Some fatuous nonsense is being spouted at present regarding a perceived requirement for Formula One to encourage low-rent engines to keep under-funded teams on the grid. “The power must again be put with those people who support the independent teams, because they are the backbone of the sport,” said former privateer, Eddie Jordan.
Au contraire, Eddie. Looking back over 110 years of Grand Prix racing, it is the brief superiority of the ‘garagistes’ that is anomalous. The real backbone of Grand Prix racing has always been, and should long remain, the motor manufacturers.
From the first Grand Prix of 1906 until Cooper’s first world championship in 1959, the racing departments of motor manufacturers exercised almost complete dominance over the sport.
We are talking about industrial giants here: the likes of Renault, Fiat, Mercedes, Peugeot and Auto Union. The specialists who rose up in their wake such as Ferrari, Vanwall and Lotus never whined about inequality; they simply engineered their way to the front. Others tried, failed and faded away. Such is the nature of the sport.
It is of course true that, after Cooper, a generation of ‘garagistes’ came and went thanks to the brilliance and ubiquity of off-the-shelf engines like the Coventry-Climax and Cosworth DFV – but those days died at the onset of the turbo era. In the 33 seasons since then it has been imperative for teams to form an alliance with a major motor manufacturer if they dare to dream of winning the title, be they McLaren, Williams or even Jordan.
Eddie Jordan’s team enjoyed brilliantly competitive debut season in 1991… but it needed free engines from Yamaha to help shore up the team’s perilous finances in 1992. By the time that Jordan came closest to winning the world championship, in 1999, he was firmly cosied-up with Honda, but for some reason Eddie is choosing to overlook this at present.
Yet it is the manufacturers whose investments have always made the sport what it is. They have created the amazing technology that was driven into legend by men blessed with other-worldly skill – and eventually handed down to us, the consumers.
Sadly, modern Formula One is little more than an unashamedly a gilt-edged revenue stream. Those who scoop up the proceeds that it generates require little more than for 22 cars to be on the grid and then tootle round for 60 laps or so while they count the cash. The sport’s owners appear hell bent on pushing out the manufacturers – the real backbone of the sport – and are heedless of the cost.
Perhaps, rather than waddling through Baku airport next June with their wallets groaning under the weight of manats that have been harvested, the great and the good of Formula One should take a weekend off and go to Le Mans, near where the first ever Grand Prix was staged. Here at the 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours they will see motor racing in the grand tradition of encouraging manufacturers to build amazing cars.
They will also see that there is an incredible appetite to witness it – 260,000 happy campers in the stands, tens of millions seeking out the fairly arcane TV coverage and nine manufacturers basking in the glow of excitement about the wondrous technology that they have produced.
Compared to that little lot, surely, even the attractions of joining 25,000 bewildered Azerbaijanis to sit through a chorus of disapproval about nations buying respectability through hosting Grands Prix might seem rather anaemic. With or without customer engines.