After the raveges of the Brazilian GP there was a lot of rebuilding going on in the various teams and also a lot of building of new cars ready for the South African GP. Everybody who mattered managed to get the work done in good time and fly every thing out to Johannesburg the week before the official practice began, some teams finishing off the new cars in the pit lane garages. There were no new designs, though there were numerous new details and mostly it was a case of getting enough equipment ready for the busy European season.
At Colnbrook the McLaren team salvaged what they could from M23/9, which Jochen Mass crashed in Brazil, and threw the rest away, giving the German driver M23/6 for the South African race. A brand new M23 was completed for James Hunt, this being M23/11 and the missing M23/10 in the series is accounted for by the fact that it was built some time ago and took the number M23/8, that car having been scrapped. Both the cars at Kyalami had a very nice looking anti-roll bar layout at the rear, inspired by that on the new M26. A thin-wall titanium torsion tube runs in widely spaced bushes which are mounted on a very neat triangulated tubular structure attached to the rear suspension anchorage beam, the anti-roll bar running across the car above the Hewland/McLaren 6-speed gearbox. Solid arms, clamped to the ends of the roll bar run forwards to vertical links rising from the lower suspension links, with a range of adjustment holes in the ends of the arms. The new M26 car was crashed by Hunt during a test-session the week before official practice, and was badly damaged so it was crated up and sent back to England. The accident was caused by a screw coming loose in a brake caliper and gouging its way through a front wheel rim and deflating the tyre at a very inconvenient moment. In the Pits during race week was a wooden crate containing M23/8 in dismantled form, acting as a spare car, but it was never needed.
The six-wheeled Tyrrells were in a very sorry state when they returned from Brazil and a brand new car with oil coolers mounted in the side of the body was built for Peterson for the South African race, this being P34/5, While the first raceworthy six-wheeler, which was destined to be a research vehicle for the new Tyrrell R and D team had to be put back into service for Depailler’s use, this being P34/2. It will be recalled that the original six-wheeler P34/1 was nothing more than a working prototype, never completed to full specification. Both cars had the very smooth one-piece bodywork and the latest spec, stronger wishbones and wider front track. They were using new r.p.m. indicators, running off the ignition system, with rectangular instruments on which the needle moved across an arc from left to right, rather than rotating in the more conventional manner. The John Player Team Lotus cars arrived home from Brazil unscathed, having had all their dramas in practice and Andretti was in 78/2 and Nilsson in 78/1 for the Kyalami race; in dismantled form in a crate was a new car, 78/3 but it was never needed. The bristly brushes along the sides of the aerodynamic pods had been removed and replaced by stiff but flexible skirts of a hard-wearing plastic material. The upper panelling at the rear of the pods rested on the cylinder-heads of the Cosworth engine and was “sealed” by brushes as used previously on the skirts. When the side plates are removed for replacement of the plastic skirts the wing shape of the side pods can be clearly seen and at the forward end there are “vortex-generators” attached, in the form of aluminium guide vanes. It will be recalled that the original Formula One March, the 701, had wing-shaped side sponsons in 1970 but any under-side aerodynamic effect was lost because there were no side-plates or skirts and the air underneath could spill out sideways and disperse freely. The only advantage the March 701 had was the wind pressure on the top subfrarne, whereas the Lotus is claimed to provide a down-force by reason of the airflow and low pressure under the side pods. To attempt to ensure no escaping of the air under the car other than in the right direction, the gap between the front of the engine and the rear of the monocoque was stuffed with sponge rubber. A sausage-like air bag was tried, but abandoned when it proved too vulnerable to puncturing on sharp things when being installed.
At New Haw the Ecclestone team had been very busy repairing the inonocoques of BT45/3 and BT45/5, and rebuilding the entire cars for John Watson and Carlos Pace, respectively. The spare car, BT45/I had been returned from the Argentine GP practice where it had been crashed by Carlos Pace, and it was rebuilt into BT45/1B, among the new modifications being a revised rear suspension with parallel twin links replacing the lower wishbones and the fitting of twin-caliper brakes on the front discs, as popularised last year by Ensign with their much neater and smoother engine covers. With sunken air-intakes for the flat-12-cylinder Alfa Romeo engines, the red Brabhams look very purposeful. BT45/1B was in South Africa in the nature of an experimental machine, as it had the first 6-speed gearbox built by Alfa Romeo, using some Hewland components and with a casing very similar to the Hewland, but very different inside to give more room for the extra pair of gears and better accommodation for an Alfa Romeo crown-wheel and pinion. While the team were away in South Africa the whole enterprise back home was moving into new premises at Chessington, just off the Kingston-by-Pass on the SW exit of London.
Max Mosley’s pair of Rent-a-Drive March cars did not need rebuilding after Brazil, merely mending after Ian Scheckter and Alex Ribiero had broken them. However, before arriving at Kyalami the team had a set-back as Ian Scheckter had an accident in a National Formula Atlantic race in his homeland and broke an ankle, so Hans Stuck was enlisted into the team temporarily. For what it was worth, Ribiero’s car still carried the cockpit controlled adjustable rear anti-roll bar, a blatant “crib” from last year’s Lotus 77.
The Ferraris of Lauda and Reutemann had new rear suspension mountings, the top anchorages being neat fabricated structures containing air-ducts leading to the inboard disc brakes. The battery, oil catch tank and gearbox oil cooler have all been moved forward from their old position around the cast-magnesium rear aerofoil mounting, and the fibreglass fairing has gone, leaving the bridge-like casting open and naked. The tubular strut running rearwards from the top of the crash bar behind the driver’s head is anchored further forward on the engine and this allows a smaller and more compact engine cover to he used, which in turn gives a better airflow across the rear aerofoil. Retaining the full-width front aerofoil, a slimmer nose cowling is fitted over the front of the monocoque. Lauda had a brand new car, number 30 in the 312T2 series, while Reutemann had 312T2/027, and 029 with which he had won the Brazilian GP was the team spare.
At number 14 in the entry list was a lone BRM, but the less said about this “all British” car from the Stanley family the better. It was a three-year-old P201 model that had travelled to Cape Town by boat and then by rail to Johannesburg and everyone felt very sorry for the likeable Larry Perkins and the team personnel who were patently embarrassed by the decisions of the BRM management. For what it was worth the car was P201/04 and had about as much go in it as a good Formula Atlantic car.
Don Nichols’ AVS Shadow team, with Italian finance buying a seat for Renzo Zorzi, had completed their second DN8 model, which was given to Tom Pryce, while Zorzi took over the original DN8 car. Both cars had completely revised water and oil radiator lay outs with new body panelling, the water radiators now being vertical, just in front of the rear wheels, with side entry for the air, not unlike a Ferrari. The cars were also changed from black Shadows to white Shadows, with a blue stripe and looked a lot brighter.
John Surtees took a fair amount of wreckage back to Edenbridge from Brazil and his small team achieved a remarkable amount of work before setting out for South Africa. Brambilla had a brand new TS19, number 6 in the series, incorporating numerous detail modifications. TS19/05 had been the team’s test car and was sold to a private owner. The new car had a single large oil radiator in the nose, between the two water radiators, but testing at Kyalami indicated that it was not enough to cope with South African heat so two additional ones were added at the rear above the gearbox. The monocoque on this new car follows the basic principles of the previous TSI9 cars, but differs in internal construction to improve ease of manufacture. A new cockpit surround has sunken air intakes on each side feeding air to the Cosworth engine and there is a new full-width nose cowling with improved shape. In place of the orthodox plastic containers for the fluids for the brake and clutch hydraulic systems, these fluids are now contained in the two bracing tubes of the front roll-over structure just ahead of the steering wheel with threaded filler cap necks welded into the tubing, brake fluid in the right-hand one and clutch fluid in the left-hand one. Hans Binder had the rebuilt TS19/02.
In Walter Wolf’s Reading-based team there was an air of satisfaction for a second car had been completed, incorporating numerous changes such as an increase in wheelbase, by using the conventional alloy spacer between Cosworth engine and Hewland gearbox, and altered rear suspension geometry. Jody Scheckter had completed a test programme prior to race-week and then the new car, WR1/02, was converted back to the same specification as WR1/01, to act as a spare for the race. It is interesting that during the winter, between completing the first car and racing it in the Argentine GP, something like 92 detail modifications were made, yet outwardly the car appeared unchanged to the casual observer!
Another one-driver team with two cars was Morris Nunn’s Ensign team, now thankfully able to go racing without having to spend the housekeeping money. Financial backing from Castrol and the Swiss Tissot firm contributing to this happy state of affairs, so that Gianclaudio Regazzoni is confident he is being well looked after. He was driving MN06, the first of the 1977 cars and MNO7 was finished off in the pit-lane workshops and though it was finalised and started up it was not taken out on the track as the first car was trouble-free. Whereas MNO6 has “rising rate” rear suspension geometry, MNO7 has a conventional layout, otherwise the two cars are similar.
The 1977 Ligier for Jacque Laffite was JS7/02, a brand new car, as the first JS7 had been badly damaged in Brazil. The latest Matra V12 engine was still giving problems with vibrations thought to be caused by the revised mounting in the JS7 as compared with the JS5, the engine being lower and stressed differently. There was clearly an installation problem, for on the Matra test-beds the 1977 engines could be run for minutes on end at full power, with no signs of stress. After practice a steel brace was fitted between the cylinder heads at the rear and additional tubular bracing added to the suspension pickup points on the rear of the engine.
The Fittipaldi brothers’ Copersucar-financed team had two cars for the younger member of the family, FD04/3 to race, and FD04/4 as a practice car, both in the 1977 bright yellow colour. They were still trying to get them to handle in a manner that would satisfy E.F., and though not startling, they were making progress.
To complete the list were two private March 761 cars, last year’s models updated by the Bicester firm and sold to the Dutch Property Group who are financing the racing of Boy Hayje and to American Brett Lunger. The latter had a heavy accident during testing, crumpling the monocoque and B & S Fabrications who prepared the car for Lunger did a monumental rebuild with the help of local industry to get the car all back together in time for official practice.
When it is realised that the foregoing list of cars and all their spares and equipment, with the exception of the BRM, were flown out to South Africa in freighter aircraft, some idea of the magnititude of the cost involved can be imagined, which is why most teams take the opportunity to go out early and carry out test programmes, even if they do not have direct bearing on the South African race itself.
At the end of the race all the cars that finished were put in a “parc-ferme” and weighed without the driver in the condition they crossed the line and the following list of cars and weights in kilogrammes makes interesting reading. The weights recorded make no allowance for the amount of petrol left in the tanks, though most teams try to calculate to finish with only a few gallons left. Not surprisingly, Lauda’s Ferrari was the lightest as it was virtually devoid of oil and water, and Scheckter’s Wolf had more than a reasonable surplus of fuel in it, for as Team Manager Peter Warr said, “No way was I going to risk having South Africa’s number one driver run out of petrol on the last lap of the South African GP in our car”. In consequence, its low finishing weight was impressive. The weight of the six-wheeled Tyriell was surprising, until you look at the size of the front suspension components, compared with the prototype Project 34. Added strength usually means added weight. The continual attention to detail by Gordon Murray on the Brabham-Alfa Romeos would appear to be showing tangible results, especially on the BT45B that was driven by Carlos Pace.
For the un-metric-minded reader the Ferrari weight of 600 kilogrammes equals 1,320 lb. (approx. 11 3/4 cwt.).—D.S.J.
Weight in Kilogrammes;
Ferrari (Lauda) … 600
Wolf (Scheckter) … 605
Tyrrell (Depailler) … 656.5
McLaren (Hunt) … 617.5
McLaren (Mass) … 614
Brabham (Watson) … 632.5
Surtees (Brambilla) … 605.5
Ferrari (Reutemann) … 603
Ensign (Reggazoni) … 605.5
Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi) … 635.5
Surtees (Binder) … 622.5
Lotus (Nilsson) … 632.5
Brabham (Pace) … 620
March (Lunger) … 651
BRM (Perkins) … 627