Skip to main content
Original Issue


Now that the furor among press and public over the Le Mans disaster has subsided and officials have had time to consider sober action to prevent a recurrence of such fearful accidents, where does automobile racing stand in Europe?

France's action—the banning of all races and rallies on roads until a new set of safety regulations has been drafted—was by far the most drastic, and few other European nations have shown much alacrity in following the French lead. Where other promoting clubs do appear to be doing so, it is very likely due to other reasons. For instance, the provisional cancellation of the Swiss Grand Prix at Bern August 21 may have been inspired by the $18,000 loss sustained by the Swiss Auto Club in last year's event. The same holds true of the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, which probably will not be held October 23, although no official announcement has yet been made by the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, which stages the event for the Automobile Club of Spain. Barcelona, considered the most dangerous Grand Prix course, would require costly changes to meet the proposed new safety standards. In any event, the Spanish Grand Prix is not a regular annual fixture. It was held in 1954 after a two-year layoff.

Italy, which did ban all road racing after Le Mans, has now relented. The Italian Grand Prix will definitely be held as scheduled at the Monza track on September 11. Road races announced on the calendar may be run without reference to the authorities, provided competing cars are limited to two liters engine displacement. This includes the grueling Dolomite Gold Cup run on July 10. Where road races involve cars of over two liters, permission must be sought from the CSI (International Sporting Commission) through which the FIA (International Automobile Federation) exercises worldwide governing power. The CSI, however, regards the safety of road courses as an individual national problem and is not attempting to lay down hard-and-fast rules in this respect. Thus, next year's Mille Miglia will be held as usual and may well include cars of over two liters.

Britain has no road races in the Continental sense, but the British Grand Prix to be held at Aintree near Liverpool July 16 is unaffected and now assumes far greater importance. The field will feature 24 entries, including leading Continental makes—Mercedes, Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini, plus British Vanwalls (new Grand Prix jobs) and Connaughts. The Royal Automobile Club has set up a special safety committee under Lord Brabazon to study problems connected with crowd safety at race events, but since British races are held on airfields or special closed courses, nothing very drastic is expected. The RAC special committee appears more as a gesture of sympathy and endorsement, while the French wrestle with their own problems. In France two inquiries are in progress—a judicial one into causes and responsibilities for the Le Mans disaster, and that of a government-appointed safety precautions committee struggling with the ticklish question of how far to enforce crowd and driver safety measures recommended by the Ministers of Interior, Health and Transport. The French government may be wondering whether it hasn't gone too far out on a limb with its total ban of racing events. First official announcement regarding cancellation of the French Grand Prix at Rheims July 3 was made June 22. It simply states that the Grand Prix was postponed "indefinitely." A week later, however, came another official statement: "It is now hoped the race will be held before the end of the season." A persistent rumor sets August 21 as the new date, presumably to replace the canceled Swiss Grand Prix, but nothing is definite. The Automobile Club of Champagne, which owns the permanent road circuit of Rheims and is delegated to run this event by the Automobile Club of France, finds itself in a serious quandary. A big oil and gas corporation (BP Energol) has sunk 78 million francs into the French Grand Prix. Almost certainly, therefore, the race will go on later.

The general impression among informed club officials and active race drivers is that what comes out of these various safety committees is less important than giving the public an impression of tremendous activity and furious deliberation. Western German opinion, represented largely by Mercedes-Benz, is content to let this famous firm act as the arbiter of safety measures in racing. Mercedes lays blame for the Le Mans accident squarely on Mike Hawthorn's Jaguar, but has come up with some good ideas for crowd and driver safety, such as the one at Zandvoort (SI, July 4). The German racing calendar is unaffected. The German Grand Prix will be held at Nurburgring as planned, July 31, on that famous course which affords all the thrills of auto road racing at its very best while providing ideal safety for the spectators.


"They still haven't fixed that crack in the ceiling."