Today I watched the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix and it was a reminder of how things have changed and how similar things are to the very beginnings in France more than 110 years ago!
It was only yesterday I was reading about the very first Grand Prix the French GP of 1906 in Le Mans. It was an amazing event held over a road course of 64 miles about 100km through the small towns and villages on the roads outside Le Mans city. The race of 769 miles over 1000km was contested over two days with cars setting of 90 seconds apart. There was a full grid of 34 cars from many countries. The big manufacturers of the time like Renault and Mercedes had professional crews of mechanics and workers, sparking controversy as this was considered the first seeds of professionalism penetrating the sport. The race was won by a well known French brand called Renault and the driver was Ferenc Szisz of Hungary.
Now you may ask how do this huge engined beasts in the French countryside relate to the technological marvels we see today? The first thing that caught my eye was that three of the top manufacturers in that first race are still on the grid today. Renault, Mercedes and Fiat (Ferrari).
This morning Sebastian Vettel made a big mistake by opting to qualify on the wrong tyres. The first Grand Prix featured what could loosely be described as a tyre war. Three very familiar names supplied the black bits; Michelin, Dunlop and Continental. The race was lost by not fitting the new Michelin detachable rims! The new detachable rims took only four minutes to change compared to 15 minutes on the standard wheel! The winner Szisz made 19 tyre changes and the third placed car finished only 30 minutes adrift of the winner. Remarkably he shunned the fangled tyres (oh dear). Winning the race gave Renault a remarkable boost in sales almost doubling the next years turn over. I wonder if the old Ford quote “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” still applies at today's Grand Prix?
Frustratingly somehow I have a naive jealousy of how the French got things done in 1906. Just a few weeks ago Silverstone had the embarrassment of a cancelled Moto GP because the tarmac track surface was not up to scratch. With talk of contractors being sued and a massive over budget to Silverstone if they have to pay for the 3.5 miles 5 kms of track to be relaid, it seems remarkable that a few days before the 1906 Grand Prix they re-laid all 60+ miles of track! Where the circuit had to detour around villages deemed to small to drive through they quickly built wooden roads around them! At the bottom of my local road they are building a new 900 meter slip road that will take a year to complete and will cost 62 million pounds! Most people are pissed off with the two hour queues already and loss of income to businesses! Oh if only it was 1906!