Formula 2 review

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The European Formula Two season effectively came to an end at Vallelunga at the beginning of October when Ronnie Peterson secured the European Trophy with a convincing victory in the 22nd Rome Grand Prix. Thoughts that Peterson might be toppled from his domination of the Formula Two scene were high after the qualifying round at Albi in central southern France a fortnight before the Italian event, for Peterson’s recently reliable March 712M was delayed, overall victory went to Emerson Fittipaldi (Lotus 69) and maximum points went to Peterson’s closest challenger Carlos Reutemann, who finished second overall.

But Albi was very much a race of attrition, although Reutemann’s confidence was plain from the moment he beat Peterson to pole position in the first Championship Formula Two event to be held on the featureless French circuit since Graham Hill won there in a Winkelmann Lotus two years earlier. On the warming-up lap Reutemann felt the car to be rather unstable at the back end, but started the race without attention only to make a forced pit stop on the second lap to have a flat rear tyre changed. Meanwhile, Peterson was making his break from the remainder of the field following another magnificent getaway.

Jostling for second position behind the leading March were Dieter Quester’s March-BMW, Patrick Dal Bo’s Pygmee, Wilson Fittipaldi’s March, Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus and the remainder of the field. Francois Cevert’s works Tecno was an early retirement with a sparking plug blown out of the RDA’s cylinder head, Wilson Fittipaldi broke an oil line and Quester’s March sustained fuel pump trouble. Eventually Emerson Fittipaldi fought to the head of this bunch and Dal Bo’s car overheated after a stone had been sent through its radiator by the wild Italian Giovanni Salvati’s March.

All Tim Schenken’s chances of challenging (admittedly only an outside possibility) for the Trophy were shattered when his team-mate Graham Hill spun his Rondel Brabham ahead of the Australian and Schenken was put off with a broken rear upright in the ensuing avoidance. These various retirements allowed Reutemann, who was flinging the white ACA Brabham around in great opposite lock slides, to make up a lot of ground, although things didn’t look as though he would catch Peterson.

The whole pattern of the race changed when the leader stopped at his pit with an oil leak on lap 27 of the 63-lap event. Frantic work by his mechanics located a loose oil pipe, through which lubricant had been escaping, and Peterson had brought the car in when the loss started to show up in corners on the pressure gauge. The car’s oil tank was replenished; nobody bothered to protest this, although the March team manager spent an anxious hour immediately after the race finished, and Peterson was back in the race albeit two laps down on the leaders.

This left Emerson Fittipaldi with a big lead, which he consolidated to over a minute by the end, Carlos Reutemann profiting by other people’s misfortune, and his great effort to finish second ahead of Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Jarier (March) and Francois Migault (March). Hill recovered to fifth after a brief pit stop and Peterson took sixth.

Two weeks later Peterson scored his sixth Formula Two victory at Vallelunga, soundly beating Dieter Quester’s March-BMW and Carlos Reutemann in the two-part Rome Grand Prix. It looked a little bit worrying for March in the first heat as Peterson lost the use of fourth gear, accepting second place behind Emerson Fittipaldi. But quick work by his mechanics fitted the fastest March with the gearbox from Jean-Pierre Jarier’s machine which hadn’t qualified. Peterson then led the second heat from start to finish with devastating ease after Fittipaldi’s Lotus retired on the third lap with a broken throttle cable.

So, after a terrible start to the season, Peterson achieved his ambition in winning the European Trophy, a feather in the cap of March Engineering at the end of only their second full season in the formula. There’s no getting away from the fact that they took on too many cars in Formula Two, but they knuckled down to making the best of a difficult job and their number one man came out on top even if some of his stablemates were left a little short of attention at times. It was a great personal triumph for the popular Swedish driver, and a mark of his and the team’s determination to fight back after a series of massive accidents and engine failures in the first half of the year.

We mentioned in depth last month the problems afflicting the factory Tecnos and robbing them of any chance of catching up in the points list. Of Peterson’s other opposition the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, who seems set for Formula One next year, has been the most consistent pursuer and almost looked as though he would steal the title after his performance at Albi and his victory in the non-championship Hockenheim race. Tim Schenken crashed his Brabham at Vallelunga avoiding Cevert’s Tecno which was slowing with a burst header tank, so Rondel Racing’s Australian team member never actually won a race all season long. Although a much-maligned sportsman in his native Austria, Dieter Quester’s driving of the March-BMW got steadily more confident as the season wore on and at the end he took third place in the championship while his F2 compatriots were still deriding him.

Further down the scale we find the British drivers, surprisingly few of them in fact. Derek Bell, in his fourth F2 season, proved on occasion that he had the speed; Mike Beuttler had the rough end of the March deal and only finished at Rome, so his ability is near impossible to assess, although at the second and less important Vallelunga race he pulled off a surprise win over Quester. Both Gerry Birrell and John Watson both had to make do with small budgets and conducted their racing accordingly, although both of them showed signs of what they could do with more competitive machinery on occasion.

Next year the formula changes to 2-litre with engines based on production units of which 1,000 must have been built within a 12-month period. The Ford BDA derivatives look like being the popular power unit, although moves are afoot to reduce the homologation limit to 100 units for 1973 which will bring in BMW and possibly Abarth.—A. H.

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