Notes on the Cars at Brands Hatch

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There were a couple of new cars in the paddock as distinct from new designs, when practice started for the Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, Niki Lauda had a brand new Ferrari, number 028 in the 312T2 series. It did not differ from his previous car, the successful 026, though the monocoque was a fraction lighter, having been constructed in a similar vein to 027 the car being used by Regazzoni. Lauda’s old car was retained as the team spare. When the cars were dismantled after the disastrous French GP at Paul Ricard, both engines were found to have broken crankshafts, as suspected. A flange is pressed on to the front of the crankshaft, to take the drive to the ignition unit and other accessories, and it seems that the interference fit for this pressed-on flange may have been in error and started infinitesimal cracks which soon grew as the engine ran. One of the practice engines was found to have cracks in the crankshaft at this point, though it had not broken. A new Brabham-Alfa Romeo was also making its debut, this being BT45/4, which was fractionally lighter and entrusted to Carlos Pace. The continual search for saving weight must depress designers when they look at Reutemann and Merzario side-by-side. A whole season of development would not save the difference in the personal weight of two such drivers. Reutemann took over Pace’s old car, BT45/3 and the original car BT45/1 was the team spare.

In the Tyrrell team there were signs Of new suspension links on the front of the P34 cars, Scheckter and Depailler having their usual six-wheelers and their old four-wheelers for standby. On P34/3, driven by Scheckter, the cockpit side Perspex windows had been greatly enlarged, so that we could look in! When Scheckter’s Cosworth engine was dismantled after the French GP the remains of two valves were found jammed up in the ports, a one-in-a-thousand chance. Normally if a valve breaks the head drops down and either the piston smashes itself against it or punches the head out through the side of a cylinder liner. When Scheckter’s engine went on to seven cylinders during the race the first reaction was “a broken valve”, but as this usually results in an impressive blow-up if the driver doesn’t switch off immediately, no-one could believe this to be the trouble as the engine continued to run for a long time on seven cylinders. When the cylinder head was removed the broken valves were viewed almost with disbelief.

The latest Lotus 77, which is JPS14 in the tobacco series, or R3 in the 77 series, was repaired once again; however, all three team Lotus cars now looked very sombre for all the John Player cigarette advertising had been removed from the cars by a decision from the tobacco firm’s management (Government pressure?). It had been crashed in private testing when the suspension broke, and had almost broken in two at Paul Ricard when the lower engine mountings had failed. It now had a single oil radiator in the “winklepicker” nose instead of the twin coolers mounted in the rear, and this new radiator was mounted almost horizontally with the air entering underneath and existing above. It was nominated as Andretti’s spare car, while he drove 77/R1 and Nilsson drove 77/R2. Confusing to anyone who was not good at reading numbers was the sight of the Ensign painted in National City Bank colours to look like a Penske. After financing Peterson’s works March in Sweden the American bankers were putting some money into Morris Nunn’s family kitty in exchange for painting the Ensign in their colours of white, blue and red. After Patrick Neve had driven the car into last place in the French race there was not too much to do before the British GP and everyone was pleased to see Chris Amon back at the wheel. The number one National City Bank team was still the Penske outfit, happy after the way Watson had gone in France, but unhappy about their careless mistake in their checking of the rear aerofoil adjustment, but protesting their exclusion none-the-less. They were still running their new car, with “winklepicker” nose and side fins and had PC3/02 as a spare.

On the eve of releasing news of the new McLaren M26, the Colnbrook team had their usual three cars for Hunt and Mass. The M26 is a cautious and logical development of the M23, rather like Ferrari progressed from the 312T1 to the T2. Apart from getting the balance of adjustments on the wrong foot after the Spanish Grand Prix disqualification, the M23, especially in the hands of James Hunt, has always been competitive so there is no point in charging off at a tangent in design, with anything radical like five wheels or front engine. The M26 has an improved monocoque construction using a “sandwich” material rather than single sheets, and retains the successful things like the 6-speed gearbox, the compressed-air starter and the tiny motorcycle-type battery.

In the Fittipaldi team there was an air of despair once again, after a brief moment of hope, and they scrubbed the entry for Ingo Hoffman as it was felt to be a waste of effort as things stood at the moment. Another team to cut its losses was the Wolf-Williams set-up, the vast quantity of money and material not being justified on two drivers who were not certain of qualifying for the race. In consequence only one car was entered, this being the newest of the Postlethwaite-designed trio, FW05/3 with Ickx as the sole driver. The original Hesketh 308C/1 was there as a spare. The new car was using rubber-suspension, Postlethwaite not abandoning the idea completely. The RAM-Brabham team of John Macdonald had undergone a driver shuffle and a monetary one, and after some “negotiations” involving the Brands Hatch management, Bob Evans was in BT44B/1 and Leila Lombardi was in BT44B/2, the former driver for practical reasons as a yardstick by which to judge the previous performances of Kessel and Neve, and the lady driver by reason of money from her sponsors Lavazza Coffee. To try and make some improvements to what are basically 1975 cars, Mike Pilbearn the ex-BRM designer was helping out in the RAM team.

Brands Hatch was very new to the Ligier team, though they had taken advantage of a Goodyear tyre-testing session earlier in the season, and they were running their new car JS5/02 for Jacques Lafitte, with the original car as stand-by. The two March teams were unchanged, having had an accident-free French GP and at times it would appear that the cars spend more time in the paint-shop than in the racing-shop as Max Mosley juggles with “deals”, “sponsors”, “advertisers” and other people’s money.

The rest of the runners were unchanged from previous races though there were two additions to the tail of the entry. There was the yellow Suttees TS16 of Miss Divina Galica, and the red Shadow DN3 of Mike Wilds, both these being escapees from British National Formula 5000 racing having a dabble in professional Formula One.—D.S.J.