Heineken and the classics

Crikey! In terms of bringing some excitement and prestige back to modern Formula 1, Heineken’s ‘groundbreaking’ announcement fell flatter than a witch’s proverbial, did it not? Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo’s involvement was non-existent and James Bond never showed up.

Instead, the waiting world was promised that Heineken will deliver ‘innovative content’ to online consumers – which is what anyone who delivers online advertising promises. The S&G would love to see someone offering ‘derivative content’ because, as a policy, that would be truly groundbreaking.

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Apparently watching ‘content’ can be an agreeable experience

Heineken has pledged to create promotional pushes in cities in the weeks before races (as several of the races already do), shop floor campaigns in bars, cafes and supermarkets around the world (as several sponsors already do), worldwide ticket promotions and competitions (as many sponsors already do), and social media campaigns to engage the ‘millennials’ of the online generation (as all sponsors attempt to do).

So what’s the point? Heineken is already positioned as the aspirational brand of choice among lager drinkers: the BMW of beers. What it wants to do is reinforce this image among the markets of Asia and the Middle East by using Formula 1’s ubiquity in these ’emerging markets’.

As a serious bonus from the Heineken deal, however, it appears to have played a key role in ensuring that Monza remains on the Grand Prix racing calendar. By ‘key role’ we do of course mean ‘bank roll’. No wonder Bernie looked so chirpy as he clutched his bottle of lager in Montreal.

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The roll of honour at Monza is an elite group – long may it remain

 

What this means is that Formula 1 may yet retain the one venue that has not been completely neutered by the passage of time.

Despite the silly run-off on the Parabolica, Monza remains a truly, regally, magnificently scary anachronism among the modern Grand Prix venues. Yes, it has chicanes but the difference between the guys who are vying for a seat among the legends of the sport and the guys who are paying for a seat anywhere from the third row of the grid backwards can never be more pronounced than it is beneath the trees of the Villa Reale.

And on that note, the S&G will join 007 in toasting the hope that Monza will continue to offer Formula 1 its annual reality check for many, many seasons to come. For now, however, the time has come to up sticks and head to another wonderful and terrifying venue of enormous historical significance – the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Watch this space for some ‘content’ from the greatest motor race in the world – and for starters, here is a bit of testing at Monza with the chicanes removed. You will seldom see such might!

Heineken brings out the big guns

Today in Montreal we shall see a great conspiracy unveiled like the maniacal plan of a James Bond villain – or in this case Bernie Ecclestone, for whom comparisons with a caricatured criminal mastermind are an occupational hazard.

The ingredients are all in place and one thing which can confidently be expected is that Heineken will announce the role it will play in Formula 1 from 2017 onwards – for the announcement will be the opening act of this year’s Canadian Grand Prix.

But there are also many fine old brands familiar to S&G regulars that are bobbing about on Bernie’s duck pond and about to form a nice neat row. For the time being, however, they’re doing a very good job of keeping themselves out of the spotlight until it’s time for the ‘big reveal’.

Heineken likes to present itself as a premium product. It conjures this image through an association with rugby and an 18-year partnership with the James Bond movie franchise. To this portfolio it will also be adding Formula 1.

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The art of product placement: James Bond is offered a Heineken

At this point the conspiracy kicks in – and it’s a belter. As protagonists we have two of the marques favoured by Ian Fleming – namely Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo – we also have TAG Heuer watches and, to cap it all, we have ‘Ernst Stavro’ Mateschitz, the reclusive mastermind behind Red Bull who may or may not sit around in his alpine lodge stroking a white cat.

There is a degree of consensus that Heineken will be shovelling hundreds of millions of dollars into Bernie’s retirement fund and using its savvy at creating upmarket online adverts (that’s ‘content’ to those in the trade), to underline the message that its beer is sipped by men of wealth and taste.

Formula 1 is wilfully rubbish at ‘content’, so having someone else do it and pay handsomely for the privilege looks like another of Bernie’s brilliant deals.

But while hanging some banners on the Hangar Straight and Curva Grande is nice, and putting your logo in the corner of all F1’s youtube clips has a value, there is nothing quite like having your branding on the car that crosses the line first. Just ask Red Bull.

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(Not) seen inside the Red Bull headquarters, yesterday.

The Austrian energy drink firm currently owns the commercial rights to the FIA World Rally Championship, drawing viewers onto Red Bull’s TV channels and websites while also selling footage to broadcasters the world over. Its logo can be seen on inflatable gantries and mud-spattered hoardings along the route but just in case that’s all a bit subtle Red Bull is also the sponsor of Volkswagen Motorsport, which wins everything.

So does this mean that Heineken is following suit and sponsoring the winning team? No… but there is a link to one particular motor manufacturer and James Bond affiliated brand that is currently dabbling in Grand Prix racing: Aston Martin.

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Aston Martin made its name in motor sport – here at the 1922 Grand Prix

This year, the Red Bull Racing F1 team (them again!) joined forces with Aston in an ‘innovation partnership’ (a phrase beloved of those who create ‘content’). What Aston brings to the party is a bit of a mystery as Red Bull’s engines are made by Renault and funded by the TAG Heuer watch company, resulting in a pair of Red Bull TAG Heuers on the grid which are innovatively partnered with Newport Pagnell’s finest.

Presumably it all makes sense to someone out there.

Meanwhile our fellow WordPress dweller, F1 insider and all-round decent egg Joe Saward was presented with a 007 baseball cap by Aston Martin and instructed to wear it in Montreal this weekend. So we have the trinity of Heineken, Aston Martin and James Bond uniting in a city full of beautiful women during a Formula 1 weekend and Joe’s clearly invited to the party.

All of this is intriguing enough but then we also have another S&G regular – and James Bond icon – barrelling into the frame: Alfa Romeo.

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Nuvolari raced Alfas with Ferrari badges. Now the situation is reversed.

Alfa is of course under the Fiat Chrysler banner and a close relation of Ferrari, which ran the elder firm’s racing programme from 1933-38. Sporting success has been a bit thin on the ground since 1951 (touring cars aside), but Alfa remains the romantic’s alternative to German executive cars and it has also provided many of the vehicles in which James Bond blows up villainous henchmen in recent films.

Now, however, Fiat and Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that he wants Alfa Romeo back at the sharp end of motorsport. He came close to negotiating a deal with Red Bull to run Alfa Romeo-branded Ferrari engines last year and the Alfa badge is now resplendent upon the flanks of Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars.

Marchionne’s eagerness to bring Alfa back to Formula 1 could also be helpful for ‘Enrst Stavro’ Mateschitz, who not only owns the World Rally Championship, a broadcast network and a Formula 1 team with TAG Heuer branded Renault engines but also Scuderia Toro Rosso – a second Formula 1 team which, having formerly been Minardi, is based at Faenza, a stone’s throw from Maranello.

It seems that Mateschitz feels that two Formula 1 teams might be a little excessive in the current economic climate and is keen to sell his Italian stable at the right price. To Aston Martin? To Alfa Romeo? To Heineken? To Joe Saward? It’s a mystery worthy of Fleming’s finest.

And then, for the final layer on this cake of conundrums, we have James Bond himself. A new film is in the offing and there may well be a new actor playing the hero of the franchise because Daniel Craig has grown jaded with blowing up Alfa Romeos full of henchmen, rolling around with luxuriously upholstered Latin women and crashing Aston Martins. He wants to spend more time at home with the missus… and when the lady in question is Rachel Weisz it’s an understandable argument.

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Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo have been 007 mainstays of late

The last four Bond films were a cycle and a fresh start beckons. Something called a Tom Higgledypiggledy is apparently the hot tip for the job, having starred in an adaptation of a spy novel by John le Carré which involved him rolling around in a bathroom with a beautiful woman. There is also a new James Bond novel which features a fictitious 1957 Formula 1 season… an idea that the S&G once suggested in no uncertain terms to the Bond estate. The swine.

So where does all of this leave us? Heineken is making an announcement, Aston Martin has handed out the invites, Red Bull is everywhere and Alfa Romeo wants in. Perhaps a new James Bond will be announced and the new movie will feature him in a Heineken green Red Bull-Aston Martin blowing up henchmen one at a time in a fleet of Minardi-Alfas.

The plot is a bit convoluted and could do with a decent script editor but the good news for S&G regulars is that one way or another two of the most valued marques in motor sport history could yet be preparing their return to the fray – and we’ll all raise a bottle of Heineken to that.

Cheers!

 

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

It’s that time of year when classic car magazines come up with lists of the most beautiful/desirable/important/valuable cars on the face of the earth, and a pound to a penny says that two cars will feature well up the order in every one: the Jaguar D-Type and Jaguar E-Type.

Both cars deserve their iconic status, of course. The former for its brilliant run of three consecutive wins at Le Mans and the latter for being one of the most enduring designs and fabulous investments known to man.  Seriously: gold has dropped 45% of its worth in the past four years and oil has plunged to a third of its price per barrel while an E-Type is worth as much as 300% more than it was over the same amount of time.

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Jaguar’s D-Type and E-Type often top the lists of desirable cars… but what of the car that inspired them?

So after due consideration, the S&G humbly puts forward the ultimate classic, the thing of such beauty and such finely-honed engineering that it inspired Jaguar’s celebrated designer, Malcolm Sayer, to reach such peaks of achievement. The car that beats all does not come in British Racing Green, however, and it hails from Milan rather than Coventry. It is the fabulous 1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante.

To give it its proper name, the Alfa Romeo C52 was in fact a concept car designed to put a spring in the step of Alfa Romeo at a time of great uncertainty and change. Even while its Alfettas had dominated Formula 1 racing, including winning both of the first two World Championship titles in 1950-51, the company had been struggling to maintain its prestige position in the marketplace.

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The Alfa Romeo C52 is wheeled out to amaze a generation

It was short of funds and had elected to start building more cars at a lower price such as the 1900 Berlina in order to survive the years of austerity that were dragging on after World War 2. This was all well and good, but Alfa Romeo was special, and it needed to remind itself of that as much as the outside world.

The staff at Alfa Corse, having tearfully packed away the Alfettas, got hold of a 1900 Berlina engine and chassis and thought of something to do with it that might act as a hero car for the new generation of Alfas.

The engine that resulted was ostensibly the same design, an inline four cylinder with double chain-driven overhead camshafts, but it was forged in aluminium rather than iron, with sleeves in its bored-out cylinders.  It was a high compression engine running on the methanol fuel mix of its all-conquering Grand Prix predecessors through a pair of twin choke sidedraught carburettors to produce 158 bhp.

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Beneath the skin, the Disco Volante looked similar to Alfa’s road products… but with particular refinements

The standard chassis proportions were retained but the tinware was thrown away in favour of a delicate, lightweight tubular spaceframe.  This confection was then sent to Carrozzeria Touring, where an extensive wind tunnel programme was launched to try and encourage the slipperiest shape for the little Alfa engine to push along.

The result was astounding.  It was formed of a series of convex curves, each flowing into one another to produce a bewitchingly sensuous and utterly unique shape. Those feminine curves positively dripped over the wheels, half enclosing them at the front, and soon the new car had earned an enduring nickname at the factory – Disco Volante: the Flying Saucer.

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The Disco Volante looked other-worldly in 1952

The C52 had a 0.25 drag coefficient – a figure few cars can claim to this day – and proved to be extremely stable even in crosswinds while it reached speeds of up to 140 mph. The three completed cars caused an absolute sensation when they first appeared but then the momentum began to flag somewhat.

In 1953, Alfa Corse followed up on the original work by modifying two of the three cars: one into a coupe and the other into a more traditional-looking sports racer known as the fianchi stretti  (Italian for “narrow hips”). None turned a wheel in anger, the remaining competition programme was given over to the more conventional 6C 3000 CM, with which Juan Manuel Fangio finished second on the Mille Miglia. Two more Disco Volante spyders were built in 1953 and fitted with the 6C’s 3,495 cc, cast iron block, double overhead camshaft straight-six engine, adding another 10 mph but still no competition career was forthcoming.

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The coupé version of the Disco Volante looks rather E-Typey

In the end, the Alfa Romeo C52 remains one of the great ‘might have beens’ of motor sport legend. Of the five cars built, the original 1.9-litre fianchi stretti, coupé and spyder all still exist, as does one of the 6C engine spyders. Their legacy, however, is much greater than the sum of their parts – it is to be found in the classic Jaguars that they inspired and the achievements won thanks to Carrozzeria Touring’s experimental curved coachwork.

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Disco Volante: we salute you, you gorgeous creature. 

Alfa looking back to the future?

Here is a rather wonderful little film of Alfa Corse in its pomp at Monza and, rather brilliantly, against a screen at Cinecittà as it prepared to bid farewell to Grand Prix racing back in 1951. It seems that perhaps this grandest of all Italian marques may be making a Grand Prix racing comeback before long.

Quite how and why Alfa Romeo could be restored by its parent group, Fiat – which is of course owner of Ferrari and Maserati as well – remains to be seen. The restoration work began earlier this year, when the name made its reappearance on the flanks of Ferrari’s current contenders – as described here.

However, if one were in a conspiratorial mood, the fact that Red Bull elected to use an Alfa when it took Daniel Ricciardo back to his ancestral home in Sicily to experience the old Targa Florio course might be of interest. After all, it badly needs to wangle a works engine deal…

Daniel Ricciardo is the most recent F1 driver to sample an Alfa Romeo

Daniel Ricciardo is the most recent F1 driver to sample an Alfa Romeo

Such tomfoolery aside, it is indeed welcome news for the sport that such a return may be in the offing. Even the ghost of the scarlet cars from Portello – and, indeed, from Ferrari’s workshops in Modena – carry with them more charisma than 90 per cent of competition cars today, and hopefully reviving the brand and its deliciously stylish take on common-or-garden Fiat products will foster a new generation of enthusiasts for this celebrated brand.

Here are a few reasons why it’s OK to be just a little excited:

A splendid enterprise

Christmas shopping need be a chore no longer, thanks to Marlon Foakes. Well known in the model car racing world for his exquisite scratch built Grand Prix machinery, Marlon is now letting people share in his glory by producing a range of kits and ready-to-race slot cars representing some of the finest cars of the 1920s and early 1930s under the name Shadowfax.

For those not versed in Tolkien, Shadowfax was Gandalf’s chosen steed: the Lord of all horses from the race of the Mearas, the greatest horses of Middle-earth, who was said to run faster than the wind. So there you go.

The bare bones: a Shadowbox Alfa Romeo P2 in kit form

First out of the blocks are a trio of Portello’s finest offerings: the Alfa Romeo P2 in both 1929 and 1930 guise and, for fans of the Thirties, there is the 1938 Alfa Romeo 308 – sleek, streamlined and the best non-German car of the 3-litre era.

Not only has Marlon carved and cast the bodies, details and drivers but he has also developed an adjustable chassis that can allow the models to sit correctly and steer with the front wheels turning in harmony with the guide. As a result, your miniature Varzis and Nuvolaris will be able to drift correctly around the track.

The Shadowbox chassis can be adjusted to fit various cars

A raft of new types is expected to follow shortly – these include Bugattis, Delages and Maseratis of the kind that graced grids from Brooklands to Buenos Aires. For further information, contact Shadowfax here.

The finished product! Achille Varzi’s 1929 Alfa Romeo P2

The real thing to compare with its new replica

Some special heritage moments

Few sports are as good at looking backwards as motor sport – but then few sports have attained such levels of bravery and skill as a matter of course. With so much to celebrate each year, there are always some highlights. Few of these fall within the S&G’s remit, but they’re fun nevertheless…

Sicily 2015: Dan Ricciardo drives the Targa Florio

Goodwood 2014: Marking 50 years since John Surtees became F1 champion – love the standing ovation!

Bahrain 2010: 60 years of Formula One – world champions gathering

Barcelona 2015: Alonso drives Senna’s McLaren

Ferrari 2012: Jacques Villeneuve marks his father’s memory 30 years on

And while it’s been on the S&G before, it’s always a pleasure to see Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the Ferrari 375 in 2011 – one lap behaving himself and then the blue touch paper is lit!

Ferrari and Alfa Romeo – 80 years on

Today saw the launch of Ferrari’s 2015 Formula One contender, the SF15-T. At this stage in its life it simply looks like a prettier version of last year’s car, but what’s this on its flanks? Why! It’s the Alfa Romeo badge!

The 2015 Ferrari - complete with Alfa Romeo badge

The 2015 Ferrari – complete with Alfa Romeo badge

While of little overall consequence, the badge does offer some hope that the Scuderia might embrace a little more of its pre-war past. For too many years the boys and girls in red have been keen to impress upon us all that the world began in 1947, when Enzo first set about building cars in his own name.

Yet by doing so, they have cast aside the many triumphs achieved through the 1930s, when Scuderia Ferrari was first a customer team for Alfa Romeo and later the effective works squad.

Each year around the world there is undoubtedly more excitement surrounding the birth of a new Ferrari than can be whipped up by any of the other teams. Perhaps in 2015 this is because they remain scarlet in a sea of grey colour schemes (perhaps ‘Fifty Shades’ should be the new tagline for F1), but more often it is because of heritage and tradition, the pageantry and sheer Italian theatre that surrounds the team.

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

Well, the Scuderia provided bucket loads of the latter throughout the 1930s. This year, for example, marks the 80th anniversary of Tazio Nuvolari’s victory at the Nürburgring. That race – when the Maestro wrung the neck of his underpowered Alfa P3 to beat the Germans on home soil – is about as big a chunk of Grand Prix folklore as you’ll find and an anniversary that is well worth Ferrari’s time to celebrate…

…particularly when the Germans are stomping all over the sport now as they did then.

So, with this in mind, here’s a lovely little film of Nuvolari winning the 1935 Pau Grand Prix. The event, in February of that year, was Nuvolari’s first after returning to the fold at Ferrari, having previously believed that he would be better off in privately-entered Bugattis and Maseratis.

The race doesn’t look particularly well-attended, but at the front of the field the two Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeos of Nuvolari and René Dreyfus put on a show. Ferrari’s all-stars traded the lead throughout 75 of the 80 laps before the ‘Flying Mantuan’ asserted his authority to lead Dreyfus home nearly four minutes clear of the competition.

Such was the stuff of the 750 kg Grand Prix formula – until the Germans arrived and rewrote the rulebook for the glory of the Reich. So enjoy the clip and let’s hope that the good people in Maranello break open the archives on this earlier partnership with Alfa Romeo.