Niki Lauda – 1949 – 2019

Although having a lung transplant will always raise question marks over long term survival, there is still a shock element that takes over when you hear of the death of someone who has been so prominent in a particular area of life. Such has been the case with Niki Lauda and Formula 1. I don’t propose to engage in a lengthy obituary as that will be covered in so many publications and on endless websites but felt that maybe a quick look at his involvement with Alfa Romeo would be appropriate here. Lauda’s relationship with Ferrari had nose-dived during the 1977 season, partly due to having Carlos Reutemann as his team-mate, and although he won his second World Championship that year, he had decided to accept Bernie Ecclestone’s offer to join Brabham for a $1million salary, helped by the arrival of Parmalat as his personal and the team’s title sponsor.

The year started with the BT45C, powered by Alfa’s flat 12 engine and with this Lauda took 2nd place in Argentina and 3rd in Brazil. This was superseded for the rest of the season by the BT 46 but despite the genius of designer Gordon Murray, successes were few and far between. Eight retirements were partially offset by 2nd places in the Monaco and British GPs but the Brabham team’s effort that year is probably most remembered for the win by Lauda with the highly controversial fan car in the Swedish Grand Prix. He said afterwards that it was “a fantastic car to drive with just slight understeer on the beginning of the corner, but then you could boot it round corners flat out. No oversteer at all” The big loop corners of the Swedish circuit suited the ground effect cars but the FIA would ban the fan car before the next race and the only win for the BT46 after that was in the Italian GP at Monza that was dominated by the accident that cost the life of Ronnie Peterson.

Murray penned the BT48 for 1979, using a new V12 Alfa engine this time which had primarily been designed for Alfa Romeo’s own return to Grand Prix racing that year. The season proved to be a wretched one with 11 retirements in 13 Grand Prixs, the only consolation coming at the end of the European season in a non-championship race at Imola. After that, Brabham switched back to the V8 Ford Cosworth engine and Lauda announced his retirement from racing. The story of his two years with Brabham and Alfa is well told in the book “Racing Mechanic – Ermanno Cuoghi” by Jeremy Walton. Cuoghi had followed Lauda from Ferrari to Brabham.

Lauda would return to racing, with McLaren, in 1982 to take another championship title by a mere half point from Alain Prost two years later before finally ending his career in 1985. Thereafter he concentrated on his airline, Lauda Air, before returning to Formula 1 as a TV pundit and then, as we all know, masterminding with Toto Wolff, the current super successful Mercedes Grand Prix team and persuading Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren. This coming weekend will feature many tributes to Niki Lauda, including a minute’s silence on the grid and a special livery on the Mercedes cars. I think my enduring recent memories are of how good he was at talking to all those who wanted to interview him “off the cuff” and I am sure that the likes of Jennie Gow (for BBC Radio 5) and David Coulthard (Channel 4) will miss what for them was always a friendly encounter.

One final thought – Niki Lauda was quite often the butt of cartoons in the Italian motoring press. One of my favourites, celebrating the arrival of Parmalat as his personal sponsor, appeared in “AutoSprint” in 1978. He always knew where the next dollar was coming from!

Alfa Romeo off the pace in Spain

The Spanish Grand Prix on the Circuit de Catalunya will not go down as one of Alfa Romeo’s races to remember. Although Kimi Raikkonen’s 9th in the Saturday morning FP3 boded well for qualifying, he just managed to squeeze into Q2 but progressed no further and would end up starting 14th. For Antonio Giovanazzi it was even worse as he didn’t get beyond Q1, complaining of braking difficulties. In the race Raikkonen made a mistake on lap 1, running wide and ending up at the back of the field. He struggled on his Medium tyres until lap 28 before changing to Hards. Then onto Softs with 20 laps to go but nothing in the strategy helped and he ended up where he started. Giovanazzi had to stop as early as lap 6 and after a second visit on lap 41, struggled home 16th. It couldn’t get much worse and Raikkonen was hoping that the two tests days in the following week would allow the team to pin-point the cause of their problems. Raikkonen started off the test well but the second day saw test driver Callum Illott badly the damage the C38 in a high speed accident from which he stepped happily unhurt.

So, now to Monaco. Both Alfa and Haas have now opted to take the latest Ferrari engine which was used by Vettel and Leclerc in Spain. The first two Practice sessions here always take place on the Thursday (yesterday) and the Alfa team ended the total of three hours running pretty pleased with two clean sessions. Particularly happy was Antonio Giovanazzi making his first F1 appearance on the Monegasque circuit, ending up a fine 8th fastest in FP2 with a time of 1’12.239” only just over a second off Hamilton’s ultimate pace in the leading Mercedes. Raikkonen would be just behind in 9th (1’12.312”) so expectations of being well in the midfield mix for qualifying tomorrow are high. Kimi should be celebrating his 300th Grand Prix start, having raced over the years for Sauber, McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus on his way to a seat with Alfa.

Highs and Lows for the Giulietta Veloce in WTCR

The Romeo Ferraris (Team Mulsanne) Giulietta Veloce returned to the winner’s circle in the third WTCR meeting of the year on the Slovakiaring over the weekend when Ma Qing Hua took a fine win in the third race of the weekend after finishing 2nd place race 1. He was well supported by Kevin Ceccon who was third in both race 2 and race 3. The trouble with that was the addition of ballast for the next meeting at Zandvoort a week later, Hua having to carry 30 kilos. Even so, dropping to the back of the field was something of a surprise and to come away with a best finish of 18th (Kevin Ceccon) in the third race was not much of a reward for moving the team from Hungary to Holland within just a few days. At least there is now a reasonable gap before WTCR gathers at the Nurburgring on June 22nd.

Classic Alfa Challenge.

As we suspected might be the case, the Alfa entry for the HRDC meeting at Lydden Hill on Bank Holiday Monday is a little thin and has been combined into a race for pre ’80 Sports and Touring Cars. However, those entered are Jonathan Horsfield (Alfetta GTV), Alex Jupe (Alfetta GTV), Louis Frankel (Giulietta 116), George Frankel (Giulia Super), Richard Leggett (Alfetta GTV), Gavin Watson (Giulietta 1.6) and James Gibbons (Giulia Super).
For Thruxton on Sunday June 2nd we don’t have the entry as yet but we do have a timetable. The 15 minute Qualifying session there will take place at 10.15 with the 30 minute race scheduled for 2.55.

In addition to the Classic Alfa race at Thruxton, there will be two 40 minute races for the U2TC (pre 66 under 2 litre Touring Cars) and we fully expect Andrew and Max Banks to be taking part with their 1600 GTA which took a win at the recent Donington Historic Festival.

Paul Bessant’s in-car videos part two – 2000.

Following on from the three races shown in the last Friday Fix, we are showing three more that Paul Bessant posted on Youtube. They are all from the 2000 season.

Mallory Park: 25th June: As was usual then, the large field was split into two, with Class E lining up with mainly faster A,B,C & D cars. Dave Streather had put his class B 33 on pole with a lap in 52.25” while Ted Reddick was heading Class E with one of JSM Racing’s 156s. Paul Bessant was on row 9 (58.30” – 3rd quickest in class) with Ray Foley’s similar 75 Twin Spark immediately ahead alongside the Sud Ti of Mike Watson but the cars you can actually see are the 75 2.5 V6 of Steve Dillon and Reddick’s 156. The lights go out and as the field moves away there is a frightening moment. Paul is faced with the almost stationary GTV6 of Nick Suiter but quick reactions avoid a collision. As the field pours through Gerards, the midfield group starts its own battle with Paul initially passing Bert Lemmes 156 (no.333) before being re-passed. We also see the Alfasud Sprint of Steve Fox (no.41). Paul eventually makes his pass on Lemmes stick, and from then on for the rest of the 11 laps, the Dilllon/Bessant 75s go head to head, Paul now leading Class E and running 11th overall. What you can’t see (and I only realised by looking at Diana’s lap chart) is that Steve and Paul have Bert Lemmes and Steve Fox right on their tail , this group being together for several laps. Other cars of interest to appear on screen are the eventual race winner Graham Presley (75 no.3) and Dave Streather (33 no.26) who are lapping the slower cars. Paul eventually consolidates his class win, finishing 9th overall, 2” clear of Steve Dillon. Other cars we spied were the red and yellow GTV6 of Keith Waite and the 155 of Roger Evans that had pulled off after the exit of the Hairpin on lap 1.

Cadwell Park: 6th June: Having just been to Cadwell, it was interesting to look back to see if the circuit had changed in the last nineteen years. The track layout is the same but there is one major difference. The high bank to the right of the second part of the Hall Bends which presented the challenge of how close you could get to it without having an accident, is no longer there. In the MSV era, the bank been removed and been replaced by a wide grass run-off. Paul Bessant’s race video finds him on row 7, just being beaten to the class pole this time by Chris Oxborough with a time of 1’53.88”. On the grid you can just see Julian Birley’s black 75 3 litre ahead. The whole film, though, is taken up by the battle between Paul and Chris Oxborough. Chris makes a poor start but then appears on the outside of Coppice to take the class lead he is never to lose. Other cars we see are Enzo Buscaglia’s overall winning 75 when he laps Paul, Adie Hawkins’ 33 recovering from the back and, sadly, the crashed 2000 GTV of Mark Peers at the top of The Mountain. Thinking of changes – I’m sure communications at Cadwell are somewhat better now. One of my favourite pictures from the past is of an official using a telephone (!) in the woods – maybe that was still in use in 2000?

Knockhill: 3rd September: I think that Paul’s video of our race at Knockhill shows just what we are missing in no longer visiting the Scottish circuit. But, and a big but, it is a long journey to get there, particularly if you are coming from Bianco land! Classes E & F race together this time. So, please enjoy the coverage of a terrific battle between the two 75 Twin Sparks of Paul Bessant and Chris Oxborough plus the Giulia Super of Jonathan Griffin. Chris loses out with a spin at the Hairpin on lap 4 which presents Paul with a moving broadside target that he happily misses but this leaves him to challenge the Giulia to the finish, often seeming to be about to climb into Jonathan’s boot! All credit to Jonathan then that he was able to hold on to take a famous victory by under a second from Paul. Class F were dominant in the race overall, with Brian Thorp as the winner from Graham Saunders, but we do see Phil Donaghy’s 33 in the early stages.

We hope that you have enjoyed this look back to 1999 and 2000. Maybe there are some more in-car videos out there we have yet to see……..

Bianco Open Day – Sunday, May 26th

To celebrate moving into their new premises at Shipley Bridge, Bianco Auto Developments are holding an Open Day this coming Sunday, 12 o’clock onwards. For details of the event, and the many attractions being provided, see the attached poster. The address is The Green Barn, Antlands Lane East, Shipley Bridge RH6 9TE.

Formula W – Round 2

Zolder was the venue for Round 2 of the Formula Woman Championship where 20 Tatuus Alfa Romeo single seaters resumed the contest that had got under way at Hockenheim. This time it was Dutch driver Beitske Visser, with Formula Renault 3.5 experience behind her, who dominated proceedings, leaving Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell to fight it out for the other places on the podium, the pair finishing in that order. Chadwick still leads the points table as the Championship heads to Misano Adriatico in Italy for Round 3 on June 8th.

Ted Pearson in Historic FF.

Double Alfa Champion (1991/1992) is really finding his feet now in Historic Formula Ford. Having committed himself to a full season, Ted found himself among 36 entries at the HSCC’s International Trophy meeting over the weekend May 18th/19th on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. With his Merlyn 11/17, Ted qualified a splendid 5th and from his third row start finished 9th in a close battle with William Nuthall’s Brabham and the Jamun of Michael Grant Peterkin. Race 2 produced another 9th place while fellow ex Alfa racer Antony Ross took 16th and 13th places in his Lola T204.

Guy Moll follow-up

I came across this photograph of the streamlined P3 that is in the Alfa Museum at Arese. Compare it with the standard P3. I wonder if it ever saw a windtunnel, or was it all guesswork governed by aesthetics!

Michael Lindsay