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From the archives: F1 rule changes debut at Snetterton

Sunday, December 29 2013

The Formula 1 field faces a huge challenge in 2014 with new engine regulations testing the teams to the limit to be ready for the opening race of the season. A very similar situation occurred 53 years ago, when the 1.5 litre formula was introduced and just before the opening round of the championship, Snetterton hosted the first race held in Europe to the new regulations.

In 1961 F1 was a far less regimented world than it is today, which on the one hand allowed non-championship events to take place, but on the other meant that very few teams were ready for the new rules. This resulted in a more liberal approach to the technical regulations, with a class for the older, 2.5 litre-engined cars (re-dubbed 'Inter-Continental') to help make up the numbers.

Lombank TrophyThis didn't mean that there was a paucity of star names, for the entry list included reigning World Champion Jack Brabham, works Lotus drivers Jim Clark and Innes Ireland, plus multiple motorcycle champion John Surtees, entering his second year of F1 racing. The Lombank Trophy had also made its debut in 1960, and Ireland arrived in Norfolk as the defending champion of the event.

With the older cars able to stretch their legs on the old Snetterton circuit's long straights, Brabham and Ireland set the pace, with Clark heading the newer machines. The majority were using Formula 2-spec Coventry Climax engines, and some of the cars were hastily-converted F2 chassis. Although many still needed to shed a little excess weight, the gap between the classes was sizeable.

Cliff Allison took the early lead in a Lotus-Climax, but it wasn't long before Brabham and Ireland were past and into their own private battle. Ireland then headed the field but as the halfway point approached, transmission failure ended his race. As Brabham circulated unchallenged, he lapped F1 class leader Surtees after just 21 of the 37 laps.

Attention turned to Roy Salvadori, who was making up for two pit stops with a spectacular drive. Despite being lapped twice by the leader he caught and passed Clark for fifth place on the penultimate lap, to the delight of the crowd. Just eight cars were classified at the finish, with Allison taking second ahead of Surtees, whose average speed was 6mph down on the winner.

If there was a sense of disappointment in the performance comparison between the classes then just a few weeks later these fears were justified. The British teams found out just how ill-prepared they were for the new formula when the Ferrari 156 'Sharknose' cars reduced them to the role of also-rans, and only the genius of Stirling Moss, missing from the Lombank Trophy, could stop the red steamroller.

The Lombank Trophy ran for two more years, and Brabham was succeeded by future World Champions Jim Clark and Graham Hill as winners of the event. Since then Snetterton has seen F1 testing action, particularly from the local Team Lotus outfit, and even today Grand Prix cars make occasional appearances, including Modified Live and Sky F1 TV filming in 2013.

The 1961 Lombank Trophy was filmed and footage can be found in the East Anglian Film Archive - click here to view the action.