Insights into Lotus Formula One

YES, VIRGINIA, there is a Fittipaldi. I couldn't bear to leave that line to Rob in his Watkins story so have pinched it. As you probably know by now Emerson Fittipaldi won the U.S. GP via the usual combination of circumstances - that involves a GP win but after all he had to be there to do it. Colin Chapman should be proud of the latest of his crop of young men but I was even prouder of the resolve shown by his faithful Team Lotus racing mechanics, soldiering, on amidst a considerable blizzard of bad publicity caused by Rindt's death. There are a lot of people who think that any crash is caused by driver error and a lot more people who, looking at the history of Lotus over the years, think that any crash is caused by the car falling to bits. I would be lying if I didn't say that the latest Lotus F 1, although a truly marvelous device, is really not my cup of tea to go racing in but then if you are interested in winning, Lotus has a very good record indeed. But the point I am trying to make is that Dick Scammell and the lads make it as safe as they possibly can. Probably a contributory factor is that the Lotuses can be driven really hard by the most skillful drivers so naturally there are going to be breakages; approximately 75 percent of the cars are not driven really hard in anyone race so you can see how the percentage of probability works. Then there are all the dramas about the poor quality of bits supplied by outside firms, late delivery, design faults, and the like; due to the hurried nature of the F 1 schedule there is no time to do much development work and sometimes sins are perpetuated long past their allotted time. We, the journalists, don't know about most of all that and by extension you don't either. Sort of like baseball in a way as we cannot see why McCovey went 0 for 4 or why an apparently good player gets traded off to Tacoma. I have just been reading Mr. Jim Bouton's book Ball Four about the trials and tribulations of a pitcher and recommend it highly to anyone wanting to know what the real face, as distinct from the party face, of a sport is like. Perhaps Mr. Bouton hoked it up a bit but I doubt it; the ins and outs of baseball management sound suspiciously like the ins and outs of fuel contracts, second drivers vs team managers, and just plain dirty pool. You just wouldn't believe some of the things that go on and some of the personalities involved. When you sit there Monday morning reading that X dropped out again and Y blew up and Z dropped a valve, you may not know (for instance)" that Cosworths have something over 60 racing engines "out," a certain number of which are delivered, back to them after each race in various stages of disrepair. Without being unkind to Cosworth, they have bitten off a bit more than they can-chew as the works, which must rebuild these engines and ship them back toot sweet, is still small and also there are certain modifications for extra horses which don't seem to have worked out too well. This rebuilding costs about $2500 a time I gather and on top of that some team managers feel that their engines aren't getting the attention other team managers are etc. Then there are the drivers who say that they cannot. do well because Goodstone doesn't want to know about giving them the right tires etc. This unsatisfactory situation of having the race decided before it is actually run, as it were, has made Jack Brabham retire at the end of this season, finally fed up. And he is good enough, all other things being equal, to have taken the lot. It isn't all just jumping in the car and blowing everyone off. Perhaps someday one of the drivers wiIl do a really literate version of what it is all like; of course by that time he had better be living in Argentina with all the Nazis as the slander writs would be coming thick and fast.

It was pretty strange being at a GP race after all this time and I had to wander about with program in hand to identify both machines and men (thought I was going to say Car and Driver, Elaine?). However there were lots of old friends, ranging from the Hackfleisch Queen to the Plaster Casters of Chicago, who all told me that they had heard I was coming "back" next year; my only reply was to ask if they had heard who was going to pay for it. Frankly things have moved so fast since I left that part of a season back there every year is really necessary to stay "au courant" and not feel that one has been away since the introduction of front-wheel brakes. Anyway, many of the old guard were still holding forth like Stewart, Surtees, G. Hill, et al but kids like Ickx were already seasoned veterans. There was very definitely a new wave of recruits from F2 like Fittipaldi, Weisell, Peterson, (Schenken or sports car specialists like Stommelen. To find out what really goe's (besides expediency or fuel contract) with some of these lads you have to consult 'one of the older. racing mechanics who will say (about Stommelen), " 'E'll be all right, likes the really fast stuff. 'E can pick up the Monaco nadgery later." Or Fittipaldi, "Mad as a b* * *y hatter. Gets it sideways. Sideways!!" And to a request for information about one of his own drivers, "Same stupid b* * * *y nit he always was. If we didn't shorten up the throttle cable he wd never finish a race." Ha. Walking around eavesdropping is better than drinking in an Irish pub for conversation: "How're things going? Like a waltz; slow slow quick quick."

Funnily enough in the ranks there doesn't seem to be much consciousness of the drivers' nationalities, although Franco Lini took care to inform us that Fittipaldi's parents were "Calabrese." Of course with a mishmash of Englisry, Scottish; Belgian, French, Italian, Swedish, German, Spanish, Australian, Schwyzer deutsch, Brazilian, and Midlands floating around the pits nobody has time to be chauvinistic: Yacht racing apparently is different as the celebrated Ursula Bagel writes from Paris that while Baron Bich was doing well with the 12-Meters he was wrapped, in the tricolour but when he lost, Paris Match turned him into half-Italian with Swiss trimmings, thereupon dropping him in favor of the bicycle races. She notes that one of the etoiles de velo is named Helmut Chan, "a good old German name" and that there was a bullfighter in Lisbon named Gustavo Zinkel. While they lack the sheer poetry of Emerson Fittipaldi, it is nice to know that sports is getting away from the Jacks and Joes.

I was pleased to find out that apparently many folk back there read american magazines and quite a few sociable questions were put about the health of the famous Fiat 600. One gentleman even asked solicitously if I were going to have it bronzed like a pair of baby shoes; now that is something that never occurred to any of us but would give it a snappy weatherproof finish.

On a more somber note, I must report that I have decided to sell my Ferrari GTO simply because it isn't being driven enough. We went out to practice at Ontario in it but with Spa gearing and an eye out for the fuzz it simply wasn't much fun. After an expensive tuneup chez Gene Curtis it now runs very well (the old Marchal plugs had been in for five years) and is quite tractable although of course pretty noisy. Ferrari experts tell me that it is one of the last of the proper GTOs before the flattops and was a works cars owned by Jean Guichet, who won the Tour de France among other things. No Le Mans, no Targa as he went on to driving works roadsters, and consequently is one of the very few that hasn't been through three sets of owners and thus through every stone wall in Europe. If there is anything wrong with it, I don't know it, as I can't stand unreliable high-speed automobiles. Frankly I would prefer to sell it out of Southern California as this is a dumb place for a good car. Yes it is licensed and has a few spares incl. two different ring and pinion sets, spare tires, and even a set of mag wheels which may work, if you want more understeer than it has already, as they (originally for my 330 GT) are offset an inch or so. Offers to this address please in plain wrapper; no silly offers as I am not going to give it away. Cash deal although I might just take something like a nice Flavia coupe in part trade. I hate to let it go (and in fact may chicken out yet) as owning a car like that makes you feel like the Plastic Master State hasn't got you yet. . . and besides the Ferrari mechanics always ask about it. But, as the man said who blew his brains out while dressing, too many buttons. Too many stop signs. Bleagh."

Author: ArchitectPage

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