1972 Spanish Grand Prix race report

Emerson Fittipaldi driving at the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix for Lotus

Emerson Fittipaldi claimed victory at the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix for Lotus

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– a Lotus come-back
Jarama, Madrid, May 1st

The Spanish event was the first World Championship Grand Prix on the European continent for 1972, and it was the turn of the artificial Jarama circuit, north of Madrid, to play host to the country’s major race, it being run last year at Barcelona, Time is a great healer, for two years ago when the Spanish GP was held at Jarama the whole affair was a bit of an organisational farce and afterwards everyone stormed off saying “never again”. Fortunately the organisation learnt from their mistakes and this year the race ran as smoothly as the previous one had been turbulent.

In order to coincide with a national holiday, in the hope of attracting larger crowds the race was to be held on Monday, May 1st, so practice was arranged for the previous Saturday and Sunday, from 12 noon until 2 p.m. on both days. Surprisingly there were no grumbles from the teams or demands for more practice, probably because they had all had a good slog round before the Saturday official session. Indeed, one got the impression that there was a distinct groove worn round the circuit and all you had to do was to slot your car into the groove and set off. Your time depended on how fast you entered the straight past the pits, what speed you attained down the hill onto the straight, and how brave you were in braking for the sharp right-hand bend at the end. The rest of this twisty little artificial circuit is all stop-and-go and not much of a test of a real Grand Prix driver or much of a challenge to their skill, and to listen to some of today’s top drivers you get the impression that the last thing they want is a challenge to their ability; you are supposed to accept that because they are in a Formula One car they have inordinate skill and ability and you should not ask them to prove it. With a lap speed of just over 95 m.p.h. the Jarama circuit is not exactly a circuit to prove the ability of a great Grand Prix driver, in just the same way that Brands Hatch club circuit or Mallory Park does not prove the value of an ace motorcycle rider like the Isle of Man TT circuit does.


Jacky Ickx takes a corner in his Ferrari at the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama

Jacky Ickx put his Ferrari on pole

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With only two hours in which to put in a good lap in the 1 min. 20 sec. bracket nobody wasted any time in getting under way on Saturday and the pits were somewhat chaotic with cars dashing in and out, lucky drivers swopping from one car to a spare one, waves of advertising men poncing up and down with sponsor’s troupes of colourful dolly-birds, cars being wheeled off for repair, others being wheeled in for action, everyone trying to time their own driver as well as the opposition, and all the fun of the fair and the merry-go-round. The only thing missing was a performing monkey. Meanwhile the very efficient timekeepers were logging the whole affair and when the pandemonium died down they produced some revealing figures. Fittipaldi E., as distinct from Fittipaldi W., was the only driver to get below 1 min. 20.sec., with a time of 1 min. 19.79 sec., his nearest rival being Stewart with 1 min. 20.27 sec. which he recorded in Tyrrell 004, the newest of the timber-merchant’s cars. Fittipaldi did a total of 38 laps in his black and gold Lotus, while Stewart did 28 laps in each of his cars, wasting no time in getting back in the swing of things, not having raced since the South African GP back in March. An interesting fact was that Andretti did only 5 laps in his Ferrari before the engine blew up yet he recorded a best lap of l min. 21.84 sec., whereas most people did around 30 laps of practice and not many were faster than the Italian-American driver. The record for practice must surely have gone to Ecclestone’s Brabham team, for Hill did 44 laps in the new BT37 and Wilson Fittipaldi did 49 laps in the old BT33, so neither of them experienced much trouble, for there just was not time tor any.

The March works team were the complete reverse and the new 721X cars were being very tiresome, Lauda’s new gear-change mechanism giving the mechanics headaches, and Beuttler’s experimental 721G was nothing like race-worthy. With twenty-six drivers thrashing round the two hours of practice passed incredibly quickly but it did mean plenty of time for repairs, renovation or preparation for the next official session at the same time on Sunday. With the excellent pits arrangement whereby each pit is its own self-contained garage and workshop, the teams merely had to close up the pit-counter shutters at the end of practice and get on with their work without moving any tools or equipment, an arrangement that other circuit builders could well copy.

At midday on Sunday the Ring Master gave the signal and the merry-go-round started up again, faster and more furiously than before, for this was the last opportunity to get a good position on the starting grid. At one time it was a matter of personal pride for a top driver to be on pole position on the grid, but today one gets the impression that the main reason is to get the sponsor’s name or colour scheme to the forefront of any starting-line photographs that might be published. During the opening hour Hulme and Andretti seemed to throw caution to the winds and have a little private dust-up that was enjoyable to watch, and the Ferrari team were trying old-fashioned type narrow nose cowlings in place of this year’s full-width Tyrrell-type cowlings. Fittipaldi was looking impressively smooth and unhurried, yet consistently under 1 min. 20 sec., and seemed to be getting the best out of the Lotus 72, which is still the most stable-looking of today’s cars when driven properly. Unfortunately his practice came to a sudden stop when the Cosworth engine broke, so Walker was taken out of the second Lotus 72 (John Player Special to the 1972 “with it, whizz-kids”) and Fittipaldi continued practice in it, running under Walker’s number of 21 instead of his own number 5, the timekeepers being informed and noting the fact to avoid any confusion. During his practice in 72/R5 Fittipaldi came in for a practice wheel change of all four wheels, the John Player Team Lotus mechanics doing the whole thing at speed as if during the race. It was interesting to see two mechanics loosen the front hub nuts, then each grasp a wishbone and lift the whole front of the car into the air while Team Manager Peter Warr slid a small stand under the car onto which they lowered it After changing the wheels they picked the car up again and he took the stand out. Meanwhile mechanics at the rear were using a conventional quick-lift lever-type jack. The whole operation took 1 min. 35 sec., more than a lap lost, had they been racing, which gave food for thought. The objection to using quick-lift lever jacks at both ends is that such jacks need to pull the car towards the operator as it is lifted up, and if you get a jack at each end pulling simultaneously you get check-mate. If you get them unsynchronised the car rocks backwards and forwards and has been known to fall off the static jack. There is still a lot of development work to do in lifting up the modern Grand Prix car with its multitude of tubes and rods in the suspension area that cannot be used to take the weight of the car. Another thing that this Lotus demonstration showed up was that the wide alloy wheels with peg-drive are not easy to slot in place quickly and first-time. Chapman was preparing for possible weather changes in the race, rather than tyre wear, for the clear blue sunny skies of the middle of Spain had given way to grey skies and cold winds and the weather forecast for race day was not good.

Just as the day before Fittipaldi had been the only one to get below 1 min. 20.sec., today Ickx put himself at the top by being the only one to get below 1 min. 19 sec:, with a fastest lap of 1 min. 18.43 sec., doing 32 laps of practice in achieving it, having done 31 the day before. Hulme, Fittipaldi, Stewart, Andretti, Amon, Beltoise, Regazzoni, Peterson and Wisell all got below 1 min. 20 sec., and Revson with 1 min. 20.11 sec undoubtedly would have joined them had the Cosworth engine in his McLaren not consistently hesitated every time he opened the throttles wide. Hailwood and Schenken in the works Surtees cars were very unhappy as their cars seemed to want to spin the inside rear wheels on leaving the numerous sharp corners, while de Adamich was beaming happily through his spectacles for his “private” Surtees was giving no trouble at all and he was lapping faster than the works team. With John Surtees away in Japan, ostensibly for the purpose of winning the Japanese GP, there was an unhappy greyness about the Surtees pits. In this session Stewart put in only 21 laps in 003 and 20 in 004, content with fourth fastest time and a position on the second row of the grid alongside Andretti; his team-mate Cevert was not smiling his usual radiant smile, for he was way down in row 5 of the grid. Peterson was only just ahead of Cevert, and alongside his fellow Swedish-ace Wisell, who was driving for BRM in place of Marko who was in Italy having a go in BRM’s Cam-Am cum Interserie car at Imola. Peterson did a few laps in Lauda’s 721 X March, but the Bicester firm were not bubbling over with confidence, whereas the McLaren team looked extremely confident and quiet about the whole thing. Hulme had gone very quickly in the 1972 car, M 19C/1, but towards the end of practice he took out last year’s car M19A/1 and went even faster, deciding to use it for the race. Amon was in amongst the aces with the works V12 Matra, its exhaust note still being one of the best things that has ever happened in motor racing, Whereas Fittipaldi was fast and looked slow in the Lotus 72, Amon was fast and looked fast in the Matra, the French car appearing to keep him unduly busy, the nose rising and falling alarmingly under acceleration and braking, and there is a lot of that at Jarama. It was braking that appeared to be worrying Gethin more than anything else with the P180 BRM, it looking very unstable on some corners. Beltoise did a mere handful of slow laps in his P180, putting all his efforts into the 1971 P160. Graham Hill was well and truly beaten in the endurance stakes, doing a mere 45 laps in the two hours, as both Revson and Cevert covered 47 laps each and Wilson Fittipaldi ran him close with 44 laps, so that the Ecclestone team of Brabhams still held the distance and reliability record for a two-car team even if they did not break any lap records, the two drivers amassing 182 laps between them in the two days. By sheer weight of numbers the BRM drivers, with six cars, amassed 288 laps of practice between them, the result of it all being one car in the middle of the third row of the grid, one in the fourth and the rest down at the back. Lotus achieved one car on the from row and one car on the back row for a total of only 118 laps, and Ferrari achieved the best result with one car on the front row in pole position, one on the second row and one on the third row, for a total of 168 laps.

Taken all round, practice was very tidy and orderly, no one doing anything desperate or heroic and on the Sunday quite a lot of spectators turned up to watch the activities. The result of it all was that of the 26 drivers taking part all but Lauda and Beuttler improved on the existing lap record set up in 1970 by Jack Brabham, in 1 min. 24.3 sec. and the same 24 were all faster than the fastest practice lap of that year, which was 1 min. 23.9 sec., also by Brabham, so that something has been achieved in the past two years, even if it is only tyre development. At 1 min. 25.48 sec. Beuttler was deemed too slow to be allowed to start, so the brand new March 721G was loaded onto its trailer and covered over. In actual fact the fuel system was still presenting problems and the car was nothing like ready to race.


Jacky Ickx sits in his Ferrari before the start of the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama.

Ickx sits in his Ferrari waiting for the start

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Monday morning dawned depressingly wet and cold, but the rain soon stopped and by mid-morning the Jarama circuit was drying rapidly, aided by a strong wind blowing from the snow-capped Sierra de Guadarrama, to the north-west of the circuit, this wind being icy cold and freezing the occupants of the grandstands along the main straight opposite the pits. The start was due to take place at 12 noon and the race length was 90 laps of the 3.4-kilometre (2.12-mile) circuit. Everyone was allowed some warm-up laps to see the condition of the circuit, during which time all vestiges of damp disappeared from the track and the twenty-five cars were lined up on the “dummy-grid” ready to race under dry conditions, though there was a bit of a flutter in the tyre department when a few spots of rain started to fall, but nothing developed. The whole field moved forward to the starting grid and as the Spanish flag was lowered everyone got away. Lowered was the operative word, for the race director brought the flag down in a slow steady movement and most drivers expected it to flash down. Not so Hulme, who was gone from the centre of the front row at the first ripple of the starter’s muscles, while Ickx and Fittipaldi waited until they saw some definite movement of the flag. The lead that Hulme’s McLaren had going into the first corner took most people by surprise and all eyes were on this incredible start so that few saw the red STP-March of Peterson swoop to the outside of the track, get into difficulties on the edge, rush back into the pack and bounce off Beltoise’s BRM, pushing the March nose cowling down at the right-front corner. Undeterred, Peterson continued in the rush to the first corner, promptly spun and caused an almighty dodging act amongst the tail-enders, during which Hill’s Brabham was punted to the side where the engine stalled. No one was damaged and Peterson soon carried on his way, next to last, and Hill finally joined in in last place. Meanwhile, up at the front where it matters, Hulme was out in the lead, followed by Stewart, Regazzoni, Ickx, E. Fittipaldi, Andretti, Beltoise and Wisell, the rest being more or less in an orderly procession. Hulme’s superstart got everyone switched on pretty quickly and he soon had a trio bearing down on him, in the order Stewart, Ickx and Fittipaldi. These three closed up on the McLaren as one and passing the pits starting lap five Stewart went by into the lead. At the end of the next lap Stewart still led, but Hulme, Ickx and Fittipaldi were in a tight bunch and as they reached the corner at the end of the straight they were about to lap Hill’s Brabham. Stewart’s Tyrrell had already gone by Hill, so he knew the others were about to arrive and he kept well over to the right, out of the way but the presence of the white Brabham in their line for the corner caused a bit of dodging and quick decision making on the part of the battling trio. In the sort of manoeuvre that Jimmy Clark would have revelled in, Fittipaldi shot his black and gold Lotus 72 through on the inside of everything and came out of the corner leading the group and in second place behind the fleeing Stewart. On the next lap on this same corner the Spaniard Soler-Roig went off the road in his BRM, only the Spanish being concerned, as there were more interesting things happening up at the front of the race. With no one around him Fittipaldi closed up on Stewart at an absurd pace, even while the TV commentators were making platitudes about “Stewart pulling out a commanding lead, just as he did so often last year”. He actually led for a mere four laps, because then Fittipaldi went by the Tyrrell under braking at the end of the straight as if he was passing a back-marker, and it was then all over, he just drew away smoothly and relentlessly in a manner that brought a smile to Colin Chapman’s face and made up for all the troubles of the past two seasons. On lap 15 Ickx took his Ferrari past Stewart and things settled down a bit in the order Fittipaldi (Lotus), Ickx (Ferrari), Stewart (Tyrrell)„ Hulme (McLaren). Andretti (Ferrari), Regazzoni (Ferrari), Amon (Matra) and a big surprise, de Adamich (Surtees), the bespectacled Italian going extremely well, and not only holding eighth place behind all the works stars, but keeping up with him, so that there was quite a gap before the rest of the runners arrived, led Wilson Fittipaldi and Hailwood. The gear-change on the BRM of Beltoise was giving trouble, and he had gone to the pits and the limited-slip mechanism in Lauda’s March differential did not seem to be able to make up its mind when to slip and when to limit and he decided he could not drive the car properly, so gave up, aided by an accelerator pedal that was becoming sticky in its movement. Wisell’s BRM was also in the pits by this time and just after Ickx had taken second place from Stewart, the second works March was withdrawn as Peterson had passed seven of the back-markers but the strain had taken the edge off his Cosworth engine and in addition there was a fuel leak and the handling had been put out a bit in the initial bumping and boring.

Andretti overtook Hulme and it looked as though we might he going to see the USAC driver fulfil some of the promise he has shown for so long in Europe, but it was not to he, for his Ferrari engine broke soon after taking fourth place and he was out. Hailwood dissappeared into the pits with an electrical fault and a deflating tyre and Ganley also visited his mechanics to enlist their help in trying to make his BRM engine run properly. While all this was going on Fittipaldi was buildng up the lead that Stewart was supposed to be going to do, it opened up to more than five seconds over the Ferrari of Ickx, while Stewart was not really keeping with them. After 25 laps a slight sprinkling of rain began, not enough to make anyone dash to the pits or rain tyres, but sufficient to make everyone tread very warily on their ‘slick” dry-weather tyres. Although the leading Lotus and the second place Ferrari were both running on Firestone tyres, they were using lightly different types, those on the Ferrari giving Ickx a slight advantage in this light shower of rain and he wasted no time in closing right up on the Lotus and at 30 laps the two cars were nose-to-tail, although Ickx never looked as if he was going to attempt to pass, and Fittipaldi did not look as though he was going to let him try. They were lapping the slower cars and Fittipaldi nipped by the second black and gold Anus 72, driven by Walker just before the tight wiggly section behind he pits, so that Ickx lost a bit of ground awaiting his opportunity to lap Walker. The rain did not develop and the icy wind soon dried what little there had been, so the situation returned to square one and Fittipaldi went on building up a secure lead. Beltoise gave up the unequal struggle with his troublesome gearbox, Wisell had crashed his BRM, and Stommelen had gone off the road with the Eifelland-March.

Brabham's Wilson Fittipaldi leads the midfield pack during the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama.

Brabham’s Wilson Fittipaldi leads the midfield pack

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Just before half-distance, with Fittipaldi comfortably ahead of Ickx, Stewart some way back in third place and seemingly content to stay there, Hulme went by on lap 42 in fourth place, obviously in fourth gear when he should have been in fifth gear. The large roller-baring behind the final-drive pinion was breaking up in his Hewland gearbox, and this was letting the pinion move out of mesh with the crown wheel, chewing up the teeth on the pinion as it tried to move away. In turn this was allowing the gearbox mainshaft to move back so that Hulme was finding he could only select those gears obtained by moving the gear-lever forwards, i.e. second and fourth, while third and fifth would not engage. He struggled on, losing ground, but maintaining fourth place ahead of Regazzoni’s Ferrari, but on lap 48 he stopped before everything fell out in the road, the gearbox casing being very hot, and that was the end of his race. A similar trouble was affecting the Hewland gearbox on the Matra, and Amon had dropped back from sixth place and was going slower and slower, to finally retire at 66 laps. All this let Regazzoni into fourth place, de Adamich into fifth and Cevert sixth, but the young Frenchman began to get into the groove and he caught and passed the private Surtees driver. This lid not last long for the Tyrrell had a deflating front tyre and Cevert stopped to have it changed, but a few laps later he was back again with a rough-running engine. The back-markers who had been chasing round trying to keep up with the pace set by the leaders were now beginning to get together in a serious race of their own and in their efforts were closing up on de Adamich, so that he had a line of cars in his mirrors Comprising the McLaren of Revson, the Williams-March of Pace, the Brabham of Wilson Fittipaldi, the Surtees of Schenken and the Lotus of Walker, but he remained unruffled and kept ahead of them all, though he had been lapped by the leaders,

Emerson Fittipaldi started the last third of the race with a nine second lead over Ickx, whose Ferrari’s tyres were now deteriorating and preventing him from doing any last-minute heroics, but unbeknown to him or his pit staff, Fittipaldi was also in trouble. Before the start, on the reconnaissance laps the Lotus had started leaking petrol from a supplementary fuel tank that was being used as a safeguard. The main tanks should have got the Lotus through the race, but just in case of emergency and to play safe, both cars were carrying an extra four gallons. Only minutes before the start Fittipaldi had had to have his safeguard drained and blanked off, so that he started the race knowing he was cutting things fine. During the closing stages the Lotus pit were prepared for an emergency stop but they reckoned without Fittipaldi’s calm and shrewd approach to motor racing. Once he was certain that Ickx was not gaining on him any more he began to conserve petrol by not using peak r.p.m. when accelerating and by taking corners in a gear higher than he had been doing when building up his lead. In spite of this he was still gaining fractions of a second a lap over the Ferrari, which were soon mounting up, but undoubtedly if Ickx had been aware of the situation he would have thrown caution to the winds and put pressure on, thus making the Lotus use more fuel. As the race settled into this final stage the Tyrrell team were looking at Cevert’s car in the pits, disconsolately keeping Stewart informed that he was in an unimpressive third place, when the reigning World Champion driver was seen to be heading for the pit lane with no nose cowling on the front of his Tyrrell. Almost before he had come to rest his mechanics had got a spare cowling from the pit and were fitting it, but the Scot was making no signs of rejoining the race and Tyrrell found himself surrounded by abandoned cars, a most unusual situation for the royal blue ELF team. It was given out that Stewarea radiator was damaged, for he had spun off the track and hit the barriers, so this let Regazzoni into third place, even though he was just being lapped by the leading Lotus and his Ferrari team-mate.

Emerson Fittipaldi takes the chequered flag to win the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix

Fittipaldi takes the chequered flag for the first time this season

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As the race ran to a close Fittipaldi came up to lap the tail of the tail-enders yet again, which rather disturbed their formation, leaving Revson and Pace still hounding de Adamich, with Walker leading Wilson Fittipaldi and Schenken. Hill and Pescarolo were still running but not in with this bunch. With fingers crossed and pussyfooting along, yet still gaining ground, Fittipaldi E, came home to a well-deserved victory, much to the joy of Colin Chapman and the John Player/Team Lotus team. Ironically, and sadly, as Walker was finishing his eighty-eighth lap, just two laps behind his Brazilian team-leader, his Lotus coughed and died, completely out of petrol. Even though he was carrying the extra four gallons his engine had been using more fuel, whereas the winning car that should have run out did the full 90 laps, thanks to Fittipaldi’s intelligent driving, which got him home nearly 20 seconds ahead of Ickx, the Belgian driver having the consolation of setting a new lap record of 1 min. 20.01 sec. Things were so had for the Lotus team last year that they knew they had to improve one day, and May 1st was the day with this very sound win in the Spanish Grand Prix. — D. S. J.