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.


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

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