1971 South African Grand Prix race report

Mario Andretti driving for Ferrari at the 1971 South African Grand Prix.

Mario Andretti took his debut win in a Ferrari at Kyalami

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Andretti and Ferrari start on high note

Kyalami, South Africa, March 6th

Mario Andretti, the three times American USAC Champion, has long been considered by the Grand Prix circus as a potential winner of World Championship races and this has been the little Italian-born driver’s big ambition. However, occasional races with Lotus in 1969 always ended in retirement, usually when high placed, while last year’s effort with an STP March was almost completely abortive, apart from a third place in the Spanish GP. During this time Andretti had also driven occasionally for Ferrari in long-distance sports-car races, and when it was announced that he had further extended the deal in 1971 to take in Formula One races with Ferrari as a third member of the team, which already included Ickx and Regazzoni, everyone was very interested to see how he would get on.

The answer was provided conclusively at the opening round of 1971 World Championship at Kyalami when Andretti took his 1970-type flat-12 Ferrari to victory with team mates Regazzoni third and Ickx eighth (after he had been slowed by a puncture). To start three Grand Prix cars in a race and have them all finish on full song is quite an achievement these days. But despite predictions to the contrary it was not all easy sailing for the Maranello team. The Cosworth-engined cars offered quite a challenge but, surprisingly, it was not the Tyrrell of Stewart, complete with the latest “11” series engine, but the new Formula One cars from McLaren and Surtees stables with Denny Hulme and John Surtees driving them. Both were put out of the running by annoying little failures rather than major mechanical disasters, Hulme when he was conclusively in the lead with only four laps to the flag.

The organisers of the South African GP, in particular Alex Blignaut, work efficiently and tirelessly to attract a large and representative field for the Grand Prix. This year they spent in the region of £100,000 in appearance and prize money, but on an early reckoning look as if they will have made a small profit when all the sums are done, thanks to a huge 100,000 crowd, which turned out encouraged by a massive publicity campaign in the national newspapers printed in Johannesburg. The race is not directly sponsored but all the papers rally round and give the race enormous space, running stories daily for two or three weeks beforehand culminating in big six-page supplements which are in all the copies of the papers, not just those “slip” issues sold at the circuit gates.

With a few last-minute additions, a field of 25 cars was amassed and all but two of them came over from Europe. Last year the race attracted new models from every team except Lotus and while, this year, brand-new cars were not so numerous there was still plenty of interest around the paddock.

Ferrari brought along four cars, the three regular 312B/1s plus a brand-new 312B/2, which is described elsewhere. Sadly this was written off in pre-race testing by Regazzoni so the team had to rely completely on last year’s machines. Both Ickx and Regazzoni had their regular race-winning cars, 001 and 004 respectively, while Andretti took over 002, which was last raced by Giunti in the Italian GP.

Gold Leaf-Team Lotus were little changed from their appearance in the Argentinian GP and late races last season, for they had Fittipaldi and Wisell respectively in the regular Lotus 72s numbers 5 and 3. In numbers of personnel the team was rather more limited than of yore with just the two drivers, four mechanics and Colin Chapman. Racing Manager Dick Scammell had left the company while Competitions Manager Peter Warr was sorting things out at base.

The March Engineering Ltd. team arrived on the Grand Prix scene just a year ago and the works and private cars were in the hands of such drivers as Stewart, Amon and Andretti. This year these three had deserted them and by a twist of fate they filled three of the first four places at Kyalami. Meanwhile, the Bicester team, whose entrant’s licence now reads STP-March, have rapidly promoted Peterson to team leader and done deals to have two further cars driven by de Adamich and the Spaniard Alex Soler-Roig who, unsuccessfully, attempted to qualify a Lotus 49C in two or three races last year.

All three drivers had the new futuristic-looking 711s for the race, although the third car was only finished for the final day of practice and the large aerodynamic engine covers and the ducts to the side radiators were discarded even before practice. Peterson and Soler-Roig had the usual Cosworth power while the Italian had his car powered by an Alfa Romeo T33/3 engine, similar to the ones he used in a McLaren last year, with noticeable lack of success. The engine was now reputed to be giving 440 b.h.p. following attention to the valve-gear over the winter, and while this figure seems likely the torque is apparently far less effective than that of the Cosworth V8.

An even more recently arrived constructor on the Grand Prix scene is that of Tyrrell, although, unlike March, this team have no plans to sell cars to customers. Now running under the title of Elf-Team Tyrrell, the Ripley racing manager had two cars bearing his own name for the first time. Stewart had the choice of the original 001 which he had wrecked in a Kyalami testing accident a few weeks beforehand but now rebuilt, plus a new car, 002, which had several detail differences to the monocoque and is described in our “In the Paddock” article. The new car is intended primarily for the French driver Cevert, who arrived so conclusively on the GP scene last year and he did, in fact, drive it.

Bruce McLaren Motor Racing brought along just two cars, the progressive spring-rate suspension M19, described last month, which was to be driven by Hulme, and a last year’s type M14A for Gethin. This car had been modified in the suspension department to accept the latest low-profile tyres and particularly 13-in. rear wheels.

Motor Racing Developments, now minus Jack Brabham, were also using 13-in. rear diameter wheels for the first time on their two Brabham BT33s. Graham Hill, driving for the team for the first time, had what was virtually a new car to the 1970 design, for it was built around a new monocoque but still carried chassis plate BT33/1, while the second ex-Brabham car was entrusted to the local driver Dave Charlton, who went so well in last year’s race in a Lotus 49C and subsequently won the South African Formula One Championship. Charlton had the Brabham decked out in the colours of his recently acquired sponsors Lucky Strike Racing.

Still finished in the colours of Yardley but now entered by British Racing Motors, were BRMs for Rodriguez, Siffert and the team’s F5000 recruit Howden Ganley making his Formula One debut. Rodriguez, as team leader, had the new P160 at his disposal as well as an almost new and never-raced P153 number 07, while Siffert had P153/06, which also has very few racing miles on it, while Ganley took over 03 which used to be raced by Eaton. True to their word Matra did not replace the presently-banned Beltoise so Equipe Matra was relying completely on recent signing Amon. He had the choice of an almost new car, MS120/04, or Pescarolo’s MS120/02, which remained engineless in a packing case. Modifications over the winter included a new nose much resembling that of the Cosworth 4-w-d machine which never raced.

John Surtees is really blossoming out as a Formula One car constructor these days and his team entered no fewer than three of the angular but attractive machines from Edenbridge. Surtees himself had the choice of his regular TS7/001 or a brand new and lower car (see “In the Paddock”) TS9/001 which arrived for second day’s practice. This proving satisfactory Surtees handed over the older car to Redman, who is presently resident in South Africa. In fact, this was to be the Lancashire driver’s first Formula One drive since his nasty accident at Spa in 1968 when a works Cooper-BRM broke under him. A second Surtees TS7 was entrusted to Stommelen, who went so well in it in the Argentine. This car was in the colours of the German consortium of Auto Motor and Sport magazine and Eiffelland caravans, while the other two cars were in the Brooke Bond, Oxo-Rob Walker colours.

The remainder of the entry was completed by four independents headed by Frank Williams Racing Cars, who had the ex-works test March 701 for ex-Matra man Pescarolo (they have a 711 on order), Bonnier in the ex-works ex-Surtees McLaren M7C with which he crops up from time to time and two cars from the local Team Gunston. These were a March 701 from five times South African Formula One champion John Love, who it will be remembered actually led the South African GP in 1967, and an ex-works ex-Williams Brabham BT26 for Jackie Pretorius, a local driver with F5000 experience, who has recently taken the car over from Peter De Klerk, who drove it in last year’s race.


Jackie Stewart driving for Tyrrell at the 1971 South African Grand Prix

Stewart took pole for the season’s opening round

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Kyalami is a very attractive spot about mid-way between Johannesburg and Pretoria and the attraction of the hot summer sun and general fairy-tale world at the posh hotels nearby regularly attract the teams a couple of weeks before the race for test sessions. This year, however, there were fewer takers than usual, although March arrived very early followed by Ferrari, while the majority of teams were running a couple of days before the start of official practice and so were ready to go when the first of the three three-hour sessions started on Wednesday. Indeed, this was very much the case for the two fastest times of the nine hours total of practising came within the first three hours.

The heat at Kyalami is something that has to be taken into consideration and most of the faster times are usually turned in in the closing half-hour from about 5 to 5.30 p.m. when everything is getting a little cooler. Tyres also had a considerable effect on practice for Goodyear’s G24 compound was proving to be very fast but not to have durability in the heat. Hence the tyres were good for qualifying with a low load of fuel on but not for the race. Meanwhile, Firestone had tyres in some experimental compounds which proved very quick on Fittipaldi’s car but due to the politics of only having one set decided not to supply them for the race.

Although Kyalami’s official record stands at 1 min. 20.2 sec. to local driver Charlton, during his extensive testing programme with Goodyear a few weeks earlier, Stewart had lapped the Tyrrell in 1 min. 18.1 sec. However, on Wednesday he surprised even himself by getting down to 1 min. 17.8 sec., which put him firmly on pole position. Amon had the Matra going nicely on full song to record 1 min. 18.4 sec. and this time was never bettered, either. Meanwhile, the Ferraris of Regazzoni, Andretti and Ickx respectively recorded 1 min. 19.1 sec, 1 min. 19.3 sec. and 1 min. 20.1 sec. and were only split by Peterson, who was giving the Ford-engined March 711 its first run and recorded an excellent 1 min. 19.9 sec., but unfortunately failed to improve on the time and slipped on the grid. Despite having three No. 1 drivers on their strength there seemed to be few emotional “I-want-the-good-engine-and-new-tyres” type dramas in the Ferrari pit. Each car was managed separately by Ings Forgheiri, Ing Ferrari (no relation) and Peter Schetty, who were looking after Regazzoni, Andretti and Ickx respectively.

The McLaren team were having an interesting time sorting out Hulme’s new M19 with its unusual suspension design and once they found that the wing and roll-bar changes seemed to have the opposite effect to that which would be expected from a conventionally suspended car, they found that they were making good headway. Surtees was concentrating on his older car while Stewart had tried both the new and old Tyrrell and decided to remain with the older car.

During Thursday’s practice Stewart’s engine blew up early on while he was still engaged in testing the car on full fuel tanks so he was out of the top times. It was Regazzoni who headed the list, having lapped impressively at 1 min. 18.7 sec., which put him firmly on the front row. Andretti in the second Ferrari was little slower at 1 min. 19.0 sec., but Ickx, in his, seemed to be rather overshadowed. Emerson Fittipaldi, having learned the tricky circuit for the first time, again showed what a fast car the Lotus 72 is by recording 1 min. 19.1 sec. Stewart’s time, before the engine failure, was 1 min. 19.4 sec., just 0.1 sec. faster than team-mate Francois Cevert, who was driving a Tyrrell and racing at Kyalami for the first time, so his speed was most creditable. Also on 1 min. 19.5 sec. was Rodriguez, who had the new BRM going well, and Amon who reckoned his engine was off form.

Stewart, Amon and Ickx all had fresh engines fitted for the final day’s practice on Friday, the Scot’s being the first of the new “11” series motors. However, the front row was not altered, although Stewart was by far the fastest on Friday with 1 min. 18.1 sec. The big improvements came from the two new cars of Hulme and Surtees and both got down to 1 min. 19.1 sec. to finish up on row three with Ickx, who finally got down to 1 min. 19.2 sec. Row four comprised of Cevert and Rodriguez with their Thursday times and on row five came Gethin in the older McLaren, Charlton who worked hard and put lots of laps in to take the Brabham round in 1 min. 19.8 sec. (after reverting to 15-in. rear wheels) and Peterson. The rest were ranged out behind as per the grid. Amon was unhappy as his new engine did not seem very good, while Stewart also commented that his new engine was not anything particularly special.


Mario Andretti's Ferrari leads the field into the first corner at the start of the 1971 South African Grand Prix.

Andretti takes the lead into the first corner

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The large South African crowd filtered into Kyalami early as a full programme had been laid on for them, including saloon, Formula Vee, Formula Ford and even a vintage race. A half-hour non-timed setting-up session for the Formula One cars had several takers, amongst them Francois Cevert whose engine blew up and the Tyrrell team had to rush through a last-minute change.

However, there was a very healthy grid of 25 cars lined up for the start and once they had rolled forward from the grid the starter raised and dropped the South African flag very quickly, catching out both Stewart and Amon. However, Regazzoni got away very quickly and both Fittipaldi and Hulme tucked right in behind him, several others were held up by the two front row men, while Hill and Soler-Roig were very slow away from the back of the field.

The opening laps were very confusing indeed and even the most experienced lap charters had trouble following the progress of a huge mass of cars dicing out the middle positions. Anyway, it was Regazzoni definitely in the lead with Fittipaldi, Ickx and Hulme in his wake, then Rodriguez, Andretti, Stewart, Surtees, Siffert, Cevert, Charlton and the rest.

Soon there were some retirements with both Bonnier and Soler-Roig going out on lap 5, the former with suspension trouble and the latter with engine trouble, although no one really missed them. Next to go was Gethin, whose McLaren had been fitted with badly out of balance front wheels and he could hardly hold the steering wheel, and even a mirror shook off. To add to his problems a fuel leak started from the tanks so he retired on lap 7.

By this time Hulme was already starting to show that he was going to be a major contender by moving into second spot behind Regazzoni, while Fittipaldi was third dropping back into the clutches of a furiously dicing bunch comprising Rodriguez, Stewart, Andretti, Surtees, Ickx and Siffert.

Hulme was obviously on top form, the new McLaren working well, and it was obvious that he would soon catch the leading Ferrari, something we have not seen in Grand Prix races for some time now. This he did and he flashed by into the lead on lap 17, while Surtees moved up to third position by displacing Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Ickx had made a pit stop to have a wheel changed as a front tyre had gone flat and this effectively dropped him out of contention, although he did work his way up from last position. Pretorius’ Brabham retired on lap 22 with a broken camshaft.

Once into the lead Hulme started to pull away from the Ferrari while Surtees had likewise moved ahead of the fourth place scrap which was really keeping the crowd on their toes. Andretti was racing wheel to wheel with the two BRMs, for Siffert had moved up smartly to join Rodriguez while Stewart had dropped back to watch this frantic dust-up. Lotus team-mates Fittipaldi and Wisell were now running nose to tail in the next two positions and being hounded by Cevert. Peterson in the new March had pulled up to 11th spot, after a shaky start, and was starting to leave behind him the battle raging between local drivers Charlton and Love as well as Redman and Amon, who were also in there pitching.

The pits had been quiet for too long and on lap 30 there was a sudden rush of business. Siffert’s BRM engine had objected to a sustained bout of slipstreaming and had boiled itself dry and he steamed to a halt as he pulled into the pit road. Charlton also came in to complain that his engine was well down on power and broken valve springs were diagnosed so he retired. Peterson was also in as his progress had been hampered by a puncture and he dropped to the bottom of the field before rejoining. Then a couple of laps later BRM’s chances of a good placing totally expired when Rodriguez came in with the rear of his car doused in oil, and the little Mexican was suffering badly from burned feet. In fact, the body section had moved allowing the hot air from the radiator to pass into the cockpit instead of being ducted out and roasted both its driver and the engine. To add to the team’s troubles Ganley also stopped from sheer physical exhaustion and sickness, finding that Grand Prix racing takes a lot more out of a man than Formula 5000, and the acquisition of a new Bell Star helmet was not helping the cause either. He returned to the race but later the exhaustion forced him to retire, while Love had retired with a broken gearbox.

BRM's Pedro Rodriguez, left, and Ferrari's Jacky Ickx do battle on the main straight at the 1971 South Africa Grand Prix.

Rodriguez, left, and Ickx do battle on the main straight

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Regazzoni was finding that he was getting a tremendous vibration from his front wheels and was slowly dropping back and first he was passed by Surtees, driving better than for many a year in the brand-new TS9, and then by team-mate Andretti, who was really piling the pressure on. At the half-way mark Hulme was looking every inch a winner with a lead of some six seconds over Surtees and the two Ferraris while Stewart was now fifth, although, surprisingly considering his superiority during practice, looked unlikely to improve his lot other than by default of others. The two Lotus 72s had been split by Cevert with Wisell moving ahead of Fittipaldi, whose car was, apparently, oversteering very badly. Amon was ninth and also not showing practice form and had Hill, who seemed to have really got the hang of his Brabham, and Redman, who likewise was getting to terms with the Surtees, hard on his heels.

Up at the front Surtees’ strong run started to fade as an oil pipe to the gearbox oil cooler fractured and the lubricant started to leak away and Surtees progressively slowed, dropping to fifth place before the box finally seized solid on lap 55. There were several other retirements around this time with Fittipaldi’s engine blowing up in front of the pits, while Cevert crashed at the difficult Leeukop corner damaging the Tyrrell quite severely. It appears all this safety clothing can sometimes be quite a hazard. Apparently Cevert was perspiring profusely under his balaclava Nomex hood and Bell Star helmet, the sweat got in his eyes, he blinked at the wrong moment and—crash!

By three-quarters distance Hulme was still in a good lead, although there was no doubt that Andretti was racing as hard as he could to attempt to catch the orange McLaren. Meanwhile, Stewart was closing on Regazzoni for third, while Wisell was running a sound fifth. Hill’s good run was halted when his rear wing started to fall off and he was called in the pits to have it fixed and this elevated Amon, Redman and Ickx up a place.

Despite Andretti’s hard charging and the fastest lap of the race on lap 73 (although it was not a new record), Hulme had answered the challenge by speeding up and felt really good to reel off those remaining laps to score his (and McLaren’s) first Formula One victory since Mexico 1969.

But, with just under four laps to go, Hulme suddenly felt the McLaren lurch as he accelerated out of a corner and the car started to weave all over the road. A bolt holding the top right rear radius rod had either broken or pulled out and hence the back wheel was no longer properly located. Hulme decided to soldier on at much reduced pace while Andretti swept by into the lead. Poor Hulme limped on making desperate signs at his pit, who could not understand what the trouble was thinking that perhaps the car was stuck in gear or running out of fuel. In fact, as Andretti reeled off the remaining laps, he actually overtook Hulme again and slowed as he passed him waving as much as to say “bad luck you had me beaten” and then accelerated to take the flag and win his first but almost certainly not his last World Championship race. Stewart had passed Regazzoni in the closing stages and so came into second place and gave the marque Tyrrell its first ever championship points. Behind Regazzoni came Wisell after an excellent and well-calculated drive, while in fifth place, a lap down, was Amon in the Matra with Hulme limping into sixth place. So there were five different makes in the first six using three different engines.

There were also plenty of finishers out of the points with Redman seventh in his Surtees ahead of the three pit stoppers, Ickx, Hill and Peterson, while the final three, Pescarolo, Stommelen and de Adamich, had all plodded along steadily and reliably without any great fireworks. Although the Alfa-powered March 711 was four laps down on the winner the Alfa Romeo engine had at last finished a race; something it failed to do last season when installed in a McLaren.

Mario Andretti celebrates on the podium after winning the 1971 South African Grand Prix.

Andretti is jubilant after taking his first grand prix win

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So with Spain coming up in April and a couple of non-championship races in between, the scene looks set for a very interesting and exciting season. It was surprising that the Ferraris had not won from the front but they still have the new car up their sleeve. No doubt Stewart will offer more of a challenge in the coming races; it is pleasing to see that both Surtees and McLaren had come up with very competitive designs for the 1971 season, while the Matra will also be a challenge when the engines are set up just right.—A. R. M.