Category Archives: Grand Prix history

Maria-Teresa de Filippis 1926-2016

Maria-Teresa de Filippis, the first of only two women to start an F1 World Championship race, has died at the age of 89.

Born in 1926, de Filippis gained experience in domestic sportscar racing in Italy with OSCA and Maserati machinery before an F1 opportunity opened up in 1958, helped by the encouragement of mentor and Ferrari star Luigi Musso.

She drove a Maserati 250F in the non-championship Syracuse GP in April, and was classified fifth of the six finishers, albeit four laps down on winner Musso. She then made her first attempt to qualify for a World Championship race in Monaco, but was 22nd fastest at time when only 16 cars were allowed start.

However she did make the field at Spa, creating history by taking the start from 19th on the grid and finishing in 10th place. She also qualified at Oporto in Portugal, where she took over a Scuderia Centro-Sud 250F after crashing her own car in practice, only to suffer an early retirement. She made her third GP start in her home event in Italy, where she ran as high as fifth in a race of high attrition before suffering a late engine failure.

De Filippis suffered a major blow when Musso was killed at that year’s French GP. However heading into 1959 she found a new mentor in Jean Behra, then a works Ferrari driver.

She drove a 250F in the International Trophy at Silverstone in May, in what proved to be her final F1 start. She failed to qualify at Monaco in Behra’s Porsche, and after the French star was killed at AVUS in August she announced her retirement from the sport at the age of just 33. Later she served as Honorary President of the Grand Prix Drivers Club.

The organisation’s current president Howden Ganley said: “Motor racing has lost a very lovely lady. She was an icon, the first lady to race in Formula One, and of course we younger ones certainly admired that, as did her contemporaries. Maria Teresa, with her boundless enthusiasm, was a mainstay in our Club for so many years. She will be irreplaceable.”

Although she started only three Grands Prix it’s a measure of her achievement that the only woman to successfully follow in her footsteps was fellow Italian Lella Lombardi, who took part in 12 races in 1975-’76.

De Filippis is survived by her husband Theo K. Huschek and daughter Carola. Her funeral will take place on Monday in Scanzorosciate, the town where she lived.

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No tyre conspiracy in Singapore, says Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton is adamant that he doesn’t believe in any conspiracy theories regarding the tyres used by Mercedes in Singapore – and says that the team’s problems were a result of set-up issues.

After qualifying in Marina Bay Hamilton challenged the media and his team to find out why the drivers had struggled for grip, and since the race his engineers have conducted an in-depth analysis.

“Whatever happened, happened,” he said today. “I believe there are reasons in our balance and our set-up that we had, the avenues that we went down which affected the car the way it did and the tyres the way it did, and the other teams perhaps did better than us. I don’t believe in all that conspiracy stuff, we just put it down to the technical side of things, and we could have done a better job.”

Hamilton says that the team is satisfied with the results of its post-race investigation.

“I can’t tell you what the team have come up with, but they have come up with a lot of solutions, a lot of reasons for it being the way it was. The majority of them believe at least one of the many solutions, or reasons for it that we’ve came up, with had a domino effect. I’m confident that it’s been understood, but they will continue to do analysis, I’m sure.”

“It was consistent, it felt the same all weekend. We obviously changed the set-up, so it felt better by Saturday in qualifying, it felt better by the race. But generally it was the same. It felt normal to us, we didn’t have more grip at one point, and less grip later. That’s the grip we had all weekend, and it felt normal to us. It’s just the others had more.”

He added: “I believe it was specific to Singapore, so we should go back to normal weekends, really.”

However he said that the team was not taking anything for granted.

“Well you can never say never, thinking that it was just a fluke or anything like that. Sometimes there are going to be situations like that whether it’s this year or next year or the year after. I’m hoping that we’ve learned from that weekend, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”

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Phil Kerr 1934-2015

Phil Kerr, a key player in the early days of both the Brabham and McLaren F1 teams, has passed away in his native New Zealand.

Kerr first met Bruce McLaren at a hillclimb when he was 17 and the future F1 star was 15, and they were both runnng Ausin Seven Specials. Later Kerr studied business and accountancy, and initially worked for the New Zealand Forest Service before moving into engineering.

He combined his own racing activities with working behind the scenes of the sport, joining the board of the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association at an early age. He was also secretary of the Auckland Car Club. As a driver he was good enough to be shortlisted for the ‘Driver to Europe’ award – which was eventually won by his friend McLaren.

It was in 1959 that McLaren recommended Kerr to his Cooper team mate Jack Brabham, who was starting his own organisation. Kerr duly travelled to the UK and helped to set up and run Jack’s Chessington facility. Later he was instrumental in getting a young Denny Hulme into Brabham, and he played a key role in the successful 1966 and 1967 World Championship campaigns.

Kerr felt that he’d achieved all he could at Brabham, and looking for a new challenge he joined Hulme in a move to McLaren in 1968. He became joint managing director, and along with Teddy Mayer he helped to keep the team going after Bruce’s death in 1970. He left the team after running Mike Hailwood’s Yardley-backed car as a satellite operation in 1974.

He subsequently returned to New Zealand to develop his business interests, using the McLaren Group name.

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Gerard Ducarouge 1941-2015

Legendary F1 chief designer Gerard Ducarouge has passed away at the age of 73. The colourful Frenchman is best remembered for his work with Ligier and Lotus, where he was responsible for a string of race winning cars.

Born in October 1941, Frenchman Ducarouge qualified in aeronautical engineering. He first came to prominence with Matra, where he designed the cars that won Le Mans in 1972, ’73 and ’74.

After Matra closed its works team he joined Guy Ligier, who was creating a Matra-powered F1 car for 1976. Ducarouge designed the JS5, famous for the ‘teapot’ airbox that it used in the first few races of the season. Jacques Laffite took pole for that year’s Italian GP, and then gave Ligier its first GP victory with the JS7 in 1977.

Ducarouge is perhaps best known for the JS11. The car dominated the early part of the 1979 World Championship in the hands of Laffite and Patrick Depailler, although later in the year the team was overhauled by both Ferrari and Williams. The updated JS11/15 was also a frontunner in 1980, when Didier Pironi joined the team. Laffite then won two more GPs in 1981 with the JS17.

Ducarouge subsequently fell out with Ligier and joined the works Alfa Romeo F1 team, where he designed the 182, with which Andrea de Cesaris took pole at Long Beach.

In May 1983 he turned down the chance to join Renault and instead made a move to Lotus. The team had lost founder Colin Chapman at the end of the previous year, and new boss Peter warr was keen to find a ‘name’ to help placate sponsors JPS. In fact he had been offered a job by Chapman himself in the past, but had turned it down.

Employing a more methodical approach than that associated with ideas man Chapman, Ducarouge helped Lotus create the 94T almost overnight in the middle of the 1983 season, working with Martin Ogilvie. In 1985 Ayrton Senna joined the team, and the Brazilian formed a close bond with Ducarouge. Senna scored his first GP wins in Portugal and Belgium with the Renault-powered 97T. Ayrton added four more successes over the next two years with the 98T and the Honda-equipped 99T, before moving on to McLaren.

Ducarouge himself left Lotus after a disappointing 1988 season and joined the team run by his former Matra colleague Gerard Larrousse, before returning to Ligier for a second spell in the early nineties, where he was involved with the JS39 that ran in 1993-’94. Subsequently he drifted away from F1 and rejoined Matra to work on other projects.

A charming and stylish man, he was much admired and respected in the paddock.

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Jean-Pierre Beltoise 1937-2015

Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who earned his place in the history books with his sole F1 win in Monaco in 1972, has died at the age of 77.

Born in Paris, Beltoise first demonstrated his speed while driving his butcher father’s delivery truck around the city. He began racing motorcycles and after a stint of military service interrupted his progress he won multiple French championships before moving to cars. An accident in the 1964 Rheims 12 Hours left him with serious leg and arm injuries, but he fought back to establish himself as France’s top racer over the rest of the decade.

He was best known for his long association with Matra, which began in F3 in 1965, and continued in F2 the following year. At the end of 1967 Matra began its move into Grand Prix racing and Beltoise ran an F2 car in the US and Mexican events. He contested a full season with the new works V12 in 1968, finishing second in Holland. He also found time to win that year’s European F2 title.

In 1969 Matra switched to Cosworth power and Beltoise drove alongside Jackie Stewart under the auspices of Ken Tyrrell. He finished second in his home race and earned a couple of thirds as his team mate took the title.

The V12 returned in 1970 and back in the works Matra team Beltoise earned more thirds in Belgium and Italy. His 1971 season was overshadowed by a controversial crash in the Buenos Aires 1000kms sportscar race which cost the life of Ferrari driver Ignazio Giunti and led him to losing his licence for a while. Beltoise had been pushing his Matra back to the pits when it was struck by the Italian.

He moved to BRM in 1972 and enjoyed his day of days when he outdrove the field to win a wet Monaco GP, although he had little luck elsewhere. In 1973 he was outshone by new team mate Niki Lauda, while in 1974 a second place in South Africa showed that he could still get the job done. It was his eighth and final F1 podium finish. His season ended with a heavy practice crash in the final race at Watkins Glen, which left him with foot injuries.

He was supposed to return to F1 with Ligier in 1976, but ultimately Jacques Laffite got the job, and his single-seater career fizzled out. He was involved with the birth of the Rondeau Le Mans effort before moving to touring cars, winning the French title in both 1976 and 77.

Beltoise’s first wife was killed in a road accident and he later married Jacqueline Cevert, sister of his close friend Francois.

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Jonathan Williams 1942-2014

Jonathan Williams chatting with Jim Clark

Jonathan Williams chatting with Jim Clark

Jonathan Williams, perhaps best known for driving a works Ferrari on his one and only GP start in Mexico in 1967, passed away in Spain on Sunday at the age of 71. A true gentleman, and a gentle man, he will be much missed by his friends.

Born in Cairo in 1942 – his parents ran a school there – Jonathan’s passion for racing was fired by a trip to Silverstone in 1951. He began racing in 1961 with a Mini, and on one famous afternoon crashed at Mallory Park. He was sitting on the bank watching when another driver, who happened to share his surname, crashed nearby. Thus Jonathan and Frank Williams met for the first time, and later through Jonathan Frank met two men who would play a big role in his life, Piers Courage and Sheridan Thynne.

In 1963 Jonathan travelled Europe with a Formula Junior Merlyn, with Frank serving as his mechanic. Alas a big crash in Monaco, where he injured his leg and received a bang on the head, proved to be a major setback.

In 1964 he teamed up with Courage to run in the new F3 category, and the pair both bought Lotus 22s. Using the Anglo-Swiss Racing name in an attempt to impress continental race organisers, they raced all over Europe before funding ran out. Help was at hand however, and for 1965 friend Charles Lucas – who had recently come into some money – set up his own team, employing Jonathan, Piers and Peter Gethin.

Jonathan always loved Italy, and for 1966 he accepted an offer to join the works de Sanctis team. He was the star of the cut-and-thrust world of Italian F3 that year, which caught the attention of Ferrari.

He was duly signed up for 1967 and spent the year racing for the Scuderia in sportscars, CanAm and F2. It was a turbulent season for the team that saw Lorenzo Bandini die at Monaco, and Jonathan’s close friend Mike Parkes injured at Spa. During a gap between CanAm races he was told to travel to Mexico City. After minimal practice he was given his first and only F1 start in the chassis rejected by number one driver Chris Amon, in which he finished eighth. A subsequent testing crash at Modena brought his Ferrari career to an end.

In 1968 Jonathan raced for various F2 teams, winning the Monza Lottery for Frank Williams, who by now had become an entrant in his own right.

Mexico aside, Jonathan’s other claim to fame came in 1970 when he became involved in the making of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, driving the Porsche 908 camera car in the race itself, as well as taking part in the months of filming that followed.

The death of his closest friend Courage at that year’s Dutch GP was a heart wrenching blow for Jonathan, and the following year his racing career fizzled out.

Having learned to fly he spent some time as a private pilot for wealthy businessmen before dropping out and spending many years travelling around the coast of France, Spain and Portugal in a small motorhome. In recent years he had settled at a base in Spain, keeping himself occupied by writing magazine articles about racing history, but his plan was always to buy another motorhome and set off again on his travels. Sadly it was not to be.

I first met Jonathan in 1998 when I started writing a book about Piers Courage, and we stayed in touch thereafter. I visited him regularly when I travelled to Jerez for winter F1 testing, and we spent a family holiday with him last summer. This time last year he stayed with me en route to the Zandvoort historic event, where a memorial to Piers was unveiled.

That was a rare trip as he was never fond of crowds, or the hassles associated with airports. However he had agreed to attend the upcoming Italian GP in company with a historic racer whose Ferrari sportscar he had demonstrated at a revival event. A couple of weeks ago Jonathan emailed me to say he wouldn’t be able to make Monza on health grounds – and with typical thoughtfulness asked if I could catch up with his friend and show him around.

Quietly spoken, and forever modest about his own achievements as a driver, he was a very special man, and much loved by his loyal friends.

At Jonathan’s own request donations can be made to the hospice where he spent his final days,

The writer with Charles Lucas (centre) and Jonathan at Zandvoort last year

The writer with Charles Lucas (centre) and Jonathan at Zandvoort last year


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Tony Settember 1926-2014

Californian Tony Settember, who started six Grands Prix in 1962-63, passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.

Born in Manila, Settember made his name racing and MG, Mercedes and latterly a Corvette in west coast sportscar events.

In 1962 he entered F1 with a specially built Emeryson, and competed in the British and Italian Grands Prix, although he was too tall for the chassis. He also raced a Corvette at Le Mans.

The Emeryson design formed the basis of the Scirocco-BRM he raced in 1963. He started at Spa, Reims, Silverstone and the Nurburgring, failing to finish on every occasion. He then failed to qualify at Monza. He was equally ill-starred in non-championship F1 races, but managed to finish second behind Jack Brabham at Zeltweg in a race of high attrition that saw just three cars see the flag.

After giving up on F1 he returned to the US scene, appearing in CanAm events and racing in the F5000 series as late as 1974.

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Roland Ratzenberger: Memories of a friend

Roland commissioned this Xmas card from the great Jim Bamber

Roland commissioned this Xmas card from the great Jim Bamber

Today is the day the motor sporting world remembers Roland Ratzenberger, and I’m happy that his name still means something even to those who never had a chance to meet him.

I was fortunate enough to call him a friend. Indeed he was one of the best friends I ever had in motor racing, and someone who played a game changing role in my life. I think about him often, and not just on April 30.

I was pleased when the makers of the Senna documentary went out of their way to find a clip of him talking to Simtek engineer Humphrey Corbett at Imola – footage of Roland is hard to come by, and it was the first time in years that I’d heard his voice, or seen him talking.

Recently I’ve been digging through boxes of ancient microcassettes, and many feature Roland. Mostly he’s talking about understeer or oversteer at whatever race we happened to be at, and I regret that we never sat down and properly talked through his career. The closest I got was when we did the 1986 Formula Ford Festival as a Race of my Life for Autosport. The struggles he faced to even get onto the grid that weekend were a reminder of just how hard he had to work to make it.

I had first met Roland that season, when he was starting to make a name for himself in Formula Ford in the UK. He was basically running his own show, working on his own car, having got his start by preparing machines for drivers of lesser talent and teaching in racing schools. He didn’t have a manager, and everything he did was as a result of his own hard work.

I got to know him more as he worked his way through F3, British F3000, touring cars and into sportscars. He was always keen to forge relationships with journalists, as he was well aware of the value of the media. But it was his charm and sense of humour that caught your eye, rather than any boasting about his achievements.

When I was on the staff of Autosport and he was racing in Japan I’d often ring him for the latest gossip and for the inside story on what had happened that weekend. In the summer of 1991 I decided to go and see the Japanese scene for myself, and my two-week trip started with a local Group C race at Fuji.

I’d been to Fuji and Suzuka several times for World Sportscar Championship races, but I was always passing through on the way to a race, and had never had a chance to spend any time in Tokyo. On Sunday night after the Fuji race some of the drivers took me on my first ever tour of the city’s Roppongi nightspots, which proved to be a real eye opener. We started in Charleston, an Italian restaurant that is still there today and is virtually unchanged, and then went on something of a bar crawl.

Gradually Johnny Herbert, Thomas Danielsson, Volker Weidler and the rest faded away, until just Roland and myself remained in a grotty dive called Deja Vu. We had a few more beers, and I can remember Roland teasing a lady of the night who seemed convinced that she had bagged him as a customer. She finally got the message and left us.

Roland and I were the last customers, and as we departed, they were putting the chairs on the tables. It was daylight as we stumbled back to the President Hotel, and somewhere along the way we came to the conclusion that it would be a fine idea if I came to live in Japan to cover the local racing scene, and give the overseas drivers some extra publicity back in Europe. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

The following March I duly turned up in Japan with a couple of suitcases at the start of what turned out to be a two-year stint in the Far East. It was to be perhaps the defining experience of my life, and I formed bonds with drivers that are still in place today, all these years later. I also met the future Mrs C in Tokyo. And without that drink-fuelled conversation with Roland, it would never have happened.

My first race weekend in 1992 was a Suzuka F3000 event. A team had booked me a hotel room at the Circuit Hotel, and when I discovered that it cost £120 a night – about £120 more than my budget – I was stuck. Roland took pity on me, as he had a spare bed in his twin room, and he was happy to have some company.

That weekend he happened to be driving a knackered old Lola chassis, and when he failed to make the grid he was as depressed as I’d ever seen him. Fortunately the team would eventually give him a new car, and he was soon at the front.

He was well aware that living and working in Japan as a freelance didn’t make much financial sense for me, and he did me a huge favour by asking me to write his press releases, which I then faxed to personal sponsors and his pals in the Austrian media. The inside cover my old address book still contains the list of numbers I used.

He paid me equivalent of around £70 a race. It wasn’t much, but it helped towards my expenses as I travelled around Japan by train and plane. Roland also persuaded other drivers to use me, and soon my client list included Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Salo and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. They all made it to F1 so my PR service must have done something!

Roland had another reason to be a little melancholy on that first Suzuka weekend. In the winter in Monaco he had married the former partner of another driver after a whirlwind courtship. Suddenly he was not only a husband, but also a stepfather, as the lady in question had a son. However, it was all over within months, and by the start of that 1992 season, he was single again.

Around that time I remember we chatted in a restaurant with a British driver who enjoyed a brief spell in Japanese F3. In stark contrast to Roland he was lacking, shall we say, in both the looks and charm departments. When the conversation turned to women he said, ‘I haven’t been laid since Macau.’ ‘I’ve been married and divorced since then!,’ was Roland’s deadpan reply…

His biggest mistake was the commitment he made to the lady in question by throwing away the little black book of phone numbers that he’d spent years collecting. Starting from scratch was not a problem, since Roland always had an eye for the ladies, and he had an amazing success rate. He wasn’t averse to chasing the girlfriends of other drivers, as his brief marriage attested, and that occasionally made life difficult!

One of his unusual goals was to try to enjoy female company in the team motorhome between stints in 24 hour races. I think the last time we discussed it he’d managed the feat twice at Le Mans, and once at the Nurburgring.

At Le Mans in 1990 I was waiting in the pitlane with Roland and a bunch of other drivers before the start of the parade laps. A girl emerged from the crowd. The daughter of a marshal, she turned out to be his conquest of the previous year. ‘Why didn’t you write?,’ she said somewhat sadly. All Roland could do was smile…

At the start of the Simtek era he hooked up with a young lady who, years later, would become a major UK TV personality. He sent the team a handwritten fax detailing, in perfect motor racing engineering language, what happened on their first night together – including problems with bottoming out! A debrief of a very different kind.

There are so many stories, such as the time he used his deep Austrian accent to record a Terminator-style ‘I’ll be back’ answer machine message for F3000 rival Jeff Krosnoff, whose own life would be tragically cut short in a Champcar crash.

There was his disappointment when he found out that Jacques Villeneuve knew so little about father Gilles, and his sadness when I told him that Denny Hulme had died at Bathurst. Motor sport history meant a lot to him.

Then there was the time Anthony Reid had a huge accident in front of him during an F3000 test at Fuji. Reid came to a halt without his helmet and with blood streaming down his face. It was actually a superficial injury, but Roland had to take charge of the scene as the marshals had freaked out. Later he made sure I wrote about the shortcomings of safety in a Japanese magazine. He wanted to make a point.

Once we even discussed Austria’s appalling run of racing tragedies – Jochen Rindt, Helmuth Koinigg, Jo Gartner and the sadly forgotten F2 driver, Markus Hottinger. He was not impressed when I mispronounced the latter as ‘Hot,’ instead of something like ‘Hurt,’ with an umlaut. We didn’t know that a couple of years later he would join that sad list.

All these memories have been bouncing around my head for the past 20 years, and he’s never far away. But what I remember most of all is that huge, beaming smile that was his trademark. I consider myself lucky to have known him.


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Video: Nico Rosberg on his Australian win

Here’s what a very happy Nico Rosberg has to say about his Australian GP victory.

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Alonso/Raikkonen combo could work well, says Prost

Alain Prost sees no reason why the Fernando Alonso/Kimi Raikkonen combination won’t work for Ferrari next year.

Prost was involved in two of the most contentious team line-ups in history, with Ayrton Senna at McLaren and Nigel Mansell at Ferrari, but he says that having two star drivers can help a team.

“Only next year will tell us, because that can work very well, there’s no question,” he said in Singapore. “It has worked well in the past. Everybody thinks about Ayrton and myself, but it has also worked well, it has worked well also for the team, because we really put the team on the top. Obviously if you have a problem the management has to make it work. So it’s going to be more difficult, but it can work. I don’t know if it’s the right choice – we are going to see next year.”

He conceded that the fact that the drivers have such contrasting approaches could help: “It should be easier for sure, because Kimi has a different character.”

Meanwhile Prost agreed that modern drivers have different personalties compared to his day.

“They have changed, but it’s normal. Society has changed, and the way they start… Look at Sebastian, he’s going to be maybe four times World Champion this year, 26 years old. I won my first race at 26, so you cannot compare, it’s a different generation.

“They never lived with accidents, the risk, so it’s also a different mentality. The way they work now with the cars and teams, it is obviously very different, it’s much more electronic, it’s much more organised, that’s why you can’t compare. But the ability, the skill, the talent, is still there. And we have a good generation of drivers.”

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