Shaken, stirred & on the rocks
Ferrari wasn’t the only Italian team in disarray in 1973: Martini-backed Tecno, in only its second season, had two different cars — made by two different firms — on the go. Gary Watkins explains
No doubt there were occasions when Derek Bell secretly wished for an engine failure and an early bath. Perhaps in the middle of a dark, dank night at Le Mans, his name languishing down the order after innumerable delays. But on the first run of a brand new Formula One car? Surely not.
It may sound unlikely, but when Bell travelled to Italy in December 1971 for the maiden test of Tecno’s first grand prix contender, that was exactly how he was thinking. In his defence, he had already been offered a Brabham drive when first approached by David Yorke, his team manager at the JVV Automotive Porsche sportscar squad that year.
Yorke had been retained as a consultant by Martini & Rossi to take the drinks company into F1. His plan to spend its lire with Brabham went out of the window when the chance to get involved with a home-grown operation building both chassis and engines looked too good to turn down. Rather than teaming up with old Formula Two sparring partner Carlos Reutemann, Bell was to be a Tecno driver alongside Nanni Galli in 1972. Unless, perhaps, the new package wasn’t quite what the Rossi brothers were hoping for…
“The thing kept being delayed; it should have been ready weeks before,” remembers Bell. “Finally we got the call to fly out to Italy. We anived at Pirelli’s test track to find a delegation from the Rossi family but no car. First I was hoping it wouldn’t show and, when it did show, that it wouldn’t start. I’m convinced that if Tecno had had a disaster that day, I would have been off to Brabham. It was an icy cold day and the team poured hot water in the engine, fired it up and it ran and ran. We couldn’t believe it. David had to concede that it was a remarkable showing for a first test.”
It was the start of an F1 adventure for Tecno that spanned the following two seasons and three chassis designs, yet resulted in just 10 grand prix starts and yielded a single world championship point. How a company that had come from nowhere to dominate Formula Three on the Continent, and went on to secure the European Formula Two Championship, proved to be such a flop at the sport’s pinnacle is a tale dominated by intrigue and infighting.
Some believe that a company which should be regarded as the Dallara of its day took a step too far, others that the political battle for control of the project between Yorke and Tecno boss Luciano Pederzani doomed it to failure. Mauro Forghieri, who had been instructed by his boss Enzo Ferrari to offer a helping hand, reckons Tecno “lacked technology”. Perhaps that’s not surprising for a constructor that graduated rapidly from karts to motorcycle-engined Formula Four cars and, by 1966, to an F3 chassis. Even as late as ’72, when designer Allan McCall arrived at Tecno, he found a complete lack of machinery in its Bologna workshops.
The decision to build its own engines à la Ferrari was certainly a brave one. Clay Regazzoni, F2 champion with Tecno in 1970, recalls urging his former boss to take the conventional route of the time. “I told him to buy a Cosworth,” says the Swiss. “The team tried to do too much by building the chassis and the engine.”
Problems with both the F2-inspired panelled spaceframe and the flat-12 delayed Tecno’s F1 debut The car Bell and Galli tested on that cold winter’s day near Turin was merely a muletta that had to be reworked to conform to the F1 rule book. The engine, meanwhile, was suffering from lubrication and overheating problems that would blight it throughout its life. Four races were missed at the start of 1972 before the Tecno PA123 showed up at Nivelles for the Belgian Grand Prix. It was hardly a startling debut. Galli qualified 24th, more than 3sec off the pace, and made it 53 laps into the race before retiring. The reason for his non-finish? A clash with none other than Regazzoni.
Bell got his chance in the (for the moment) one-car team next time out at Clermont-Ferrand. “In the first session I was by no means the slowest,” he says. ‘After that I went slower every practice session and no-one could fathom out why. I remember clearly David Yorke’s first words to me on race morning: ‘You’re not driving, son.’ There were nine bolts holding the engine on and four had broken.”
The Tecno’s opening two grands prix set the tone for a year in which Galli and Bell completed just 126 racing laps between them in six GP starts. The highlight was Galli’s third place in a poorly attended non-championship race at Vallelunga.
This lack of success explains why Yorke decided to take matters into his own hands and build a ‘British’ Tecno with Martini money. But why he chose a company set up by a designer of dumper trucks and a journalist to produce the car is a mystery Yorke took to his grave.
Gordon Fowell was an old friend of Yorke’s, but his only involvement in motorsport up to that time was as an amateur driver and partner to journalist Alan Phillips in a company that released audio tapes of racing engines. Goral Engineering was their next venture.
Pederzani, meanwhile, wasn’t to be outdone and decided that he would also produce a monocoque car. He touted around a number of British-based designers and ended up recruiting McCall, whose Tui Formula Two and Atlantic machinery had shown promise over the previous couple of seasons.
“Luciano was offended because Yorke had suggested that Italians couldn’t do monocoques,” says McCall. “My car was intended as nothing other an exercise to show that he could build his own tub.” Work on the McCall Tecno started on New Year’s Eve, 1972. Just 10 weeks later, PA123-006 — which retained only the type number and the rear end of the previous design — was on its wheels. How this chassis came to be taken over by Yorke isn’t clear. McCall claims that the idea to race his car came up only as it neared completion.
“When Pederzani saw the thing he suddenly got excited about racing it,” remembers the designer, who corroborates press reports of the time that the car could have raced as a Tecno Tui. “He went out and found some sponsorship and asked me to find a driver.”
The name McCall put forward was Chris Amon. But the former Ferrari driver’s recollection of events is that he was approached by Yorke, not McCall. His return to the works March squad having fallen through in early January, Chris was glad of the approach.
“When I agreed to drive I had no idea what car I’d be driving,” explains Amon, whose contract was with Martini. “Then Yorke filled me in, explaining that the McCall chassis was nearly ready and that Fowell’s would be for later.”
It was an awkward time. McCall claims that Yorke “rode roughshod over the Pederzanis” with the result that Luciano “felt insulted”. McCall’s right-hand man, Eddie Wies, recalls “the British turning up one day, covering our car in Martini stickers and claiming it as theirs”. It was the start of an irreconcilable breakdown in the relationship between the British and Italian sides of the team.
“After that Luciano said he was only going to fulfil his obligations, and no more,” explains McCall, who left Tecno immediately after his creation’s first test. “His contract was to supply engines, transport and the mechanics. He’d built something like 12 engines, but no development was undertaken. He didn’t even put them on the dyno.”
That tallies with Amon’s description of the engines getting worse through the season, and explains why he and Yorke went home for good after qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, claiming no engines were available.
Anglo-Italian liaisons became ever more fiery as Tecno’s involvement in grand prix racing drew to a close. On one occasion Luciano Pederzani floored Yorke during an argument. On another Amon’s frustration boiled over in Tecno’s offices and he picked up an ashtray and hurled it across the room. A journalist had been standing outside throughout and the proceedings were reported in detail in the following morning’s Gazzetta dello Sport.
The McCall Tecno did have its moments, however. Once again the team’s season started in Belgium, this time at Zolder, where Amon qualified 15th and came home sixth despite struggling with high
temperatures inside the cockpit. At Monaco, the car started 12th and was running seventh when the engine overheated after 24 laps.
“It wasn’t a bad chassis at all,” claims Amon. “It was a little bit too heavy, but in handling terms it was probably a match for anything around. On the tighter tracks it went well, but once we got to somewhere like Silverstone we were in trouble.”
The team skipped the Swedish Grand Prix but was meant to be back for Paul Ricard. Amon and Yorke arrived from England, but the truck from Italy was nowhere to be found. By this point the Fowell chassis, known as the E731, had run for the first time after interminable delays. Bruce McIntosh, an Italian speaker after seven years with Serenissma, had been employed by Yorke to put the car together.
“We built the monocoque over here at John Thompson’s place, but we never had a dummy engine,” McIntosh recalls. “So I had to take the tub to Italy and work out all the systems at the rear end.”
The car first ran down a back alley behind Tecno’s workshops on Via Ducati. It was subsequently transported back to England and tested at Santa Pod. Both times it spewed out oil. Amon has no recollection of driving the E731 until British Grand Prix week. He briefly tried it in free practice at Silverstone, though his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to qualify for the race came aboard the old car.
The Fowell car was tried again at Zandvoort, where Amon notched up the final F1 start by a Tecno, and again at the Osterreichring. Amon claims PA123-006 was the better car, but he concedes that the Fowell chassis didn’t get a fair crack of the whip: “It was a beautiful looking car, but it lacked development” Indeed the E731’s potential was never unlocked, according to those involved in the project.
“Fowell was a clever guy,” says McIntosh, who remained with the designer to work on Amon’s own F1 car the following year. Thompson recalls the final Tecno incorporating a host of “different ideas”. It was the first F1 chassis, he claims, to run a Fibreglass rear wing.
Luciano Pederzani was another talented engineer; that’s something upon which both McCall and McIntosh, who were on different sides of the political divide, agree. McCall describes the Italian as “a hands-on mechanic and a real smart man”. McIntosh remembers him as “an intuitive engineer”.
The end appears to have come at Silverstone, and explains why the team ran out of engines two races later. The story below was told to Wies by a Tecno mechanic years later…
“He told me that a very long top gear was put in our chassis. The idea was to try to make the British car look better than it was.” That might explain why the Tecno did not qualify that weekend. “As soon as Luciano found out he went home and said that he would never be seen at a racetrack again.” Work on a flat-eight F1 engine was immediately stopped. And it seems that Pederzani kept true to his word right up to his death in the late 1990s.