MEMORIES OF THE 1974 AUSTRIAN GP
Authority, wit and intelligence from the voice of F1 Racing
When Carlos Reutemann won his first grand prix, in South Africa in 1974, I wasn’t there. But I was there to see him win his second race. Forty years ago. At the Österreichring.
It was a sun-filled day in the mountains, and those big, wide rear Goodyears seemed to melt into the Tarmac as the white Brabham BT44B shimmered over the rise. Everything at the Österreichring seemed hot – even the Armco barrier, which I leant against during the opening laps.
As the race developed, I went sprinting to the infield, into the long grass to watch them snaking through the double-apex left and then back over again for that right-handed crest. Fast, fast, fast. Even the slowest corner, there in front of me, was third gear. This was Spa in an oven; Monza in the mountains. The Jochen Rindt Curve was perilously bounded by Armco and, past the pits, up the hill and into the middle distance, Carlos was absolutely flat as the white car arced into the long right-hander.
Later – long after the garland had been presented – I sat in the little tent that was the press office. A groundsheet covered the grass. Two telex machines nestled amid the tangled cables. Heinz Prüller, Jochen Rindt’s biographer, was pounding away on his Olympus typewriter. I rattled into mine. A crack of thunder abruptly caused us all to jump. I walked to the door, duckboards creaking beneath. The sky was dark… the clouds threatening. Then came the noise of a car out there – a road car in the torture chamber. It was coming from the field to our left. A while ago the field had been full of vehicles; now it was empty. It was a Ford Cortina, sideways, spraying mud and grass. I wandered over. And the driver waved.
It was Carlos Reutemann, celebrating alone in a world of opposite lock.
Austria was a very natural place in which to race – it still is a circuit close to nature. Heat. Rain. The mountains. It simmers the emotions. The telex machines have long been junked; a media centre has replaced the humble press room, and that, in turn, has been joined by thingamajob-centres for all that stuff they do behind tinted glass. The circuit is all straights and 90° turns: no mid-corners are truly, dazzlingly fast.
It’s still Zeltweg, though; still part of that military airfield where, in 1964, managing the race from an old double-decker bus, they staged the first Austrian Grand Prix. Lorenzo Bandini won and noticed his wife was down in the crowd below as he accepted the trophy and donned the garland. “Eh! What you doin’ here?” shouted Lorenzo with a smile.
“It was his idea,” replied Marguerite, pointing to the guy next to her.
Lorenzo’s eyes lit up as he waved to Jim Clark. They’d agreed, Lorenzo and Marguerite, that it would be better if she didn’t come to races. Jim thought that was daft. He’d arranged for her to be in Austria. She’d kept out of sight. But now it was okay. Now it was a perfect weekend.
Is that true? It must be true. Heinz Prüller told me it was so as we stood in line for the telex machine, 40 years ago.
ONE SIMPLE CHANGE
When was the last time you saw a great pass at the re-start of an F1 race? How about Juan Pablo Montoya at Interlagos in 2001, when he zapped Michael Schumacher at the first corner on cold tyres? And when else?
That’s my point exactly. The nearest we’ve had was Nico Hülkenberg’s re-start in Bahrain this year, when he almost managed to dive down the inside of Force India team-mate, Sergio Pérez. But it didn’t happen. Pérez had the advantage. Nico had to file back into line. From which we can surmise two things: First, F1 is locked into the rolling re-start for safety, time and technical reasons. Second, re-starts should provide an interest spike: the cars are bunched together again; maybe something will happen! But nothing ever does happen. The cars file out of the last corner, jinking a little on coldish tyres, separated by a length or two – and no one ever gets close enough (Nico H excepted) to do anything creative. I’ve asked several F1 engineers why they think this is: is it the dreaded turbulence thing again? Most thought it was, although some pointed out that everyone – by which they meant the entire pit wall and the drivers – is now very good at re-starts. Everyone knows when to push the button and how to create a gap. And so re-starts have lost their magic.
Allow me, then, one very cheap, simple and effective way of spicing up the racing: let’s line up the cars two-by-two for the restarts, with the race leader holding the pack tight until they cross the start/finish line. It might be more dangerous. And at circuits like Monaco it might be difficult to get everyone into pairs before the leaders cross the line. But everywhere else it would be an improvement. There would be more chances to pass, fewer to defend – and it would look spectacular on TV.
I’ve asked around the F1 paddock for thoughts on this. The younger F1 frat had no idea what I was talking about until I explained it in detail. Then they would react in one of two ways: they would either smile and say “great idea” or look at me as if I were some sort of demented Alonso fan and reply. “That would be too dangerous.” “Precisely,” I would reply. The older gents would nod sagely and think of reasons why of course it shouldn’t happen. Usually this would involve long periods of silence interjected with expletives like “NASCAR”, “Indy” and “ovals”.
Double-file re-starts would do more for the show than trying to make the engines sound ‘better’ or the cars ‘easier to overtake’ (as per a typical Strategy Group agenda). It’s hard enough to get your F1 car alongside another, as Nico proved in Bahrain. Put them side-byside and we’d give most of the field a leg-up. Who knows? We might even see passes around the outside, just as they used to do before they fell into line.
Carlos Reutemann leads the pack on his way to victory in his Brabham BT44B at the scorching hot 1974 Austrian Grand Prix
On a re-start, lining the cars up two-by-two could provide additional excitement