|THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.4|
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As Part 5 of Classic Coopers unfolds we learn how difficult F1 quickly became for those without a Cosworth DFV engine.
It could be said that the arrival of the Cosworth DFV to Formula One in the Lotus 49 began the crack in the dam wall for the Cooper Car Co. Instantly successful, it immediately outdated their recently updated Maserati power plant at that first race in Holland on June 4th 1967 and made Cooper consider their options as to what could be done to keep them anywhere near competitive. That option list was far from lengthy, they could join in and buy a customer Cosworth, use a BRM V12 or another consideration was to use a 2.5 litre Alfa Romeo V8 that was hoped would be uprated to 3 litre specification. The Cosworth option would have clearly been the path to follow, but with Cosworth’s Ford alliance and Cooper with their own alliance to BMH (British Motor Holdings - the 1966 BMC & Jaguar merged conglomerate), a very competitive pair of motor manufacturers at the time, stood in the way. Clearly the directors of Cooper had a conscience because they chose to take the BRM option, although there was a prototype Alfa Romeo powered car constructed. Clearly Roy Salvadori, Cooper’s F1 team manager was not swayed by this decision and let his directors know how he felt. His choice was the obvious one - Cosworth. Ultimately though this lack of agreement between the parties led to an offer from the directors to Roy for him to go back to his motor trading days and purchase one of their dealerships. The deal was struck and for 1968 John Cooper was back running ‘his’ F1 team. Having more recently become more involved with his beloved Cooper Car Co Mini racing team during the Maserati powered period of the Cooper F1 marque.
One of the first things he had to do was hire some drivers - more than once for the season it should be said. As previously mentioned in part 4 – Jochen Rindt had been given his marching orders by Roy Salvadori after he had purposely detonated his car’s engine at the 1967 United States Grand Prix. Cooper’s other 1967 driver, Pedro Rodriguez on the other hand had moved over to BRM for 1968, continuing to drive for them in F1 until he too would die in another motor racing formulae - sports cars, while driving a Ferrari in July 1971.
The drivers chosen by John Cooper to replace Rindt and Rodriguez for 1968 were British sports car driver, Brian Redman and Italian former Ferrari F1 & sports car driver, Ludovico Scarfiotti. As it turned out both drivers had a very brief stint driving for Cooper. Due to their Ford GT40 and Porsche sports car racing commitments that would sometimes clash with grand prix and would be to one of their own detriment.
The dawning of new year’s day 1968 would prove to be the beginning of the last season in which the Cooper Car Co would participate in the international arena of Formula One. It would also be the last time the increasingly more frustrating Maserati powered F1 T81B and T86 Cooper chassis’ would be raced by the works. Both cars were taken to South Africa for the January 1st Grand Prix at Kyalami for Redman and Scarfiotti to race. But essentially it would be a wasted effort with the Redman T81B retiring due to oil leakage.
With the similar fate of retirement for Scarfiotti’s T86 due to a burst water pipe that caused scalding to his legs. And of the 3 other privately entered Coopers running in the event only Rob Walker’s Jo Siffert driven T81 finished - taking seventh. Victory going to Jim Clark in his Lotus 49, ironically the last grand prix he would compete and alas win before the talented Scotsman’s untimely death in the Formula 2 race in Germany.
Rob Walker’s team left the Cooper marque for the second time in their grand prix career after Kyalami having purchased a new ‘winged’ Lotus 49B for his driver. 1968 being the year in which aerodynamic aids were seen on Formula One racing cars for the first time. Like the Cosworth DFV, instigated by Team Lotus boss Colin Chapman.
With Cooper’s decision to go with the V12 BRM power plant to attempt to combat the new Cosworth, it briefly showed some promise during the early races for the Cooper-BRM T86B. It also brought back some of that ingredient so necessary in motor racing - reliability. The works cars running in a couple of non-world championship races while waiting for the May 12th Spanish Grand Prix to resume the 1968 F1 World Championship, Brian Redman picked up a 5th on debuting the car in the Brands Hatch Race of Champions on March 17th. Although when Australian driver Frank Gardner had a one off drive filling in for Redman & Scarfiotti (both away racing sports cars) – at the April 25th International Trophy at Silverstone, an engine failed forcing retirement. Fortunately, reliability followed the team to Jarama for the Spanish Grand Prix, both Brian and Ludovico were available to drive the Cooper-BRM’s and did so without major fuss to pick up 3rd and 4th respectively behind the Lotus 49B of Graham Hill and Denny Hulme’s similarly Cosworth powered McLaren M7A.
Two weeks later it was the Monaco Grand Prix, Brian Redman wasn’t available as he was off winning Belguim’s Spa 1000km race with Jacky Ickx in their Ford GT40, so Belgian driver Lucien Bianchi took his drive. And this grand prix would be the last time Ludovico Scarfiotti would race for Cooper. The pair would finish well taking another 3rd and 4th place respectively for Cooper-BRM behind the winning Lotus of Graham Hill and second placed Richard ‘Dickie’ Attwood’s BRM. Mind you without trying to undermine their effort, only 5 cars completed the race and the Cooper pair were 4 laps down from Hill’s Lotus. Come the next championship round, the Belgian Grand Prix on June 9th there would be another clash. This time for Ludovico who was required to take his place in the works Porsche European Mountain Championship team. Fate would intervene and he would lose his life in a practice accident at the Rossfeld hill climb in Germany.
The fickle fate of motor racing would also strike the Cooper team in Belgium that same weekend when Brian Redman back with the team for the race, suffered the indignity of front suspension wishbone breakage early in the race. The Cooper-BRM left the Spa-Francorchamps circuit mounting the barrier and hitting a parked car before catching alight. An injured Brian Redman was fortunately dragged from the wreckage in time, but the battered and burnt car was beyond repair. The accident bringing his F1 career with the Cooper Car Co to a premature end. Lucien Bianchi who was having his second race with Cooper that race finished sixth. But the Belgian race was another Cosworth benefit with Bruce McLaren winning his first grand prix in his own chassis. It was also the last F1 race he would win, before he too would die just 2 years later while testing his monstrously powerful Can-Am McLaren M8D at England’s Goodwood circuit on June 2nd 1970. Second place in Belgium would go to Pedro Rodriguez’ BRM and third place to Jacky Ickx Ferrari 312. The next round was at Zandvoort in Holland on June 23rd, a mere 2 weeks after the disastrous Belgian race for Cooper. So only one entry was available for Lucien Bianchi to compete in the Dutch Grand Prix. The Cooper team had a new replacement car under construction but it would not be ready until the following French race. When there would be 2 more ‘rookie’ F1 drivers to start the race with the team. Their lone entry at Zandvoort being of about as much promise as the previous race with Lucien crashing out of the event, although this time the car was fortunately repairable. Results wise the race would go to Scotsman Jackie Stewart driving Ken Tyrrell’s Cosworth powered French Matra MS10 chassis. Second going to Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the works Matra V12 powered Matra MS11 and Pedro Rodriguez in his BRM finishing third.
So by this stage of the season one can probably imagine the frustration for all concerned with the team. It was basically sink or swim time. It would be one of the new rookie drivers, Englishmen Vic Elford who would finally add some form of driver stability to the team. Going on to complete the remaining seven races of the 11 held during the 1968 season – although he too would have his fair share of incidents. Elford’s path to F1 was somewhat different to most race drivers. He began his career rallying, infact he had won the 1968 Monte Carlo rally in a Porsche 911 during the previous January. Beating the works rally Mini Cooper S along the way. The French Grand Prix held at Rouen on July 7th would be his debut race with fellow Cooper and F1 rookie, Frenchmen Johnny Servoz-Gavin. Vic Elford’s race would give the team a far better result - 4th, than that of Servoz-Gavin’s - his race would end with another damaged Cooper-BRM for the team to repair, having hit a tree. And this race would see the only one of the whole 1968 F1 season at which something other than a Cosworth powered racing car would win, with Scuderia Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx taking the chequered flag first. John Surtees took second in his Honda RA301 and Jackie Stewart’s Matra-Ford was the highest placed Cosworth powered car in third.
The next race was on home soil at Brands Hatch for the July 20th British Grand Prix, the Cooper team entered Vic Elford for the race. But having damaged his Cooper-BRM in France, Johnny Servoz-Gavin’s racing career as a works Cooper driver had ended abruptly. Only to be replaced by another F1 rookie, this time Briton, Robin Widdows. Having come from the Formula 2 ranks as had Servoz-Gavin, he would also only race for Cooper on just one occasion. Both Cooper-BRM drivers retiring from their home race due to mechanical failures. While the race was won by Rob Walker’s privately entered Lotus 49B driven by Jo Siffert. Followed home by the Scuderia Ferrari cars of New Zealander, Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx in second and third respectively.
Next race of the 1968 Formula 1 championship saw the teams heading to Germany’s famous Nurburgring to contest that country’s Grand Prix on August 4th. The Cooper team had Lucien Bianchi back after his Dutch crash, with Vic Elford aboard to drive the team’s Cooper-BRM T86B’s now featuring the Lotus inspired high mounted wings that most teams were literally experimenting with to aid down force for added grip. For the second race on the trot both Cooper-BRM’s would retire out of the event, Vic crashing his car extremely early on in the rain soaked conditions and Lucien with leaking fuel from the ‘bag’ tanks. The race would be another Jackie Stewart benefit with his Matra-Ford beating Graham Hill’s similarly powered Lotus and Jochen Rindt’s Repco-Brabham BT26.
It was off to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix on September 8th next to complete the European races of the 1968 World Championship. Only one car was entered for this round from the Cooper team for Vic Elford. Whose car had been repaired after its Nurburgring damage. Only to find further repairs necessary after the car was retired at Monza having had a couple more off track excursions in both practice and the actual race. The Monza race would give 1967 World Champion Denny Hulme his first victory for 1968 with his new team McLaren.
The move from Europe saw the team’s heading to the St. Jovite circuit in Canada for the Canadian Grand Prix of September 22nd. Both Vic and Lucien were entered to compete in the Canadian race. For the first time since the Monaco race Cooper had two cars complete race distance. Denny Hulme continued his winning ways helping make a McLaren-Ford 1 - 2 with his boss, Bruce McLaren taking up second place and the Pedro Rodriguez driven BRM third. Vic Elford picked up 2 World Championship points with his 5th outright giving the Cooper marque their last ever points in a Formula One championship. Lucien finishing a couple of places further back out of the points.
Over the border into the United States of America saw the United States Grand Prix taking place at the Watkins Glen circuit on October 6th. Once again both Cooper drivers had an entry, and would see both of them finish the race but unfortunately insufficient laps were covered by each to be classified in the results. Unofficially Lucien would finish 9th and Vic in 12th place. Jackie Stewart in his Matra took out his third race win for the season, Graham Hill’s Lotus took second and John Surtees driving for Honda third.
A further border crossing for the running of the last race of the 1968 F1 World Championship saw the running of the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City on November 3rd. This race becoming the last World Championship race that the Cooper Car Co would indeed contest when plans for their 1969 season did not come to fruition. So it was that in Mexico, a team that had endured every conceivable emotion possible at the pinnacle of their chosen field -F1 grand prix racing, finished what would be their last race with one car, that of Vic Elford crossing the finish line to accept eighth place. While Lucien Bianchi’s race ended with a failed engine. The Mexican race was won by Graham Hill, giving him the points to take the 1968 World Drivers’ Championship, his second and Lotus-Ford the World Manufacturers’ title, which was infact Lotus’ third win, but the first with Ford-Cosworth power. Second in the race went to Bruce McLaren’s McLaren-Ford and third to a man who would go on to be one of the founding members of the Arrows F1 team, British driver Jackie Oliver also driving for Lotus.
The plans that failed to come to fruition were a combination of numerous items - cash flow was obviously high on the list with a lack of sponsorship making things increasingly more difficult. Running a team had become more expensive than the heady days when the Cooper Car Co were taking World Championship victories with a fair degree of regularity. The team were also no longer benefiting from the income generated from building customer racing cars, as that market had been taken over by the likes of Lotus and Brabham. And the old image problem reared its self, which saw the directors of the Marks & Spencer chain wanting to disassociate themselves with an operation not giving the necessary kudos required to keep them interested.
Of course with the perfect 20/20 vision of hindsight, the team knew that the decision to use BRM V12 power had not been as fruitful as hoped. Yes 2 successive third and fourth placings had been taken by the team in the Spanish and Monaco races early in the 1968 season, but it wasn’t enough to combat the dominant Cosworth engine. Proving that the plans not to continue in F1 in 1969 had been a late decision, so it was that plans had been initiated to try Cosworth DFV V8 power for themselves, in a Cooper chassis for 1969. But as it would become apparent it was simply a case of a decision made all too late. The men who now controlled the Cooper Group had decided without suitable sponsor backing (something that had finally come out of the closet with Gold Leaf tobacco’s signage on the 1968 Lotus) and the previously mentioned reasons, enough was enough. The Cooper Car Co quietly slipped from the Formula One Grand Prix grid, even though no official announcement was forthcoming.