Stuck the unbeatable
The European Formula Two Championship which started at the splendid Montjuich Park circuit at Barcelona on March 24th looks like being dominated yet again by the Anglo-German alliance of the March chassis and BMW engines. The works car, driven by 23-year-old Hans Stuck, was unbeatable in the opening round in Spain, and the impressive young German followed up his first single-seater win with another runaway victory at Hockenheim a fortnight later.
Stuck secured pole position for both races, being nearly three seconds a lap faster than anyone else in front of a crowd of 100,000 in his home race. At Barcelona the lead was contested strongly by his French team-mate Patrick Depailler in a similar March 742, but in the closing laps Depailler was held up by a slower car and finished 3.9 sec. behind.
Third in the opening race was Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the Frenchman using a Schnitzer-tuned BMW engine with three plugs per cylinder in his Alpine-built Elf 2. One of the most promising newcomers to the championship is Italian Gabriel Serblin. Last season he had several drives in Andrea de Adamich's Brabham-Ford and this year he has his own March-BMW which he drove to a well-judged fourth place.
The only British driver contesting the 54-lap Montjuich Park race was Andy Sutcliffe and he finished a lap down in fifth place, in spite of a pit stop to clear out paper from the radiator and losing the rear engine cover.
Finishing on the same lap was former Formula Three French driver Michel Leclerc in another of the Elf-sponsored Alpines.
Twenty cars arrived for the opening round and 11 of them were new, with nearly half the field starting their first full season in the formula. Following the championship win by Jean-Pierre Jarier's March-BMW last year, most private teams opted for the British-built chassis and there were 12 of the BMW Munich-engined cars in the entry. There were four works cars from Alpine, two GRDs, a Brabham and a Chevron.
Practice on Friday was wet but Depailler managed to put in several good laps during a lull in the rain to be fastest. Everyone improved their times on Saturday, but it was Stuck who ended up on pole position after a last minute bid ousted Depailler. The German's fastest time was 1 min. 25.8 sec. which was nearly a second faster than anyone else.
Third fastest behind Depailler was the Swedish driver Bertil Roos. He is entered by American Fred Opert and is an instructot at Opert's racing school as well as racing in Formula Super Vee and Formula Atlantic in North America.
Roos' Chevron-Ford recorded a best time of 1 min. 27.5 sec., which was 0.8 sec. slower than Depailler. The March-BMW of Jacques Coulon ended up fourth fastest ahead of Jabouille and Serblin.
Sunday's race quickly became a dispute between the two works Marches with the rest of the field, many in new and previously untested cars, falling well behind. Depailler led into the left-hand hairpin at the end of the undulating straight on the first lap but Stuck was soon challenging strongly.
The German's Jaegermeister-sponsored orange March came through in the lead after ten laps, but Depailler was still chasing hard. The two tussled lap after lap, sharing the lead and neither showed any thought of team tactics.
Jabouille and Serblin quickly established themselves in third and fourth places and were never challenged, leaving the interest centring on the battle at the front. With 10 laps to go the leaders were weaving through slower cars and unfortunately Depailler got held up for several laps by a slower car and dropped 5 sec. on his teammate. In winning his first Formula Two race, in what was only his twelfth drive in a single-seater car, Stuck set a new Formula Two lap record for the circuit of 1 mm. 25.58 sec.
Roos slowed in the race because handling was affected by a nose he had changed during untimed practice, and Coulon, in his semiworks Antar March-BMW, retired when the nose section on his car fell off. The first four cars used Goodyear tyres.
A promising note was that fifteen cars were still running at the finish, quite a change from last season when reliability from the 2-litre engines never ran high.
Emphasising the changing face of the European championship there were even more new faces at the second round. Whereas in previous years the competition has been mainly between British teams with a large number of British and well-known international drivers, this year the entry is largely made up of young Frenchmen, Italians and Germans.
No one could match Stuck's pace at Hockenheim and after being so fast in practice he led both the 20-lap heats to win overall by 1 min 1,1 sec. and established another new Formula Two lap record. His fastest lap in the race was 2 min. 0.9 sec. The works cars differ from most of the other Marches in that they have a longer nose section and the rear wing is extended some 20 inches further back. Designer Robin Herd claims it gives the cars more speed on straights but at Hockenheim it cost Depailler a probable second place. The Frenchman's practice was interrupted when he ran wide on a corner and knocked the nose awry, then driving back onto the track the wind caught the nose and blew it hack onto Depailler's helmet. In the confusion Depailler careered back across the track and smashed into the Armco on the other side. The car was repaired for the race but after finishing second to Stuck in the first heat, Depailler had to make a pit stop in the second heat when the nose worked loose.
Depailler worked his way back up to seventh place which gave him fourth place overall.
Ulsterman John Watson, having his first drive in the works Surtees-Ford, finished second overall with fourth and third placings in the two parts, and third place went to Michel Leclere's Elf 2. The similar Schnitzer-BMW-engined Elf 2 of Formulc Renault graduate Patrick Tambay took a good fifth placing behind Depailler, and Roos completed the points scorers in his Chevron.
Whereas BMW-engined cars took the first six places in Barcelona, the cars of Watson and Roos, using Brian Hart built Ford engines, seemed able to match the power of the German engines in the second round.
Jean-Pierre Beltoise was the only Graded driver at Hockenheim and he took over Jabouille's Elf 2, but after qualifying third fastest behind the works Marches he had engine troubles in the race and was never in contention.
There were 30 cars on the grid at Hockenheim and amongst the entry was an interesting two-car team of March-BMWs entered by Hong Kong businessman Bob Harper for Britain's David Purley and Austrian Dieter Quester. The smartly-turned-out Harper team had done very little testing and had a troubled weekend, with Quester crashing in the first heat and Purley suffering a suspension failure in the second, but they should be strong contenders later in the season.
The prospects of some good racing in Formula Two presently look good. The Bicester-based March team obviously have a considerable edge on the predominantly March-BMW formula but the opposition is mounting. Emerson Fittipaldi may join the new Marlboro-Ecuador Surtees-BMW team for the next round at Pau on May 5th and Australian Dave Walker should drive a new March-BMW. Although little known in Britain, some of the young Continental drivers have already shown promise and the new "European-look" Formula Two championship should be a vast improvement on last year's series.—M.T.