Formula Two Review

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The European Formula Two championship wound to its inevitable conclusion over the final three rounds with French drivers taking the top five places in the 1975 series, a clean sweep for the Elf-backed teams. Jacques Laffite had already clinched the title by mid-season in his Martini-Schnitzer BMW, so the interest lay in whether he could overcome the appalling run of engine failures that had marred his late season races. However, following his win at Silverstone, Michel Leclere in the factory March-BMW was again on top when the teams raced at the wind-swept Zolder circuit in Belgium a fortnight later. But again March won as the Schnitzer engine users struck trouble. Laffite had a throttle cable break and both Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Gerard Larrousse had engine failures while leading. The sheer frustration for Schnitzer’s customers was starting to tell, although their outspoken criticism of the German engine builder seemed a little unfair when the overall picture for the season was taken into account.

Laffite started the Zolder race from pole position—the fifth time during 1975 he had been fastest in practice—with Leclere alongside just 0.2 second slower. Jabouille and Patrick Tambay in the second works March 752 were on the second row. Leclere drove the race with new-found confidence and won both 24-lap heats while Tambay came home second overall to give the British-based team another 1-2 finish. Ken Tyrrell watched the Belgian race and when it was all over he strolled across to Leclere to tell him his smooth performance had earned him a drive in his Grand Prix car at Watkins Glen.

Third place went to the persistent Italian Maurizio Flammini and the works Chevron, driven by Austrian Hans Binder, was fourth. The Italian-built Osella of Giorgio Francis was fifth and Britain’s Ray Mallock took a steady sixth place in his Ford-engined March.

Schnitzer’s customers were again in trouble at the penultimate round of the championship at the end of September, leaving March to scoop up their third 1-2 finish of the year. Victory went to Patrick Tambay, the young March pilote taking his first championship win at the Nogaro circuit in south-west France, the circuit where he won a non-championship race in his Alpine in 1974. Yet again Jabouille, Larrousse and Laffite gave chase, and yet again they were thwarted. Laffite walked off in a huff after his engine exploded in a cloud of smoke and Larrousse joined him in the pits soon after when his oil pressure plummeted. It was the low point in Schnitzer’s championship year and although Jabouille hung on to finish third in the Elf 2, there were some very irate Frenchmen to contend with.

Jean-Pierre Jaussaud drove Ron Dennis’ Schnitzer-engined March and finished fourth ahead of the Italians Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi and Alberto Colombo.

Tambay started Nogaro from pole position and never looked like being headed as he set the pace right from the flag fall. There was a brief shower of rain during the race and the track was very greasy, yet Tambay drove with the sort of new-found maturity that Leclere had demonstrated in Belgium. The March team, the young drivers and the 752 model had taken a long time to settle down—too long many people felt—but at last it had been moulded into a winning equipe.

Rounding off the year was the two-part race at Rome’s Vallelunga Autodrome and it was a race marred by atrocious inadequacies in the organisation, a massively oversubscribed entry and a timetable that meant the final laps were staged in almost darkness! Vittorio Brambilla had been forgiven for the big Enna accident which put both works Marches out, and was back in Dennis’ Schnitzer-March and in spite of his bust-up with Schnitzer, Jacques Laffite turned up with the Martini, only this time the Schnitzer engine had been rebuilt in France!

Practice was a complete shambles. There were 37 cars trying to qualify for just 22 places on the grid and there was a heated argument when the Italians tried to limit the number of cars allowed onto the track at any one time. Added to that there was a storm in the afternoon that drowned the circuit and effectively reduced qualifying to just a one-hour session.

Leclere snatched pole with Tambay next to him and Brambilla and Laffite were on the second row. It was raining heavily on the morning of the race and although the track was still damp by mid-afternoon, most people elected to run on slick tyres. Patrick Tambay gambled on using wet weather tyres and he was able to lead the early stages only to be gathered in as the track dried. Eventually Tambay was forced into the pits to change tyres while Brambilla caught and passed his team-mate Leclerc. Once in the lead Brambilla never looked like being caught and, after Leclere got off line and onto the damp track causing him to crash headlong into the barrier, the race was over.

Laffite’s single engine had been suspect all weekend but he lasted through to claim second place which was the only time all season he had scored with less than maximum points; Flammini was third ahead of Pesenti-Rossi and Giancarlo Martini while sixth was Gerard Larrousse’s Elf 2 which had started from the back of the grid. Schnitzer had bounced right back by taking his tenth race win of the season and there were three Schnitzer BMW-engined cars in the first six.

Laffite ended the year with 60 pts. while Leclere and Tambay were tied in second place on 36 pts., Larrousse had 26 pts. and Jabouille had 24 pts. Sixth place in the championship went to Flammini on 22 pts.—M.T.

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