What went wrong with the 1972 Season ?
With the 1972 Grand Prix season ending at Watkins Glen everyone was praising Colin Chapman and his John Player Lotus team, with the new World Champion driver Emerson Fittipaldi. It was praise that was fully justified for Fittipaldi won five Grand Prix events, and some smaller races, and the Lotus Team have been impressive all the year. However, while Lotus fans were happy to see the Norwich team back on top, with the driver/constructor combination approaching the glorious days of 1965, the Champions of 1971 were often found wanting. The 1971 season was the Tyrrell/Stewart year, in which the team from Ripley in Surrey could hardly put a foot wrong. They finished that season on top of the world and all set for another clean sweep in 1972, but somewhere along the line things went wrong. It is not possible to lay the finger on any one thing, and 1972 was not a complete disaster, but the 1971 domination was missing. It started off alright in the Argentine Grand Prix, but then they stumbled and went downhill to a disastrous low point at the Italian Grand Prix when the whole team was gone by fifteen laps. After that they recovered and finished the season in a powerfully dominating position, sweeping the board at the United States Grand Prix.
While the season is still fresh in the mind it seems a good idea to look a little closer at the activities of the ELF Team Tyrrell, and at what went wrong with the 1972 season. For many teams the 1972 results achieved by Ken Tyrrell and his group of workers would have been heralded as a major success; they introduced a brand new car, which won two races after initial teething troubles had been cured, and won two more races with one of their 1971 cars, as well as three resounding second places. The manufacturers and drivers Championships being their principle aim, the Tyrrell team restricted their activities to the Championship Grand Prix races, but even so time and man-power caught up with them, so that victories in the Grand Prix races of Argentina, France, Canada and the United States can hardly be considered a disastrous season. However, it was not as good as was expected, for 1971 had seen them win seven Grand Prix events, six by Stewart and one by Cevert, and the royal blue cars were beginning to demoralise the opposition on all counts. When the 1972 season began in Argentina and Stewart won for Tyrrell it looked as though the team were beginning the new season where they had left off the old one; right on top of the scene. There was one slight blemish, when Cevert retired after 59 laps with the second Tyrrell car because of reported gearbox trouble. This was not the fault of Hewland as was supposed at the time, but the fault of a new type of oil pipe union, being used by Tyrrell, which broke and let all the oil out of the gearbox, to the detriment of the internals. The design of the union was promptly altered and no further trouble was experienced all season. For this first race Stewart was using Tyrrell 003 and Cevert had 002, while the latest of the 1971 cars, which had been on display at the Earls Court Motor Show, was in S. Africa ready for some tyre-testing with the Goodyear Tyre Company, which took place immediately after the Argentine race.
All appeared to be set for another dominant season for the Tyrrell Team, still with the financial backing of the French ELF petrol firm and Goodyear tyres, and the smooth and unhurried organisation of Tyrrell and Stewart to master-mind the world-wide movements of the team and to ensure that they were always that little bit ahead of their rivals, as they had been in 1971. The South African Grand Prix looked to be following the accepted pattern, with Stewart making fastest practice time and leading the way, driving 003. Then fate stepped in, and a stud in the gearbox worked loose and fell out, letting all the oil escape and the internals broke up and Stewart was forced to retire. Whether the engine or the car developed an unusual vibration which loosened the stud, will never be known, but it was a “one-off” trouble that has never happened before or since. Cevert was also in trouble, while lying in 9th position and made a pit stop when the engine started misfiring to have the ignition unit changed. He restarted in 22nd position and worked his way back to 8th place, in spite of having an inoperative third gear. Although South Africa had not produced any results, neither drivers nor cars had been found wanting, and the new car 004 had done plenty of good running as a test and training car.
A completely new design of Tyrrell car was well under way, incorporating a number of radical changes, and the plan was to have two of the new models ready in time for the Monaco Grand Prix in May. In the meantime, the Spanish Grand Prix took place at the Jarama circuit near Madrid, in freezing cold weather, and either the cars were off-form or Stewart was, for he was only fourth fastest in practice with 003, and in the race he did not shine in his usual manner and eventually spun off on a corner and damaged the front of the car. As the new Tyrrell cars were expected pretty soon, it was assumed by some onlookers that the 1971 cars were obsolete and Stewart was having to try too hard to keep up, for he was not in the habit of spinning off the road. As Cevert was not very impressive either, being back on the fifth row of the grid, it did look as though the Team really needed their new cars. In the race Cevert’s engine ran badly due to an electrical fault and he finally retired. The Monaco race was only two weeks after the Spanish event, and time and man-hours defeated the plan to have new cars for the Monogasque event, so that Stewart and Cevert had to rely on the 1971 cars, and this time Stewart gave 004 its first race. With 8th and 12th positions on the grid for the two drivers the Tyrrell Team dominance was sadly lacking and in the torrential rain of the race both cars suffered from water getting on the sparking plugs. Cevert stopped to have things dried out, but Stewart carried on with misfiring and finished 4th. No real explanation could be found for this miserable failure, and as Ken Tyrrell pointed out, the team have been protecting Cosworth V8 engines from water on the plugs since 1968 without any trouble, and were using the same system of rubber covers and grease as they have always used. In addition to their misfiring troubles Stewart once again had an uncontrollable spin, luckily without hitting anything, and it looked as though he was either losing his touch or getting desperate.
From Monaco the team went to the new Belgium circuit at Nivelles for some pre-race testing, but torrential rain for two days prevented them doing any running so they returned to England and Stewart went home to Switzerland. They returned to Nivelles at the beginning of race week to try once more, but word came from Stewart that he was feeling rather under-the-weather and would like to be excused from the test session, so Cevert did the driving. Tyrrell went to Switzerland to see Stewart, for this complaint of feeling off-colour was most unlike the Scot, who is normally 100% fit. Tyrrell found his driver looking very seedy and after talking to Stewart’s doctor decided that the Belgium race should be given a miss and he should take a month’s rest. Looking back on events it can be seen that the rare mistake Stewart made in Spain, and the un-characteristic performance in Monaco were more than likely caused by the beginnings of this “seediness”, which was put down to a stomach ulcer caused by over-doing things in the spheres of travel, business commitments, organisational worries and so on, but not from driving for he had only driven in two races before the Spanish Grand Prix.
The morale of the team in Belgium was taxed heavily, for not only had they temporarily lost their number one driver, but they still did not have the first of the 1972 cars finished. Cevert had to carry the team’s fortunes on his own, using his old car 002 for the race and running 004 for a while in practice. 003 was at the circuit, and had been since the beginning of the week, but was not used, although Tyrrell did start negotiations for Brian Redman to drive it, but they fell through. Cevert rose to the occasion well and finished in a rousing second place, but it was not quite like having Stewart in the winning car.
With a month before the next Grand Prix, which was the French event at Clermont-Ferrand, the team were able to catch up a bit on their programme and the first of the 1972 cars was completed. This was 005 with its completely new aerodynamic shape and front brakes mounted “inboard”. Cevert tested it at Silverstone and it was presented to the motoring press at Le Mans, all part of the ELF side of the Tyrrell Team, a pleasant and amicable sponsorship that gives the team enormous support without making any great demands on their time and facilities, leaving them to concentrate on the job of winning races. Stewart returned to racing for the French Grand Prix, the first of the new cars was ready, and for this event a third Tyrrell was entered for local driver Patrick Depailler and it looked as though Team Tyrrell were in control again. All told they had four cars at the race, 002, 003, 004 and 005, greatest interest being in the last one, especially when Cevert drove it in the first official practice session and made fastest time. Stewart was getting back into the swing of things with 003, intending to try the new car in the second practice session, but once more the team suffered is setback for having made fastest lap. Cevert’s enthusiasm got the better of him and he overdid things and spun off into the barriers, bending 005 too badly for instant repair. Although he injured a hand he was able to drive 002 in the race and finished a creditable fourth. Meanwhile Stewart demonstrated that he was back on form by making third best practice time and winning the race, so that Team Tyrrell were justifiably elated after their various set-backs. Depailler finished in a lowly twentieth position after a pitstop to say that something was wrong with the handling of 004, during which time a tyre was changed, but it made no improvements. At his next stop it was found that a “Rose” joint on the faint suspension was broken and he had a long wait while it was changed.
The new Tyrrell was repaired in time for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch two weeks later, but this work naturally stopped progress on the second new car, for which Cevert was waiting. This time Stewart drove 005 in the first practice and in the second-half he repeated the French Grand Prix Story, making fastest practice lap and then crashing. This time it was not over-enthusiasm but a broken “Rose’ joint in the rear suspension, and once more the car was damaged beyond immediate repair. When Cevert had driven the car he had complained about had vibrations under heavy braking, arising from the inboard mounted front brakes, and though Stewart was not worried by them, he agreed that they were unpleasant and not right. During practice and before the crash it was seen that the front suspension sub-frame was flexing and cracking the paint on the square-section tubing. For the British Grand Prix Stewart returned to 003 and finished in a strong second position, but Cevert crashed when a tyre punctured and damaged 002 on the left side, against the Armco harriers. Before the end of the race the car suffered some more damage when it was hit by Peterson’s March. With only two weeks before the German Grand Prix the team had plenty to keep them busy, with the rebuilding of 002 and 005, and investigation into the brake vibrations on the new car, and preparations for the next race, plus the one after that, as there was no point in returning to base between the German race and the Austrian race, especially as shipping across the Channel was in a shambles, thanks to the dock-workers. It began to look as though the second of the 1972 cars was never going to he finished, let alone that the first would ever become race-worthy, and Germany saw the team back to square one with the three 1971 cars.
Practice at the Nurburgring saw Stewart in second position with 003 behind Ickx and he was one of three drivers who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the world on the mountain circuit, and one began to wonder if the 1971 car was as obsolete as it was supposed to be. During practice Cevert had an almighty prang in 002, when he landed all wrong after a jump, and though he got away unhurt he was very shaken and the car was badly bent. While he practiced in 004 the Tyrrell mechanics straightened out 002 as best they could, and though it was not absolutely right Cevert drove it in the race, finishing a dispirited tenth. Meanwhile Stewart ran third until the last lap when he tangled with Regazzoni’s Ferrari and came off second best, so once again the team were left with nothing in the way of results and more bent motor cars. The new car had undergone some stringent testing back in England, and the front wishbone mountings were reinforced while the decision was taken to mount the front brakes outboard on the wheel hubs. This was done in time for the Austrian Grand Prix where Stewart was very happy with the new car during practice and did not use 003 at all, though it was always on hand ready for use. Cevert was distinctly off-form at this race, probably as a result of delayed reaction to his Nurburgring crash, and while Stewart was a competitive third fastest in practice, Cevert could only manage twentieth.
At last the new Tyrrell started in its first race, exactly three months later than intended, while there was no sign of the second new car for Cevert, which added to his mental troubles. While there were numerous reasons for being so far behind schedule Tyrrell blames no-one, putting it down to the team’s own inefficiency to get the job done properly, pointing out that everyone has their troubles, but that if one of the opposition has a trouble-free run while you are having trouble, they become very hard to catch. From the start of the Austrian race Stewart rocketed away into a fantastic lead, but it was short-lived as the car started to handle in an unpredictable manner and he had to ease his pace and let everyone go by, finishing in a poor seventh place. Cevert did not add to the team’s morale by driving slowly into ninth position. Having risen up to the top briefly the Tyrrell team were down again. Investigation after the race showed that there was nothing basically wrong with the new car and work proceeded apace to get 006 completed to the same specification in time for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Once again time defeated them so Cevert had to remain content with his old car 002. Stewart drove 005 once more, and was third fastest in practice, but Cevert was a poor fourteenth. For this race Stewart’s car was fitted with an abnormally high first gear, so that he could use this gear instead of using second gear for the “chicanes’ that had been introduced into the circuit. This arrangement was fine for practice but when he made the start, with a full load of petrol on board, it was too much for the clutch and it burnt out within 100 yards of the start. He had not made a practice start with full tanks and the high gear ratio and Tyrrell puts this down to “our own inefficiency, we should have done”. This race really was the low ebb for the ELF Team Tyrrell, for on lap 14 Cevert stopped with a badly broken engine, so bad, that when it was dismantled afterwards there was so much damage that it was impossible to see what broke first. With the race barely began both Tyrrell cars were out and it prompted me to write “What a lot of people would like to know, including Ken Tyrrell himself, is what has gone wrong with the all-conquering ELF Team Tyrrell that we knew in 1971”. When Tyrrell read that comment his reply was simple. He knew exactly what had gone wrong and he put it all down to one thing, “inefficiency”.
For the final two races of the year, in North America, the team not only caught up with themselves but ended on the highest possible note. The second new car was completed in time for the Canadian Grand Prix and was driven by Cevert, while Stewart had 005, now fully race-worthy. He proved the point by winning the race, and repeating the performance in the United States Grand Prix, two weeks later. In the Canadian race Cevert’s new and untried car required adjustments and re-setting of the suspension to suit the circuit and while he was “learning” the new car he became a bit rough with the gearbox, and during the race the engagement dogs suffered and he was forced to retire. At Watkins Glen it was a different story, the new car was right and he finished a strong second to Stewart, giving the ELF Team Tyrrell a most dominant 1-2 victory. This was the result that everyone had expected to see the royal blue cars achieve throughout the season, and Tyrrell was certainly hoping for by the Belgian Grand Prix, when his 1972 cars should have been in race-winning form. It was not the season they had hoped and planned for, but it was not the disaster that it appeared to have been at first sight, and their result of four major victories compares well with the five of Fittipaldi, which gave the John Player Team Lotus the Manufacturers’ Championship. McLaren, BRM and Ferrari with one victory each were hardly in the running, while March, Surtees, Williams, Tecno, Brabham and Matra, with not a single victory between them in the Grandes Epreuves must wish they could have had just a little of the Tyrrell Team’s comparatively “poor” season.
Having finished the 1972 season back on top Tyrrell’s plans for 1973 are quite simple. “No changes, except to win more races”. Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert remain as the drivers, Derek Gardner continues with the deign work, ELF and Goodyear retain their support in money and worthwhile commodities so essential to motor racing, and Ken Tyrrell is still the “boss man”. — D. S. J.