Coventry’s Finest

Hot on the heels of noise about Alfa Romeo’s potential return to motor sport in the near future came word that Jaguar is teaming up with Williams to launch a full works Formula E effort.

This is a brave move, given the scorn that was poured upon then-owner Ford when it had the temerity to build a front-wheel-drive car with a Jaguar badge on it a few years ago. Now the purr of a six-cylinder is to be replaced by the whine of an electric motor, no doubt prompting much gnashing of teeth among gentlemen of a certain vintage that the ‘leaper’ is set to be seen on a glorified milk float.

Be that as it may, the automotive industry has some fairly major challenges ahead and these will only be solved by boldly going forth into new forms of powering its products. Electric vehicles are hideously inefficient, their production requires some horrendously toxic processes to take place and they are only ever likely to offer short-range inner-city transport solutions… but at least Jaguar is joining in the conversation.

Sadly the most obvious course of action for a brand like Jaguar, such as developing a hydrogen fuel cell Le Mans car, is a bit too much of a stretch at a time when its profitability is taking a bit of a beating. Jaguar Land Rover is temporarily on the back foot thanks to some poor luck in the Far East and investing half a billion dollars in new production centres, which presumably makes a relatively low cost/high visibility programme like Formula E more attractive.

But whatever the merits of Formula E, it is a positive thing that Jaguar is going to use motor sport to stake its place in the future of the industry. So to celebrate here is a gallery of loveliness to remind us all how much the big cat from Coventry has brought to the sport over the years.

On the streets of Monaco

The romance of Monaco may have become a touch jaded in the hyper-commercialised world of modern Formula One but these are the same streets on which Chiron, Fangio and Moss wove their magic.

Seeing fine old cars on them is a very satisfying experience at any time of day. But to see how at ease with the track Alex Buncombe was in the JD Classics Jaguar C-Type is a joy. The S&G has little truck with fitting roll hoops to old cars, but in this case we do get the advantage of being able to witness man, machine and Monegasque streets in harmony – and for that we are grateful.

José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.

 

Alonso Shows ‘The Right Stuff’

In general, S&G feels that Formula One lost much of its appeal when it decided to put the cart before the horse. This is not a place for those who get dewy-eyed about lightweight Lotuses or develop a slightly hoarse tone when they utter the letters ‘DFV’ in short succession.

However, racing drivers remain racing drivers, regardless of whether their public persona is contractually obliged to be less lifelike than a store-front mannequin. That’s why this is a rather special clip.

Every 10 years, Ferrari likes to remind the world of its longevity by paying Bernie Ecclestone a fee to borrow the car with which it won its first Grand Prix as a constructor – the glorious 4.5-litre V12 375. Contrary to popular opinion it’s not the actual car with which José Froilán González defeated Alfa Romeo at the 1951 British Grand Prix – in fact it’s Alberto Ascari’s car from that same race – but in every way it’s identical.

Current Formula One drivers tend to get rather baity about being required to drive old cars. They complain about the brakes, the grip and the fact that they are suddenly reminded that their job used to be mortally dangerous. Mika Häkkinen detests driving Fangio’s dominant Mercedes-Benz W196, for example.

But in this respect, Fernando Alonso proved to be a glorious exception. Here we see him marking the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win by taking his turn at the wheel of Bernie’s 375. It’s all fairly standard stuff with a few waves to the crowd for his first lap, while self-important F1 types – Pasquale, naturally – line up for their moment on the TV screens.

But while all this is going on, Fernando’s been sussing the car out. That racer’s brain has been having a good fondle of this particular old girl and the blue touchpaper is duly lit.

At 3:40 on the video below he stops waving his hand to the crowd and starts waggling the backside of the car instead. Bernie’s face is a picture: then he clearly can’t bear to look any longer. As a result he misses all the best bits as, for two fabulous minutes, Fernando hustles the Ferrari in the style she was built to be driven.

One to enjoy!