The light-year is a unit of measurement to express incredibly high speeds. But also almost unimaginable distances. To put it in numbers: light travels at 299,792 kilometers per second. That means that in one year, it covers a distance of around 9.46 trillion kilometers. In this sense, the term “light years” is very appropriate when you look at pictures from the past, consider what speed meant back then – and compare that with today’s Formula 1. They are worlds apart. Today: incredibly fast, perfectly safe (thank God!), the drivers operate complex hybrid machines that have nothing in common with the fragile projectiles of yesteryear. What was it that Romain Grosjean, the French-Swiss racing driver, said in November 2018? “We’re not saving the world here, we’re not neurosurgeons, we’re not doing anyone any big favors. We drive technologies that will never be built into a production car.” It was his way of commenting on a scuffle between Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon – though to be fair, we should add that Grosjean also said: “But people watch the races because they love the emotions.”
But let’s talk about the sixties. The drivers often were friends and spent their free time in between training and racing together. And they certainly had plenty of free time back then, especially as there was not much to talk about at the team meetings, given the relatively straightforward technology and limited chassis adjustment options. Graham Hill, the 1962 and 1968 World Champion, even liked to reach for the wrench himself. Run-off areas? No such luck! The audience watched the drivers at work from up close. Thanks to the half-shell helmets and low-cut cockpits, the facial expressions – from concentration to exertion – were clearly visible to all.
Graham Hill, the 1962 and 1968 World Champion, even liked to reach for the wrench himself. Run-off areas? No such luck!
The shining lights of the day were admired, revered – and mourned. At the end of his career, Jackie Stewart, the Formula 1 champion from 1969, 1971 and 1973, counted that he had lost fifty-seven fellow drivers. First and foremost among them was his friend Jim Clark, at Hockenheim in 1968. Hans Herrmann, now ninety-two, put it in especially vivid terms: “When I bought a tube of toothpaste back then, I used to stand in the shop thinking: ‘Hope you get to finish it.’” Why did they do that to themselves? Passion, devotion to the sport, the unbridled will to conquer what hardly anyone else has mastered. This madness had very little to do with money, by the way. These men were light-years away from earning the forty million dollars that the likes of Lewis Hamilton make in a year.