Reflections on the South American Scene

In common with the fact that most drivers have “stayed put” in the teams they were with in 1974, one might have been forgiven for thinking (with one or two notable exceptions) that the first two races belonged to last season, such was the style of their outcome. In Argentina Emerson Fittipaldi finished first after one of those steady races which characterised his second Championship season last year and the works Brabhams looked as competitive in both races as they’d been at the end of 1974, although it was Pace who took his turn to win in Brazil. But there has been a marked absence of any domination coming from any one of the established competitors; in fact the signs of domination have come from a totally unexpected source; from the UOP Shadow DN5 driven by Jean-Pierre Jarier.

On several occasions last season, the Tony Southgate-designed Shadow DN3 showed some flashes of promise, but the team’s season proved to be unfortunately fragmented. What with poor Revson getting killed at Kyalami, Redman making the honest decision that he didn’t like the “high pressure” of Grand Prix racing after just three events, Jarier spraining his wrist after a silly pit lane collision in a Matra at Le Mans, and Pryce trying to “learn the ropes” halfway through the year, there wasn’t a great deal of time for forward progress. The team was working flat out in order to stand still, so to speak, to stop itself ending the year further back than it had been at the start. But with Southgate’s latest car, they have been able to rely on continuity from the point of view of testing, practice and racing right from the start of the season. Jarier’s confidence has progressed with his experience and one cannot help but think that the moves afoot behind the scenes to get Peterson into the Shadow team added a touch of “spice” to his performance at Buenos Aires. He was delighted and confident after some encouraging tests with the DN5 at Paul Ricard and the suggestion that his number one status in the team might be threatened may have spurred him on to greater things.

Quite naturally there was a great deal of “mutter, mutter, mutter, special engines. . . . rhubarb, rhubarb under the weight limit . . .” type noises from some quarters in Buenos Aims, but after the car’s failure on the warming-up lap everyone went away and said, “Well, that’s all very well, but let’s see what he does at Interlagos”. Once they’d seen what he had done at Interlagos, people started wondering whether there was really any point in buying Peterson and Colin Chapman must have been wondering why he hadn’t “sold” Shadow the Swede’s contract before the DN5 ever took to the track in Argentina!

Of course, the truth of the matter is that we have only seen two of the 1975 Grand Prix races and there are another thirteen still to come, the remainder taking place on a wide variety of fast and slow circuits all over the World. Fortunes wax and wane so quickly in Formula One circles that it would be foolhardy to predict a dominance for the Shadow, particularly as it has failed to finish both races. But it has at least started the 1975 season on a very encouraging note and there most be several teams who have been around for many years longer than Shadow who would have been glad to have been even close enough to the front to watch Jarier disappearing in Brazil, let alone have a chance to keep up with him.

We are sometimes told, or at least led to believe, that the South Americans are a little on the inefficient side – that their traditional “manana” attitude prevails in just about everything they do, including, one presumes, the organisation of motor races. Well, the Buenos Aires organisers certainly managed to dispense their practice information in an extremely efficient fashion with the aid of an electronic computer, times being promptly delivered on a neatly typed sheet and including the number of laps a particular car had completed as well as the lap on which it recorded its best time. When I think of some of the European circuits which hand out tatty pieces of coarse paper, covering their practice sessions with inadequate and often inaccurate details, I’m not so sure that we couldn’t learn something from the Argentine organisers. And remember, they only returned to the World Championship series in 1972 after an absence of well over ten years. Some of the European events have failed to improve their results service despite an unbroken record of events for the past quarter of a century.

There were other aspects of the Argentine organisation which made one glad to live in England. We don’t realise in this country just how fortunate we are to have a moderate and unarmed police force, even if an increasing amount of their time seems to be wasted hounding the unfortunate motorist. In Buenos Aires, the armed police have a pretty summary method of dealing with any crowd that gets just a little his out of hand. I was standing at the far end of the pits in Argentina when I became conscious that most of the spectators in the enclosure on the opposite side of the track were suddenly running for the exit gates. Hardly had I noticed that than I suddenly felt my nose irritating and my eyes watering. I pulled out a handkerchief to cover my face and immediately noticed all the McLaren and Tyrrell mechanics doing likewise. The police had simply fired off a couple of tear gas canisters in a (successful) effort to prevent the spectators from climbing over the track-side fences!

Moving on to Brazil, it always seems rather surprising just how many cars end up with handling problems on circuits which they have visited several times previously. At Interlagos there were an abundance of drivers complaining that their cars understeered in much the same way as they had done last year at Osterreichring. Sweeping downhill corners, of which there are several at Interlagos, aggravate the tendency of a car to understeer with the result that those drivers who like their cars set up to understeer slightly in the normal course of events will find the situation aggravated. Of course, with tyre technology advancing so quickly, the delicate balance of a Grand Prix car can quickly become adversely affected by excess wear on understeering front tyres. But I often wonder whether more versatility is really required from the drivers to adapt their style to suit their car’s changed characteristics..

One driver to complain a great deal about his car’s track behaviour, perhaps rather uncharacteristically, was Ronnie Peterson. This whole atmosphere of “market place bargaining” which seemed to surround the Lotus and Shadow team was not really satisfactory at all. It might be all right in a boardroom atmosphere, but it is certainly not the sort of thing to inflict on drivers who are just about to prepare for a Grand Prix motor race. While Peterson was quick to point out that he is contracted to Lotus until the end of 1976, and thus had to wait for his team’s decision as to whether he should be released from his contract, it didn’t take much guessing to see he was thoroughly fed up with the whole business. He has been a loyal driver for the team and rose to the occasion magnificently in the middle of last year when it came to extracting the team from the mire into which the ill-fated 76 model dropped them. So, whilst it is reasonable for Lotus to try and keep hold of Peterson, it is equally understandable if the Swede has had enough and wants to leave the team. An unhappy driver is an inefficient driver, and the fairest thing that Colin Chapman can do if Peterson has lost faith in the old Lotus 72 is to let him go from the team. Unfortunately it doesn’t take too much insight into the situation to work out that “business interests” might be the motivating factor if Peterson does stay a Lotus; poor consolation for the fastest Grand Prix driver in the World, in his sixth season of Formula One and perhaps yet again out of the running for the World Championship. – A.H.