Surtees leads Bandini in Mexico, 1964 (LAT archive)
At the 1964 Formula 1 finale in Mexico City, there was a three-way battle for the World Championship between Jimmy Clark ('63 champ, driving a Lotus), Graham Hill ('62 champ, in a BRM) and Ferrari's John Surtees. Unreliability through the season had left Clark at a deficit in the points race, but given the speed of himself and the Lotus 33, he went to Mexico City as most people's favorite to retain his crown, even though he needed to win the race, with Hill finishing lower than third. Surtees needed to finish second or first to overhaul Hill, but even so, Graham could clinch it if he was to grab third.
Come the race, Clark (as usual) disappeared into the distance, with fellow front-row starter Dan Gurney comfortably ensconced in second, but behind them at quarter-distance there was a battle royal over that crucial third place, between Hill and Surtees' teammate, Lorenzo Bandini. The Italian, not in the running for the title himself, could help Surtees' championship chances if he could beat Hill to the final step of the podium. He had no chance of beating Clark, but Bandini fought tooth and nail with Hill. Just before half-distance, he tried a chancy move down the inside at the Mexico City track's hairpin, slid wide and knocked Hill into a spin which ended in a grass bank, which damaged the BRM's exhausts. The Englishman got going but repairs to the car caused him to lose two laps, and he wound up finishing 11th. Meanwhile Clark's engine seized on the final lap, allowing Gurney to win the race and Surtees the title.
Hill, who was often one to speak his mind, retained his dignity, disgruntled though he was. There were no suggestions of a Ferrari “dirty tricks campaign,” no suggestions that Bandini had deliberately spun the BRM. Quite simply, the young Italian had made a small error of judgment that had big consequences. The whole matter was over within a day – although Hill, rather amusingly, sent Bandini a book on driving lessons for Christmas!
I wish we lived in such innocent times now, where people can believe that a driver could make a mistake without malicious intent.
At last Sunday's Grand Prix of Baltimore, Will Power screwed up: he collided with Scott Dixon on the run down to Turn 1, having failed to look in his mirror when he pulled out to pass Sebastien Bourdais. About one second before Power pulled his Verizon Team Penske No. 12 car to the right to pass Bourdais' Dragon Racing entry, Dixon had pulled the same maneuver on Power, and by now had the Target Chip Ganassi Racing No. 9's front wing endplate beside the rear “bumper” of Will's car. The pair made contact which sent them both sideswiping into the wall.
That's what I saw.
Then Power's car limped back to the pits, its driver bewildered, having not felt the car-to-car contact. He was trying to reconcile himself with the thought that he'd actually lost control of the car in a straight line on cold/dirty tires and had an accident by himself. On being informed that he had clipped another car, that of Dixon, his eyes turned from mystification to disbelief and then upset. Next, Scott walked into pit lane, furious not only at the shunt but that his car had been craned away, rather than returned to the pits for repairs. Power, still strapped into the cockpit of No. 12 while it received its repairs, tried to beckon Dixon over as the Ganassi driver strode past, but Scott urgently wanted to speak to IndyCar's technical director Kevin Blanch. “Dude where's my car?” might not have been the Kiwi's exact words, but that was the gist.
That's what I understood.
Then, after the race, there was Power's post-race interview. Here was a driver who appeared genuinely mortified and also embarrassed when he saw the replay.
“I had no clue he was there and I feel terrible for him,” Power said. “I was just staring at Bourdais' back. I'd got a good run on him and was going to go up his inside, and Dixon obviously had the same run on me…I didn't even think to look in my mirror.…I just feel bad for him. I know he's in the championship hunt, and that's just a bad thing to have happened. I was just trying to win the race, trying to pass Bourdais, because we knew he wasn't going to have to stop, so we wanted to get in front and gap him.
“I can't say anything except ‘I'm just so sorry' to Scott. He's not going to want to talk to me, but man, absolutely not intentional, I didn't know he was there. Just a very bad situation.”
That's what I heard, what I saw, what I understood… And I have no idea how anyone could lay any different interpretation on the course of the events.
Yet since then, there have been people snarling and sniping that Power deliberately wiped out his teammate's championship rival. It couldn't have just been a misjudgment on the driver's part. No, it had to be Power's vicious streak or something planned by that desperate megalomaniac Tim Cindric and carried out by a ruthless kamikaze. There had to be a conspiracy!
Really? To me, the kind of people who level such accusations are revealing much about their own low ethics. They would do that, therefore they assume others would, too.
Sure, Power drives for Team Penske while its other driver, Helio Castroneves, is this year locked in a championship battle with Dixon. But to think that Will would deliberately sacrifice a great chance to win the race in order to torpedo his teammate's title rival is ridiculous. As ridiculous, in fact, as the belief that at Sonoma, Travis Law, one of Power's crew members, risked his own health and/or career by purposely walking into an accelerating racecar. Team owner Roger Penske doubtless inspires great loyalty among his employees, but come on!
I'm not being naive here. I'm well aware that Power, like many top drivers, has a ruthless streak. He's not one to turn the other cheek if he feels he's been wronged, and he'll rub wheels and bang sidepods with anyone who treats him in similar manner. But his ruthlessness is to win races, not sabotage others. And anyway, there's a hell of a difference between ruthless and reckless and between helping your teammate and deliberately engineering an accident. I've watched several of the current crop of IndyCar drivers trying to intimidate opponents, but deliberately drilling them? Rarely…and certainly not for the sake of their teammate!