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Slowly but surely, international motor racing is being dragged down and ruined by the foolishness of its governing body. For the past few years these venerable gentlemen, based in Paris, have bungled their job to such an extent that everyone in the sport is becoming genuinely concerned with its future and well-being.
The mismanagement can be traced back to Le Mans and the horrible accident of 1955 when 85 persons were killed. This triggered a panic move to introduce safety into the sport. I do not quarrel with the idea. I do question the safety measures taken.
The Commission Sportive Internationale of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile decided to do something about the size and speed of the cars. They introduced a new formula, 1,500-cc. cars with a minimum weight of 990 pounds. But was it the old Formula I cars that were at fault? I think the committee would have done better to look instead at the races.
Take Le Mans. In format it is more dangerous than any other race in the world. In the days of the big racing sports cars that did better than 200 mph down the Mulsanne Straight, slow cars allowed in the race crept along at little over 100 mph. At night, often in visibility reduced by fog, we in the big cars were overhauling the smaller ones at a speed differential of up to 90 mph. There is no doubt that this introduced a totally unnecessary element of risk into the 24-hour race, and we said so, loud and long. But the governing body paid no heed.
The same committee, after Le Mans, decided to increase the windscreen to a minimum vertical height of 10 inches. As everyone who has ever driven a racing car knows, it takes only a few laps for the windscreen to become coated with oil mist. Add to this mosquitoes, dust thrown by other cars, and perhaps rain, and you have a mixture that no windscreen wiper on earth can clear. It becomes essential to peer over the top, but few people can see over a 10-inch screen. When we drivers protested, the committee permitted an inadequate slot to be cut in the middle. But what of driving teams, where one man is tall and the other short? And what of the sag in the seat after long hours of use? Last January, after drivers had sampled the new high screens in Argentina, they signed a note stating that they would not hold themselves responsible for any accidents that might result from this crazy idea.
Another of the new Grand Prix Formula I regulations for 1961 is an automatic starting device. The theory behind its use is that if a car spins off the road the driver can restart his engine quickly and get out of the way. I would consider this an excellent idea if it had any basis in reality. It has none. The committee could have learned this immediately if it had consulted the drivers. I cannot recall any accident that was caused by a driver push-starting his car. I also cannot recall having heard of any automatic starter that was not dangerous. If the starter works by compressed air, it means the driver will have to carry a high-pressure cylinder, which could cause a serious explosion in the event of a fire. The alternative is an electric starter—but can you think of any single piece of equipment which would be more likely to start a fire than a battery?
These are only a few of many changes decreed, quite arbitrarily, by the Commission Sportive Internationale. I have not mentioned the many inconsistencies of the committee in matters of driver regulations and policing of events. In its International Sporting Code, the committee itself lays down the law that world championship Grand Prix races shall be separated by at least 14 days. This is understandable enough. Sometimes we have great distances to cover from circuit to circuit, and there is almost always a fair amount of work to be done on the cars, followed, of course, by testing. Yet, for some reason best known to themselves, the committee this year gave dates for the Monaco and Dutch Grand Prix which were separated by only a week.
In what appears to be a sincere effort toward greater safety, the committee declared that we would be permitted to drive in only one race—a Grand Prix of two hours' duration, for example—every 24 hours. Yet it 's perfectly in order for rally drivers to compete in such events as the Liege-Rome-Liege involving four days and nights of fast driving in far more hazardous conditions. It Is also in order for us to drive off and on for 24 hours at Le Mans. Personally, I don't mind a bit competing in such endurance contests. I accept danger in a sport which, by its very nature, must involve a fair amount of risk. But the rules for safety formulated by the committee are not consistent with their avowed purpose to promote safety.
So much for criticism. What can be done to improve matters?
First, I would suggest that every country represented on the Commission Sportive Internationale should be given votes in direct proportion to the part it plays in motor racing. The countries that produce neither cars nor grade-one drivers should be allowed at most a single vote. The country that produces competitive cars should clearly have stronger representation. The same applies to the country producing more grade-one drivers. I would go further. In cases where a country has earned the right to two extra votes, the second vote should be cast by a driver. I am certain that the drivers are far, far more able to sort out problems concerning their own safety and the cars themselves.