Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Jack's Monaco

We lost Sir Jack Brabham just a few days ago, at the age of 88, the greatest - certainly the most important and successful - Aussie Formula 1 driver of all time. His career culminated in three World Championships, one hard-fought and worthy of a movie (1959), one as dominant as a Schumacher or a Vettel (1960), and the one that will follow the comma after his name forever more, won in a car he designed and built himself (1966). Jack's teammate Denny Hulme took the title in 1967 as well, and after he sold the team to a certain Bernard Charles Ecclestone, they went on to take two more drivers' titles with Nelson Piquet, including the first to be won with a turbo engine. His son David also won Le Mans with Peugeot, and his grandson Matthew absolutely wiped the floor with last year's Pro Mazda Championship, stepping stone to the Indy 500.

Via leblogauto (I know, wat?!)

No shortage of silverware for the Brabham name, in other words, but by a handy coincidence, it all started on the streets of Monaco, the upcoming race in this year's F1 World Championship. There's no point embedding a Google Maps image for Monaco - if you can find the route on a map, you don't need it anyway - so instead I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and combine my Monaco preview with a tribute to Jack. This is the story of Jack Brabham's maiden Grand Prix victory...

Quick biography first: unlike the rest of the Commonwealth drivers, who universally learned their trade in 500cc Formula 3 Coopers, Jack had got his start tearing up Australia’s quarter-mile dirt speedways in midget cars. Nowadays that's how you breed NASCAR drivers, not F1 World Champions, but success had brought backing from the Redex fuel additive company, and a banged-up Cooper-Bristol that Jack Frankensteined back into an awesome car (mechanical trade picked up in the RAAF) and rechristened the Redex Special. This special machine had taught Jack how to identify and correct your machinery’s most severe faults, an essential skill if you wanted to go Grand Prix racing, and soon Australia was forsaken for the lure of Europe. He left behind his wife Betty, young son Geoff, and a workshop he knew intimately: “The thing I missed most,” he sighed, “was my lathe."

Via Foxsports

After fart-arsing around for a year or so, he invested every penny he could scrape together into a Maserati 250F, painted a patriotic green and gold. Jack had fallen in love with its classic Italian lines, but sadly the Mazzer didn't love him back, spending 1955 emptying his wallet with expensive engine failures. Then Reg Tanner of Esso said the magic words: “He told me, ‘You’ll never be able to afford to run this Maserati, why don’t you drive for Cooper?’” So Jack was offered a full-time drive with the team in September 1956, with Esso support. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Jack.

Cooper were a father-and-son concern run by Charlie and John, respectively. That they had also built the Cooper-Bristol that became the Redex Special was not prescient; their business was customer racing cars, and business was good. Between 1951 and 1955 they'd sold over three hundred of their beautiful little Formula 3 cars, and won 64 out of 78 major F3 races. Charlie was a survivor of the Great Depression, who understandably viewed his bottom line as the bottom line, so when Jack suggested they build a new F1 car with the engine in the back, just like those jewelish F3 cars, Charlie's response was: "There's the workshop, go and build one."

So of course, he had. And that was how Cooper Cars Ltd came to do business through the late 50's: Jack driving the racecars and twirling spanners in the workshop, virtually for free; John Cooper fudging expense reports so his father wouldn't notice; and Charlie Cooper, when he found the piggy bank mysteriously empty, bleating, "Why change it when we're winnin'?!"

The crucial breakthrough came at the tail end of 1958, with the arrival of a new engine called the Coventry-Climax FPF. Strictly speaking it wasn't new, having been in use for a couple of years now. It was, believe it or not, a repurposed firefighters' pump, but since they had to be light enough for two people to carry between them, that had made them pretty sweet for racing. Lots of enthusiasts had got into the habit of buying FPFs and modifying them to improve the rev range and get them closer to F1's maximum capacity; first 1.5-litres, then 2.2-litres was the limit the block could take. Climax themselves, realising there was a market, eventually agreed to build a full 2.5-litre version for Formula 1, provided Cooper themselves covered the cost of developing it. Charlie baulked, so in stepped Rob Walker, scion of the Johnnie Walker whisky dynasty and gentleman team owner who was one of their best customers, and agreed to fund the engine provided he got dibs on the first one delivered. Which he did, in time for the for the start of the 1959 season.

And with the Argentine Grand Prix cancelled, the first championship race of 1959 was, of course, the Monaco Grand Prix.

Via thejudge13 (on a personal note, I just love that it opens with a verse from The Man From Snowy River!)

So Cooper Cars Ltd arrived in Monte Carlo with their new cars, new engine, and some old rivals. On one side they had Rob Walker and his driver, Stirling Moss. Moss was certain to be quick and was driving a Cooper that was almost - almost - identical to Jack's own. On the other side was Scuderia Ferrari and a brace of drivers including the English dentist, Tony Brooks, and the French hothead, Jean Behra. None were going to be a pushover.

Funnily enough, although Monaco has always been a unique circuit, it was a bit less unique in 1959 than it was in later years. It probably reached Peak Unique in the early 80's, when most of the Formula 1 season ran on permanent circuits and Monte Carlo had barely changed since the 50's. Since then it's become more and more modified and more like a modern Tilke-drome, but ironically in Jack's day it was pretty similar to the average circuit for the opposite reason. More than half the races each year (most of which didn't even count for the championship) were in either France or Italy, and run on open roads or city streets - Pescara, San Remo, Reims, Pau, stuff like that. So Monaco wasn't quite the culture shock in 1959 it was in later years, but still, we need to get this out of the way:

The road was a normal street like the one outside your house, so it wasn't flat, it was crowned to sluice off rainwater. When you're right on the limit, that means a hell of a lot, because turning the car you'll have extra resistance right up until you reach the middle of the road, where it will suddenly fall away and you'll crab across and probably hit the barriers. Except there were no barriers in Jack's day - if a spot needed protecting, they did it with haybales, but even they were to protect the crowds, not the drivers. From the climb from Ste Devote to Casino Square, one of the faster bits of the track, you had to be careful not to break a wheel off on a lamp post. If you even made it as far as the waterfront, you'd find a flimsy wire fence that would do nothing to keep you out of the harbour if something went wrong, and the surface was smooth white concrete which could, in high winds, easily cop a splash from a wavelet. Imagine arriving at Tabac and finding the concrete was now wet concrete, slippery as ice. This was the environment in which the XVII Grand Prix de Monaco was flagged away.

In the early laps it was a race between Jean Behra and Stirling Moss, two lads who never backed down from a fight. The power of the Ferrari had given Behra the advantage off the line and he'd taken the lead, but the battle went on until lap 22, when a faster Stirling finally squeezed past. Brabham's nimble Cooper gave him the edge over Behra's Ferrari as well, and he managed to elbow his way past soon after - which turned out to be rather pointless, as Behra's engine died on lap 23. So today the customer really was coming first, as Stirling's private Cooper led Brabham's factory Cooper around and around the streets of the beautiful people's paradise. It didn't look like Jack was going to catch Moss today. Wrote Gregor Grant for Autosport:
In truth, on a circuit such as Monaco, Moss is now in a class by himself. At no time did he appear to be caning his motor car, and his passage around the circuit was as smooth and delightful to watch as anything ever witnessed. It was an exhibition of virtuosity in Grand Prix racing such as few drivers can ever display.
But it wasn't quite over yet. If Moss was better a straight-up driver than Jack, Jack knew his car far better, down to the last nut and bolt. Since both Rob Walker and the Coopers had found the new full-size Climax engine was a bit too muscular for the flimsy gearboxes they'd been using, both had sought solutions. Walker had commissioned a Modenese ex-Maserati designer named Valerio Colotti to build them one, and that proved a mistake.
Colotti was a pretty good designer and, when it was working, it was a beautiful ‘box to use. The trouble was the metals: at that time they didn’t have very good materials in Italy, so it kept on breaking. – Stirling Moss
Cooper, on the other hand, had sent Jack to see ERSA who made them, an accidental stroke of brilliance.
I could hardly believe my eyes! We came across hundreds of Citroën gearbox cases fresh from casting. It suddenly hit me: it’d be dead easy to modify some cores before they were cast. Luckily the foreman was a bit of a racer, and he agreed to the modifications if I did the job myself. So I spent the rest of the day putting in ribs of plasticine and adding metal in all the places where we’d had trouble. – Jack Brabham, The Jack Brabham Story
On lap 81, Stirling's Colotti 'box came back to bite him, and he was forced into the pits to retire. For the next 19 laps, Jack's hard work paid off as his gearbox held together, and he didn’t make a mistake for the rest of the race - which in itself was quite an achievement, as heat from the radiator pipes was spreading to his pedals and burning his feet! #AussieGrit didn't start with Mark Webber, kids...
Late in the race, John began signalling that Tony Brooks of Ferrari was catching up. I just couldn’t press the pedals any harder, the soles of my shoes were sizzling, the heat all but unbearable. But there was too much at stake, too much within reach, to give in. I just managed to hang on, and suddenly here was the chequered flag. Glory be, we’d won the Monaco Grand Prix! – Jack Brabham, TheJack Brabham Story
He'd never win it again, either, although funnily enough the year he came closest was 1970, the year he retired. What a nice bookend that would've made... but all that was a long way in the future, and today was for celebration.
I found myself limping up to accept the trophy and laurels from Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Old Charlie Cooper was beside himself, quivering with glee. That night we had an uproarious celebration at the race dinner in the Hotel de Paris, including a strawberry fight. – Jack Brabham, The Jack Brabham Story
It laid the foundation for Jack's first World Championship, which set him up to win it again in 1960, which in turn led to starting his own team and all the hard work and triumph to come. This was the first domino, the one that set Jack Brabham on a path to becoming a legend of the sport and the only man to become champion in his own car. And it doesn't hurt that Australia couldn't have asked for a better ambassador, either.

We'll miss you, Jack. Australia and I can only say, from the bottom of our hearts: Thanks, mate.

Sir Jack Brabham, AO, OBE. 1926 - 2014 (via Wikipedia)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lewis Goes Spare

I'm ready to call it: Lewis Hamilton will be this year's World Champion. Pretty safe bet, I hear you snort, and you'd be right. But four wins out of five (and four in a row) isn't why I'm making it. I'm making it because we've now raced (and tested) at Catalunya, and it turns out there is no obvious weakness in the Mercedes W05. I thought the Red Bulls would maybe close the gap on such an aero-centric track; I didn't expect them to qualify more than a second behind. Predicting who will win the championship before a race at Catalunya is a vastly different game from predicting it after. But that's not the only reason either.

(via Telegraph.co.uk)
Y'see, I've also been reading Working The Wheel, a neat little paperback by Martin Brundle (reviewed it on Goodreads, if you're interested (and have Goodreads)). Martin's become the Voice of F1 since Murray Walker hung up his microphone, but his worthiness as a broadcaster is based on his earlier worthiness as a racing driver. Brundle raced through roughly a decade of Formula 1, with a little Le Mans action on the side, and in that time he counted both Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen his team-mates. The man knows what he talks about, in other words.

Working The Wheel is a solid little read because it plays to his strengths i.e. being able to come across as One Of Us even as he's talking us through something an elite few ever get to experience. Happily he writes like he talks, to the point I'm pretty sure he just spoke into a dictaphone and let Maurice Hamilton insert the paragraph breaks and whatnot to turn it into written text. But I was watching the Spanish GP just after reading the chapter on the Hungaroring, which was handy because there Brundle talks about something I noticed in the winner of this year's Spanish Grand Prix as well.

It's 1994. Michael Schumacher is on his way to his first world title, and Brundle is running 3rd in the Hungarian Grand Prix, about to be lapped by Michael. But he's about to cop some pain via Schumacher's greatest asset - spare capacity.

I was on my way to a really solid third place when the team came on the radio and said the battery on my car was starting to go. I backed off and did a number of things to save power. With eleven laps to go, Schumacher, who was leading, came to lap me. That was going to suit me fine because, if he overtook, it would mean, when he completed the race, that I would have one less lap to do. The team reckoned I just might make it, even though the alternator was not working and I was running purely on whatever power was left in the battery. An F1 car is a massive drain on the battery because systems such as the engine and gearbox control units depend on it. These black boxes are power-hungry. But, when they stop, you lose the throttle, the ignition, the ability to shift gears, everything.

I was trying to coax the car home when Michael came up behind me. I moved over and let him through – and that was a crucial mistake. It triggered the thought in Michael's mind that I was too helpful. He immediately got on the radio to enquire about the whereabouts of Jos Verstappen, his Benetton team-mate, who was behind me in fourth place. When he heard that Jos was catching me, Michael slowed right down and I had no option but to unlap myself. If I had stayed behind Michael, Verstappen would have caught me and I would have lost my third place. So I had to go back on the same lap as the leader and prepare to do another 2.5 miles.

Michael also let Verstappen unlap himself; another clever move because, as soon as the leader crossed the line, anyone who had been lapped could not complete the last lap. Now Verstappen and I had to finish the seventy-seventh and final lap.

Sure enough, at the top of the hill between Turns 5 and 6, my car ground to a halt. Verstappen passed me. The fact that everyone else had been lapped and therefore could not take fourth from me was absolutely no consolation. When I finally got a lift back to the pits, I looked up at the podium to see Michael, Damon Hill and Verstappen spraying the champagne. The timing could not have been worse. I was two miles short of standing there myself.

By working that out, Schumacher had shown his mental capacity is one of the things that sets him apart. All the great champions that I've raced against have needed only 70 per cent of their capacity to drive the car while the other 30 per cent is used for reading the track, the race and the politics in and out of the car. If you look at a typical grid, the majority are high-level drivers and there really isn't much more than half a second a lap between them. The difference is their mental capacity. Those who have not had much success in F1 have needed 95 per cent or even 100 per cent of their ability to drive the car, leaving nothing in reserve to sort out everything else that is going on during the course of a race. The incident in Hungary is just one of a number of examples which demonstrate Michael's brilliance in that area. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and virtually any past champion you care to mention were all the same. That is why they were so good.

Damn right. "He was a genius," wrote Robertson Davies. "That is to say, a man who does superlatively and without obvious effort something that most people cannot do by the uttermost exertion of their abilities." Schumacher would even ask completely irrelevant stuff like how his brother was doing, so they tell us. And Alonso... well, if Schumacher was the king of spare capacity, then Alonso is Jesus. Pat Symonds has said Alonso has more spare mental capacity than anyone else he's ever worked with, and this is a man who's worked with Schumacher and Senna. Alonso's win in Japan in 2008 was simply incredible, working it all out in his head and asking to come in for fresh tyres so he could drive a handful of qualifying laps and make up the time to leapfrog the pack on strategy. It was intriguingly similar to Schumacher's famous win in Hungary in 1998, except that that was worked out by Ross Brawn, the owlish bespectacled man sitting quietly on the pit wall, talking to his driver. Alonso, by the by, did it all on his own.

And didn't look nearly as smug about it as you'd think. (via Formula1.com)

And did you notice something about the way the two Mercedes drivers ran their respective races at Catalunya? Nico was very quiet on the radio, just terse messages in between braking zones. Lewis, however, did nothing but whine all race long - how are Nico's tyres? Where are we on fuel? Why were they showing yellow flags when there was no-one parked on the side of the track? At one point he even asked how much time he lost to Nico in his second pit stop, to which he was told: "Not as much as he lost in traffic, Lewis. Carry on as planned." In other words, "Dude, would you shut up and focus on what you're doing?!"

Whining like a bitch is a bit of a faux pas for elite athletes, but  think about what this means: in the middle of a race, with G-forces trying to pull his heart out through his ribcage, with his rear tyres dying and in need of babysitting, Lewis still has enough brainpower left over to be worried about how much time he lost in that pit stop compared to his teammate. Because that might be the difference between first and second.

That, my friends, has got to be the Formula 1 version of First World Problems. And it's why he'll be champion this year... maybe...

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Catalunya & the Riddle of Steel

What is carbon fibre next to the hand that steers it? What is turbo direct injection without the fire in the heart that drives a man to get on the throttle earlier, brake a little later, keep pushing his luck?

Formula 1 is a modern-day manifestation of the Riddle of Steel. That is, Which is fast? The Car, or the Driver? It's a question more relevant than ever as the old brigade of F1 fans get ever more elderly and ever more vocal in their whining that - *cue adenoids* - "In the old days a great driver could get a bad car to the podium. Nowadays the car matters more than the driver!"

For those who need to brush up on their geek references, it's a question that entered the culture through Schwarzenegger vehicle Conan the Barbarian. Conan has been taught that steel is strong, but the warlord Thulsa Doom (only in the 80's could you unironically name a character Doom) shoots down that interpretation with a grand little speech:

So that's the riddle: flesh or steel? Throttle control or downforce? On foot, Lewis Hamilton would be beaten by Usain Bolt; but put Lewis in his Mercedes W05 and Bolt will be left far, far behind. Yet, put me in that W05, and all you'll get is some scattered gravel and a smear on the Armco. Put nobody in it and it won't move at all. Clearly the problem gets more complex the closer you look.

Essentially, it's a modernist approach to a postmodern question. The answer, as with everything today it seems, is "both working together." It's the dynamic interplay between car and driver - to get needlessly pretentious, it's Clauswitz's schwerpunkt. As Niki Lauda said in Rush, "You don't suppose the fact that the car's so good has something to do with me?"

And despite what the old fogies will tell you, it's been like that since the beginning, even Fangio's day:
It was true that he always had the best car, and that was because he was the best damn driver! The cheapest method of becoming a successful Grand Prix team was to sign up Fangio. – Stirling Moss
That's also why Michael Schumacher was worth $50 million a year: putting Schumacher in the car made it half a second a lap faster. Finding half a second in the windtunnel or engine shop would have cost an awful lot more than $50 million...

And it's a question that has a special relationship with the Spanish Grand Prix, for two reasons. One, it's the first race after the "fly-aways", the first race of the European season. And two, it's run at the Circuit de Catalunya, which used to be called the test driver's second home (back when they still had test drivers). This was partly thanks to the mild Spanish winter, and partly because of the corner layout. Check it out:

Notice all those long, sweeping bends? Notice how they're all, like, a bit different? Notice how they all come together in a long, long front straight? There's nowhere to hide at Catalunya. To get a fast lap time you need everything - grip, power, handling - and you need it all working together. That's why it was the place to test a new car, because if something wasn't working, you knew straight away. Today, together with the scheduling, that means the Spanish GP sees the biggest round of car upgrades all season.

And that has serious consequences for the championship. Mercedes have had it all their way so far, but Red Bull did amazingly well considering their preseason woes. With that rate of progress, will they be able to catch up? Will Vettel, spending long hours in the simulator  with Ricciardo's data, have found a way to keep the tail of his RB10 under control? Will Red Bull's engineers have found a setup that gives him a stable rear end? Or will they have moved towards each other organically, meeting somewhere in the middle?

Alternatively, will Mercedes have polished the razor and found a few tenths to keep their drivers in front, or will their new updates be a backward step that drops them behind their rivals? Or will some hitherto unnoticed driver arrive in the first corner and  find the latest updates make the back end of his mediocre car come around just right, so he can drive it flat out all day and never make a mistake? If that happens it won't matter that Mercedes and Red Bull have more downforce, on race day our lucky driver will be faster.

It's happened before... (via bandeiraverde.com.br)

There's no way of knowing. That sweet spot where driver meets car is a moving target, and even if you get it perfect this week, by next week your rivals have moved on. Or your drivers could trip over each other at the first corner and all your painstaking upgrades will be wiped out in a heartbeat. At that moment, you might as well have put me in the car for all the difference it will have made. Just one of the things that makes Formula 1 so dynamic and interesting.

But my prediction? Races at Catalunya tend to be won from pole, and pole this year seems to belong to Lewis Hamilton. So unless Red Bull have come up with something major at the factory, this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix will be Hamilton's to lose. The result will be interesting rather than entertaining... but then I said that about Bahrain too.

See? That's the irony of F1: all the hard work to take the guesswork out of it just makes sure you can never tell what will happen next. That's the Riddle of Steel.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Ridin' With My Top Down

Look at this video I found:

That's Clay Regazzoni taking his BRM for a recon lap at the Österreichring in 1973. '73 gave us Smoke on the Water and Nutbush City Limits in music, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that in Formula 1 it was a year of both triumph and tragedy as well

You might think you don't know this this driver, but if you've seen Rush then you kinda do. This is the guy with the Dolmio moustache who befriended Niki (as much as you can befriend someone like Niki) and smoothed his path to Ferrari. A man with a name every bit as dashing as his face: Gianclaudio "Clay" Regazzoni.

They had to tone down the mow for the movie, cinemas couldn't afford the dry-cleaning. (Image via GrandPrix.com)
In legacy he was a bit like Gilles Villeneuve - didn't actually do much winning, but the tifosi loved him and never forgot him. Enzo described him best:

The inimitable Clay never lets up. Bon viveur, dancer, playboy, footballer, tennis player and, in his spare time, driver. He’s the ideal guest at the most unusual fashion shows, the great resource of women’s magazines. – Enzo Ferrari

Thing was, in 1973 he was kind of "between contracts" with Ferrari, so he found a job with BRM instead - a team half-forgotten now, but well-known and weirdly popular in their day. BRM had been founded as a British pride team, a massive, industry-supported team intended to showcase British engineering expertise. On that level it backfired badly, as they were never especially good at it, and even in 1973, nearly 30 years after their founding, the handicaps of that approach were still weighing on them. That year's car, the P (for Project) 160 had a handicap located between the driver and the rear wing called the P142, a V12 engine built by BRM themselves. In those days only three teams built their own engines, and of the three BRM had the smallest budget to do it on. Consequently, their V12 was completely gutless, the drivers complaining "all the horsepower went down the exhaust pipes."

Turn up the volume and watch it again. Yeah, it's no Matra, but still a great set of pipes.

On the other hand the balance and handling of the P160 was said to be quite good, but I have to wonder about that myself. Any car's handling seems better when it hasn't got any power, like my Corolla, which seems to be suspended on rubber bands but goes okay thanks to a miserable 1.6-litre engine.

Unboxing the sports suspension pack.

Either way, the BRM was going to be at a huge disadvantage here at the Österreichring, the "Austria-ring" in the former Habsburg playground of Styria. With those stunning mountain views, that first blast along the top of the ridge with bare dirt either side, it looks more like Pikes Peak than a Grand Prix venue. If you don't recognise that section, that's because it isn't there anymore. Twenty-four years after Clay's lap, Austrian phone company A1 put up some money for the track to be rebuilt, and the fast, mad part of the lap was ground off. The new A1-Ring became Michael Schumacher's bogey track and ground zero for most of his worst moments. It hasn't hosted a Grand Prix in years, but in 2011 it was bought up by a prominent Austrian soft drink company who are refurbishing it yet again and hoping to stage a Grand Prix. I'll let you have a wild guess who that might be.

You can see why they had to clip its wings though: the last race in this configuration was in 1987, so God only knows how frightening it was in a 1,000-horsepower turbo car. The second turn, the long, banked right-hander with the red-and-yellow Bosch sign on the outside, that's the Boschkurve, a corner that used to keep the drivers getting any sleep at night. The G-forces must have been just incredible, and with an Armco barrier only metres from the track they were probably on your mind, reminding you of just how hard you were going to hit the barrier if anything let go. With slick tyres and downforce to make the steering nice and heavy, Stefan Johansson once said, "At Boschkurve I literally have to wedge my elbows against the cockpit sides to put enough force on the wheel."

But Clay's not milking it very hard today, just cruisin' with a nigga lean, having a look at what the track, or the car, or both, are like today. Nowadays we'd call it an installation lap - kick the tyres, check for oil leaks, make sure the brakes are working (that's important) - but of course Clay has no data sensors sending telemetry to the pits, just his own ears, his own eyes, and his own arse telling him what the car is doing.

So on the exit of Boschkurve he stays wide and lets a dark-blue car past. No mistaking the white helmet with the tartan band, it's Jackie Stewart in his Tyrrell. Just two weeks before, Jackie had won the German GP at the Nürburgring, his twenty-seventh and last win, a figure was going to remain a record for a long time yet. In Italy he was destined to have a few problems, but still nail down enough points to make his third World Championship a done deal.

Then at the left-hander we see one of the sinister black Shadows go by, driven by I-don't-know-who (anyone know for sure?), but I'll take a guess at Jackie Oliver, who'd later rip the guts out of the Shadow team by becoming a founding partner at Arrows. After that it's a white March with a tall airbox - well that could only be James Hunt, in his debut season driving for Alexander, third Baron Hesketh of Hesketh, who'd taken to the sport in a way nobody had seen before.

Champagne and pheasants in hired marquees with Lady Hesketh, Alexander’s mother, complete with black eye-patch, presiding in a state of distraction; helicopters that flew ice and birds and more champers in and out of circuits; Master James cavorting among the Beautiful People with the exquisite Suzy, his model of a wife who eventually left him for the actor Richard Burton. It was a year of parties and night life, some good race results in an ever-improving car designed by Dr Harvey Postlethwaite, PhD. – Keith Botsford
James later got an awful lot of support from Marlboro and had to get into a habit of transferring his Rothmans cigarettes to Marlboro packets, which must have taken a while because he was a 40-a-day kind of guy. Marlboro of course were in bed with McLaren by then (not the mention the Holden Dealer Team), and would later switch to Ferrari, but if you want to know where Marlboro started in motorsport, it was right here, with BRM. Yes, the single most recognisable racecar livery of all time, and its first deployment was on a car nobody remembers.

Once Marlboro left them for McLaren, BRM never recovered. They closed up shop in '77 after their new car turned out to be too big to fit into a packing crate (not a good sign). Their final driver decided all Formula 1 teams were morons and returned to his home country - which, since his name was Larry Perkins, was here. Alan Jones was buying rides by then, so was the last time there were two Aussies in Formula 1 until Webber and Ricciardo last year.

As for Clay himself, he lost his job at Ferrari thanks to Niki's accident in '76. Ferrari hired another driver named Reutemann to replace Niki, and since Niki stubbornly refused to die, there was no room for Clay and he found himself bumped. From there he fell into one backmarker team after another, racing just because he loved it, until his career abruptly ended in loud noise and twisted aluminium. At Long Beach in 1980, his car lost its brakes in the worst possible place - the end of Shoreline Drive, where he was doing about 280km/h - and unable to stop, he ploughed into a retired car. When he regained consciousness, Clay realised he couldn't feel his legs. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but being the sort of man he was, he didn't let it upset him for long.

I was in hospital for a long time, and felt very sorry for myself, but when something like this happens, you move into a different world – a world you never thought about. And you feel ashamed. I remember Gunnar Nilsson talking about the children in his cancer hospital, how he had had years of good life which they would never have.

As for me, I can drive my Ferrari Daytona. I have my driving school for handicapped people. I can still go to the races, be part of them. I don’t want to be pitied. I have accepted that the miracle will not happen, but life can still be worth something. – Clay Regazzoni

But my favourite anecdote about Clay, the one that sums him all up, really, comes from Jonesy - and refers to the very same year as our video above:

Clay was once invited by Louis Stanley to look over BRM. Lou was there in his three-acre office and took Clay through his works and said, "My boy, you have seen my car and my organisation – with my team and my factory we will make you World Champion.” Clay said: “Fucka the Championship, how mucha you pay?"