1971 French Grand Prix race report

Jackie Stewart driving for Tyrell at the 1971 French Grand Prix.

Jackie Stewart drove to a third win of the season for Tyrrell

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A Tyrrell double
Castellet, France, July 4th

Before anyone gets too excited it is worth remembering that the original series of French Grand Prix races ended in 1967, when the Automobile Club of France succumbed to the nouvelle vague and handed over the sport in France to the FFSA who started a new series of French GP in 1968, hence this year’s event being the fourth Grand Prix of France, even though Grand Prix racing started in France in 1906.

Once the 1971 Calendar was published last winter there was never any doubt left in anyone’s mind as to where this year’s French GP was to be held. The organisation of the new Circuit Paul Ricard took over the publicity of the event and made a splendid job of it and since the Spring, there has been continuous publicity telling us to come to the Circuit Paul Ricard for the World Championship of Formula One; they almost entirely forgot to mention that it was the French Grand Prix that was going to take place, such is the seriousness of the new regime in French sporting circles. It was as bad as being told to attend the Woolmark Grand Prix at Silverstone, when the RAC Meant the British Grand Prix!

However, I digress, and everyone went to the arid wastes of the Castellet area, not far from Marseilles, where Mr Ricard the alcohol millionaire has spent some of his millions on an enormous edifice with his name on the front, which forms the nerve centre of a motor speedway laid out in the form of a road circuit. Over the past months almost everyone in Grand Prix racing had been to this new circuit, opened last year, practising, experimenting, and generally thrashing round its flat, featureless 5.8 kilometres of newly-laid tarmac road, Gold Leaf Team Lotus being about the only exception.

Most teams were still practising, or testing during the early part of race week, so that when official practice began at around mid-day on Friday, to continue for 2 1/2 hours, it seemed that it would be a mere formality for sorting out grid positions. Everyone was present except the McLaren team whose Ford van had broken down at Lyons. Team Lotus had but two cars, the two Lotus 72D models for Fittipaldi and WiseII, the former driver fit to drive once more, but with his rib-cage still firmly bandaged. The Ferrari team were also running only two drivers, Ickx and Regazzoni, as Andretti was competing in a high-speed USAC race on the super-speedway at Pocono in the United States. This meant that while Ickx and Regazonni had their usual 1971 cars, the third car of the 312B/2 series could be a stand-by for Ickx.

The works Brabhams were as raced at Zandvoort, for Hill and Schenken and Stewart and Cevert had their usual 1971 TyrreIls, with the original car as a spare for Stewart. The BRM team was unchanged since Zandvoort, but the works March team had undergone a shuffle, for Alfa Romeo had re-instated de Adamich in the March-Alfa Romeo which they support. Having a shortage of good Cosworth engines, unlike the Tyrrell team, March decided to concentrate on their new March-Alfa Romeo with Peterson, caving Soler-Roig with the only Cosworth engined 711 from the factory. Galli was on hand in case a Cosworth engine could be borrowed and installed in Peterson’s original chassis, in which case the Italian would have driven it.

The works Matra team seemed to have been living at Castellet recently and had their three 1971 cars for Amon and Beltoise, hopeful of a victory in their own Grand Prix, while an expected arrangement for Larrousse to drive a Surtees car did not materialise, Surtees and Stommelen having their normal TS9 models, with a brand new one being finished off in the pit garages. Frank Williams had Pescarolo in his March 711 as usual, and hired his Match 701 to Jean Max, and another local hopeful was Francois Mazet who drove Siffert’s March 701.

Qualifying

Clay Regazzoni before the 1971 French Grand Prix

Clay Regazzoni was 2nd on the grid to Stewart

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During Friday and Saturday there were seven-and-a-half-hours practice for a “mickey-mouse” little race that lasted just over one-and-three-quarter hours. On Friday there were two-and-a-half hours, on Saturday morning there were three hours, and on Saturday evening a final two hours, and just in case someone was not ready for the “Great Sprint of Sunday,” there was a further 20 minutes before the race actually started. And yet there are still those who wonder why Grand Prix cars fall apart during an hour-and-three-quarter race.

During all this preliminary flogging round the weather was magnificent and the dust and filth lay over the paddock and car parks the way it does at Le Mans in June, and as time went by the Paul Ricard Circuit took on the atmosphere of the Le Mans circuit more and more, with the pits and paddock overflowing with “free passes” and the paying public areas being like Brooklands! “The Right Crowd and no Crowding.”

Both Stewart and Cevert were practising with Girling double-disc brakes on their front wheels, the spare car remaining on single discs, and Stewart’s car was sporting the all-enveloping front cowling, making the Tyrrell look like a Prototype for Fords 1972 sports car for 3-litre racing. (Even now someone, somewhere with Ford emblazoned on his heart is scheming up ideas for getting 1,000 kilometre Sports Car races reduced to 100 kilometres). Stewart was scratching away better than anyone and his Cosworth engine had an entirely different note to all the other Northampton V8 engines and the Tyrrell was as fast, if not faster, than the Ferraris down the straight. He was really scratching away through the misty bits of the circuit, with the result that he made FTD on all three practice sessions, as the table shows, which upset the Ferrari team and there were mutterings about a 3.5-litre Cosworth engine, to which the English reply was “Yes, like the 2-litre Dino Ferrari engines in Formula 2 in the Argentine two years ago.”

Another mutter was about the super-lightweight ELF petrol that ELF Team Tyrrell were using! Even if it had been 130 Octane stuff no-one could imagine a protest being upheld against the Essence, Lubrificant, Francais firm at the French Grand Prix. The simple fact of the matter was that Stewart had the best Cosworth engine that Keith Duckworth could build (and who else would you give it to?), and as the Ricard circuit was nice and hygienic, not to say clinical, Stewart was enjoying himself, and out-driving everyone. He can do the same on a grubby, malicious circuit like Barcelona, but with less personal enjoyment (or so he would appear to say). Rough and tumble drivers like Ickx or Rodriguez had not really got their hearts in the business of going fast round “the most modern Autodrome in Europe.” It was like giving them a splendid new plastic American, ice-cream, they would eat it, but would rather have an un-hygienic, rather dubious Sicilian ice-cream off a hand-cart. We all know that people like them are a dying race and a thing of the past, but I bet in years to come everyone will remember with nostalgia the real old fashioned ice-cream out of the bucket, long after the plastic ice-cream has been replaced by the next wonder of modern science.

While ear ‘oling round on the limit Stewart spun off into the catch nets, and while not exactly blaming the Girling double-disc brakes, he had the single ventilated type put back on Tyrrell 003, taking 001 out in the meantime until its Hewland transmission broke. Cevert was not on the same limit of dicing so was more than happy with the new brakes, but Girlings were pretty happy with their progress so far and withdrew the lot, possibly looking for another type of car to try them on. Both Tyrrell and BRM were experimenting with guide vanes on the rear aerofoils, a pair being spaced equally between the end vanes, these being described rather quaintly by BRM as “Intermediate end plates”. Ferrari were still worried about rear tyre vibrations and in addition to the transverse telescopic shock-absorbers being bigger they were attaching inertia dampers to the rear uprights, taking a leaf out of the 2 cv Citroen book.

Since Tyrrell turned up at Zandvoort with a large air-box over his Cosworth engines and a conning-tower-like forward-facing snorkel, everybody rushed to follow suit, with Tauranac well in the lead. Lotus did not bother as they have had cold-air ducts on the Lotus 72 since last year. When the McLaren team arrived for practice on Saturday with their two M19A cars for Hulme and Gethin, even they had a large aluminium cold-air box for Hulme’s car, though they had forgotten about this year’s “in” phrase, the rear tyre vibrations, their drivers having learnt to live with the apparent phenomena. Like so many Cosworth powered teams the real problem in life was how to get a Cosworth engine like the one Stewart was using.

Due to the vastness of the pit and management area the whole of practice seemed rather remote and unreal, but in actual fact it was all stark reality for Stewart took pole position on the grid almost a whole second faster than Regazzoni, and more than a second faster than Ickx, but nonetheless the front row saw the Tyrrell and the two Ferraris shoulder-to-shoulder and all the Ford coniving to keep Stewart on the books and happy, was justified. In the second row was Rodriguez, which was reasonable, but alongside was Hill in the Brabham BT34/1 with a time he had achieved in sheer bad temper and frustration after two days of no progress. If only more designers and team-managers would apply a little more psychology and a little less science to practice we would get results a lot quicker. The only fear is that they might overdo it, like the late Joe Craig did with his Norton motorcycle racing team, and kill a few drivers, but it would save the endless and aimless flogging round and round that is becoming an obsession. Apart from Hill the line-up on the grid had a pretty normal look about it, except that a very pleased Schenken was ahead of Ganley, and in fact had been ahead of Hill until quite late on Saturday.

Race

The cars line up on the grid at the 1971 French Grand Prix.

The race gets underway

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After a galaxy of “little car” races interspersed throughout Saturday and filling Sunday morning the World Championship of Paul Ricard, alias the 4th Grand Prix of France, was due to start at 3 pm on Sunday on what was a truly magnificent day, when most of France was either on the beach or on their way to the beach. The pit area was packed to overflowing with “free-ticket” holders as the cars were assembled on the “dummy-grid” facing the all-singing, all-dancing electronic starting bridge (discussed elsewhere) that was not going to be used for the start, after a practice run by the GP drivers on Saturday and a fiasco in the F3 race.

The start was given by an old-fashioned man with an old fashioned flag and the two Ferraris and the dark blue Tyrrell surged away in a fine manner. As the 23 cars charged off along the straight and through the fast ess-bend heading for the tight ess-bend of the chicane Ickx was already being overtaken by all manner of people as his Ferrari engine was going sour on him. Stewart led Regazzoni, Rodriguez, Beltoise, Cevert, Amon, Peterson and the rest as they squiggled their way round the twisty bits before heading off along the 1.8 kilometre back straight. On the second lap Amon got his Matra ahead of Cevert’s Tyrrell, but it was not desperately important, and on the fourth lap Rodriguez locked up his wheels braking for the chicane and bounced across the kerbs and the dusty infield, only losing one place in the process, but the race as such was all over.

There was no one to touch Stewart, and the Tyrrell and his second lap had been at a leisurely 1 min. 54.09 secs which was to remain as the lap record. Regazzoni may be good but he is not that good, and could only hope to hold on to Stewart, while Ickx had his engine blow up on lap 5, so it was all over. Apart from Stewart being faster than anyone along the straight he was visibly faster than anyone through the high-speed ess-bend at the end of the pit straight. Add to this his ability to brake later than most people at any corner, and to go round all the slow twisty bits faster than most people and it was no surprise that he just motored steadily away from the field. All that remained was that the Tyrrell chassis did not fall apart, the Cosworth engine did not blow up, the Hewland transmission did not break, the Goodyear tyres did not deflate, the Girling brakes did not fail and all the dozens of other firms who contribute parts to the assembly of Ken Tyrrell’s Special did not fail him, and Stewart had got the French Grand Prix won.

There were no other interesting asides to intervene, like re-fuelling stops, tyre changes, or driver changes or even physical fatigue to play its part, so that was the story of the 1971 French Grand Prix. Fortunately it was not quite as dull and boring as that for the other 22 starters were all having great fun playing at motor racing and providing an hour-and-three-quarters of interest and excitement.

After Ickx had disappeared with engine trouble it was left to Regazzoni to save the day for Maranello and this he did to the best of his ability, holding a firm second place until his twenty-first lap. By this time he and Stewart were catching the tail end of the field and down there was Peterson with the March-Alfa Romeo. As the Swede started down the back straight the Italian engine blew up and laid a trail of oil, which Stewart negotiated safely, probably because he was nowhere near the limit of his capabilities, but Regazzoni skated off the road on the oil and bounced off the guard rails with the right rear wheel bent out of line. Rodriguez and Cevert went by alright and then Hill arrived battling away well in fifth place with the leading Brabham. He had a huge spin on the oil, slid off the road, across the safety verge, bounced off the guard rail and went behind a surprised Regazzoni, who was looking at his damaged Ferrari, in a cloud of dust.

Emerson Fittipaldi oversteers at the 1971 French Grand Prix.

Fittipaldi slides through the corner on his way to 3rd

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This really sorted out the race, for it left Rodriguez in a poor second place, with Cevert third, for it all happened as Hill was making up distance on Cevert. Before this happened Hulme had given up with an engine that would not run properly, Soler-Roig’s March-Cosworth had expired with ignition trouble, Max was in and out of the pits with clutch operation trouble and Mazet was running last of the non-stop runners, and had nearly been run over by Rodriguez, Cevert, Beltoise, Amon, Hill & Siffert when they lapped him in a solid pack on lap 11. Out of the mid-field pack two drivers were coming out with great credit, Fittipaldi in his Lotus 72 and Schenken with his Brabham BT33, these two shaking themselves free of their opening lap bunches in great style.

The next happening was on lap 28 when Rodriguez had his BRM V12 engine die under him, due to the Marelli coil packing up, and it began to look as though the “ten little n****r boys” act was going to take over the race. After his accident Hill had stopped at the pits to have the left-front wheel changed and though the handling felt a bit peculiar, probably due to something being bent, he charged on with great enthusiasm. (See what I mean about psychology overcoming science?) On lap 35 an oil pipe fell off the Brabham’s engine and sprayed oil all over the rear tyres and the road, so that as he went into the chicane Hill found himself spinning off the road and out of the race.

Fittipaldi and Schenken had worked their way forwards in a fine manner, the Lotus driver being up in fourth place behind Siffert, and the Brabham driver being in sixth place behind Amon’s Matra. Behind this quartet was another quartet consisting of Wisell (Lotus 72), Beltoise (Matra), Surtees (Surtees) and Pescarolo (March 711), and the Hill oil laying affected both these groups. Schenken got all out of control at the chicane, and went straight on in amongst the catch nets and had to do a complicated “wiggle-woggle” to get out of them, which dropped him back behind Amon. Then WiseII spun off into the dust at the exit of the chicane and this dropped him to the back of his foursome. Both these drivers made remarkable recoveries, Schenken not only regaining his lost place, but catching Siffert’s BRM as well and taking fourth place on lap 49, just as Cevert had an exhaust pipe break at the right side manifold.

The starry-eyed young Frenchman had inherited second place when Rodriguez retired and had been driving hard ever since to keep it and support the flying Stewart who was out in the lead. Although the broken pipe made a nasty noise it did not lose the engine too much power and the very apprehensive Cevert pressed on praying hard nothing awful would happen to spoil his glorious second place in his own Grand Prix. Just when Schenken had got his Brabham into fourth place all the oil pressure disappeared from his Cosworth engine and he came to a grinding halt by the finishing line, unable by law to push the car to the chequered flag; a bitter disappointment after such a fine race. Pescarolo had spun out of his racing foursome, and tenth place, when the Hewland gearbox in his March 711 went wrong and though he did another lap that was it.

In the closing laps there was just a possibility that FittipaIdi might get his Lotus into second place, but it would mean Cevert’s Tyrrell losing a lot more power, which it did not do, so that a delighted Frenchman pleased the locals with his second place. Stewart had done another of his perfect demonstrations, leading from start to finish with the record lap thrown in for good measure, and Tyrrell and ELF and all the other backers were delighted with the victorious “double”. In a shady corner of the pits the “boss-man” from Ford (England) was wishing they had come out in the open last August and insisted on the blue cars being called Ford V8, instead of Tyrrell, for it was their money that bought the brains and driving skill that still can keep the 12-cylinder opposition at bay, on occasions.

Jackie Stewart stands on the podium after winning the 1971 French Grand Prix.

Jackie Stewart soaks up the adulation after winning

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Fittipaldi’s drive into third place brought joy to Team Lotus, and Matra were depressed, for though both cars finished they had never been really competitive, lacking a combination of power, speed and handling. The Ferrari team packed up their material wondering what they were going to do about Stewart, apart from buying him.—D.S.J.