Teams1951 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Auto racing is a large, but still rather small and close, community. However, even amidst the smallest community there are those that come and go. Motor racing has continued to be one of those expressions of sport that draws people just for the sake of the competition—to say he or she had competed. For these people, it isn't about the fame or fortune, but, the pure love of the sport.
John James was one of those that never achieved fame or fortune in motor racing, but, he does have a little footnote in racing history marking his place. Of course the footnote is so incredibly small it is rather easy to miss it.
Born in Packwood, Warwickshire in 1914, this British privateer has one of the shortest grand prix careers in history. His motor racing career spans the whole of two grand prix races during the 1951 grand prix season.
As with any British racing fan, to be able to qualify to start a race at the famed Silverstone road course would be a real honor and exciting time. Sure enough, this is where James' story begins.
Having purchased a Maserati 4CLT/48 and entered under his own name, John James arrived at Silverstone on the 14th of July looking to take part in his first ever grand prix during Formula One's sophomore season.
Not too concerned with what Fangio, Ascari or Gonzalez were doing at the front of the grid, James concentrated on getting into the race. James managed to stay out of trouble during practice and actually was able to set a qualifying time faster than a couple of other, more seasoned racers. Out of twenty starters who qualified for the race, James would start 17th. He had managed to beat out a few of his fellow Brits, including Peter Walker, Joe Kelly and Reg Parnell in the troublesome BRM.
James had made it into the race. Now he needed to make it through the race. Unfortunately, this would not be an easy task for the man from Warwickshire.
Race day was mild and dry. The race got underway and Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Fangio disappeared into the distance. Being that it was his first ever grand prix, and that it was on home soil, surely James took it rather easy, but was fighting the nerves at the same time. He needed to settle in to a pace as the race was not a short distance sprint. The British Grand Prix that year was 90 laps of the 2.88 mile facility making the total race distance over 250 miles.
To James' credit, despite the presence of faster cars all-around him, he kept his cool and never put a foot wrong. In the end, it was his car that let him down in his first-ever Formula One event. On lap 23, the radiator on his Maserati 4CLT began to overheat. He couldn't continue on with such troubles, and thus had to retire from the race. In his first grand prix, James had completed just 23 laps. He had scored no fastest laps, led not a single lap, nor won the race. But, he had the right to say he had competed in the British Grand Prix.
The only other grand prix event in which John James had ever competed came late in the season at Goodwood in West Sussex, England. The race was the 4th Goodwood Trophy race.
The 4th Goodwood Trophy race serves to create a number of questions concerning John James. Instead of the race being one in which James is simply recorded as having attended and either finishing in a retirement or a low-order finish, the race creates an enigma.
Some of the best drivers of the day were present for the short, 15 lap race, around Goodwood's 2.38 mile road course. Farina, Parnell and Moss were present, along with some more local British talent. Among those Brits in attendance was John James in his own Maserati 4CLT.
Seventeen drivers would start the event, but James wasn't to be found toward the back-end of the starting grid. James put in a solid performance that netted him a 9th place starting spot.
During the 15 lap race the attrition was incredibly high. Only nine of the seventeen starters would finish the race and James was among them that would finish. Farina and Parnell lapped the entire field at least once. A little over five seconds separated Farina and Parnell at the finish.
To James' credit, again, he never put a foot wrong the entire race and was only passed by one person that qualified worse than him. That one person was Stirling Moss. By the end of the race, James' steady drive earned him an 8th place finish.
Just like that John James was done in grand prix racing. Nothing is ever really heard from him in competition again. James had competed in only one Formula One event, but it was his nation's grand prix and a great honor for any British racing fan. James died in Malta just in 2002 at the age of 87.