First year of 1,600-c.c. F3
With Ford-based engines revving to 11,000 r.p.m. and wheel to wheel dicing to the chequered flag the old 1-litre Formula Three came to an end. For 1971 the governing body of motor racing had conceived a new formula which allowed engines of up to 1,600 c.c. but with a restrictor on the atmospheric side of the induction. In effect it was a throttling device but quite a lot of people thought that more than just the engine breathing had been throttled. Now, with a year of the new Formula behind us, this new category is generally considered a qualified success.
Halfway through the year the “hole” had to be enlarged because it was too restrictive. There have been surprisingly few disqualifications following leaking air boxes and the racing has been just as close as ever before although the sound the engines make is rather dull compared with the old 1-litre motors. However it does look as if the new formula is achieving its aims of keeping down engine costs. Last year’s engines cost approx. £850 and needed a £100 rebuild every two races or so and almost as often as not flew apart. This year engines started off at £1,100, complete with exotic fuel injection and the like, but re-builds did not need to be nearly so frequent. Then along came twin-cam specialists Vegantune in Spalding who, unlike the others, had remained true to the dictum of the CSI secretary who stated that he thought special steel cranks and fuel injection were just not worth the money. The Vegantune engine sold at £780, had a standard cast iron crank and used twin Webers instead of the Lucas injection system. The engines proved just as fast as the competitors, on occasions even faster, and some drivers went as many as eight races without a re-build. By the end of the season Vegantune had quite a good portion of the market and had thus brought down the cost of F3.
The great majority of engines have been based on the Lotus Ford twin-cam unit but Renault, BMW and Alfa Romeo bases have also been raced. Only the Renault has scored any success and these mainly in the works Alpine cars.
Little is new in the chassis department apart from a logical progression from previous thought. The most successful driver, Dave Walker, used his previous year’s Lotus 69 but fitted with inboard rear brakes, the new Brabham BT35 was similar to the previous year’s BT28 except also for inboard rear brakes but March Engineering with their new monocoque 713M made significant inroads into sales and results following a previous year of hard learning but few tangible results.
The 1971 season also saw the emergence of the marque Ensign, master-minded by Morris Nunn. Belying the firm’s humble premises and facilities the side radiator Ensign; of which three raced, were probably the best handling of all the current F3 cars. Right at the end of the year there were three newcomers the Alexis, the GRD and the Royale and all had side radiators as will next year’s March. In France the works Alpines always handled well and utilised exciting high-tail bodies conceived by the firm’s aerodynamisists who have been responsible for some exciting Le Mans shapes in the past. French built but with British backing were the Martini cars which proved sturdy but not particularly successful. The Italian Tecno firm dropped right out of the F3 market and the British Chevron firm more or less did likewise, but Merlyn re-entered the market.
One significant but unwelcome development has been the arrival of slick tyres for Formula 3. The slicks appeared a couple of months after acceptance in Formula One and immediately meant that any front running F3 driver now had to have THREE sets of wheels and tyres, and even more agonising decisions when it looked as if it might spot with rain just before the race. The expense of the third set was considerable too with the slicks costing around £120 per set and the extra wheels, an additional £250. Dunlop who pulled out of big time racing at the end of last year have continued to support Formula Three and have had plenty of success but on the balance Firestone have taken the majority of the honours. Goodyear have not been involved at all.
The most important championship for British competitors was the Motor Sport Trophy which was run in association with the Shell Super Oil races and which has been a great success. For the top competitor the financial rewards have been generous and helped offset the high costs involved. But one accident can ruin the balance sheet and to our knowledge not one of the regular circus got away without at least one major shunt during the year and some had considerably more. However, it is pleasing to report that there were no fatal injuries and, in fact, very few hospitalisations following some fairly spectacular crashes, thanks mainly to the improved safety standards of the cars.
The Motor Sport/Shell Championship reflects to a large extent the relative fortunes of the drivers. In France, of course, the Alpines of Depailler and Jabouille reigned supreme and only raced in Britain twice but otherwise a driver’s success is a function of his points standings.
Australian Dave Walker was undoubtedly “the king” to coin a rather nasty phrase used by the weekly comics. His experience and skill plus excellent preparation and team management, as could be expected from the works Gold Leaf-Team Lotus, paid dividends. He started the season a couple of weeks late but was soon in his stride and during the middle of the season had a run of about eight successive victories. Very rarely was he beaten fairly and squarely, in fact very rarely was he beaten at all. As well as winning the main championship he also cleaned up the Forward Trust club championship run at BARC meetings.
Runner-up to Dave Walker is 23-year-old Roger Williamson of Leicester who few people would have heard of before this year unless they had followed club racing closely. Williamson, a former top karter, had raced mainly in saloons and finished 1970 with the Hepolite Championship under his belt. Formula Three was rather beyond the pocket of Williamson and his enthusiast father who runs a coach business but they took a gamble and purchased a brand new March. Williamson proved an instant success and has had a tremendous season with a good number of wins (some occasionally lucky) but many of them a tribute to hard and determined driving. He also took the Lombank Championship after a long fight with Colin Vandervell. Williamson’s private March has been very reliable and along the way he picked up Tom Wheatcroft as a sponsor which has relieved him of the financial worries.
Bev Bond, who finished third in the championship, started the season well in the new Ensign but after a couple of accidents left the Walsall based team and reappeared with his own March. Only towards the end of the year did Bond seem to find his feet again. One of the most experienced of all Formula Three drivers he really deserves some better luck next year.
One man who some thought would sweep all before him in Formula Three was the previous year’s Grovewood Award winner Colin Vandervell, son of the late Tony Vandervell, and almost unbeatable in Formula Ford in 1970. He had finished off the year with some good F3 performances with a works March but decided on a Brabham drive for 1971. In fact although he won the opening championship race he never did come to terms with the handling of the Brabham. A switch from Rowland to Vegantune power gave him a mid-season boost and though by most standards he had a good season very rarely finishing out of the first six throughout the year he says he personally would rather forget 1971. However he is not to be under estimated so watch for him next season.
The sensation of the year in Formula Three has been the 21-year-old South African Jody Scheckter who won a trip to Europe after doing well in a series of Formula Ford races. Previously he had only driven Renault and Mazda saloons but, once in Britain, his obvious talent soon showed through in the ex-Vandervell Merlyn Formula Ford. Then he started to do occasional F3 races with the one-off EMC and soon moved to full time F3 with the works Merlyn. This new car in the hands of Scheckter was an almost immediate success and in the latter part of the season he has been consistently one of the fastest three or four drivers. Another late season newcomer from abroad was German driver Jochen Mass who won a Shell round at Castle Combe and obviously has considerable promise while Mike Walker of Formula 5000 fame jumped back into F3 with the works Ensign and showed he could race with the best of them in this category.
The most disappointing season of all came from James Hunt who drove the works March. After a good year with the Molyslip Lotus 69 he found everything going wrong: there were several engine troubles, quite a tally of accidents and the ignominy of disqualification at the final Brands Hatch race due to a porous plenum chamber robbing him of victory. But there were good races too.
With well over 100 drivers active in Formula Three it is impossible to record in the space available the fortunes of any but these top few. Next year will see Dave Walker in Formula One, Jody Scheckter in a works Formula Two team but most of the others still providing us with the thrills and excitement of Formula Three. — A. R. M.