After nine rounds of the Formula One Drivers World Championship Team Lotus had taken five outright wins, and three times the black and gold cars had finished first and second. After nine rounds of the European Formula Two championship March-BMW had also taken victory five times with their works cars, and they could also boast of three one-two finishes. Both teams reached those goals in France, Lotus at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard and the Scaini/Polifac March team at the pretty little Nogaro circuit in the south-west of the country just a week later, on July 9th. However in the Lotus camp Colin Chapman had to rely on Ronnie Peterson to bring one of those wins, Robin Herd could heap all his praise onto just one man, Bruno Giacomelli.
The cheerful little Italian followed up his early season’s triumphs at Thruxton and Hockenheim with wins at Pau, at Rouen les Essarts, and Norgaro. Between those spells the “ Boy from Brescia” took a third place at Mugello, a second at Vallelunga and failed to finish at Donington. His domination of the championship up until the Nogaro race was further demonstrated by the string of pole positions. He was fastest qualifier at eight of the nine races!
This enviable record meant, with only four races left to wrap up the series, he had piled up 55 pts. to give him a useful advantage over his Swiss team-mate Marc Surer who was on 39 pts. Irishman Derek Daly, in his ICI Chevron Hart, was a distant third in the standings, with 23 pts., while trailing in an equal fourth place were Eddie Cheever and Keijo Rosberg with 16 pts. The authority Giacomelli stamped on the championship from the very outset made it clear that his works March 782 chassis, with its factory BMW engines, was unlikely to be headed and March looked set to take their fourth outright European championship.
The three early rounds of the championship, which we reported in June, had already seen the confident Giacomelli getting into his stride. The six races since have merely been an opportunity for the well-drilled Bicester team to further demonstrate their superiority.
The fourth round of the popular FIA series, at the exciting Pau road circuit in southern France, was one of the few times Giacomelli’s dominance was brought into question. Frenchman Patrick Tambay had been brought into the ICI ChevronHart B42 and, after going quickly in practice, he led the race right up until the start of the last lap when the engine broke. Team- mate Daly had been well placed and might have finished second but he crashed in the dying moments and Britain’s Brian Henton was also in trouble.
Henton had broken Giacomelli’s stranglehold on pole position by setting fastest time in practice and he chased Tambay hard for 9 laps until an electrical failure. With Tambay being robbed of victory at the eleventh hour Giacomelli came through to inherit the luckiest of wins. The Swede Eje Elgh took a good second in his Opert Chevron-Hart and Surer was third in his works March.
On May 28th the teams were in Italy for the round at the vast Mugello Autodrome and this time it was Daly who upset March by stealing the lead at the start and holding it for the entire race. It was a great drive by the Chevron driver who had Surer and Giacomelli breathing down his neck for the whole distance. The former Formula Three champion had notched up his first win in Formula Two and against the strongest opposition.
A week later the teams were still in Italy for the round at Rome’s Vallelunga Autodrome and, to everyone’s surprise, Daly was able to repeat the dose. This time Giacomelli dictated the pace until the last lap when his BMW engine, which had been overheating because of grass blocking the front radiator, dropped onto three cylinders. Daly was waiting and was able to swoop through half way round the last lap to take sweet revenge for the ICI team’s disappointment at Pau.
The contenders were reaching the half-way stage of the championship on June 1 8th when they raced at the superb Rouen road circuit in north west France. This time Giacomelli was back on top and, after shrugging off an early challenge from Cheever’s March, he ran out a comfortable winner from the young American. Daly ran third for most of the race but his Chevron went out with a broken engine two laps from home leaving the consistent Surer to take over the position.
The BRDC-organised eighth round, at Donington on June 25th, saw Henton putting in another fine drive. The local man led the race brilliantly in the early laps until he was forced to stop because of fuel leaking from a gauge into his cockpit. It was a two-part race and Giacomelli was eliminated in one of several nasty accidents in the opening stages of the first heat.
The overall winner, after an eventful race, was the Finn Keijo Rosberg in his Opert Chevron Hart. Second, and using Pirelli P7 radial ply tyres on his March-BMW, was the Italian Piero Necchi while Surer took a steady third overall.
The most recent race, at Nogaro, saw Giacomelli at his most devastating. Once again only Henton was able to offer any real challenge and, yet again, that died early when his clutch failed. Giacomelli led the entire race, set another new lap record and, for the third time, led home team-mate Surer. Daly was third in his Chevron which meant the top three in the championship took the first three places. It was undoubtedly the dullest race of the season.
With nine races run, March had won six (including Ribeiro’s Nurburgring win) and Chevron the other three; and these two British manufacturers were in complete command of the category. The season-long fight between BMW and Brian Hart saw the Munich manufacturers narrowly ahead, having taken five wins to the four scored by teams using the Hart 420R engine. The other confrontation, between Goodyear and Pirelli, saw the Wolverhampton tyre company successfully fending off the troublesome Necchi but their tactics were to some extent spoiling the fine racing. – M .T.