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After The Reigns - Part 2


Dispensing with the herbal tea, or possible G&T, of our last review, I think it best dear reader to reach for the Absinthe, replete with sugar cube for the most balanced impact, so we can have the bitter-sweet taste of our drink match the racing years from 1988, all the way back to the genesis of Formula One as a series in 1950.

I elected to draw my own 'Modern Era' line in the 1989 season in the last article, and from that line I will now glide gently back in time as we call to mind the heroes of years now fading softly in the mind, not unlike an Absinthe soaked beachside sunset. Or indeed a mellow late summer sunset over the river Rhone in Arles...

1950 was not the first year of organised motor sport. By this time the heroic endeavour of motor sport was over fifty years old, and many famous races had already been run, and a number banned. Specifically open road races were coming under pressure due to the immense speeds the cars could now reach, with curious spectators at every apex.

With the world rebounding from World War Two, social and sporting endeavours were on the rise. Sadly a return to the pre-war approach of open public road racing, with the tragic loss of both drivers and spectators, was too much for the sport to survive. As a result the post-war period saw a surge in the creation of dedicated circuits to allow for marginally safer racing.

So adding to the delights of the Indianapolis circuit, and moving from sand to track at Daytona Beach, Europe too built more circuits. Two classics, Spa, and Le Mans, still used mostly public roads, but took the wise decision to close the roads to public use during the race, slowly moving the crowds back and improved crash barriers.

Yet even with these increasing safety precautions these were destined to be bloody decades in the history of Formula One.

1950, and Alfa Romeo triumphs with Giuseppe Farina behind the wheel of a car with its roots set back some years before. The 44-year-old won the championship in the seventh and final race of the year at Monza, having opened the season by winning the very first race under Formula One World Championship rules at Silverstone.

Farina retired from racing after the shock of watching his teammate take over from him poor during practice for the 1957 Indy 500, and spin into the wall and kill himself. Farina walked away from the Indy 500 and racing. For the next decade he was involved in the Pininfarina factory, and Alfa Romeo and Jaguar dealerships. Then in summer 1966 he was driving over the Savoy Alps in his Lotus Cortina when he lost control near Aiguebelle, tragically hitting a telegraph pole and dying instantly. He was 59 years old.

1951 saw the first World Championship win for Juan Manuel Fangio. As a child Fangio left school early to enter the world of automotive mechanics. He first raced a Ford V8 in 1938 in the Turismo Carretera, aged 27. Once he entered the world of Formula One, Fangio set a record of five World Championships titles that went unbeaten for 47 years until Michael Schumacher eclipsed the record. His record of winning with four different teams stands to this day. Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes, and Ferrari all carried the mighty Fangio to glory, rather cementing him as the polar opposite to Fernando Alonso in terms of his ability to select the right team at the right time. 1951, 54, 55, 56, and one last time in 1957 Fangio ruled supreme.

After a few late-life illnesses Fangio died in 1995, aged 84, having been an admired and respected living legend for nearly half a century.

In between Fangio's wins Alberto Ascari piloted Ferrari to World Championship glory in 1952, and 53. Along with Michael Schumacher, Ascari is Ferrari's only back-to-back world champion, and in addition, he is their last Italian World Champion. A fine clinical driver, he was known for his clean driving style, as well as his excellent motorbike handling and racing capabilities.

On 22 May 1955, Ascari, possibly distracted as he entered a chicane, flew through hay bales and into the cool waters of the Monaco Harbour in his Lancia D50. Thankfully he swam to the surface with nothing more alarming than a broken nose.

May 26th, just a few days later, saw him at Monza to watch his friend Eugenio Castellotti test the latest Ferrari 750 Monza sports car, the plan being they would share the car in the forthcoming 1000Km race at the legendary circuit. Ascari was not supposed to drive that day, and as such did not have his famed blue helmet with him. But he could not resist and set off for a few laps in his shirt and trousers, using Castellotti's white helmet. On his third flying lap he appeared to lose control at Curva del Vialone, and the car somersaulted, throwing him across the track. He died within minutes. Just like his father he died at the age of 36, on the 26th of the month (his father died in July), and left behind a loving, grieving, wife and two children.

(On receiving the call to notify him that Ascari, his world champion had perished, Enzo Ferrari is alleged to have enquired... "and the car?" - Ed)

1958, and the first Englishman to win the world championship lifted high the winner's trophy. John Michael 'Mike' Hawthorn won that year for Ferrari, and promptly retired, having been deeply affected when his friend Peter Collins had been killed earlier that year at the German Grand Prix. Some also considered him to be still haunted by the horrific 1955 Le Mans crash that killed many spectators and caused Mercedes to withdraw from racing.

A few months into his retirement Mike was at the wheel of his modified Jaguar 3.4-litre sedan, possibly racing the motor team manager Rob Walker who was driving a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, on the A3 Guildford bypass in light rain. At speed it appears Mike clipped a keep left bollard, glanced off an oncoming Bedford lorry, before spinning back across the carriage way into a tree, killing him on the spot. Mike was 29 years old.

1959 and the Australian legend John Arthur 'Jack' Brabham lifted the trophy for the first time. Driving a Cooper-Climax, Jack sealed the championship at the ninth and final race of the season.

He repeated this feat in 1960, again with Cooper, before several years of missing out on the trophy, while racing hard. He then rather uniquely won the championship for a third time in 1966, while driving a car from his own team, Brabham. His final season was 1970, when he still won races, but missed out on the championship before, much to his long suffering wife's relief, he finally retired.

Jack returned to Australia, to the Gold Coast in Queensland, where he and his wife raised their three boys, and continued to be associated with motorsport until Jacks' death in May 2014, at the age of 88.

After Brabham's victories of 1959, and 1960, the first American to win the title, Phil Hill, took the 1961 championship for Ferrari. He raced for Ferrari for many years winning in Sports Car and Formula One, but 1961 was his greatest year, winning at Le Mans for a second time then going on to win the F1 crown. He raced on with various teams until the 1966 season with reducing fortunes each year.

After a long a peaceful retirement Phil passed away in California in August 2008, at the age of 81 from complications arising from Parkinson's disease.

1962, and Graham Hill wins the championship driving for BRM. A wonderful all-British season of winning. Graham (father of future champion Damon) was the embodiment of dashing hero English driver, and did much to shape the exciting view of the sport at a time of rising popularity. He raced on for many seasons, winning the championship a second time in 1968, driving a Lotus-Ford.

Famously, Hill, was to be known as Mr Monaco, winning the event a remarkable five times. He died in November 1975, when the plane he was piloting from testing at Paul Ricard, crashed in heavy fog, killing Graham and five other Embassy Hill team members including rising star Tony Brise. Graham was 46 years old at the time of his death.

1963, and Jim Clark piloted his Lotus Climax to championship victory winning seven of ten races. At a time of unreliable cars, and questionable track safety, to win 70% of the races in a season is still a percentage record. Indeed it took twenty odd years for Alain Prost to equal this number of wins a in a season and then another year for Senna to finally break it and win eight. Even in the current period, with Lewis winning many races, he has not won 70% in a season... yet...

1965 and Clark repeats the championship win. 1968, and at Hockenheim he was competing in a Formula Two race when circumstances conspired to throw him from the circuit at speed and kill him instantly. Aged just 32, he was at the time the driver with the most wins (25), and pole positions (33). Chris Amon summed it up perfectly at the time, being quoted as saying "If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have?"



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1. Posted by Max Noble, 17/03/2020 13:25

"@Spindoctor - another great story of days gone by... and not to worry esteemed editor Balfe has caught some auto-correct classics that my Mac has seen fit to inflict on me when I’m not looking....!"

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 16/03/2020 14:29

"Blody auto correct (and poor proof reading) - That should be "Jack BRABHAM"!!!"

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 16/03/2020 11:23

"I had the honour of briefly meeting Jack Abraham when he presented prizes at our Secondary Modern School in Surrey. This, sort of ironically, was just down the road from today's McLaren headquarters.
Jack Brabham was everything I expected from an Aussie hero: a down-to-earth no-nonsense "bloke" who didn't talk-down to an admiring youngster.
I don't think he has received the credit he deserves for his achievements, which are by any standard remarkable, and I believe unique.
That was a remarkable era in the World, and in Formula One, particularly for antipodeans like Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren & Chris Amon."

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 13/03/2020 4:05

"@ClarkwasGod - Yes, the Ferrari departure highlights John’s strong moral stand on issues of value to him. I can well believe you are correct in “The Establishment” not wishing to reward such rebel (peasant) behaviour..."

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 13/03/2020 4:02

"@RobertC - yes you are quite correct. It is more that my writing can go around in loops quite well enough getting from my mind to the keyboard, and the finer semantic and subtle nuances as you outline, while correct, add nothing to the drive of this article to list the “life after championship victory” for each of the remarkable drivers.
Given the current debacle that is the non-event of Melbourne I’m sure Bernie, Flavio, and a few others are thinking just as you outline. I think this season is heading towards far more excitement and action off track than on!"

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6. Posted by RobertC, 13/03/2020 0:36

"I see that Max has succumbed to the modern insistence that the world championship has been the F1 World Championship since 1950. Not so. It was initiated as the World Championship of Drivers and was tied to Formula 1 for only two seasons before race organisers dumped the premier formula for Formula 2 in 1952 and 1953. It was back to Formula 1 for 1954 and has stuck with F1 since, but I am assured by Mike Lawrence that the FIA could run the World Drivers Championship away from F1, perhaps setting up a new formula or attaching the championship to a current non-F1 series. Now there's a thought..."

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7. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 12/03/2020 13:01

"@ Max - Surtees was not one to mince his words, or to hold back if something was not right. His sudden departure from Ferrari mid-season after the despicable treatment by Dragoni is testament to that. As for his much-deserved knighthood, I recall hearing that at some time around then he had spoken out to someone in the "Establishment" - and memories are long, and spite is all-powerful there.......when he was so poorly before his death, the question arose again "Why not?" To which no explanation was ever proffered - for goodness sake, he was unique in that he won championships on both 2 and 4 wheels. No-one has EVER managed that before, or since. But....engineers look at everything in black and white - it either fits, or it doesn't. The shades of grey in certain parts of British society were, and remain, an anathema to someone like Surtees with such a transparent knowledge of right and wrong."

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 12/03/2020 8:26

"@ClarkwasGod - quite agree. Researching this article really highlighted several things.... the dangers, the devotion of the drivers, the charm of many of the characters... and the tiny turns of fate that make one out of a field of near-equals a hero, while the rest all go home without the silverware... Clark was a remarkable man and driver, and, as you note, so was the (why not Sir...?) John."

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9. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 11/03/2020 18:00

"My "name" should say it all. 1964 - Whilst Surtees was, eventually, that year's champion, he did rely on Hill being delayed by Bandini (who also let Surtees past on team instructions), and by Clark retiring on the last lap. But for those actors, it would have been a different outcome. This is not, in any way, to belittle Big John (who should also have been SIR John.....). I used to pass his Edenbridge garage nearly every week on my way to play rugby - often detoured afterwards to just gaze in his showroom........halcyon days."

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 10/03/2020 5:26

"@Jezzer - thanks for sharing such a wonderful story! Another fine insight into the life of a remarkable champion. Three World Championships, campaigning for safety, founding Stewart Grand Prix, Advisor and mentor to so many... and as politely noted, often while wearing more tartan than the whole of Lothian put together...! An amazing gentlemen."

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11. Posted by Jezzer, 09/03/2020 13:46

"At 13 I had the great fortune of befriending an Elf Team Tyrrell mechanic, a separate but fascinating story. The following year, 1972, after telling my friend that I hadn’t seen a Grand Prix, I became the luckiest kid on the planet. I attended the Austrian GP that year with the team, travelling in the van towing one of the cars, staying in the same hotel with all the teams and drivers, sitting in one of the cars whilst it was rolled out of the transporter, sitting on the pit wall etc. I was lucky enough to meet The beautiful Lady Helen and the amazing Francois Cervert, Uncle Ken his lovely wife Norah and of course JYS. I had breakfast with them. Evening meals were rowdy affairs with all teams and a lot of “banter” passing between the tables. One evening the mechanics had to work late on the cars, I was asked if I wanted to stay at the circuit until they finished or go back to the hotel, I chose to go back to the hotel and was driven there by JYS himself. What a lovely man, he put a very shy and nervous 14 year old at complete ease and chatted to me like we were old friends. It was a truly memorable experience. "

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 09/03/2020 13:14

"@editor - priceless!"

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13. Posted by Editor, 09/03/2020 12:10

"@ Uffen & Max Noble

One time I wanted JYS to sign a copy of his 'Principles of Performance Driving' book for my (then) wife.

"Of course," he said, "who should I dedicate it to?"

"Gillian," I replied, but then realising that it could be spelled different ways, slowly continued, "G... I... L... L..."

It was as I slowly spelled out her name that I realised Jackie suffered from dyslexia, and went bright red fearing that he might think I was taking the p... i... s..."

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 09/03/2020 11:00

"@jasman - yes I like to think most remarkable achievers are good humans... possibly a pain in the butt in some areas, but mostly people worthy of being respected as heroes. Some of the remarkable people on this list are truely worthy of significant praise, respect, and remembrance...

@Uffen - thank-you :-) I’ve never had the honour of meeting Sir JYS, but from having seen him many times on TV I can imagine he is a fascinating character in real life. His life is truely one worthy of respect. Oh, and he was not too bad as a driver either... :-)

@imejl99 - I’ll hold you to that... counting my mum and Obi (my cat) and myself we are up to four sales now :-) Naturally I’d give esteemed editor Balfe a copy for Christmas that year - so I guess I’m buying two copies :-)"

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15. Posted by imejl99, 09/03/2020 9:37

"Max, the book seems long overdue. I would buy your F1 book."

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