The dice of the debutants
Monza, Italy, September 5th.
Before the meeting began there was not too much enthusiasm among the Italian populace for the 42nd Italian Grand Prix, even though it was the 50th anniversary of the running of the first Italian Grand Prix. This was because the fortunes of the Ferrari team were at a very low ebb following defeat in the Austrian Grand Prix, the race in which they rose to the top last year. Added to this were a lot of newspaper stories that Enzo Ferrari was not going to send any cars to Monza, as a protest about something obscure, so it was not surprising that when practice began on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. the Monza Autodromo was pretty empty, apart from the competitors.
There had been quite a bit of unofficial practice going on earlier in the week, with Tyrrell experimenting with a rear-mounted water radiator layout, and Goodyear and Firestone doing tyre tests with various of their customers or clients, while Dunlop had a new footbridge inaugurated on their behalf, it being in the classic half-tyre form across the Monza track just beyond the long Curva Grande at the end of the finishing straight.
Everything was warm and dry when practice began and Amon was first away, in the revised Matra-Simca V12, sounding as sharp and exciting as ever it did, and the driver sporting a brand-new moustache and mini beard. There was plenty of activity on this first afternoon and it was Cevert who was soon setting the pace, but there was no sign of a Lotus 72 for Herbert Muller, the Williams March 701 for Carlos Pace or the Bellasi for Silvio Moser. The Lotus 72 was to have been the ex-Robb Walker car which Siffert has bought to use as a “rent-a-car”; the Williams March was not rebuilt and the Bellasi was not ready. Schenken had to stand around for a while at the beginning of practice as someone pressed the fire-extinguisher button instead of the starter button on his Brabham and it took some time to fit another extinguisher unit and mop up the mess. The works March 711 cars looked very odd running without their nose aerofoil, although the rounded nose devoid of air-disturbing holes looked very efficient. It was a change to see that most teams had come prepared to sacrifice cornering down-thrust from aerodynamic devices in favour of lower frontal area and drag, in the search for more maximum speed, whereas in the past everyone has arrived all kitted up with aerodynamic devices and gradually discarded them as practice progressed.
Surtees set off in the new TS9 with a plastic shield of deflector vanes under the wide nose and returned to the pits without them as they had been ground away under braking! Stommelen was waiting for his Surtees TS9 to be finished off in the paddock, not terribly happy with his association with Team Surtees as a customer, and less happy in the knowledge that Surtees had announced officially that the association would not be renewed in 1972. Amon did not do many laps before he was back in the pits to set off in the spare car while the water pump was changed on the best car. The Ferrari team began confusing things by sending Regazzoni out in the spare car with Ickx’s racing number on it, while Siffert did a few laps in the spare BRM.
Half-way through the afternoon there was a break of approximately one hour, during which time the Lotus mechanics lowered the ratio of the central drive train on the turbine car, as it was over-geared, and a new filter system was taken out of the engine’s air intake as it seemed to be short of breath. In the last part of the afternoon as the air temperature cooled there was a lot of activity and a lot of nose-to-tail running and diving into the slipstream of faster cars and in one little flurry of activity Pescarolo got himself a very quick lap. The Formula One lap record officially was still held by Beltoise in 1 min. 25.2 sec. in 1969 with a Matra MS80, and last year Regazzoni equalled it with a Ferrari 312B/1, but in practice last year lckx had made fastest lap in a similar car in 1 min. 24.14 sec.
Naturally an improvement was expected and Siffert was fastest of the afternoon with 1 min. 23.47 sec., showing that his performance with the BRM in Austria had not been a flash in the pan. However, what was surprising was the number of people who got below 1 min. 24.0 sec., for Cevert, Pescarolo, Gethin, Ganley, Peterson and Stewart were all in this select high-speed group with laps at well over 153 m.p.h. and a mere five-tenths of a second covered these seven. In the Ferrari pits there was a gloom as neither of the drivers was in the select group and the Firestone tyres were giving them trouble, so much so that approaches were made to Goodyear to try some of their tyres on the following day.
As practice was finishing for the afternoon Stommelen had a lurid moment when a right rear tyre on his Surtees deflated and came off the rim, sending him spinning into the Armco barrier on one side of the track and bouncing across the road to thump the barrier on the other side rather hard, but fortunately being able to step out shaken but unscathed.
Saturday was as hot as ever with practice in the afternoon again, non-stop this time, and lckx had a set of Goodyear tyres on his 1971 Ferrari, while one of the 1970 cars had been brought along as a spare for Regazzoni, but the Ferrari confusion continued when lckx changed from the 1971 car to the 1970 car, taking the Goodyear tyres with him. Surtees had used bits of Stommelen’s wrecked car to convert his latest car back to front radiator layout and chisel nose, while Hailwood was out again after an engine change overnight, his Friday practice stopping prematurely when his engine showed signs of blowing up. The Bellasi arrived for Moser, and Pescarolo was content to scrub in some new tyres and then rest on his fast Friday lap time. Cevert did a quick try with the old-type Tyrrell chisel-nose cowling, minus the canard fins, and Stewart seemed to spend more time in the pits with his Hewland gearbox in pieces than he spent out on the track.
The Italians’ natural enthusiasm for motor racing overcame the pre-race apathy and a vast crowd poured into the Autodromo for the Saturday practice. They got themselves well and truly jammed in the foot-tunnel under the track, so that at mid-afternoon when most of the competitors were sitting around waiting for the cool of the evening to come there was more excitement and shouting in the public enclosures than on the track. Just after 6 p.m. there was a bit of a rush and some exciting nose-to-tail stuff going on, with Siffert and Amon having a bit of a dust-up, the sound of the V12 BRM and V12 Matra in close company keeping everyone happy. When Amon went back to the pits Peterson had a bit of a go with the BRM and during this time Siffert got in a fastest lap at 1 min. 23.03 sec. Marko had a brief try in the spare BRM, and then just before practice ended at 6.30 p.m. there was a mad rush and cars could be seen going down the back straight at no more than 80 or 90 m.p.h. with the drivers peering intently in their mirrors waiting for someone to go by and provide a slipstream “tow”. Every now and then a bunch of cars would get together and there was some pretty hectic driving taking place as everyone tried to get an ultra-fast lap time. Most drivers got themselves confused with too many cars so that they got in each other’s way, but one or two timed things right and Schenken had his Brabham in the draught of a bunch of cars so that he was gaining speed, at which point Amon caught him up and used his slipstream to waft by and get in a prodigiously fast lap of 1 min. 22.40 sec., an average speed of 251.213 k.p.h. (nearly 156 m.p.h.).
The timekeepers were working overtime at this point to record all the lap times and were so overjoyed to record 1 min. 22.82 sec. for Ickx with the 312B/1 Ferrari, on Goodyear tyres, that they overlooked Amon’s fast lap. As the dust settled and practice finished the provisional results gave Ickx the fastest lap with the Ferrari, and everyone was happy and full of enthusiasm for race day. The Matra team were not content with this and challenged the timekeepers, who said : “Oh, yes, we had Amon at 1 min. 22.40 sec. but we didn’t really believe it.” As most of the rival teams were in agreement over the lap time Amon was given pole position, with Ickx alongside him, the starting grid due to be lined up in pairs.
With Ickx on the front row of the grid, and as far as the general public were concerned, having made fastest practice lap, the crowds really packed the Monza Autodromo on Sunday under a typical Italian sunny sky. From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. there was a session of extra practice for anyone who wanted it and BRM used it for Siffert to bed in a new engine on P160/02, and Ickx tried the 1970 Ferrari on Firestone tyres, while Stewart tried a super-high fifth gear that would allow him to benefit from any slip-streaming without overstressing the Cosworth engine in his Tyrrell. Also Regazzoni, Cevert, Beuttler, Surtees, Hailwood, Schenken, Hill, Oliver and Peterson all used this extra session, but Amon was content to stay away and take his time over breakfast. During this session Hill had his gearbox seize two gears together and Hailwood’s engine had a persistent misfire, so between 11 a.m. and the 3.30 p.m. starting time Hill’s Brabham had a change of gearbox and Hailwood’s Surtees had an engine replacement using the one taken out of Surtees’ own car during practice, the Team owner having had a new engine installed.
Everyone who practised was on the grid, the line of paired cars stretching a long way down the track, and it was impressive that all but four of the entry had improved on the existing lap record and thirteen of them had improved on last year’s fastest practice lap, so it was obviously going to be quite a dice for the 55 laps, the race distance having been reduced from last year’s 68 laps in accordance with the CSI recommendations, though no-one seemed to know why 320 kilometres were decided as the maximum for a Grand Prix. Twelve-cylinder engines were dominating the scene, with Matra and Ferrari on the front row with two BRMs behind them, and as the cars were assembled on the “dummy grid” it was noticeable that Regazzoni’s Ferrari, 312/2 No. 5 not No. 7 that he recorded his fastest laps with, was well out of line in row four, alongside Stewart.
The twenty-three cars moved forward towards the start-line, Amon and Ickx brought their cars to a stop, engines screamed, the flag dropped and Regazzoni took his Ferrari down the outside of the grid line-up and was in the lead almost before the first row had got their wheels spinning. The grandstands shook with cheers and the whole Autodromo was really buzzing as Regazzoni led the opening lap of the 42nd Italian Grand Prix. There was no need to look down towards the Curva Parabolica to see who was leading at the end of the first lap, the tumult from the crowd spoke for itself, but Siffert had his BRM alongside the Ferrari as they crossed the line, the two Swiss drivers giving no quarter. Stewart was third, Ganley fourth and Peterson fifth, the two starting grid leaders, Amon and Ickx having been swamped by the excited mob behind them, and being sixth and eighth, respectively.
The race was on with a vengeance and Siffert was not going to mess about in second place behind a Ferrari driven by a chap from the “wrong side of the Alps”. Side-by-side they rocketed round the Monza track, the Ferrari leading lap two by half a car’s length, while Peterson was alongside Stewart, moving up to third place in the next lap. The third lap ended with the three “foreign tearaways” almost touching one another in echelon as they crossed the line, the order being Regazzoni, Siffert, Peterson and there was no nonsense about race-tactics, it was “Harry Flatters” for all concerned. On lap four there was a big reshuffle as Peterson took the lead with Stewart following him through into second place, and this pushed Siffert back to third and Regazzoni fourth, but it was all instant stuff for they were nearly touching one another. Ickx was in fifth place, and keeping out of the scrum because he doesn’t like this sort of racing, and Cevert had moved up into seventh place and took sixth place from Ganley on the next lap.
Amon was in trouble with his left front tyre coming up in blisters and dropped back to watch developments so that Gethin soon passed him. Almost unnoticed Marko had brought his BRM into the pits as the engine was not running properly, but he set off again only to have the engine die completely before he could get back to the pits. Equally unnoticed Surtees started lap 4 with his engine blowing up and as he walked back to the pits to sympathetic applause from the crowd he got some consolation when the main bunch of the racers went by to see that Hailwood had the second Surtees TS9 in there with them. For the fifth lap the first five cars kept their positions, as if taking a short breather after the initial rush, but on lap six Regazzoni was past Siffert and into third place and from the back of the field Schenken retired his Brabham at the pits due to the suspension sub-frame under the gearbox breaking and Moser gave up with a broken shock-absorber mounting on the Bellasi.
The leading bunch were lapping at just over 1 min. 26 sec., a speed of close on 150 m.p.h., 185 m.p.h. or more down the back straight, and still with their wheels almost touching one another. The afternoon heat was pretty severe and Ganley’s BRM was running hotter than desirable and Siffert found that when close behind other cars his water temperature was rising unduly, so he dropped back slightly and Cevert moved into fourth place. For a brief moment on lap eight Stewart took the lead but on the next lap Regazzoni got his Ferrari ahead to the delight of the crowds and then Peterson went into the lead again at ten laps, with the average speed now over 150 m.p.h. and on lap eleven Cevert went by Stewart and took third place.
Prize money was being given according to the race position at 13, 26, and 39 laps as well as the finish, and the first bag of lire went to Peterson, while Cevert snatched second place from Regazzoni, who was followed by Stewart, Ickx, Siffert, Ganley, Hailwood, Amon, Gethin, Oliver and Pescarolo, but the last two were out of touch with the draught of the leaders. Galli’s March 711 expired at the pits on this lap with electrical trouble and Jarrier’s March 701 had already been lapped. Nothing was settled among the first four cars and on lap 15 Cevert took the lead, with Stewart behind him and Peterson down to third place and Regazzoni fourth.
Then there came a major change in the order for lckx was clearly in trouble and Hailwood and Ganley went by the Ferrari, while Siffert dropped back dramatically to try and get his water temperature down. On lap 16 only one Tyrrell appeared out of the Curva Parabolica, followed by Peterson’s March and Regazzoni’s Ferrari; it was car number two, Cevert, for his team-leader was coasting down the back straight with a wrecked engine, the super-Cosworth having suffered a major blow-up. Hailwood went by in fourth place, followed by Ganley, Siffert, Amon and Gethin and Ickx was seen heading for the pits, his Ferrari engine having broken itself. Peterson now took the lead again and the cutting and thrusting was all over for a few moments. On lap 18 Regazzoni’s Ferrari engine broke and as the second Ferrari headed for the pits the Italian crowd were not at all pleased, but this let Hailwood take the Surtees into third place, with Ganley, Siffert, Amon, Gethin and Oliver following, while Pescarolo was much further back and on his own, and Hill, Beuttler, Fittipaldi, Bonnier and de Adamich were beginning to wonder where everyone had gone.
Hailwood was obviously getting into the swing of this type of racing and he not only caught Peterson and Cevert but got between them and then in front of them to lead the race on lap 25, a great moment for the ex-World Champion Motorcyclist and an even greater one for John Surtees, also an ex-World Champion motorcyclist, to see his own car in the lead of a Grand Prix. At the same time Siffert’s BRM had recovered its breath and the Swiss opened up again, passed all the young heroes in front of him and took the lead on lap 28.
At the end of the thirtieth lap the BRM, the March, the Tyrrell and the Surtees crossed the line almost side by side, and they very nearly ran right over Bonnier’s old McLaren as they lapped it. Behind them Amon was getting used to the handling of his Matra on its knobbly front tyre and passed Ganley and took fifth place, while Gethin was running in a lonely seventh place. Pescarolo had gone into the pits as his March 711 was swooping about down the straights due to the gearbox bell-housing, on which the rear suspension is mounted, cracking, and Beuttler was having a keen race with Hill down in ninth and tenth places, the lonely orange McLaren of Oliver being in eighth place. Siffert’s revival was short lived for his BRM suddenly got itself jammed in fourth gear and all the leading bunch went past him. There was no way of getting any other gear so poor Siffert had to resign himself going as fast as he could in one gear, easing off on the straights where he should have used fifth gear and stuttering out of the corners where he should have been in third gear.
This put him from the lead back to seventh place, and Cevert and Peterson continued to swap the lead with Hailwood behind them, between them and on lap 35 in front of them, and really enjoying himself leaning heavily on the two young “aces” in the corners. Not that anyone cared very much, de Adamich retired the Alfa-Romeo engined March 711 with trouble in the Alfa-Romeo port. While the three new-boys were playing games up at the front Amon decided it was time he joined in the race, the Matra-Simca being strong and healthy and fast on the straights, merely a bit odd on the right-hand corners, and in one lap he shot from fourth place straight into the lead, which he held from lap 37 to lap 41, with Peterson having a go at him on lap 40 and just failing to lead across the line, and Hailwood leading the Matra on lap 42 for a brief moment.
At 45 laps, with ten to go Amon had showed that the Matra V12 had got the race in the bag in spite of the “bubbly” tyre for though Cevert, Hailwood and Peterson were right with the French car they were not going to get in front of it on speed and power. Ganley still had his BRM in the wake of the leading group but had insufficient power to get in amongst them, his water and oil temperatures running high, but Gethin’s BRM was very healthy and he had been scratching away ever since lap 19 when he got rid of Oliver’s McLaren down in seventh place at that time. Slowly but surely Gethin had worked his way into the draught of Ganley’s car, which was always in the draught of the leading bunch, and he was using a consistent 11,500 r.p.m. in the gears, which was well over the normal limit, but the engine stood it without fuss.
With lap 50 approaching and only five to go the leading group began to flex their muscles for the final punch-up, and in readiness Amon took off his top face-visor which was dirty and oily, in order to see more clearly through the clean one underneath. Unfortunately, both came off and he was left with no face protection at all, and that was all hope of a last minute battle gone for he had to slow down and drop back behind Gethin who was about to pass Ganley. This left Peterson leading once more followed by Cevert and Hailwood as they crossed the line on lap 49, but they were swopping places all the way round the circuit, each one planning and practising his final manoeuvre, hoping the others would not see exactly what was happening.
It was still anyone’s race, and Hailwood led at 51 laps, just as Gethin passed Cevert and on lap 52 Gethin took his BRM into the lead. Poor Amon had fallen right back for in addition to not being able to see properly the Matra V12 engine now began to “hum” as air or vapour-lock affected the fuel-injection system. The battle for the lead was so wide open that happenings at the back of the field went unnoticed, and both Hill and Beuttler retired, the Brabham with another seized gearbox and the March with a broken engine. Throughout the race the Lotus turbine car had been whistling round at the back of the field, not going very well as it lacked power and brakes, but at least it was running through non-stop. Siffert had been lapped by nearly everyone and it says a lot for his tenacity that he kept going in his one gear, when many other drivers would have given up and gone home.
Lap 53 saw Gethin, Peterson and Cevert in echelon in that order as they crossed the line, each certain that they knew the other’s weaknesses in the sprint from the last corner and at the end of lap 54 it was Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood, Gethin. Any one of them could win and if they all made a nonsense on the last lap then Ganley could win, and none of them had ever won a Grand Prix before. It was truly the “dice of the debutants”. Down the back straight on the last lap Cevert led; under braking for the last corner Peterson went into the lead, and out of the corner Gethin was leading and it was all over, the BRM led up the finishing straight, the four of them closely bunched and lapping Bonnier yet again. The BRM got to the line first by mere inches from Peterson’s March, with Cevert’s Tyrrell and Hailwood’s Surtees only a few feet behind, and one had to realise that the 42nd Italian Grand Prix was over in 1 hr. 18 min. 12.6 sec., and the photo-finish was Formula One, not Formula Three or Formula Two or Formula 5000, though it might well have been, except that the average speed was 242.615 k.p.h. (just over 150 m.p.h.). The new generation had arrived with a vengeance.—D. S. J.
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