Brazilian Grand Prix Fittipaldi wins at home
Sao Paulo, January 27th
Two weeks after the Argentine Grand Prix, opening round of the 1974 World Championship series, the Formula One teams moved on to Brazil where the 4.9-mile Interlagos circuit at Sao Paulo provided the venue for the second Grand Prix of the season. Although all the teams stayed out in South America between the two races, there was much rushing backwards and forwards by certain team managers and owners between Argentina and England, then back to Brazil, Colin Chapman went straight back from Buenos Aires to have a brief look at his power boating interests at the Paris boat show before turning his attentions back to his racing team and returning to its Norfolk base. By the time Chapman left again for Sao Paulo, his excess baggage contained some fresh uprights for his pair of Lotus 72s, actually being components used on the car last season, the intention being to provide different pick-up points which would cater for the 28 inch diameter Goodyears which the teams now run on their rear wheel rims.
Chapman also brought along a strengthened battery carrier to ensure that there was no repetition of Peterson’s unnecessary problem at Buenos Aires, while March designer Robin Herd took a crate of spares out for the new March 741s including wider rear wheel rims and revised brackets to reposition the side water radiators and prevent the rear tyres from fouling them. The Shadow Team were left in a dilemma following the opening lap collision at Buenos Aires, for the monocoque of Jarier’s DN1/6A was badly distorted and irreparable for the Brazilian race. Alan Rees therefore flew home after the Argentine Grand Prix to supervise the dispatch of another 1972 chassis, DN1/2A, complete except for the engine bay, rear wheels, rear suspension, engine and gearbox. These undamaged components from the crashed car were mated to the new “front half” in time for Jarier to practice in the first session on the Friday. However, it was a close call, as the customs authorities as Sao Paulo’s Viracopos international airport put on a display of Latin American disinterest which resulted in the car sitting for three days on the tarmac before they permitted it to clear customs. The lack of co-operation was an unfortunate feature of the meeting, for not only was the Shadow delayed, but several cars arriving from Argentina were held up at the same airport.
Eventually Max Mosley and Tim Parnell both put their foot down with the appropriate officials, and they finally came to their senses following a threat by John Surtees to withdraw his TS16 for Brazilian driver Carlos Pace unless the organisers intervened. Eventually everything was sorted out in time for the cars to appear at the first session, very early on Friday morning, and the atmosphere at the circuit was far more co-operative than that encountered at the airport.
Both Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx had spent a couple of days at Buenos Aires after the Argentine Grand Prix testing their Lotus 72s, both drivers feeling rather happier than they had at the previous race. The Ferraris of Regazzoni and Lauda, the Marches of Stuck and Ganley and the Lolas of Hill and Edwards were also amongst those who lingered at Buenos Aires, the latter two drivers swapping cars. Hill’s Lola had suffered engine failure at Buenos Aires, so he switched to Edwards’ chassis for testing and then decided to stay with it for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
In the Tyrrell camp, it was decided that Scheckter’s 006/2 should run with torsion bars again on the rear, as tried in practice in Argentina, while Depailler should stick to coil springs on the rear of 005. Quietly confident were the Marlboro Team Texaco drivers, Emerson Fittipaldi knowing Interlagos very well as his home is just a few miles down the road, and Denny Hulme earning a quiet confidence booster with his win two weeks earlier in the Argentine Grand Prix. Mike Hailwood again drove the Yardley-sponsored McLaren M23, while Mass and Pace represented Surtees with the same cars as they’d driven in Buenos Aires. Reutemann and Robarts drove the Gordon Murray-designed Brabham BT44s, the BRM team brought along its French trio Beltoise, Pescarlo and Migault, Merzario had the Frank Williams entry, Hunt handled the Hesketh March and Watson again drove the private ex-works Brabham owned by Hexagon of Highgate. Von Opel again, decided not to race his Ensign, having already withdrawn from the Argentine Grand Prix following a disappointing show in practice.
The Interlagos circuit is a demanding, undulating 4.9-mile permanent circuit with an extremely bumpy surface. It combines just about every type of corner, gradient and camber to sort out the real Grand Prix drivers and has a couple of really long straights, one uphill and one down. Last year’s outright circuit record was shared between Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72 and Denny Hulme’s McLaren M19—in 2 min. 35.0 see. on their way to first and third places in the 1973 Brazilian Grand Prix. But the pole position time, 2 min. 30.1 sec., was established by Peterson’s Lotus 72 and was the real marker to aim for in first practice.
Surprisingly enough, the pole position time was never approached all weekend. One of the main reasons for this appeared to be that another twelve months of hot and cold weather had made the circuit a lot more bumpy than it had been in the past. Certainly it is a very dusty circuit, and several cars suffered jammed throttle mechanisms during the course of practice and the race. Peterson was the first driver to record a really fast lap, in fact he ended up quickest of all in the first session with 2 min. 34.10 sec. Out on the circuit the Swede could be seen sliding his Lotus around with great verve and he certainly seemed to be working a lot harder than Ferrari driver Niki Lauda who clocked 2 min. 34.20 sec. in the same session to end up second quickest. Once again, Regazzoni showed well, lapping 2 min. 35.05 sec. while both Fittipaldi and Reutemann broke the 2 min. 35 sec. barrier to slip in ahead of the second Ferrari. Ickx quietly got on with the job of getting used to the circuit in a Cosworth-engined Grand Prix car, but the UOP Shadow Team were running into serious overheating difficulties with Revson’s Shadow DN3/1A. The American had complained that the car ran slightly too hot at Buenos Aires, but it was clear that in the extreme heat of Brazil, he couldn’t manage more than two or three laps without the needle on the water temperature gauge soaring way up the dial. In addition, after the billiardsmooth surface of the Buenos Aires’ circuit, the new Shadow wasn’t getting on very well with the bumps of Interlagos and his resultant 2 min. 36.82 sec. was not very encouraging. Team mate Janet barely broke the 2 min. 40 sec. barrier in the older Shadow, so Alan Rees looked even more glum than usual.
Scheckter was unable to decide whether he liked the torsion bar arrangement round Interlagos, but Ken Tyrrell and Derek Gardner thought it best to persevere with it for the time being, but the South African driver’s team mate Depailler was very mediocre, clocking a best time of 2 min. 43.98 sec. in the first session, only improving by 0.2 sec. in the second timed stint. The little Frenchman really didn’t seem to know what the matter was, just complaining that the car was undriveable. Up to that point the team had been altering his car away from Scheckter’s set up, but subsequently chose to revert to as near as his preference as possible. That seemed better for Depailler on the second day, but although he went appreciably quicker, neither Tyrrell driver was making much of an impression.
A promising practice time at Buenos Aires for Lord Hesketh’s March driven by Hunt, was not repeated at Interlagos. The March 731 was invariably a twitchy car to handle over bumpy circuits, and Hunt couldn’t get to grips with the Brazilian track at all. But the car suffered from other problems as well. After lapping in 2 min. 37.8 sec. Hunt came into the pits to complain of severe overheating, and the March was pushed round to the back of the pits for further examination. At first glance it looked as though a head gasket had failed, but Harvey Postlethwaite decided that the overheating might well be combated by fitting some extra oil coolers. These were fitted before the second session and Hunt took the car out again only to return shortly afterwards to confirm the worst. The team mechanics then settled down to change to their only spare motor for the second day.
Down in the March pit there was plenty of juggling with tyres an suspension settings going on, and it was young Stuck who recorded the quickest time of the first session. The young son of the former Auto Union star learnt his trade as a racing driver at the wheel of saloon cars, and his style certainly bears that out. On arrival in a corner, he twitches the wheel hard and tries to throw the car into a drift in the same way as he does when driving a Group Two BMW CSL. It looks a rather rough and ready technique, hut it seems to work, as the March finally ended up with a respectable novice time on the grid, particularly bearing in mind his relative lack of experience.
In the second timed session (just a half hour break was allowed between sessions) it was Fittipaldi who set the pace, managing a Iap in 2 min. 32.97 sec., a time which was still well over a second off last year’s pace. Subsequently Team Lotus manager Peter Warr looked through the timing sheets for Friday and decided that Peterson had been incorrectly credited with 2 min. 34.40 sec. and got the organisers to alter it to 2 min. 33.82 sec., thus making him second fastest in that session. In fact, Peterson never improved on that time subsequently, as he was suffering quite badly from heat dehydration and had to be given a glucose injection in the pits to help him. The Lotus Team tried everything to alleviate his discomfort and he appeared on the race day with strings attached to either side of his helmet, one going to the side of the cockpit and one going down to the shoulders of his overalls. This arrangement stopped his head from jogging about on the fast corners and cut down his feeling of sickness.
On Saturday conditions were slightly hotter and Fittipaldi failed to improve his pole winning time, although he got down to 2 min. 33.0 sec., equalling the best he could achieve in unofficial testing a couple of week’s earlier. Shortly afterwards, the Brazilian spun his McLaren M23 at high speed on the fast corner after the pits, but managed to avoid hitting anything. Later in the day Mike Hailwood did the same with the Yardley car, although he had good reason to do so as the right lower wishbone had broken.
On Friday afternoon, Hulme managed 2 min. 35.54 sec., but was plagued with a water leak in his engine on Saturday in addition to its apparent reluctance to run properly at low speeds. Reutemann leapt forward onto the front row alongside Fitti paldi’s McLaren, lapping his Brabham BT44 in 2 min. 33.21 sec., while Lauda’s Ferrari improved to 2 min. 33.77 sec. to secure a starting position on the inside of row two alongside Peterson. Regazzoni couldn’t join in the final spurt for grid positions, for he was complaining about a peculiar vibration at the rear end of his Ferrari. It was wheeled away behind the pits where it had its transmission stripped down to sec if the fault lay with the differential. This was also the session in which Ickx put in his quickest time, 2 min. 34.64 sec., making him fifth fastest overall, while Revson was one of the few who managed to set his best time m the final official session with 2 min. 34.66 sec. Both the works Surtees TSI6s were suffering badly over the bumps, Mass changing to stiffer springs after the first day’s efforts and turning in a respectable 2 min. 35.42 sec. time, but Pace was very despondent over his car’s showing and ended up 0.4 sec. slower than his German team mate. Hulme’s McLaren was between the two Surtees On the grid, while Stuck’s March 741 beat Scheckter’s Tyrrell by 0.1 sec. on the Saturday morning,
Having changed an engine after it started to seize on the first day, John Watson managed to get the Hexagon Brabham BT42 round in 2 min. 36.06 sec. while Beltoise couldn’t even approach his Friday’s best time of 2 min. 36.49 sec. in the slow and uncompetitive BRM P160. Both his team mates were unimpressive in the extreme. The two Embassy Lola T370s of Graham Hill and Edwards suffered extremely badly over the bumps, Hill only getting down to 2 min. 38.62 sec., a lowly starting position for the new Grand Prix Drivers’ Association President, while Edwards sustained a broken rear aerofoil mounting and suspension during the course of his practice and could never get near the 2 min. 40 sec. barrier, let alone beneath it.
On race morning the organisers allowed the teams an unofficial half hour session a few hours before the scheduled start of the race, this time it being Tyrrell’s turn not to bother to come out. Unfortunately there was Considerable delay in starting the session, for the organisers decided to sweep the track and then douse the pit straight with water to damp down the dust. As the past two days had seen mid-afternoon thunderstorms of considerable ferocity, it seemed to be tempting fate a little to delay the proceedings. Lauda’s Ferrari started to run very roughly during the unofficial session, and there was much attention to the electrical and fuel system in the pits, while Merzario’s Williams rolled to a halt out on the circuit with engine failure and had to be retrieved on the end of a rope. The start was due to take place at 11.30 a m., but the teams were circulated with a release from the organisers stating that the start had been deferred until 12.25 p.m. “in order that Merzario’s car may be allowed to start”. In fact, the Frank Williams’ mechanics performed one of those feats which only racing mechanics can achieve under intense pressure and actually installed a fresh Cosworth DFV into the Italian’s car in an impressive one hour and twenty minutes’ hard graft.
Unfortunately it wasn’t quite quick enough, for the grid was forming prior to the start as Merzario rushed out onto his five-mile warming-up lap. By this time the grandstands justed before chasing on after the rest of the field which by this time was half way round the opening lap.
Reutemann led down the long straight after the pits and up into the twisty section on the infield, but Peterson, ill or not, was challenging him as hard as he knew, the nose of the Lotus almost touching the gearbox of the Brabham. Fittipaldi hung back just a few lengths, but as they burst out onto the home straight, Peterson tried to swing the nose of his Lotus inside the Brabham. But Reutemann was holding a tight line on the inside of the fast right kink before the pits, so the Swede had to allow him the line and they blasted past in one huge crash of sound with Fittipaldi just behind. Then there was a slight gap before Regazzoni, Ickx and Revson, a gap to Mass and then Scheckter, Pace, Lauda’s misfiring Ferrari, Hunt, Hailwood who’d got boxed in on the first corner, Depailler, Hulme, Pescarolo, Beltoise, Stuck, Robarts, Ganley, Edwards and Migault. Watson trailed in a good way back to have his jammed up throttle slides cleared, with Merzario’s Williams was in lonely chase almost half a lap behind.
Up into the infield loop on the second lap, Peterson pulled his Lotus alongside the leading Brabham, but once more Reutemann hung onto his line and forced his rival to drop back. On the second lap the order amongst the leaders remained the same, although further back Pace passed Scheckter and Lauda started to fall away even further down the field. At the tail of the field Edwards brought his Lola into the pits with the rear aerofoil hanging at a drunken angle. It was not possible to secure it, so it was removed completely, but the car was too difficult to drive in this unpredictable state, and he brought it in at the end of the following lap to retire. Lauda’s Ferrari dropped four places on the third lap and then stopped at the pits for good with an incurable misfire.
Peterson was putting considerable pressure on Reutemann and the Argentinian was finding it progressively more difficult to resist his challenge. The Brabham had been fitted with a rather softer compound front tyre which was proving to wear much too quickly and lose most of its adhesion after a few laps. On lap four Peterson moved alongside the Brebham and this time managed to scramble into first place. Fittipaldi quickly followed Peterson past the understeering Brabham, and the pair of them started to pull away from the rest of the field at just over a second a lap.
Reutemann fell slowly back into the clutches of Regazzoni’s Ferrari, while Ickx was having a great go with his Lotus 72, holding the gap to the powerful Ferrari constant for many laps. Revson’s Shadow was a couple of seconds further back and hanging on grimly, none of his mechanics in the pits realising that their car’s water temperature had risen to over 100 degrees by the end of the second lap and that it was only a matter of time before the American would have to bring it in and retire.
On lap seven Pace passed Mass and a lap later Hu!me’s McLaren went through, the young German driver feeling that his car’s handling wasn’t quite right but not being quite sure as to just why. Ganley’s March 741 was in and out of the pits with a misfiring engine, the New Zealander finally stopping for good after nine laps, but the enthusiastic young Stuck was up to eleventh by lap seven and moved ahead of the unhappy Hunt who was having a disappointing run in the older car, hoping that the new Hesketh, waiting on a lorry in the paddock, would provide the answer to the bumps during the testing which his team planned for the days after the Grand Prix.
One by one the leading runners were pushing Reutemann further back as his tyres lost more and more adhesion. Meanwhile Fittipaldi was chasing Peterson as hard as he knew how, aided only by enthusiastic cheers from thousands of partisan race fans. The torsion bar sprung Lotus accelerated away from the corners quicker than the McLaren, but Fittipaldi was able to make up ground under braking, although the result seemed to be stalemate. Fittipaldi later said that he was going to pass later in the race when his tanks were lighter, but he pressed home his attack on lap 14 as the Lotus started to look ragged on right-hand bends. As they rushed down the long hill after the pits at the start of their 16th lap, Fittipaldi executed a neat dive out of his former team mate’s slipstream and rushed into the lead accompanied by vociferous encouragement from the grandstands.
Immediately the Brazilian began to pull away from Peterson at nearly two seconds a lap, and it soon became obvious what was causing Peterson’s trouble. The right rear tyre on the Lotus was starting to deflate, so Peterson had to forsake second place on lap 19 as he came into the pits to have the offending wheel changed. The Lotus lads carried out their task in speedy style and Peterson resumed the race in tenth place, driving flat out to make up time. His effective departure from the race meant that the pressure was now off for Fittipaldi and the McLaren just circulated steadily and smoothly, for there was no real chance of Regazzoni making much of a challenge because he was too far back.
Ickx’ efforts to get on terms with the Ferrari seemed to be fading as the determined Swiss started to pull away, so the Belgian now faced a threat from Carlos Pace’s Surtees. Mass finally realised that a tyre was deflating on his Surtees and came into the pits for a change on lap 21, while Hulme, who’d been suffering a similar affliction with his front tyre as had Reutemann, dropped nine places with acute understeer and eventually stopped on lap 19 to change both front wheels. Immediately his McLaren started lapping a full 4 sec. a lap quicker than it had been prior to the stop, although he resumed the race way down in 17th position and with little hope of adding to his Argentinian points score.
By lap 23 Stuck was up into seventh position and gaining on Reutemann, so there seemed a chance that he would end up in the World Championship points if he could keep, clear of the hard-charging Peterson. But a constant velocity joint in the March’s transmission broke on the 24th lap and the Grand Prix novice was left to freewheel to a standstill out on the circuit, Peterson flashing past a few seconds later to take over seventh place. It was A great disappointment to the March Team, hut Stuck was awarded the Prix Rouge et Blanc Joseph Siffert for his efforts.
Another driver in trouble was Jody Scheckter, his Tyrrell bucking around all over the track, so the young South African was feeling very despondent about his Formula One Prospects and finally those to call into the pits on lap 28 to discuss the matter with Ken Tyrrell. On the same lap Peterson went past the disappointed Reutemann into sixth place with little trouble, while Tyrrell gave his young protégé very little sympathy and sent him out with instructions to keep going to the end. Unfortunately Graham Hill’s Lola, Beltoise’ BRM and Hulme’s McLaren had gone past again before he could resume the race.
With 12 laps apparently to go, ominous black clouds started to scud across the skies above the circuit and there were specks of water in the air. A lap later there was a fine mist of rain and suddenly the circuit was drenched in a torrential summer downpour. Fittipaldi hung onto his advantage, delicately controlling the McLaren as it slid and sideslipped across the puddles which were forming all round the circuit. As he went across the start/finish line to set out on his thirty-second lap, Fittipaldi anxiously pointed upwards in an indication to officials that the race should be stopped. Regazzoni slithered through as the race .officials quickly decided that, as more than two-thirds distance had been completed, the race should be stopped there and then. The chequered flag was thus waved just before Ickx came through to complete his 31st lap, leaving Fittipaldi and Regazzoni to finish their 32nd lap still racing strongly. The results were subsequently amended to show Fittipaldi and Regazzoni in the first two places with just an official 31 laps credited to them.
Pace took a strong fourth while Hailwood had slowed up considerably with a serious vibration from his McLaren’s front wheels. In fact Hailwood had already made up his mind that he would call into the pits to investigate the source of this vibration on the lap the chequered flag appeared, so he pressed on across the line. Hailwood thought that the wheel balance weights must have fallen off, but it seems that they were in place and the front tyres had turned slightly on their rims. Peterson recovered to sixth ahead of Reutemann, the Swede being taken off to hospital suffering from slight heat dehydration, while Depailler pipped Hunt when the rain came down and Beltoise repassed Hill and Hulme did the same to Scheckter, all on the very last lap with the rain falling heavily.
Fittipaldi’s victory means that McLaren Racing now lead the Constructors’ Championship table with 18 points to the 10 of Ferrari, but Regazzoni heads the drivers’ contest with 10 points, only one ahead of Argentine victor Hulme and Brazilian victor Fittipaldi.—A.H.