On this day in F1: 8th February

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On this day in F1 is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Bart De Pauw

– Belgian Grand Prix is off (once more)

– Birth of Cliff Allison

2006: The FIA issued a statement saying that it had received a notification from the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium to withdraw the 2006 Belgian Grand Prix from the F1 World Championship Calendar. Officially the withdrawal had been made ‘in order to allow the completion of extensive improvement work to facilities at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit’, but at the same time a discussion was going on about the organization of the event.

Following the bankruptcy in October 2005 of the previous race promoter DDGP that – without much commercial success – had organized the 2004 and 2005 Belgian Grand Prix after taking over from Ecclestone, the F1 supremo indicated that he was looking to start promoting the event himself again. Max Mosley was quick to provide his support by saying that Bernie’s intention to promote the classic event in order to keep it on the calendar was setting a good example but could also get him into a lot of financial trouble. Backed by those manipulative comments Ecclestone started his negotiations with the local Belgian government that somewhat unwillingly inherited several obligations of the bankrupt race promoter as a Belgian French-speaking politician – in an attempt to still safe the 2006 race – had signed an agreement with Ecclestone without actually being able to read the contract which was drafted in English. They landed on a deal that didn’t see Bernie become the race promoter again as this honor was reserved for one of his confidants, but it did stipulate that the government was to cough up an amount of GBP 15 million for the necessary refurbishments to the circuit.

Moreover, 2006 was not the only year for the Belgian Grand Prix to have a bumpy ride: in 1969 the race was cancelled after British and Italian F1 teams withdrew as a result of the track owners’ refusal to pay for a series of safety improvements that were requested by Jackie Stewart and his Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, and in 1985 the event had to be postponed from its originally scheduled date in June to September after the circuit’s brand new asphalt started to crumble after the first day of practice because of the exceptionally high track temperatures. Rain reigned again over Francorchamps when the F1 circus returned in September, and it allowed Senna to clinch his second career victory.

In this video Senna himself is providing commentary on his display of undeniable brilliance in tricky conditions during the postponed 1985 Belgian Grand Prix.

And if Senna’s brilliant overtake on Mansell on the entrance to Eau Rouge did ring a bell do you, then this is probably why…

1932: Henry Clifford Allison is born. ‘Cliff’ Allison was a UK racing driver that participated in F1 races between 1958 and 1961.

Allison made his F1 debut in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix where he and Graham Hill were the first two men ever to drive a Lotus car in an F1 championship race. Hill was forced to retire with an engine failure, but Allison did bring his Lotus-Climax 12 home in sixth and thus became the first driver to finish a grand prix for Team Lotus, albeit thirteen laps behind race winner Trintignant.

Allison in his Lotus-Climax 12 during the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix

Allison in his Lotus-Climax 12 during the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix

At the recommendation of 1958 World Champion Mike Hawthorn Allison was offered a works seat with Ferrari for 1959 where he joined the likes of Phil Hill, Tony Brooks, Olivier Gendebien, Jean Behra, Wolfgang von Trips and Dan Gurney. Despite this fierce competition at Ferrari where ‘Il Commendatore’ was reputed to always set up drivers against each other, Allison did well and in the first race of the 1960 season which was the Argentine Grand Prix he became second behind Bruce McLaren to score his career’s best result.

Allison in his Ferrari D246 during the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix

Allison in his Ferrari D246 during the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix

But fate struck in the next grand prix at Monaco where Allison crashed on the first day of practice and was thrown from his car. He sustained severe injuries and was in coma for 16 days. When he emerged from unconsciousness he spoke fluent French which by his own saying “was quite strange, because I didn’t know any French!”

Allison's crash during the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix

Allison’s crash during the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix

Allison was out for the rest of the 1960 season. Ferrari still offered him a contract to be their 1961 test driver, but Allison wanted to race and he joined the UDT Laystall Racing team which was a British team that in 1957 had been co-founded by Stirling Moss’ father to run cars for Stirling when he was not under contract with another team and which was also the first F1 team to sell its entire identity in return for sponsorship income, first to Yeoman Credit (1960) and later on to UDT Laystall Racing (1961 and 1962). In only his second race for the team Allison again crashed heavily during practice for the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix, thereby sustaining broken knees and a fractured pelvis. After one crash too many, he never raced again. Cliff Allison died in 2005 at the age of 73.

5 responses to “On this day in F1: 8th February

  1. Excellent story of Cliff Allison’s career. A typical story of a talented driver in the dangerous world of the early Grand Prix racing. Other talented Brits worhty of articles for you include: Stuart Lewis-Evans, Alan Stacey, Mike Spence, and no doubt others. I became hooked on F1 after reading Caracciola’s autobiography and just love these sorts of stories. Keep it up.

  2. Bart, you’ve excelled yourself here. I wasn’t aware of the specific details behind the Belgium GP troubles.

    The piece on Cliff Alison is excellent, and the pictures quite stunning.

  3. I know I’m a bit late with this, but well done Bart, what an interesting article you wrote!

    I couldn’t help laugh at the problems with Spa–signing the contract without being able to understand it!? Ironic that Allison was suddenly able to speak French, perhaps if the politician had read this article first he could have had a track-day accident and picked up English :p

    Fantastic photograph of Allison in mid-air during the accident. And I loved watching the pit crews dance out of the way of exiting cars. No wonder the pit lane is wider these days…

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