Heads-up for hydrocarbon heritage

BP-Castrol’s return to Formula 1 as a partner to McLaren-Honda has been announced.  This news has got the F1 community rather excited – let’s face it, any new sponsor announcement is a novelty in F1 these days – but it’s perfectly simple and logical step to have taken.

Castrol is arguably the most prolific partner to motor manufacturers in competiton, attached to Ford in GT racing, V8 Supercars and the World Rally Championship; Volkswagen Group in the World Endurance Championship, World Rally Championship*, World Rallycross Championship, German Touring Car Championship and European Rally Championship; Volvo in the World and Swedish Touring Car Championships and Kia in Global Rallycross.

kiar-rio-wrc-rear

Kia is among the multitude of brands supported by Castrol

It is also partnered with Honda teams in the World and British Touring Car Championships, MotoGP and World Superbike championships.  Adding Honda’s F1 programme to the roster comes as Audi withdraws from Le Mans and, crucially, allows partner brand BP the chance to produce high-tech superfuels, which it couldn’t in sports car racing because arch-rival Shell is the official fuel provider.

Is all of this going to generate excitement in the grandstands?  Probably not.  Fuel and oil are distress purchases, even to the die-hard motoring enthusiast.  The key to selling more product is therefore either to have more filling stations, which are costly to maintain, or to have lots of motor manufacturers bulk buying your products at the source.

56d6b60ecaeca

Castrol and Honda have a history dating back to the 1959 Isle of Man TT

Ultimately, then, BP-Castrol is moving the chips around in the high stakes game of its commercial relationships with the motor manufacturers.  If the contract to supply lubricants to Honda’s customers worldwide comes up for renewal in a year or two, it’s rather handy to have already agreed three years’ sponsorship of the crown jewels, is it not?

Nevertheless, the drums are already beating with heritage stories, so let’s have a little look, shall we?  Charles Wakefield founded his lubricants company in 1899, and in 1906 developed new, lighter products for the growing number of cars and aeroplanes by adding castor oil – hence Castrol.  Meanwhile, BP began as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909.

Wakefield Castrol Motor Oil, Vintage Land Speed Record poster. S

During World War 1, Castrol was vitally important to many of the engines being put to work in the world’s first fully mechanized conflict, with rotary aero engines needing liberal amounts of castor oil to operate at altitude.  Shell cornered the market on high quality fuels for aviation and Burmah and Anglo-Persian produced the heavy oils needed for shipping.

After the war, Castrol focused upon motor sport to sell its brand: witness the world record breaking aeroplanes and cars and the associated advertising, be it Amy Johnson’s flight from London to Australia or Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird on Daytona Beach.

lubricant-suppliers-castrol-1930-13059

Ever since those times, the scrap between Castrol and Shell for hearts and minds has been played out through promoting the sporting successes of their partners.  On balance, Shell has held the upper hand in motor sport thanks to 60 wins at Le Mans plus a heritage of Grand Prix wins with Auto Union, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and McLaren-Honda (amongst many others).

Castrol’s strongest associations have often been in rallying; a legacy of having former BMC and Ford team principal Stuart Turner heading up its communications programmes.  It has also focused on the Land Speed Record (although many of the cars and aeroplanes have been fuelled by Shell). In contrast, BP has only played a minor role in developing successful competition fuels.

1059_1

Since the merger of BP and Castrol in 2000, there has been BP branding for its Ultimate branded premium fuel on Ford’s World Rally Championship cars and the BMW and latterly Audi DTM cars but little real technical endeavour.  It is certainly going to have to work hard and fast to get up to speed in developing the sacred 1% difference between pump fuel and race fuel permitted in modern Formula 1.

The fuel and oil brands are undoubtedly going to trumpet their heritage of success in the months and seasons ahead, which should at the very least make for some interesting diversions at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Le Mans and the more important Grands Prix of the year. It’s all part of the game, and means that there should be plenty to look out for at the S&G when it comes to historic hydrocarbons!

*Edit: Since this post was published, Volkswagen has announced its withdrawal from the WRC, effective from the end of the year.

Oxford vs. Cambridge in the air

Please forgive the anachronism – the song came six years after these events – but throughout writing this piece, The Varsity Drag has been tootling through the old grey matter. It needs to be exorcised, so press play and read on…

And so back we go to 1921, when a large number of undergraduates had previously served in the armed forces – particularly during the last climactic year of the Great War. After surviving such excitements, the prospect of peacetime was a trifle drab – especially for the former airmen whose time had been spent fighting the German Imperial Air Service at up to four miles above the earth.

Undoubtedly the excitement and comradeship of war coloured how these young men felt about studying the Classics and preparing for life in boardrooms, the Bar or the diplomatic service. In an effort to restore some of their former glories, therefore, an Oxford student and erstwhile test pilot, A.R. Boeree, decided to organise a University Air Race to rival the long-standing Boat Race as an outlet for the rivalry between the dark blue scholars of Oxford and their pale blue counterparts at Cambridge.

To join either of the teams, the requirement was to have more than 1,000 hours logged as a pilot. In total six pilots from each university signed up to take part, of whom three would race and three would be held in reserve. Meanwhile the Varsity Air Race was incorporated within the programme of the 1921 Aerial Derby at Hendon, with the Royal Aero Club providing the students with sufficient funds to hire eight decommissioned S E.5a fighters for the event.

The going rate to buy an airworthy war surplus S.E.5a was around £5 at the time. Although they were only hired, the university colours were applied to the aircraft – dark blue for Oxford and pale blue for Cambridge. A prize fund of £400 was also established – most of which came from Shell, which also provided the fuel.

3430703

Oxford University pilots watch their Cambridge counterparts in action – note that the aircraft has been completely repainted

From the few available photographs it appears that one of the Oxford aircraft was completely repainted in dark blue and had white walls painted on its tyres. Another Oxford aircraft had almost the whole of the top wing painted blue aside from the centre section and the fuselage from the cockpit backwards was also freshly painted in the same shade.

The Cambridge squad would appear to have spent less time on the appearance of its aircraft – splashing light blue on the nose, tail and wheels but leaving the rest of their S.E.5s in their wartime olive brown and cream livery. Instead, the Cambridge pilots focused rather more on practising their tactics for the race.

currie-wot-se5a-picture2

A pastel of one of the Cambridge S.E.5as ‘borrowed’ from Nigel Hamlin Wright – all rights his

A shortened version of the main Aerial Derby course was chosen, measuring around 43 miles and running in a triangle from Hendon to Epping and Hertford and back. Three laps of the course was the decided length of the race.

Race day was Saturday 16 June and it delivered scorching hot conditions and a near-cloudless sky. The six competing aircraft were lined up at 2.30 p.m. with Oxford represented by Boeree (Oriel College), Pring (New) and Hurley (Keeble) while Cambridge had Francis (Caius), Philcox (Caius) and Muir (St. Catherine’s).

Screenshot 2016-03-26 13.53.36

The full course of the 1921 Aerial Derby, from which the Varsity runners used only the 4th and 5th Turning Points

The Oxford trio took an early lead by thundering off at tree-top height, while the Cambridge contingent climbed as hard as they could to find cooler air where the 220 hp Wolseley Viper engines would produce more get-up-and-go. The early running was made by Pring’s machine for Oxford but soon Cambridge’s tactic of going for height paid off and Philcox took the lead halfway round the second lap.

On the final lap, Pring’s Wolseley Viper began to struggle and he was eventually forced to find a suitable field near Epping after the fault with his ignition proved terminal. The result was 1-2-3 for Cambridge with Hurley fourth and Boeree, whose idea the race was, coming home last.

It was widely hoped that the University Air Race would become an annual fixture to rival the Boat Race as a social fixture for the two great universities. Sadly, Oxford was never as keen as Cambridge on aviation in the first place and, with Boeree departing, the idea was shelved.

Within 18 months, all of the S.E.5a aircraft would be scrapped and the whole affair lost in the mists of time. Of rather more success was the Varsity Speed Trials for students with a passion for fast motoring. In due course, this latter event would see the likes of future Grand Prix star Dick Seaman take part, continuing the heady spirit in which the Air Race had been created.

London’s flying past

One seldom thinks of central London as a focal point for aviation. There’s London City Airport, plus the interminable political blathering about where the next major runway should be built to service the city and, for schoolchildren, an occasional visit to the Royal Air Force Museum, Science Museum or Imperial War Museum.

Yet in fact a brisk stroll takes one through what was, a century or so ago, the white hot crucible in which British military aviation was organised – and from the Armistice onwards the peacetime air network would be established that so preoccupies our airport planners of today.

2015-02-03 13.03.32

The Palace of Westminster is a fairly good landmark to get started

For the sake of argument, let’s start at the Houses of Parliament. Indeed, let’s start under Big Ben – if you can fight your way through the seemingly endless turf war between Japanese tourists with their selfie sticks and East European pickpockets – then you’ll soon arrive at the statue of the pioneering politician of air power, Winston Churchill. In his role as First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill showed uncommon vision for the potential of early aviation as a tool of reconnaissance and offensive bombing – resulting in the Royal Naval Air Service being significantly stronger and lighter on its feet than the army’s Royal Flying Corps.

Now head up Parliament Street to the Cenotaph and the beautiful facades of Whitehall abound. Keep going past Downing Street to Horse Guards Parade and there the magnificent War Office building stands opposite, from where the Royal Flying Corps was ultimately managed.

Built in neo-Baroque style to the tune of £1.2 million, the building was completed in 1906 and featured 1,000 rooms on seven floors connected by two-and-a-half miles of corridors. It was from here that wars were fought and won, occasionally fought and lost – and much of the Empire was policed until 1968. The building was sold on 1 March 2016 for more than £350M, on a long 250 year lease, to the Hinduja Group and OHL Developments for conversion to a luxury hotel and residential apartments.

Screenshot 2016-03-08 12.47.03

The War Office – about to enter conversion to a hotel and residential development

Keep going just a little further and Admiralty Arch appears, with it Admiralty House and all the pomp of the Senior Service that is laid out like a challenge before anyone wishing to travel up the Mall. From here Churchill set about ensuring that the ground was made fertile for developing the first verdant shoots of a modern air force – while the dullards at the War Office retained their faith in horses in the face of mechanised slaughter.

Just like the War Office, Admiralty Arch has already been sold off for transformation into an hotel. The questions raised in parliament about how security for the many state and sporting occasions that run through Whitehall each year, let alone that of the Royal Family down the road, is to be maintained by hoteliers in the face of increased insurgency has never really been answered. But then Whitehall has suffered from more than its fair share of fatheads over the years – as we shall see…

Screenshot 2016-03-09 10.55.38

The buildings around Admiralty Arch were a hive of air-minded activity when Churchill was First Sea Lord. Today it is a Spanish-owned hotel.

From the Admiralty, head up The Strand and there is a large run of shops lying in wait before reaching the Savoy Hotel. The shops stand at street level beneath an imposing facade that was once the frontage of the Hotel Cecil – one of the more remarkable buildings in London.

721_001

The Hotel Cecil was designed in the late 1880s by architects Perry & Reed in a sympathetic ‘Wrennaissance’ style for what was a fantastical barn of a building that would, in its day, be the largest hotel in Europe.

This 900-room leviathan was the pet project of notorious politician, financier, property developer and fraudster, Jabez Balfour. Balfour decreed that the Cecil should be “an abiding memorial of my enterprise” – although a rather more permanent memorial was the penury of the people who had invested in his schemes. The extent of Balfour’s embezzlement – a cool £8.4 million in 1895! – was uncovered during the Cecil’s six-year build.

2015-02-02 15.43.55

The magnificent facade of the Hotel Cecil still dominates The Strand

In a colourful turn of events, Balfour went bankrupt and fled to Argentina, where he was pursued and apprehended by Scotland Yard, brought back to London and sentenced to 14 years of penal servitude. The Cecil was sold for a relatively paltry £1.5 million and the proceeds were redistributed among Balfour’s impoverished investors. The hotel’s construction carried on – although not all of the materials were as grand as had been hoped – but Balfour’s abiding memorial appeared set to remain a white elephant.

Despite recruiting such luminaries of the era as ‘Smiler’ the renowned Indian curry chef or M. Coste, one of the greatest chefs of the late Victorian era, the gargantuan hotel was a commercial black hole. It was therefore fortunate for the owners that war broke out in 1914 and suddenly a pressing need was found to quarter staff and administer the conflict.

In 1916, the increasing importance of the war in the air, combined with the profligacy and wanton disruption that the rivalry between the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service was causing meant that an Air Board should be formed to manage the quarrelling air services in a contained space. In January 1917 it was decided that the space in question should be the Hotel Cecil.

917260ce9481613856f39d2c923509f3

To the rear, the Hotel Cecil (and the Savoy Hotel next door) fronted the Victoria Embankment

The deep-rooted and bloody-minded rivalry between the two air arms carried on unabated, leading to claims that the occupants of the Hotel Cecil were ‘actively interfering’ with the running of the war. This in turn led to a nickname for their palatial residence: Bolo House, named after the celebrated French traitor, Bolo Pasha.

To digress – Bolo’s conviction was for a remarkable plot in which he was alleged to have travelled to America in order to receive laundered German funds with which he purchased Le Journal newspaper and began printing German propaganda. The evidence, such as it was, could only be described as circumstantial. Bolo’s firing squad was, however, utterly unequivocal.

2015-02-02 15.46.02

The Savoy still looks out over the Victoria Embankment

Back to London, then, and one significant ‘plus’ for men of the air divisions was that if they were required to work in the Cecil they would be quartered next door in the sumptuous Savoy Hotel. Many celebrated airmen of all allied nations, including Eddie Rickenbacker, found themselves enjoying the hospitality of the Savoy, although the Silvertown explosion on 19 January 1917 caused many of the windows to be blown in upon the hapless occupants.

It took the bombing of London in broad daylight by long-range German aircraft to force change upon the Bolo House, brought about by the wave of public outrage against Britain’s inefficient defences against attack. While the administrative work went on that would create a united and independent Royal Air Force, the first ever plotting room was created in the bowels of the hotel in order to marshal defending fighters against incoming arial raiders in a precursor to the famous system employed during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

2015-02-02 15.39.08

The plaque is almost correct – it was the first night raid by German aeroplanes

The German bombing campaign was also nearly the end of the Hotel Cecil, as on the night of 4/5 September the bombers came back for their first nocturnal sortie and managed to plant a 50 kg bomb virtually on the doorstep. The bomb itself landed beside Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment, onto which the rear entrance of both the Hotel Cecil and the Savoy faced.

The blast did kill and maim – a passing tram was caught in the blast, killing the driver and two passengers while blowing the conductor out onto the street.  Today the site is clearly seen by the shrapnel damage that remains upon Cleopatra’s Needle and the Sphinx.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As for the Hotel Cecil, it served out the war as the birthplace of the Royal Air Force and remained on governmental duties until 1921, when it was used to house the Palestine Arab delegation which arrived to protest the British mandate on the region. The site was then demolished in 1930 – save for the grand facade on The Strand – in order to make way for the beautiful art deco Shell-Mex House which presides over the Victoria Embankment to this day – Shell having provided every drop of aviation fuel used by the allies from 1914 to the end of 1917.

In 1961, after the official separation of Shell and BP, Shell moved its head office to the 27-storey leviathan on the South Bank of the river where it remains to this day. Shell-Mex House was disposed of in the 1990s and today it is known as 80 Strand, home of businesses as diverse as Penguin Books, the Nectar loyalty card and PricewaterhouseCoopers. A small green plaque was erected on the back gate in 2008 commemorating its status as the location where the Royal Air Force was founded.

2015-02-02 15.39.36

The art deco frontage of Shell-Mex House (left) replaced the Hotel Cecil in 1930 to become a major landmark on the Thames, viewed from the bomb-damaged Sphinx

Walking back along the Victoria Embankment towards the Houses of Parliament, a golden eagle soon rises up overhead. This is the memorial erected immediately after the Great War in honour of the fallen airmen whose fate, in almost every instance, was in part decided within the buildings along the route of this stroll around the city.

The golden eagle sits atop an orb, around which a sash is wrapped carrying all the signs of the zodiac. Upon the pedestal, the inscription reads:

In memory of all ranks of the Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force and those air forces from every part of the British Empire who gave their lives in winning victory for their King and country, 1914 – 1918.

There is also a quotation from Exodus 19: I bear you on eagles’ wings and brought you unto myself. 

2015-02-02 15.54.14

A further inscription was added in remembrance of those men and women of the air forces of every part of the British Commonwealth and Empire who gave their lives in World War 2, although this rather beautiful tribute has long since been overtaken by bigger-budget productions elsewhere, such as the magnificent Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park.

Just before reaching the end of this little walk around the crucible of British aviation, another of those modern memorials stands – that dedicated to the Battle of Britain in 1940. Just a few hundred metres from Westminster station, this low, flat block has the most ornate brass relief that makes an ideal spot to stop and tick off the places seen.

2015-02-02 15.56.12

The Battle of Britain memorial on Victoria Embankment

Westminster and Whitehall are so very ‘pomp and circumstance’ that it is hard to credit the emergence of modern air warfare to buildings more closely associated with Trafalgar and the creation of of the British Empire. Yet it is perhaps an even greater leap to now think of these majestic buildings being turned into foreign-owned hotels for those guests who may be tired of life at the Savoy – or may indeed have something other than tourism in mind for their visit.

Meanwhile, this little patch of London is ripe with myriad stories. Far too many to write in a blog post, a book or even a trilogy. Tripping over them is the ideal way to spend an hour or so messing about by the river…

2015-02-03 11.56.01

Shell-Mex House (centre) and The Savoy standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind Cleopatra’s Needle

Bader, Goodwood and another Battle of Britain commemoration

Another of the stories with which the S&G was regaling all and sundry at the 2015 Goodwood Revival surrounded the statue of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, one of the Battle of Britain’s best-known heroes, which stands before the Garden of Remembrance and, in its own way, commemorates one of the many historic links between Shell and Goodwood.

In 2015, the Goodwood Revival commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a spectacular gathering of wartime aircraft in the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation display and flying programme, supported by Shell as Official Fuel and Lubricants Partner to the event. It was therefore appropriate to look back upon the incredible life of Sir Douglas Bader, the ‘ace’ who later became Managing Director of Shell Aircraft Ltd.

Bader’s statue at Goodwood anchored the military vehicle area at the 2015 Revival

Lord March commissioned the statue in 2001 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Bader’s final operational sortie, on August 9 1941, when he led his wing of Spitfires from Goodwood (then RAF Westhampnett) towards occupied France. Recent research has shown that another Spitfire, in the heat of battle near Le Touquet, accidentally shot down Bader’s aircraft in northern France. Forced to bail out of his stricken machine, the RAF’s celebrated airman was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War.

The German medical officer who examined him exclaimed: “My God, you have lost your leg.” Soon afterwards they realized that this was in fact the famous British pilot who flew with two ‘tin legs’.

Bader had graduated from the RAF College in Cranwell in 1930, where he captained the Rugby team and was a champion boxer. A year later, however, he crashed his Bristol Bulldog fighter and both of his legs were amputated as a result.

Although discharged from the RAF, Bader was determined to keep flying and had artificial legs made, learning to walk again while taking a role working for Shell.

After considerable lobbying by Bader – something for which he was famous –the RAF agreed to take him back as a regular flying officer in 1935. Upon the outbreak of war, Bader was once again tireless in his efforts, this time to get posted to a frontline squadron, and duly arrived at 222 Squadron, flying Spitfires, in time to help provide air cover to the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Bader (centre) and the men of 242 Squadron at Duxford, September 1940

On his first operational sortie, Bader shot down a Messerschmitt Bf109. He was promoted to Squadron Leader during the Battle of Britain and given command of 242 Squadron, flying Hawker Hurricanes in Cambridgeshire – away from the most intense fighting, much to Bader’s chagrin.

Once again, Bader relentlessly lobbied his superiors, demanding that they employ a ‘Big Wing’ tactic, namely a massed formation of up to 70 fighters that Bader believed would hit the German bomber formations harder. Once again, Bader got his way.

This remarkable period of service came to an end in captivity after Bader had been credited with a total of 23 victories – although, in captivity, another chapter then began. Soon after his capture, a parcel was dropped by parachute during an RAF bombing raid with a note attached to it, which read:

“To the German flight commander of the Luftwaffe at St Omer. Please deliver to the undermentioned address this package for Wing Commander Bader, RAF prisoner of war, St Omer, containing artificial leg, bandages, socks, straps.”

Thus restored, Bader set about causing the Germans as much trouble as he had his RAF commanders. He tried repeatedly to escape and was eventually incarcerated in Colditz, where his captors confiscated his legs each night to prevent further escape attempts.

After the war, he rejoined Shell and travelled the world as Managing Director of Shell Aircraft Ltd. providing guidance on air operations and flight standards to Shell group companies worldwide.

Douglas Bader with the Miles Gemini he flew with Shell in the 1950s

Throughout this time, and through his retirement in 1969, Bader also worked tirelessly to establish and raise funds for the Douglas Bader Foundation, which provides help to disabled people who want to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

He was knighted for his work on behalf of the disabled, adding to the Distinguished Service Order that he was awarded twice, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Mentions in Dispatches, the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre.

Interestingly, the Bonhams auction at this year’s Revival was supposed to star Douglas Bader’s personal transport throughout the war years: his black MG Midget. In the end the car was withdrawn from the sale during the week before the event, but it was nevertheless heartening to see this fine motor car looking in such good trim.

The Battle of Britain: an untold story

The S&G was called upon by Shell at this year’s Revival to tell a few stories to support its ongoing partnership with Goodwood. The first of these was a timely and unsung tale of how Shell developed fuels that made their debut in the aircraft of Fighter Command in the summer of 1940.

One might have thought that the arrival of a new fuel grade that boosted the power and endurance that was made available to fighter aircraft defending Britain in the summer of 1940 might have merited the occasional mention before now. Indeed, it did – in a rather colourful tome called Time’s Forelock: a Record of Shell’s Contribution to Aviation in the Second World War, written by Wing Commander George Kerr in 1948.

The skies over Sussex were in dramatic form

The skies over Sussex were in dramatic form at the 2015 Revival

It’s an astonishing piece of work, and sets the scene that, with a little bit of Transatlantic archive plundering, produced the following story:

National commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, including those at the Goodwood Revival, are an opportunity to reflect not only upon the heroic efforts of the men and machines of RAF Fighter Command throughout the summer of 1940, but also those who serviced and supported their great endeavours. The pilots who flew into battle were immortalised by Winston Churchill as ‘the Few’, but those who worked tirelessly away from the fighting were the many – and among them was Shell.

Developing innovative products for the aviation industry has been Shell’s mission from the outset of powered flight. In 1919, Shell engaged Harry Ricardo to investigate the fundamental properties needed to make aviation fuels more effective. Improving the fuels became a process that ran parallel to improvements in engine technology, identifying the correct blends to deliver optimum performance that became known, from 1930 onwards, as the fuel’s octane number.

Throughout the 1930s, in laboratories spanning the UK, Netherlands and USA, Shell scientists created blends of various octane levels and with specific lean and rich running properties to suit a variety of roles, with an 87-octane blend becoming the global industry standard through the 1930s. Nevertheless, further increases in the octane rating of aviation fuel were sought, led by the world-famous air racer and manager of the aviation department of Shell in the USA, Jimmy Doolittle.

General Doolittle (in uniform) visiting Shell’s laboratories in 1945

As a direct result of Doolittle’s insistence, Shell constructed a dedicated plant producing 100-octane fuel in the USA by 1934. The 100-octane blend provided high performance aircraft with a 15 to 30 percent increase in power over a compatible engine burning 87-octane fuel, with measurable increases in terms of shorter take off runs and faster rate of climb as well as overall reduced fuel consumption – qualities that would prove invaluable for the fast response of interceptor aircraft like the Spitfire and Hurricane during the Battle of Britain.

The Royal Air Force had agreed to a limited supply of 100-octane fuel in 1938, but the outbreak of war placed supply routes under threat until the USA invoked a revised Neutrality Act in late 1939; allowing large quantities of 100-octane fuel to be shipped from the United States. Those supplies began to reach front-line squadrons in bulk through the first half of 1940 and would see its first use in battle in defending the evacuation of Dunkirk, immediately prior to the Battle of Britain.

Delivering those supplies was a fleet of tankers that was forced to brave not only the rigours of the North Atlantic but also the concentrated attacks of submarine and surface vessels. In total 29 fuel and oil tankers were sunk in the Atlantic during the period of the Battle of Britain, with the loss of 260 merchant sailors. Their sacrifice in attempting to deliver desperately needed fuel to the front line cannot be forgotten.

The Shell tanker Pecten, sunk on 20 August 1940 delivering 100-octane fuel to the RAF

As a result of using 100-octane fuel, the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines fitted to the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire were able to make maximum use of their increased power and range.

With 100-octane fuel, the supercharged Merlins of the RAF fighters could, once adjusted, be “boosted” from +6.25 lbs/sq.in. to +12 lbs/sq.in., increasing peak power from 880 hp (656 kW) to 1,310 hp (977 kW). This increased power substantially improved the rate of climb for Britain’s first line of defence, especially at low to medium altitudes, and increased top speed by up to 45 mph in level flight.

The development of aviation fuels would be accelerated dramatically throughout the next five years at war. Octane levels rose from 100- to 130- and finally 150-octane by the war’s end, by which time the piston-engined aircraft was at the limit of its development. But as early as May 6 1941, Shell scientists had been on hand to witness their kerosene at work in the first flight of an aircraft using an all-new form of aero engine: the jet.

By then the Battle of Britain had been declared a victory by the British Prime Minister and ‘the Few’ had been garlanded. In those 16 weeks, the Royal Air Force had beaten off the threat of surrendering control of the skies over its homeland, and the ‘Few’ of Fighter Command were justifiably the heroes of the hour.

Working with a racing legend

There are very few times in one’s life when the opportunity arises to say: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the seven times world motorcycle racing champion and 1964 Formula One world champion, John Surtees.”

But that is exactly what happened at Goodwood last month.

Big John‘ and self were engaged by Shell to bring the Revival to life for its guests and to mark the restoration of the Shell Classic X-100 motor oil as a brand. Not only is Shell bringing back an icon of the 1950s and 1960s to the shelves of your local retailer, but with every can sold it is raising money for one of the best causes out there – the Henry Surtees Foundation.

At Brands Hatch in 2009, a promising and personable young racer, Henry Surtees, was killed. Your scribe was at Manston that day, but had been at Brands Hatch the day before, when I was introduced to Henry by a mutual friend and was deeply impressed by his wit and easy confidence. When the news came over the radio that he had been lost, I was not alone in feeling his loss very sharply indeed, even after such a short meeting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I first met Henry’s celebrated father, when he was among the champions who had gathered in Bahrain to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Formula One world championship. His early arrival and eager presence around the paddock – accompanied at every turn by the stalwart artist, Michael Turner – became a welcome feature of the weekend.

Then came the matter of climbing aboard his car for the parade of champions: the wickedly beautiful little Ferrari 1512, which now resides in Bernie Ecclestone’s very private collection. John was rather uncomfortable about this, as it was to be the first time he had gone on track since Henry had died and his family was far from thrilled about it. Then the car broke. Bernie was annoyed, spotted windmilling his arms in the collecting area, but Surtees himself was outwardly unmoved.

The following day, with the car miraculously fixed by the genius who cares for it, the host of champions mustered once again. First out of the blocks was Nigel Mansell at the wheel of the glorious Thinwall Special Ferrari. He was followed by the likes of Damon Hill in his title-winning Williams, Mario Andretti in his title-winning Lotus and Jody Scheckter in his title-winning Ferrari.

I was stationed beside ‘Big John’ in case there was another problem. Here was a rather wiry, almost nervous old gentleman, far removed from the confident, beaming figure that we all recognise in the photos from the mid-Sixties. He seemed ill at ease while the likes of Keke Rosberg and Jackie Stewart set off on either side amid the yowl of Cosworth DFV power – but then came the most unforgettable sight.

First of all, the Surtees chin jutted. Then he snapped his goggles down and the years fell away. Everything about his body language changed – as if to say: “I’m still a bloody racing driver, like it or not!” And with that he dumped the clutch and left two black lines running down the immaculate Bahraini pit lane. It was an astounding demonstration of courage.

Fast forward to this year’s Revival, where John was to be found signing autographs at every turn, posing for selfies, doing interviews and generally being pressed into action. He drove a Ferrari 250 LM to lead out the Lavant Cup competitors, helped to open Shell’s new vintage-looking aviation refuelling area and he played a key role in the Bruce McLaren tribute.

In the midst of all this, he came and spoke to a lot of bigwigs from Shell. As MC for the event, I had seven questions to make sure we said all the right things – and didn’t need one of them. Surtees has been a Shell ambassador for decades and knows, very precisely, what to say and when. Then I asked him to tell the audience something about Henry and what the Foundation is doing in his name. And what a response.

John talked us through his time as a karting dad, about Henry’s life and loss and then about the work that the Foundation has done since 2009. He spoke brilliantly about the lives saved because the Air Ambulance now has blood transfusion equipment. About his determination not only to make the world safer in Henry’s name but also to use motor sport to bring wayward and disadvantaged kids back from the brink.

All of it impressed upon the guests how important every can of Shell X-100 oil sold will be. And, equally, it also showed the determination and energy of a man who, even in his ninth decade, is determined to work harder than ever in his son’s name to bring some measure of good from his horrendous loss. This is the John Surtees that I have come to know. These encounters have been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope that our paths cross again before long.

On the Goodwood High Street…

It’s the place to come and see and be seen – and in the absence of We Heart Vintage at this year’s revival, the S&G stepped manfully into the breach to record the best and brightest of what everyone was doing out on the replica High Street. Were you shopping in the vintage Tesco or posing at the Shell garage? Why not relive the life, laughs and Lambrettas for a while with this here gallery, like…