The pits and paddock at the Grand Prix of France were full to overflowing with mechanical interest, for the cancellation of the Dutch Grand Prix had allowed a full month since the last major event for the Grand Prix teams, and new cars had been completed and many modifications made. The Tyrrell team had their first new car of 1972 completed, this being 005, a brand new design from the drawing board of Derek Gardner. It naturally follows the basic design of the previous Tyrrell cars but incorporates numerous new ideas for the ELF petrol-sponsored team. Like the Lotus 72 the new Tyrrell has its front brakes mounted inboard on the chassis, with drive shafts passing through the front hubs joining the brakes to the wheels. The water radiator is still at the front of the car, but the oil radiators have been moved from the rear to the sides of the car, there being one on each side just to the rear of the cockpit and fully enclosed in ducts. Air flow over the car has received a lot of attention and all the mechanical components are completely enclosed with fibreglass panels, the engine cover having a detachable panel on each side for access to the sparking plugs of the Cosworth V8 engine. The mounting of the brake discs and calipers inboard has reduced the unsprung weight with advantage to the front suspension, and the cleaning up of the airflow over the body and the engine has improved the flow of air to the rear aerofoil and subsequently its effectiveness. The full-width nose cowling introduced last year by Tyrrell is still retained. In addition to this brand new car the team had their 1971 cars, numbers 002, 003 and 004.
Ferrari produced three of their Formula One cars, numbers 5. 6 and 7 and they all had modified rear suspension with new lower wishbone with a rearward running strut from the hub-carrier upright mounting to a bracket under the gearbox, this positive lower positioning of the upright allowing the use of a single forward-running radius rod instead of two, this radius rod running from the top of the upright to a point behind the cockpit and above the engine, but more inboard than the previous top mounting. All these alterations were in the interests of revised wheel geometry to give better suspension and control at the rear. In view of the relative low speed of the Charade circuit all three cars were using the early type of narrow nose cowling, and all three had the rear aerofoil mounted further back with the head-fairing extending right to the rear in the shape of a long tapered cone. Another team to produce a revised rear suspension was the Ecclestone Brabham team, who had their usual three cars, BT34/1, BT37/1 and BT37/2, the last of the trio having a new rear suspension layout with two parallel links locating the bottom of the upright instead of a triangular member. This new Bellamy-designed layout was for a new design of Hewland gearbox, but it was not ready in time, so had been adapted to the existing Hewland box.
The McLaren team had modified their cars in the interests of moving the rear aerofoils further back, mounting them on tubular structures reinforced with sheet steel. The three cars were M19C/1, M19A/1 and M19A/2, and on the latest car M19C/1 and on M19A/2 the oil tanks had been removed from the rear and new ones built into the monocoque behind the driver’s seat. On both cars the battery had been moved from the rear to a position on the right of the engine and anything else extraneous to the gearbox had been moved away. The purpose of this was two-fold, to clear as many bits and pieces out of the path of the air to the rear aerofoil, so that it might work more efficiently, and to concentrate as much weight towards the centre of the car as possible. The third car, M19A/1, which was destined as a training car, had not had all the bits and pieces moved from the rear, but it did have the very rearward-mounted aerofoil. It also had its front nose fins mounted lower in order to balance the rear modification.
After winning Le Mans the Matra team said they were out to win the Grand Prix of France and to assist in this direction they built a brand new car, its date of final construction being 20.6.72. It had a completely new and stiller monocoque of a bulbous shape like the earlier MS80 Matra-Cosworth, instead of the flat and angular shape of the MS120 series to date. On to this new monocoque all the mechanical components from MS120C/06, which had raced in the Belgian GP, were installed, so that mechanically the car was unchanged, as regards suspension, brakes, engine, gearbox and so on. Just in ease anything untoward happened the old spare car, MS120C/04, was dug out and brought along, but so successful was the new car, designated MS120D/07, that the spare car never turned a wheel on the track.
The Lotus team had their usual three cars, R5, R6, R7, all being the chisel-nosed, inboard brake, torsion-bar sprung 72D models, and R5 was in the condition it had been raced at Vallelunga the month before. This meant that it had a smaller rear aerofoil and a new tapered oil tank and radiator incorporated in the mounting for the aerofoil. The other two cars had the old arrangement of a central pot-like oil tank with a radiator on each side. In common with the McLaren thinking the object was to clean up the air-flow at the back of the car and use a smaller aerofoil more effectively. During practice this new rear assembly was taken off R5 and fitted to R7, and remained on R7 for the race.
The trio of Surtees TS9B cars, with full-width nose cowlings and side-mounted radiators had not undergone any major modifications, except that 006 had been repainted back in the old Team Surtees colours of red with a white arrow head on the nose. The other two, 004 and 005, were unchanged. The two March cars of the Frank Williams team, 711/3 and 721/3, were also unchanged, apart from continual attention by Ron Tauranac to make them more raceworthy. The works March team had a completely new look for the 721X and the 72IXB had been abandoned and two new 721G cars had been built. They both followed the original 721G in specification, being the Formula Two chassis converted to take a Cosworth V8 engine, and with external pannier fuel tanks, but according to Robin Herd the designer, 7210/2 and 7210/3 had 34 differences over the original car, but they were all small modifications. These Formula Two-based cars use conventional double-wishbone and coil-spring damper units at the front, instead of the rocker-arm inboard-mounted suspension of the normal 721 and 721X, and the rear suspension is conventional like the 721, and not with inclined springs anchored centrally as on the 721X. These latest works March cars are not so much a return to square one in the design department, as a move off in another direction.
The BRM team are another outfit who seemed to be in a muddle in the design department, and rather than back-pedalling like March, or shooting off at a tangent, designer Tony Southgate seems to be marking time. The interesting looking P180 which started the season is no longer to be seen, but its wheels and suspension were adapted to a P160 in 1972 form, this being P160/01. The other four team cars were all P160 models to normal specification, being numbers 03, 04, 05 and 06, the last one being a new one in the B-series, which are uprated 1971 cars.
There was one Tecno, the second to be raced, this one having first appeared at Vallelunga recently, where it finished third. This car, T/002 (in spite of the plate stuck on the chassis which says T/001), has a tidier monocoque, without cut-aways for side-mounted radiators, and a much neater nose cowling for the wide front radiator, the flat12-cylinder engine still driving through a Hewland gearbox. Other one-off entries were the Eifelland-modified March 721 and the Lotus 72D/R3 returned from South Africa and having been uprated to 1972 Lotus specification as far as was practical. — D. S. J.