It was fifty years ago - part two

Actually, as you may be able to see from the cover of this issue of Autosport, it was fifty years and three weeks ago but I will catch up eventually and write this blog exactly 50 years after the events themselves happened.

But this is as good a place to start as any, for me at least, as this was the very first Grand Prix I remember watching.

It was 9 days before my tenth birthday and it was almost certainly the first opportunity I'd had to watch a live GP since I'd seen THAT picture of the Gold Leaf Team Lotus 72 in Motorsport Magazine, even though Monaco was the third round of the championship.

That in itself is an indication of how times have changed and how little live sport there actually was on TV. The World Cup, yes, the Olympics, certainly but everything else was hit and miss. Motor racing was particularly bad; right up until early 1978 often the only way to find out who'd won a Grand Prix was either to search the sports pages of the papers on Monday (or Tuesday if it was, say, a South American race) or even to wait until Thursday when Autosport was published.

Different times!

Races were sometimes shown on TV, in Britain that was often as a feature on the motoring programme, Wheelbase, a predecessor of Top Gear. Certainly the first GP, South Africa was shown that way (it's on YouTube) but I'm not sure the second, Spain was.

Whatever, the good old BBC showed it live, in black and white but what a race for me to start my Grand Prix watching. I'm not going to talk about it in detail, the story of poor old Black Jack Brabham locking up on the last corner letting my hero, Jochen Rindt through to win is too well known for me to add anything new.

The cover picture though...

The two drivers are the British driver Piers Courage followed by the Swiss Jo Siffert. Again it is an illustration of how times have changed, this was the time when sex was safe and motor racing was dangerous after all. Siffert had about 18 months to live when this shot was taken, whilst Courage had only 42 days left on Earth. Both died in fiery accidents, Siffert at Brands Hatch in a non-championship 'Victory' race for Jacky Stewart and Courage during the Dutch GP at Zandvoort.

And before the next GP, in Belgium in early June, Bruce Maclaren, the founder of the current team of the same name, died in a testing accident at Goodwood.

Motor racing is still a dangerous pastime but technology has made it infinitely safer. Fuel fires are virtually unknown, the regular cull of drivers mercifully has stopped.

That car of Courage's though, that is so significant for contemporary motor racing, even though, in itself was unsuccessful.

It was the de Tomaso 505. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you've never heard of it but, yes, technically it's the same company that built the mad supercars. They didn't design it though, nor did they run the car.

Firstly, the entrant: It was a 28 year-old wheeler-dealer by the name of Frank Williams. Yes, THAT Williams. He'd actually run a private Brabham BT26 in F1 the year before and gained some very decent results with Courage. This was his first attempt at becoming a constructor.

At Twenty-eight! With no money! The ambition of the man was truly scary.

And the designer? A certain Gian Paulo Dallara. Yes, the founder of the Italian company that almost certainly produces more racing cars than any other. I can't help but cite the opening paragraph of the company's Wikipedia page:

"Dallara Automobili is an Italian chassis manufacturer for various motor racing series, being most notable for its near-monopoly in Formula Three since 1993. Dallara also produces the chassis used by the IndyCar Series, Indy Lights, FIA Formula 2 Championship, Renault Sport Series, GP3 Series, Super Formula, Formula E and ADAC Formel Masters and is formerly one of the manufacturers in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. In recent years their engineering activities have expanded considerably (now represents 40% of total sales), both in terms of the racing cars and high performance road cars."

If you've watch virtually any series, including F1 over the last 20 years you'll have been watching a Dallara at some point. Haas F1 use Dallara to design and build their machines and many other smaller teams have in the past.

Two behemoths of modern motor sport in one - somewhat sad - fifty year old picture.

To me, as a writer of historical fiction and an avid consumer of historical non-fiction, it's fabulous.