The Formula One scene
A report of the Brazilian Grand Prix appears on page 248
The first Grand Prix of a new season is usually interesting in that it answers a lot of questions that crop up during the winter, gives us pointers as to what to expect when racing starts in earnest on the mainland of Europe and usually settles who is driving what and who is paying for it.
There was a time when sponsors of racing teams and racing cars were wealthy gentlemen who were quite happy to spend their money on the sport without getting a mention in print, but now sponsors are mostly large, faceless business organisations who employ minions to make sure that the Brand Name is fully exposed in order to justify the spending of the shareholders' money. Softly-spoken, smooth PR men try to ensure that we journalists no longer talk of Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren, March, etc. but that we use their firms' names instead, some of them graciously permitting the name of the car builder to be included in the title, preferably in smaller type. The only real exception to all this is Ferrari, whose team members look at you incredulously if you ask what you should call the red cars from Maranello, and say "It's a Ferrari". Some of the people in the journalistic game fall over themselves to pander to the sponsors and when you read them or listen to them you wonder whatever happened to the good old car names like Lotus and McLaren, while others stand steadfastly by what they think is right and call a Lotus a Lotus. By the end of a season you cannot help absorbing this media talk and you have just about come to realise that a Texaco-Marlboro M23 is actually a McLaren M23, when the whole scene changes and Texaco go motorcycle racing and you are left with a Marlboro M23, or is it a Marlboro-McLaren M23, or McLaren-Marlboro M23? If Marlboro ever go up in smoke we shall be left with a McLaren M23, which is where we came in, and where some of us have been all the time.
For the record the Ferrari team have the backing of Fiat, who own the Maranello Empire anyway, as well as support from AGIP the Italian national petrol company and numerous engineering concerns, all involved with keeping the Ferrari wheels turning. In Lauda and Regazzoni the team has a very dedicated pair of drivers, Lauda being dedicated to justifying his position of World Champion driver and the bearer of the racing number 1, while Regazzoni is unashamedly dedicated to himself. No matter what people say about Regazzoni, such as "he is over the hill," "he's past it," "he's not much of a driver" etc., etc., there is no getting away from the fact that he invariably lines up on the grid with a lap time only a few tenths of a second slower than Lauda. There are a lot of drivers in Formula One who would like to be that close to Lauda's times, even in a Ferrari. With numbers 3 and 4, the same as last year, are Scheckter and Depailler driving for Ken Tyrrell's team generously sponsored by the French ELF oil company. In fact nothing appears to have changed since last year, with Depailler still doing an enthusiastic and spirited job of driving, and Scheckter explaining in his column in Autosport why he's not a very good driver and why he's not winning races. We still await an announcement about the results of the testing with the six-wheeled car; all that has been hinted is that if it races it won't be before mid-summer; Anderstorp or Zandvoort would seem likely circuits for it.
Still with numbers 5 and 6 are the Team Lotus cars, new models still sponsored by John Player and Sons Ltd. and unaffectionately called John Player Specials. When you have two really hopeless drivers in your team the only worse thing that can happen is to have no drivers at all. In Brazil Lotus had Peterson and Andretti, but they might just as well have had Peters and Andrews (who ?). If Peterson is as good a driver as we all think he is, and as most of us say he is; then he ought to be able to do a Standing start lap with one arm in a sling and go faster than Renzo Zorzi (you may well ask who he is). But Peterson was behind Zorzi on the starting grid, which must mean that he was not trying. Since the Brazilian race he has left Team Lotus and joined March Engineering and if Chapman is heard to say "Good riddance to bad rubbish" I for one would agree with him. It now remains to be seen whether Peterson has forgotten how to drive like an "Ace," for it has certainly looked that way this last 18 months. In an interview during the winter Chapman said he thought most of the present crop of Formula One drivers were "ninety-per-centers" and I think he was being generous. Andretti's efforts in the new Lotus 77 were an insignificant gnat's whisker better than Peterson and I'm afraid I have become tired of waiting to see Andretti shine; you can wait forever. He may be a big wheel in USAC and SCCA kiddy-car racing, but he's a dead-duck in European-style Grand Prix racing. The little master-mind behind the contrivances of the Formula One Constructor's Association, B. EcclestOne, must be congratulated on bringing a new note to Formula One quite literally. The flat-12 cylinder Alfa Romeo engines that now power the Martini sponsored Brabhams sound superb, but as yet the 500 horsepower claimed by the engine maker has not been too obvious. Only Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Lotus-Cosworth have won a Grand Prix on their first appearance with a new car and a new engine, so the Brabham team must not be downhearted with the mediocre showing of the BT45 cars, though it would have been more encouraging if they had looked as though they might win. The team drivers Reutemann and Pace are still numbers 7 and 8, respectively, and while the Argentinian was bemoaning the cancellation of his own national Grand Prix, the Brazilian was doing his best in front of his home crowd.
March Engineering still retain numbers 9 and 10, and were using them for Brambilla and Lella Lombardi, respectively, the swarthy Italian still being sponsored by Beta Tools, while the Italian girl's tenure in the team looks a bit shaky, especially now that Peterson has to be accommodated. If Brambilla entertains us again this year like he did last year he will deserve maximum appearance money from the RAC and the other organisers. It would be interesting to take a spectator vote after the British GP, for example, on how much each driver should be paid as "spectacular value". I'm sure Brambilla would be high on the list. Exactly who sponsors who, and how, is much too deep and involved when Max Mosley is concerned, but it must be all right for March Engineering to still be in business in their eighth year.
At numbers 11 and 12 are the McLaren cars, having swapped 'places with the Ferrari team, and having lost their number one driver Emerson Fittipaldi. His place is taken by James Hunt, who seems to have got into the groove with the team remarkably quickly and Jochen Mass is right in there behind him. They certainly make a strong pair physically as well as on driving ability and if we ever have a paddock punch-up I shall join the McLaren team. Still carrying number 14 is a lone BRM, risen once more from the ashes like the Phoenix, and while everyone thought Bob Evans was going to be the driver„ and he also thought so, the team Went to Brazil with Ian Ashley to do the driving. The husband of the lady owner of the BRM team can hardly hope to make a bigger fist of running the team than
he did in 1975 and who knows, he might even make a smaller one. At 16 and 17 are the familiar black Shadows of Don Nicholls, now without the money from UOP, but still with his enthusiastic pair of drivers Tom Pryce and Jean-Pierre Jarier, though at the time of writing there is talk about Andretti joining the team to make a third entry. If it is true he'll have to go some to keep up with the young chargers already in the team.
If Colin Chapman thought he was having a bad time in Brazil he should have compared notes with Frank Williams. Having come into a lot of money from a German backer, Frank Williams rushed off and bought the last of the Hesketh cars, the 308C, together with its designer Harvey Postlethwaite and signed up Ickx to drive it. Now rest assured that Postlethwaite has not detuned the 308C, nor that its new coat of blue paint has increased the drag factor, so here was a car that last year was a potential front runner with James Hunt at the wheel. In 'Brazil Ickx was not only slower than Zorzi (him again!) but also slower than Peterson, so who was on 55%? Hunt was on pole position in an entirely different car, and was trying. It was a pity poor Zorzi had to be used as a yard stick for the no-hopers, for he was actually doing quite well in only his second Grand Prix race, driving one of Frank Williams' 1975 cars. It seems he'll soon be getting the Hesketh 308C, now called FW/05, or even a brand new Williams designed by Postlethwaite following on from the 308C. You cannot go on being in Formula One without actually racing, like Ickx is doing, without getting found out sooner or later, and for Frank Williams' sake let's hope it's sooner rather than later. The two Williams cars retain numbers 20 and 21, but the driver situation is, as they say, fluid.
At number 26 is a completely new scene, this being the Ligier JS5 powered by a Matra V12 engine and unashamedly sponsored by the French cigarette firm Gitanes (pronounced ghitarn, with a long, soft g). After a certain amount of acrimony and "old pal's" support the idea of Jean-Pierre Beltoise making a come-back to Formula One fell flat and everyone's choice, Jacques Laffite, took over. While Beltoise would have given good Press interviews and doled out the publicity and made long-winded excuses for the car being on the back of the grid, the quiet Laffite just got on with the job and his position midway up the starting grid first time out with a completely new project was not that bad. There is clearly a whole lot of Matra know-how behind this project and it will be interesting to see who proves to have 500 b.h.p. first, Matra or Alfa Romeo. We know Ferrari has 500 horsepower, not because he tells us but because he makes it all too obvious. If the Matra V12 and the Alfa Romeo flat-12 cannot match-up to the Ferrari it will be equally interesting to see who is the first to admit to having only 450 b.h.p. Still carrying number 28 is the Penske team, financed by the First National City Bank, and fully recovered from the untimely loss of Mark Donohue last year. There are some racing drivers whom you expect to die, others occasion little surprise if they do kill themselves, but there are those whose deaths seem completely unreal and Mark Donohue was one of those; Peter Revson was another. They just didn't need to die. With John Watson driving for the team the Penske colours should be well to the fore and the car showed well in practice but fell apart in the race too early to be acceptable. They will have to become a bit more professional.
Normally by the time you get near the bottom of the Formula One starting list you stop bothering to look for fast lap times, but this year, anyone who does not pay close attention to the times at the bottom of the list is going to make an awful mistake. At number 30 is Emerson Fittipaldi and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of retiring or coasting round on his name. His overnight decision to leave McLaren and join his elder brother's team, financed by the Brazilian Copersucar concern, was a bomb-shell that needed explanation. Now we have that explanation. Emerson Fittipaldi was happy enough with McLaren, but not over-enthusiastic about their sponsors Marlboro, the whole set-up seeming to lack any real purpose for him. He had won the World Championship, they had done likewise, all there seemed to be was to try to do a repeat. His elder brother Wilson, likeable fellow though he is, is no sort of driver at all, so no-one really knew if his car was any good or not. Merzario drove it at Monza, but it only proved that Merzario was not much better than Wilson Fittipaldi. Then the young Brazilian "hot-shoe" Ingo Hoffmann had a go in it at Silverstone and promptly showed it to be as good as most of the other Cosworth/Hewland package "kit-cars". When Emerson Fittipaldi went home to Brazil after a slight testing accident at Paul Ricard with a McLaren he found his brother and designer Richard Divila completing a brand new car that was in many ways an improvement on the 1975 car and that decided him to join the team, with young Hoffmann as his number two. The way the car performed on its first outing, fifth fastest in practice alongside Mass on the grid proves above all else that you don't have to be brilliant to concoct a British standard kit-car, you merely have to be conscientious, but above all else you must have an enthusiastic driver in the cockpit. After the Brazilian practice sessions I hope all the kitcar designers digested the lesson. Drivers are important, good , drivers are few and far between. Making the Fittipaldi car competitive has given the younger brother a new interest in life and a purpose has come back into his racing. After the Austrian Grand Prix last year, with his brother's crash in practice and then Donohue's death, a purpose for racing seemed hard to find, but now he is a much happier man with something very tangible and personal to work for. Whatever money Copersucar are paying and whether it comes from sugar or politics is of little interest to us here, the facts are that we can reckon to see Emerson Fittipaldi up among the front runners in a car bearing his family name. A Brazilian driver in a Brazilian car can't be bad. While remembering not to ignore the lap times at the end of the entry list we must keep an eye on number 34, for it is Hans Stuck in a works March and that's always good for a bit of excitement. There were one or two entries missing from the Brazilian list, but none of any significance as far as race winning is concerned, and they might well fill the ranks in the next big event, which is the South African GP on March 6th.
Last year one or two teams were heard to say that they lost races due to being on the wrong tyres, though with everyone using Goodyear tyres this sounded strange. What they meant was the wrong type of tyre, and occasionally it transpired that someone had not done any practice with full petrol tanks so they did not know how the tyres would react to the extra load until the race started. Conscious that they were being blamed for something that was not their, fault, the Goodyear engineers suggested in Brazil that the third practice session be put aside for "full-tank running" and "tyre scrubbing" and that the lap times should not count for 'starting grid position. This was agreed upon by the F1 Constructors and the Saturday morning practice session was put aside for this purpose. Two things went wrong, some teams did not enter into the spirit of the thing and went on aiming for the ultimate lap time with minimal fuel on board, and the official time-keepers timed everyone and published the times. The result was that the starting grid bore little resemblance to reality, especially the first six rows. Scheckter, Pryce, Jarier, Watson, Fittipaldi and Lombardi all made their best lap times in the full tank session, but the times could not be counted, and they could not repeat them in the final practice. Whereas in fact the grid had Hunt and Lauda on the front row, it should have been Jarier and Hunt. The second row was Jarier and Regazzoni and should have been Lauda and Watson, with Pryce and RegaZzoni in row three instead of Fittipaldi and Mass. This revised grid would certainly have prevented Regazzoni jumping into the lead at the start, which could have altered the whole pattern of the race. If the "full-tank" practice session is to continue it must be ensured that the official time-keeping is switched off and that everyone really does have full petrol tanks, otherwise the idea is farcical. Personally I don't like the idea as it is an insidious move towards "over-organising the circus" and dragging everything down to a lowest common-denominator, which inevitably leads to mediocrity. Before leaving the Brazilian practice it is interesting to study the times of various drivers in the overall scene, and for sheer consistency Lauda and Fittipaldi take a lot of beating. Their best times in the four sessions read as follows:
Lauda: 2 min. 32.68 sec. 2 min. 32.64 sec. 2 min. 32.87 sec. 2 min. 32.52 sec.
Fittipaldi: 2 min. 33.33 sec. 2 mm. 33.45 sec. 2 min. 33.22 sec. 2 min. 13.85 sec.
On the mechanical front the scene was most encouraging, with new cars making their first appearance from Lotus, Brabham, Ligier and Fittipaldi and revised models from most of the other teams. The Tyrrells had a multitude of small changes small changes, the McLarens had a major change in the form of six forward speeds in their Hewland gearboxes instead of five, the BRM having outboard front brakes instead of inboard, and front radiators instead of side radiators, and the March cars a general overall revision to update them to 1976. The Ferraris were last year's cars, and seemed adequate for the job, being fast and reliable, so much so, that the spare car, number 022, was never used.
In the race Fittipaldi was never able to get to grips with the event for his Cosworth engine developed an untraceable misfire, untraceable that is until the car was dismantled after the race, when it was found that the ignition "trigger" on the front of the 1976 Cosworth engine had been rubbing on the monocoque and in addition there was a broken valve spring, both of which could have contributed to the misfire. Hunt's problems with the McLaren were much more obvious, for the rear inlet trumpet on the left-hand side of the Cosworth engine broke off. As the fuel injection nozzle is mounted in the trumpet, that cylinder suddenly ceased to work, and while the fuel pipe remained attached to the nozzle the wayward trumpet fell over the back of the engine and jammed the throttle slides open, which caused Hunt to spin off and damage the rear-mounted oil coolers. While Lauda saw the ensuing streak of oil on the road and changed his line to avoid it, as did many other drivers, Jarier was so wound up and over his depth anyway, that he did not See the oil and spun off. There is so much more to motor racing than just pressing the accelerator and turning the Steering wheel. Before this happened the Shadow team were in a bit of a dilemma for they were running in second and third positions behind Lauda, which was no disgrace, and to have finished there would have been admirable. As Don Nicholls is looking for someone to finance his team, such a first result in 1976 would have been a good talking point. On the other hand Jarier was obviously in a real "Tiger" mood and a victory was on the cards, which would be an even better talking point. The team manager was trying to decide whether to play safe and settle for a good solid second and third place behind the Ferrari, always assuming Jarier would have responded to such orders, or whether to encourage him to go all out for victory. Before a decision was made fate stepped in and settled it. Who would be a team manager....—A.H./D.S.J.