The Grand Prix in Belgium

A nice little race

Nivelles-Baulers, May 12th

The Belgian round in the World Championship series took place on the Nivelles-Baulers Autodrome, south of Bruxelles and the scene was almost identical to that in Spain, reported in detail elsewhere in this issue. Missing from the lists was Chris Amon with his own car, while added to it was Tom Pryce with the neat Token car designed by Ray Jessop, Teddy Pilette with a works Brabham BT42 on loan, Leo Kinnunen with the first of the 1974 Surtees TS16 cars, Gerard Larrousse with the two 1973 Brabhams owned by Moser's Bretscher sponsored team, and Vern Schuppan with Morris Nunn's Ensign, now supported by Theodore Yip from Hong Kong, and painted orange. Frank Williams had replaced Tom Belso by Gijs van Lennep in his second car, otherwise the rest were in their usual paces, making a total of 32 drivers, of which 31 took part in the race.

On the mechanical front Tyrrell produced the second car of his 007 series, which Depaillier drove, Lotus still had last year's 72/R8 standing by, March had rebuilt their orange car for Brambilla, Ferrari had their second pair of cars, 011 and 012 with 010 as the hack, BRM replaced Migault's car with an earlier one, P160/05, while Hill's Lola team had no spare this time, the latest car having gone back to Huntingdon to be uprated! There was an all-time record of 41 cars in the paddock, though not all of them were used, but Brabham's had to use their spare as Reutemann damaged BT44/1 on the first day of practice, and Regazzoni damaged 011 Ferrari on the same day and used the spare until his own was repaired, and March had to bend 741/1 straight after Stuck tried to destroy it.

During the week before the event began officially, two days were set aside for testing, and most teams took advantage of this, but they did not seem to have learnt very much judging by the state of things when practice began in earnest on Friday May 10th. Admittedly most people's plans were thrown into confusion by the track still being damp after some heavy rain, so that by the end of the day only a few were in the right condition for the situation, which had dried out. A lot of teams had the wrong driver in the wrong car on the wrong tyres with the wrong suspension and aerodynamic settings at the wrong time, so that the results of the first day of practice did not have a lot of similarity with reaity. Things improved on the second day as it was dry and fine and everyone whizzed round and round, those at the front setting the pace with laps below the old record of 1 min. 12.12 sec. and those at the back trying not to get left behind, for while there was no limit on the number of starters the odds and sods had to put in a lap not longer than 110% of the average of the three best times, and this kept everyone on their toes. There was quite a scratch going on among the leading lights to break the 1 min. 11 sec. barrier and Merzario stirred things up by getting closest for quite a time. While Lauda and Fittipaldi were battling away solidly, with Peterson having flashes of inspiration when Team Lotus could get his new car to function properly, Scheckter suddenly appeared amongst them and then broke the barrier, only for the whole thing to be thrown into confusion by an official statement that Regazzoni had got below 1 min. 10 sec. A lot of drivers felt they had been wasting their time, while the Ferrari team shrugged as if to say, "If that's the way the Belgians want it, who are we to complain?" The starting-grid order that was finally published bore some resemblance to reality, A-for-Effort going to Merzario, Stuck, Depaillier, Schuppan and Pryce, while G-for-Gloom went to Ickx and Reutemann, neither of whom got off the ground throughout the whole meeting.

]The start was incredibly neat and clean, the whole pack surging away up the straight towards the long right-hand curve at the end. Had it been Formula Three or Formula Ford there would have been an almighty accident in the middle of the corner, but because everyone had 450 b.h.p. Formula One cars it was all very exciting and breath-taking and safe, and Regazzoni and Fittipaldi led the 31 strong field round behind the paddock. It needed only three laps for the scene to divide up into three races, one for those who are, one for those who have, and one for those that never will. The first group consisted of six cars nose to tail, pressing hard on one another, in the order Regazzoni (Ferrari), Fittipaldi (McLaren), Scheckter (Tyrrell), Lauda (Ferrari), Peterson (Lotus) and Hunt (Hesketh). Then came Pace (Surtees), Depaillier (Tyrrell), Beltoise (BRM), Hailwood (McLaren) and the rest. Stuck overdid his clutch slip at the start and was last on the opening lap, but then charged through the tail-enders only to expire after six laps when the clutch gave up the unequal struggle. Depaillier got past Pace and tried valiantly to catch the leading sextet, leaving the rest behind him, so that he was one of the few drivers to run a lonely race. Lauda put Scheckter behind him, and tucked in behind Fittipaldi, but that was the only change to the picture, for the funny little Nivelles Autodrome does not offer much opportunity for passing, unless you can suddenly find another 50 horse-power at the beginning of the straight. For 24 laps it was stale-mate, though good to watch for the leading six were hammering on hard and none was letting up. On Lap 25 they lapped the first of the tail-enders and a new dimension came into their race, for slow-moving chicanes were now being introduced onto the circuit and high-speed traffic driving and judgement and perception were about to play a big part as well as normal steering skill. From the general run of competitors odd ones had dropped out or made pit stops, Reutemann had changed front tyres, Pescarolo retired when he got elbowed off into the barriers, and Pace lost the air from a rear tyre when the split-rim wheel leaked.

When the leaders lapped Migault the tempo changed slightly, for Lauda was held up and lost contact with Fittipaldi's McLaren and had to let Scheckter by. Then on Lap 33 the swinging sextet got all fouled up with a whole bunch of slower cars and the rhythm of the race went to pot. Regazzoni still led with Fittipaldi right behind, then there was a small gap to Scheckter who had Lauda right behind, and then another small gap to Peterson and Hunt. They were now catching up with more and more traffic, and it was not going quite as slowly as the real "tail-end Charlies" and on Lap 39 it happened. Regazzoni made a slight error of judgement, as regards what another driver was going to do, and got boxed in as Fittipaldi and Lauda went by on the other side, Lauda already having jumped Schekcter in the traffic just before this. Peterson disappeared into the pits at the end of Lap 38 to have the front tyres changed for some that he hoped would grip better, and when the dust of the overtaking scrimmage had settled the sextet was reduced to a quintet in the order of Fittipaldi, Lauda, Regazzoni, Scheckter and Hunt, with Depaillier next along on his lonely drive keeping well ahead of the rest. Hailwood had forced his way clear of the midway miscellany and was going well, but it did not last long for he had a spin at the hairpin which put him back among his old race-mates once again.

By 50 laps stale-mate had returned, with Fittipaldi leading Lauda, followed by Regazzoni leading Scheckter, and Hunt had spun off onto the grass when a ball-joint on the right-rear suspension of his Hesketh had broken and the corner collapsed. This was on Lap 46 and on Lap 54 Depaillier was in the pits and out of the race with that well-known Tyrrell "brake problem" – a broken strap drive on the left-front inoard brake. The midfield-miscellany had dwindled a bit and now comprised Beltoise in the 1974 BRM ahead of Hulme, Hailwood and Jarier, their situation being of the same stale-mate as the leaders. Team Lotus were excelling themselves once more, with both their new cars in the pits together with a variety of troubles including brakes being bled, fuel leaks, oil leaks and tyre indecisions, as well as a spot of over-heating for luck. While the leading four cars cruised round and round, Hailwood was getting all worked up at the sight of the rival sponsor's McLaren in front of him, and he wanted by on Lap 69 and Jarier was equally inspired and followed Hailwood along.

Schuppan had been having a good run on his first try with Ensign, almost avoiding being lapped by the leaders, when his fuel system went on the blink and refused to pick up from the left-hand tank, so a stop to take on petrol delayed him unnecessarily, and Pryce was having the same trouble with the Token. While he was spluttering his way back to the pits Scheckter ran over him with the result that the Tyrrell had a large grinch on its right rear wheel and the Token had a broken top wishbone on the left front corner. While some were having fuel system, probably caused by the excess of right-hand centrifugal force over left-hand on the circuit, others were having tyre troubles, among them being Watson, whose front tyres went so badly out of balance he was forced to stop for a change, which dropped him further down the results than he should have ben. With five laps to go Jarier's run was spoilt when his Shadow suffered from fuel starvation and a certain sixth place was lost while he stopped in the pits for a top up. With three laps to go Hailwood' hard-earned fifth place disappeared when his McLaren suffered the dreaded fuel starvation and he could only creep along hoping to finish, and having to watch Beltoise and Hulme go by again. On the very last lap Regazzoni suffered the Nivelles disease, only this time there was no technical reason, the Ferrari simply ran out of petrol and as it coughed and spluttered Scheckter went by into third place. Since Lap 39 Lauda had been behind Fittipaldi and it was difficult to see how true situation was going to change on the last lap, but in fact it nearly did for the Brazilian mistook the finishing line and lifted off a fraction early, so that when he crossed the actual line he had Lauda's Ferrari right alongside him, but still in second place, so all was well for his sponsors.

The final results did not reflect the true picture of the race, for Regazzoni, Hailwood, Watson, Jarier and Schuppan did much better than the figures would imply, while Pilette lost most of his 4 laps by continual pit-stops with a variety of troubles. Regularity and consistency paid off for Hill, Brambilla and Schenken. – D.S.J.

Nivelles Snivelles

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