Motorsport: The good old days of F2

By Bob McMurray

Max Verstappen battles for position with Kimi Raikkonen during the Australian GP. Photo / Getty Images
Max Verstappen battles for position with Kimi Raikkonen during the Australian GP. Photo / Getty Images

In the lead up to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix the FIA ratified another 'rebranding' that would have brought fond memories, mostly, to some of the old guard of the sport.

I hasten to add here that the sobriquet very much includes me.

Of course it does as I moan and complain and constantly remember "the good old days" because, as I have said on previous occasions, the brain much better recollects the "good' bit about the 'old days' and also because they were, on balance, simply better.

Anyway, back to the FIA pronouncement that the GP2 Series will henceforth be known as the 'FIA FORMULA 2 CHAMPIONSHIP'.

I have yet to see just what having an official ladder, from F4 to F3 to F2 and then presumably to F1, will have in practical terms for young drivers with all the talk about "great opportunities for drivers" not giving any idea about just how they will achieve that progression in any way that is different from before.

Just changing a name doesn't do much. If it did mine would be Ayrton Senna.

It does all sound good though I guess.

Like many forms of the sport F2 has early beginnings but I talk here of the later years of the formula in what I believe was it's heyday, the 2 litre engine days.

Formula 2 was the main route to Formula 1 from 1967 to the early 1980s and finally disappeared in 1984, mainly due to HONDA entering the fray with a works engine and an endless supply of dollars, which effectively destroyed the competition and the grids. For a few years in the early 1970s I was doing double duty in F2 and F1 and even in those days it was a great feeder for the main game with drivers often doing F2 alongside their F1 commitments. They mixed with the young drivers of the day in cars that were by today's standards pretty rudimentary.

Individual manufacturers made the cars with names like MARCH, CHEVRON, RALT, TOLEMAN, SURTEES and MARTINI although in later years the MARCH and CHEVRON chassis became predominant and the grids were full of names of the future.

In 1967 there were probably more F1 drivers in the series than not and even in the early 1970s the likes of F1 stars Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda mixed it up with new names like Hunt, Mass, Watson and Cheever.

It was a great series with which to be involved and like many a yesteryear period with a paddock inhabited by a rabble of young, excitable thrill seeking men with too much time on their hands, it was "great fun"!

The teams were overpopulated if there were more than seven people looking after two cars but the cars were simple and panic rebuilds only came along when the driver departed the proscribed black stuff when on track.

Nogaro in the South-western part of France seemed to be a favourite with all the teams.
Perhaps because the town was also the site of a large distillery of Armagnac brandy and in the centre of French haute cuisine at it's finest. We, as mechanics, did draw the line at 'Sparrows Tongues in Aspic' for dinner one night however. In fact the race track is named the 'Circuit Paul Armagnac' after a local race driver. Stories from the series abound and Nogaro is often at the centre of them.

In 1975 streaking was becoming quite fashionable and one tyre fitter who I really shouldn't name (John Payne it was) decided to streak the entire grid, from the last row to the front.

We did have a cunning plan for him to escape the very officious and sometimes overly aggressive CRS police that entailed him de-clothing behind a truck and me taking his clothes on my new little Harley Davidson mini bike (which I still have in my garage to this day) to the front of the grid. He duly completed the run, then hopped over the pit wall to mount the bike to make his escape. All went well to great applause from the crowd but he did however forget that the little bike has a raised exhaust. The dangly bits of his anatomy landed on this exhaust and any pretence of a quiet and stealthy getaway was totally lost as the entire grid listened to his screams as he rushed off in a cloud of dust and testicular singeing.

The track was also, I firmly believe, the occasion of the first ever truck race.

With a paddock full of some very impressive prime movers, the officials thought it would be impressive to have them on the grid and do a lap of honour before the actual F2 race began. I was driving a large MARLBORO emblazoned Bedford TM and there were trucks from all the major teams lined up on the grid. We were instructed to follow an open topped car with the local Mayor standing in the back holding a flag. We duly did this for almost one lap but coming into the final right hand turn the temptation for the drivers on the front row was just too much and they accelerated hard. The mayor in his open top car was seen to be crouching low on the back seat as belching clouds of black smoke enveloped him on both sides of his mayoral limo and we set off for a very fraught lap, or two actually, as when we came to the start finish line at the conclusion of the first 'racing' lap the smoke was still so dense as to eclipse what was, apparently, the officials frantically waving us down with flags and flailing arms. The CRS managed to halt the race near the end of the second, perhaps third, lap.

We were then assaulted by more French language than I could ever hope to learn whilst being showered in spittle from an array of apoplectic 'Directeurs de course', threatened with arrest by the CRS cops, severely chastised by our respective team bosses (with smiles on faces) and got on with the weekend.

I maintain that impromptu event was the first ever truck race on an FIA circuit as the first truck race recorded was held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 17th 1979.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, those were the days, 'The Good Old days'.

- NZ Herald

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