Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Future of Rallying?

The Monte Carlo Rally was won by the reigning champion, a French guy called Sebastien. No surprise there, then. The winner, though, was not Mr Loeb, but Junior World Rally champion, Sebastien Ogier. The World Rally Championship seems peculiarly intent on committing hara-kiri and the latest nail in the coffin has been the series organisers' decision to adopt an events rotation system which this year sees the Monte Carlo Rally, the single most famous rally in the sport, ditched from the championship.

Rather than 'rest' the event for a year, or run it as a non-championship event, the Automobile Club de Monaco turned to the Eurosport-backed Intercontinental Rally Challenge, who probably couldn't believe their luck. For all that the WRC has been in a pretty dire state over the last 3 years or so, with rarely more than 3 potential winners in the field and no serious rival to Sebastien Loeb emerging for the world title (only a serious run of bad fortune for the Frenchman kept Hirvonen in the running as long as he was last year, and for all that Marcus Gronholm sometimes ran Loeb reasonably close on occasion, I never really had the sense that he was going to beat him over a season), the IRC has had a relatively low profile in the first years of its existence. It's a fact perhaps explained by the relative obscurity of the front-running competitors. Reigning champion Nicolas Vouilloz is probably still better known as a ten time downhill mountain bike champion than as a champion rally driver. His major rivals, Giandomenico Basso and Anton Alen are hardly household names either, even among racing fans.

With the Monte, though, the IRC got more publicity in one week than it had had in the whole of its history to date. It even got a four page spread in the Observer sports section, not normally noted for its in-depth coverage of rallying. Eurosport rose to the occasion, putting together what has got to be some of the best TV coverage rallying has ever known (much of which is available to watch on their website). Their live coverage of SS5, St Bonnet Le Froid which wound through nearly 25kms of picturesque, snow-covered Alpine countryside, much of it shown from the in-car camera of Jan Kopecky's Skoda Fabia, gave a real impression of what is actually involved in pushing a rally car to the limit for mile after mile in icy conditions with sheer drops off to the side. It's something which years of North One coverage of the WRC has never really captured and made quite an impact on me.

There was much talk of how the Monte has returned to its roots this year, having been homogenised by the FIA's demands that the event fit its standard WRC event template. This was, to my mind, about half true. The night stages at Col De Turini made a welcome return, and the event was spread over a geographically wider area, but the overall stage mileage was actually even lower than was the case previously and the trend for repeating morning stages in the afternoon remains. In other words, the Monte still retains many of the vices of modern rallying.

Perhaps the greatest novelty for anyone only used to following the WRC in recent years was the lack of certainty about who would be righting it out for victory. Nicolas Vouilloz seemed a good bet, but, thanks to a combination of the lack of competitive drives in the WRC just now, and the fact that, well, it's the Monte meant that he had plenty of opposition. Last year's runner-up Basso was back in an Abarth Grande Punto, and he was joined by Anton Alen and Suzuki WRC refugee Toni Gardemeister, in a privately run Fiat. The new works Skodas turned out to be very quick, and Juho Hanninen led much of the event, while Jan Kopecky ran quickly when he wasn't struggling with new-car gremlins. There were also a brace of good serious runners fighting to knock Vouilloz off his perch as the top Peugeot driver. Former Mitsubishi and Hyundai WRC driver Freddy Loix was entered in a Peugeot-Belgium machine, while Ulsterman Kris Meeke, a former JWRC front-runner whose career has suffered lately for the lack of works drives at the very top level, won stages in his Peugeot-UK backed car. Former Subaru tarmac specialist, former F1 driver Stephane Sarrazin was also very much in the running early on.

In the end, looking at the results, one might conclude that Sebastien Ogier had it easy. He won by nearly two minutes from Loix and Sarrazin, with only five drivers within 10 minutes of his winning time. The reality, though, was that Ogier was lucky that his major opponents hit trouble. Both Meeke and Hanninen had looked like they might challenge for victory before they crashed out, and Kopecky and Sarrazzin might have put up more of a fight had they not had niggling car troubles or got their tyre choices wrong.

So is the IRC the answer for rally fans frustrated with the state of the World Rally Championship and looking for something more interesting to follow? Well, yes and no. The S2000 cars are much cheaper to run than their WRC counterparts, cheap enough to be a viable option for national dealer-teams to run competitively against the works efforts of Skoda and Abarth (indeed, Peugeot, whose 207 is probably the best car in the series at the moment, doesn't actually have a works team in the series right now, providing customer cars to dealer-backed entries, and support through the satellite Kronos team which ran Loeb to the 2006 title in a semi-privately entered Citroen Xsara.

Sadly, though, having followed the Monte, it is striking that the S2000 cars are not nearly as spectacular in motion as the WRC machines. They might have nearly the same horsepower as WRC cars, but it's all at the top end of the rev range, and they have only a small fraction of the torque. They certainly don't explode out of the corners in the way that late-period WRC cars do. One can see why Sebastien Loeb was horrified by the fact that the WRC will itself be reverting to S2000 cars from 2010 (albeit they will be turbocharged, and will thus have more grunt). I can't help thinking that one change which, over the long run, would cost nothing, would be to make the cars rear wheel drive. There's no real reason while rally cars should be four wheel drive. If its allowed by the regulations then, of course, cars will be 4WD but anyone who has ever seen a Mark 2 Escort rally car, or for that matter, one of the original Sierra Cosworths, will know that rear wheel drive machines are much better to watch.

On the events front, the IRC has done rather well. As well as the Monte, the IRC has taken over the Safari Rally, the African classic so foolishly tossed aside by the WRC. The San Remo Rally is on the calendar, as is the old ERC classic, the Ypres Rally in Belgium. Add to that a new Brazilian event based around Curitiba and the Rally Russia, and it is clear that the event really does live up to its 'Intercontinental' tag. And there's nothing on their calendar so monumentally pointless as the Rally Jordan either... The old European Rally Championship is perhaps what the IRC most closely resembles, not least in that it is much more asphalt-based that the WRC, with a 50/50 split between tarmac and gravel. This will doubtless help the Italian and French drivers against the Finns, though I've always felt rallying really ought to involve mud and trees. One rally that certainly will involve mud, and probably an awful lot of rain, is the Rally Scotland, which will round off the championship in November. I know I'm biased, living in Edinburgh myself, but I still think that Scotland has stages which are more than a match for anything that Wales can give us, and this is one event that I fully intend to see.

The WRC kicks off this weekend in Ireland, and while the Rally Ireland features some great roads, it hardly ranks alongside the Monte Carlo in the popular consciousness. The cars will be much more spectacular than the S2000 machines in the IRC, but I seriously doubt anyone other than Loeb and, perhaps, Hirvonen stand any chance of winning in the WRC on tarmac unless something really unexpected happens. When I first heard that the WRC was moving over to S2000 cars from 2010 I was disappointed, but on the strength of last weekend, it might just be exactly what the sport needs.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Beauty

There have been some hideous looking racing cars over the years, but I have to say that the 2009-spec F1 cars have frankly raised the bar to a whole new level. Anyone who might have been hoping that the return to slick tyres and the banning of the aerodynamic ‘flip ups’ and sundry add-ons might result in purer, more elegant looking F1 cars will be sorely disappointed. The new rules have produced the most absurd looking F1 cars I can recall, at least since the late 60s when F1 cars briefly sprouted very tall rear wings, before the governing body clamped down on them as highly dangerous. With their huge front wings and narrow, tall rear wings, they look like nothing so much as poor quality cheap toy models of F1 cars, rather than the real thing – or like photos which have been wrongly resized in Photoshop by someone who has forgot to retain the original picture’s aspect ratio.

It sparked a train of thought though – if 2009’s F1 cars are quite the ugliest there have ever been, what were the prettiest? In recent years, the rules have become ever more constrained and one would be hard-pushed to tell one F1 car apart from another once stripped of their liveries (I know this is true in my case because I failed miserably with Autosport’s Christmas challenge of identifying last year’s cars, sans-paintwork) but that wasn’t true, even as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s. I always thought that, aesthetically, the trend for raised noses was a negative development, but I do have a soft spot for the first car to adopt this design, the Tyrrell 019. Ken’s anhedral winged machine had an elegance that the solution which the F1 designers all eventually arrived at does not. A year later, Gary Anderson’s Jordan 191 stands out as perhaps the last real F1 design classic. A car born not out of wind tunnel data and scientific research, for the fledgling Jordan team had no access to such things, but out from the inspiration and intuition of designer Gary Anderson. In the years since then, it has been hard to pick

The Jordan 191 was as quick as it was good looking, but sadly, the old adage that if it looks right, it will go right has been disproved on many an occasion. I still rate Michael Tetu’s 1988 Ligier JS31 as one of the most outright stunning racing cars ever to turn a wheel, at least in its early season guise, before it sprouted a rather unsightly airbox. Sadly it was an absolute dog on the track. It’s unusual lines were the result of the designer having opted to run two side-mounted fuel tanks, which perhaps contributed to its wayward handling.

Nor was it the only car I can think of which looked fast but turned out to be worse than useless once it turned a wheel. A couple of years before, Gordon Murray stunned the world when he unveiled Brabham’s low-line BT55. It looked quite unlike anything which had preceded it, low-slung, sleek, in short, it looked fast. Unfortunately, it had no traction out of slow corners, and the low-line shape was achieved by mounting the BMW turbo engine on its side, which caused all manner of problems in itself. The following year, Bernie Ecclestone’s men returned with a much more conventional looking car.

Gordon Murray’s basic concept, though, would later be much better executed by the men at Woking. The 1988 Mclaren MP4/4 wasn’t so extreme as the Brabham but it followed the low-line philosophy Murray had pioneered in the BT55, and , unlike the Brabham, proved to be very effective indeed. Whether the MP4/4 deserves to be considered the best F1 car of all time is an open question – it won 15 of the 16 Grands Prix that year, but with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost on the books, and with Honda’s matchless Honda V6 turbo providing the power – it was always going to be quick, wasn’t it? Maybe, although Lotus, who also had use of Honda’s V6 that year, and who had triple world champion Nelson Piquet on the books, might beg to differ…What it does have is a memorable, simple, elegance.

It might have been the most successful car of the period, but to my mind, it wasn’t the best looking of the lot. That honour, to my eye, goes to the following year’s Ferrari 640. The first car that John Barnard designed for Ferrari, it was also the first Formula 1 car to feature a steering-wheel mounted semi-automatic gearbox. For me, it could have been the most mechanically conventional racing car and it would still stand out. It is in all honesty one of only a very few F1 cars, certainly of the last 30 years, which would not look out of place in an art museum.

Sometimes, it is not the shape of a car which makes it memorable, or beautiful, but the livery that does the job. Euroracing’s rather ineffectual Alfa Romeo 184T stood out not so much for its shape as for its green and red Benetton livery and it’s gold wheels. Ferraris, even the most visually unappealing ones, have always had the team’s scarlet colours working in their favour. On the flip side, Alan Jenkins’ pretty little Onyx ORE1 was ruined by the hideous blue and pink ‘Moneytron’ livery it ran in…

To my my mind, the most beautiful racing cars, though, have come not from F1, but from sportscar racing. Not the open-top Spyders which currently bedevil the category (and which were similarly ubiquitous, and just as unattractive, in the late 1970s) but the closed-top sportscar racers of the late 1960s and the Group C era some twenty years later. The Porsche 917 might have been the most memorable of them, but to my mind, the Ferrari 330 P4 was the prettiest. The Alfa Romeo T33 was a strong contender too.

Later on, the Sauber C9, in its Mercedes silver-arrows livery is perhaps as perfect a racing car design as there has ever been. It was devastatingly quick too, dominating sportscar racing in 1989 and 1990. The last, 3.5 atmo engined Group C cars were a little too clearly the product of the wind tunnel rather than the designer’s imagination, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Lola’s T92/10. It was intended as a customer sports prototype, filling the niche left vacant by the Porsche 962, but only two ever ran in the final year of the WSC, and they never stood a chance against the works entries of Toyota and Peugeot.

Rally cars have always been more about brutality than about beauty. The most striking examples, perhaps, come from the Group B era, with the Metro 6R4 and the Peugeot 205T16 standing out as the epitome of this. There have been occasional stunning looking rally cars though. I always had a soft spot for the curves of that orphan child of the Group B era, the Ford RS200. The Lancia 037 was a classic of its time, somehow contriving to take the Lancia Beta as a starting point and yet end up with something truly purposeful.

Asked what he thought of the this year’s Ferrari F60 F1 car, Luca Di Montezemelo joked “The new car looks fairly ugly, rather small, a bit disgusting...” He might have had his tongue in his cheek, but at the same time, I’d be surprised if any of this year’s F1 cars were to make it into a future list of the most beautiful F1 cars.

(I have incorporated links to pictures of the cars mentioned above. I don’t have photographs of most of them myself, and don’t wish to ‘steal’ others’ photos, so I thought this would be the best compromise).

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around...

It was nearly thirty years ago, when then Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone, in his capacity as president of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) went into battle with Jean-Marie Balestre’s FISA for the rights to run Formula 1. His right-hand man in that fight was an urbane barrister whose real ambitions lay in politics, but whose family history made such a career impossible. He chose instead, to go into the goldfish bowl world of motorsports administration. Step forward current FIA president Max Mosley. It was a tense, and bitterly fought affair which at times appeared to threaten to tear the sport apart. In the end, Ecclestone and Mosley emerged victorious, with FOCA, representing the teams, being granted control over the commercial aspects of the sport. Mosley, meanwhile, dethroned Balestre and became president of the organisation he had spent much of the last decade at war with – the FIA.

Fast forward to the present day, and the state of the sport that the two men have largely controlled for the past two decade. It has been a tumultuous few months for Formula One. At the time of writing, it remains unclear whether the men and women at the old Honda F1 factory team in Brackley will be looking for work, and whether Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, race-winners both, will have a ride this year. It is thought that Mexican billionaire and Grand-Am racing boss Carlos Slim has sniffed around. Rumour has it that both PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) and Hyundai took at least a cursory look purchasing the team but both have publicly ruled themselves out, and the clock is ticking if a deal is to be done in time to get the team onto the grid in Australia at the end of March. There are rumours that Prodrive supreme David Richards is still trying to put together a bid with Middle Eastern backers (although he now says he is not interested), but in the current economic climate, nothing can be taken for granted.

Fundamentally, the problem is that the team requires a vast amount to run. Honda, it is said, are happy to be rid of it for a nominal sum, but will want to be indemnified against future redundancy costs for the team’s current employees. Dieter Rencken, in his excellent Autosport column, The Weekly Grapevine (do subscribe, it’s fantastic value – and they don’t pay me to say so...) estimated the cost of providing such guarantees at around £75m. And on top of that sum, any prospective team owner would have to find the cash to run the team itself for the season – which would probably cost at least as much again, cost-cutting measures notwithstanding. The fundamental truth is that the cost of getting started as an F1 team is now so great as to be beyond all but the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

Teams have always come and gone, but in times past, there has always been a plentiful supply of aspirants in F2, or F3000, or sportscar racing prepared to take the leap of jumping up into Formula One. That is no longer the case. The blame must lie, in part, with Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA and FOM, with their insistence that any new team put up a bond of $30m and the ‘closed shop’ franchise system which has existed for the past ten years. That, though, is not the whole of the explanation. Such a system should actually have served to protect the existing weaker teams, but it was not enough to save Prost, Arrows or Minardi. As I have said on numerous occasions before, the cost of competing in F1 will always be a certain fraction of what the richest teams and prepared and able to spend. Over the past decade and a half, that sum has become so large, and so detached from the figures required to compete in other, lesser formulae, that the jump has become to great.

In years past, teams like ART, ISport, or Racing Engineering might have taken the leap into F1, but the start-up costs are simply so much greater than for GP2 as to make this completely unrealistic. Not since Forti Corse, Simtek and Pacific have there been completely new-start F1 teams which haven’t had the backing of either a major corporation with a product to sell (BAR and British American Tobacco) or a car manufacturer (Toyota). None of these, of course, were able to make much of a fist of it. The last completely new teams to come into the sport without the backing of a manufacturer or cigarette company and make a lasting impression were Jordan (in 1991) and Sauber (in 1993). What, you might say, of Super Aguri and Toro Rosso? Well, I can’t help but feel that, given they didn’t design their own cars, they don’t really count.

For a long time, the sport has been able to ignore this, as the existing manufacturer teams have appeared to be on a sound footing. Ford (as Jaguar) might have pulled out, but billionaire soft-drinks magnate Dietrich Mateschitz was able to step into the breach to keep that team going. Now though, with the world in the throes of what might be the most severe economic recession since the 1930s, it’s looking as if the grid for 2009 might well be down to 18 cars, and there are persistent rumours about Williams’ indebtedness, that Renault and Toyota are reconsidering their involvement in the sport, and that Vijay Mallya is becoming disillusioned with the lack of success from Force India. In short, F1 may be facing a crisis which threatens its very existence.

Those involved in the sport are not unaware of this, but they have massively divergent visions of how F1 might dig itself out of the hole it has found itself in. On the one hand, there is FOM’s vision, seemingly shared by FIA President Max Mosley. They look at the current situation and see 10 (perhaps now 9) teams spending astronomical sums on esoteric technology with little or no application in the world beyond, all in search of a few tenths of a second. Then they look at GP2 – the cars are not much slower, the racing is arguably better, and a team can be run for a tiny fraction of the cost of a Formula 1 team. Why? Because the cars are built to a standard design, and the teams are simply not allowed to spend millions

The teams, however, are all but united in opposition to this vision. They realise that, ultimately, it would render them much less powerful than they are at present. Once they are left running more or less standard chassis and engines, the teams would become like so many interchangeable light-bulbs. At present, the teams are real players in themselves. If they unite in opposition to the commercial rights holder or the FIA, then those bodies are forced to listen – the show cannot go on without them. If they were reduced to small engineering firms, doing nothing more than setting up a spec-formula chassis and providing mechanics, in essence, doing what GP2 teams do now, then the governing body would hold the whip hand. If the teams fell out with those running the sport, well, the governing body could go and find others to run the cars – there would be no need to compromise with them.

Being fair, I think the teams fundamentally see F1 as a competition between rival teams of engineers, as well as between rival drivers. They, quite correctly in my view, regard a spec formula as being contrary to the very spirit of the sport. Their preferred solution is a rule book which, while perhaps closing down development in certain areas, nonetheless leaves the door open for the teams to compete to build the most effective racing car. Arguably, at least, central to making this vision work is that the teams should get a larger share of the revenues generated by the sport’s owners from the selling of TV rights, track-side advertising and the rights to host races in the first place.

Inevitably, this sets the teams at loggerheads with the sport’s commercial rights holders. Bernie Ecclestone remains their fixer, though he has only a minority stake in FOM (and that through his estranged wife’s Bambino Trust), which is mostly owned by the hugely indebted private equity firm, CVC. The teams might reasonably ask what additional value the sport’s owners actually bring to the table. When CVC took over Moto GP, they took on a decidedly different proposition. MotoGP had great unrealised potential – the sport had a very low media profile, and yet there was no fundamental reason it could not be every bit as commercially successful as F1. Under CVC’s ownership, MotoGP largely fulfilled this potential. F1 is a different kettle of fish. Bernie Ecclestone et al had been doing a perfectly good job of promoting the sport for the past 30 years, and it has probably reached about as large a global market as it is ever going to. If CVC were to make more money, it would have to be from the sport’s existing base.

The teams' bones of contention with FOM are several. Firstly, the teams are competing with the rights holders for sponsorship money. Not a few teams will feel aggrieved at the fact that FOM have signed LG Electronics as ‘commercial partners’ - in the past, they might instead have sponsored a team. If further deals follow, expect the teams to feel still more frustrated. Secondly, FOM/CVC, in their quest to maximise their own revenues (and pay back the interest on the rather hefty loan CVC took out to purchase the rights from one Mr Ecclestone) are ever more inclined to have Grands Prix wherever there’s a backer (usually a Government) prepared to pay. Hence, Grands Prix next year in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and China, but none in Canada, France or the USA and Britain and Germany under threat. Which is madness from the teams’ point of view, because they want the races in places which would interest potential sponsors, and Abu Dhabi is not such a place. It is, of course, also a travesty from the fan’s point of view.
Finally, there's the profits themselves. The teams would argue that they shoulder most of the burden of investing in the sport and incur most of the costs - the commercial rights holder, which not being responsible for providing the cars or the circuits, essentially getting something for nothing, and yet they receive only half of the sport's revenues (with Bernie having stated he'd like to cut that figure back, rather tahn increase it). The thought must occur to them that, were they to go it alone and set up a break-away championship, they could keep all those revenues for themselves.

It strikes me that the interests of the teams, and probably ultimately the sport itself, is diametrically opposed to that of the sport’s commercial rights holders, still operating through Mr Ecclestone, and the FIA, which, through Max Mosley, seems squarely lined up behind them. Through FOTA (are the echoes of the old FOCA in their name deliberate), the teams would appear to have put many of their differences aside to come together to make common cause. Will they succeed? Not many have gone up against Mr Ecclestone and won, but on the other hand, Bernie is only human, and he’s 78 now. Without any longer having a large personal financial stake in the sport, essentially the pawn of a group of investment bankers, will he really have the stomach for the fight, or might Mr Ecclestone and Mr Mosley’s long reign over the sport come to an end, just as Jean Marie Balestre’s did nearly two decades ago?

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Sunday, January 04, 2009


In general, I’m not an obsessive hoarder. When I moved house a couple of years back, I was able to do so with the use of a couple of taxis, a bicycle and a backpack. The exception to this, though, is a pile of old magazines reaching nearly to head-height sitting in a corner of my flat. Sad to say, I can’t bring myself to throw out my old copies of Autosport, and I’ve been reading it since I was a kid in the late 1980s. Why not? Partly it’s my probably delusional belief that a complete set of the magazines might be worth something, but mainly it’s that every now and then, I am hit with a strange urge to dig out the race report for the 1992 Le Mans 24 Hours or the 1996 Belgian Grand Prix, an interview with Pierluigi Martini, a track-test of the Nissan R90C, a particular Fifth Column or whatever random bit of motorsporting trivia happens to spark my interest at a given point in time.

Trouble is, they do take up a lot of space. I remember some years ago bringing a woman back to my flat and her remarking, on seeing the huge pile of magazines (which then lived under the bed) “Is that your porn collection?” I’m not sure she was much relieved or impressed by the fact that, no, it was in fact 15 years worth of magazines about motorsport, come to that. However, it appears that help just might be hand. This Christmas I got my hands on a DVD containing every copy of Motorsport Magazine published between 1980 and 1989 – 120 issues in all. It doesn’t replace the pile of Autosports, but it does at least ensure I won’t be tempted to start buying up large quantities of its old green rival from Ebay.

Motorsport was an odd, ornery sort of a publication through the 1980s, seemingly losing a bit of direction and unsure whether it was a contemporary journal of record or a sort of historic motoring bulletin. Hence reports on the F1 and World Sports Car championships nestle alongside William Boddy’s ‘Veteran to Classic’, articles on 1960s Formula 3 and, just to really confuse matters, road tests of contemporary sporting road cars. It is however, well worth having for Denis Jenkinson’s race reports and F1 columns alone. Jenkinson was, even in his time, something of a legend among racing journalists, not least for being one of relatively few to have attained success in the sport himself, co-driving Stirling Moss to victory in the Mille Miglia in 1955. As a pure writer, I wouldn’t rate him as highly as Mark Hughes, but as an enthusiast, whose dry sense of humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport permeates every page, he was all but unparalleled.

One of the delights of going back through old copies of magazines is that of getting a contemporary viewpoint on much talked about characters and events. What was made at the time of drivers and events which have subsequently gone down in legend? Take Ayrton Senna’s famed first win in the wet at Estoril at the beginning of 1985. David Tremayne, to my mind, called it right – his report began “It would probably be a very slight exaggeration to say that Ayrton Senna has brought a fresh standard of driving excellence to Formula 1 simply on the strength of his splendid flag-to-flag victory in the rain at Estoril in Portugal, but it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration.” By contrast, coverage of the Grovewood Awards in December of 1979 was very much focused around the potential of winner Mike Thackwell, while runner-up Nigel Mansell was dismissed with a single sentence, along with that year’s Formula Ford champion Terry Gray (and no, I’ve not the faintest idea what became of him either…) As it would turn out, the difficult Brummie would go on to rather greater things that the young New Zealander ever did….

It was nearly 2000 years ago when Ecclesiastes observed that there was nothing new under the sun and while he may only have been half-right, he did have a point. Witness the considerable coverage given over to the dispute between the sport’s governing body and commercial rights holder, the FIA and the teams, then led by gamekeeper-turned-poacher, Bernie Ecclestone, in the early 1980s. A 4 page collection of photos taken in the pitlane and paddock at the 1985 European Grand Prix was accompanied by a brief piece by the photographer bemoaning how the increasing corporate influence over the sport had made it all but impossible for the ordinary fan to get into the paddock and pitlane and see the cars up close (something which, while absolutely the case now, was actually far from true back then, as pictures I recently stumbled upon of me, aged 7, sitting in Derek Warwick’s Renault RE60 in the pitlane at Brands Hatch at that very race testify to.) Or Denis Jenkinson’s 1987 F1 season preview in which he bemoaned the ever greater restrictions being put on the design and development of F1 cars. He wasn’t impressed by the boost restrictions on turbo engines, the ban on ‘two stage’ turbos or by fuel limits and control tyres and wondered whether the major manufacturers would really be able to continue to justify their involvement in the sport if it was no longer open to engineering innovation. He wasn’t a great fan of attempts to slow the cars down anyway, as he observed “If you cannot go faster than you did last year, it may seem pointless to go at all.” What on earth he would make of standard engines and electronics, were he still alive to see it, I can only speculate upon.

The other great thing about the MotorSport 1980s DVD is the photography, which was always a cut above that in Autosport. They went over to colour pictures a little earlier than Autosport did, perhaps because it was more affordable to a monthly magazine than a weekly one, and the World Rally Championship photography, in particular, is fantastic, and brings back memories of a time when rallying was actually interesting

The Motorsport DVD is not a perfect solution for my magazine/space problem, sadly. For one thing, the quality of the scanning is far from perfect – to the extent that some of it is actually quite difficult to read. I’ve achieved better results myself with a camera and tripod. A publishing house with access to quality scanning equipment ought to be able to do better. It also runs frustratingly slowly on my computer, with a page-turn taking 5 to 10 seconds to take effect. Even leaving that aside, I’m afraid that reading a magazine on a computer simply doesn’t feel quite the same as thumbing through what 21st Century techies would call the ‘dead tree’ edition. Nonetheless, if Haymarket follow Motorsport Magazine’s lead and produce some sensibly priced DVDs with electronic editions of old Autosport magazines, I’d be interested. I could certainly do with the space currently being occupied by the nearly 800 copies of the magazine I’ve accumulated over the years.

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