June 12, 1980
"We had 22 drivers lined up on the grid today. They drove fast and furiously, they raced 100 percent, and anyone who got a point at the end jolly well deserved it. For those who take the view that we lost three of the major teams, the fact of the matter is that their withdrawal was entirely political. It was voluntary from their own point of view, because they wouldn't have come to any harm sticking with the constructors. And I have to say that our favourite, famous old sportsmen, Ferrari - who, whenever there's any aggravation, shout 'The Sport!' - withdrew basically because they like aggravation, and they're not winning anyway. It suited them, and unfortunately they persuaded the other manufacturers, Renault and Alfa, who are less experienced in these matters of political aggravation, to come with them. I feel very sorry for the Renault drivers, but I feel Renault have made a stupid situation. If they weren't there, that's their problem..."
A bout of 'flu (contracted, incidentally, in Monte Carlo!) kept me from going to Jarama this year, and it seems to me now that the person who passed it on may have done me a favour. I did, of course, keep in touch with all the goings-on over the weekend, and watched the BBC's excellent race highlights programme on the Sunday night. If you also saw it, you will recognise the words above as those of James Hunt, who was clearly in no doubt that the FOCA Klan were the good boys in this affair.
Predictably, his words went down less than well with those who had abstained from the Spanish Grand Prix. Last Thursday, I went off to Brands Hatch to watch Ferrari and Renault test, for the day seemed to provide an excellent opportunity to take the temperature of the battle from the FISA Klan standpoint.
That most pleasant of men, Jean Sage, came quite close to anger when he heard Hunt's comments: "Of course James is free to say whatever he likes, but it is simply not true that Ferrari persuaded us to withdraw. I can tell you honestly that Piccinini (Ferrari), Corbari (Alfa Romeo) and I never had a word of disagreement during the whole time in Spain. As soon as the race lost its FISA sanction we could not race. It was as simple as that. We are on the side of FISA - as governing body - no matter who is running it. There is more involved here than simply Formula 1. For example, we are due to debut the Renault R5 Turbo in the Mille Pistes soon. That is a FISA-sanctioned event, from which we could have been barred if we had defied the FISA in Madrid..."
Jody Scheckter's reaction to Hunt's opinions was more, shall we say, direct: "James Hunt never knew what was going on politically when he was in racing. And he still doesn't know. When he was in Spain he didn't speak to anybody on 'our' side, so how is he qualified to go and make comments like that? I think it's totally stupid."
There have been times in Jody's racing past when his manner might have led you to the impression that he would be solidly anti-establishment in his approach to a dispute such as that which Grand Prix racing currently faces. But no. He is totally behind the FISA and dismisses suggestions that his current stance has its roots in the fact that he is a Ferrari driver.
"No, that's not true at all. I'm supporting what I believe is going to be good for motor racing in the long run. I think we should have a strong governing body, and there are many reasons for that. Part of my support for the FISA comes from my position in the GPDA. I feel that FISA are more prepared to do what the drivers want, apart from anything else.
"Forget the driver fines. That's a detail, and really has nothing to do with the current dispute. The basic problem started about eight years ago. The FISA - or the CSI as it was then - was neither strong nor efficient, and that was why the FOCA started. It's good that it did, too, because it held Formula 1 together and built it up. From the start FOCA was strong and efficient, but we got to the stage where they weren't only running themselves, but running motor racing altogether. Up to a certain degree that was OK, but then they started to make the rules as well. They got the rules changed to whatever they wanted, and the situation got worse and worse until Balestre arrived, someone who was prepared to say, 'I'm going to stop all this, and I'm going to make the FISA the governing body again.' That is the cause of the basic problem.
"In fact, the constructors are the ones, in my opinion, who brought the whole thing to a head. They agreed, first of all, to the idea of having pre-race briefings and to having a fine for drivers who didn't turn up - and I know that they agreed to that because I was present at the meeting where those things were discussed. Then they turned round to their drivers and said, 'You mustn't go.' They obviously wanted an out-and-out fight, and I think it came maybe a little quicker than they thought it would..."
Scheckter has mellowed considerably during his time with Ferrari, and this year, his World Championship won, he is more at ease than ever before, despite the fact that Ferrari are currently on the skids. As we talked about the Formula 1 crisis, he was completely relaxed where once he would have ranted. Did he really think, I asked, that for once Bernie Ecclestone had bitten off more than he could chew?
"Yes. I think he has. Since the FISA started to become strong again, independent of the FOCA, Bernie has been totally unwilling to compromise. He hasn't been prepared merely to hold his position. He's over-fought the battles, and he's lost them. Look at the skirts dispute, for instance. He could have said. 'Yes, OK, we'll agree to the skirts ban, but we want this and this and this...', and maybe he could have got a compromise. But every time he just said, 'no, no, no'. At the same time, don't get the impression that I think FISA is perfect. They're certainly not as efficient as they should be - particularly when it comes to defining new rules."
Jody makes no bones about the fact that much of his support for the FISA comes from his passionate concern for safety. He genuinely feels that cornering speeds have reached an unacceptable level, that Grand Prix racing has become a designer's world, that driver and spectator alike are losing out. Turn-in speeds are such that braking areas have shrunk to the point where overtaking opportunities are few and far between - to the detriment of the fans' enjoyment and the drivers' ability to 'race'.
"I've been to FOCA meetings and said that we need the cars to be slowed down through the corners. And they all argue among themselves - 'Oh, we can't have that because it will make Ferrari more competitive' and 'We can't change that because it will help Williams or Renault or somebody else...' And at the end of it nothing is agreed. I know that unless there's a strong governing body nothing will be done because they're all concerned with their own interests. Now let me say that I know FOCA are now planning to introduce their own safety moves, but that's only because of pressure from the FISA and from the drivers. They hope that if they do this it will usurp the power and authority of the FISA. I think most people were coming to the conclusion that the cars had to be slowed down, and I believe that the FOCA thought that if they carried out this package of improvements it would keep everyone quiet. But I don't believe it, frankly. If they did implement these changes, when something else needed doing in six or 12 months they wouldn't do it.
"The serious teams have to look at more than their own selfish pockets for one year - although I respect that to an extent because I know that a man like Ken Tyrrell has got to make money to keep going. But a team like Renault has to look at it on a much bigger scale because the racing team is only about two per cent of the whole operation.
"Don't get me wrong. There's a place for Bernie, there's a place for the FOCA. Bernie has done a good job in certain areas, maybe put more into motor racing than anyone else in the last few years, but he has to be governed properly. He can't be allowed to take over.
"I think it's important to remember that basically FOCA is only four teams. The others in there have only now started to think they're important because of the pressure of the current situation. Three years ago they were getting the boot as well, but some of them are too short-sighted to see it."
Right, I said, look forward a couple of months and tell me where you think Grand Prix racing will be.
"I hate to guess at these things. I hope that the teams will see sense, with a bit of push from the sponsors. Maybe it will get to the stage where they want to have Formula Ecclestone with half a dozen races around the world, with Goodyear tyres - one make - and Cosworth engines - one make... Who knows, maybe it would be quite successful. But it wouldn't be the Formula 1 World Championship.
"I hope that doesn't happen, because everyone will lose. If the World Championship gets split up, you are then left with two unimportant formulae. I hope that Spain was a sacrifice which will prove worthwhile, that the FOCA will come back in a compromising position, saying they'll run the finance and have a say in making the rules. We want to pull motor racing back together again, have it properly restructured until it settles down into a sport like it was eight or ten years ago."
Gilles stays put
The atmosphere at Brands was entirely relaxed. The day was very hot, and there were few people around. Quite often, all three cars present were in the pits together, engines shut down, and then one could almost believe one was dozing off at a village cricket match...
And then a starter motor would churn away, a flat-12 fire up, and you were jerked out of reverie by the sight and sound of Villeneuve spinning the wheels of his Ferrari as he snaked off down the pit lane.
Between stints out there, I talked to him about this and that, one topic being Goodyear's threatened withdrawal at the end of the year. "I don't think it's a threat at all, actually," reckoned Gilles. "I think they're going to do it, but I can't really believe that the Monaco dispute with Michelin is the cause of it. I think it's more to do with their distaste for the FISA-FOCA thing.
But if Goodyear do pull out, what happens to Formula 1? "Well, I don't know for sure, but I think Michelin would supply everyone, and all the teams would get the same tyres. Obviously, as a driver, I would like that. Ideally, I'd like it if everyone had exactly the same of everything, so that it was simply down to the driver, but I realise that's not really practical..."
Later in the day he talked about the T5. Clearly he had been driving as he always drives, balls to the wall, and yet the Ferrari was being eaten up by Arnoux's Renault, which lapped effortlessly at two seconds under the T5's pace - and needed half as much road to do it. "We are short of grip, as always," said Villeneuve, "but Rene's car is incredible, just incredible. I don't think we are ever going to make anything out of this car. It's just a matter of going as hard as you can, all the time."
It had looked that way, too, the red car fishtailing its way through Paddock, bottoming on the exit of the corner in a shower of sparks. It was a day's hard work. "Still," Gilles smiled at the end of it, "I know that Ferrari always come back, and I'm confident for the future." Was he staying at Maranello in 1981? "Oh, for sure. I signed my new contract recently. I like Ferrari, you know..."
As I said at the beginning, the day presented a good opportunity to gauge the feelings of the pro-FISA brigade. The third corner of their triangle, Alfa-Romeo, will be at Brands Hatch in a few days' time, together with all the other Goodyear teams. In the meantime, I join Scheckter in hoping that the matter will be resolved by then. Either way, it is my intention to go down to Brands once more to get the story from the FOCA side of the coin.
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