The Way It Was
MARCH 16, 2011
Funny how things change more than you think.
Pirelli have issued a summary of their extensive work now that pre-season testing has finished. The F1 teams in total completed over 100,000 kms of running - the equivalent of 300 Grands Prix. This is crucial for Pirelli and the 12 F1 teams as they - no pun intended - get to grips with the tyres during this new high-profile (yeah, okay, now I am playing with words) association.
The final running was carried out at Barcelona, a track that's considered to provide a reasonable baseline. If your car works here, then it's good to go for most places.
Even better, the track was damp at times and allowed running on intermediates; a crucial experience for the teams as they attempted to find the cross-over between dries and wets when the track is at that inbetween stage. Better to discover that now rather than during a race when a wrong call could make the difference between winning and losing. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Now consider this. Let's go back to the Le Mans 24-Hours in 1966; the days of Ford v Ferrari. Ford had wheeled out the big guns, Chris Amon sharing one of the handsome 7-litre GT40 Mk IIs with Bruce McLaren.
A coating of rain at the start is enough to call for intermediates. But there's just one problem here; the entire project is so new and one-race limited that Ford haven't yet had the chance to run the latest Firestone inters at anything like the speeds required for Le Mans. Now McLaren and Amon are about to set off at 200 mph on the Mulsanne Straight with tyres they know nothing about. Chris takes up the story:
"We were the only car that started on Firestone; the rest of the Fords were on Goodyear. Bruce and I found very quickly that the Firestones were either chunking or losing their treads. Two or three pit stops early in the race and we got ourselves way behind."
That was dodgy enough. But wait until you hear this.
"The decision was made to switch to our car to Goodyear," recalls Amon. "This was a bit tricky because Bruce and I were contracted to Firestone (through Bruce's testing efforts with Firestone for his McLaren F1 team, which was just getting off the ground.) You can imagine that Firestone weren't too impressed by this. After we switched, Bruce said to me: 'We've nothing to lose. Let's drive the doors off it'. And, by next morning, we were actually in the lead."
Can you believe that? They changed tyre manufacturer, never mind tyre type or compound during the race. Do that today and Michelin or Pirelli, or whoever is paying your bills, would have a blue fit.
This incredible story came to light during one of the best pieces of on-line viewing I've enjoyed for a long time, courtesy of SmibsTV.
The F1 content on Smibs is the brainchild of Peter Windsor, a familiar face to US viewers thanks to his excellent work on Speed TV. Peter hosts an hour-long programme, usually at 6pm GMT on a Wednesday. In this particular edition (No 3, in fact), he had linked up with Amon as Chris took part in a commemorative event in his native New Zealand.
Apart from the startling revelation about the tyres at Le Mans, I thought it was interesting to hear Chris's take on safety when he drove in F1 for, mainly, March, Ferrari and Matra.
"The cars were appallingly dangerous in hindsight, but we didn't know any different," said Chris. "If we wanted to race, we got in those things and drove them."
"One of the cars here in New Zealand for the festival is the March 701 that I still hold the F1 lap record with for the old Spa circuit" (because the fabulous 8-mile road circuit was never used again for F1 after the 1970 Grand Prix in which Amon finished a close second to the BRM of Pedro Rodriguez).
"The lap average was 153.5 mph. I was sitting in that car again yesterday and thinking about that very race. Looking at it, the car was appallingly dangerous!"
At least he didn't have to stop and change from Firestone to Goodyear.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.