1972 British Grand Prix race report - Uninspiring


Brands Hatch, England, July 15th

Amidst three days of fun and games in the Brands Hatch Stadium the British Grand Prix took place over 76 laps of the full circuit, and thanks to John Player Ltd. and a very large crowd of paying customers, the whole afair was considered a great success by all except those who had to work and live in the grotty paddock, or try and operate from the mini-pits, and those drivers who crashed or got punctures due to the stones and gravel that over-enthusiastic drivers threw on the track when they let their wheels stray of the edge of the road. For the whole three days the weatherman produced a superb summer that made up for the icy winds in Spain and the rain in Monte Carlo.

With only two weeks since the Grand Prix of France there was not much time to repair the wrecked cars that resulted from errors on the Charade circuit, but the Tyrrell team managed to get their new car 005 back in shape, and BRM repaired Gethin’s car; Frank Williams concentrated on finishing his Politoys Special for Pescarolo, rather than repair his bent March 721 and the McLaren team reduced their entry to two, dropping Redman. So had no real need to repair M19A/2 in a mad rush. Stewart began practice with Tyrrell 005, having car 003 as a reserve, and started well by making fastest time in the second half of Thursday’s practice, but then something broke in the chassis or suspension and he went off the road and into the barriers, damaging both ends of the car. Ken Tyrrell was so “busy with other things” that by race day morning he had not discovered what broke. The wreckage was sent off home by Thursday evening and Stewart continued practice on Friday with the 1971 car 003 and also used it for the race. Team-mate Cevert was in his usual car, Tyrrell 002, but seemed to he lacking the inspiration that the French crowds give him in his home country. The March team were a bit handicapped by the loss of designer Robin Herd, who was laid up in bed with a high temperature, and last minute work on the new 721G model for Lauda meant that it was not finished until the end of Thursday’s practice. Peterson was driving the 721G March he drove in France and Beuttler still had the original of these F2 based F1 cars. The Ferrari team entered Ickx, Galli and Andretti with the red and white cars from Maranello, and at the last moment Galli was required to drive the Tecno so Merzario took his place, while Andretti became a non-appearing myth once more. The Ferraris were the same ones as used in France, Ickx racing No. 5 and using No. 6 as a spare, and Merzario had No. 7, all three having the front mounting of the rear aerofoil modified to give a steeper angle of incidence. The Lotus team were in good fettle, with Fittipaldi and Walker with the three black and gold Lotus 72s as they were in France, except that R5, the spare car, had the tapered oil tank, single oil radiator and smaller aerofoil layout as well as R7. The giant all-conquering (by their words last winter) BRM international complexity seemed to have come to its senses, for after entering five cars for Beltoise, Gethin, Oliver, Wisell and Marko, dropping Ganley from the list, they reduced this to three for the actual event. Marko’s accident in France keeping him out, though reports were saying there was hope for his eyesight recovering, after some incredible surgery in the Clermont-Ferrand hospital. Wisell was dropped for this race and Oliver taken on under the impression that he was a Brands Hatch Super Star, though how anyone could expect him to return from America where he is racing Can-Am cars and NASCAR Stock Cars, and jump straight into a light and “nervous” Grand Prix car and shine, is difficult to understand. Some clear and rational thinking at the top of the BRM family-tree would help this long-suffering team, and make the BRM supporters a lot happier. Beltoise was back in P160/01, which damaged its transmission just before the Grand Prix of France, and in search of better air conditions for the rear aerofoil the oil radiators had been moved from the sides of the gearbox to pods attached to the sides of the engine, rather close to the exhaust pipes. Gethin was in his repaired car, P160/03. and Oliver had P160/04, while P160/06 was a spare for the trio of drivers.

After the terrific showing at Clermont-Ferrand the Matra team were very happy with their new car and they had the old one, MS120C/04 as a spare, which turned out to be just as well, for Amon crashed the new one beyond immediate repair during practice. The McLaren team were their usual happy selves, though HuIme was feeling a bit grey and taking things easy after a high-speed inversion in his 8.1-litre Can-Am car the previous weekend, during which the whole plot skated along upside down for a considerable distance. Revson was in good form and even though he had to use the old original M19 McLaren, he was taking over the job of temporary team-leader with great enthusiasm and determination. The John Surtees trio of Schenken, HaiIwood and de Adamich had no great problems and had an enthusiastic local following, being only a few miles from home. The three cars, TS9B/004, 005 and 006, were tidily and neatly prepared as always.

The orthodox British Grand Prix kit-car that Frank Williams has had built for the Italian Politoys Company at last made its first appearance, having only run a few laps at Goodwood before arriving for practice, and while not at all inspiring, or even interesting in design, it looked to be nicely made following three-year-old principles, of monocoque rivetted construction, classical suspension back and front with coil-spring damper units, front mounted radiator and inboard rear brakes on a standard Hewland gearbox, the Cosworth V8 forming the rear half of the car. Finished in dark blue it was a worthy replacement for the wrecked March 721/3, and was a suitable companion to the team’s March 711/3 which Pace was driving. Following the experiment of parallel-links instead of lower wishbones on Reutemann’s Brabham for Clermont-Ferrand, the other two cars of the Ecclestone team were modified in the same way, but Wilson Fittipaldi was not happy with the feel of BT34/1 during practice, and had the wishbone layout put back for the race.

Just before the start of the Grand Prix of France the Tecno was discovered to have some cracks radiating from the bolt holes in the fabricated cross-member at the rear of the cockpit, where the engine is bolted to the monocoque, so it was withdrawn from the race. When the car was dismantled back at the Bologna factory the cracking was found to be worse than it appeared, justifying David Yorke’s decision to withdraw the car. A new cross-member was designed and made and as the same time York enlisted the help of Ron Tauranac to improve the geometry and general structural stiffness and effectiveness of the rear suspension, while the Pederzani brothers concentrated on the flat-12 cylinder engine development. Nanni Galli was back in the cockpit for the Brands Hatch race and the car continues to show progress forwards, rather than backwards or sideways like some other 1972 designs. South African Dave Charlton was having another go at a British Grand Prix with his ex-works Lotus 72 and Stommelen had the blue and white Eifelland March 721. Two hopeful entries were made for the Brands Hatch proteges Trimmer, with a Lotus and Allen, with a March, but neither materialised, though the one-off special of Peter Conner appeared briefly on the first day of practice, driven by Frenchman Francois Migault whose Darnval Company put up some finance. This nicely made special, with inboard rocker-arm front suspension and unusual rear suspension relying on wishbone members to locate the hubs without any radius rods and semi-inboard damper/coil spring units, was powered by the standard British Kit-Car pack of CosworthV8-Hewland gearbox. During its one practice session it bottomed badly on the Brands Hatch dips and damaged the underside, so was withdrawn while some more thinking went on.

The undulations of the Brands Hatch circuit, especially the dips at the foot of the rush from South Bank Corner to Hawthorns, and the exciting swoop down into Dingle Dell on the back leg of the circuit are known hazards to regular runners, and the Lotus team fit aluminium skids under the cars to take the effect of the inevitable grounding if the driver is really trying; these relieve the shock-absorbers of the strain of “bottoming” and of the loads being transferred to the fabricated member over the clutch housing on which they are mounted. During practice Chapman was puzzled by the lack of marks on the aluminium skids, when his drivers seemed to be going fast enough to “bottom-out”. He then found that some distance pieces had been fitted unbeknown to him above the shock-absorber bump-rubbers, to “help” them; this was disastrous for the steel frames carrying the shock-absorbers are not designed to take such loads and on both cars used by Fittipaldi and Walker they were cracked, which meant a lot of stripping and re-welding in the paddock, Fittipaldi’s car R7 had an extra problem in that the oil tank developed a leak in the internal piping and the breather catch-tank was being pressurised. Fortunately the spare car was fit so the Brazilian used it to notch up fastest practice lap at 1 min. 22.9 sec, in the first session on Thursday and win himself 100 bottles of Champagne presented by The Evening News. Lap times in this first session were surprisingly slow, bearing in mind that the circuit was not new to anyone, and only Fittipaldi, Ickx and Revson, got below the existing record of 1 min. 23.8 sec. set up by the Brazilian driver last March, and no-one beat the practice times of Gethin and Siffert of 1 min. 22.8 sec. set up last October.

After a break while the champagne was presented to Fittipaldi, practice restarted and times began to improve. Stewart was really getting underway with the new Tyrrell, getting down to 1 min. 22.4 sec, when it fell apart and threw him into the barriers, so that was that. There was a short break while the wreckage was removed from the top of Pilgrims Rise and he continued in 003. Unlike so many organisers the RAC accept spare cars as complete entities in themselves, and give them their own numbers, so there can be no confusion amongst the timekeepers. Tyrrell 005 was number 1 and Tyrrell 003 was number 41, in the same way that Lotus 72D/R7 was racing number 8 and Lotus 72D/R5 was number 40. Putting a T on the spare car, as the Continental organisers do, causes so much confusion that the CSI would do well to make a ruling on this matter. During this first afternoon Lauda was waiting for his new March to be finished and in the second half did a few laps in Beuttler’s car and Hulme went out for a few exploratory laps and felt in “pretty good shape” afterwards, but had no intention of indulging in any heroics, as his doctor had told him to take it easy, if a lap in 1 min. 24.4 sec. with 430 b.h.p. of Cosworth V8 pounding away behind your head can be called “taking it easy”. Revson was really making up for Hulme’s greyness, even though he had to use the old car, and every time he went out it was to hammer away and try really hard, unlike some drivers who seem to be “swanning” round and never really trying. Revson’s 1 min. 22.7 sec. put him among the “aces”, just behind Stewart and in front of Ickx and Fittipaldi. During the second half of the Grand Prix practice a gullumphing great Formula 5000 car appeared among the 3-litres, driven by McRae and one can only hope that the RAC knew what it was all about. The records for “learning” went to Graham Hill in the first session with 31 laps to his credit and to Cevert in the second session with 42 laps.

All day Thursday the weather had been getting better and better and on Friday it continued, making everyone happy and tolerant as the organisation fumbled its way through a vast programme of practice, minor races and demonstrations, surrounded by the biggest fair-ground of sponsorship ballyhoo and PRO promotion a Grand Prix has ever seen. Thursday’s programme ran so late that a spectator was heard to mutter as he left the circuit “if they go on like this they’ll finish Saturday on Sunday”. However, the sun continued to shine and 16,000 people found they did not have to work on Friday so the day was a huge success, with two more practice sessions for Formula One cars, and the day ending with a Formula Three race, won by Roger Williamson in a GRD. For the Grand Prix the numbers were reduced, for the Connew had gone home, as had the new Tyrrell, but Lauds’s new March was ready. Stewart had his racing number 1 transferred to the spare car, and the round continued with Gethin doing some laps in the spare BRM. Hulme was feeling a lot better and while circulating in close company with Revson the two McLaren drivers got Oliver trapped between them, much to the embarrassment of the driver from Rumford in Essex. Galli was being very courageous with the Tecno and trying to tail Emerson Fittipaldi, the Italian flat-12 engine sounding very good, but the strain must have been too much for shortly atterwards the engine broke and the car was wheeled away to the paddock and taken apart in order to install a new engine. The dry weather meant that the ground beyond the track limits was becoming very crumbly and anyone, putting a tyre over the edge threw up clouds of dust and earth. At 2 p.m. there was a 15 minute pause, and the weather by this time was really hot and fast times were becoming impossible, though a lot of people were still trying very hard, and some like Amon, a bit too hard, for he spun off at Druids Hairpin and crumpled the new Matra beyond immediate repair. Practice stopped while it was removed and the New Zealander continued with the old car which he was going to have to use for the race, putting him at the same disadvantage as Stewart. During the last three-quarters of an hour of practice Team Lotus sent Fittipaldi out with only 5 gallons of petrol on board, whereas he had been doing all his practice and last times on full tanks and in “race-trim” rather than “practice-trim”. The fastest lap of all to this point was by Ickx, with 1 min. 22.2 secs, and the fastest in this final session was by Stewart with 1 min. 22.9 sec., with Revson impressively close at 1 min. 23.0 sec. After some trouble with the Firestone tyres not feeling right when warm, another set were put on Lotus 72D/R7, taken off Walker’s car, and Fittipaldi tried again. After being baulked Lotus signalled him a lap in 1 min. 21.7 sec., and after two more baulks over-taking slower cars, they signalled him 1 min, 21.4 sec., and with nobody believing it practice ended and the time-keepers gave him a best lap of 1 min. 22.6 sec. As this put him on the front row of the 2 x 2 grid, “up the climber” on the left of the start line, instead of “down the camber” on the right, where lckx was with pole position, and much better placed for the opening rush into Paddock Bend, nobody complained.

On Saturday morning there was a short untimed session of “informationstraining” and then preparations were made for the 2.30 p.m. start, and those with nothing to do had lunch in the sponsors’ “hospitality tents”, while the spectators consumed jumbo-size Brands Hatch Hot-Dogs and watched a number of circus acts. Well before the start was due the cars came out of the paddock, through the ridiculous tunnel into the infield of the Stadium Bowl and along to the pits, many of them wearing knobbly rain-tyres to combat the bad surfaces on the way, the delicate tread-free racing tyres being carried to the pits. Ferrari had their spare car at-the-ready for Ickx, in case of any last minute trouble with No. 5, and Stewart and Amon were in their spare cars, Revson also in effect being in the spare car but not complaining about it being “uncompetitive”. After a quick dash round the Club Circuit the field of twenty-six cars lined up on the dummy-grid behind a military band and were then wheeled forward to the starting grid behind the marching soldiers. The ceremonial opening of the 25th post-war British Grand Prix, the John Players Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of Europe, the 75th Anniversary of the RAC, or the Brands Hatch Formula One race, or whatever you like to call it, took place to the strain of “God Save the Queen”. One by one the cars left the grid on a warm-up lap of the full circuit and arrived back on the “dummy grid” which caused one or two hardened motor racing marshals to mutter “another line-up!”. The track was flooded with troupes of dolly-birds dressed in the various sponsors’ colours, with the lovely PR lads trying to display them around the appropriate cars in the hope that some unsuspecting photographer would take a photograph, and meanwhile the Surtees mechanics were sweating blood trying to stop a leak in the radiator of Hailwood’s car, and some of the Goodyear runners were trying to scrape “gunge” off their tyres, that had been picked up off the well-used track, and Revson’s mechanics were holding a board over the car to keep the hot sun off the driver. There was not a cloud in the sky, in fact the only thing in the sky was the Goodyear airship, quietly and elegantly being used as a television camera platform, which was a nice change from the usual irritating TV helicopters that bug most Grand Prix starting lines. Suddenly it was time for the serious business to begin, the Pixies and Fairies were popped back into their pens, the mechanics gave their drivers a thumbs-up to start the engines and a potential 10,000 b.h.p. moved forward to the starting grid and got off to a splendid start with a noise that shook the Grandstands that were packed to overflowing.

The Ferrari of Ickx got its sleek narrow nose into the lead as he and Fittipaldi raced for Paddock Bend and the whole field powered down the hill and up to Druids, with a certain amount of bumping and boring going on among the back-markers, from which Galli emerged last with a punctured right front tyre. Round the back of the circuit Ickx led Fittipaldi, the chisel nose of the Lotus not too close to the blaring exhaust pipes of the Ferrari, for the Brazilian driver does not have too much confidence in the Belgian driver. Beltoise had jumped neatly from the third row of the grid into third place ahead of Revson, Stewart and Schenken and the rest were following more or less in grid order. When they had all gone by at the end of the opening lap the Tecno arrived at the pits for a new front wheel and tyre and then rejoined the race. At the end of the second lap the Ferrari and the Lotus had pulled out quite a lead and it was obvious that Beltoise could not justify his third place and was holding up quite a pack of cars behind him, but Brands Hatch is a hopeless circuit for overtaking if someone is in the way. On the third lap Stewart forced his way past Revson and began pressing the BRM, but there was no way by, and meanwhile Ickx and Fittipaldi were getting away. At the end of lap 4 Walker coasted into the pits and half a lap later Gethin’s BRM engine spewed out oil and smoke as it blew up on South Bank Bend and left a trail of oil up under the bridge, fortunately not on the “racing-line”. Almost unnoticed de Adamich had disappeared “out in the country”, and on lap 7 Stewart found a way by the troublesome BRM and set about catching the leaders. Revson got by Beltoise on the next lap, and then Schenken got by.

At 10 laps a stalemate seemed to have set in between Ickx and Fittipaldi and it was a case of waiting for something to happen, while Stewart was holding his distance, neither gaining nor losing. As the Politoys Special had pounded down into Dingle Dell something broke on the suspension or chassis and it landed up a wreck and slightly on fire against the barriers, Pescarolo getting out unscathed, and while the leaders were on lap 12 the Tecno slid off the track and into the ditch at Clearways, possibly due to a rear tyre deflating. With the race hardly begun the field was already reduced to 22 cars, and one hoped the attrition-rate was not going to continue. Schenken had a slight moment on the loose stuff on the edge of the track, which let Beltoise snatch fifth place back, but apart from that the scene was becoming a bit processional. Ickx (Ferrari) led from Fittipaldi (Lotus), then came Stewart (Tyrrell) close enough to see them but not close enough to touch them, followed by Revson (McLaren), Beltoise (BRM), Schenken (Surtees) and then Hailwood, Cevert, Peterson, Reutemann and Pace in a very tight line, undecided whether they were playing “follow my leader” or trying to keep up with each other. Behind this line were Oliver (BRM), Merzario (Ferrari) and Hulme (McLaren), after a gap came Hill, Wilson Fittipaldi, Beuttler and Amon, while at the back were Stommelen, Lauda and Charlton, with Walker back in the race, but a lap behind. For a few laps nothing much happened, except that Oliver dropped back behind Merzario and Hulme, and it was noticeable that Fittipaldi could close right up on Ickx on the section of track between the start and South Bank Bend, but lose ground on the fast section out in the woods, so once more stalemate had set in, though the Lotus driver felt he could bide his time as he could see the Ferrari was losing oil and trouble was beginning. Beltoise suddenly thought his BRM felt peculiar and slowed right up, letting everyone go by him on lap 20 and at the same time Hill was into the pits with a punctured tyre. At 22 laps Beltoise stopped to see what was going wrong with his car and at the same time Charlton had trouble with his gearbox and turned smartly into the pits through the back door from the bottom straight. On the twenty-third lap the leaders lapped Walker and had a bit of trouble getting by and this allowed Stewart to close right up on them and going into Druids Hairpin on the twenty-fifth lap Ickx got his braking a bit wrong, which threw Fittipaldi off balance and while he was sorting himself out Stewart was by into second place. Now the first three were very close together, but nose-to-tail rather than side-by-side and they stayed that way for a number of laps. The rest of the field were in a pretty orderly procession and looked like staying that way until mechanical problems intervened, and the first to suffer was Hailwood, whose gearbox went wrong which dropped him from sixth place on lap 27 to tenth place on lap 30 and into the pits and out of the race on lap 31. Merzario was into the pits on the same lap with a puncture, after staying ahead of Hulme in mid-field from the start, and with a new wheel and tyre he rejoined the scene with great enthusiasm, determined to make up as much ground as possible in the second half of the race. Right at the back of the field Amon had been battling with Beuttler, which indicated that something was wrong somewhere, and on lap 34 the leaders lapped the Matra. As they dissappeared under the bridge at South Bank Fittipaldi had squeezed past Stewart and the situation returned to square one, with Ickx still in the lead.

By lap 40, with the race having been going for just on one hour, stalemate had settled in again at the front as Ickx, Fittipaldi and Stewart circulated in formation watching each other and waiting for something to happen. In the mid-field the scene had all come apart at the seams for Reutemann and Pace had a “coming together” and stopped at the pits for a check, and Oliver had come to rest out on the circuit when the lower radius rod on the left rear suspension tore off the hub-carrier. There were now only eight cars on the same lap, the leaders unchanged, Revson in a secure fourth place, but a fair way behind, with Schenken following him, but not challenging; then came Cevert and Peterson and soon to be lapped was Hulme, while Amon was already lapped. Fittipaldi now began to put on a bit of pressure and closed up on Ickx, leaving Stewart a bit behind and as they lapped Hulme he took advantage of the situation on lap 47, but Ickx was in trouble and on lap 48 the three leaders were very close together, for the Ferrari was slowing, which was delaying the Lotus and letting the Tyrrell close up. The continual loss of oil from a split cooler was taking its toll and as the oil pressure sagged on lap 49 Ickx was forced to shut off and let Fittipaldi and Stewart go by. Having led from the start it was a bitter blow for the Belgian driver, but nothing could be done and in addition he said that he felt the transmission was giving up. The scene was now settled with Fittipaldi calmly leading Stewart, knowing the Scot was unlikely to indulge in any “do-or-die” attempts to get by and providing the Lotus kept going there was nothing to stop the Brazilian notching up another victory. Revson was now a very commendable third, and Schenken lost a certain fourth place when he had a big moment on the loose stuff at Druids Hairpin and stalled the engine of his Surtees, luckily being able to coast down the hill after the corner and get restarted, but by this time Cevert, Peterson and Hulme had gone by.

With 20 laps still to go it was a question of survival rather than racing, for all except Merzario, who was pressing on as hard as he could go, staying with Revson for a time and then overtaking him, even though he was a lap behind. As the leaders were lapping Hill he moved over going into Paddock Bend to let them by and promptly lost control on the “marbles” on the outside edge and thumped the Armco barrier at the bottom of the descent, bending the left side suspension and ending his race there. As he said afterwards, “From a gentleman to a twit in a tenth of a second”. A few laps later on lap 61 Cevert got wide at the same point and came to a sudden stop against the Armco just a bit short of where Hill’s Brabham was. This accident to the Tyrrell let Peterson into fourth place just before he was lapped by Fittipaldi and Stewart, so now there were only three cars on the same lap, and when Schenken gave up it let Hulme and Amon into the picture The Australian’s Surtees was beginning to steer at both ends, for the thread on one of the locations of the rear suspension was pulling out, and as he explained, “It’s a good idea to have the steering wheel coupled to the wheels that are steering, and there was no way. of coupling it to the back wheels”. After a thoroughly dull and frustrating race Amon suddenly found himself in sixth place and the hard-charging Merzario was now seventh, charging so hard that he had nearly collected Revson at one point.

As the last six laps ran out Stewart could do nothing except follow the black and gold Lotus home, both cars running perfectly, both drivers driving immaculately, but a complete deadlock with the advantage to the Brazilian driver. Revson was in a very nice third place but Peterson was in a shaky fourth place as his March was running low on petrol and the engine was popping and banging. In a last minute flash of brilliance Amon had passed Hulme, to take fifth place, and as the leaders were finishing their seventy-sixth lap, Peterson was destined not to finish his seventy-fifth. As he changed down for Paddock Bend the engine of his March died as he was in neutral and he could not get into a lower gear; going too fast into the corner, with no power to help it round the March ran wide onto the grass, smashed into Cevert’s derelict Tyrrell and then struck Hill’s derelict Brabham, and of the three cars the Tyrrell came off worst. This let a surprised Amon into fourth place, followed by Hulme, with a delighted Merzario into sixth place, while Peterson had covered sufficient distance to be classified seventh. In these closing stages Wilson Fittipaldi had had a big moment out on the back of the circuit when a radius arm anchorage on the rear suspension of his Brabham had broken, and while he was skating to rest in a cloud of dust his young brother was bringing happy smiles to the faces of Colin Chapman and all his mechanics, but above all bringing satisfaction to John Player & Sons who not only put a lot of finance and support into Team Lotus, but were sponsoring the British Grand Prix to the point of monopoly. The unruffled way in which Emerson Fittipaldi is winning races in only his third year of Grand Prix racing is beginning to depress and demoralise a lot of people, but an equal number are smiling contentedly and enjoying every minute of it. — D. S. J.