Friday, December 11, 2009

Innes and Chunky

An engineer himself, Radnorshire based F1 driver Innes Ireland had a high opinion of Lotus boss Colin Chapman's engineering ability: "If he was not a genius then he was bloody close to being one."

At the same time he can have had few illusions about the safety of the Lotus Formula One cars. Indeed Mike Taylor successfully sued Lotus for negligence when the steering column of his 18 broke in the ill-fated 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.

One of the Lotus mechanics of the time recalled those early days:

"Surely Innes Ireland must rate as the most unfairly treated driver of all time. History often can only relate to what the hacks and anoraks see or read for themselves; yet behind the scenes, the breakages that occurred in those days defied belief. Chassis breakages apart, no end of "minor disasters such as automatically disengaging gear ratios, total brake failure etc. were encountered by our drivers, who within a day or two were out in the same car 'hoping' that things would improve!"

"Once the Lotus 18 arrived things changed dramatically as we all see from the records, so I think it is unfair to dismiss the likes of 'MacGregor' when the torrid times that he, Cliff, Graham and Alan went through in the preceding 3 years were never experienced by the then up and coming drivers who enjoyed the benefits of Chapman's greatest reversal, rear-engined cars!"

John Surtees was one of those up and coming drivers and he recalled the incident that caused him to quit Lotus:

"Colin said to me, "John - you're my Number One and you can have your choice of team-mate, Innes or Jim."
"I don't know," I said. "I've had so many mechanical failures that I'm getting a bit suspicious of your green cars."
"Then we'll paint 'em black!" said Colin, and he prepared a contract giving me choice of second driver and saying that the cars would be painted black."

"I told him that I would like Jim Clark as my number two, as I got on well with him, but then a few days later Innes Ireland called me from Paris. He told me that he had a contract for 1960 and '61 which stated that he had choice of team-mate! "What the hell is going on?" he wanted to know."

I went to see Colin."It's not true." he said, "I've got no arrangement at all with Innes. We're fixing him up with the British Racing Partnership."

"Innes still insisted that he had everything in writing, so I fixed another meeting with Chapman, taking Innes with me. He brought his contract, which said exactly what he claimed, but Colin just shrugged the whole thing off, so I said "I'm sorry, but that's it" and I walked out."

Given the unenviable safety record of Chapman's cars perhaps Colin was hedging his bets. The chances of both Innes and Surtees surviving the 1960 season were not that good. Enzo Ferrari is often condemned for playing on the rivalries of his drivers, but at least his cars were safe!

Innes was still the Number One driver at Lotus at the time of his sacking in 1961, and this despite his serious crash in the Monaco Grand Prix, a fact recognized by Jabby Crombac in his semi-official biography of Chapman. "There was no doubt that sacking Ireland was rather a controversial decision because, at the time Innes was still a little faster than his less experienced team mate Jim Clark."

It was not a decision that Chapman could bring himself to convey to Innes face to face. Cedric Selzer, another Team Lotus mechanic confirmed, "The big problem was that everyone, except Innes, knew that he wasn't going to be retained."

Why was Innes sacked? Some like Trevor Taylor believe it was purely a matter of cash, for Innes was on 50% of starting money, while Taylor, his replacement, was only on 25%. Most likely Innes had upset Esso's Geoff Murdoch by giving up his car to BP driver Stirling Moss for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, when Stirling still had a chance of winning the 1961 World Championship for Rob Walker's team.

Maybe Innes was sacked because of the commonly held belief, repeated by Mike Lawrence in his eagerly awaited but disappointing biography of Chapman, that Innes sometimes turned up on the grid worse the wear for drink. Innes, who is never anything but painfully honest in his writings denied that he ever arrived on raceday with a hangover. Certainly if Innes was outdriving Clark while over the breathalyser limit then he must have been quite a driver when sober! The suggestion is clearly nonsense.

Finally we have to recognize the potential of Clark and Chapman's recognition of what was still an unfulfilled promise in 1961. Perhaps there was no single reason why Chapman sacked Ireland, it was a combination of things - the money, the grievances of the sponsors, Innes's feisty personality and Clark's more malleable nature. It was a poor reward for all that Innes had done to set the marque on the road to success.

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