Thrill of the chase
Emerson Fittipaldi felt the heat ahead of the 1973 Argentine GP, but knew the race could be won
Passage of time is an extraordinary thing. Everyone over 40 will be very familiar with how much it then accelerates. But Emerson Fittipaldi began the defence of his 1972 World Championship in the John Player Special Lotus 72 forty years ago, and his success in the 1973 Argentine Grand Prix still holds a special place in his memory.
The great Brazilian recalled: “A lot of other people want to have a crack at the Champion and I was very much in the firing line when I prepared for this important race in Buenos Aires. It was important for me because there were at least 10,000 of my Brazilian countrymen in Buenos Aires for the race, and anyway the whole sub-continent wanted a South American victory. I felt all these pressures on me.
“To add to the drama there were some very tough security precautions for drivers, because there had been one of those frequent scare stories that one of us could be kidnapped for local political ends.”
On that baking hot Buenos Aires race day, Francois Cevert made a fantastic start from the third row in his Tyrrell to grab an immediate lead from Clay Regazzoni, making his BRM debut. But the Swiss led back past the pits with Cevert on his heels, then Ronnie Peterson and Emerson in their sister black and gold Lotus 72s. Fittipaldi had always been good at conserving his tyres early in a race under fuel-heavy, hot conditions. Regazzoni was more hot-headed and after 29 laps his BRM slowed with its tyres pretty much cooked.
Tyrrell’s former World Champion Jackie Stewart had come steaming through the field into second place behind Cevert, and Peterson had given way to Fittipaldi who then ran third, on Jackie’s tail.
Emerson: “Jackie Stewart is a dogged driver, immensely difficult to pass. It was infuriating to be never more than a split second behind him and yet to be kept in my place on stretches where I knew I could be faster. A hairpin bend near the middle of the circuit was immediately after a very fast righthander which we were taking at about 260km/h. But it was impossible to slipstream Jackie with any success. I could not hug his tail. My car lost all download and began to understeer at about 160mph. For lap after lap I tried to take Jackie on that right-hand bend. Sometimes I even shook my fist at him to tell him he was delaying me.
“Finally, 70 laps went by before a vital decision. I would brake very, very late on the right-hand bend. I held on, screaming into the corner, and finally I managed to squeeze past Jackie on the inside. He told me after the race he did not believe my JPS could possibly have achieved the speed it did after it passed him. Once I had got Jackie out of the way it was no longer a question of playing a waiting game; just to get as much speed as possible out of the JPS Lotus to catch the leader before planning another strike. I clocked fastest lap after passing Jackie.
“Both Tyrrells were very fast on the straight. I could not stay too close to Cevert in the very fast corners, but in the middle section I had some advantage because I could drive quicker on these corners and brake a little later.
“Tactically I would have preferred to concentrate again on the corner where I had taken Stewart. But this was now impossible because Beltoise’s BRM had spilled oil across the circuit and all of us were having to keep to the inside. I was almost sure at this stage I would have to settle for second place in my first race as World Champion.
“There were only 10 laps left and when I came out of the tight right-hand corner just before the pits I was very close indeed to Cevert. I was braking very late and, with a twitch of the steering wheel, I got my nose on the inside of his Tyrrell. He came more and more over to the right, trying to close me out, but I scraped through with two right-hand wheels over the green.
“And the remaining 10 laps had merely to be driven fast without mistakes. I crossed the line a clear four seconds ahead of Cevert and 30 seconds ahead of Stewart. It was (then) certainly the most difficult race of my life. I am proud to have won in such company…”
Now that 40 years ago really had been Formula 1 at its finest.
Pace, artistry and tenacity
John Surtees is famous for multiple world titles on two wheels and four, but the depth of his skill as a racer is all too often overlooked
During the winter, considerable discussion arose of John Surtees’s remarkable talents being inadequately recognised. Of course, this raises the question, by whom? Many of us have never needed any reminder. But time moves on, new generations emerge and even a superstar can be overlooked if he hasn’t been relentlessly beating his own drum.
Much was made of John the Great’s seven motorcycle World Championship titles and of his Formula 1 World Championship crown with Ferrari in 1964, then his pioneering Formula 1 wins for Cooper-Maserati in Mexico, then for Honda at Monza where the Italian tifosi truly adored him. His Sports Car World Championship exploits, most notably in factory Ferraris 1963-66, and then with the Can-Am Championship-winning Team Surtees Lola T70, were added to the pot. It’s still simmering well in his support.
But at least one aspect of the Surtees record seems too commonly overlooked. And that involves his exploits in the slimline Lola T100 — his 1600cc Formula 2 car from 1967. Right in the middle of that season — with a bit of luck topping a bunch of skill -John had a real purple patch, winning twice in succession at Mallory Park on May14, and then in the Limburg Grand Prix at Zolder in Belgium the following weekend.
At Mallory it rained. Albeit among a small field, John won what must have seemed like an interminable 75-lap final by nearly three whole laps. The meeting had been arranged with two 10-lap Formula 2 preliminaries. Jacky Ickx won the first in his Tyrrell-entered Matra with John second, 0.8sec behind. Private owner-driver Chris Lambert then won the second in his Brabham. But in the lengthy, soaking final Surtees in his red and white Lola was just untouchable. Ickx spun at least four times trying to maintain — or regain — contact, but John proved complete master of the conditions and won from Frank Gardner’s Brabham and Bruce McLaren’s works M4A.
The joy of Formula 2 was the stage it provided for aspiring young drivers — like Ickx — to face such established stars. It might be instructive to see today’s smug establishment being challenged in the same way on the weekends between Grands Prix…
But back in ’67 the weekend following that Mallory Park soaking, the non-Championship Limburg GP was one of the most enthralling star-entry road races ever run. It was split into two 24-lap heats. Jim Clark was on dominant form in the first, heading the field for 22 laps after Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s works Matra had led away from the start. John finished third despite his FVA-engined Lola persistently blowing oil smoke and running hot.
Clark, Beltoise and Surtees then lined up on the front row for heat two. While John’s Lola again trailed a thin plume of smoke, he held a watching brief while Beltoise harried Clark’s leading green and yellow Lotus 48. Apparently gaining confidence in his Lola’s suspect engine, John then began to press Beltoise, as yet another World Champion -Jack Brabham joined their street fight. By half-distance the order was Clark, Beltoise, Brabham, Surtees, but at the end of lap 18 `131ackJack’ rocketed past the pits in the lead. In his wake Clark was being pressed hard by Surtees and next time round both John and Beltoise had displaced the Lotus.
Those final five laps became a minor classic with Brabham, Beltoise and Surtees all seeking the decisive move. On a pulsating final lap, Surtees drew alongside Brabham up the hill at the back of the circuit. With Beltoise finally outpaced, the two hardest nuts in road racing sat one another out into the final curves.., and it was John’s tactical sense that put his car upon the right piece of road. Jack had to back off and Surtees won by four tenths.
Jimmy’s fourth place, six seconds adrift, would — significantly — have given him overall race victory on addition of the two heat times, by 2.8sec. But the Belgian organisers were deciding their race winner not by simple addition of times but instead by awarding points for finishing positions in both heats. Surtees had finished third and first — four points. Clark had finished first and fourth — five points — matching Beltoise’s second and third — five points. Brabham had finished fifth and second — seven points. Perhaps Team Lotus hadn’t read the regulations? Regardless, II Grande John had notched his second F2 race win that week — and three and a half months later he would repeat his last-lap defeat of Brabham on a more major stage — in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, by two-tenths! As a racing warrior Surtees shone. Don’t ever doubt it.
The shape of things to come
Car aficionados will all be familiar with the Ferrari 2506T0, but its sculptured coachwork cloaked some highly advanced thinking
The definitive Ferrari 250GTO5 wear, of course, the initial body style applied — 50 years ago in 1962-63. But this was not the first body attached to what became Maranello’s GT Omologato. The factory’s development specialist Giotto Bizzarrini was a creative and too often underrated engineer. He worked hard and well to improve upon the already hugely successful 250GT short-wheelbase Berlinetta. It’s now a familiar story of how he and his colleagues adopted the dry-sump sixcarburettor sports-prototype version of the 3-litre V12 engine, mounted it farther back in the frame and exploited its reduced height (compared to its wet-sump predecessor) to produce a lower bonnet line. As their work progressed they also sought a longer, sleeker nose, hopefully to minimise the aerodynamic lift that Bizzarrini suspected of causing the 250GT’s reported wandering problems at high speed. He went even further, and also began investigating an under-slung tray beneath the tail — in some ways a forerunner of late ’70s harnessing of ground-effect aerodynamics.
A prototype chassis was roughly bodied with a hand-battered long-nose body shell. Contemporary racing reporter for Auto ltaliana magazine — and future Ferrari direttore sportivo — Franco Lini was on hand at Monza during one test session. I suspect his presence wasn’t terribly popular, but he was allowed to take a couple of snaps. Looking at them today one just marvels at that period, when within mere weeks one of the most enduring of all motor racing legends would be conceived, hand-fashioned, proven and more or less perfected in time for its racing debut at Sebring in March 1962. That Monza test car might not have been the most exquisitely finished example of Italian coachbuilding we’d ever see — but, boy, was it influential.