The recent death of Arthur Varney was not just the passing of a truly great motor engineer, but the end of an era in Alvis history. Born in Coventry in…
The Spanish Grand Prix
The opening event in the European Grand Prix season was the Spanish Grand Prix, held on the “mickey-mouse” circuit of Jarama, north of Madrid out on the barren plains with the Guadarrama mountains away in the middle distance. An enormous entry was received, there being 29 drivers in the list for the allowed 25 on the starting grid. The numbers were reduced by one before practice began for Silvio Moser, the little Swiss driver, was in hospital following an accident in the Monza 1,000 kilometre sports car race.
Practice was held on the Friday and Saturday before the race and many of the lesser lights did their best to eliminate themselves from the competition by having a variety of accidents, while some of the cars tried to destroy themselves, but hardworking mechanics kept slogging away and the charging pace was kept up throughout the two days. From the word go the Ferrari team were in a formidable and confident mood and on the Thursday evening, while many teams were finishing off their new cars, or getting others ready for the first practice, the Ferrari team were paying social visits to the paddock garages in their best suits, watching the activity of the others.
As soon as practice got under way Niki Lauda was setting the pace in a brand new 312B3 Ferrari, with Regazzoni not far behind. The destruction-derby began with von Opel, replacing Robarts in the Ecclestone Brabham team, having his engine spray oil all over the place and Brambilla spinning off on it and damaging the second of the works March 741 cars.
Hulme found himself understeering off the track on a fast uphill left hand bend, and on his way to hitting the guard-rail he ran over a flag marshal who was doing his best to warn drivers about von Opel’s oil and Brambilla’s slight excursion off course. Hulme came to rest against the guard-rail with the right front corner of his McLaren sadly bent. When practice resumed the New Zealander carried on in the spare McLaren while the other one was repaired. Graham Hill’s Lola HU2 wrecked its engine so he continued in the team’s spare car, and Migault’s P160 BRM broke its engine, but there being no spare car in the Bourne team the Frenchman had to sit and watch for the rest of the day while another engine was installed in his car.
During the second practice session on the Friday, Ickx had his activities with JPS/10 curtailed when second gear in the Hewland gearbox broke, and Lotus hopes rose when Peterson got JPS/9 round faster than Lauda’s Ferrari, though the new Lotus was by no means going to the satisfaction of Colin Chapman. The short, sharp sessions of practice did not encourage anything very startling in the way of experiments, added to which most drivers were glazed over with their obsession to get on the front row of the two-by-two grid, regardless of whether the car was good, bad or indifferent. This applied only to the top handful who were capable of a front row position anyway, others were either flogging round hopefully, or trying to learn about Formula One driving, or trying to get brand new cars to function properly.
Hunt, with the latest of the Hesketh cars, was not convinced about the braking power of some experimental grooved discs on the front brakes, though the whole car felt nicer than the prototype, but he was of the same opinion as designer Postlethwaite, that the Jarama circuit was not their idea of Grand Prix racing. Another luke-warm aspirant was Hailwood who has no love for “scratchy” circuits, with first and second gear being constantly in use. However, some of the new boys who have yet to experience everything, like Stuck and Jarier were sliding round the hairpins on full opposite lock and their foot hard on the throttle pedal.
Many drivers were finding that the only bit of fun they could have was coming out of the last corner, a downhill right-hander, onto the pits straight, for there they could let the car slide up and over the bevelled kerb while heading downhill. At one point it looked as though they were indulging in a private competition to see who could get their car furthest out of line as it came into sight of the pits. Peterson was way ahead of everyone in this game, at one point getting all four wheels well beyond the white bevelled kerb, and when questioned about it by Lotus designer Ralph Bellemy, the Swede in all sincerity denied any knowledge of “going over a kerb”—the ultimate in being “glazed over” when driving.
Scheckter had been getting along quite well with the brand new Tyrrell 007, but on Saturday his efforts came to a stop when the strap-drive arrangement on the left-front inboard brake broke all its little connecting plates. A similar failure to that experienced in 1973 on earlier cars. The South African continued his practice in the spare car. The two Ferraris were so dominating in the front of the field, with the exception of sudden inspired spurts by Peterson, that the real competition was among those at the back to avoid being last. Amon’s new car was not making very exciting progress, and even though the air temperature was nothing to get excited about his car was overheating and needing to run without any bodywork shrouds over its side-mounted radiators. While practice was at its height the orange March 741 of Brambilla went straight on at the end of the long straight and into the strategically placed wire catch fences. The rugged Italian climbed out unhurt but the March had broken its hack and was a write-off. After a delay while the wire fences were re-erected practice got going again and it was not long before two more cars went off on the same corner, with less disastrous results. Beltoise dented the front of the P201 BRM and Depaillier made a bit of a mess of Tyrrell 005. At the other end of the circuit the destruction-derby was continuing, this time Migault going off the track in spectacular fashion and writing off three of the four corners of his P160 BRM. While Depaillier was not too sure why he had gone off, both the BRM drivers were simple and honest about their efforts, telling their team-manager “we were trying too hard”. Although it meant a lot of extra work for the mechanics, to say nothing of the cost of the bits and pieces, there was a feeling that at least they were having a bit of a go, which is better than trailing along in an uninspired fashion like some drivers.
With Brambilla out of the list of possible starters, there being no possibility of repairing the March, the numbers were down to 27 and in the last part of official practice everyone went out in a frenzy and there was so much traffic on the tight little circuit that everyone was in everyone else’s way, and hardly anyone got a clear run for a lap. Consequently it was all a rather fruitless waste of time, and prompted the thought that such circumstances really do call for individual timed runs, in Indianapolis fashion. The whole thing was so confusing and silly that it wasn’t much fun to watch and it was positively frustrating for those drivers who had anything at stake.
When it was all over it was Edwards (Lola) and Belso (Williams) who were left behind, though to look at the BRM of Migault it seemed that he too was going to be left behind, with Edwards taking his place. However, the BRM team emptied their stock of parts and were able to make the car like new, apart from an unimportant dent or two in the monocoque, and on Sunday morning Migault had a complete car once more. The damage to the P201 was very slight, and it was due to have parts of the steering and suspension changed anyway, as a routine precaution on this new car. The Ferrari team more or less washed and polished their cars and stood around admiring them, so little trouble had they given, while in opposition Team Lotus hardly knew which way to turn. Although Peterson was on the front row of the grid, alongside Lauda, the two days of practice had been pretty fraught, the problems ranging from a duff brake master cylinder to a split exhaust manifold.
On Sunday the scene was sheer misery, with rain falling steadily and the sandy soil around the circuit turning into a muddy porridge. Some untimed practice was allowed, which was useful for the Tyrrell team, for Scheckter was due to start in the repaired 007, new parts having been obtained from England in a quick return-flight by Ken Tyrrell’s son, and Depaillier was taking over the spare car 006/2, his bent 005 being abandoned. Migault and Beltoise had an opportunity to try their rebuilt cars, and Edwards tried his car out as first-reserve, only to have the engine blow up, so there was a mad rush to get the spare car organised for him, in case anyone should miss the start. The starting grid shows the overall results of the two days of practice, there being three real competitors in the 1 min. 18 sec. bracket, a whole bunch of mixed fortunes in the 1 min. 19 sec. bracket, a miscellaneous group in the 1 min. 20 sec. bracket, and the tail-end Charlies in the 1 min. 21 sec. bracket, and had it been a fine sunny day we could have anticipated four separate races. With the rain still falling as the cars went out for some warm-up laps prior to forming up on the dummy-grid, prospects were pretty gloomy, everyone having fitted the deepest and knobbliest tread tyres that either Goodyear or Firestone could supply.
From the fall of the flag Peterson shot into the lead, with Lauda and Regazzoni pounding after him, spray and confusion obliterating the whole scene to most observers. Out of the gloom at the end of the first lap came the black and gold Lotus of Peterson, followed by the red and white Ferraris of Lauda and Regazzoni, with Ickx, Fittipaldi, Scheckter, Merzario, Reutemann, Hunt, Jarier, Hulme and the rest following. All official 25 starters had left the line, so Edwards did not get a run, though on lap three the number was reduced to 24 as Beltoise retired with a broken engine in the new BRM. Everyone was pussy-footing round, being extremely cautious and little groups of three cars began to assemble from the first lap procession, apart from Stuck, in mid-field who was passing anyone in sight. Peterson and the two Ferraris led the way, then came Ickx, Fittipaldi and Scheckter, then Merzario, Reutemann and Jarier, followed by Hulme, Hunt, Stuck and Mass and the others, with von Opel, Migault and Amon bringing up the rear. In the mid-field Redman was forcing his black Shadow past people until he got up to Hailwood and then the two of them indulged in a spirited little scrap for fourteenth place. Reutemann was not enjoying the wet conditions and after spinning off and taking a long time to get back on the track he trailed miserably into the pits and gave up. At 10 laps some of the spray had settled and the picture cleared a bit, with Peterson still firmly in the lead and looking fairly comfortable, with Lauda keeping him in sight. Regazzoni had dropped back a bit, and Ickx was in a lonely fourth place. Fittipaldi had just lost fifth place to Scheckter, for the McLaren had wetted a plug on the starting line and was on seven cylinders, it not mattering too much in the opening scramble, but now that things were settling down the loss of one cylinder was proving a severe handicap, even though the track was still slippery. Merzario in the new Williams car was leading the mid-field runners, a fair way back from the leading group, and he had Hulme, Jarier, Stuck, Hunt and Mass following him, with Hailwood and Redman scrapping away behind them. For the record the remainder of the runners went by in the order, Depaillier, Reutemann (in the middle of contemplating giving up), Pace, Watson, Schenken, Pescarolo, von Opel (losing oil), Hill, Migault and Amon, the last two having been lapped by the leaders. Hulme disappeared into the pints after 11 laps to enquire about something that he could feel scraping on the ground at the back of his McLaren, and as there was nothing obviously amiss the suspension units were screwed up to give him more ground clearance and he rejoined the race.
On the fourteenth lap Jarier was lapping Migault’s BRM by diving through on the inside of a hairpin when his fellow country-man carved across in front of the Shadow and ran over its long protruding nose, making it flatter than normal, so that Jarier had to stop for repairs. The oil coming out of the back of von Open’s Brabham was from a split cooler, caused by a nudge up the back by someone in the opening melee, and he gave up at the same time as Jarier was having his new nose cowling fitted.
As the leaders lapped the mid-field runners the traffic got faster and heavier, and Peterson was delayed a bit, which allowed the pursuing Ferrari to close up, but it was only temporary. This was at 17 laps, and the rain had stopped and the track was drying incredibly quickly. First to be conscious of this and the likely outcome of overcrowding in the pits when everyone realized that a change to dry-weather tyres would be called for, was the March team, who promptly called Hans Stuck in from his eight place and quickly changed all four wheels, but even so it dropped him to the back of the field. Then Watson was in, followed by Amon, Regazzoni and then chaos broke loose and everyone headed for the pits to change over to dry-weather tyres. As Peterson eased off to prepare to stop Lauda took the lead, and when he was called in Ickx led for a brief moment, before it was his turn to be called in.
The ensuing confusion in the pits, recorded elsewhere, played havoc with the pattern of the race, and for a time it was anyone’s guess as to what was going on, but sharp and clear was the fact that the two Ferraris were now firmly in the first and second places, with no-one within striking distance. Before all this happened Peterson’s Cosworth engine had been losing water, and shortly after he rejoined the race on dry-weather tyres the engine blew up and he returned to the pits on foot. Amon retired somewhat shaken when a front-brake shaft broke and he nearly lost control of his new car, while Migault’s BRM engine blew up and left him out of the race. Mass had the Hewland gearbox on his Surtees break second gear and jam everything in fourth gear, so he had no option but to retire, and Merzario crashed in a spectacular manner. Graham Hill went quietly out of the picture with a broken Cosworth engine, his team’s third broken power unit at the meeting, and the rest of the runners drove madly round and round wondering exactly where they were in the race.
Because it had looked as through the whole race was going to be run in pouring rain, and the scheduled ninety laps would have taken more time than today’s professionals are paid to work, the rule book allowed the race to be run for two hours. Consequently the only thing anyone knew was how many more minutes were left to run, for in the confusion of the pit stops most teams had lost control of the patterns of the race. While the two Ferraris circulated sounding fit and healthy, their first and second places being beyond doubt, it gradually became clear that Fittipaldi was making relentless progress, for during his tyre change stop the wetted sparking plug had been changed, his rear anti-roll bar coupled up and he was in good form. Stuck was well placed by reason of not getting involved in any of the pit stop chaos, and Hulme seemed to be going well now that the track was dry. Hunt was having a miserable time as his Hesketh was running out of front brakes, and he could no longer join in the uninhibited racing that was taking place amongst most of those still in the race, but not knowing exactly where they were, and towards the end of the two hours Stuck was forced to ease off as a front tyre began to lose pressure.
When the two hours were up and everyone lifted off and relaxed the timekeepers came out with some quite reasonable and acceptable results, in which everyone was fairly well satisfied. However, it was not quite clear how Redman had lost a whole lap on Hulme, nor was it quite clear how Hulme was so well placed after having made two pit stops to most people’s one, but as everyone had enjoyed themselves the whole situation was accepted philosophically, the only blot on most people’s landscape being the complete domination by the Ferrari team; with first and second places, and fastest lap, and with only two cars you can’t improve on that.
Among the finishers Depaillier and Schenken were not too impressed with their cars, but afterwards it was found that the Tyrrell had got a broken coil spring on the left-rear suspension, and the Trojan had got a broken rear anti-roll bar mounting. In addition Schenken was having trouble making his clutch free, and when he spun on the last lap, trying to out-do Pescarolo, he stalled the engine and could not restart, but as the two hours were up he was classified a finisher.
There must have been great happiness in Italy, for on the Thursday before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix began Alfa Romeo had finished first, second and third in the Monza 1,000 kilometre sports car race, and the Sunday before that, MV had trounced Yamaha in the 500 c.c motorcycle French GP… April was definitely a joy-month for Italy.- D.S.J
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