BACK-TO-BACK WORLD CHAM­PI­ONS

Michael re­calls past Grand Prix cham­pi­ons, re­mem­bers Stir­ling Moss’ New Zealand rac­ing de­but, looks to the big NZ Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor Rac­ing Porsche Fes­ti­val, and plans to cel­e­brate Kiwi rac­ing leg­end Kenny Smith at the 2017 fes­ti­val

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback -

Here’s a bit of trivia that had es­caped me un­til re­cently: among the many plau­dits and ac­co­lades ex­tended to 2015 For­mula 1 world cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton was this — he is the first Bri­ton to achieve back-to-back world cham­pi­onships. When I first heard that, I must say I won­dered ini­tially if it could, in fact, be true. I did a quick check, in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, start­ing with Bri­tain’s first cham­pion in 1958.

Of course, Mike Hawthorn couldn’t have been a back-to-back win­ner, be­cause he wound up his short-but­glit­ter­ing ca­reer at the end of his cham­pion year, aged 29. When asked ‘why stop now?’ he replied with this great line — “It’s so much nicer to be asked ‘Why did you re­tire?’ than to be told ‘Why don’t you re­tire?’”

Gra­ham Hill was the UK’S next world cham­pion, and, al­though he scored over­all lau­rels twice, there was a six-year gap be­tween his cham­pion sea­sons, 1962 and 1968. Jim Clark be­came Scot­land’s first world cham­pion in 1963, and, while he came achingly close to be­ing cham­pion again in 1964, that hon­our went to John Sur­tees. Clark’s turn came again in 1965. But his chance to go back-to-back on that ti­tle was scup­pered by the new reg­u­la­tions en­acted for 1966 that left him and Lotus with­out a com­pet­i­tive en­gine.

Scot­land’s next world cham­pion came in the form of Jackie Ste­wart — but his three ti­tles came in 1969, 1971, and 1973, so no back-to-back wins there ei­ther. Ste­wart didn’t have the car

up to the job in 1970, while his 1972 sea­son was com­pro­mised by health is­sues — and he re­tired at the end of 1973.

Then along came James Hunt and his fa­mous last-round snatch­ing of the ti­tle in 1976, but al­though he re­mained com­pet­i­tive in 1977, the ti­tle went to his equally fa­mous ri­val Niki Lauda.

De­spite the best ef­forts of Nigel Mansell, the ’80s passed with­out a ti­tle go­ing to a Brit — how­ever, he fi­nally cracked in it 1992. But any chance of a fol­low-up win dis­si­pated when he de­cided to head off to Amer­ica and try his hand at Indycar.

Gra­ham Hill’s lad, Da­mon, was world cham­pion for Bri­tain in 1996, but leav­ing Wil­liams for the peren­nial back-marker Ar­rows team guar­an­teed he wasn’t go­ing to be a back-to-back con­tender. Lewis Hamil­ton was the UK’S next cham­pion in 2008 — in ar­guably the most ex­tra­or­di­nary fi­nal lap of a For­mula 1 sea­son ever, dur­ing which the cham­pi­onship swung be­tween Hamil­ton and Fer­rari’s Felipe Massa. How­ever, while the 2009 cham­pion was an­other English­man, it wasn’t Hamil­ton.

That hon­our went to Jen­son But­ton, and a move to Mclaren (from Brawn) for 2010 im­me­di­ately put him into con­tention for ‘ back­ing-up’, but along came the com­bined bril­liance of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Red Bull. So, in this new age of For­mula 1 — in which cars don’t have en­gines be­cause they’re called ‘power units’, and if you de­velop the thing too much you get pe­nal­ized a cou­ple of hun­dred grid places — Lewis Hamil­ton has ‘ backed up’ his 2014 world cham­pi­onship and, to be fair, in some style.

The ‘ What if?’ game

Of course, an­other way of look­ing at the sub­ject of back-to-back win­ners is to con­sider just the driv­ers who were ‘ backup’ cham­pi­ons.

The list goes like this — Al­berto As­cari (1952/’53), Juan-manuel Fan­gio (1954/’55/’56/’57), Jack Brab­ham (1959/’60), Alain Prost (1985/’86), Ayr­ton Senna (1990/’91), Michael Schu­macher (1994/’95 and then 2000/’01/’02/’03/’04), Fer­nando Alonso (2005/’06), and Vet­tel’s four on the trot from 2010. This list pro­vides a starker in­di­ca­tion as to just how dif­fi­cult it is to achieve back-to-back world cham­pi­onships.

As­cari had the ben­e­fit of the clearly su­pe­rior Fer­rari 500, com­bined with the fact that his great ri­val Fan­gio was wounded in 1952, and strug­gling to get his For­mula 2 Maserati up to speed in 1953. This is to take noth­ing away from As­cari, who was a gen­uine ace.

Fan­gio had the ben­e­fit of a dom­i­nant Mercedes in 1954 and 1955 (then, as now), while it was As­cari who was hob­bled with un­com­pet­i­tive ma­chin­ery in 1954. Even Fan­gio re­garded his 1956 world cham­pi­onship in the Lan­ci­aFer­rari to have been for­tu­itous, but there was no doubt­ing his win­ning of that fi­nal ti­tle in 1957, capped by a stu­pen­dous drive in his Maserati 250F at the Nür­bur­gring.

It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary to think that, fol­low­ing Brab­ham’s se­cond ti­tle in 1960, it would take an­other 26 years for the next back-to-back feat to be ac­com­plished — a clear in­di­ca­tion of how dif­fi­cult it is to crack. So,

Lewis Hamil­ton be­comes only the ninth driver to lay claim to that rare achieve­ment, and, as an aside, the cur­rent dom­i­nance of Mercedes doesn’t look even close to wind­ing down.

Then there’s the spec­u­la­tive game a friend of mine likes to play called ‘How many cham­pi­onships would Stir­ling Moss have won had he ever joined Fer­rari?’, which is sup­ported by the equally in­trigu­ing, ‘How many cham­pi­onships would Chris Amon have won had he never left Fer­rari?’

Moss at Ard­more

On men­tion­ing Sir Stir­ling, on Jan­uary 7, it will be 60 years since he drove in the New Zealand In­ter­na­tional Grand Prix (NZIGP) for the first time, and he was the first truly huge name to ap­pear in that race. In 1954, the NZIGP field largely com­prised the best of New Zealand and Aus­tralia plus a few English jour­ney­men, while, in 1955, we had that, and Prince Bira — a big name but with noth­ing of the head­line-grab­bing ap­peal that young Moss pos­sessed in 1956. Af­ter all, 1955 had been a pretty rea­son­able sea­son for ‘the boy’, as he’d joined the dom­i­nant Mercedes-benz or­ga­ni­za­tion for both en­durance sports car and For­mula 1 rac­ing. His con­tract also per­mit­ted him to com­pete in his own Maserati 250F, and any­thing else that came along, on week­ends when he wasn’t re­quired by the three-pointed star. And it was in his grey 250F that Stir­ling won the NZIGP, adding to his vic­tory at the 1955 Bri­tish Grand Prix (GP) and, of course, his fa­mous win at that year’s Mille Miglia.

Lo­cal hero

When I penned Mo­tor Sport Flash­back this time a decade ago, it was af­ter spend­ing part of an af­ter­noon with Ken Smith to talk about it be­ing 30 years since he’d be­come the first res­i­dent New Zealan­der to win our own GP. He told me how he’d been ex­tra de­ter­mined to win that day, be­cause he’d read, on the morn­ing of the race, that Eoin Young — no less — had won­dered whether Kenny was up to it. Now, we all know how dif­fi­cult it is to get Kenny fired up — not! How­ever, Eoin’s sup­posed words cer­tainly did the trick. That was the 1976 New Zealand GP — the last for For­mula 5000 (F5000), a rac­ing cat­e­gory that Kenny had openly shunned for the first five of the seven years it ran here. Then, when he em­braced F5000, he won­dered why he’d spent so much time avoid­ing the cat­e­gory. Af­ter the learn­ing year of 1974/’75, Kenny and his Lola T332 re­ally clicked, and he be­came the man to beat ev­ery­where the fol­low­ing sea­son.

We all know Kenny’s amaz­ing and that he’s still the hard­est of charg­ers, but it is worth re­it­er­at­ing — be­cause he is a world phe­nom­e­non — that, this month, at the Porsche Fes­ti­val at Hamp­ton Downs, he will still be charg­ing hard and still in a Lola T332, four decades on from the Jan­uary of 1976 when he won not just the New Zealand GP but also the In­ter­na­tional Se­ries. This time next year, he will be NZ Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor Rac­ing honouree, and I have no doubt a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of ei­ther the ac­tual cars — or some­thing sim­i­lar to those — that he’s raced over the past 57 to 58 years — will be as­sem­bled for the event.

Porsche power

Men­tion of Kenny and next year’s fes­ti­val sees us get­ting too far ahead of our­selves — there is still the 2016 fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing Porsche to en­tice car peo­ple to Hamp­ton Downs.

In pre­par­ing a few words for the fes­ti­val pro­gramme, I looked up Porsche’s sports car records, par­tic­u­larly at Day­tona, Se­bring, and the Targa Flo­rio, in ad­di­tion to the ob­vi­ous big­gie of Le Mans. Fol­low­ing that spot of re­search, I con­firmed that Porsche has the most wins in the 24 Hours of Day­tona — 18 of them — the first be­ing in 1968 and the most re­cent be­ing in 2003, while the win­ning car in 2010 was Porsche pow­ered. In look­ing at the list of driv­ers to win in a Porsche at Day­tona, my eye went straight to one of the big­gest names of all — An­thony Joseph ‘AJ’ Foyt the third. He was one of four win­ning driv­ers in both 1983 and 1985, but, while the more re­cent win came at the wheel of the then– state-of-the-art Porsche 962, the 1983 vic­tory was at the wheel of a 935.

It was 40 years ago that Porsche launched the 935 — a car that was akin to bring­ing a school­boy’s ul­ti­mate fan­tasy of what could be done with a road­go­ing 911 to life. I was re­minded of the 935 dur­ing a re­cent trek up Auck­land’s usu­ally grid­locked South­ern Mo­tor­way and spot­ting a gi­ant bill­board pro­mot­ing the fes­ti­val, as it fea­tures a 935 in those leg­endary Mar­tini colours. De­signed for the new ‘sil­hou­ette’ rules, the 935 — typ­i­cally for a Porsche — was quick right out of the box. The 430kw achieved by the 1976 ver­sion, in 3.0-litre form, grew to 560kw for the most out­landish 935 variant of all. That car was big and white (with the Mar­tini stripes), so it was no sur­prise that it was nick­named ‘Moby Dick’. It was never in­tended to be any­thing other than a Le Mans spe­cial, and it was there, with en­gine ca­pac­ity in­creased to 3.2 litres, that it achieved the fastest speed on the Mulsanne at some 365kph.

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