The Grand Prix season approaches

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Although a minor Formula One race has already taken place (January 24th) in the Argentine, the serious Grand Prix season starts with the South African GP at Kyalami on March 6th, followed almost immediately by the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch on March 21st. The race in the Argentine was part of a revival of International motor racing in that country, heralded last year by a long-distance sports-car race, followed by a 1,000-kilometre sportscar race this year which was the first round in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The Formula One race, even with a minimal entry, constituted the necessary apprenticeship for a World Championships event in 1972, which will put Argentina back on the International map, where it used to be in 1954-60.

After not so many alarums and excursions as last year and a lot less ballyhoo and spurious explanation the Grand Prix world is more or less settled for 1971. With their successes in the last half of 1970 it is not surprising that the Ferrari team remains unchanged, with Ickx leading Regazzoni in the horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder 312B cars. I say Ickx leading Regazzoni, for that is the official team order, but whether the Swiss driver will be content to stay behind the Belgian remains to be seen, or whether he will concede the lead to Ickx once they have sorted out the opposition. Back in December, Enzo Ferrari had a Press meeting to announce his 1971 plans on the same day as the FIA meeting in Paris to present the 1970 awards. Ferrari’s representative in Paris was Jacky Ickx, while Regazzoni was on the top table with Uncle Enzo at the Modern Press conference. Excuses were bandied about that fog prevented Regazzoni going to Paris to collect his Formula Two award which he won with a Tecno. My feeling is that the swarthy Swiss knows where his future lies, and if there is a flat 12-cylinder engine that is more equal than the others I wouldn’t take bets as to which chassis it is installed in. Supporting these two drivers in certain selected races will be Mario Andretti, the man who appears to hold so much potential but has yet to show it in European Grand Prix racing. He has been testing the 312B at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France and though he is American by naturalisation, he is a 100% Italian at heart and driving a Ferrari Grand Prix car is something he has wanted to do since a small boy. Not for a long while has Ferrari had such a formidable trio or such a successful car with which to start the season, and added to this is the fact that he has built a Group 6 sports-car version of the 3-litre flat-12, which will be racing this season in selected long-distance events in readiness for 1972 when all sports-car races will have a 3-litre limit imposed. This means that all the engine development and building work at the Maranello factory can be concentrated on one basic type of engine, which must be beneficial.

The Matra-Simca team have a similar benefit in their Grand Prix cars and sportscars using the same basic power unit, but the French team have other problems. When they dropped the MS80 with its Cosworth V8 engine, to concentrate on the revised Matra V12 engine for 1970 in the MS 120, they also had to drop Stewart, much against their wishes, but Ford had made it financially worthwhile for the little Scot, who was then reigning Word Champion, to swear allegiance to the Cosworth engine and Ford development money and publicity. Matra continued with Beltoise and Pescarolo, but neither driver were obvious race-winners, though the former tried hard. The team were closely associated with the Elf petrol company, and the publicity given to Matra-Elf all over France did a power of good for motor racing as a whole, while to the French the names Matra and Elf were not only synonymous, but were motor racing. Last year the racing cars were renamed Matra-Simca, as the automobile side of Engins Matra tied themselves up with the Simca empire with a view to improving their position in the automobile commercial world. Then Simca amalgamated with the American Chrysler organisation, who were spreading their tentacles into Europe, taking over Rootes, so that indirectly the Matra racing team were made under the control of Chrysler, but it did not show at first. Now it has been made obvious, for Chrysler have big business interests with Shell petrol, so for 1971, much against their wishes, Matra have been forced to sever their connections with Elf and become associated with Shell. This will confuse the average Frenchman no end, for he had come to think of the Malta-Elf racing team as the national effort in motor racing, which in fact it was, having been started off by an £800,000 grant from General de Gaulle. Somehow I cannot see quite the same enthusiasm for a Matra-Shell team.

Despairing of Beltoise or Pescarolo winning a race for them, Matra looked around for an ace driver and the only likely one available was Amon, who nearly joined them last winter, and was very disenchanted with his March-STP contract. During 1970 Matra watched Beltoise race wheel-to-wheel with Stewart and realised that had the Tyrrell/Stewart organisation stayed with them their V12-engined car could possibly have won three or four races with Stewart at the wheel. Pescarolo showed little signs of progressing into the upper echelon, and was embarrassing at a number of races in the way in which he held up faster cars and drivers, added to which he seemed incapable of learning much more, especially how to deal with changing handling characteristics as the Goodyear tyres heated up or picked up rubber dust, causing too much inherent understeer. The Brabhams and Hulmes of the Grand Prix world altered their driving styles as the race went on, but poor Pescarolo just went on suffering from more and more understeer, unable to appreciate the fact or do anything about it. Taking on Amon as number one meant dropping Pescarolo from the team, but whether Amon will be more successful with Matra than he was with March and Ferrari remains to be seen. He started off on the wrong foot by allowing his financial manager, “Mr. Twenty-per-cent”, to sign him up for the Tasman races just when Matra wanted him in the Argentine sports car race to partner Beltoise. It must have caused some anguish to the Matra workers to see a French driver dropped in favour of a New Zealand one, and then to have him miss the first race cannot have put his stock very high on the workshop floor. My guess is, that like the Ferrari team, if there is a very good V12 Matra engine it will go in the number two car. If I had been the head of Matra racing I’d have sacked Amon on the spot, but that is their problem, one amongst many.

Problems inside teams look like being the keynote of the 1971 season, for the world’s greatest problem team, BRM have more than their fair share. They were more than happy with Rodriguez in 1970 and he is staying with them for 1971, but Oliver was politely given the sack, like Ginther, Attwood, Unser and others before them. The vacancy has been filled by Siffert, who was only a hairsbreadth ahead of Amon in deserting March as the 1970 season closed. It has been suggested that the only reason Siffert ever joined March was because Porsche wanted him for sports-car racing, as would any serious manufacturer, and they were afraid he would go to Ferrari for 1970 for sports car and Grand Prix. By paying March £30,000 or something it ensured Siffert a drive in Grand Prix racing and left him untroubled to drive Porsche sports cars. In the JW-Gulf Porsche team last year many of the highlights were the fantastic scraps between Siffert and Rodriguez, even though they were in the same team. It was partly this keen rivalry between the two drivers that ensured that a Gulf-Porsche was always out in front, but it caused the team-manager a few headaches. At a number of long-distance races he was heard to say that they had the race all sewn up providing he could keep his number one drivers away from each other. It was all good healthy stuff that makes for uninhibited racing, unlike some of the “old sweats” in Grand Prix racing who cruise around earning their money while their wives sit together on the pit counter knitting baby-clothes. Rodriguez and Siffert are the best of friends, but Rodriguez considers Siffert to be a “crazy Swiss”, while Siffert thinks of Rodriguez as “that Mexican Bandit”, and there is only room for one out in front. The Porsche 917 and the J. W. Automotive organisation were both strong enough to absorb and control this rivalry; the question in 1971 Grand Prix racing will be whether the V12 BRM is strong enough and whether team-manager Parnell is strong enough. A third BRM was run last year for George Eaton who simply got what he paid for. Eaton does not wish to re-new the deal but it appears there is another “customer”. Meanwhile both Rodriguez and Siffert are essentially “racers” and without the Stewart dedication to “test and development” driving BRM have hired the sacked Lotus driver John Miles to conduct their test programme.

And what of the “special builders”, those teams whose fame and fortune rest to a large extent on Cosworth Engineering, with the Ford Motor Company doing a little manipulating in the background for the favoured few. In 1970 Cosworth became very mixed up, with more engines than they could cope with, unforseen high-frequency vibrations when they upped the V8 to 10,000 r.p.m., and a number of disasters throughout the season of which Ferrari was quick to benefit. Lotus, McLaren, March, Tyrrell, Brabham, Surtees, De Tomaso and Bellasi were all in the hands of Cosworth Engineering last year, and all suffered badly. This year Cosworth is allowing outside firms to service the 1969 and 1970 engines, while they will maintain a small batch of 1971 engines for the favoured few and at the top of the list will undoubtedly be Team Lotus, still backed by Gold Leaf cigarettes. Drivers are the Lotus problem and Chapman considers Stewart and Ickx as the only two natural race-winners, and as he cannot have either of them he prefers to stick to Fittipaldi and Wisell and train them up to top standards. He doesn’t want an old “worker bee” or a driver who used to be good, he’s too ruthless for sentiment to enter into the equation. Although the Lotus 72 will take a lot of catching by the “copyists” it still has to rely on the Cosworth V8 engine and for this reason Lotus are developing a turbine-powered Grand Prix car, which Fittipaldi will no doubt do full justice to when it is ready. Chapman would still like to have Andretti as his number one driver, as would many of the Lotus mechanics, but “super-wop” will not commit himself to a complete Grand Prix season, his USAC racing still being the most important thing to him.

The Tyrrell Racing Organisation are keeping racing’s number one driver as their master card, for with Stewart on the payroll Tyrrell can command most things from most people, until they are bled white and withdraw, like Dunlop did last year. This year Stewart and Cevert will be racing Tyrrell cars on Goodyear tyres, and if the March 701 cars have not been sold they will probably be used for testing and training, or while the Tyrrell GP cars are being screwed together again. They are an obvious choice for the Cosworth 1972 “favoured list”, and we can rest assured that while all is well Stewart will be well out in front. The McLaren team is a different story, for in 1970 they failed to win a single Grand Prix, and it doesn’t look as though they will do much better in 1971, for Hulme and Gethin are to continue to be the Grand Prix team. During 1970 they perpetrated the most successful non-starter in the Alfa-Romeo-powered McLaren, and Alfa Romeo were not at all impressed with their treatment, so it no surprise that the McLaren/Alfa Romeo contract has not been renewed. This Anglo/Italian alliance has now passed to the March firm, to supplement the Cosworth-powered March cars. Last year the newly-formed March team, sponsored by STP, started the season with a set-up that looked all-powerful on paper, but which dwindled to nothing by the end of the year. The works drivers were Amon and Siffert, and the two leading customers’ cars were driven by Stewart and Andretti, but this year the scene is very different for that foursome have gone, although the STP backing remains, and Peterson is number one March driver with the new and interesting March 711 powered by Cosworth. The Austrian motor sport world have financed Dieter Quester into the second works March car, and the firm have the Alfa Romeo engine contract and, with it, de Adamich and Galli as drivers. They seem to have gone from four “aces” to four “jacks.” Their number one customer will be the Frank Williams organisation, which has abandoned the rather disastrous De Tomaso project, and a new March 711 will be driven for Williams by Pescarolo. This team will also have a March 701 as a spare car, and for the non-championship meetings, such as the Race of Champions, the Formula Three driver Trimmer will get a chance to handle 400 Cosworth horsepower.

After many years of being responsible for his own team but having to rely on other people to supply the cars, Rob Walker has made a major change. His racing team has been disbanded and he has become the sponsor of John Surtees, taking with him his Brooke Bond Oxo contract and the rather unsatisfactory Lotus 72 that he bought last year. With Surtees at the forefront there was no need for Walker to take a driver, so Graham Hill has been abandoned. Surtees will do all the driving and all the worrying, while Walker will be able to relax and enjoy the racing. The promising Surtees TS 7 will be their major weapon, reliant as always on Cosworth Engineering, but no doubt Surtees himself will try the Lotus 72, just to find out what the opposition are up to. In addition to the Walker/Brooke Bond Oxo set-up, there will be a second Surtees car driven by Stommelen and financed by Auto Motor und Sport, the young German driver’s backers. They dropped their association with the Brabham team so quietly that it was hardly noticeable, and Surtees picked it up equally quietly. With Jack Brabham retiring and handing all his interest to designer Tauranac, the purpose of the Brabham team seems to have disappeared and Tauranac looks a little bit lonely, so it is no surprise that he found another lonely fellow in Graham Hill and the two have joined forces, while the ever-hopeful Schenken seems to live in their shadow.

At one time British and Commonwealth drivers dominated the Grand Prix starting grids almost to the point of boredom, but the scene has changed and Grand Prix is truly International with the leading team drivers coming from Belgium, Switzerland, America, France, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Italy, Germany as well as Britain and her colonies.—D. S. J.

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