Bob McMurray: Lost in transit
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The Formula 1 circus descends this weekend on the Circuit Paul Ricard, otherwise known as Le Castellet, in south-eastern France.
The dusty and hot track high in the hills will bring back memories for many who were involved in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s when the race was on the full circuit.
During the 1990s, the short circuit was used until the race was moved to the characterless Magny-Cours track in central France.
Built by and named after the “king of pastis” Paul Ricard and opened in 1970, the track and area were a favourite of the paddock with good French food, wine and the Mediterranean beaches just 30 minutes to the south.
It even had the circuit approach roads liberally sprinkled with “ladies of the night”, who seemed equally at home as being “ladies of the day”.
Paddock glitterati also made full use of the airport, able to handle private aircraft within the track boundaries.
In 1986 it was also a scene of tragedy when popular driver Elio de Angelis died while driving his Brabham BT55 in a test session. F1 team owner Frank Williams also sustained injuries that left him a tetraplegic when he crashed driving from a test at the track.
Looking at the entry list for the 1985 Grand Prix it is striking to see the team names: Alfa Romeo, Arrows, Brabham, Ferrari, Ligier, Lotus, McLaren, Minardi, Osella, RAM, Tyrrell, Williams and Zakspeed.
In the next three years those teams were joined by the likes of March, Rial, Dallara, AGS, EuroBrun, Osella and Coloni.
Out of all of those names only three — Ferrari, McLaren and Williams — survive in today’s F1.
With the exception of Alfa Romeo, all teams were privately owned with, arguably, one man directing the overall operation. That individual had the respect and devotion of the small band that made up the team.
It was an exciting time in the sport, a time of real competition, characters and powerful. Simple looking cars had inventive and ground-breaking designs and, compared to today, minimal rules.
From Enzo Ferrari to Enzo Coloni and Enzo Osella, from Ken Tyrrell to Guy Ligier; they were mostly innovators working on budgets and operations that are today outnumbered in money and personnel terms by the teams’ catering staff alone.
They were as fiercely competitive and as uncompromising as any the sport has seen, but primarily they were team-owning sportsmen.
A look at the entry for the French GP 2018 edition sees Ferrari competing with Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas, Sauber and Williams.
Haas and Williams, with arguably McLaren and Force India, are the only teams that can be called, in any way; independent of a board or corporation that runs the operation.
The Haas operation owned by American Gene Haas, a man heavily involved in motorsport on both sides of the Atlantic and who would have been at home in the sport all those decades ago, is practically a satellite Ferrari team.
Force India is in a fight for survival while undergoing ownership and financial woes. Williams is, sadly, at its lowest ebb.
McLaren, now apparently riven with internal discontent and floundering without that inspirational type of leader, seems intent on departing the core business of the operation, which is F1 racing, not Le Mans, not sports cars, not even IndyCar.
Fix the F1 side of things first and then worry about the rest.