M MOTOR RACING BOOKS
MICHAEL REACHES INTO THE BOOKSHELF FOR ANOTHER READ AND FINDS HIMSELF IMMERSED IN A FASCINATING MOTOR RACING BOOK WRITTEN FIVE DECADES AGO WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DENNY H ULME , BRUCE MCLAREN, GRAHAM HILL, CHRIS AM ON, AND JOHN COOPER…
y acquisition of old motor racing books has slowed dramatically since the earthquake-enforced closure, and subsequent demolition, of the extraordinary Fazazz, “The motorist’s shop”, in Christchurch. A visit was simply part of every trip to the Garden City, and not only books were purchased — I also bought models, paintings, and the occasional bit of memorabilia. It was an Aladdin’s cave, and if all of this wasn’t enough of a reason to try and fluke a park outside 84 Lichfield Street, the cavernous showroom was always filled with exotic or, at the very least, eclectic machinery.
I am regularly reminded of this muchmissed emporium because of the number of books I have with the little red-on-white ‘Fazazz’ sticker on the inside. I’ll often just blindly reach for a book from one of the shelves, and yesterday’s rediscovery has no dust cover, which accounts for the $15 price pencilled on the inside page. The book, International Motor Racing Book No 2, proudly announces “contributions from Denny Hulme, Bruce Mclaren, Graham Hill, Chris Amon, John Cooper et al.” that I expect were all ghost written, but, as if we needed reminding, the Kiwi contribution to the highest echelons of the sport half a century ago was enormous. The book covers 1967, and the chapter ‘penned’ by Denny, at the start, is headed “World Champion”.
I noted a number of gems in that first chapter, not least of which being — “By taking the title I had justified the faith put in me by the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association, who had paid for me to come to Europe in 1960. But for that generous gesture my ambition would have remained just a fond dream.” Graham Hill contributed the final chapter, written after the 1968 Tasman Series had concluded in early March. Hill had joined for the Australian half of the eight-race championship, teaming with Jim Clark, who’d won once in New Zealand, against two wins for Chris Amon and one for Bruce Mclaren. Clark’s win had been the first for a works Lotus that wasn’t green, because the deal for ‘ Team’ to be the first Formula 1 (F1) team to be sponsored — and therefore not only carry an advertiser’s
name and logo but also be painted in something other than a traditional livery — had been inked between Levin and Wigram. A Lotus carrying tobaccocompany advertising won on debut on the outskirts of Christchurch, but Lotus did not introduce the concept of a racing car painted up as a fag packet to F1 — that had happened a few weeks earlier, at round one of the 1968 World Championship at Kyalami, near Johannesburg.
That was a day of firsts — and lasts. John Love’s Repco Brabham ran in the livery of Gunston, a South African tobacco company, while Denis Clive Hulme not only ran in a Grand Prix (GP) as reigning world champion for the first time, but he was also making his F1 debut for Mclaren. And, for the only time in his F1 career, he had a dozen cylinders behind him, with the ‘oneoff’ M5A that Bruce had debuted in late 1967. Bruce missed the race, and so Denny went along with the Brm-powered Mclaren that had been red last time out but ran in its distinctive papaya hue for the first time. The 1968 South African GP also marked the first time a Matra ran as a fully-fledged GP car, while the other big milestone was that Jim Clark won his 25th GP, and thus became the winningest- ever F1 driver, surpassing the two dozen victories of the great Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio.
Down to the wire
Back to Hill’s chapter — I was eager to read what he had to say about the Australian GP, held that year at Melbourne’s Sandown Park, and the penultimate round of a championship that looked like going down to the wire between his team-mate Clark and Chris Amon’s Ferrari. I’d always heard that this was a classic example of only needing two cars to make a race — at least one Australian journalist has been eulogizing about the race for the lead ever since. And I know Chris regarded it as one of his finest performances in his Formula 2– based car, but with the 1.6 replaced by a 2.4 V6, against the F1-based Lotus with a 2.5-litre version of the Cosworth DFV. This from Hill — “The main point of the race is quickly told. Clark and Amon ran away and hid. They went around locked together for most of the race, and the gap between them was rarely more than a second … The pair nearly lapped Frank Gardner and me by the end.”
Chris always cursed the ‘Formula 2 brakes’ when this race was discussed — Clark prevailed by the narrowest of margins, and, with one round to go, he led the title chase with 42 points to the Kiwi’s 36. In Tasmania’s monsoon conditions, neither had tyres that were up to the job, and Chris would have to wait a year for his Tasman title. Hill continues: “By the time you read this, 1968 will be well advanced, but at the time I’m writing, the prospects look good.” Sadly, Clark’s win at Sandown was the last of his illustrious career — and the South African GP was not only his record-breaking one, but it was also his last World Championship event.
FIA’S Hall of Fame
The FIA hosted an event in Paris, on December 4, to induct all world champions into its newly created hall of fame. Nine champions were present — in the photo, from left, you can spot Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Jacques Villeneuve (in the snazzy purple specs), Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, Nico Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Jackie Stewart, and Damon Hill — but not Lewis Hamilton, who was at a clashing fashion show. Others were represented by family members or friends, and looking radiant is Denny’s daughter, Adele. In fact, three generations of Hulmes made the trip — Denny’s widow, Greeta, and her granddaughter, Isabel.
When asked what his greatest achievement was, the nearly 78-year-old Andretti responded that it was winning both the Italian and US GPS in the same year. Mario was already a teenager by the time his family arrived in America, and so the significance of this achievement takes on a very personal relevance.
Damon Hill was there, representing both himself and his dad Graham, but, sadly, a week later, he tweeted that his mother Bette had passed away. She had never remarried after the light plane crash in November 1975 that killed her husband and key members of his fledgling
F1 team. What changes she’d have seen in her years of being so close to the highest levels of the sport. When Graham Hill made his F1 debut in 1958, it was in a front-engined car, and his choice of profession was easily one of the most dangerous on the planet; by the time her son retired, in 1999, driver fatalities were virtually non-existent, but the money involved — in F1 especially — was at a level that could never have been imagined even when Graham Hill was at his height.
When he died, the family was left in a perilous financial state, and Damon’s astonishingly frank and excellent autobiography Watching the Wheels outlines it all magnificently. I strongly recommend it. His mum rarely missed one of Graham’s F1 races — like many of the wives, she was an expert timekeeper, but she was also forced into a role of consoling the wife or girlfriend of a driver who’d been involved in a ‘ big one’. She was well known as a rock of the paddock that had been her second home across her husband’s extraordinarily long career.
The FIA advises that it intends inducting by category, and that sports car champions will be added in 2019 — which means Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley.
It was suggested to Damon Hill, when receiving his father’s award on the night, that history tended to regard Graham Hill as a man lacking natural ability who got the job done by being the ultimate grafter. I must say, I’d been reading that since the ’60s, and it’s like urban myths — if you say or hear one often enough, well, it must be true — right? Damon beautifully deflected the story by suggesting that ‘the old man’ did rather well for a guy without supposed natural ability. Not having Fangio/moss/clark levels of natural ability doesn’t mean that you don’t have any; only that you might not have quite their quota. There have been all sorts of statistics kicking around in recent times in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s fourth world title. By all accounts, he now surpasses threetime champion Sir Jackie Stewart as Britain’s greatest driver, and, if all of these things are judged purely on numbers, then there’s no argument.
On this basis, Michael Schumacher is the greatest of all time on account of having won the most GPS and the most titles, with seven. Fangio baffles these numerical experts because, despite having five titles, he only won 24 GPS — a mere quarter, give or take, of the number won by ‘Schumi’, but, as far as the statistical geniuses are concerned, Hamilton is not only top Brit; he’s now second only to Michael. There’s no possibility of discussion when faced with such numbers — opinion, combined with the little matter of historical context, go out the door. I’m taking nothing away from the phenomenal abilities of Hamilton, but I’m simply not prepared to enter into the discussion with someone who can’t even conceive of the possibility of Stirling Moss being one of the best 10 drivers to ever race in F1, because he never won a world title.
Statistics are interesting and can be useful — but they don’t create the conclusions or form the opinions. For that you need a wee bit more than bald numbers — well, in my opinion, at least. My other reservation is judging a sportsman before the end of his career — I like to see the whole picture, not a snapshot.
Alfa Romeo, the company from which Ferrari originally broke away, is returning to F1 as a sponsor of traditional backmarker Sauber in 2018 — whereby the Ferrari engines will be badged ‘Alfa Romeo’. This is unlikely to be purely a marketing exercise but potentially a ploy to strengthen the Ferrari powerbase. I see Ferrari is threatening to leave F1 again, something the company founder would wheel out periodically when he saw a chance to test the financial waters. No threat was ever carried through — in the mid ’80s, Ferrari went as far as attempting to convince the sort of people who’ll judge the worth of a driver based on their wins-tostarts ratio that it was abandoning F1 for the Indycar series.
In case you missed it, we can cover the Scuderia’s record in the Indy 500 over the past 40 years fairly quickly — it never happened, so nothing for the statisticians here. That ‘threat’ had all the credibility of every other one. Ferrari has one of the most powerful and recognized brands in the world, yet it never advertises — it has F1 for that. Does bringing Alfa Romeo into the fold reinforce its commitment to F1, or preserve a place should it decide to take a sabbatical and re-enter sports car racing? A Ferrari hasn’t won Le Mans since 1965, and that is for sports cars, which is what Ferrari builds, but its absence from the winner’s circle in the most prestigious endurance race has hardly damaged the desire for a high percentage of ‘car people’ — and I suspect a massive percentage of non-car people — to own one.
After the Alfa arrangement with Sauber was announced, I was joking with some mates over a beer — “What next,” said one, “HaasMaserati …?” Two days later I read it online. Fake news? Time will tell.
Left: Kiwis featuring at the British Racing Drivers’ Club Awards — Howden Ganley, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley, and Dick Bennetts (photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography)
Sauber Alfa Romeo 2018 livery concept