Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Don't Upset the Sponsors!

"Innes Ireland was fairly hard to control and therefore the people who were sponsoring him would say that ‘this isn’t good for our product.'"

It's a quote from a recent interview with Stirling Moss and a reminder that even in the good old days commercial interests ruled the roost.

Maybe Moss is referring to the Italian Grand Prix of 1961. Of course that was the year of the sharknose Ferrari and by the time Monza came around only Stirling had any chance of upsetting the Maranello bandwagon. Moss's Rob Walker Lotus 18/21 had no chance of matching the red cars on the super-fast Italian track, so Innes Ireland came up with the bright idea of Moss taking over his slightly more competitive works Lotus 21. Chapman was asked and gave his agreement.

In the event Moss retired the works Lotus, suitably painted in Walker's Scottish colours, while Innes saw the older car's chassis fall apart on the bumpy Monza banking. Unfortunately that was not the end of the matter. Moss was a BP driver, while Lotus was sponsored by Esso. Let Innes take over the story:

"I hadn't heard the last of the affair. And really, this is, I think, a sad commentary on the state of motor racing. There was a protest from the Esso petrol company, criticising me for lending my car to a BP driver. It made me most angry. How unnecessary! If Stirling had won the race, they might have had a bit of a niggle, but in the circumstances, I strongly resented being rapped over the knuckles like that. They could easily have forgotten about it, but I presume it was one of the early indications that motor racing was becoming less and less a sport and more a business of high finance."

What Innes didn't mention was that Chapman, who had agreed the swap, now shifted all the blame on to Innes and a few weeks later the team sacked Ireland despite his victory in the United States Grand Prix. The decision according to Cedric Selzer, quoted in Mike Lawrence's Chapman biography, was a joint decision between Colin and Esso's Geoff Murdoch. Indeed Murdoch broke the news to Innes, Chapman lacking the necessary bottle to do so.

Of course the revisionists insist that Ireland was sacked because Jimmy Clark, the team number two, was the superior driver. Probably true, although it would be useful if they could explain the fact that Innes and Jimmy raced together 23 times for Team Lotus in Formula One with Innes winning 4 races with 3 seconds and a third, while Jimmy managed a second place and two thirds. Oh and far from improving with time, in their last seven races together, after Innes returned from his Monaco tunnel crash, Ireland took 3 wins against a best finish of fourth for Clark - this without any team orders.

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