s courage will be remembered longer than his cavalier attitude towards the press, and the enthusiasts who tried to meet him or, pursue him for his autograph. The most they usually see is the closed door of his caravan,- or his helicopter as he flies back for more testing at Fiorano. Here, he hones his cars to perfection, and the moment he stops, as after his accident, their edge is lost.
James Hunt will be remembered for a calmness and maturity surprising to those who knew him in his early days. He is accessible, entertaining, and seems to drive racing cars because he enjoys it. No cool technician like Lauda, who may have his head and his heart in his driving, Hunt has his soul in it.
It is difficult not to draw a comparison between Hunt and Britain’s first world champion, Mike Hawthorn. Hunt has the same boyish good looks, the same easygoing manner, and the same sort of zest. You could never picture Jackie Stewart with a pint in his hand; there was never anything boisterous about Jack Brabham. Denny Hulme was positively monastic. Hunt’s talent is like Hawthorn’s, at its best against the odds and enjoying a challenge, and although occasionally inconsistent it stems from a natural athletic urge.
He is different from Jim Clark, who was shy and retiring. Clark’s talent amounted to genius, and he would take whatever car he was given and make it go faster than anyone else in the world; his sense of balance and accuracy of vision were so highly developed that he adjusted to the car not the other way round.
Jackie Stewart had natural talent too, but it was focused more on making the car suit him. His gift was precise communication with his engineers. He could describe how the car behaved and would have it constantly improved.
Graham Hill was a man of iron will, who won races with more courage and determination than inborn skill at the wheel. Like Lauda he recovered from a terrible accident, but Lauda added an understanding of the complex electronic test facilities Ferrari employs to match the car to each circuit before it reaches the start line.
Jack Brabham was a talented engineer, who knew his car’s theoretical limitations and would calmly experiment as he drove until he established what they were in practice. He almost invented the science of chassis tuning, adjusting ride height, spring rates and so on 17 years ago. John Surtees, champion in 1964 for Ferrari, was another practical driver, perhaps relying even more than Brabhani on how the car felt through the seat of his pants.
There will be no monasticism for the new world champion. He keeps in training, but by inclination, not stricture. He will be a successful ambassador for his country and for motor racing, with all the qualities of a classic schoolboy hero.
In an interview after the Japanese Grand Prix Lauda defended his decision to pull out of the race after two laps. “There is a limit in any profession or sport,” he said. “The cars are not suitable for driving through so much water. When logic tells you that things will not work right, to me it is the normal human reaction to draw the inevitable conclusion, not to say ‘I hope for a miracle’ - and a miracle it was, in my opinion, that there were no fatal accidents.”
FINAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS. Hunt (GB) 69, Lauda (Austria) 68, Scheckter (S. Africa) 49, Depaillier (France) 39, Regazzoni (Switzerland) 31, Andretti (US) 22, Lafitte (France) 20, Watson (N. Ireland) 20, Mass (Germany 19, Nilsson (Sweden) 11, Peterson (Sweden (10) Pryce (GB) 10, Stuck (Germany) 8, Pace (Brazil) 7, Jones (Australia) 7; Reutemann (Argentina) 3. Amos (NZ) 2, Stommelen (Germany) 1, Brambilla (Italy) 1.

Following the film RUSH and the Motor Sport retro video the BBC repeated its splendid Hunt/Lauda documentary last night with Simon Taylor, one of the stars of the film, who said “This is indeed a completely new documentary. It includes fresh interviews with Daniele Audetto, Alistair Caldwell, Niki himself, even James’ sister (who has never appeared talking about her brother before, apparently). I have only been allowed to see snatches, but they were enough to indicate that the researchers have managed to find some remarkable footage from 1976 that was new, as well as the old familiar stuff.”
I was motor racing correspondent of The Guardian at the time. Italian newspapers took up what they perceived as criticism of Enzo Ferrari, and he basked in the view of himself as influential as Bernie Ecclestone. He responded personally to me the following year. I framed the letter.

Passing fancy

Last Lexus LFA, Jaguar won’t make the C-X75. What’s happening? It’s the end of dreamland for supercars, that’s what. Let’s see how many Ferrari Enzos, McLaren P1s and Porsche 918s they sell if these go ahead. There’s nothing wrong with the cars and there are still people with half a million quid or so to buy them. We’ve seen it all before in difficult times, like the fuel crises of the 1970s when driving luxury gas guzzlers was embarrassing. It’s like managing directors turning up in limos to make half the workforce redundant. It’s a phase. The stupid 200mph things will come back.

Jaguar said it would not build the C-X75 supercar (right) because of, “global economic pressures.” And now Lexus has made the final 4.9litre V10 (below). Last week a white LFA with what was known as a Nürburgring Package left Motomachi, marking the end of production. Chief engineer, Haruhiko Tanahashi lamented, “I’ve lived and breathed supercars for the past decade, specifically the LFA. Very few people have the opportunity we had, to create a world-class supercar from a blank sheet of paper.” Some 170 hand-picked workers made about one car per working day for two years.

Jaguar said it would build 250 C-X75s, selling at £900,000 each, but, "After a thorough re-assessment of near-term market conditions, the company's view is that the global economic landscape does not currently support the introduction of a supercar.” Common sense really. Jaguar thought it might get away with it by adding a bit of greenery. Announced as a concept at the 2010 Paris auto show with four electric in-wheel motors, it had two micro turbine engines. The turbines were dropped and the car converted to being a plug-in hybrid, with a 1.6litre petrol engine. It still claimed over 200mph with a low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions below 99g/km. Maybe not all at the same time. Jaguar formed a partnership with Williams Formula 1 to develop a carbon fibre chassis, hybrid technology and aerodynamics to keep it from flying off.

Realism will out. Lexus says, “Learning from LFA engineering will directly influence new Lexus products. Production knowledge of carbon fibre components will be applied to future Lexus vehicles.” Adrian Hallmark of Jaguar said the technology showcased in the C-X75 wouldn't be dropped. "We have achieved an incredible amount and will continue to test and develop these technologies, which are highly relevant to Jaguar Land Rover's sustainable future".

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they.

Juan Manuel Fangio

When Juan Manuel Fangio drove for Ferrari in 1956, he accused it of skulduggery on a grand scale. He claimed he was given a car with no oil in the back axle, so that somebody else would win the Belgian Grand Prix. For the Mille Miglia mechanics cut holes in the bodywork to drench him in rainwater. They arranged a fuel gauge to fracture and spray him with petrol in the French Grand Prix.
As punishment for going off to drive for Maserati in 1957, Enzo Ferrari sent seductive women on the eve of big races to try and take the edge off Fangio’s driving. The rift between two of the greatest names in the sport became so much part of motor racing folklore that it was almost disappointing to find it no more, it seems, than a misunderstanding.
Fangio blamed it on Marcello Giambertone, his manager in 1956 when he won the fourth of his five world championships. The accusations were recounted in 'My Twenty Years of Racing', published in Britain by Temple Press in 1961. In a preface Fangio wrote, "It was Giamba (Giambertone) who finally persuaded me to write this book. Many people have tried, but I did not accept their offers."
Giambertone had demanded a personal mechanic for his driver then complained that despite winning the championship Fangio, alone of the team’s drivers, did not receive the customary gold medal. "Juan's title," he wrote, "was an exceptional performance which brought Ferrari 50 million Lire in prizes from the Italian Automobile Club alone."
Enzo Ferrari saw things differently apparently regarding Fangio as, "...a great driver, afflicted by a persecution mania," angrily refuting allegations of treachery and sabotage. It was a long running quarrel and the breach was never healed.
Ferrari died in 1988, and in 1990 Fangio produced another book, 'My Racing Life, also with a preface under his byline which said, "I have never before taken any direct part in any book written about me. This is the first book I have truly contributed to." He dismissed Giambertone's 1961 work as, ..."a book of which I appeared to be the co-author. In it, certain things were written that I did not agree with, and he was entirely responsible for. It was a responsibility I felt I did not share when Signor Ferrari asked for explanations."
Perhaps as a result of his experience, Fangio insisted that after tape-recording the material for the new book he would approve the contents, "In order to see that there was no alteration to the essence of what I said." The result was rather anodyne. The prickly relationship with Ferrari was effectively ignored, and although the rest was interesting and even entertaining, it added only ephemera to what we already knew.
Stirling Moss, who wrote a preface to both Fangio's books, told me the accusations were unworthy of both men. "Fangio was always the gentleman, and like me he had the greatest respect for Enzo Ferrari and all he did for the sport. They weren't exactly buddies. Nobody was that close to Ferrari, but I never knew of any animosity between them, and we both thought the world of Ferrari's cars. Nobody ever died in a Ferrari because the car broke, and you couldn't say the same about some other cars. I always thought Giambertone was a bit of a wheeler-dealer. A driver like Fangio didn't need a manager. He was above that." Juan Fangio died in 1995.
For collectors: Fangio: My Racing Life. Juan Manuel Fangio with Roberto Caruzzo, Patrick Stephens Ltd, £20.00 ISBN 1-85260-315-1. Picture, top:
Fangio signing copies of my book The Guinness Guide to Grand Prix Racing, Guinness Superlatives, 1980, on the starting grid at Brands Hatch. Copies are available from Amazon or ebay at around £15-£20. My Racing Life had various imprints. Pay £20-£35 for a good one. More for either with Fangio’s autograph.

Liberty Belle

Found this marvellous beautiful engine when I went to Duxford for my birthday treat. Aviation writer Bill Gunston says no aircraft engine equals the Liberty V12’s record of quick design, quick qualification and quick mass production. It had a long active life in aeroplanes up to 1935. One is still going, revised a bit, in Babs the exhumed Land Speed Record car of John Godfrey Parry Thomas, who died in it at Pendine Sands.

Produced in a hurry to meet a wartime emergency, the Liberty was designed by Jesse Vincent of Packard and EJ Hall of Hall-Scott in a Washington hotel between 30 May and 4 June 1917. One says ‘designed’ but of course it used features such as the water cooled separate 5x7 inch cylinders from Hall-Scott’s existing San Francisco engines as well as bits of Packard. The Vee was set at 45deg to fit narrow aircraft and the valve gear was exposed. By November 1918 20,478 had been made of the 27 litre engine which, coincidentally, was the same capacity as the 5.4x6in Rolls-Royce Merlin designed in 1933. Not many people know that. Surprise your friends.

Coil ignition was unusual for a 1917 engine

Engines had to be narrow to fit in slim aircraft

Valve gear lived outside
Babs was dug up in 1969 by engineering lecturer Owen Wyn Owen from what had become a military firing range and restored as a tribute to the brave Parry Thomas. The original Liberty, damaged in the crash had rusted over the years and was replaced by one built by Lincoln Cars, its twelve separate cylinders mounted on a Packard-Liberty crankcase.

Pictured at Brooklands in 2007, Babs was being worked up for a demonstration run. The chassis is braced by strut and wire, much as contemporary Bentleys were, to improve stiffness. Lots of batteries were needed to crank the enormous V12. What a noise history makes.

Ferrari Italia

At last, a proper Car of the Year. The Daily Telegraph motoring supplement has elected the Ferrari 458 Italia COTY in its Money No Object category. It is also Car magazine’s and Auto Express’s Performance Car of the Year, GQ’s Supercar of the Year, MSN Car’s Car of the Year and even Fifth Gear and Top Gear agree about it. How welcome. What a contrast to the self-serving European Car of the Year jury’s Nissan Leaf (see earlier blog), which flaunts the COTY logo shamelessly on television.

I didn’t drive a lot of Ferraris in 1992. The Fiorano test track was instructive. I avoided being driven round by Ferrari testers, who aimed to frighten passengers to death within a lap. One of our number, I forget who, managed to punt one of the 512s down the banking after the overpass bridge but I’m glad to say I managed to keep it on track and return a respectable performance, along with Michael Scarlett. We weren’t racing of course.

The 458 Italia won, according to The Daily Telegraph, “Because of the pure driving pleasure it delivers – to drivers of all abilities. It flatters your driving while involving you fully in the experience. Despite its towering performance … the 458’s astounding levels of tactility and refinement clinch it. It has almost telepathic steering, superbly linear major controls, looks (and sound) to die for. Hell, it’s even comfortable."

Not sure about the rhetoric but you can see what they mean. Read what I thought in The Sunday Times of 19 April 1992. Click to enlarge

The conversation with Luca di Montezemolo, an aristocrat to his fingertips, then as now was also instructive. Enzo Ferrari may have founded a great dynasty of sports cars but it was Montezemolo who made them work properly, got rid of the red stains on the balance sheet and developed a practical range of road cars instead of stark 2-seaters. One of Berlusconi’s henchmen called on him to resign at Ferrari after losing the world championship. Luca had his ups and downs in football and ran Fiat for seven years until displaced last April, by 34 year old John Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli.

Montezemolo’s title is not Marchese or Marquis but Nobile dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (Noble of the Marquises of Montezemolo), indicating his descent from a Marchese although not one himself. Luca is youngest son of Massimo Cordero dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (1920–2009), a Piedmontese aristocrat whose family served the Royal House of Savoy. His grandfather, Mario (1888–1960) and great-grandfather Carlo (1858–1943) were both Generals in the Army and he is cousin of a Cardinal. Aged 44 in 1992 makes him 63 now. Luca’s uncle, Admiral Giorgio Cordero dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (1918–1986) was a commander in the Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina in WWII. Good if you think Italian frogmen disabling HMSs Queen Elizabeth and Valiant in Alexandria on 19 December 1941, less good at Taranto and Cape Matapan.