Reflections in the Canadian Cold

In many ways the Canadian Grand Prix was the most interesting race of the 1974 Formula One season. Not necessarily due to any particular intensity of racing, although Ronnie Peterson’s never-say-die approach to the event and Fittipaldi’s tenacious pursuit of Lauda were notable, but it was the race which first seemed to mark the end of Ferrari’s Championship aspirations as well as Niki Lauda’s. Once again the feeling of communal sympathy was present in the Ferrari garage, not elation and buoyant delight as had been seen when “Good old Regga” won the German Grand Prix, but a mournful, sober atmosphere of mutual remorse. There was no feeling of animosity towards Lauda, for the Italian team has been too harmonious this year for any personal spite to be vented between their members, simply a grey cloud of disappointment which the Austrian shared to the full after his unfortunate error.

Perhaps Niki Lauda came on too quickly in 1974, although it is more to his credit that he found a drive with a competitive team than a criticism after his two bleak years with March and BRM. In 1972 he wrestled as a pale number two to Peterson in the works “rentadrive” Formula One seat, while his tenure at BRM, though promising, was hardly productive when it came to totting up his actual results. This year he has tried consistently hard, driven well to win the Spanish and Dutch Grand Prix, but also shown a smattering of inexperience in one or two difficult situations. He ignored his pits’ plea for him to come in and change his failing rear tyre at Brands Hatch, “goofed” rather badly on the second corner at Nurburgring, suffered engine failures at Osterreichring and Monza, and then slid helplessly straight on at a simple corner at Mosport Park. It must be admitted that there were a lot of stones and dirt on the.road at the time, but Fittipaldi negotiated the same corner a few seconds later and did not leave the track. It’s the difference between being “good” and “very good”, or at least between being a “novice” and an “old hand”, although it’s no reflection on the youthful enthusiasm displayed by the Austrian and his willingness to work as hard as he knows how for the Ferrari team who gave him his big chance. Perhaps next year a more mature Lauda will emerge and, if the Ferrari retains its current level of competitiveness, then the result Will be a very formidable combination indeed.

One pleasing aspect of the Mosport race was that everyone was trying to the best of his ability. Although Lauda was driving hard out in front when he went off, the Ferraris had for once been beaten to pole position in practice by Emerson Fittipaldi in his McLaren, the Brazilian showing a great deal of the spirit which everyone knows he can display when he wants, or needs, to do so. With the World Championship nearing the end of its 15-race season, Fittipaldi flung all caution aside and gave everything he had got to record fastest time in practice. In the race he was running second, but he never gave up and was continually using every inch of the road in his pursuit of Lauda. We have often explained the distinction between winning and finishing first, but while it must be said that Fittipaldi finished first at Mosport Park, he was a “worthy first” because he was hanging on for dear life behind the Ferrari and Lauda could never afford to relax for one moment around the 2.4 miles of bumps and ripples for, had he done so, the red, white and black McLaren M23 would have been right on his tail, pressing to get past. At Brands Hatch, where Lauda was also leading until the closing stages of the race, he never looked in the least bit troubled by Scheckter’s presence and although the Tyrrell driver drove as fast as he could the Ferrari looked as though it had a little bit in reserve.

Into third place at the Canadian Grand Prix, one nose fin of his Lotus 72 scuffing on the ground, was the irrepressible Ronnie Peterson, who helped lift Team Lotus spirits after a rather depressing time in official practice. The displaced nose fin was done against the rear wheel of Mass’ McLaren when Peterson was lapping the German, the blond Swede clearly in such a “tearing hurry” that he was not going to wait for anyone to take a fraction longer than he thought they ought to in getting out of his way. His attitude is completely different to that of Ickx, the Belgian apparently content to trail along at the back after starting from a lowly grid position. But Peterson’s view was that the sixth row was bad enough and he immediately started driving flat out from the drop of the Canadian national flag. He is without doubt the biggest single asset Team Lotus has at the moment.

Talking of Lotus, their current fortunes bring to mind the new Maurice Phillippedesigned Formula One car, the Parnelli, which was making its debut at Mosport Park. Phillippe was the man who successfully translated Chapman’s thoughts about the Lotus 72 into the winner it eventually turned out to be and the new Parnelli reflected a lot of ideas learnt by Phillippe during his spell working with the Lotus 72. His latest car has almost identical torsion-bar suspension, inboard disc brakes at the front and side radiators. One wag was heard to remark “that’s what Ralph Bellamy was trying to do with the Lotus 76”, and while Colin Chapman may not have been in fa agreement, one noticed him scrutinising closely the Parnelli on several occasions.

The standard of preparation of the car was really very nice and although “all that glitters is not gold”, its first race finished with seventh place, which is a good deal better than the debut of the Lotus 76. That was at Kyalami and both 76s ended up in the wire mesh fences at the end of the main straight on the opening lap, so it was hardly possible for the Parnelli to have a worse debut than the new Lotus. However, a sense of proportion is restored when one recalls Peterson’s third place in Canada, which underlines what we have just said about him being Team Lotus’ number one asset as well as their number one driver. In the back of their minds all Team Lotus’ rivals must be wondering just what they are going to do when Chapman sits down and designs his next “successful successor” to the Lotus 72, for Peterson has signed with Lotus for 1975 and 1976 as well, which proves that he is a wise man behind that baby-faced exterior.

The other American team to make its Formula One debut at Mosport Park was the Roger Penske organisation with its “British standard kit car” designed by former Brabhain designer Geoff Ferris. Penske himself was a successful sports-car driver in America before taking over the role of team owner and entrant, and he has built himself up a reputation which is second to none in North America amongst both USAC oval and road racing spheres. His regular driver Mark Donohue won the Indianapolis 500 in 1972 in a McLaren M16-Offenhauser, he won the Trans-Am saloon title twice and he won the 1973 Can-Am Championship in Porsche’s turbocharged works 917/30. However, Penske fully realises that he is taking on a whole new world with this Formula One project, a world where tenths and even hundredths of seconds separate grid placings rather than halves or quarters of a second. Compared with the Parnelli, the Penske’s debut was not quite so encouraging, for Donohue qualified well back on the grid and eventually finished 12th, two laps behind Fittipaldi. One is tempted to wonder whether Penske was rather disappointed, but if he was he certainly didn’t let anyone know. His only comment was a straight-faced “we had to start somewhere” as he went back to work with his team to ensure that they make some forward progress at Watkins Glen. It will be a measure of their ability if they start to creep slowly forward on the grid, but that in itself will be an achievement for there are many European teams who are experienced (or ought to have enough experience) in Grand Prix racing and have barely moved from the back of the grid all season long. When you’ve moved up the grid a little way, that’s only a begimung because there’s the race in front of you then and finishing, let alone winning, seems to have provided an equal number of people with undue problems this year as Hesketh, BRM, Surtees and Williams have found out with varying Agrees of success. Just as Penske and Parnelli Jones have got into the habit of win’ fling in North America, so McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus, Tyrrell and Brabham have got into the habit of winning in European-style Formula One and it will be a difficult habit for anyone to break them of.—A.H.