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F1 History 13

F1′s January jolt

Always there’s a frisson when the Formula 1 cars hit the track for the first time each year. Indeed it’s been rather too exciting for some at Jerez: Nico Rosberg (an electrical fire) and Lewis Hamilton (a brake problem-related off).

Whatever happened to that monumental Mercedes-Benz calm, complete with attentive flunky holding a bowl of hot water, soap, flannel and a towel by the perspiring driver’s elbow? Perhaps it never existed – the concept that is, not the flunky.

Already the heat in F1’s kitchen is rising under the blue sky of southern Spain: McLaren and (Lotus)-Renault quick; Red Bull understeering but in a better position than it was this time a year ago; and Ferrari waiting, waiting, waiting for Fernando Alonso.

This time 40 years ago, however, the season had already reached a feverous pitch, with a 100,000 chanting Brazilian fans being hosed down from a bowser. According to Andrew Marriott’s report in Motor Sport, this only served to crank up their samba beat.

history  F1s January jolt

I cannot deny that I am obsessed with 1973. That was the year in which I progressed from Matchbox to Corgi models – and also began to take notice of F1. Dad would ran-tan on the window and give the universally accepted opposite-lock signal and my street game of football or, preferably, cricket would be placed on hold while I dashed inside to catch the Beeb’s patchy coverage. Mostly that seemed to be rallycross from Lydden Hill – Keith Ripp’s bloody muddy Mini – but certainly I remember watching that year’s Monaco Grand Prix; the long shot across the harbour to the Chicane captivated me.

So too did the cars: Lotus 72 and McLaren M23 – a pair of greats – and those stubby Tyrrells, 005 and 006, that Jackie Stewart used to beat them.

So obviously diverse. So thrilling. So memorable.

And that was the year Emerson Fittipaldi’s Brazil finally joined Carlos Reutemann’s Argentina on the World Championship calendar.

history  F1s January jolt

The latter race was a cracker. Clay Regazzoni, in his first outing with BRM, led until the Firestones that had helped him to a surprise pole position wilted in the heat and under the strain. Handsome François Cevert took over, and the Tyrrells and Lotuses circulated nose to tail for a time – before victory on that January day in Buenos Aires went to reigning champion Fittipaldi. His new team-mate Ronnie Peterson’s engine seized; Stewart suffered a blistered front Goodyear; and Cevert clung on tenaciously until ‘Emmo’ sent one, a skittering scrabble, down the inside with 11 to go.

The coiled Interlagos provided a more straightforward affair two weeks later, i.e. in February. Nobody could get close to the compliant 72s across its bumpy surface – damping expertise is the thing that Stewart concedes Tyrrell lacked – and Fittipaldi controlled the GP from start to finish.

Of course I didn’t get to see these races. And Motor Sport text was too heavy going for a five-year old. Yet somehow these distant and impossibly exotic ‘fixes’ fired me up, via March’s extended tyre test and race at Kyalami, for F1’s European tour. Which is often when new designs – actually Denny Hulme had stuck the M23 on pole for its debut in South Africa – and occasionally new regulations were implemented, providing further shots of intrigue and expectation.

A series of official tests in Spain before F1 arrives en monolithic bloc in March does not tantalise in the same way. The season ends much later these days – 2012 stretched to 25 November whereas 1972 concluded at Watkins Glen on 8 October – but despite the thrilling climaxes of recent years, still the anticipation of a new campaign is what does it for me – the placing of the pencil on a blank sheet rather than the dottings and crossings.

history  F1s January jolt

Just imagine if a season again started with a January jolt. That’s how it was from 1953’-58, and in 1965, and from 1967-’68 and 1972-’82 (bar ’81). And it might be so again given Bernie Ecclestone’s desire to pack more into a year, and given that the details of the next Concorde Agreement are still to be dotted and crossed. (If indeed there is to be one.)

Why not spread the races out from January to (if you must) December and dab the season with official tests at strategically propitious points? Teams, particularly those with a smaller workforce, would thus be provided extended opportunities to review and hopefully amend their performance shortcomings during the year, and the races, as long as 20 remained a maximum, would feel even more special because they wouldn’t have to be churned out once a fortnight.

The New Year’s Day openings to 1965 and ’68 were a bit too keen, but a race – preferably not at Jerez – in late January/early February is surely not beyond the wit of today’s players.

I’ll be glued to the screen come March, but I know that the interminable build-up and incessant ‘Bigger and better than ever!’ thudding TV trailers will have left me feeling more relieved than anything else.

Better surely for it to be a release. So, the sooner the better: when the red lights go out, the bullshit stops.

That used to rhyme – back in 1973.

history  F1s January jolt

Add your comments

13 comments on F1′s January jolt

  1. Nick the Hippy, 7 February 2013 11:25

    Pretty sure the bottom pic is from US GP of 72.

  2. Alex Harmer, 7 February 2013 11:32


    It is! Paul mentions Watkins Glen ’72 just before the picture.

    All the best,


  3. dave cubbedge, 7 February 2013 12:24

    It is 1972 at the Glen. Schenken leading Ganley and Walker. John Surtees also drove the #24 at this weekend….

  4. Dave Cook, 7 February 2013 13:27

    That’s a P180 in there… Great memories, Silverstone in April, watching Frank Gardner spin the mighty Camaro at becketts, then doing a 360 in temper, Stewart half spinning right in front of us and then winning when Ronnie dropped it in the er, snow, George Follmer rotating the Shadow several times but keeping it on the island. Probably easy for him, after those CanAm Porsches! The rose tint is getting rosier……’ 73. Would go straight back right now!

  5. Listerine, 7 February 2013 17:03

    Nice piece, Paul.

    The last paragraph was funny. For a closing rhyme 2013-style, with a nod to a second piece of technology that wasn’t around in 1973, maybe this would work:

    When the red lights go out,
    The bullshit’s just about
    To spike again.
    Unless your name is Raikkonen.

  6. John, 7 February 2013 17:13

    A clerihew, bigod! Nice one.

  7. Peter Coffman, 8 February 2013 01:49

    Thanks for a very evocative piece. I too have long been infatuated (“obsessed” is too strong a word) with the 1973 season. I was twelve, and my interest in the sport was probably at its peak. The characters in the sport were so compelling, so larger than life, and the cars so beautiful (and yes, they actually looked different from one another!). Has there aver been a more stunning machine than the 72 in JPS colours?

    My family had moved from Ontario to Quebec that year, but we still made the trek to Mosport for the Canadian GP. I have so many vivid memories of that weekend, from being on the highway as the sun rose on our way to the track, to watching what may be the weirdest Grand Prix ever run. By the end of it, no one even knew who had won.

    In hindsight, it was a more historic race than any of us knew. It was one of the first times that a young guy named Lauda showed he could run at the front. It was the last win for Peter Revson. It was the very last Grand Prix that JYS ever raced, ditto for his dashing and very talented young teammate.

    Amazing days, thank you for bringing them back.

  8. harvey, 8 February 2013 03:26

    I agree with you
    F1 races in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere are surely hugely attractive.
    In the north we have nothing else to watch, if you’re involved you’re in the sun and hopefully having fun.

  9. harvey, 8 February 2013 03:43

    sorry, to clarify
    To watch F1 races in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere is hugely attractive.
    In the north we have nothing else to watch, so a southern hemisphere GP early in the year would be great.

  10. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 8 February 2013 11:31

    The 1973 one is considered the best Argentine GP ever, because Emo’s stint to the lead was awesome, unstoppable.
    His incredible driving style made the crowd go crazy, and Ken Tyrrell shook his head in disbelief while checking his stopwatch.
    After the race Reutemann said it was the best he ever saw in Formula 1.

  11. Steve W, 10 February 2013 23:09

    You could strip all the paint and decals completely off those cars of 1973 and still easily tell which was which.

  12. Terry Jacob, 20 February 2013 18:59

    I won’t be glued to my TV screen come March ……..

  13. Steve Selasky, 21 February 2013 22:07

    Prefer January to October. Gave me something to watch in the winter.

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