Formula Two Review
With five of the 12 rounds of this year's European Formula Two Championship run two Swedish drivers head the points table. On paper Stefan Johansson has the lead on 19 points but fellow countryman Eje Elgh (18 points) is appealing against a disqualification from the results of the Thruxton round, which cost him six points. Elgh finished runner-up to Maurer team-mate Robert Guerrero at Thruxton but the scrutineer found his rear wing to be a fraction over-high and he was duly omitted from the results. The Maurer team's appeal to the RAC has been rejected so the matter has been taken to the FISA.
The Thruxton race was a most impressive demonstration of the effectiveness of the latest BMW-powered Maurer MM81 cars, which were beaten on sheer speed by two rival March 812-BMWs running on special Japanese tyres, but stayed the pace to the end. Thierry Boutsen's Bridgestone shod March dropped out in the early stages with engine failure and Marc Surer's March fell back when its Dunlop tyres went off, eventually to retire with a blown engine.
Unhappily for Guerrero he has finished only the one race to date, but at least he finished the race that he managed to lead! Elgh followed up his second at Thruxton with a second to Boutsen at the Nurburgring. Again, at the German c!rcuit, the Belgian March driver was using Bridgestone rubber, which was plainly superior to the Pirelli material the majority of the field was using, but that should not detract from a superbly well controlled drive.
Elgh won the "Pirelli" race at the Nurburgring and two weeks later at Vallelunga, where the Italian tyre company came up with covers to match the new Japanese threat, he won the race outright. However, Johansson, who had scored a sixth at Thruxton and a fourth at Nurburgring to add to his first at Hockenheim earlier in the season, finished second at Vallelunga to retain the series lead.
In the past the European Championship has tended to be won by drivers who have had at least one year of Formula Two experience, but the Toleman T850-Hart equipped British Formula Three Champion is well set to change the trend.
Not one but two experienced Formula Two drivers are hot on Johansson's heels, Elgh and Mike Thackwell. Thackwell notched up an impressive 13 points in the first two races of the year but sadly has been absent since due to injuries sustained in a testing accident at Thruxton. The New Zealander's Ralt-Honda bottomed and went out of control on a fast section of the Hampshire circuit. It veered left and slammed into an armco-protected bank at well over 100 m.p.h. - Thackwell was very lucky to escape with nothing worse than a broken ankle. Thackwell's accident cost him three races, yet he maintains third position in the points table, so open have the races been.
At Thruxton, Nurburgring and Vallelunga Ralt ran a single entry for Geoff Lees but Britiain's leading title hope had an unhappy time. He is usually on the pace, but at Thruxton his car was struck by an electrical malfunction early in the race, at Nurburgring he suffered low fuel pressure right from the word go and later in the race spun from third due to a sticking throttle while at Vallelunga he lost third place after a collision with Thierry Boutsen.
Boutsen was the first Pirelli runner to break-ranks and run Bridgestone tyres. His team, March Engineering, has close links with Bridgestone through the Japanese Formula Two Championship for which it is a major chassis supplier. Bridgestone asked March to test tyres destined for the oriental series and so successful did they prove that the team decided to try them on Boutsen's car at the Thruxton meeting.
Boutsen was quick, switched from Pirelli for the meeting, and duly wrapped up pole position by a comfortable margin. Lees followed suit and claimed the other slot on the front row. Neither driver finished the race, but that was due to engine not tyre failures and both opted to run the Japanese rubber again at the Nurburgring. Boutsen was in a class of his own at the 'Ring and, like Lees (who lacked circuit knowledge and was troubled by low fuel pressure in the race), struck a deal with Bridgestone to use its products for the rest of the season.
Other drivers would dearly like to get their hands on the quick crossplies but the firm feels that it can only comfortably service two teams this season. Meanwhile, Pirelli has improved its radial tyres, introducing "qualifying tyres" and improved race tyres at Vallelunga which allowed Elgh and Johansson to beat Boutsen and Lees soundly.
However, Pirelli has not only been upstaged by Bridgestone, it has also had the embarrassment of a high degree of blistering affecting its radials. Low morale in the Pirelli camp led a number of drivers to switch to M&H products. The American tyre company's leading runners have, however, been with it since the start of the season. They are Riccardo Paletti and Richard Dallest.
Paletti drives a March BMW prepared by David Purley's former Team Manager, Mike Earle, and has shown a good deal of speed and a high degree of maturity in his second season (but first full year) of Formula Two. The young Italian was credited with second at Thruxton after Elgh's disqualification and took sixth at Vallelunga which, combined with his second at Silverstone at the start of the season, sees him holding joint third place in the championship table with Thackwell and Boutsen.
Dallest crashed at Silverstone and the neck injury he sustained as a result of that accident effectively kept him out of the running until the Vallelunga race where he came back in impressive style, qualifying on the second row, using race tyres rather than qualifiers. Alas, his race came to a premature end on the second lap when an electrical failure dropped him out of second place.
Of the Pirelli runners, the most impressive other than Johansson and the Maurer drivers (Elgh and Guerrero) has been Boutsen's teammate Corrado Fabi. Brother of Teo Fabi, the young Italian made a very poor start at Thruxton (having qualified well) and was knocked out by a fellow competitor early in the race. However, he bounced back with an impressive race at the Nurburgring. He again made a poor start, but charged up to third place and was closing on runner-up Elgh when the chequered flag fluttered . . .
At Valleulunga Fabi yet again made a poor start (this time from the front row) but once again worked his way back through the order and was closing on his third placed team mate Boutsen at the end. At the Roman circuit he set fastest lap, a new record.
Fabi, on 11 points, holds sixth place in the points table, ahead of Guerrero (9), Lees (6), Manfred Winkelhock (who appeared again at Thruxton and Nurburgring in the Schaffer Rolf but retired on both occasions) (6) and Johnny Cecotto who picked up 4 useful points at Thruxton in his Minardi-BMW. However, it has been a disappointing season on the whole for the Minardi team and particularly its star driver, Michele Alboreto, who so impressed in a Tyrrell at the San Marino Grand Prix. Alboreto has never been able to mix it with the leaders in the Minardi and has yet to even finish in the points.
Disappointment has also been in store for British hopefuls Kenny Acheson and Jim Crawford. Acheson, team mate to Johansson in the DS Team Toleman equipe, qualified well at Thruxton but fell right back in the race with "duff tyres" before retiring with a broken fuel metering unit. At Nurburgring he again qualified well to the fore, only to fall back with his engine down on power - but at least he salvaged sixth place. He didn't get the improved Pirellis at Vallelunga and was off the pace all weekend, as was Crawford, for the same reason.
Crawford, who runs a private Toleman-Hart, retired on the first lap with a broken rocker arm and retired at Thruxton with a blown engine.
British fortunes are at a low ebb in Formula Two at the moment but we have three very talented drivers in Lees, Acheson and Crawford and things are bound to improve in the near future. Meanwhile, the racing continues to be first class and the title chase is more open that it has been for many a year. - I.M.B.
Thruxton, April 20: I, R. Guerrero (Maurer-BMW); 2, R. Paletti (March-BMW); 3, J. Cecono (Minardi-BMW); 4, C. Danner (March-BMW); 5, P. Necchi (March-BMW); 6, S. Johansson (Toleman-Hart).
Nurburgring, April 26: I, T. Boutsen (March-BMW); 2, E. Elgh (Maurer-BMW); 3, C. Fabi (March-BMW); 4, S. Johansson (Toleman-Hart); 5, G. Lees (Ralt-Honda); 6, K. Acheson (Toleman-Hart).
Vallelunga, May 10: I, E. Elgh (Maurer-BMW); 2, S. Johansson (Toleman-Hart); 3, T. Boutsen (March-BMW); 4. C. Fab1 (March-BMW); 5, G. Lees (Ralt-Honda); 6, R. l'ale!ti (March-BMW).