Dealing with Death in Sport
Death in sport is not easy for me, as a writer, to deal with. But, for some races, death is the story. It’s unavoidable. I do not desire to be exploitative, but rather to speak honestly about the tragedy. Certainly, the loss of any life—be it a spectator or driver—is truly regrettable. Is death in motorsport a stain? Or, is it inevitable result of forward progress? There are no easy answers, only acknowledgments of what has come before.
Lorenzo Bandini died three days after the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. He had lived to race. Speaking of his path to racing, he once said, “I always wanted to be a driver, but I had to wait and wait. It was like being madly in love with a beautiful girl and holding one’s emotions in check, without being able to explain it to her.”
Born in North Africa in December 1936, his parents settled in Florence, Italy three years later. His father died when Lorenzo was fifteen years old. He went to work as an apprentice at a local garage.
Five years later, at age 20, Lorenzo Bandini opened his own shop. Late in 1957, he raced a Fiat 1100 borrowed from a generous customer. He ran in a Hill Climb at Emilia, Italy and was fifteenth in his class. Undeterred, he borrowed a better Fiat 1100 from his old boss. He scored a third place and was offered a Fiat V8. He did even better with the bigger engine. In 1958, he purchased his own Volpini Formula Junior open-wheeled car to race with. He was considered a natural at the wheel by contemporaries and critics.
Mimmo Dei, patron of Scuderia Centro-Sud, gave Bandini his first shot at Formula 1 at the 1961 Pau GP. In 1962, the Scuderia Centro-Sud disbanded. Enzo Ferrari signed Bandini; however, at first, he confined Bandini to sports car work.
Mimmo Dei came to the proverbial rescue in 1963. Dei had just purchased Graham Hill’s winning BRM. For the first part of 1963, Lorenzo drove the BRM in Formula 1 races. Later, he became Ferrari’s number two driver on the Formula 1 squad. He was behind the late John Surtees through the end of 1966. By 1967, Bandini had become Ferrari’s number one driver, ahead of Chris Amon.
Coming Up to Speed at the 1967 Monaco GP
May 1967. The South of France. The cars of this era were squishy. Getting around Monaco took more art than science. They drove by the seat of their pants, feeling the changes in grip corner by corner. Aerodynamic grip was nowhere to be found; the driver was limited to the small contact patches between his tires and Monaco’s historic streets.
There were 22 entires for 16 places on the starting grid. Of those 16 places, 11 were already guaranteed to works teams that had been in existence for at least three years.
Of note, Jackie Stewart was in a V8 BRM, but also had the option of driving an H16 BRM. Mike Spence was in a H16 BRM. John Surtees had access to two virtually identical Honda V12 cars. Jack Brabham did require his spare car, as his new reversed port engine blew up during the first practice session. Dennis Hulme had his reliable 1966 Repco-Brabham, with side exhausts.
Bandini held the previous Monaco race lap record at 1:29.8, set in 1966. However, in light of recent design improvements, speeds were expected be even faster for the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix.
The first practice was on Thursday afternoon and speeds started off slow on the oily street circuit. All the cars set about practicing right away, except for Clark and Hill. Their cars had been held up and were not yet delivered. The first laps were around 1:35.0 as each team began to dial in their cars.
Lorenzo Bandini set a 1:30.4 in the Thursday afternoon practice. At the end of practice, Bandini was happy with his car; however, the other Ferrari driver—Chris Amon—complained of throttle response issues. Jackie Stewart, piloting a BRM, was the only driver to dip below 1:30.0.
The next practice took place on Friday morning, where a sense of urgency pervaded the paddock. Everyone quickly got down to business. Clark, finally able to test his recently arrived Lotus, was first quick in his Lotus-Climax V8.
In this Friday morning practice, Bandini was only able to get down to about 1:33.0 before opening up the throttle too soon around the Mirabeau hairpin. He broke his front suspension, as a result of hitting the course wall. John Surtees set the fastest time in his Honda V12 at 1:28.4.
It rained on Saturday morning. Therefore, many thought that no faster times would be set at the next practice on Saturday afternoon. However, wind plus intervening support races sufficiently dried and rubbered in the track to allow the Formula 1 racers to set more fast times. Bandini certainly had some work ahead of him for the final qualifying practice.
Bandini was quite successful in his attempt to improve his race grid position. With his front end suspension fixed, Bandini set a blistering Monaco lap of 1:28.3. However, Jack Brabham was even faster; he set a lap at 1:27.6. Brabham and Bandini made up the front row of the Monaco grid for the race. Behind them it was Surtees and Hulme on the second row. Clark and Stewart rounded out the third row.
The Monaco Grand Prix is an elegant paradox. The course is unyielding and confining. The cars that race it are fiery beasts aching to be free. At a course like Monza, the car and track act in synthetic harmony to slingshot cars out of the curva parabolica. However, at Monaco, the car and track become diametrically opposed forces. Perfect concentration is the only solution to the paradox.
The weather was beautiful for the ’67 Monaco GP. The cars formed on the grid and revved their engines as they waited for the flag to drop. Tires screeched as the cars launched into action. The crowd watched Lorenzo Bandini lead the field into the first corner. Jack Brabham got a slow start away from his number one grid position. Brabham’s brand new Repco engine broke a connecting rod, which punched a hole in the block. Still operating on seven cylinders, Jack’s Repco sprayed oil all over the track.
At the end of the first lap, Bandini led Hulme, Stewart, Surtees, and Gurney. In the pits, Brabham was surprised to learn that his engine was terminal.
By the end of lap 2, both Dennis Hulme and Jackie Stewart had passed Lorenzo Bandini. Cement dust was laid down over the spilled oil as the cars continued to matriculate at full speed. This was a marginal solution, at best, and the track remained extremely slippery, particularly from the hairpin through the tunnel. By the end of the fourth lap, Dan Gurney had also edged past Bandini’s scarlet Ferrari; however, Lorenzo retook this position on the next lap when Gurney’s Eagle-Westlake lost function of its fuel pump.
Stewart and his BRM overtook Hulme and his Repco-Brabham for the lead by the end of lap 6. By the end of lap 15, Bandini was back in second place, because Stewart broke his crown wheel and pinion. Surtees’ V12 growled as he stayed on the heels of Bandini’s Ferrari.
By lap 20, it looked like Dennis Hulme was running away with the race. He was leading by 20 seconds over Lorenzo. According to Denis Jenkinson, on lap 42, “Bandini was now beginning to get his second wind and he slowly reduced the gap between the leading Brabham and his Ferrari down to 7 seconds, but Hulme was equal to the challenge and held his lead to about 8 seconds and it became a trial of strength with the rugged New Zealander coming out on top.”
At 50 laps, half distance, the order was Hulme (Brabham-Repco V8), Bandini (Ferrari V12), McLaren (McLaren-BRM V8), Amon (Ferrari V12), and Hill (Lotus-BRM V8). The rest of the field was either out or lapped.
The stalemate between Hulme and Rodriguez continued for 15 laps, with neither driver able to make headway against the other. Around lap 70, according to Jenkinson, “Hulme’s superior physical condition [was] obviously coming out on top and poor Bandini was beginning to flag and he began to show signs of tiredness and lack of concentration, occasionally being untidy and ragged on some of the corners.”
Then on lap 82, disaster. Bandini flew through the tunnel, down the hill, and into the chicane. Again, according to Jenkinson’s first-hand contemporary description, “the Ferrari struck the wooden barriers and was immediately out of control. It mounted the straw bales on the outside of the corner, a wheel was broken off, and the car landed upside down in the middle of the road with the driver trapped underneath.”
The video is disturbing. One commentary that I came across even suggested that the helicopter’s downwash only worsened the deathly flames.
Dennis Hulme went on to win the race. But, there was little cause for celebration. The 31 year old Bandini had been extricated from the car alive. He would live three more excruciating days before succumbing to his burns and injuries.
–Travis Turner of GPevolved.com