Formula 2 Review

Why the new cars are unreliable

The new season of Formula Two racing has started with a bang —mainly in the engine compartments. The new year brought a change of regulations which increased the capacity limit from 1,600-c.c. to 2,000 c.c. but also made the use of homologated production cylinder heads mandatory. Previously only production blocks had to be used and the design of the head was left free. As is now history, Cosworth Engineering came up with the FVA engine, with its four-valve-per-cylinder lay-out and this amazing unit won the first 1,600-c.c. F2 race in 1967, the last in 1971 and the great majority in between as well.

Cosworth later produced a productionised version known as the BDA for use in the hot Escort RS1600 which retained the similar four-valve lay-out but much smaller valves were used and the camshafts, and other ancillaries, were driven by a toothed belt rather than a noisy train of gears. It is on this 1,601 c.c engine that the present F2 engines are based, although, in theory, blocks other than Ford could be used. But only Ford had the forethought to homologate, and put into production, a four valve engine of suitable capacity. The words “suitable capacity” are something of a moot point for at 1,601 c.c. the engine falls well short of the 2,000 c.c. maximum. However, the rules allow the engine to be opened out and this is the cause of the unreliability of the units so far. To obtain the extra capacity one can either stroke or bore or a combination of the two. Unfortunately there is not sufficient metal to take the necessary re-bore while a long stroke gives problems regarding revs, or not enough of them. Ford themselves have helped by homologating some special siamesed blocks (no water passage between the bores) which helps and some of the smaller capacity engines being used, like the effective Brian Hart-tuned 1,850 c.c. engine. However, to get any larger capacity than that with an acceptable stroke, the engine builders have been completely re-building the inside of the blocks by welding in liners. This is all rather a “bodge” job but some seem to work quite effectively, but tend to be unreliable.

Cosworth themselves have built only four such engines, one each for March Engineering, Rondel Racing, McLaren and Lotus (who still haven’t got an F2 car) but not Surtees, who feels rather left out of it and is naturally rather unhappy with the situation. These precious four units are definitely the most powerful in Formula Two at the moment and the liners are brazed rather than welded. Other firms including Race Engine Services, Racing Services (Engines) and Felday have also come up with re-worked block engines. Former BRM engine designer Aubrey Woods is now running a firm for Chris Amon and has entered this market but has plumped for a long stroke and unlinered block. So far his engines have not lasted long enough to actually get to a race.

A number of people are of the opinion that the smaller 1,850 c.c. engine is a better bet and the extra horse power, offered by the larger capacity, is no good if it isn’t there at the end of the race. Hart, RES, David Wood Engineering and Broadspeed, as well as Cosworth, all produce such engines. A lot of the original development work for BDAs was, of course, done prior to the new Formula Two for use in racing Escorts.

The whole thing, however, is only a stop gap until the linerless al-laluminium Chevrolet Vega engine is homologated, which should be about June. Once this happens all the BDAs will be obsolete overnight for Cosworth already have a racing version, known as the EAA, designed and built and it was tried in a Chevron B19 sports car in the South African series. This is expected to produce somewhere in the region of 300 b.h.p. when fully developed while the best an enlarged BDA can reliably give is nearer 260 b.h.p. Perhaps the reason why Cosworth built some big BDAs themselves was an exercise to see if such an engine would or could constitute a challenge to the Vega based EAA.

However, Cosworth are not the only people who have an engine waiting for homologation which will be of use in Formula Two. The latest Lotus 16 valve engine, which we wrote about last month, obviously has the basis of a very good F2 unit. It is light, being all-aluminium, has a strong bottom end and also has a four-valve head. Colin Chapman is fully aware of the possibilities although he has, so, far, said that Lotus will not be producing racing versions. However, rumour has it that one of the Lotus Type 907 engines has already found its way down to the Italian tuners Novamotor, who on behalf of Lotus, are producing a racing version for Emerson Fittipaldi.

Add to all this news of the possibility of one or even two Japanese engines for the Formula next year and the possibility of Ford homologating an aluminium block for the BDA engine which would be of 2-litre capacity. This idea now seems to be rather less positive than before, although Brian Hart Ltd have made tests with such engines which were used to power various 2-litre sports cars last season.

However, all this is in the future, and so far this season we have had four races for the new Formula and every car has been powered by a Ford BDA engine. The first three events were all in Britain, at Mallory Park on March 12th, at Oulton Park on Good Friday and at Thruxton on Easter Monday. The Mallory and Thruxton races counted towards the important FIA European Formula Two Championship for non-graded drivers while all three rounds qualified for the John Player British F2 Championship.

The Mallory Park meeting produced a major surprise in the form of Formula Atlantic and ex-Formula Three driver, David Morgan. He was driving in his first ever Formula Two race in a last year’s Brabham BT35 sponsored by Ed Reeves. In practice Morgan set everyone talking with second fastest time overall to Ronnie Peterson in the works STP-March. In the two part race he kept up this sensational form. Peterson retired early on in his heat with fuel injection trouble and crashed in the second. So in the first heat Morgan ran home the winner after Carlos Reutemann slowed his Brabham with tyre problems and Niki Lauda finished second in his March. In the second heat Morgan only had to keep the other two in sight and this he did although, on aggregate times, both Reutemann and Lauda came close to overtaking Morgan. But the final result was a win for Morgan, with Lauda second and Reutemann third. The young South African Jody Scheckter was fourth in his first-ever F2 race while Mike Hailwood finished fifth in his works Matchbox Surtees.

The Oulton Park race on Good Friday only had a small field as most competitors were conserving their cars for the more important Thruxton fixture, practice for which was the day after Oulton. Niki Lauda totally dominated the race which was held in the pouring rain and he came home a clear winner—his first ever victory in Formula Two. Second was Gerry Birrell, also in a March, after Tim Schenken slowed his Rondel Brabham BT38 with a puncture. Schenken had to be content with third place, while at the finish, only three other cars out of the 14 starters were circulating.

There was a very much larger turn out for the Thruxton meeting and again the weather was kind to this popular fixture organised by the BARC. The race was split into two 27 lap heats and a 50 lap final. Practice took its toll, for Carlos Reutemann’s Rondel Brabham BT38 crashed when a rear hub sheared and it was decided to withdraw the other Rondel cars of Pesearolo and Schenken its well. Reutemann’s accident looks as if it will put him out of racing for over two months.

The heats further reduced the field as the fragile engines blew up and both were won by the works STP-Marchs. Lauda winning one heat and Peterson the other. The final lacked the excitement usually seen at this meeting for Peterson soon disappeared into the distance and smashed the outright lap record on his way. Francois Cevert, who was driving a March 722 for John Coombs, held a steady second place while Lauda was happy in third position. This was the way it stayed while the others just dropped out like flies, almost all with engine problems. In the end, only five cars were running and fourth place went to the Pygmee of Patrick Dal Bo, son of the constructor/designer Marius Dal Bo from France. This was the best ever result for this marque and a reward for the excellent preparation of the newly formed BE Racing Team who are now running three such cars from Hambledon in Hampshire.

On April 16th the Formula Two circus moved onto the Continent for the first time this year, to the daunting high speed Hockenheim circuit. This race counted towards the European Championship and, as is often the case, at this circuit it provided a surprise result. After practice for this two heat affair the STP-March team looked strong favourites with Lauda fastest and Peterson’s deputy, German saloon and F3 driver Jochen Mass, looking good in third fastest place. However, in the race both suffered mechanical failures and the eventual winner was the former French F3 Champion Jean-Pierre Jaussaud who has been around the F2 scene without much success for a couple of years. He was driving a new Brabham BT38 so the score so far is March 2— Brabham 2. Finishing second was Mike Beuttler in his March 722 ahead of Bob Wollek’s Rondel Brabham and Swiss-privateer Xavier Pevrot with his March 722. — A. R. M.