Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Grand Prix - the Killer Years.
May 23, 2011 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Grand Prix - the Killer Years A BBC documentary on how rapidly evolving technology and an indifference to driver safety on the part of car designers and track owners caused ever-escalating casualties among the top-tier drivers of the '60s and '70s, and the efforts of the drivers to introduce modern safety standards and rules. The footage is in places exhilarating, capturing the beauty and the excitement of the sport at its best, and in others horrifying and tragic, the sport at its worst.
posted by Slap*Happy (76 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Even the spectator positioning (er, standing by the side of the track with maybe a straw bale and some string keeping them back) was phenomenally stupid - it's hard to believe it even needs hindsight to know it's crazy to have cars that are doing 130mph average around the track right up to where people are standing. These are cars that are on the limit of grip - by definition - and people are just standing there watching them.

Crazy.

Of course, that sort of stupidity has prevailed almost to the current day, but just switched sports. Rallying still has regular incidents with spectators hit or nearly hit. The further into regional events you get, the more lax the spectator control. F1 learned this in the 60's and 70's, Rallying internationally worked it out in the mid 80's (the demise of the awesome Group B rallying as a direct result) and national and regional rallying still has some learning to do. It's a slow process, that's for sure.
posted by Brockles at 12:02 PM on May 23, 2011


Brockles: Rallying internationally worked it out in the mid 80's (the demise of the awesome Group B rallying as a direct result)

There's a fascinating documentary about this called Too Fast to Race. It's available in seven parts on YouTube starting here (which is probably unauthorized, if you have qualms about that type of thing). It traces the evolution from the concept Stratos all the way through to cars that were in development for Group B at the time the program was cancelled, and discusses how they might have fared against each other
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 12:05 PM on May 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


I watched this a few weeks ago. A fantastic documentary about an amazing sport with a fascinating and crazy history. Jackie Stewart is awesome. Anyone who criticizes or makes fun of him can just eff right off (unless they're making fun of his endorsement of the Ford Tempo as a real "driver's car").
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on May 23, 2011


A lot of those cars lived on in Rallycross. Amazing bits of kit. It's a shame that the incompetence and short sightedness of the organisors of the rallying at the time killed such a fantastic set of engineering targets. It hasn't taken much to make rally stages much safer, but no-one wanted to invest in the time and money then.

Jackie Stewart is awesome

He has done some fantastic things for the sport, admittedly, but he very much does deserve some of the criticism he has got in the process. He can be a little bit up his own arse, to say the least.
posted by Brockles at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2011


The Spa-Francorchamps scene in John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix was filmed at the 1966 race discussed in the BBC documentary here. The in-car footage going into the rain in that clip is simply terrifying.
posted by The World Famous at 12:17 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I caught this a while back when it was linked to on Jalopnik and it was absolutely fantastic. Beautiful footage, great interviews, and for us race fans under 40 or 50 years old it's always good to get some historical context.

I grew up hearing my dad complain about all the sport lost when safety regulations started getting between the fans and the cars, the danger was stripped away and the cars started to rely more on wings and spoilers than mechanical grip. I totally idealized that era. It's easy to gloss over the fact that real humans were routinely being killed in horrible ways for no reason.

It'd be a tragic season now if *one* driver were killed. I can't imagine what people were thinking when they signed on for a season where 1 in 10 drivers would die.
posted by pjaust at 12:20 PM on May 23, 2011


This is extremely interesting, especially because another Formula 1 documentary, Senna [Trailer] is due for release in the U.S. on August 12th this year. Ayrton Senna was arguably the best there ever was, even better than seven time World Champion Michael Schumacher. Ironically, Schumacher was right behind Senna in second place at Imola, Italy when Senna left the track and was killed in the ensuing crash by a broken suspension piece that pierced his helmet visor on May 1st, 1994. God willing, he'll be the last man to die while driving in a Formula 1 race.

As far as Formula 1 in general, I'd rather we have a safe sport, where people can walk away from a horrific crash like Mark Webber did in 2010 than have attrition take on an entirely different and macabre connotation in a race. It may have taken them almost 20 years to strike the right balance between safety and racing, but there's no denying the racing this season is the best in decades.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:39 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


there's no denying the racing this season is the best in decades.

I'd extend that pronouncement to this year and the previous two years, actually. I miss fuel strategy this year and the marbling from the tires is annoying.
posted by The World Famous at 12:45 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


people can walk away from a horrific crash like Mark Webber did in 2010

I'm starting to think Mark Webber just likes driving upside down. (Joking aside, though, he's a brilliant driver and I'm glad he walked away from those crashes.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:47 PM on May 23, 2011


there's no denying the racing this season is the best in decades.

I deny it. Artificial passes where one car blows by another on the straights due to the vast drop-off in speed of worn Pirelli tires or due to the artificial DRS non-sense does not make for good racing. Daring dive bombs or other clever and daring overtakes done by exhilerating overtakers like Kobayashi or Hamilton is what make racing good, not one substantially faster car blowing by a substantially slower car.
posted by gyc at 12:48 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. One of my earliest fully formed memories is watching Ronny Peterson's crash that led to his death. It was a weird "national day of sorrow" thing that really lodged in my memory.
posted by gemmy at 12:48 PM on May 23, 2011


Even the spectator positioning (er, standing by the side of the track with maybe a straw bale and some string keeping them back) was phenomenally stupid - it's hard to believe it even needs hindsight to know it's crazy to have cars that are doing 130mph average around the track right up to where people are standing. These are cars that are on the limit of grip - by definition - and people are just standing there watching them.

Well, you still see heaps of rallying with people hanging out on the road, close to the cars. I'm surprised there aren't more incidents there, to be honest.
posted by rodgerd at 1:16 PM on May 23, 2011


True, but the areas that are permitted to have spectators are much better controlled now. No standing on the outside of fast corners, no-one at the end of fast straights into tight corners, etc. That sort of thing. It used to be wherever you could fit two feet was fine, but it's much improved now.
posted by Brockles at 1:20 PM on May 23, 2011


I see your point vis-à-vis the tires and DRS, a.k.a The Push-to-Pass Button, but I don't think it's as important among the top tier of drivers. DRS certainly wasn't much of a factor in Sunday's race in Spain. Lewis Hamilton never managed to get within striking distance of Sebastian Vettel despite the World Champion's lack of a functioning KERS.

I can't disagree that because of the—shall we say capricious—changes in the technical regulations over the last few years, F1 isn't as much of a pure driver's championship as it was in the old days, but it sure is thrilling to see Hamilton duel with Vettel or watch Kobayashi or Webber slash though the field and wind up in the points after starting last.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:51 PM on May 23, 2011


I blame Colin Chapman as does the film. His credo was to build a car and keep removing structural elements until it failed, adding the last piece of tubing back in. Drivers didn't matter. As cars evolved through mid-engine to big tires to wings and then ground-effects, Chapman was like Picasso. Always there on the bleeding edge of the next movement.
posted by machaus at 1:57 PM on May 23, 2011


I can't disagree that because of the—shall we say capricious—changes in the technical regulations over the last few years, F1 isn't as much of a pure driver's championship as it was in the old days,

Honestly, I think that is rose tinted guff. There has always been a significant tier of capability of cars - not once has there been any noticeable parity of equipment across more than a couple of teams. It is as much of a driver's championship as it always has been, but the technical aspects have created an additional facet. Almost every year since the beginnings of the sport, drivers have had to have been in the right one (to maybe three) teams in any one year to stand a chance of winning the championship.

Just because technology is a higher profile issue doesn't mean that it isn't as hard for drivers as it always has been. Technology (of differing levels of complexity) has dictated possible competitiveness for many, many years it just wasn't as visible to fans.

I blame Colin Chapman as does the film.

I'm not sure that makes sense. Drivers were being killed in cars before and after Chapman, and it didn't start nor end with his cars. I think it's grossly unfair to lay blame at his door - he was following the same regulations and safety standards as everyone else and those standards are to blame, not the people building or designing the cars.
posted by Brockles at 2:09 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, more overtaking due to intentional tire degradation blows.

Overtaking due to DRS is just on this side of not blowing. But only just.

However, the tinkering around with blown diffusers and engine maps that retard ignition but allow exhaust gases to continue to flow over the diffuser EVEN WHEN THE THROTTLE IS LIFTED is terrific, and a reminder about what is great about F1, on the engineering side.

Allow me to blow some hot air: The FIA is keen to make the engineering relevant to the rest of the automotive world (thus the KERS regenerative braking system), and so is set to ban blown diffusers and the gas guzzling engine maps that permit them, cause wasting fuel on purpose doesn't look good, environmentally speaking.

Here's the answer, FIA, pay attention: Give each car a certain amount of fuel for the weekend, along with some weight and safety requirements and let them design whatever the hell they want. Then keep ratcheting the fuel ration down.

In no time those rules-benders will have developed 100+ MPG cars that get around the circuit at 200+ MPH.

It's all about aligning interests with goals.
posted by notyou at 2:10 PM on May 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Honestly, I think that is rose tinted guff. There has always been a significant tier of capability of cars - not once has there been any noticeable parity of equipment across more than a couple of teams.

Disparity in the design and capability of the cars is a huge - huge - part of what's good about F1 and what sucks about just about every other racing series. Standardized cars, engines, etc. ruin racing, which should be about the combination of driver, car, and crew. Not that I think you necessarily agree with that. But I don't think there's anything wrong with a race where the great cars put the others to shame.

Here's the answer, FIA, pay attention: Give each car a certain amount of fuel for the weekend, along with some weight and safety requirements and let them design whatever the hell they want. Then keep ratcheting the fuel ration down.

I like that except for the idea of limiting the amount of fuel. Fuel adds weight and pit stops take time. Those are natural incentives for the teams to optimize fuel consumption. And I don't think F1 should be a vehicle (heh) for making a political statement about fossil fuels. If using less fuel is genuinely a good strategy, there will already be enough incentive for the teams to figure out how to use less fuel. Personally, I think there should be safety standards (which must, I think, include things like rules regarding aero, engines, etc.) and that's about it.
posted by The World Famous at 2:17 PM on May 23, 2011


Give each car a certain amount of fuel for the weekend, along with some weight and safety requirements and let them design whatever the hell they want. Then keep ratcheting the fuel ration down.

This is how they used to do it. Whenever you have no refuelling (which has been a lot of the last few decades of F1) you are essentially limiting the fuel consumption. But it is a very, very expensive way to go racing and simplistic as presented.

Moving away from this kind of open ended design is precisely what has saved the sport from spiralling into tiny grids of increasingly expensive cars. The kinds of crazy materials and costs of failed experimentation to squeeze one more mpg per hp out of an engine that doesn't crap itself in 200 miles mounts up rapidly. Tight control that steers in a relevant direction (ie KERS) but while maintaining the spectacle and trying to control the costs of F1 racing is a delicate balance.

Yes, making F1 cars more efficient in the long run will bleed back to road cars (like it has done for years) but running straight to the mpg-athon will have viewers switching off and so investment plummets.
posted by Brockles at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2011


I had heard about this and hadn't gotten around to watching it, so thanks for posting the link. There's a lot of great footage there, to be sure.

What I found most interesting was the fact that they had interviews with John Surtees on a show, ostensibly, about racing safety.

On more than one occasion I've seen Surtees tear into Stewart like there's no tomorrow, calling him 'a selfish prat' and being 'the man most responsible for ruining Grand Prix racing' and also being responsible for 'emasculating the Nürburgring'.

There's been an argument being made for some time now that making the cars and tracks as safe as they are is actually making racing worse. The reasoning being that, you never saw someone deliberately ram someone back in the xxx-era, that would have killed everyone involved. But now cars are so safe that drivers feel too invulnerable.

The parallel to this argument usually involves Grand Prix Motorcycle racing. Even though the bikes are vastly quicker now, actual on track deaths have remained about the same. That fact can't be attributed to safety measures incorporated into the bikes themselves, since it's very hard (if not impossible) to make a racing bike any more safe than a certain factor. A bad bike accident is a bad bike accident is a bad bike accident. What you can attribute it to is that motorcycle racers don't screw around and try to take people off. It's too dangerous for all parties involved for that. It was that way back in the 60s, and it's still that way today.

Personally, I've never had that much of a problem with danger in any form of motorsports. Like Jacky Ickx said in the film, "No one was forcing us to do it."

Or as Mike Hailwood put it, in a somewhat different way, "The twist grip goes both ways."

I've always been a huge believer that if any given form of racing is too hot for you, then you shouldn't do it.
posted by Relay at 2:23 PM on May 23, 2011


Moving away from this kind of open ended design is precisely what has saved the sport from spiralling into tiny grids of increasingly expensive cars.

That's a very good point. A system where the richest teams always win is not really a good thing.
posted by The World Famous at 2:23 PM on May 23, 2011


Standardized cars, engines, etc. ruin racing, which should be about the combination of driver, car, and crew.

Those things are not exclusive. But standardised packages are the only way to make racing cost effective in any sort of sustainable way outside F1, Le Mans, ALMS and World Rallying. Without a tier system, the sport will be meaningless and there is often excellent (and superior) racing in the lower formulae - Have you even seen a GP2 race? Or even GP3 or F3? Touring cars (especially BTCC, which have commonised components to save costs) also has excellent racing.

The very top tier of racing should be all about the car, engine, crew, driver - everything. But not all racing can be or you'll never know what is the better component and no-one will be able to afford to go racing anyway.

Regardless, if you think that the car, engine and crew are not every bit as important (comparatively) in single make racing as they are in F1, then you've clearly not been around racing other than watching F1 on TV. The fact that single make series have consistent team winners weekly shows that pretty clearly.
posted by Brockles at 2:24 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm inclined to believe that the reason you don't see any spectators along the fence at a modern F1 event is because King Bernie Ecclestone would rather have everyone who wants to see the race pay for luxury suites.
posted by spudsilo at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2011


"A system where the richest teams always win is not really a good thing."

"Speed equals money sir, how fast would you care to go?"
Graham Hill (when he was working as a part time car salesman for Colin Chapman).

No, cubic dollars doesn't guarantee success (look at the factory Ford F1 effort back in the 80s for proof of that), but the top four or five or six teams in terms of results are always the top four or five or six teams in terms of budget, regardless of racing genre.

It sort of seems like there are two things at competing odds here: The sport (watching competitors fight it out to see how is the quickest) and the technology (seeing who can build a more innovative or clever car).

The trick is how to keep both, without sacrificing either competition or technology.
posted by Relay at 2:31 PM on May 23, 2011


look at the factory Ford F1 effort back in the 80s for proof of that

Toyota and Honda are perfect supporting examples, Jordan and Brawn perfect foils to that argument. Also, if we're honest, Brawns championship budget benefited enormously from the massive prior investment from BAR and then Honda. It's not like they started from scratch.

However, I completely agree. As you say it is common in all forms of racing. Arguably, though, F1 gives more scope for the 'perfect storm' of personnel or technological advancement that produces such upsets as the Brawn/Button combination a few years ago and those awesome Alesi/Jordan fights with Senna/McLaren through the streets of Pheonix in 1990.
posted by Brockles at 2:42 PM on May 23, 2011


Alesi was driving a Tyrell against Senna in Phoenix. The one with the raised nose.
posted by Relay at 2:44 PM on May 23, 2011


Crap, you're right. Well they had even less money than Jordan (when they started the following year), so the point stands!
posted by Brockles at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2011


Yeah, cause if Eddie Jordan showed the racing world anything, he showed them that there's a bigger cheapskate out there then Ken Tyrell (which is really hard to do).
posted by Relay at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2011


At least he did it with better teeth.
posted by Brockles at 2:55 PM on May 23, 2011


Jimmy Clark was my first hero so thank you for this. But I'd never seen the footage of the Dutch race and that was heartbreaking.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:53 PM on May 23, 2011


The advantage to giving teams X litres of fuel for the weekend and letting them go nuts would be that F1 would once again become a viable test bed for passenger cars again. As it stands now, common road cars have more technologically advanced bits than F1, bits that originally were born of F1 development and have since been outlawed. I think it's important long term for an F1 car to be the most technologically sophisticated four wheeled machine on earth. It's part of the modern mystique of the series.
posted by Keith Talent at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that video is amazing. It's hard to imagine a sport with that kind of death rate these days; the law suits would be astronomical.
posted by octothorpe at 4:29 PM on May 23, 2011


Drivers were being killed in cars before and after Chapman, and it didn't start nor end with his cars.

Top drivers in their prime weren't being killed in these astonishing numbers until Chapman forced the sport to make more and more precarious deathtraps. Before Chapman, the emphasis was on huge engines and making beefy, indestructable components. After Chapman, they could no longer rely on their skill to keep them out of trouble - they were at the mercy of the car builders, who put shaving milliseconds off of laptimes ahead of their drivers' safety.

I've always been a huge believer that if any given form of racing is too hot for you, then you shouldn't do it.

Watch the video - these weren't mid-tier racers. These were world champions. If the course and car is too hot for the best driver in the world, as with Jimmy Clark and Jochen Rindt, then it's too hot for any human. That's kind of the point.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:52 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always been a huge believer that if any given form of racing is too hot for you, then you shouldn't do it.

Yeah, that's why nobody does 1960s-style F1 anymore. And why Chapman wasn't the driver. It's also why Jackie Stewart spent so much time and energy fighting for safety standards and taped a wrench to his steering wheel after Spa in 1966: A form of racing where you get trapped in your crashed car for an hour because there is no rescue crew and you have no way of getting the steering wheel off because you don't have your own wrench in the car was too hot for him, so he decided not to do it. But instead of quitting, he changed the sport to one that was not too hot for him. And, in the process, he and other pioneers of the sport saved lives and made racing - not just F1 - better in just about every conceivable way.
posted by The World Famous at 5:19 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


A couple points; First a stunningly good film. Second, I hope to live long enough for the Graham Hill moustache to come back into fashion for others than the most extreme hipsters. And lastly, Emerson, wtf? Reconstructive surgery after his ultralight crash I'd guess? Dude looks like a bad Neil Diamond impersonator now.
posted by Keith Talent at 5:29 PM on May 23, 2011


Top drivers in their prime weren't being killed in these astonishing numbers until Chapman forced the sport to make more and more precarious deathtraps.

That simply isn't true. There are no statistics to back this up - from the 37 people killed in Formula 1 cars from the year (1958) that Lotus started racing, 5 were killed in a Lotus, 5 in Ferraris, 5 in Coopers, 3 in Brabhams. This doesn't show any trend for Lotus being death traps.

In addition, the number of deaths per year drops slightly (if anything at all) after Lotus joined the F1 championship - there is no sudden increase in Driver deaths at all. There is simply nothing to back up this claim that Chapman caused anything of the kind and I am baffled how someone could come to that conclusion. Drivers were killed in similar numbers both before and (to some extent) after his cars competed. You could just as easily state that any team that joined in that era or who followed Chapman's design philosophy caused those deaths. Of course, that'd be wrong.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of Chapman's design here - He is famous for minimalistic design, true, for the concept that the perfect racing car would run out of fuel and/or break down the second it crosses the line because anything else was a waste of engineering complexity. To extrapolate that into any kind of suggestion that his cars handled in a way that was dangerous is misguided as the opposite is true and fundamental to their enormous success. Chapman also didn't necessarily skimp on safety equipment compared to other manufacturees to make his cars minimalistic - there was simply no safety equipment to skimp on that anyone used in any volume. Rudimentary and woefully inadequate seat belts were all that was available and almost zero science went into the design and implementation in any manufacturers cars. There was almost zero safety equipment - either car related, driver related (ie suits and helmets) or circuit related (gravel traps, deformable barriers and run off areas) and as speeds increased, this became the major issue. Racing evolved in speed and car design, but safety was being left behind and was not following the same evolutionary rise.

Drivers themselves were often as much to blame for their lack of appreciation of safety - Jochen Rindt was killed as a direct result of refusing to wear crotch straps on his belts (around the thighs, in addition to around the waist). He crashed in a Lotus, certainly, but his fatal injuries were from being insecurely strapped in through his own fault. Drivers routinely drove dangerous cars on dangerous tracks and just shrugged and got on with it as it was expected, usual, and normal for people to die in race cars. Only when people like Stewart said "WHY should it be normal" that people started to give a crap.

The assertion that cars of the Chapman era were minimalistic death traps is also flawed. Cars of eras before and after that were every bit as dangerous. The 'big and beefy' components it is suggested were rife before that is not only misguided but bears absolutely no relevance to crash safety - a big, heavy car that doesn't compress or deform in an accident can be every bit as lethal as one that crushes into the occupant. The main thing you could blame Chapman for was that cars, very suddenly, became too fast for the safety equipment and tracks being raced on at that time. He (and others of that era) was responsible for a very rapid rise in car technology, design and hence speed. It left safety standards behind rapidly enough that it became obvious enough to attract direct scrutiny.
posted by Brockles at 6:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


By the way, I've heard that you can stream the Senna documentary on Netflix. I don't have the service, so can someone verify this?
posted by spiderskull at 7:25 PM on May 23, 2011


For more information on these years, I highly recommend a book called Chequered Year: Story of a Grand Prix Racing Season, by Ted Simon. Simon followed the Grand Prix circus around during the 1970 season, and wrote the book from his observation of the sometimes-surreal activities.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:53 PM on May 23, 2011


There's also GRAND PRIX YEAR by Ted Simon, which also tells the story of 1970, so I'm guessing it's the same book with a different title.
posted by philip-random at 8:19 PM on May 23, 2011


" ... then it's too hot for any human."

Tell that Nuvolari or Rosemeyer or Varzi or Caracciola, Slap*Happy.

To my direct understanding of what was happening in racing at that time, competitors were dying at about the same rates in total as they were in the 1950s and in the pre-war era. The main difference was that guys like Stewart started bitching about it.

What GP drivers from the mid-60s through the early 70s were going through seemed no rougher than what dirt track drivers in America had been going through since the end of the war. They didn't call them bull rings because of their shape.

Sportscar racing over that same time span was just atrocious in terms of fatalities and so were Indy cars for that matter.

Now, I can share my opinion with someone like Jackie Stewart, who was, make no mistake about it, one hell of a driver, or I can share my opinion with someone like John Surtees, who was, make no mistake about it, one hell of a racer.

That is the point.
posted by Relay at 8:42 PM on May 23, 2011


By the way, I've heard that you can stream the Senna documentary on Netflix. I don't have the service, so can someone verify this?

I had heard that too, but I just checked and it is only available for my DVD queue, but the DVD is not actually available yet. :(
posted by inparticularity at 9:57 PM on May 23, 2011


The Senna film was available for a day, I understand, on the anniversary of his death. It's ok but a bit too Senna was a poor soul who wasn't political and everyone picked on him and it was Prost's fault. Not much about the driving and the sport and more about how God walked among us and drove in F1. Nice footage though.
posted by juiceCake at 10:23 PM on May 23, 2011


notyou writes "Here's the answer, FIA, pay attention: Give each car a certain amount of fuel for the weekend, along with some weight and safety requirements and let them design whatever the hell they want. Then keep ratcheting the fuel ration down.

"In no time those rules-benders will have developed 100+ MPG cars that get around the circuit at 200+ MPH. "


Sounds like the perfect way to ensure a lot of races being decided when the front runners run out of gas. And to encourage steady racing where no one passes because acceleration takes more fuel than running at a steady pace.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 PM on May 23, 2011


Concerning that 1970 year ...

This is something I've touched on at Metafilter before. I saw the movie Grand Prix when I was nine, in 1969, and it hooked me. Raised in a house where hockey was pretty much religion (and I was already playing it at a pretty high level), I was suddenly a motor racing devotee -- Formula 1 in particular. And Bruce McLaren was my man, because that summer his big beautiful cars blew away all comers in the Can-Am race at Mosport.

Then, less than a year later, he was dead (as mentioned in the BBC movie), killed in a testing crash in Goodwood, England. I remember hearing it on the radio one spring morning and having to go to school, utterly gutted. My #1 real life hero in the world was dead and nobody got it. But it never occurred to me to not continue being a fan. I just switched allegiances to Jochen Rindt who was winning all the races that year ... and then five months later he was dead, too.

Crazy shit.

Thanks for the post, Slap*Happy. Brought back a lot of powerful memories, filled in a bunch of blanks.
posted by philip-random at 11:43 PM on May 23, 2011


Toyota and Honda are perfect supporting examples

If you think Honda are an example of spending money in F1 for no results, I can only assume you became aware of F1 some time in the 90s, and have never looked into the history of the sport.

Moving away from this kind of open ended design is precisely what has saved the sport from spiralling into tiny grids of increasingly expensive cars. The kinds of crazy materials and costs of failed experimentation to squeeze one more mpg per hp out of an engine that doesn't crap itself in 200 miles mounts up rapidly.

Prices have actually escalated dramatically as more and more rules have been ladled into the sport, not least because the ability to come up with left-field innovations have vanished in favour of lawyers and engineers spending a fortune on ekeing the last tiny few percent out of very rigid rules, and then throwing their work away the next year when Eccelstone has some new, stupid idea. And if cost was *really* a concern, F1 would still be raced around a fairly tight geographical spread of circuts, rather than flying around Australia, Europe, China, and the Middle East.

For me, well, I lost most of my interest in F1 in the 90s; one factor was that it became clear that no matter how much Senna and the Schumi cheated, including ramming cars off the track, they were being backed as untouchable by F1 management, something that continued into the new millenium with Bernie's blatant partisan support for Ferrari over the last decade. The bigger factor, thoug, was the dumbing down of the cars.

In the early 90s the cars were still pretty space-aged compared to roadgoing vehicles, even with the banning of turbos, but the active suspension and control mechanisms were like science fiction. F1 was, as it should be, about the greatest drivers driving vehicles that would inform the next generation of supercars, and might filter into my driveway in a couple of decades. Now? My next car will be second-hand, and it will almost certainly have stability control and active suspension, and turbo and 4WD are very affordable if one wants them. Modern non-performance street cars are more advanced than modern F1 cars. Show me an innovation in the current generation that's ahead of a decent sports sedan, never mind a sports car - KERS? A friggin' Prius has regenerative braking!
posted by rodgerd at 12:23 AM on May 24, 2011


rodgerd: I can only assume you became aware of F1 some time in the 90s, and have never looked into the history of the sport.

You know that's Brockles you're talking to, right?
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:31 AM on May 24, 2011


If you think sitting close enough to the track to touch the racers, then the Isle of Man TT is for you.
posted by tommasz at 5:16 AM on May 24, 2011


Um, "like sitting".
posted by tommasz at 5:16 AM on May 24, 2011


Wow what a great documentary. The footage at the end with David Purley and Roger Williamson was heartbreaking to watch.
posted by dabug at 5:52 AM on May 24, 2011


Sort of gives a different perspective on the term "balls to the wall".
posted by bwg at 6:19 AM on May 24, 2011


dabug: "Wow what a great documentary. The footage at the end with David Purley and Roger Williamson was heartbreaking to watch."

Purley was the very essence of frustration.
posted by bwg at 7:05 AM on May 24, 2011


The assertion that cars of the Chapman era were minimalistic death traps is also flawed. Cars of eras before and after that were every bit as dangerous. The 'big and beefy' components it is suggested were rife before that is not only misguided but bears absolutely no relevance to crash safety - a big, heavy car that doesn't compress or deform in an accident can be every bit as lethal as one that crushes into the occupant. The main thing you could blame Chapman for was that cars, very suddenly, became too fast for the safety equipment and tracks being raced on at that time.

No. I'm not referring to driver safety equipment, which was increasing in quality and effectiveness in the '60s (rollcages and harnesses, particularly), but the components that are essential for the safe piloting of the vehicle. It doesn't matter how skilled you are, or how well engineered the crumple-zone, if Colin's drilling holes in your brake actuator rod to save a few grams, you're going to die if you drive that car when the brakes fail.

Which is what happened with Jochen Rindt - again, see the documentary. Rindt knew the car was unsafe, and with just one last race to go, Chapman refused to let him drive anything but the modified-on-the-fly Type 72, knowing that if Rindt didn't drive, he'd lose the championship. Result? Posthumous championship. It's disgraceful, and I understand why Chapman was indicted for manslaughter.

The Garageistas were romantic and revolutionary, and proved a small team of intelligent and motivated engineers can work wonders, but their practice of raceday re-engineering and shoddy or nonexistent safety review and testing was criminally negligent. What's worse, their win record forced all of the other car makers into the same practices.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:20 AM on May 24, 2011


Now, I can share my opinion with someone like Jackie Stewart, who was, make no mistake about it, one hell of a driver, or I can share my opinion with someone like John Surtees, who was, make no mistake about it, one hell of a racer.

Both are featured in the documentary. Both have pretty much the same opinions on driver safety in Formula racing during the era, tho Surtees seemed to dislike Stewart's intensity.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:34 AM on May 24, 2011


If you think Honda are an example of spending money in F1 for no results, I can only assume you became aware of F1 some time in the 90s, and have never looked into the history of the sport.

Honda as an F1 team, not as an engine supplier. The discussion related to team funding specifically and I am fully aware of F1 history.

Which is what happened with Jochen Rindt - again, see the documentary.

Racing cars fail all the time and have throughout history. It is no more Chapman's fault than it was Rindt's for not wearing his crotch straps or the poor circuit design for the bad crash structures/barriers at the side of the track. Either of the latter two would arguably have saved Rindt's life and any car manufacturer may have had brake failure for whatever reason.

It could have been any manufacturer or any driver in any car. Whichever car had crashed at that speed without the driver wearing seat belts correctly and hitting those crappy barriers would likely have died. It is not at all cut and dried that Chapman's cars were less safe than anyone else's.

It doesn't matter how skilled you are, or how well engineered the crumple-zone, if Colin's drilling holes in your brake actuator rod to save a few grams, you're going to die if you drive that car when the brakes fail.

There were no real crumple zones in that era - either in the car or in the circuit design. It's not like Chapman was foregoing aspects that other manufacturers had, they just didn't exist in any real sense. I've worked on cars of that vintage (although not in that era) and they were almost entirely devoid of anything approaching the crash safety of even 10 years later and not even a mild shadow of what is demanded now in even the lowest forms of racing. That is kind of the point why blaming the person that happened to most strongly lead an inevitable technological advancement is wrong-headed. The cars got faster in a short period of time. Their development outstripped the ability of the venues and safety technology to adequately protect the occupants.

All cars in that part of Grand Prix racing were flirting with the edge of safety. ALL racing cars up until that point were, but society evolved to find it a bit off-putting to keep watching people die. Chapman was just one of the biggest names and greatest innovators at the time the two schools of thought collided.

I understand why Chapman was indicted for manslaughter.

Yet the verdict of the enquiry put the blame fully onto the circuit design. Interesting. Williams was accused of the same issue over Senna's death, yet no blame was found. Other teams were indicted over other driver's deaths. That's the kind of thing that happens when people get killed in your equipment.
posted by Brockles at 7:50 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Garageistas were romantic and revolutionary, and proved a small team of intelligent and motivated engineers can work wonders, but their practice of raceday re-engineering and shoddy or nonexistent safety review and testing was criminally negligent. What's worse, their win record forced all of the other car makers into the same practices.

These practices were not in any way limited to the Garageistas. They were just better at it and made greater advances within that environment than was usual - the romance got them better press as press access started to advance. Many teams have made leaps with untested components on race day that could potentially have been dangerous for many years before and certainly many years after the Chapman Era.

You just don't read about that stuff unless someone is killed. That does not, by any means, mean that only the times someone is killed was something dangerously risky attempted. It still needed a crash to occur at the wrong place and the wrong circumstances (Rindt's, in particular is a perfect example of the well known other factors) for it to be under the magnifying glass.

Now, don't misunderstand me, it needed to get under the magnifying glass and needed to be reigned in with safety legislation and oversight, but to hold up one man or even his team as responsible for dragging everyone else into a practice that had been going on for decades (and continued to) is misguided.
posted by Brockles at 8:00 AM on May 24, 2011


In the early 90s the cars were still pretty space-aged compared to roadgoing vehicles, even with the banning of turbos, but the active suspension and control mechanisms were like science fiction.

This blows my mind, to be honest. F1 cars are entirely space age compared to road cars. Yes, the major 'big ticket' items like ABS, Traction Control, Active Suspension and the like have either been dropped or filtered down, but by no means assume that it has been dumbed down. Composite technology advancements are being filtered down into Aviation and developed for possible future road car use to allow lighter (but still cost effective) road cars that use less fuel. The advancements aren't so obvious, but the transfer to major manufacturers development programmes is still rife from Motorsport, including F1.

Where do you think the algorithms and software for ABS, traction control and Engine Management advancement were developed or created? In Motorsport. Standardising ECU's is dropping that back a little, but constant pushing of every envelope and shoving development into relevant areas is necessary as road cars veer away from relevance to the pure sport in their evolution. As the market for faster road cars diminishes (comparatively) a move toward efficiency is inevitable (hence the talk of the 2013 4 cyl turbo engine regs again) but part of the problem with F1 (and the main reason for it's wide reaching and costly calendar) is that it must remain exciting and relevant to the media/market expectation for it. It is, to some extent, limited by it's greatest strength - that an F1 car should be awesome and blow your minds when you see one up close.

It's hard to do that with an economy race, and people won't watch. Then sponsorship and marketing budgets will crash and the development side of the sport becomes moot. The push to economy means that F1 is behind the curve a bit on the overall direction, but racing has always been about efficiency and it will swing full circle when it can do so while remaining exciting and sellable to manufacturers and public alike.

Show me an innovation in the current generation that's ahead of a decent sports sedan

Pretty much every single thing on the car. They're just not as obvious. Aerodynamic principles, material usage, engine internal design, electronic sophistication, tyre development, etc., etc. If you truly think that road cars are ahead in any single area at all, then you really should read up a bit more on the cars. They are different beasts to the mid-90's creations, that's for sure, but no less complex and incredible in technological depth.
posted by Brockles at 8:45 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The footage at the end with David Purley and Roger Williamson was heartbreaking to watch."

I saw that the day it happened. ABC's Wild World Of Sports included it in its afternoon's entertainment, without any other coverage of the event. Just a "hey, look at this" gruesome death, caught on camera. The agony of defeat, indeed.

The 60s/early-70s were an extreme time for all motorsport. Look no further than the 1973 Indianapolis 500 that saw three deaths (including one in practice) and a bunch more nasty injuries. Blame is easy to cast in retrospect but to my mind it was mostly a case of the technology of performance getting way ahead of the technology of safety -- something that gets a bit easier to understand when you realize that many of the "braintrust" that were driving the tech part of the sport in the early days had started their "careers" in World War 2, building and maintaining and streamlining fighter airplanes. They were well used to losing their heroes tragically ... all part of the job.

So yeah, things peaked in all manner of wrong ways in the early 1970s, and changes were made because they had to be, and it's entirely arguable that the sport lost some of its purity in the process. Certainly, I think you can draw a direct line between the two-fold improvements in circuit/car safety and the kind of highly regulated, highly formulized versions of Formula 1, IndyCar, World Sports Car, even NASCAR that we now see. That is, once you let the bureaucratic tinkerers into the shop, they don't leave. But that said, I'm loving the current Formula 1 season. Yeah, there's an artificiality to some of what's going on, particularly the deliberately less than ideal tire compounds, but man is making for great, intense, racing.

It's certainly got me paying very close attention.
posted by philip-random at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2011


Show me an innovation in the current generation that's ahead of a decent sports sedan

Show me an innovation in a decent sports sedan that's ahead of the current generation of Formula 1 cars. I'm talking about innovations - not features. My decent sports sedan has an iPod connection and current F1 cars do not have that. Nor do current F1 cars have air bags. So no comparing features allowed. Just innovation: Show me one example of a decent sports car (no exotics allowed and no top-of-the-range cars like the CTS-V, M3, or C63 AMG) that has any innovation that is both ahead of F1 and that would be relevant or beneficial to any current team's 2011 F1 efforts.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 AM on May 24, 2011


Oh, you can add all the exotics and top of the range cars, too, to be honest*. Most of the fancy tech in those came from F1 and other racing anyway.


*Although I snigger at the thought of a CTS-V being top of anything other than the ugly tree...
posted by Brockles at 10:34 AM on May 24, 2011


*Although I snigger at the thought of a CTS-V being top of anything other than the ugly tree...

I think it's a ridiculous car. But in terms of tech and performance in pretty much every metric, it belongs right there with the best Europe and Japan have to offer. Reliability? If Audi belongs in the running, so does the ugly Caddy. Looks? It's no uglier than an STi.
posted by The World Famous at 10:42 AM on May 24, 2011


the ugly tree... no uglier than ...

Well, as Denny Hulme (about as as fast and brave a racer as I've ever seen) once said: "It's ugly now, but if it wins tomorrow it will be beutiful."
posted by Relay at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2011


As a counterpoint to my earlier comments, Audi has dismissed the idea of participating in Formula 1 because, it says, F1 bears "no relevance to the road." So there's that.

"Audi points out that over the course of a 24-hour race like Le Mans, just one of its cars covers more distance than an entire F1 season, its average speeds are 20 mph higher than in F1 and they use 42 percent less fuel in the process."
posted by The World Famous at 12:10 PM on May 25, 2011


Well, no-one (not even you) was arguing that F1 has direct relevance to road cars, but the development in F1 has had significant bleed down not only to road cars but specifically and significantly into Le Mans style car development. So no, Audi doesn't need to be in F1 for it's test bed relevance as long as someone else is to spend the money on developing the fancy gizmos that are then made commercially available a year later it saves Audi doing it themselves.

Having personally modified a Le Mans prototype car to fit and use £450,000 of F1 developed (and sourced) power steering and ABS systems* as just one example, this passage of technology is absolutely real. In addition, half the grid of Le Mans was powered by F1 developed engines that had been detuned and modified for Le Mans at one stage not so long ago.

I do think that sports car racing has more direct relevance to Road Cars (especially when you consider diesel race engines - they sorely needed the push to get crazy development dollars) but that doesn't mean that F1 isn't relevant to road car R&D. It's just further up the line.

*The stuff was beautiful. The power steering actuator was a machined titanium piece of gorgeousness that would fit in the palm of your hand and weight about the same as a can of soda at the most. The ABS system was only about twice as big.
posted by Brockles at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2011


I agree, Brockles (and, as always, I defer to your knowledge of motorsport over my own - I love getting a glimpse of it through your comments). I am always a bit perplexed by Audi's racing efforts. I recently was in the market for a new (used) car and ended up not getting an Audi primarily because everyone I know who has one complains all the time about how they're unreliable, underpowered compared to their direct competitors, and don't get particularly good gas mileage in the real world. It makes me think Audi ought to be trying a little harder to get all that racing know-how to trickle down to their road cars.
posted by The World Famous at 12:30 PM on May 25, 2011


I liken it to Boeing announcing that they have no intention of making a space craft for getting to the ISS and back, but will continue with a fighter plane and airline industry programme, claiming that space travel has no relevance to International Passenger travel.

Well, no of course it doesn't, but you can bet your backside that the stuff developed for spacecraft gets considered for fighter tech in 5 years or so, and fighter tech only really gets relevant to airliners 5 years or more down the line anyway. It's just how far down the chain you want to pitch your marketing and R&D.

Audis are pretty good cars, in my opinion. I certainly find it odd that they are considered unreliable - it always used to be the opposite, but I've not driven a new one. They're certainly well engineered. However, assume at least 10 years for any racing tech to get into a road car in any noticeable way.
posted by Brockles at 12:45 PM on May 25, 2011


I find, from a marketing stand point, the idea of being relevant to road cars to be completely irrelevant. Look at Honda's recent form, or Toyota's, or Mercedes' in F1. Sure, technology may trickle down but it still says very little about the road car. Honda and Toyota make excellent road cars, but they did poorly to ok in F1 recently. Mercedes has ok cars but with problems. They did considerably well with McLaren, not so well now.
posted by juiceCake at 8:21 AM on May 26, 2011


Toyota makes excellent road cars? Which ones? Even if you count Lexus, I can only think of one good road car made by Toyota, and it costs $375,000. Even with Honda, who make reliable road cars, I'm having a hard time thinking of an "excellent road car" they make.
posted by The World Famous at 10:14 AM on May 26, 2011


Toyota, for many many years, made the best fair-to-middling soccer-mom-approved consumer cars on the market. Just take a glance at the Consumers Report archives. Then around 2005 ... something happened (probably connected with taking NASCAR seriously).

Toyota should never have messed with NASCAR.
posted by philip-random at 11:05 AM on May 26, 2011


Toyota wanted, for some reason, to be the biggest car company in the world. It succeeded and - surprise! - became the new General Motors in every sense of the term.
posted by The World Famous at 11:07 AM on May 26, 2011


Toyota's woes are from bad timing, all that pariah press in the US from a stupid recall issue (blown out of proportion specifically because they're not american, in my opinion) and general Global market issues.

Toyotas NASCAR programme is teeny tiny in scale to the rest of their company. There's no way it is significant enough to impact the rest of their company - there's almost zero feedback into the company from the programme because NASCAR is such archaic non-technical dinosaur racing, so it really is no more damaging to the company than a very expensive billboard and TV ad campaign (and has about as much synergy with modern road cars as one, too).

I think they just over stretched themselves globally at a very bad time for the economy. That's all. I also don't think they make bad cars by any means, just not very inspiring ones.
posted by Brockles at 11:47 AM on May 26, 2011


Obviously it's a matter of what's important in a road car. If you don't value build quality and less problems than say, GM or Chrysler or Audi, historically, then they don't build good road cars. Every Honda, Mazda, Toyota, and Subaru I've driven or have had family or friends drive over the years have been excellent road cars and how each company does in racing is rarely relevant to that or why people choose to drive them.

What cars do Honda and Toyota make for the road (not racing) that are not "excellent"? They make clunkers? I'd love to hear about them. I had no idea they could only make one good car. Who makes good cars then by this metric?

I suspect that things like reliability may not be important to some whereas faux racing/performance features may be important to others, or something else, so what is excellent differs depending on what you want from a car.
posted by juiceCake at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2011


Here's a great "Shakedown" of how F1 tech trickles to road cars:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsKUHaiJrnk
posted by LordSludge at 1:03 PM on May 27, 2011


The Red Bull X1 concept is essentially a virtual, no-rules Formula 1 car available in Gran Turismo 5. (Vettel hustled it around a virtual Suzuka 20 sec faster than the F1 record!) Supposedly there's been a fair amount of thought and development put into it, and IDC Models even built a full-scale (non-running) model.

As much as I'd hate to see check-book racing (haven't seen a cost on the X1, but it's gotta be $20M+, although I bet sponsorship would be nuts about this series), I'd love to see what racers could do if left to their own ingenuity.
posted by LordSludge at 1:16 PM on May 27, 2011


The Awl has an interesting article today, These Cars Turn Right! Become a Formula One Fan This Weekend.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:12 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, great post, Slap. I had already watched this, but I'm glad it has a proper home on the web now. I had to find it through a bunch of torrenty chicanery.

I think Brockles has it right in that Chapman basically represented the mentality of all of the constructors, taken to perhaps its most extreme form, which makes him a lightning rod. Ultimately, as is the case with the seemingly idiotic tactics of World War I, F1 in the 60s was a situation where certain capabilities increased so rapidly that they outpaced the community's ability to respond. Just like how infantry tactics didn't develop quickly enough to counter machineguns, so too did the safety gear/practices fail to keep up with the increasing speed and lightness.

My father (not an F1 fan) and my uncle (a huge fan) both have distinct memories of this era. My uncle tuned in with his dad and saw a few driver deaths, while my father remembers F1 as being a ghoulish enterprise, with the conversation often centering on whether or not a driver should continue and risk death with their lives ahead of them.

Now, something I really know about: Toyota. (I drove three of them before getting a Mazda.)

Toyotas aren't necessarily "bad", but when you're talking on a thread populated by motoring enthusiasts, Toyotas are "bad" because they're designed specifically against the preferences of that group. Toyotas are designed, I think, to minimize those factors that enthusiasts enjoy and that point-A-to-point-B drivers like. These drivers dislike mechanical feedback, vibration through the pedals and steering, strong engine/exhaust noise, etc. An enthusiast, on the other hand, will gravitate to cars where smoothness, quiet ride, efficiency, etc. are deemphasized in the name of responsiveness. For example, an efficient automatic transmission spaces the gear ratios farther apart, so when it shifts, it dumps you way down into the lower revs to save fuel, killing your power. My Mazda (wife wouldn't let me get a manual) on the other hand keeps your revs in the sweet spot, harming efficiency but giving you better acceleration.

As a result, on the road I tend to fear Toyota drivers, because deep down I suspect that people who drive Toyotas don't care about driving, and are therefore not particularly attentive to it or skilled at it. (Essentially Jeremy Clarkson's theory.)
posted by Doctor Suarez at 5:38 PM on May 27, 2011


Doctor Suarez writes "F1 in the 60s was a situation where certain capabilities increased so rapidly that they outpaced the community's ability to respond."

Not just F1 of course; the same was happening in stock car racing where you even had a mass protest by top drivers who at one point refused to race. The cars had gotten wicked fast and tires hadn't kept up let alone the laughable from today's perspective driver protection systems.
posted by Mitheral at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2011


« Older Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are...  |  Film on Paper documents in det... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments