April 29, 2013

Name, rank and race number

Paul England raced in the 1957 German Grand Prix - famously won by Juan Manuel Fangio © Getty Images

Have you heard of grand prix driver Paul England? No? Neither had I. But the man from Melbourne raced in the 1957 German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, so you’d think we really ought to have an inkling.

In fact, this was Mr England’s only F1 race – ever. Perhaps that’s understandable when you’ve tried to race a Cooper on the fearsome Nordschleife and probably scared yourself silly. The statistic is typical of more relaxed times before Superlicences and silly money. It’s also one of the hundreds of remarkable facts that come to light when you dip into ‘Grand Prix Who’s Who’.

This 832-page tome by Steve Small is exactly what it says on the slipcover. On page 244, you learn that Paul England was a young engineer who built his own sports car, wrecked it in a race on Philip Island and then decided to come to the UK. As Antipodeans tended to do in those days, England went straight to the Cooper workshops in Surbiton and, before he knew it, money had changed hands and he was racing a 1.5 Cooper T41 in the F2 section of the German GP. Just like that!

He dropped out with distributor trouble after what must have seemed four very long laps. Then he went back to Australia to compete successfully in hill climbs and run a highly specialised engineering business. But, whatever way you look at it, Paul England made his mark in the register thanks to starting a grand prix.

This is a moot point. In recent weeks there has been much discussion over whether or not Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber started their 200th Grand Prix in Bahrain. Confusion arises because neither driver actually started the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix when all of the Michelin runners pulled out. The argument on the other side is that they took part in practice, qualifying and the parade lap before peeling into the pits; enough, it is said, to have that race count.

I don’t agree. And neither does Steve Small. Our view is that if you don’t physically sit on the grid (or at the pit lane exit) waiting for the red lights to go out, you haven’t started the race. I know that upsets the likes of Jacques Laffite, not credited under this criteria with starting the 1986 British Grand Prix because, ironically, the original aborted start had been caused by, among other things, poor Jacques being extracted from his Ligier with legs broken badly enough to end his grand prix career. The race started afresh and Laffite was not in it. So the 1986 British Grand Prix should not count as a Race Start on his CV. That may seem unfair, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Such debate should not detract from the immense detail in Small’s reference book. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that he has gone to the trouble of seeking out each driver’s competition number. That may sound simple given that, these days, drivers are allocated their numbers for the entire season. But it wasn’t always so.

Up to 1974, not only would race numbers be issued at the whim of organisers, but, in some instances, those numbers would be changed from one day of practice to the next in order to foil producers of pirate race programmes. Small has traced the numbers, which can be a boon if you are trying to place a photo of a driver and his car in a particular race.

Speaking of photos, Small has somehow managed to locate a picture of every driver, either thanks to rooting through memorabilia stands at places such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed or as the result of a note asking for help in the first edition of the book in 1994. This was before the Internet and Small was extremely grateful – as are we - for photographs sent, in many cases, from family archives.

By the time of the third edition, the list of missing faces had shrunk to less than 20. And that’s when he heard from the family of Paul England with another gem to add to this fourth edition of a truly fascinating treasure trove of F1 facts.

‘Grand Prix Who’s Who’ by Steve Small (Icon Publishing Limited).


Posted by mike dosdale on 30/04/2013

Couldn't agree more regarding the 05 non event race not counting. Qualifying is qualifying, parading is parading and racing is racing. If you haven't raced you haven't been in the GP.

Posted by Kevin Murphy on 29/04/2013

I strongly disagree with your point about Jacques Laffite, I was at that GP and I saw him at 2pm start the race. He failed to make the "re-start an hour later". Far different to not forming up on the grid as per Indianapolis. In my experience particularly of that period, it was common for drivers to not be on track and hour later.

Do you count starts for drivers who stall or cars have expired on the grid? In which case they have completed far less than poor old Jacques.... Or drivers not there for the re-start of any red flagged race?

Posted by Jon on 29/04/2013

Quite right on the starts stats - if you don't cross the start line, then you haven't started the race. You have to re-write a few records if you don't keep to that rule, for example making Colin Chapman into a GP driver for qualifying 5th at the 1956 French GP, but failing to start after nearly killing himself later in the qualifying session and being unable to make it to the grid...

Posted by John Bentley on 29/04/2013

Hi Maurice,
I agree, Steve's Who's Who series provides a fascinating treasure trove of GP information. I still use his second edition as a reference in my own writings. As a South African, I find it particularly rewarding to go through the information on our local boys and girl (the incomparable Desire Wilson, who is in the list of non-qualifiers at the back, but really deserved to make it in F1) from the days when this country was a force to be reckoned with in motorsport. I'll be looking out for a copy of edition three!

  Post your comment
Email Address:
characters left
A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live 6. Maurice Hamilton