Jabouille narrowly heads French Renault invasion

Jean-Piere Jabouille snatched the European Formula Two title neatly from the grasp of Rene Arnoux in a tense final round confrontation at Hockenheim, Germany. The tall blonde Frenchman ended a six-year stay in Formula Two by stealing the Championship in the dying moments of a tough year. His spaceframe Elf 2 edged Arnoux's Martini out of the Championship by a single point, thanks to some incredible team work at the September 26th Hockenheim race between Jabouille and his team-mate Michel Leclere. The two drivers plotted with team manager Jean Sage to ensure that Arnoux was manipulated into third place in the race so that his four-point advantage before Hockenheim suddenly turned into a frustrating one-point Championship deficit.

It was a most satisfactory result for the French, though. Apart from the Renault-Gordini V6-engined, Elf-sponsored cars filling the first four places in the Championship, Jabouille's victory meant the French have now clinched the European title for four straight seasons and, in the ten years the FIA championship has been held, French drivers have won overall six times. Renault were especially pleased to see Jabouille overcome the impressive young talent of Arnoux because, in 1977 the older driver will head their attack on Grand Prix racing with their own turbocharged Formula One car.

At the end of the twelve-race 1976 series Jabouille and Arnoux had each won three races. Jabouille had scored in all but three and Arnoux in all but four. Now, the Jabouille-designed, tubular-chassis Elf 2 cars are to be sold and as Jabouille heads off into Formula One, Arnoux must contemplate a second year in the Martini-Renault. Elf say they will probably cut back from this season's two two-car equipes to just one team with Tico Martini building up a pair of new cars. The drivers are likely to be Arnoux and the promising Didier Pironi who won the 1976 Renault Europe Championship in a Martini. Arnoux won the 1975 title.

The French landslide in Formula Two was completed by Patrick Tambay finishing third overall in the other Mk. 19 Martini and Michel Leclere taking fourth in the back-up Elf 2. Both these drivers, who last year were sponsored by Elf to run British March-BMW works cars, won a single race in 1976.

The French success this year, in addition to the fistfuls of francs handed out by Elf, has been largely due to their 300-b.h.p. Renault V6 engine. Only the four French works cars had these (although they are to be offered for sale in limited numbers next year) and the bottom-end power of the high-revving units was a definite advantage. The Renault-Gordini is the multi-purpose V6 that Elf and Renault have used in rallying and 2-litre sports-car racing and in turbocharged form it has appeared at Le Mans. Next year it will power the Renault Grand Prix car while there is talk of an alloy block as well. In the first year that Formula Two was open to all-out racing engines, the Renault V6 won eight of the races.

The four remaining Championship races all fell to the works March team, the team that went with Elf and Patrick Depailler to win the 1973 Championship, and have been left trailing the French for the last two seasons. The 1976 year wasn't a good one for March. Their supremacy having been challenged, the way was open for other manufacturers, in particular Derek Bennett of Chevron, to make inroads into the lucrative Formula Two sales field, and on the track the works Marches were struggling all year to find some sort of consistency. Their two paying works drivers were the Italian Maurizio Flammini and the little Brazilian Alex Ribeiro. On his day Flammini was quick and he did win two races but, matched against that, he was terribly erratic and his progress through the year was recorded by the mounting pile of wreckage behind the team's Bicester workshops! Ribeiro on the other hand didn't win any races, although he came close at both Rouen and Enna, yet he still managed to finish ahead of his unreliable teammate. He paced himself well during the year, building up his confidence race by race, so that he should emerge as a regular race winner next season when he is likely to stay on with March having finished fifth in this year's championship. Flammini eventually salvaged 6th place.

There were other Italians in less-well-prepared cars that often out shone Flammini, and the embarrassing thing was that a couple were in privately-run Marches. Giancarlo Martini was often quicker than him in practice and usually showed well in the racing. Similarly Alberto Colombo improved steadily throughout the year in his older March. The other quick Italian was Giorgio Francia in the Trivellato team's Chevron-BMW.

The most exciting prospect for the future was undoubtedly the forceful young American Eddie Cheever. This 19-year-old former kart racer came straight from his first season of racing—in Formula Three—to quickly establish himself. He began the year in a March run by Ron Dennis and was using the Lancia V6 engine that had been prepared by Vittorio Brambilla in Italy but the engine turned out to be a disaster and the team switched to a Hart 420R. A surprise came when the team dropped their March chassis and did the final couple of races in one of Ron Tauranac's Ralts as a lead up to running the works Ralts all next season. Cheever was very fast and very brave and by the end of the year had matured into a regular pacesetter.

Also building up his reputation during the year was the Austrian Hans Binder who quit his futuristic-looking Italian Osella in mid-season and brought his way into Derek Bennett's works-run Chevron. Binder was less spectacular than Cheever but nonetheless developed, so that by the end of the season he was usually in the top six. There were other promising drivers too. The Finn Keijo Rosberg went well in the bulky German-built Toj and the German saloon-car driver Klaus Ludwig improved rapidly all year in his Willi Kauhsen-run March.

The tyre situation stagnated with Goodyear having a virtual monopoly. The French teams tested with Michelin radial tyres before the season started and then elected to run Goodyear but Rosberg actually raced on the French rubber. However, he quickly changed his mind and reverted to the all-conquering Goodyears.

Renault's domination on the engine front rather overshadowed everything else. But, Brian Hart's own all-alloy engine showed it was at least a match for the German BMWs and could probably be a race winner with the right driver; while BMW themselves were working hard at the end of the year to improve on their present 295 b.h.p. Development man Paul Rosche is currently working on a shortstroke unit. Having won the 1975 championship, the Schnitzer BMW engines were only seen briefly at the start of the year while a couple of the new engine projects never even got off the ground, in particular the troublesome British Holbay-Abarth. Sadly it was another disappointing year for the British in Formula Two as far as drivers were concerned and not one championship point was scored. Hopefully that will change in 1977 because the championship looks set for another good season. M.T.