Formula Two review

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After an absence of exactly four years, Formula Two cars reappeared at Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday Monday when a fully representative European field arrived at the Kent circuit for a non-championship race. Motor Circuit Developments’ director John Webb, who for so long has been a staunch supporter of Formula 5000 and relentlessly promoted it for the past three seasons (despite the fact that it has seldom lived up to the publicity it received), took a leaf out of the Continental organiser’s book and realised what a crowd-pleasing spectacle the highly-tuned Cosworth-Ford-engined single-seaters provide. Unfortunately a dull day brought out a depressingly low crowd of some 12,000 people, but those who attended could hardly fail to be entertained.

To start with, Ronnie Peterson put on an astounding display of motoring during practice and gained pole position with a lap of 0.2 sec. faster than the Grand Prix circuit outright record, held by Jack Brabham’s Formula One BT33 and set during the 1970 Race of Champions. This was some 1.4 sec. faster than Graham Hill could manage in the fastest Rondel Racing Brabham BT36, although when the race started the popular Londoner led away from the line while Peterson fluffed his getaway.

At the completion of the first lap Peterson lay fifth behind Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi (Lotus 69), Wilson Fittipaldi (March) and Gerry Birrell (Lotus 69), but any battle for the lead was all over by lap 4. Peterson sailed round the outside of Emerson Fittipaldi on the uphill left-hand corner at South Bank, relieved Graham Hill of his first place at Westfield and drew comfortably away to victory by nearly 15 sec.

After both the Fittipaldi brothers retired, Emerson with a blown cylinder head gasket and Wilson with a broken engine, the second place dispute was played out between the three Brabham BT36s of Hill, Carlos Reutemann and Peter Westbury. This trio never actually swapped positions but the excitement was sustained as the Argentinian Reutemann, who was making his first visit to Brands Hatch, made gallant attempts to wrest second place from his more experienced rival. He just failed by 0.4 sec., although he managed to get alongside Hill one lap from the end when the Rondel team leader fumbled a gear-change. Westbury stayed in fourth place, took the new Formula Two record and lost his oil pressure on the run-in to the chequered flag.

A fortnight later European Trophy points were at stake in Austria, the venue being the bleak, wind-swept airfield at Tulln-Langenlebarn, near Vienna. Although practice was conducted in sunny weather, rain fell unceasingly throughout race day and huge puddles built up all round the makeshift circuit which is lined with rows of straw bales.

Split into two 35-lap heats, the race proved that Peterson is also a very accomplished wet-weather driver for he won the first part by a clear 11 sec. from Tim Schenken (Brabham BT36) and Dieter Quester (March-BMW). Schenken chased hard in the second heat and actually got past, although Peterson shadowed him closely all the way (he was certain of aggregate victory) and re-passed on the final corner when the Australian went wide, hit a straw bale and spun. Schenken recovered to finish second ahead of Quester, while the next three places were filled by Wilson Fittipaldi’s March and the Brabhams of John Watson and Bob Wollek.

Thus, after an unsuccessful start to March’s second Formula Two season, Ronnie Peterson is virtually assured of winning the European Trophy, for to stop the Swede so doing would mean either Sehenken or Reutemann winning the next three rounds (at Albi and Vallelunga) with Peterson gaining no more than one fourth place. Although many 712M chassis have been sold by the Bicester constructor this year, Peterson’s car has received very special attention (not merely development work for next year’s car), while Cosworth FVA motors prepared by Brian Hart Ltd. have provided him with reliable winning power in four of the five consecutive races.

There has been little consolation amongst the opposition. The Elf-financed Tecno team, for which Cevert started the season on a high note with wins at Hockenheim and Nurburgring, have now no chance of winning the title. A variety of problems have bugged Pederzani’s BDA-based motors. At Thruxton blown head gaskets reflected wrongly calculated head-torquing loads, quickly followed up by failures attributed to meshing metric jackshaft gears to BSF ones, heads coming off pistons when acceleration of the Hepolite components was exceeded, and finally a batch of sub-standard valves accounting for the failures at Imola and Mantorp Park. At Tulln-Langenlebarn the car never showed its usual turn of speed and after a distant fourth place in the first heat, dropped way out of contention in the second with a flooded motor.

Carlos Reutemann’s broken clutch in Austria reduced his chances of giving Peterson a run for his title over the last two races, while Schenken is another looking for his first F2 win. Nevertheless Rondel Racing’s well turned out team have enjoyed an encouraging first season, particularly as they have been preparing three fully competitive cars ever since Rouen. In contrast, Frank Williams, an experienced Formula Two entrant, who has operated a Motul oil-sponsored team of March 712Ms, for Henri Pescarolo, Derek Bell (when his car wasn’t being loaned out to local heroes) and latterly Carlos Pace, has had a season which he would probably rather forget.A. H.