Everyone turned up in good order and well prepared for the Zolder race, as far as the cars were concerned, and before practice began the paddock was brimming over with mechanical interest. However, by the end of the day of the race the paddock looked like a scrap yard and what had once been an impressive and gleaming array of Grand Prix cars had been turned into a disturbing collection of wrecks with damaged suspension, chassis and engines, and those few that survived the race were looking pretty second-hand.
It is hard to remember such a story of mechanical disasters and crashes, except perhaps some years at Monte Carlo, when only a handful of cars finished the race there. During the pre-race discussions on the desirability of holding the event on the suspect surface the Constructors were never in two minds; at all times they insisted the race took place, and some even went so far as to read the riot act to their drivers, and told them to get on with the driving and to talk less. When the material damage was added up after the event some people wondered if they had made a mistake. The Tyrrell team were the only ones to leave Zolder with everything intact, both Tyrrell drivers keeping their cars in one piece throughout practice and the race, and both avoided spinning off on the loose surface.
The John Player Team Lotus were never so strong as they were when they arrived, with four shining black and gold Lotus 72 cars, and were never so weak as they were at the end of the race, with one very sick car struggling home in third place and two wrecked cars. From the beginning of the year Lotus have been promising Fittipaldi and Peterson that they would each have identical pairs of cars, and this was achieved at Zolder with R5, R6, R7 and R8 all lined up and virtually identical, certainly so in all major aspects. Fittipaldi had the choice of R5 and R7, with a psychological bent towards R5, even though the “funny feeling” of R7 at Barcelona had been eradicated, though nothing had actually been found amiss. Peterson had the choice of R6 and R8, and apart from making a definite choice of R6, he did his best to negate the mechanics’ efforts in preparation by crashing both cars on Sunday morning. If he didn’t drive so hard and so fast, and get pole position, a lot of Team Lotus people could “go off” Super Swede. After practice he decided to race R6 and it was meticulously prepared on Saturday evening, everything being inspected and crack-tested and R8 was put to one side. On Sunday morning Peterson took the race-prepared R6 out in the untimed practice, spun off in the chicane and wiped off the oil radiator and rear aerofoil mounting against the guard-rail. His mechanics rushed about and put wheels on R8 and petrol in its tanks, checked the brake system and what else they could do in the time, and Peterson set off in it assuming he would have to use it for the race. It was not long before he was seen returning to the pits sitting on the back of Fittipaldi’s car. He had gone off the road again and this time really smashed up the front of R8, its wheels dangling at all angles from the broken suspension.
Fortunately, amidst all the driver strikes and protests, the mechanics never thought of strikes or “work to rule”, their only thought being to get their cars into the race and win. The back end of R8 was undamaged, so the oil radiator, aerofoil mounting and so on were removed from the wreck and fitted on to R6 and Peterson was able to start the race with more or less the original car that had been race-prepared. To see him shriek off into the lead, even though it was for only one lap, must have been some recompense for the Lotus mechanics, but when later in the race he spun off on the loose surface and crashed into the catch fence, fortunately with not too much damage, there must have been some in Team Lotus who were beginning to get a little tired of their Superstar.
The quiet Brazilian, quiet that is until recently when he has been doing more talking than driving like certain other drivers we try not to mention, was far less trouble to his team and redeemed himself by nursing a very sick car along into third place. In practice Fittipaldi could not really decide between R5 and R7; while one had brake problems the other had fuel system trouble, and when one trouble was cured on one car it then seemed to appear on the other, and so it went on all through practice with the result that the reigning World Champion was only ninth fastest and on the fifth row of the grid instead of on the front row. Although he philosophically says the object is to finish the race in first place, not the practice, it does not do his image much good to be in the fifth row and it allows the opposition to gain confidence, and think “he’s not unbeatable”.
A World Champion who takes pole position every time, with fastest lap at every practice, has the opposition mentally unbalanced before the flag falls, and that must be an advantage. After chopping and changing from R5 to R7 and back again, Fittipaldi decided to use R7 in the race, but was still driving R5 on Sunday morning, and it was brought out to the pits when the cars went off to line up on the grid. He raced R7, but it never went properly, a loss of fuel pressure affecting the injection system so that the engine went dreadfully flat and by the end of the race would barely drag the car along. Showing the admirable trait that he possesses, to keep going at all costs, and with mechanical feeling and sympathy, which is lacking in so many drivers, Fittipaldi coaxed the car to the finish, on the same lap as the leader, but did not attempt to make a slowing-down lap.
While the Lotus team was one of drama and despair the Tyrrell team was one of brilliance and joy. Stewart and Cevert had the latest cars for the race, Stewart in 006/2 and Cevert in 006. During the Saturday practice Stewart was worried by a vibration when braking, and no doubt mentally disturbed by brake failure in South Africa and at Barcelona, was very much against the “inboard” front brake set-up. Just before practice ended 006/2 was converted to “outboard” front brakes, leaving the “inboard” discs in place, but removing the tubular driveshafts. It was all done too late so that Stewart did not manage enough laps to draw conclusions, apart from knowing that the worrying vibration was still there. On Sunday morning he tried the car again, this time with the “inboard” discs and all the mechanism removed, and it was in this form that he raced and won with 006/2, but undoubtedly it was the driver who won the race, not the car.
His team-mate was content with 006 in standard form with “inboard” front brakes and on Sunday morning he tried the spare car briefly. This was 005 and it had the front-mounted water radiator removed and replaced by two radiators; one on each side of the engine at the rear of the cockpit, with side ducts feeding air into them. The oil radiator was mounted at the front and in place of the normal full-width blunt nose there was a very shapely wedge nose, like a Lotus 72, with a duct in the top surface of the wedge to feed air to the oil radiator. It was a very good looking car but was not used for much length of time and Cevert raced his usual car, number 006. Apart from a harmless spin, when he “overcooked it” on braking, Cevert kept out of trouble, as did Stewart, so that the Tyrrell team finished an impressive 1-2, with a pair of worn, but sound, cars and an undamaged spare car.
The Ferrari engineers were not convinced of the B3 model and though there was an entry for Merzario it was not taken up and Ickx had the two new cars to play with whereas in Barcelona 011 had side radiators and 010 a front radiator, both cars were now using front radiators, and in addition 010 had been fitted with the later new aerofoil mounting of fabricated box-section in sheet steel, in place of the earlier tubular mounting. The only difference in the two cars was that 011 had a new oil tank and scavenge system of piping, but during practice it proved unsatisfactory so Ickx concentrated on 010 and it was prepared for the race with a new engine. During the Sunday morning test-session lckx saw the oil pressure drop dramatically and switched off in time before any damage was done, In the short time before the race was due to start the car was lifted up onto trestles, all the left-side exhaust pipes removed and the cluster of oil pumps were unbolted from the underside of the crankcase, where they sit externally. A needle from a roller bearing was found jammed in one of the pumps, which had locked solid and sheared the drive.
With fingers crossed and hoping that the filters would catch any more wayward needle rollers the pump assembly from the spare engine was fitted and the car was ready for the race (they hoped). It lasted just six laps before the engine gave out a cloud of smoke. Subsequent investigation showed that another needle roller had got into the oil pump and locked it solid and when the engine was stripped, back at Maranello, it was found that the “separator” which should prevent any debris getting to the pumps had had a tiny hole punched in it by the first wayward needle roller, coming from a bearing that had failed in the timing case, and another one had found its way through this hole.
The other Italian built flat-12-cylinder engine at Zolder was the Pederzani in the Tecno, and in practice it suffered a broken valve. They had another engine with them, with improved head gasket sealing, and this one lasted the race. This race was the first appearance of the 1973 Tecno, sponsored by Martini, and the chassis was designed by New Zealander Alan McCall, it being fairly simple and orthodox, with an aluminium “monocoque” tub of uninspiring shape, with rocker-arm front suspension, the “rockers” being made from large diameter tubing and looking like Victorian bridge-engineering. The flat-12 Pederzani engine is attached to the back of the “monocoque” and drives through a Hewland transmission, with orthodox rear suspension by wishbone, link and radius rods, while coil-spring/damper units are used all-round. A nice-sounding car but not a very interesting looking one.
The BRM team had a brand-new P160 car to the latest E-specification, with the mandatory “safety-cladding” on the outside of the chassis “monocoque”. This was P160/0/3 and was used by Lauda, while Regazzoni had 07 and Beltoise had 03. To try various detail differences in tyres and suspension geometry they had a spare car, which was PI60/05. Lauda went quite well, his enthusiasm for racing making him try hard, if somewhat untidily, and but for a last minute stop for petrol he would have been a worthy fourth in the race. Beltoise suffered throughout the race with an electrical fault that affected the ignition and this was traced, on the return to Bourne, to a short-circuit in the fire-extinguishing system’s electrical switch. Regazzoni’s car was slightly damaged on one corner as a result of his spin-off on the marbles, so that BRM’s total repair bill was not desperate, and the sandy atmosphere had not worn out the engines as badly as it does at Zandvoort.
Of the remaining teams, with their Cosworth V8-powered cars, the UOP-Shadow team claimed to have suffered most, for in practice Follmer crashed his car and damaged the right front corner, putting a kink in the “monocoque”, and breaking the suspension mountings. These were patched-up satisfactorily and the car raced with the “monocoque” still kinked. Oliver’s car used up an engine in practice, and in the race when he crashed into Hailwood’s abandoned car the Shadow was so badly damaged that only one corner was salvaged. Back at Northampton after the event DN1/1A, as such was scrapped and a new car was built, while Follmer’s car DN1/2A had to have a new side to its chassis, and UOP reckoned the event had cost them £10,000.
The Surtees Team were not too bad until Oliver crashed into Hallwood’s car, which needed a rebuilt front end as well as the rear end. Pace’s car had a bad weekend, as he crashed it in practice, which called for some temporary repairs and the out-of-balance wheel in the race shook everything loose, so that a complete rebuild was needed. A brand new car was built up before Monaco and the Zolder car was rebuilt as a spare car and the estimate was a very reasonable £2,000.
The Williams team suffered an engine blow up on IR/01, when a piston broke, and when Ganley went off the road in IR/02 he damaged the front end, which needed a new front bulkhead and suspension parts to put right. Apart from the rebuild of the Cosworth engine the repairs involved some aluminium sheet, rivets and tubing, which Frank Williams estimated at “a couple of hundred quid or so”.
The McLaren team, with M23/1 and M23/2 suffered mostly from worn out engines, the sand playing havoc with the pistons and liners, and estimated about £1,000 to overhaul an engine and make it ready to race again. Revson’s car was not too badly damaged, even though Jarier’s March ran into it, and equally the March was not as expensively damaged as feared at first. The Brabham team’s major expense came from Reutemann’s Cosworth engine breaking a connecting rod, while de Adamich got them a well-earned fourth place with BT37/2, replacing BT37/1 which was written off in Spain.
When the wreckage was retrieved after the race things looked bad for everyone, but after the dirt and sand had been brushed away it was found to be reasonable, and through it all no-one received a bruise or a scratch which says a great deal for the circuit safety precautions, but even more for the survival propensities of the “modern monocoque racer” and its “survival cell” in which the driver is contained.
Once more there was no sign of the Ensign.—D.S.J.