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Distorting History

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
07/06/2020

There is a book called 'F1 for Dummies'.

I have never opened my copy because I fear what I may read. The publisher engaged me to fact-check and that I did too scrupulously for some and so, by mutual consent, my name was removed from the book though I still cashed the cheque. It was the first instance I can remember of people who should have known better trying to make F1 synonymous with the World Championship when it isn't and never has been.

Formula One predates the World Championship by nearly four years. For the first 15 years of the championship, most F1 races were not included. The last non-championship F1 race was in 1983. For two years, 1952 and '53, F1 cars were banned from world championship races in Europe. These are all indisputable facts yet the owners of F1 seek to deny them.

The draft of 'Dummies' had the first F1 Brazilian GP taking place in 1973, when it was actually the year before. There was a short-lived rule that said if a country applied to stage a World Championship race it had first to run a non-championship F1 race to prove that the organisers were up to the task, hence the 1972 Brazilian GP. There were only 11 starters, but it was an F1 race named the Brazilian GP and not only was it sanctioned by the FIA, it was ordered to be run by the FIA. How much more official can a race get?

The 1972 Brazilian GP was won by Carlos Reutemann in the unique Brabham BT34 'lobster claw' whose only other success was Graham Hill winning the 1971 International Trophy, another race we should ignore despite its top-class field. Incidentally, in fourth place in Brazil, 1972, was Dr Helmut Marko (BRM), his highest F1 finish.

For some time the owners of Formula One have been trying to distort history and to make F1 and the World Championship synonymous. There have been some very clever articles on Formula1.com which stop shy of actual falsehood, but which entice hacks to draw false conclusions. This is easy to do since so many writers on F1 have so little knowledge of the history of the sport. It seems also that some are too thick and/or lazy to use Google although, this is a possibility, it is that they are desperately anxious to please the owners of the franchise.

The owners of the franchise commissioned new logos this year to celebrate 70 years of the World Championship and from their website, formula1.com I quote:

'2020 marks a year of celebration as Formula 1 will look back at 70 years of the world championship, honouring the greatest drivers and races to have graced the pinnacle of motorsport.

'New logos are just the start (F1 have unveiled a trio of new designs that teams will be able to recolour and use throughout the season) as with 33 world champions, 108 Grands Prix winners, 764 drivers and more than 150 teams, there's a lot to look back on for F1's 70th anniversary.'

The first sentence speaks of the 70th anniversary of the World Championship, but the second speaks of 'F1's 70th anniversary.' No wonder some 'journalists' have been duped because they are too dumb to know the difference even when it is clearly presented. I guess that formula1.com was relying on a degree of illiteracy among hacks and have not been disappointed.

2020 is not F1's 70th anniversary, that is a damnable lie propagated, it would seem, for commercial gain, to add value to Formula One as a brand. Any attempt to deliberately falsify history, even something as relatively trivial as motor racing, is a crime against what humankind aspires to be. Reputable newspapers take a stand against stories which are not fact-checked.

I was therefore surprised when The Guardian (founded 1821) ran a piece on 13th May recalling that it was 70 years since Silverstone staged F1's first race. The paper's 'journalist', Giles Richards, should have known that the 1950 British Grand Prix was the third F1 grand prix held at Silverstone and that it was the fifth of 23 F1 races held that year, with just six counting towards the world championship.

Every day the online edition of The Guardian which arrives in my mailbox asks for financial help on the grounds that it upholds journalistic standards and is 'authoritative' and 'fact-checked' yet in this instance it published a load of bollocks. I am sure that Giles Richards was not the only inept hack to be led astray although his invention of the supercharged F1 4-litre Talbot, does elevate him above the regular run of dupes.

Sport had to reinvent itself after WWII. Most sports, including the Olympics, banned Germany and Japan from international competition until 1950. So far as motor racing was concerned this meant both people and machinery, and the use of the Nurburgring. Japan had not taken up international racing, but the loss of Germany was a heavy blow to grand prix racing. Pre-war not only had Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union been the class of the field but they had provided the bulk of the entry.

The last grand prix formula, 1938-9, had limited engines to 4,500cc normally aspirated or three litres supercharged. The AAA (American Automobile Association) had adopted the grand prix regs for IndyCar in 1938 in an attempt to bring the two sides of the pond together and saw no reason to change. Grand Prix racing, however, had a problem, a lack of cars. The CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) had to cobble together regulations to fit what was available. In other words the new grand prix regulations would be framed around second hand machinery. From France, Delahaye and Talbot had 4.5-litre cars and then there were the 1500cc supercharged cars which, pre-war had raced in the Voiturette category which was the rough equivalent of the later Formula Two.

Italy could provide private Maseratis and Britain had ERAs. Then there was Alfa Romeo whose Tipo 158 'Alfetta' was in a class of its own. During the war, Alfa Romeo had hidden its Alfettas in caves otherwise used for maturing cheese. Furthermore, Alfa Romeo had the prestige to attract the best drivers and it had money. Cars had been a tiny part of the business which mainly made aero engines and like many another supplier to the military (Enzo Ferrari, for example) Alfa Romeo had profited.

The new formula was a lash-up which sort of worked. At first the CSI was not sure what to call it and offered Formula A, or One, with Formula B, or Two, replacing the Voiturette category. The press decided they liked Formula One because the press is keen on abbreviations and F1 is unambiguous whereas FA had other connotations, like Football Association and Fanny Adams.

The new grand prix regulations were to come into force in 1947, but the cars all existed. The first F1 race was, therefore, the Turin GP on 1st September, 1946, which was one by Achille Varzi in an Alfetta. What many people today will not understand is the very presence of Alfa Corse gave the race status. Varzi, one of the greatest drivers in history, was killed in 1948 and so never took part in a World Championship race. Like other greats such as Benoit, Nuvolari, Seaman, Caracciola, Wimille and Rosemeyer, Varzi is in danger of being air-brushed from history because he never won a World Championship point.

Has anyone ever seen a World Championship point, or weighed one in one's hands?

A major sporting competition, such as a world championship, usually demands a substantial organisation. In 1949 motorcycling's governing body, the FIM, showed that world championships could be run by an office junior during their lunch break. The FIM nominated six race meetings in Belgium, the Isle of Man, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Ulster and nominated races for four solo classes (500cc, 350cc, 250cc and 125cc) plus 600cc motorbike and sidecar combinations. They decided on points for the top five finishers: 10-8-7-6-5 plus a point for the fastest lap. Since the events were scheduled to take place in any case, all the FIM's office junior had to do was to keep a tally of the points and send the scores by telex to the main press agencies. Individual newspapers would do the rest. All that was left to the FIM was to buy trophies and organise a ceremony involving a slap-up dinner for the Men in Blazers.

Though all the races took place in Europe, the FIM was justified in calling its points system 'world' championships because they were open to all nationalities (save for German and Japanese in 1949.)

The FIA saw the FIM model and saw that it was good in that it generated publicity and interest for no effort. The first Formula One had been a lash-up born of necessity but by the end of 1951 the category was in crisis. Alfa Romeo had withdrawn, BRM was a long way from ready to race and only Ferrari had a modern design, the 4.5-litre Tipo 375. It was decided therefore to run the 1952 and 1953 world championships to the 2-litre Formula Two.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by GreenFlag, 22/07/2020 0:59

"Fascinating, timely and typically well informed article. Impatiently awaiting your next no-nonsense essay. Thanks, Dr. Mike."

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2. Posted by sagosac, 16/06/2020 13:05

"As a marketing-bloke I assume they wanted a rather simple storyline carried ou (to enhance reach); which is always a bit sad because the pecularities make the nicest tones, imho"

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3. Posted by sagosac, 16/06/2020 12:29

":-)"

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4. Posted by sagosac, 16/06/2020 10:03

"so ... he doesn't seem to feature any slightest hint of a soft spot for streamlining the facts of history, or does he ? Does not want to be any sort of funny about it, hm ? if I didn't miss a line. [But let me look it up again...] No, not funny at all he wants to be about it, Mister Mike."

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5. Posted by emcomments, 15/06/2020 8:44

"I did like the typo 'which was one by Achille Varzi' in an article screaming for accuracy."

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6. Posted by Ripeck, 12/06/2020 10:10

"Another excellent articles. If one wants to know more about the early history of Formula One, they should pick up a copy of “Formula One The Real Score?” by Brian Harvey, which is still available from the usual sources. This book is much admired by Dr Mike and gives a year by year history of most major Formula One races up to 1972 and of the non-championship Formula One races which continued to be run between 1973 and 1983. It also explains why the 1952 and 1953 world championship was run for Formula Two cars. It even details the short lived Inter-Continental Formula of 1961, races put on to allow the 2.5 litre pre 1961 Formula One cars to be used now that the world championship was for 1.5 litre cars. It yet again illustrates why the much missed Sir Stirling Moss was “The Man” after Fangio retired even though others were crowned “World Champion”. Finally, it causes one to re-appraise the career of those who never won a World Championship race. Jean Behra for example won 11 Formula One races!




"

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7. Posted by yakker, 12/06/2020 8:58

"Mike Lawrence, one of the reasons I visit Pitpass for my racing fix."

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8. Posted by TokyoAussie, 10/06/2020 3:39

"Dr. Mike is back from lockdown? Always been in my list of top 5 motor racing journalists/historians (No. 1 actually).

In an era of "alternative facts," it is refreshing to hear the experts fight back! Good stuff."

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9. Posted by English Tony, 09/06/2020 21:45

"Giles Richards' inane writing gets on my teeth too

It's a shame, given that they used to employ top quality motorsport journalists

"

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10. Posted by Nortim, 08/06/2020 16:24

"Amazing, thanks sir!"

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11. Posted by Canuck, 08/06/2020 13:15

"Mike - I have missed reading your articles. Please come back more often"

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12. Posted by Greg, 08/06/2020 8:37

"Excellent article. Lots to learn for the modern reporters on history"

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13. Posted by GordonG47, 08/06/2020 4:49

"Can always count on the good Doctor to point out the error of their ways. However, at the moment it seems that F1 is being run by dummies, so maybe the book should be required reading?"

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14. Posted by Steve W, 08/06/2020 4:09

"So, there were a total of 25 World Championship races held that didn't feature F1 cars... 7 in 1952, 8 in 1953 and 10 Indy 500s (Ascari & Ferrari ran Indy in 1952). Correct? "

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15. Posted by @R1Racing71, 07/06/2020 21:06

"Excellent. I no longer feel guilty about not subscribing to the Guardian on line."

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