15 minutes of fame. Motul M1: 1973 Norisring F2
Motul raced for just one season in Formula Two, in 1973. However, despite peaking with a 1-2-3-5 finish at the Norisring, boss Ron Dennis shut it down. Bruce Jones explains why
It will come as no surprise that McLaren supremo Ron Dennis is not a man who takes being beaten lying down. So, when Rondel Racing, the team that he ran with Neil Trundle, had a troubled time running customer Brabhams in Formula Two in 1972, he decided to commission former Brabham designer Ray Jessop to pen a chassis for the team. In deference to its French petrochemical sponsor, the car would be called the Motul M1.
Ambitious plans to run a six-car squad against the best that March and Chevron could offer were scaled down, with Tim Schenken, Tom Pryce, Henri Pescarolo and Bob Wollek the regular drivers, joined from time to time by Jody Scheckter or Jean-Pierre Jaussaud.
BMW was the pick of the engines in this the second year of 2-litre Formula Two, with the Hart-built BDA version of the Ford engine the best of the rest. Indeed, a BDA-powered Motul won the third round, at Thruxton, when Pescarolo collected the spoils after Mike Beuttler took out leader Gerry Birrell.
As capacity to build engines was tight at Hart, Rondel used BDAs built by Race Engine Services and later by Racing Services. Rondel also tried the Cosworth-built BDG. Even a homologated version of the FVC sportscar engine, the FVD, was sent out to battle. Then a deal was done for Pescarolo’s M1 to be fitted with a BMW for the Norisring meeting. So it could be said that every avenue was tried — which explains how the M1s at that meeting came to be using four different engine types.
The M1s were beautifully presented, already a Dennis trademark. “The car was pretty much like a Brabham,” says Schenken, “in that it was easy to drive but wasn’t good at putting its power down. Our main problem, though, was getting competitive engines and we chopped and changed as we tried to match the BMWs. Money was tight, but Racing Services probably wanted publicity for their engine and so did a deal.”
As expected, newly crowned champion Jean-Pierre Jarier claimed pole in his works March-BMW. Three other March-BMWs filled the next three places, with Pryce the fastest Motul driver in fifth, a second off the pace in his FVD-powered M1 but easily clear of Wollek and Schenken, whose M1s were powered respectively by a BDG and the experimental Racing Services BDA. Pescarolo was further off the pace, annoyed that his new BMW motor was misfiring.
The first heat should have been a March benefit, but Jarier retired, Hans Stuck dropped out when second and the engine failed on Jacques Coulon’s Filipinetti entry just as Pryce was closing in. Schenken worked his way ahead of Bill Gubelmann’s March and took the lead when Pryce’s fading brakes caught him out. Tom recovered to finish second ahead of Pescarolo.
In the second heat, Schenken led from Pryce, with Jarier rocketing from 13th to third, and then motoring past both to lead by the end of lap iwo. The Welshman’s FVD offered more grunt than Schenken’s BDA, but his brakes faded again and Schenken slipped by to finish second on the road, and a clear winner from Pryce on aggregate. “In the second heat, my priority was to beat Tom. I’d been employed by Rondel as the star of the team and Tom was proving rather too quick,” Schenken explains. “Only once I had got past him did I focus on where that would leave me outright.”
Pescarolo spluttered his way to fifth behind Stuck, but this was good enough to leave him third overall, with Motors clean sweep only spoiled when Wollek’s gearbox broke a few laps from the finish.
There was a sting in the tail for Dennis, though, as Schenken concludes: “Unfortunately for Ron, he missed the meeting. Richie Bray phoned him and said that we’d had the ‘Usual sort of result’ — then burst out laughing and said that we’d finished first, second, third and fifth.”
Despite this late flurry, Ronde] Racing turned its back on Formula Two to have a crack at Formula One in 1974. However, the Yom Kippur War put this on the back burner and the team closed, with investor Tony Vlassopoulo taking on Jessop’s part-finished Formula One design and entering it as a Token for Pryce