There were four new cars in the paddock for the Formula One race in Belgium, and a few minor changes among the regulars. The Copersucar financed Fittipaldi Team had a completely new car, designed by David Baldwin who had worked with Morris Nunn on the Ensign cars, so it was not surprising that the basic outline of the new yellow Fittipaldi was reminiscent of the dark blue Ensign. However, suspension details were quite a lot different, though following a conventional pattern with coil springs and the wedgenosed shape of the car used side-mounted radiators, and the normal Cosworth/Hewland layout at the rear. This new design, the third in the Fittipaldi line, following Richard Divila designs and Maurice Phillipe designs, was still manufactured in Brazil, as part of the Copersucar contract, but assembled and prepared in England, and was FD05/1 though the Fittipaldis want to forget the D for Divila! March Engineering produced a new car for Ian Scheckter and his Rothmans International backers, this being the 771, painted blue and yellow as distinct from their 761B which was blue and white. At a casual glance the only change on the new car appeared to be the use of a front-mounted water radiator in place of the two side-mounted radiators of the 761B, but closer inspection revealed a multitude of changes, particularly in the basic monocoque. The driving position is further forward, the fuel tanks have been re-arranged, with a cross-tank behind the driving seat, and the bulk-heads and suspension mountings are all new. The overall change is a much lighter car with a different centre of gravity and different handling. (We don’t ask March what happened to their six-wheeler!) The Hesketh Motor Company completed a third 1977 car, 308E/3, which was bought by the 21-year-old Mexican Hector Rebaque, who has been racing in various small single-seaters for some time and now tries Formula One. The fourth new car was a brand new McLaren M23, number 14 in the series as nobody wanted to take a chance on chassis number 13! This has been built from scratch by B and S Fabrications of Luton for Brett Lunger and his Chesterfield backers. Bob Sparshott and his men at Luton manufacture numerous specialist parts for the McLaren team and look after the preparation of Lunger’s cars, so it was the obvious thing to do, to build the whole new M23 at their Luton works, the car being identical to the works M23 cars. Their previous experience of building March cars illustrated to them the great difference between a productionised “kit-car” that can be thrown together and a finely-designed car produced without cost-cutting or coinpromise. It took longer than anticipated to build up the McLaren but the end result was very satisfying for all concerned.
The Spanish driver Villota was running his ex-works McLaren M23/6, so with the three works cars, there were five McLarens in the paddock. The M26/2 had been brought out again, after missing Monaco, and now had a single oil radiator mounted in the chisel nose, like the Lotus and Wolf arrangement. As a stand-by for Hunt, should the M26 fail, was M23/11, while Jochen Mass was still faithful to M23/12.
Team Lotus had their usual three cars, 78/3 for Andretti, 78/2 for Nilsson and 78/1 as the spare, but as if by premonition or something, the spare was standing by with Nilsson’s number 6 on it. During testing at the Zolder circuit the previous week the Swede had tried a transmission with the Salisbury limited-slip differential, as used by Andretti in Spain, in place of the more normal ZF-type, but found he could not get on with the different driving technique required. For official practice he reverted to the ZF-type unit, while Andretti stayed with the Salisbury unit and its low percentage slip setting. The blue and white Tyrrell six-wheelers still did not seem to be sure of where they were going, having variations in wheelbase, front track, brakebalance and rear wheel geometry. They were using P34/5 (Peterson), P34/7 (Depailler) and P34/6 with Depailler’s number on it, as the spare car.
The Alfa Romeo-powered Brabhams had very deep side-plates to their rear aerofoils and a re-arrangement of the air scoops in the nose cowlings in order to duct more air to the front brakes, as the little Zolder circuit is hard on brakes. The cars were the usual trio, BT45/5B (Watson), BT45/1B (Stuck) and BT45/3B the spare. Since Monaco the March team had rebuilt Ribeiro’s car around a new monocoque, 761B/3-2, and had also supplied a new 761 monocoque to the Frank Williams team. In pre-race testing Patrick Neve had crashed the original car and a lot of hard work had produced 761/7A-2 out of the remains of 761/7A. As the new March 771/1 had not done much running, Ian Scheckter had 761B/1 standing by as a spare. The Ferrari team of Lauda and Reutemann were using 312T2/030 and 029, respectively, with 027 as the communal spare and Shadow were unchanged, with DN8/1A (Patrese), DN8/3A (Jones) and DN8/4A the spare car. Similarly, Team Surtees were unchanged with cars, having TS19/01, 02, and 06, but whereas Brambilla was still in 06 and 02 was the team spare, Larry Perkins had replaced Binder in TS19/01, albeit only for one race, it was being said.
-The one-man Wolf team of Jody Scheckter had an identical pair of cars as usual, this time WR2 and WR3. the later of the two cars having its twin to race this time, while WR2 acted as the spare car. Morris Nunn’s Ensign team had their matched pair, MN06 and MN07 for Regazzoni, planning to use the earlier car, with the newer one as stand-by, whereas both the Ligier team and the German ATS-Penske teams were using their 02 cars, with the 01 car as stand-by. The “old” Fittipaldi car FD04/3 was standing around in the paddock, but there was no intention of using it, with the nice new one to play with. The Hesketh-supported pair, Keegan and Ertl, had their usual cars, 308E/1 and 308E/2, respectively. The V12 BRM P207/01 appeared again, still with Swedish driver Connie Anderson at the wheel.
Of the remaining private-owners David Purley had his Mike Pilbeam-designed LEC CRP/I , with detail revision of oil radiator mountings, Boy Hayje had the F & S Properties March 761/3, Merzario had his own March 761B/2 and Brian Henton had hired his March 761/7 to the young Belgian Bernard de Dryver. – D.S.J.