For the last seven years the South African Grand Prix has been held just before or just after New Year’s Day, thereby breaking up the Formula One hibernation period. This year, however, the date has been changed so that, although the South African Grand Prix is still the first F1 race of the year, the teams have no time on their hands before plunging into the European season. It therefore followed that for the first time those entered for this race looked more like the new season’s cars, rather than those left over from last year
Team Lotus were fielding three cars for this first race, with Hill, Rindt and Andretti as drivers. Hill used the same car which he raced in the three American races at the end of the 1968 season, while the other two were new chassis.
All three cars had provision for front nose spoilers, as last year, but they were also now fitted with a full front wing arrangement similar to that used by Brabham last year. The mounting points for the front wings were on the outer ends of the top links and so the wing pressed down firmly through to the front wheels. Both rear and front wings were movable in action, being cable-operated from the slim pedal alongside the clutch, as used in Mexico by Hill.
In compliance with the new FIA regulations, a full fire extinguishing system was fitted; a large gas-filled tank over the tail which fired either automatically or by pressing a button in the cockpit was designed to push the gas down pipes into the engine Vee and through to the cockpit. In addition there were new, much heavier rollover bars, adding more weight. The engines were giving the same power as last year and still used only 9,500rpm maximum, but they all had the redesigned timing gear mountings which relieved stress that caused some failures last year.
Rob Walker had his 1968 Lotus Cosworth for Siffert, with new slim three-gallon fuel tanks along the outside of the monocoque. These give the car extra range and keep the weight low. Full front and rear movable Lotus wings were fitted with the same type of pedal control as used on the works cars. The oil tank and radiator are now at the back, with the radiator fitted into the top of the tank in the airstream just over the gearbox.
The McLaren team had two cars, for Hulme and McLaren. Hulme’s car was the same as last year’s with nose spoilers and a larger rear wing now mounted in a similar way to the Lotus set-up. The only other changes were the knock-on wheels using a large bolt, similar to the Can-Am car, and redesigned hub carriers fitted with needle bearings, a feature which makes this McLaren component probably the most sophisticated of its type currently in use.
McLaren’s car was brand new, but is an interim model, before the new 1969 car appears early in the European season. The basic monocoque is as before, but on to the outside and between the front and back wheels are pannier tanks which have been blended into the monocoque, so making it look like a one-piece fabrication. The tanks are mounted low, in fact at about half the height of the cockpit, and once one is accustomed to them they look as attractive as the similarly-equipped Lancia F1s did back in the mid-’50s.
On the new car the rear wing is movable and is operated by a lever and cable close to the driver’s left hand. When the lever is operated the wing feathers and stays in this position, held by a spring-loaded plunger on the lever. A cable from the brake pedal withdraws the plunger as the brake is applied, which puts the springloaded wing back into a working position.
Ken Tyrrell had three Matras for Stewart and Beltoise to choose from, all using Cosworth engines. For Beltoise there was the old 1968 car, which is now fitted with nose spoilers, nose wing and rear wing, while for Stewart there was his last year’s car with aero set-up, as on the other old car, but in Stewart’s case the rear wing was electrically-operated. The control for the electric motor was fixed to the gearbox and operated only when fifth gear was selected.
The third car was the new chassis, this being a completely new monocoque, fat and round in the middle, with the Cosworth engine bolted on behind, and tapering away to a slim nose. The front suspension mounting points are much wider than the monocoque at this point and so the frame which goes across the nose is faired into the top of the monocoque. The front discs, which are buried very deep into the front wheels, are thoroughly vented for extra cooling, while the rear brakes are inboard on either side of the gearbox. A fixed rear wing and movable front spoilers are found on the new car; the spoilers’ movement is controlled from the roll-bar mountings in a similar way to the wings first seen last year on Porsche prototypes. The rear suspension is held on to the back of the engine with two spiders, one on each side.
Ferrari sent one car over for Amon. This was one of last year’s chassis with fixed nose spoilers beautifully moulded into the nose section. The engine has had the gas flow reversed so that the fuel goes in between the Vee and the exhausts are now on either side. This was to standardise with the prototype engines and quite a lot of extra power was found, 436bhp at 11,000rpm being the figure quoted.
The oil system has been radically overhauled, for last year over-revving burned oil away in a very short time. The hydraulically-operated rear wing is still mounted on the engine, but this year it is much further back and is also higher up in the air stream. The oil tank and oil radiator are now at the back, the tank moulded round the gearbox, while the radiator is set up above.
There were four BRM cars, three entered by the works for Surtees and Oliver, while Parnell had his old car for Rodriguez. The only changes to Parnell’s BRM were the pivot points on the rear suspension, which are now the same as on the works cars. The works cars’ chassis were as raced last year, two of them fitted with the older two-valve engines, while the third car had a new untried four-valve-per-cylinder layout. The exhausts on this new engine are between the Vee, with the inlets down the sides.
The new unit weighs 325lb and it has given 418bhp at 9,500rpm, although Surtees was using 10,000rpm in practice. One problem which appeared when the car was in action, which hadn’t shown itself on the bench, was that, at certain speeds, and especially when opening up out of corners, the upstream fuel injectors were spraying a lot of fuel out of the inlets, which was giving a decided flat-spot. The spray was quite visible when the car came out of some of the corners on the slower back stretches of the circuit.
The Brabham team had two cars, for Brabham, starting his 21st season of racing, and Ickx. The chassis were the same as last year, the new monocoque not yet being ready, but after the disappointment of 1968 the Repco engine has been shelved in favour of Cosworth V8s. As the Cosworth unit is five inches shorter than the Repco, there was a largish space behind the cockpit and in front of the engine; into this space had been fitted the gas tank for the fire extinguisher. The wing set-up on both cars was as last year and both wings were fixed.
Brabham’s Cosworth engine was one of the two new 1969 series (No 930) at Kyalami. This revised engine is governed to run at 10,000rpm instead of 9,500, having the new cams which give the extra 500 revs without valve bounce. The power is reputed to be the same but it’s there for 500 revs more.
Four private entries from local teams were entered. J Love had a Lotus 49B with an early-series Cosworth V8 engine and had fitted his own movable nose and tail wings. These were operated by compressed air from a bottle containing 2,000lb psi and were feathered when fifth gear was engaged. A compensating valve kept the arrangement working until the pressure dropped to 20lb psi, when the wing remained in the working position.
B van Rooyen had a McLaren 7A which had been bought from the works and was the car McLaren used during last year. This was fitted with an early-series Cosworth engine and had a large fixed rear wing with a huge South African Airways advertisement on the top. P de Klerk had the Brabham Repco V8 used in last year’s race by Love and was one of the two cars not fitted with wings, Tingle’s being the other, which made them both look quite strange. The last entry was S Tingle’s with the Brabham Repco run by Rindt last year. A month ago the car crashed in tyre testing and has been rebuilt. So late was the rebuild that the car only just arrived for the last practice.
All three tyre companies had new tyres, Dunlop using mainly the new CR84 which they tried in Mexico, Goodyear a new DG12, while Firestone had several new compounds which were being tested.
Practices were from 2:30pm to 5:30pm each afternoon, starting on Wednesday, which gave nine hours of timed practice. For the first practice the Ferrari was still in transit with all the crew, including Amon. Rodriguez’ BRM was having electrical trouble and never left the garage, Siffert’s car was having a nose wing fitted back at the garage, and Tingle and de Klerk just didn’t appear.
First out were the two McLarens and Rindt. Lap times to remember from last year were Clark’s race time of 1min 23.7sec (170.50kph) and his practice time of 1min 21.6sec (181.03kph). It was obvious that these times were going to fall quickly and Hulme soon set the pace by getting down to 1min 20.5sec inside the first hour.
Surtees started to get the four-valve BRM going when the metering unit slipped out of gear and stripped the teeth, which finished it for the day. After 3 few laps in the two-valve car Surtees complained of misfiring and as the engine of Oliver’s car cut out on the circuit, a close look was taken at the wiring.
It was found that on all three two-valve cars, including Parnell’s, a rewiring job done before coming to Africa had been earthed to a heat-insulated part of the car, which is also electrically insulated, so causing considerable damage to the electrical circuits. A telephone call at 4:35pm had all the necessary parts on their way to London Airport and they arrived in time for the second practice.
The Lotus Team were experimenting with nose wings and spoilers, to get the best combination, and both works Brabhams were being bedded-in and adjusted. Stewart drove very quickly in the old car, but only did a few laps at the end of practice in the new car. The McLaren team cars both did a lot of laps and Hulme set fastest lap for the day at 1min 20.3sec before fourth gear began jumping out. McLaren’s practice finished with a broken water pump. Van Rooyen was the fastest of the private entrants and with a time of 1min 21.8sec was well up amongst the leaders.
Thursday was again hot. Brabham had fitted a faired-in radiator over the rear suspension, but this was not connected and was only to see what increased drag there would be in case it had to be used. Several Cosworth-engined cars had the 4-in-1-type Monza exhausts and there were several changes from the 4-into 2-into 1 layout when it was found the layout for faster circuits worked.
McLarens again led out and very soon most cars were trying to improve their first day’s times. Ferrari had only just started to sort out problems when their car stopped out on the circuit with a broken fuel pump. Stewart was trying to get the new Matra going, but there seemed to be some basic trouble, for the car was slower than the last year’s model and the engine was misfiring a lot. The BRM parts, now arrived from England, were being fitted and soon the three cars were out, Surtees concentrating on the 4-valve car with the spare two-valver left in the pits.
Siffert was in trouble and his car only did a few very slow laps before he discovered that the engine would not run under 9,000rpm. Walker’s mechanics spent the whole of practice removing the fuel feed to try to find the trouble; but, as practice ended, fuel pressure was still not correct and the mechanics worked late into the night changing all they could before the engine finally ran cleanly. No one seemed very sure of the cause of the trouble, but dirt from the two new three-gallon side tanks was a possibility.
Lotus had been experimenting with wings in the early stages and Hill’s big rowing-developed boot broke the slim wing pedal, which meant his wing became fixed and he would have to put off a fast lap until the Friday session. This “putting off ’til tomorrow” saved the wing on the number-one Lotus, for within minutes of each other the wings on Rindt’s and Andretti’s cars both collapsed. Rindt’s was first to break, the Austrian having been out trying harder than he had been when he slowly approached the pits with the rear wing folded right down on to the car. The wings uprights were screwed and twisted but nothing looked as if it had broken.
While Chapman and the mechanics pondered what had been the cause of the trouble, in came Andretti with his wing struts collapsed. The American had a much better idea of what had happened and explained that when cornering on the very limit the wings leant sideways so far that the upright touched the top of the tyre.
“Lotus had been experimenting with wings in the early stages and Hill’s big rowing-developed boot broke the slim wing pedal”
The rubber gripped, turned the upright, and it collapsed as it had no real strength when twisted. Lotus had some rapid redesigning to do and as they had no spare struts, they retrieved the parts from Walker’s Lotus.
The new BRM was beginning to increase its speed, but was losing more than a second through the twisty part of the circuit due to the fuel spraying out of the intakes as it opened up. Oliver improved his times progressively, but did not seem very happy with the car. Rodriguez was about a second slower than the second BRM and was not wasting the car. The Ferrari, once its pump was replaced, was beginning to go well. Minor alterations were being made and Amon got under 1min 21sec before very long. Just over on inch was sawn off the end of the nose spoilers and things looked good for a fast time on their second day.
Ickx was getting to know the Brabham and his times were slowly improving, but it was the cunning “old man” who, knowing the thundery nature of the Rand weather, had a good go in the last minutes and on the very last lap set a time of 1min 20.0sec (184.66kph) to show the youngsters how to go racing.
Friday was again warm in the morning, but as practice was due to start, thunder and lightning warned of a big storm about to pounce. Overnight, the engine in the new MS 80-01 Matra had been changed and close scrutiny showed that it was one of the new 1969 higher-revving units. But still something was wrong and it never fired properly. Also the Ferrari had the engine changed, because the first one seemed down on power. Siffert was first out with the previous day’s nose wing re-welded to fit the back suspension and the car had its 1968 nose spoilers. By trying very hard before the rain came, he managed to get a fair time, but not as good as the end of last season’s form indicated he could achieve.
After 30 minutes the rain began to fall and as it got harder so most of the cars were wheeled away and rain tyres were fitted. After about half an hour Stewart, Surtees, McLaren and Brabham did some laps to see how slippery Kyalami is under these conditions. The Lotus team turned up during the storm with all rear wings shortened to stop whip and the rear wing was now on exactly the same horizontal plane as the nose wing. Andretti’s car had the nose wing removed and only spoilers on the front. Rindt did several laps as the circuit dried towards the end of practice when his engine broke with an expensive noise.
Stewart had given up the new car and now concentrated on the older machine. At one time he tried Beltoise’s cars but it was slower, so he went back to his own. Tingle finally turned up and lapped very slowly, bedding the car in. At 5:30pm a blue flag was waved to indicate the end of timing, but the cars were allowed an extra half an hour on the now nearly dry track.
In this period the Ferrari split a water pipe; gaining access to it necessitated the removal of the gearbox. Surtees stopped out on the circuit with his 4-valve engine broken. An aluminium bronze valve guide insert had twisted and the cam broke some pieces of the flange which dropped into the timing gears. Tony Rudd collected the broken pieces and left for England on the maiming of the race.
Although the track was bone dry by the end of this unofficial session, times were well down because of sand carried on to the track by the torrential rain, making it very slippery in places. So, cars and crews set about final preparation for the 3pm start on Saturday.
Race morning was hot with all the signs of afternoon thunderstorms. Overnight the older BRM was prepared for Surtees and because he hadn’t declared which chassis he was using before 6pm on the previous day, he was moved to the back of the grid. Ferrari mechanics worked for eight hours to do a two-minute repair job on a water joint. Rindt had another engine fitted, but in an unofficial morning practice this was not running very well and the fuel pump was checked as there was a suspected sticking valve.
Love had been having electrical trouble and in the morning practice the black box transistor unit again burned out. Another was fitted for the race, but he was not very hopeful of getting far. Tingle had many problems and not enough time to sort them out; one was overheating and overnight two metering units had been stripped and turned into one. Van Rooyen finished the morning practice with serious misfiring due to an electrical fault, which was rectified eventually.
“Most of the locals reckoned it would be a miracle if one of the storms didn’t hit the circuit”
Just before three, all eyes were looking to the sky, where giant thunder clouds were pouring water into the valley less than five miles away and most of the locals reckoned it would be a miracle if one of the storms didn’t hit the circuit. However, as rain wasn’t imminent, the dry tyres were left on or fitted, and the 18 starters went off on their warming-up lap. At a few seconds before three o’clock 17 cars moved up to the grid, leaving Tingle still trying to start, which he did 30 seconds after the flag.
At 3pm precisely the flag dropped and the South African GP was under way. Brabham made the best start and reached the first corner first, but Stewart from the second row was right on his tail and before the next corner he was in front. At the end of the first lap the order was Stewart, about one second clear of the rest, then came Brabham, Rindt, Hill, Hulme, McLaren, Amon, Love, Siffert, Andretti, Rodriguez, Beltoise, Oliver, Ickx, Surtees, Van Rooyen, de Klerk and, half a lap down, Tingle.
Stewart was driving superbly and the others just could not hold him. On the third lap in a car heavy with fuel he broke last year’s lap record with 1min 21.8sec and was pulling away at about a second a lap. In these first three laps the next six places remained the same. Love, who made a good start, dropped a place to Siffert on lap 2 and another place to Andretti, who made a poor start, on lap 3. Rodriguez, whose experience had him in 11th place on lap 1, was passed by Beltoise, Oliver and Ickx on lap 2 and by Van Rooyen and Surtees before the end of lap 3.
As things settled down Brabham began an effort to catch up with Stewart, but on the fifth lap the rear wing struts collapsed and he had to make a pit stop to have both front and rear wings cut off. By lap 7 Stewart was 6 seconds ahead of Rindt and Hill, who were very close together, then came a bunch of five cars all very close together and 9 seconds behind the leader. The two McLarens, with Hulme leading, were just holding Siffert and Andretti, the latter really making up for his bad start, while Amon was struggling to hang on, with a drop in power which was unexplainable. Love, Beltoise and Ickx were having quite a dice and the Rhodesian held the two Europeans at bay for another seven laps before they got by.
Surtees in the number one BRM was just ahead of Oliver in the other works car in 13th and 14th places, embarrassing, with Sir Alfred Owen in the pits. The former Honda driver must have been wondering if he had made the correct decision in joining the Bourne team, with obviously such a long uphill struggle in front of them.
The first retirement was Van Rooyen, who stopped after 12 laps with no brakes due to a fault in the master cylinder. Rindt, who was lying second, was passed by Hill on lap 8, Hulme on lap 12 and by Siffert and Andretti on lap 15.
Rindt’s Lotus was misfiring and running roughly as it came out of corners and something was still very wrong with the fuel system. Brabham had rejoined the race just ahead of Amon and these two were dicing heartily. The Brabham without wings was much quicker down the straight; in fact, Brabham was having to lift off at 10,000rpm to stop damaging the engine.
“Brabham had rejoined the race just ahead of Amon and these two were dicing heartily”
During this period Brabham won the prize for the fastest car through a radar trap at the end of the straight with a speed of 176.33mph. In the corners, however, the Brabham was all over the road and as the fuel load got lighter it became even more of a handful. So at the point, where Amon could have gone by he had a very twitchy car just in front of him, and it was a long time before he finally did get away.
On lap 20 Stewart was seven seconds ahead of Hill, who was eight seconds clear of Siffert and Andretti, then there was a very short gap before the two McLarens in fifth and sixth. Rindt was still dropping back and was now 25 seconds behind the leader, with Amon 10 seconds behind him. Ickx was in ninth place, but at the end of the 20th lap he pulled into the pits with his rear wing collapsed.
In addition, a pressure valve which keeps the top of the engine pressurised had ceased to function and large quantities of oil had been blown into the catch tank. When the wing was removed the starter failed to work, so thinking this was due to a dud battery, the mechanics changed it. But still nothing happened and it was found that the solenoid was not working, so the number two Brabham became the second retirement. The 10th, 11th and 12th places were held by Beltoise, Love and Surtees and these were the last cars on the same lap as the leader.
For the next ten laps things settled down. Andretti passed Siffert when the brakes on the Walker car began to play up, and the American was closing on Hill. Beltoise and Love went on racing very closely with Love leading on laps 21 to 25, then Beltoise regaining the place. Surtees was lapped on the 25th lap. By the 30th lap Stewart’s lead was ten seconds and he was still keeping up the pressure and driving immaculately. Hill and Andretti were now close together and the American had temporarily slowed to Hill’s speed, after picking up eight seconds in ten laps.
The crowd were hoping that if Andretti could get by Hill and continue at the same rate, there might be an exciting and close finish. Siffert and Hulme were ten seconds back and close together in fourth and fifth places, with the McLaren pressing the Lotus very hard. Then on his own, five seconds down, was McLaren, the car still sounding good. Forty seconds behind the leader Rindt was trying to hold off Amon and the two sick cars were 31 seconds ahead of the Beltoise/Love battle.
Then a batch of retirements took all interest out of the race. After completing 31 laps, Andretti stopped out on the circuit with “no gears”, so ending any chance of a fight for first place, and Love stopped when his ignition packed up, also ending the midfield dice.
The only other two local drivers were in the last two places and were not creating much interest amongst the 80,000 plus South African crowd. Amon passed Rindt on lap 33 only to be repassed next lap as the Ferrari pulled into the pits to retire with damaged engine bearings. During these last few laps Brabham had decided to give up, for the car was getting even more unstable on the corners and as it got lighter was reaching its peak 10,000rpm in top for even longer stretches on the straight.
The next two cars to go were Rodriguez and Surtees. The Parnell car retired after 38 laps with hardly any water left and with a puncture in the left front tyre, while the works BRM had a valve or valve spring break. At the half-way stage the gap between Stewart and Hill was 12 seconds, nine seconds down came Hulme, who had passed and pulled out three seconds over Siffert; next, 11 seconds behind, came McLaren with Rindt and Beltoise another 17 seconds down.
The race as such was now dead and Rindt retired on lap 44, his mechanical fuel pump not working at all and the electrical pump unable to cope with the quantity of fuel required. De Klerk made a pit stop with clutch trouble but went on in last place. McLaren slowed down and Stewart lapped him before the end. Beltoise was running on only seven cylinders and even so was able to hold off Oliver’s BRM.
So what promised to be an exciting and close race was dominated from start to finish by Stewart and with a high proportion of mechanical failures, it was over by half-way. Hulme and Siffert were the only cars on the same lap, while the last finisher, de Klerk, did not qualify, having failed to complete the requisite number of laps. Why the last year’s Matra-Ford should be so much faster this year was put down by some drivers to the new Dunlop tyre which was racing for the first time and which is very stable and predictable in its performance.
· John de la Hunt and his family, who control the time-keeping, issued full results, a lap chart and the times of every car on every lap for the race and practice, only 14 minutes after the chequered flag. What other clubs can match a service like that?
· With the new date in March and no racing on Sunday the three practice sessions were watched by a much smaller crowd.
· The GPDA meeting took place on the lawn by the Kyalami Ranch swimming pool where to non-members round the pool it was obvious that most of the talking was being done by the Association’s Secretary and not by the drivers. However, perhaps the decisions are still left to the young gentlemen?