Formula II Review

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THE YEAR 1980 ushered in a new era of professionalism on the European Formula Two scene. Seasoned observers compared it to Grand Prix racing in the late sixties/early seventies, before the whirlwind of commercialism that changed the face of the sport’s major echelon almost beyond recognition. The customer car market shrank as a myriad of new chassis designs appeared and the three most powerful contenders, Toleman, March and Project Four used the European Championship as a warm up for a full scale Grand Prix bid in 1981.

Toleman Group Motorsport team leader Brian Henton, driving a Ralt RT2/Hart lost the 1979 European Championship on a technicality. The team felt he had been the moral victor and returned in 1980 to prove that it could produce another champion with its own chassis, prior to becoming a fully fledged Grand Prix car constructor. With backing from BP it signed two hungry young British hopefuls, Stephen South and Derek Warwick to drive its new Hart powered Toleman TG280 chassis (designed by former Formula Ford designer Rory Byrne, who had engineered the developent of Henton’s Ralt the previous year) and came to an agreement with Pirelli to use the ambitious Italian firm’s radial tyres, Before the season had started, however, the management fell out with South and Henton was drafted back into the team — refusing an offer from the March works team.

March had already announced that it planned to return to Grand Prix racing in 1981, with rising Italian star Teo Fabi a works driver, Fabi headed the 1980 ICI backed works Formula Two team. and was partnered by teenage Australian Mike Thackwell. At the request of BMW, who supplied most of the engines. a third car was run in the colours of DFV, a German driving school, for Manfred Winkelhock.

March found the customer car market far less healthy than in previous years as many continental teams turned constructor, but continued an alliance with the British based Project Four team, run by Ron Dennis. Another Grand Prix aspirant, Dennis employed John Barnard of Chaparral Indianapolis car fame to design a Formula One car and to help Project Four develop its Formula Two March 802 chassis. Formula Three graduates Chico Serra from Brazil (backed by a consortium of Brazilian businessmen) and Andrea de Cesaris from Italy were employed as drivers. Cesaris with support from Marlboro who recently engineered an alliance between Project Four and McLaren Racing to form a new Grand Prix team. McLaren International.

As the 12 round championship season unfolded, the battle for the title became a struggle between the BP Toleman and ICI March teams. Henton may have considered that he “morally” won the title in 1979, but that did not lessen his hunger for success in 1980 and he took wins at Thruxton and the Italian circuits of Vallelunga and Mugello. He worked extremely well with Byrne to develop the new car which enjoyed an excellent reliability record thanks to the strength of the Toleman chassis and the near faultless performance of Brian Hart’s four cylinder engine. Henton was sometimes out of the overall contention due to tyre problems, but Pirelli worked tremedously hard to develop its radials. Henton was rarely off the winner’s rostrum and won the overall title by a clear margin from his young teammate Warwick.

Warwick cast doubts over by ability during a disastrous 1979 Formula Two season, but firmly dispelled them with a polished performance this year. It became evident right from the word go that the Hampshireman was a match for Henton, whom he outqualified on a number of occasions. When it came to the race itself. Henton’s greater experience often told, but Warwick was a constant threat for the championship honours and his season will be remembered for some exceptional charging drives from the back of the field. He won one race, at Silverstone, and looked every inch the winner at a fair few others, before bad luck intervened. Nevertheless, the reliabity of the Toleman/Hart package and development work done by the team and Pirelli allowed him to wrap up second place in the championship.

Teo Fab, was a constant menace to the BP Toleman runners, Fabi won two of the three early season races but a lack of tyre development by Goodyear and a spate of BMW engine failures took the sting out of his attack. Fab, very quiet and philosophical, is acclaimed by his mentor, Robin Herd (who has masterminded ten years of March involvement in Formula Two) as “better than Lauda”. Time will tell.

Thackwell, at only 19 years of age, is an exceptional driver who rightfully won for himsell a lot of respect. Thackwell frequently found the March 802 a difficult car to qualify well, but in the race would take the bull by the horns in most impressive fashion. He almost always ran strongly towards the front of the field. During the season he flirted with a number of Grand Prix teams, and he missed the final round of the championship, at Hockenheim last month, to race a Tyrrell in the Canadian Grand Prix.

Andrea de Cesaris likewise made his debut in Canada (driving for Alfa Romeo) after a notable Formula Two season. de Cesaris was always exceptionally fast, but had more than his fair share of accidents and took his singleton win of the season, at Misano, after barging past Henton in a typically hot-headed manner. If he can calm down he should mature into a very fine Grand Prix driver.

De Cesaris’ Protect Four team-mate, Serra. was as unlucky as de Cesaris was quick. He became increasingly overshadowed by the rival he had beaten to the British Formula Three title the year before.

Manfred Winkelhock, in the DVE works March, also had a frustrating year, after a very lucky escape from a high speed crash at the Nurburgring. Winkelhock not surprisingly took some time to regain his confidence and in general his driving lacked polish.

One of the revelations of the year was Siegfried Stohr, an Italian in his second year of Formula Two. Stohr joined the quasi works Toleman team run by Alan Docking at the third round of the championship and despite lacking a budget to do any serious testing was soon a pacemaker. Stohr is an intelligent, philosophical yet aggressive driver and he took a well deserved win at Enna.

Stohr’s team-mate was the Dutchman, Huub Rothengatter, who shook off a reputation for ragged driving and took a well controlled victory at Zolder in Belgium. Rothengatter, however, subsequently found himself in the shadow ol Stohr.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was the performance of the French AGS/BMW in the hands of Frenchman Richard Dallest. The unique car, run on a shoestring by its enthusiastic equipe, was uncompetitive on fast circuits but supremely well suited to twisty tracks and wet weather. Dallest took two wins, at the Pau street circuit and in the rain at Zandvoort.

In all there were seven winners during the 12 round championship; Henton winning at Thruxton on Easter Monday then Fabi at Hockenheim (Germany), Henton at Vallelunga (Italy), Dallest at Pau (France), Warwick at Silverstone, Rothengatter at ZoIder (Belgium), Henton at Mugello (Italy), Dallest at Zandvoort (Holland), Stohr at Enna (Sicily), de Cesaris at Misano (Italy) and finally, Fabi at Hockenheim.

Eje EIgh, Patrick Gaillard and Beppe Gabbiani came close to winning in Willi Maurer’s Maurer/BMW car, but the team was dogged by bad luck. Elgh was injured testing at Tiga Formula Two car after some very promising early season performances and Gaillard and Gabbiani, who took turns as a replacement driver, both had the heartache of retiring the improving German car when comfortably in the lead.

Tragically, the team’s number two driver, Markus Hottinger was killed in a freak accident at Hockenheim early in the season.

Tragedy 81S0 struck the Tiga team. Hans Georg Burger losing his life at the wheel of its singleton works entry in another freak accident.

A pointer for the forthcoming season was provided by the performance of the Ralt/Honda team at the recent Hockenheim finale. The works Ralt first appeared at Silverstone in mid-season with British hope Nigel Mansell at the wheel. Honda sent works engineers to tend its powerful V6 engine, and the project got off to a promising start. It took a step backwards when American Formula Atlantic driver Tom Gloy drove the car at Enna and Misano, but Mansell was back in the cockpit at Hockenheim and Geoff Lees was given a second car. Testing and development of the car had obviously paid dividends and the two Englishmen were front runners until Lees suffered a puncture and Mansell suffered a fuel pick-up problem. Next year the Ralt/Honda looks likely to be the car to beat. — I.M.B.

European F2 Championship 1980

1st: B. Henton 61

2nd: D. Warwick 42

3rd: T. Fabi 38

4th: S. Stohr 29

5th: A. de Cesaris 28

6th: R. Dallest 23

 

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