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.

Pienoismallit ja ruokia 181

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.

nuvolari-alfa-monza-gp-1932

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!

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Farewell to a fast lady

It’s not really the place of the S&G to comment upon every personality who passes away.  Sadly, from the perspective of 2016, any interest in the first half of the 20th century means reflecting upon lives and achievements that reach their end on a regular basis. Obituaries for S&G luminaries such as John Coombs, Sir Jack Brabham and Les Munro have been well written and doubtless read by regulars here; there is no point repeating for the sake of it.

But the recent passing of Maria Teresa de Filippis has robbed our generation of a unique link with that rather wonderful world of Formula One in the 1950s. She was glamorous, she was brave and she could certainly drive a bit. Maserati encouraged her and she joined the glittering set alongside Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn, Collins, Brooks ,Musso and all the rest: the right girl in the right place at the right time.

She didn’t set the world on fire but she will remain forever associated with an unrepeatable era, as this rather nice recent advert by Maserati attests:

An epic fail from Lewis

This week saw one of the motor manufacturers competing in F1 roll out some of its heritage – in this case Mercedes-Benz, which took two of its all-conquering W196s to Monza. In one car quite rightly Sir Stirling Moss was to be found. In the other was Lewis Hamilton.

Stories like this are popular fodder to graft a little of the sport’s old grandeur onto its modern day successor. Usually it is quite fun, such as when Michael Schumacher took the wheel of Bernie Ecclestone’s Ferrari 375 at Silverstone to mark 50 years since the Scuderia’s first Formula One victory:

It is also a chance for Formula One drivers to endear themselves to fans by showing how much they value the sport’s heritage and appreciate their role in continuing the legacy. After all, if you’re one of the 18 men qualified by talent, marketability or financial backing to sit in one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth then it is entirely right and proper to celebrate such good fortune, is it not?

Apparently not in Lewis’s case. He buried this particular story in his BBC column beneath selfies taken at the recent boxing match, stating: “Mercedes took two versions of the 1955 F1 car, the W196, the open-wheeler and the ‘streamliner’, and Stirling and I drove them on the old Monza banking, which they used for grands prix until 1959.”

Erm, Lewis…

Monza banking in its final F1 appearance… in 1961, not 1959 Mr. Hamilton

Monza banking in its final F1 appearance… in 1961, not 1959 Mr. Hamilton

Having comprehensively shot himself in one foot, Lewis then took aim at the other when he turned his apparently limited attention to the W196 itself. “I think that might be my favourite car of all time,” he enthused. “I just love the sound of it, with its old V12 engine – I’d love to have a road car that sounded like that.”

The Mercedes-Benz W196 with its straight eight engine

The Mercedes-Benz W196 with its straight eight engine

The problem is, of course, that the W196 was famously powered by a straight-eight engine with desmodronic valve gear. I know that there are question marks about Lewis’s technical feedback but spotting that this was not a V12 engine should have been a fairly straightforward task. I’m sure that one of the gentlemen of Mercedes’ fantastic technical team who tend these priceless cars would have explained it to him as well – although perhaps Lewis was preoccupied with his selfies at the time.

Modern day racing drivers tend to do this sort of thing very well – even if driving old cars isn’t their cup of tea. Schumi was famously terrified when he drove one of Ferrari’s turbocharged cars from the 1980s and swore blind he would never again allow himself to be strapped into a machine that seemed intent on causing him actual bodily harm.

He was not alone. David Coulthard found the pre-war Mercedes W125 rather too much for comfort and Mika Häkkinen really never liked driving the W196 because by comparison with his carbon fibre machine it lacked any sense of there being a functional set of brakes included in the design.

And yet they did it with grace, good humour and the sense that they perhaps gained a little understanding of their privileged place in the world to be paid fortunes for driving cars that are a thousand times safer on circuits that are 60% run-off area and fenced in with soft barriers. Sentiments that do not come across from Hamilton’s exposure to the living legends of Moss, the W196 and the astonishing Monza banking.

Hamilton didn't seem to understand the significance of this moment - a shame, as they are getting fewer

Hamilton didn’t seem to understand the significance of this moment – a shame, as they are getting fewer

It was, as Lewis would no doubt say, an epic fail.

Stirling’s Land Speed Records

Stirling at 240mph in the 'Rolling Raindrop'

Stirling at 240mph in the ‘Rolling Raindrop’

The summer of 1957 was an incredible period in Sir Stirling Moss’s illustrious career. He had finally got a British car worthy of his talents for Grand Prix racing in the form of the Vanwall and with it delivered three victories – the first for a British car and driver combination in the world championship’s history. That the first race win came at Aintree in the British Grand Prix was also a boon.

The second win came at Pescara, a majestic and terrifying open road circuit – the last time that a world championship event would be held on such a traditional layout in Europe. Then, days later, Stirling hopped gamely on a plane and set off for the United States.

The reason was that he had been engaged by another British brand to fly the flag – M.G.

With the launch of its MGA in 1955, M.G. moved away from its familiar ‘square rigger’ sports cars such as the TD and TF and instead produced a modern, streamlined beauty with no echoes of pre-war design to be found in her. This had proven to be something of a shock to the marketplace… so honours needed to be won.

The MGA’s twin-cam 1500cc engine was duly mated to a supercharger which was almost exactly the same size as the basic powerplant, and its technical guru Syd Enever juiced it up on a special fuel mix of 86% methanol laced with nitrobenzene, acetone and sulphuric ether. The result was a rather manic unit that generated 290bhp at 7,300rpm.

This remarkable engine was placed in a dramatic setting – mid-mounted in a spaceframe chassis that was then wrapped in an extreme form of aerodynamic bodywork. Commonly referred to as looking like a tadpole and given the nickname ‘rolling raindrop’ the EX-181 was an extraordinary thing.

The complete car measured 15 feet long and only three feet high, requiring the driver to lie down underneath the steering wheel. It had been tested by the promising young American ace Phil Hill, who warned Moss to be particularly careful when slowing down, as the cockpit was liable to fill with toxic and highly inflammable fuel vapour so it was best to hold your breath and go easy on the brakes!

On 23rd August, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Moss hopped inside the car and its bodywork was latched down over him. He then proceeded to shatter no fewer than five records in the 1100-1500cc class over 1km, 1 mile, 5km, 5 miles and 10km – with his fastest run being clocked at 245.64mph. This was more than 20% quicker than the previous record, and comfortably made EX-181 the fastest M.G. yet built.

Stirling looks well pleased with his day's work

Stirling looks well pleased with his day’s work

The dynamic young Englishman and his futuristic-looking steed took the world by storm, and M.G. saw its fortunes take a great leap. It would later add another 10mph to EX-181’s top speed and set new records with Phil Hill at the wheel, but in the summer of ’57 it was Stirling who was the fastest man in the world. Three weeks later he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in Vanwall’s final triumph of the summer.

For his combined achievements in racing and record breaking, Moss was awarded the Royal Automobile Club’s prestigious Segrave Trophy. Today EX-181 stands as one of the most prized exhibits in the Motor Heritage Centre in Gaydon, where her outlandish looks still attract considerable awe and interest from subsequent generations.