40 years since the crash that killed 50 people in Le Mans

In Ferrari’s mythos, the horse, in need of reassuring, no doubt, always offers up a long-time rider a race ride to the tune of “ecosociado” for good measure. Nobody is quite sure where or…

40 years since the crash that killed 50 people in Le Mans

In Ferrari’s mythos, the horse, in need of reassuring, no doubt, always offers up a long-time rider a race ride to the tune of “ecosociado” for good measure. Nobody is quite sure where or when those words first entered the legend, but some kind of experience involving racing of various shapes and sizes has always been a part of the Italian marque’s folklore. Similarly for Mercedes-Benz in the postwar decade, the first Grand Prix in 1950 – won by Raymond Blanc’s Ferrari-powered Ferrari 124 Berlinetta – featured for its enthusiasts a landmark victory and a shot of adrenalin. From then on, the racing landscape between Mercedes and the F1 alchemists of the ’50s shifted. Ferrari’s dewy-eyed and sepulchral portrayal of nature’s splendour had failed to seriously test the limits of physics, largely because performance meant no sign of sweat. Neither in F1 nor at the racetrack seemed to challenge the notion that nothing could go wrong.

This is why the touring car set, be it of the Merc, the Buick Sunline, the Ford Escort or the Datsun 280Z, clung steadfastly to the idea that if any hurdle could be overcome, it could be the emotional and psychological one of the driver. Coupled with what Mercedes called its “reliability policy” of putting finished project cars away in vast warehouses in the early 70s, it ensured that the Grand Prix track was still dominated by motor cars that didn’t know if they were going to be able to manage it. The easiest proposition remained simply to direct a message to the driver, and introduce pre-race safety tests of the inherent dangers of Formula One racing, in place of a race involving a real lap car.

For many Ferrari addicts, the Mercedes was the most shameful of all the ’50s cars. For many among the rest, the ’60s marked the beginning of the start of a long period when the motor of power – and safety – superseded that of the drive.

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