Formula Two review

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A fortnight after the second European Trophy round had been held at Thruxton 17 drivers made their way down to the historic French town of Pau in the Pyrenean foothills to compete on the demanding circuit round the streets. Formerly a non-championship Formula One race, the Pau event is not a Trophy round as the organisers like to select the drivers they want and not be bound to accept all those who have scored points. In any case this year they were particularly keen to choose their own runners as there are plenty of Frenchmen driving in Formula Two. As it turned out eight of the 16 starters were French, Alistair Walker being the unlucky and only reserve who didn’t get a race.

Hoping dearly for a win in front of his home crowd was Tecno Elf number one Francois Cevert, who was driving his regular Tecno fitted with a Pederzani-built BDA-based motor. Although little home opposition was expected from his team-mates, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Patrick Depailler, there was a surprise March entry for a French driver. This was the 712M usually driven by the Austrian Niki Lauda which had been prepared at the very last moment for Cevert’s brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Beltoise, by now thoroughly fed up with his uncompetitive Pygmée and glad to be back in a competitive Formula Two car for the first time since he drove a Matra MS7 in 1969.

As well as the two factory-run 712Ms for Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Jarier, which are jointly financed by Shell and wealthy furniture manufacturer M. Arnold, Frank Williams had done a deal to get former F3 Tecno driver, Jean Max, into Pescarolo’s regular car as he was driving an Alfa Romeo at Monza and Jo Siffert’s Chevron B18 was handled by Francois Mazet as the Swiss was also occupied with his sports car.

After starting from pole position, Cevert’s engine blew up when 10 of the 70 laps had been completed, Beltoise inheriting a huge lead. It looked as though the first F2 victory for a works March-would be scored by the Frenchman, but with just over two laps to go the contact breaker points in the distributor broke and the March glided to a silent halt. The race was thus handed to the Swiss LIRA-Team Lotus team leader Reine Wisell, who had worked up to second place after a low starting position.

For March team leader Ronnie Peterson luck was out again. During a wet practice session he went off in the Parc Beaumont and graunched the car heavily over a kerb as he did so. After an untimed session in the dry an hour or so before the race, a crack appeared in the gearbox casing at the point where the suspension plate is attached beneath the gearbox. Peterson’s mechanic welded it up at the last minute, hardly an encouraging sight for the driver, but predictably that was not good enough and the car retired after 10 laps when Peterson felt a disconcerting rocking movement from the rear end, which also caused it to jump out of gear.

Second place in the French event was taken by Jabouille’s Tecno after a challenge from the Rondel Brabhams of Graham Hill and Tim Schenken faded. Hill dropped back as his engine lost power and stopped with 10 laps to go with a blown head gasket, while Schenken had to make a pit stop to replace a sparking plug which had unscrewed itself.

Once again the March had proved itself to be a highly competitive car, even if Peterson’s press-on driving style sometimes aggravates its more fragile points, but Tecno, although encouraged by Cevert’s new circuit record at Pau, were rather worried about engines. The Frenchman blew up one new unit during first practice and had to take Depailler’s FVA out in order to practise on the second day. Then the new BDA fitted for race day put a connecting rod through the side of the block, meaning that one of Cevert’s team-mates were going to be without a drive at Nurburgring the following week. There were valuable points at stake at the German circuit, so Jabouille (who was the only one of the team not to have driven at Nurburgring) found himself packed off to Nogaro to drive his F3 Alpine Renault in a French national race, leaving Cevert and Depailler together.

Extensively altered to cater for the return of Formula One cars in August, Nurburgring has had many of its bumpy sections flattened (including the famous Brunnchen step which is now so changed that many drivers didn’t realise which section of the circuit they were on!) and has sandy run-off areas most of the way round as well as plenty of Armco and chicken wire fencing. While allegedly making the Nurburgring “safer” (Vittorio Brambilla still managed to finish up in a spectator enclosure during the race, injuring a woman) and providing better spectator facilities on the country sections, there is no doubt that some of the circuit’s special character has been destroyed. Making a welcome break in the Cosworth-engined ranks was one of the 1970 BMW engines installed in a March 712M for Austrian Dieter Quester.

The Frank Williams March team were back in full strength after their drivers’ Monza interlude and Derek Bell showed himself to be a really hard worker, finishing up the only driver to break the eight-minute barrier on the revised course in practice. Both Cevert and Peterson lapped very slightly slower and shared the front row with Bell. At the start Bell took an immediate lead and, along with Cevert and Peterson, quickly moved clear of the rest of the 37-car field chased by Emerson Fittipaldi (Lotus 69) and the Brabham BT30 of Argentinian Carlos Reutemann. This order remained the same until half-distance in the 10-lap race when Bell noticed his oil pressure sagging. He flung up his hand to indicate that he was stopping and Cevert had to swerve violently to avoid him, kicking up a shower of sand from the new run-off area. Peterson was momentarily blinded and just glanced the barrier with a rear wheel. It was only a very slight impact but it was sufficient to break the wheel rim and cause the tyre to deflate, March’s two chances of winning the race thus vanishing in one incident.

With his main opposition gone, Cevert cruised on to a comfortable win over Fittipaldi, who had tried hard with his unsorted and new Lotus but was unable to get to grips with the Tecno, and Reutemann, who was the fastest driver in the race with a 1970 car by a big margin. Privateer Peter Westbury, now on his third F2 car from Brabham, had an impressive first race in his BT36 and just beat Graham Hill’s similar car for fourth place. Niki Lauda, Wilson Fittipaldi and Helmut Marko took the remaining Trophy points in the next three places,

Cevert’s Trophy lead has now extended to 10 points after Nurburgring, Reutemann being second with 12 points, while Peterson retains third place with maximum points from the Thruxton race. Although the Tecno has scored in all three rounds to date it has been at great expense in damaged motors and eventually March must have some luck, Peterson being long overdue for his first Formula Two win.—A. H.