F2 review: Fittipaldi finds form

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After a rather shaky start to the F2 season, Lotus scored two wins on the trot in May and both were provided by Gold Leaf Team Lotus’ F1 team-leader Emerson Fittipaldi driving his Team Bardahl-entered car. At Jarama victory was handed to him on a plate when Tim Schenken’s Rondel Racing Brabham BT36 retired with loss of oil pressure when there were only four of the 60 laps left to run, but a fortnight later Fittipaldi beat both Schenken and Ronnie Peterson fair and square at the Whit Monday Crystal Palace meeting.

The victories came as something of a surprise to most F2 observers, to whom complaints about the “poor-handling” Lotus 69 have been rife of late. Modifications to the car’s design (which was judged to be a success in the late Jochen Rindt’s hands in 1970) have included revised suspension geometry with new lower front wishbones and longer spring/damper units as well as thicker rear uprights with different pick-up points at the rear. Most owners have been going their own way in private testing and coming up with different wings, nose fins and suspension adjustments without actually getting the car to behave much better. Wisell snatched Pau from Beltoise, but it wasn’t until the Eifelrennen, where Emerson Fittipaldi finished a strong second, that the Lotus looked a potential winner for the first time since Birrell went so well at Mallory Park back in March.

Even so, the best position that Fittipaldi junior could manage in practice round the tight and twisty Jarama circuit near Madrid was on the outside of the third row. Pole position, as usual, went to Peterson’s March, while Schenken’s Brabham broke up an all-March front row alongside Jean-Pierre Jaussaud’s Shell/Arnold car. Ranged behind them were SCCA Formula A champion John Cannon in his private March, Austrian Dieter Quester (Eifelland March BMW), an off-form Francois Cevert, who had blown up yet another of the Pederzani’s BDA motors in practice, Carlos Reutemann and E. Fittipaldi. Schenken led from the start and, with Peterson in his slipstream, pulled well clear of a tight threesome comprising Quester, Emerson Fittipaldi and Cevert in the allegedly ill-handling Tecno.

For once Peterson didn’t take the lead, shadowing the leading Brabham until lap 21 when he made his familiar way to the pits with a badly-smashed valve which ruined the cylinder head and piston concerned. After a fierce dice, in which Quester was making things difficult for his opponents by weaving from side to side on the start/finish straight, Emerson Fittipaldi fought his way through to the head of the third-place battle and gradually edged away. Meanwhile, Cevert, who had always been at the tail of this three-car bunch, slid into the barrier on the outside of the fast downhill right-hander before the pits when a tyre deflated, wrecking his Tecno’s chassis but escaping without injury.

Schenken was driving one of his best-ever Formula Two races and had some 20 seconds in hand with a mere four laps left to run when the oil pressure gauge needle sank to zero and the Australian coasted to a standstill opposite the pits. Emerson Fittipaldi inherited a comfortable lead over Quester and reeled off the remaining laps to win his first Formula Two race, the Austrian taking maximum European Trophy points at this race as Fittipaldi is, of course, a graded driver. Carlos Reutemann finished in third place, although he was briefly headed by Cannon until the Formula A driver dropped back to fourth as his water temperature soared.

A fortnight after the Spanish event round five of the European Trophy was run round the tight little South London road circuit at Crystal Palace and an enormous entry of 61 competitors had been received by the organising club. Fortunately some of the less optimistic Continental entries failed to materialise, but there were still some 46 cars which turned up to scrap for the 32 grid positions contained in the two 45-lap heats. The first six cars in each heat were destined to go through to the 50-lap final and the remaining four places were filled by those competitors with the fastest four individual laps in their heats, irrespective of whether they finished or not.

The first heat sprung a big surprise. Silvio Moser, in his ex-John Coombs Brabham BT30 (the car which won this race last year with Jackie Stewart driving), led from start to finish chased by Jean-Pierre Jarier’s March. Reine Wisell’s London International Lotus 69 got through to briefly challenge the Swiss only to retire with fuel pump failure, leaving Jarier second from Peter Westbury (Brabham BT36).

Peterson powered into the lead of the second heat only to come into the pits when a fuel pipe became detached on the second lap, leaving Pescarolo, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jaussaud scrapping for the lead. Peterson rejoined after repairs had been effected, gaining a place in the final by a fast individual lap, while Pescarolo pulled in 12 laps from the finish, leaving Fittipaldi to win ahead of Jaussaud and Schenken. Pescarolo was another to make the final on this fastest-lap system. Things were bad for Trophy leader Cevert, who damaged two more motors in practice and was then hit from behind under-braking by Brazilian F2 debutant, Carlos Pace, in a Lotus 69 hired from John Blades as his new Frank Williams-run March was not yet ready. Cevert trailed in with a puncture and bent rear wing and, although he rejoined, soon stopped with fuel pump failure.

Peterson was well back on the grid for the final by dint of some frantic weaving past the cars in front of him. He was sixth as they arrived at the first corner and fourth at the end of the first lap behind Emerson Fittipaldi, Schenken and Jaussaud. Although he fought past Jaussaud and then Schenken he could make no impression on the leading Lotus. The March was proving rather a handful on this occasion as the team were trying new shock-absorber settings for the first time. With two laps to go Peterson understeered wide as they shot out of the downhill Park Curve which leads on to the back straight and Schenken shot through, and held second place.

Jaussaud finished fourth ahead of Carlos Reutemann, who was having one of his less-inspired days but nonetheless collected three Trophy points, Birrell and Moser who didn’t repeat his first heat form and was penalised 10 seconds for a push start. Cevert still clings to his Trophy lead with 22 points to Reutemann’s 21, while Peterson and Schenken share third place with 15 apiece. The next European Trophy race is at Rouen-les-Essarts on June 27th.—A. H.