Only 12 Formula One cars were attracted to the impressive 5-mile circuit of Interlagos near the large Brazilian City of Sao Paulo. The race was organised by the same team who efficiently ran the Formula Two series at the end of last year but, even so, the race did seem to be in doubt in some quarters until only days beforehand. John Player Team Lotus, with the top Brazilian driver on their strength had to take the race seriously and they used it as a test for a brand new Lotus 72D which has been built up during the past couple of months. Numbered 72D/R7, the car was similar to those already raced and if there were any differences they were not noticeable and no one was telling. This was to be driven by Fittipaldi while the team also had R6 for Walker.
The Brabham team brought along their regular two cars, BT34/1 for regular driver Carlos Reutemann from neighbouring Argentina, and BT 33/3 for Emerson Fittipaldi’s older brother, Wilson, who was replacing Graham Hill for this occasion. It was not W. Fittipaldi’s first Formula One race for it will be remembered he drove an elderly Lotus 49 in the non-championship Argentine GP in 1970. March Engineering brought along their older type 721 for Peterson plus the car that Beuttler drove at Brands, for local top sports car driver, Luiz Bueno who raced in British Formula Ford in 1969.
Marlboro-BRM turned up with a full complement of four cars, P160s for Beltoise, Gethin and Marko plus an older P153 for Soler-Roig, who was having his first F1 race since the Argentine GP. The field was completed by the Frank Williams team, who brought along their March 721 and 711 for Pescarolo and Pace. Thus, four of the twelve drivers were Brazilians. There was talk of Williams also running a borrowed Surtees for de Adamich but it did not materialise although the driver did.
Fittipaldi soon came to terms with his new Lotus and at the end of practice had lapped the twisty circuit in 2 min. 32.4 sec., a full two seconds faster than his nearest rival, Reutemann. On row two of the two-two grid was Peterson, just a fifth of a second slower, alongside W. Fittipaldi who was a full 3.9 sec. slower than his brother. Walker and Beltoise were on row three while the Williams team occupied row four with Pace, in only his second Formula One race, faster than team mate Pescarolo. Bueno, and the three other BRMs, completed the sparse field. Several “big noises” from Marlboro Europe were present and one presumes they weren’t too impressed with the performance of the third of the field occupied by their red and white machines.
They were unhappier still when their only possible contender, Behoise, was unable to start when his car’s engine died in the paddock while being warmed up before the race and could not be coaxed back to life. So when the flag dropped, only eleven cars left the grid with W. Fittipaldi sneaking through to take the lead much to the delight of the large and partisan crowd. His more experienced brother was forced into second place while a great cloud of dust and grit greeted the rest of the field. This was promptly gathered by the BRM of Gethin and the two Williams’ cars which ground to a halt with jammed throttles and took no further part in the proceedings. This left eight cars with W. Fittipaldi holding off E. Fittipaldi until lap three. Once the Player Lotus was ahead it pulled out a big lead while the older Fittipaldi dropped to fourth place behind the battle between Reutemann and Peterson. The March driver was hampered somewhat by no clutch and a deflating front tyre, and finally had to make a pit-stop to have it changed. This dropped him behind W. Fittipaldi but he soon regained his place. With 32 of the 37 laps complete the leader suddenly spun wildly and just missed the armco barrier. A lug in the bottom of the fabricated rear upright had pulled adrift and Fittipaldi motored back to the pits to retire. This put Reutemann into a conclusive lead which he retained until the end, finishing almost 1 1/2 minutes in front of Peterson. Making it a good day for Brabham was Wilson Fittipaldi who finished third with Marko fourth for BRM, but lapped. Fifth was Walker and sixth was Bueno, while Soler-Roig retired early with electrical problems, from the back of the field.
So Reutemann won his first ever Formula One race in what he admitted was a somewhat lucky fashion, a fact he had plenty of time to ponder on in the following weeks. Two days later he was most unfortunate to fracture an ankle while practising for the Thruxton F2 race, when the right-rear-hub of his Rondel Brabham broke in a fast corner and he crashed heavily. — A. R. M.