After visiting the lovely people in Marussia at Jerez last week (Jerez is another candidate for #ForgottenF1 btw – but that would have been just too cheeky this week) I was looking for a suitable circuit for the second in the series. And instead of Jerez, I’ve opted for Albi, a French town about 85km north-east of Toulouse. It has a permanent circuit that runs round an airport – but this is not it.
Why Albi, and why not the permanent circuit? Simply because it occurred to me recently that the power figures that are being talked about now are not dissimilar to figures that were being quoted for F1 cars a while back. A long while back.
The new, 2014 era of Formula 1 engines produce around 600 bhp from the 1600cc turbocharged engines, plus another 160 from the two ERS units. Back in 1949, BRM unveiled their 1500cc supercharged car (it’s already been covered on Badger here) and coincidentally it initially developed 600bhp – exactly the same as the new generation of 1600c engines. Admittedly, BRM couldn’t get theirs to hold together for more than a few laps (mentioning Red Bull here would just be cynical) but it was an incredible achievement.
By the time that BRM was beginning to get the car something like reliable, a couple of years later, F1 was no longer F1. For 1952 and 1953, the World Drivers Championship was held for the smaller F2 cars, of which more were available. This was still only seven years after the end of the war remember, and both money and resources were in short supply.
Why all this talk of BRM? Weren’t we looking at Albi? Indeed. It’s all down to a certain Juan-Manuel Fangio, who won an F1 race at Albi in a BRM V16, on May 31, 1953. Plaudits to you if you knew that J-MF had even raced a BRM.
Those of you that know me, know that I like to stretch a point. And when I say Fangio won an F1 race, technically it was only the F1 heat of a non-championship Grand Prix that was being held for both F1 and F2 cars. The BRM had already won a race at Goodwood in the hands of Ken Wharton, but that was a Formula Libre race, so I’m not counting that as quite so significant.
Albi was a different matter. A grid of only F1 cars started, and the V16 won the heat. A heat maybe, but it was a race, and keeping the BRM running for 30 minutes was no simple matter. The fact that less than 10 cars started that heat is also something I’m prepared to overlook. Alfa Romeo elected not to race their 158s and Ferrari had to be paid more before they agreed to send a car (again, modern similarities…) but it was an F1 race.
The circuit at Albi was very much of the era. A street/road circuit, essentially triangular in shape and very narrow, but then so were the cars so you could still just about squeeze two of them side by side. And that’s all you need to race. Especially in an era where drivers wouldn’t move over on a rival to stop them getting past.
The route of the circuit is straightforward enough to follow, even now. D100, D69, D999, D999A. Some fast sweeping curves and four tight right-handers. Bravery in the fast corners and as late on the brakes as you dare.
Looking at the roads now (courtesy of Google you can navigate round the circuit here) it seems fairly straightforward, which of course translates to fast. Fangio averaged 122mph (around 190kph) in that heat, which considering that the car could generate wheelspin in fourth gear would probably be enough to alarm most of us.
One of the problems of the BRM was that its engine delivered its power in an unusual way. BRM had asked Rolls Royce for a smaller version of the supercharger fitted to the Spitfire. And that’s important because in the Spitfire, there wasn’t the same rev range as in a racing car.
The Spitfire supercharger was of the centrifugal type, which means that as engine revs rise, so does the boost. And without a wastegate, that power just keeps on increasing. So when you get wheelspin, the revs rise and the power keeps on coming.Imagine early 2013 spec Pirellis having to deal with that… (I’m convinced that Pirelli could easily conquer this challenge, but the tyres they were asked to make last year would just have disappeared).
In the final, J-MF’s tyres did what any 1950s tyre would do when presented with this sort of behaviour and refused to finish the race. I’ve also seen the cause of his retirement being listed as brake failure. That’s fair enough too. Three long straights and slow, sharp turns would test current carbon brakes, let alone 1950s drum brakes. Anyway, neither BRM finished the final and the lone Ferrari 375 won, in the hands of Louis Rosier – who had hedged his bets by also running a Ferrari 500 (the F2 car that Ascari used to score nine consecutive victories that everyone seems to think were F1 victories when talking Seb’s achievements last year) in the first F2 heat.
And the permanent circuit? I don’t think it ever hosted an F1 race. But it does offer us the great image of Jochen Rindt testing a Brabham F2 car in the early days of aerodynamic devices. And we think the current regulations are daft…