1971 British Grand Prix race report - Stewart and Tyrrell again

 

Although the British Grand Prix does not have a long and venerable history, like the French Grand Prix, it does have the distinction of being held continuously since 1948, mostly at the Silverstone airfield circuit; with occasional digressions to Aintree and Brands Hatch. There were some British Grand Prix races held at Brooklands in the twenties, but they died along with any influence we had on International motor racing until the BRDC got Silverstone underway in the new era of motor racing.

Jackie Stewart in his Tyrrell during the 1971 British Grand Prix

Jackie Stewart in a class of one at Silverstone.  Photo: Motorsport Images

The Daily Express newspaper, who do more harm than good for motor racing with their gory crash and death photographs, has been backing the British Grand Prix for years, and this year they were joined by the International Wool Secretariat (a rather obscure him or they) and the British Grand Prix very nearly lost its identity, for my admission ticket said I was allowed into the Woolmark Grand Prix and there was an RAC badge on it, while some of the Press information given out officially also referred to the Woolmark Grand Prix.

Be that as it may, I went to see the 24th post-war British Grand Prix at sunny Silverstone, for during practice on Thursday and Friday it really was hot and perfect weather for the garden-party atmosphere you get at Silverstone. The party was somewhat marred, especially in the BRM camp, by the absence of Pedro Rodriguez, that tough little Mexican, who had been killed in a small race in Germany only the week before, and to many people, the cold fact still seemed unreal. The death of a driver does not stop Grand Prix racing, so everyone else turned up for practice, which was held in four separate sessions, two on Thursday and two on Friday, each session lasting an all-too-short 60 minutes. Recently some races have overdone practice, with as much as seven hours, three of them continuous, for a two-hour sprint race, but the RAC (or BRDC, Daily Express, or Woolmark, or whoever was in charge) rather underdid it this year for 60-minute sessions were barely long enough to make any alterations and certainly not long enough if any troubles cropped up.

QUALIFYING

There were one or two changes in the normal combinations of cars and drivers, Team Lotus putting Wisell in the turbine car, which allowed Charlton to take over the Swede's Lotus 72, while Fittipaldi remained with his usual Lotus 72. Following the fashion, the Cosworth engines in the Lotus cars had been fitted with air-collector boxes fed by a large snorkel above the driver's head, which confused the original theory behind the earlier Lotus air-boxes and made me wonder if anyone knows what they are doing.

It is surprising how many people still refuse to believe that Stewart drives faster than anyone else, and hope that his speed is to do with some Tyrrell or Cosworth mystique. For this race both the 1971 Tyrrell cars were using the Chevron/Porsche-like nose cowlings, while the original car was unchanged and only kept as a spare, not being used at all in practice, though it did do a few laps after practice was all finished, with a cine-camera mounted on the side, and Stewart drove it quite swiftly.

"As Stewart went round and round it was interesting that there were three comparative "new boys" following him, all of them progressing steadily in the art of 'driving' a Formula 1 car"

The Ferrari team entered three cars, one for the mythical Andretti, who failed once more to appear, so his 312B/2 car was a spare for Ickx and Regazzoni, but they had no need to use it. Following the fashions, Ferrari had schemed up very neat air-boxes over the intakes of the flat 12 engines, fed from scoops blended into the sides of the cockpit. They also had new nose cowlings available, with spats in front of the front wheels like BRM introduced at the Dutch GP. After experimenting in practice they retained the new noses for the race but abandoned the air-collector boxes.

The Brabham and McLaren teams were unchanged from previous races, except that McLaren added Oliver to their team, driving the 1970 car, M14A/2. They tried a Tyrrell-like nose cowling on Hulme's car during practice, but only briefly, and did not use it in the race. Quite naturally the BRM team left their number one car behind, and had Siffert in P160/02 and Ganley in P153/06, with the P160/03 as a spare, and in two practice sessions, Siffert had occasion to use it when his own car broke down. On the first occasion the fuel pump packed up and on the second occasion the flywheel ignition pick-up cracked. It was not until the last session that Siffert's car was made to go properly and the Swiss then stormed off and got himself on the front row of the grid, more by exasperation than skill. A Cosworth-like air-box was also tried on Siffert's car during practice, but not used in the race.

Ronnie Peterson gets sideways in his March 711 during the 1971 British Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson controls a slide in his March 711. Photo: Motorsport Images

In the March team, there were numerous changes in both cars and drivers, for Soler-Roig's contract was replaced by one with Galli, so that the little Italian took over the Cosworth-powered 711/4, while de Adamich retained 711/1 with the works Alfa Romeo engine. The chassis and running gear of 711/2, which Peterson has been racing, was sold to the Clarke-Mordaunt group, who fitted the necessary parts from their 701 March to it, for Beuttler to drive. Meanwhile, the March 711/6, which was built up as a second Alfa Romeo-powered car, was converted to a Cosworth-powered one and Peterson took this over as the number one works car.

The Surtees team had four cars at the circuit, 001 for the owner, 002 for Stommelen, 004 as a spare and the "Rent-a-car" TS7/001 for Bell, but during practice, Surtees did a shuffle and let Bell drive the latest TS9 and also use it in the race. To make sure it was all right Surtees used it himself for the first Friday practice session. The Matra team had transporter problems so could only bring two of their V12 cars, Amon having 06 and Beltoise 05, and throughout practice they were never really happy, being unable to match the lap times they had done earlier in the year. The lone private entry was that of the Williams March 711/3 for Pescarolo, whose practice was marred by a broken rear upright causing the Frenchman to crash mildly and bend the rear end, but the Williams mechanics got it all sorted out in time for the race.

Throughout the four short-sharp practice periods the pace was set by Stewart, with Regazzoni hot on his heels, and Fittipaldi being in there with them rather unobtrusively, until Siffert got in there at the last moment. Ickx just never got fully wound up at all, in spite of the Ferrari team doing all they could to help. Fittipaldi's progress was stopped, as was Charlton's, when the top engine mountings began to break up, caused by the high-speed cornering tyre vibrations, similar to those that have been plaguing Ferrari recently. Charlton's Lotus broke on both sides and Fittipaldi's only the left side, so the Brazilian's car was repaired and strengthened during Friday and he managed to get out just as practice was finishing, and did an instant 1 min 19.6 sec, a time that a lot of people had spent four hours trying to achieve. He had already put himself in the "ace" class with 1 min 18.3 sec, just behind Siffert (BRM) 1 min 18.2 sec and Stewart (Tyrrell) and Regazzoni (Ferrari), who had done 1 min 18.1 sec.

Regazzoni did his "ace" time in the first practice on Friday and in the final session, Stewart did all he knew to beat him but failed, though he did equal the Ferrari time. Anyone who saw him do three consecutive laps on the absolute limit, raising dust with his outside rear tyre as he used every inch of the circuit, saw a master driver in action; and there are still people who think it is unfair that he should have the only Ferrari-beating Cosworth engine. My answer to the moaners is "and who would you give the best engine to?".

Practice was wound up with five different makes in the first two rows of the grid, with Stewart in the Tyrrell-Cosworth between the 12-cylinder cars of Regazzoni and Siffert. The little Scot was also the only Goodyear-shod runner in the first two rows so that the Wolverhampton firm joined Ford in their mutual admiration of their choice. One thing that Stewart can do is to give his backers value for money when conditions are right for him.

Clay Regazzoni leads Jackie Stewart at the start of the 1971 British Grand Prix

Clay Regazzoni jumps into an early lead from Jackie Stewart and the chasing pack. Photo: Motorsport Images

The people who paid to go to Silverstone, and it was said that there were 100,000 of them, certainly got their money's worth of speed, spectacle and sport, for the Grand Prix was surrounded by Formula 3 racing, in which David Walker brought more smiles to Colin Chapman's face, as well as his many enthusiastic followers, aerobatics by the Red Arrow flyers, an old car parade, that looked very much like a race, with everything from Crabbe's W125 Mercedes-Benz and Tony Brooks in a Vanwall, to D-type Jaguars and Lago-Talbots, and a tour of respect for Pedro Rodriguez by a JW Gulf-Porsche 917, as well as saloon-car racing and Chris Barber's Jazz Band to finish up the day. Added to all this was superbly sunny weather and the splendid garden-party atmosphere, all in the centre of England, so it was no wonder that Silverstone was packed to overflowing.

After an untimed practice session before the festivities began, the Grand Prix cars were assembled ready for a 2:30 pm start, and the less said about the start the better. It would have done justice to any French motor race and resulted in Regazzoni jumping the flag and then stopping, and at the back of the grid, Oliver rammed the nose of his McLaren into the back of Hill's Brabham, eliminating both cars and getting himself a "naughty-boy fine" of £50. On the warm-up lap, Charlton's Lotus blew smoke out of its Cosworth engine and a piston broke up almost before he left the grid, while Wisell with the turbine car was last to arrive on the grid. The Woolmark race sponsors issued all the mechanics with blue Woolmark shirts, but it was noticeable that many teams refused to wear them, conscious of their loyalties to their own sponsors, like STP, Gulf and so on, the March and McLaren boys having the Woolmark shirts stuffed under their belts. Would there be a clashing of vested interests here?

RACE

The 22 cars that roared away on the opening lap were led by the Ferraris of Regazzoni and Ickx, the Belgian having nipped in behind his team-mate from the third row, and they had Stewart's Tyrrell hard on their heels. It took Stewart one lap to dispose of Ickx and two laps to dispose of Regazzoni and that was it, the race as such was all over and we settled down to watch and admire the way Stewart and the blue Tyrrell make everyone else look like beginners.

There was not even a moment of excitement with the Ferraris hanging grimly to the slipstream of the Tyrrell, for once past Stewart just disappeared into the distance and cruised effortlessly onwards for the remainder of the 68 laps, making the Woolmark-sponsored British Grand Prix a one-man, one-car demonstration, and Ken Tyrrell's team are on such a winning streak at the moment that their confidence is such that they do not make mistakes in preparation and maintenance. Siffert got his BRM past the two Ferraris by lap five and the only real interest was to watch Peterson and Fittipaldi move up and actually catch and pass other cars, while no one could miss noticing that Schenken was driving the way he had gone at the French Grand Prix, holding a good sixth place ahead of Hulme.

The first 10 laps saw everything sorted out nice and tidily, with Stewart well ahead of Siffert, both lapping at around 1 min 20 sec, followed by Regazzoni and Ickx, the two Ferraris being harried by Peterson, Schenken, Fittipaldi and Hulme. After a sizeable gap came Ganley's BRM well ahead of the rest of the runners, in the order Gethin, Cevert, Stommelen, Amon, Pescarolo, Beltoise, Surtees, Galli, Beuttler, Bell, Wisell and de Adamich. All that remained now was to wait. On lap 20 when Cevert stopped at the pits with hot water spraying on him from a broken pipe; it was bodged up and he rejoined the race at the back of the field. Then Beuttler went missing with low oil pressure in his Cosworth engine, Bell dropped out with a radius rod mounting broken on the new Surtees, and Hulme coasted to a stop at Beckett's with a pool of oil around his McLaren, by which time the leader had covered 32 laps and there was a bit of a procession going on.

Jacky Ickx leads Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson at the 1971 British Grand Prix

Jacky Ickx leads Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson during the early stages of the race. Photo: Motorsport Images

However, there had been a little drama going on just behind Stewart, for the BRM in second place had vibrated its coil loose and it was shorting the electrical system occasionally, so that Regazzoni was able to retake second place from Siffert, but until something happened to Stewart or the Tyrrell no one was going to get a sniff at the leading position for by now Stewart was cruising round at his leisure. At half-distance, the engine in Amon's Matra began to fail, which dropped him from a pretty miserable tenth place, and Gethin was unhappy with the feel of his McLaren, which two pit stops finally showed to be due to a deflating tyre. Ickx went missing on lap 38 and arrived late at the pits with a flat rear tyre, which dropped him from fourth place to the back of the field where Wisell was circulating slowly and quietly with the turbine car and de Adamich was also circulating, having had to stop for repairs to the Alfa Romeo throttle linkage.

Meanwhile, the popping and banging of Siffert's BRM was getting worse and it was only a matter of time before he was forced to stop, which happened on lap 43, when the coil was lashed up, and, after some trouble restarting the engine, a slave battery having to be used, Siffert rejoined the race down at the back. Hardly had the race recovered from losing its third-place car than the second-place one was heading for the pits and Regazzoni retired with a broken engine. This left Peterson now in second place, followed by Schenken, Fittipaldi and Ganley, and just as the last named was lapped by the leader of the race his BRM got a flat tyre at the rear and the stop to change it put him back behind the non-stop tail-enders who had been reduced to Pescarolo (March 711) and the two Surtees cars of Stommelen and Surtees. Next to go was Ickx with a Ferrari engine that was fast dying and he was followed by Gethin, whose Cosworth engine was dying, and it began to look like a good thing that the race was only 68 laps long, for there were not too many healthy cars left running.

As Stewart went round and round it was interesting that there were three comparative "new boys" following him, all of them progressing steadily in the art of "driving" a Formula 1 car as distinct from "racing" a Formula 3 or Formula 2 car, these three being the only ones on the same lap as the leader. Just when Schenken seemed all set for an honourable third place his Brabham broke its transmission and he coasted to a stop out on the circuit on lap 64. Meanwhile, Wisell was creeping to the finish with the turbine losing power and only pulling about 60% and Galli had his fingers crossed as his Cosworth engine had been blowing out oil smoke for the whole race and his oil pressure was down to an uncomfortable 40 lb./sq. in.

Jackie Stewart takes the chequered flag to win the 1971 British Grand Prix

Jackie Stewart takes the chequered flag to win at Silverstone in his Tyrrell. Photo: Motorsport Images

Stewart swept home the winner of the British Grand Prix, having demolished all the opposition and the rest straggled home in various states of health. The two Surtees works cars finished strongly enough, but not fast enough, and Pescarolo had had a good steady run in the Williams March 711. It had not been a memorable British Grand Prix, and Stewart had not been perfection, for he had not made fastest lap in every practice session and had not led from start to finish, but he had more than satisfied his supporters and if he becomes the 1971 World Champion, this race was yet another demonstration of why he will justify the title.— Denis Jenkinson