1972 Italian Grand Prix race report

Emerson Fittipaldi rounds the Curva Sud during the 1972 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Emerson Fittipaldi en route to his first title

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Deadly dull for Monza

Monza, Italy, September 10th.

As reported last month in Continental Notes the Monza circuit was slowed down by the introduction of two chicanes so that when the teams began testing and practising for the 43rd Italian Grand Prix there was quite a lot to learn. The wide track in front of the pits was divided in two by a line of rubber cones which kept the cars in the right-hand lane, close to the pits, and this led them towards the entrance to the banked speed track, as they used to run when the combined road and track circuit was used. At the end of the Trade pits they had to brake really hard in a straight line, from about 150 m.p.h. and change down to 2nd gear and do an ess to the left through an opening in an Armco barrier wall that was wide enough for only one car. This took them over to the left side of the wide pits straight just where it divided between road circuit and banked track, and the cars then accelerated up through the gears and into fifth gear as they rounded the Curva Grande. The central Armco wall was built onto two concrete plinths, with bevelled edges to form curbs through the chicane, and if anyone overshot on braking he went straight on towards the beginning of the banking until he stopped and was then let out through a gate by a marshal, when the course was clear, to join the road circuit after the chicane. If a car suffered complete brake failure it would hit a wall of straw bales across the banked track and if it burst through them it could coast round the banking until it came to rest. The result of this layout meant that the drivers could brake to the maximum from quite high speed, and if they overdid it there was plenty of escape room. The second chicane was just before the apex of the left-hand Vialone Curva, or Ascari bend, that leads onto the back straight. This was less of a chicane and more the introduction of a left-hand bend, a right-hand bend, and another left-hand bend, all in second gear, with a touch of accelerator in the middle. It’s approach was entirely different, being on the beginning of a left-hand curve, so that braking had to be more subtle, and the new piece of road was two-cars or more in width, so that there was a definite “line” through the corners. Errors on braking meant a trip straight-on into a neutral area, that was the original circuit, and then a right turn onto a by-pass road that rejoined the track after the chicane. The rest of the circuit was unchanged, the difficult Lesmo corners still being difficult, and the long sweeping Parabolica corner at the end of the back straight being the same, but approached at a lower speed than before, while the exit was a bit tighter as you had to aim for the right-hand side of the pits straight.

Needless to say the Ferrari team were the first ones to try the new circuit arrangements, almost before they were finished, and neither Ickx nor Regazzoni thought much of the idea, both preferring the old flat-out blind into the Curva Grande and through the Vialone. However, by the time official practice began on Friday afternoon most teams had been out testing, and the new arrangements were accepted by everyone. In the very early hours of the morning there had been the father and mother of all thunderstorms in the Monza area, but by the afternoon all was warm and dry, but not oppressively so. While all the business of making Formula One cars function properly went on as usual, the drivers had the chicanes to learn, and new braking points for the Parabolica corner, and with all the stopping-and-starting involved in one lap, there was no point in worrying about slip-streaming or for slow cars to get a “tow” from the faster ones. Major technical interest lay in the braking systems, for the brakes were getting far more work to do, with four very hard applications each lap, instead of two, and with little time between them to encourage heat dissipation.

The result was enormous pad wear, in the region of five times that experienced before the chicanes were introduced, but such is the margin on brakes today, encouraged by short races, that the Ferodo engineers were not unduly worried, except in the case of the Matra, which used smaller pads than most cars. The problem could not be ignored, especially as drivers got braver on braking for the first chicane, and it made it obvious that Grand Prix car braking systems as supplied by Girling and Lockheed, in conjunction with Ferodo linings, have been well ahead of other developments for a long time, in that they still had something in reserve under these new and extreme conditions. There are not many circuits where you have to brake from very high speed down to 50 or 60 m.p.h. 2nd gear corners, without much time for heat dissipation.


Ferrari's Jacky Ickx brakes for a corner during the 1972 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Jacky Ickx claimed pole for Ferrari at its home race

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During the first afternoon almost everyone made a trip up the escape road at the first chicane, as the only way to find the absolute limit of braking is to go beyond it, so that the gate-man was kept very busy. Quite a lot of drivers were bumping the angled curbs at both chicanes, and at one moment Andretti put his inside front wheel onto the curb as he accelerated out of the second chicane and next moment his Ferrari was spinning round in the middle of the road. Just after this Stewart almost repeated the performance with his Tyrrell. At the first chicane Gethin lost control of his P160 BRM under braking and spun through the gap without touching anything, ending up out of the chicane pointing the wrong way. Fittipaldi was really using the inherent stability of the Lotus 72, and its very large inboard front brakes to the maximum, searching for the ultimate limit, which he found by taking to the escape road on two consecutive laps. Regazzoni was really stamping the accelerator pedal hard down in the middle of this chicane, whereas drivers like Cevert and Lauda waited until they were well clear and pointing straight before they turned the power on. Ganley was very smooth and quick with his P160 BRM, but none of the BRMs were getting back on “full song” quick enough on the pick-up in second gear, especially compared with the Ferraris and the Matra, Amon’s car being particularly impressive. An extractor exhaust system involving the air outlets from the oil radiators was being tried on Cevert’s Tyrrell-Cosworth V8, and he was also using one of the new giant-size air intakes for the engine, though he failed to detect the calculated gain in power and speed. Stewart was out in the new Tyrrell-Cosworth and also in his spare car as well, and Hulme was out in the spare McLaren as well as his newer car, but the timekeepers failed to produce times for either of these training cars. John Surtees was highly delighted with the general feel of his new car, though the fuel system was playing-up, which prevented him doing any very fast and consistent laps.

After a short break, practice continued until the early evening and towards 6 p.m. lap times improved steadily as a result of drivers learning the new conditions, the car problems being solved and the air getting cooler. The first day ended with Stewart fastest, at 1 min. 35.82 sec. compared with the old record of 1 min, 23.8 sec., and last year’s fastest practice lap by Amon with the Matra, in 1 min. 22.40 sec. Hulme was second fastest with a very unobtrusive drive in 1 min. 35.97 sec., and no-one else was below 1 min. 36 sec. as the accompanying table shows, the order of the next six being Ickx (Ferrari), Fittipaldi (Lotus), Revson (McLaren), Regazzoni (Ferrari), Amon (Matra) and Andretti (Ferrari). At the bottom of the list were Bell (Tecno), Beuttler (March) and Pace (March), all above the 1 min. 40 sec. for good reasons, the Tecno feeling so peculiar on corners and snaking down the straights that Bell was reluctant to try too hard, Beuttler’s March was delayed by a number of small niggling things so that he had very little time out on the track, and Pace’s engine never ran properly and finally went “blurp” as the fuel-injection unit got itself in a muddle. Although there was a lot of over-shooting, spinning and kerb bouncing there was only one casualty, and that was Galli’s brand new Tecno, which suffered rear end damage, though it was repairable.

On Saturday afternoon it all began again, and this time the weather was very hot, so that for the first part of practice there was little hope of any improvements to lap times. There was still plenty of opportunity for errors, and Peterson “did it all wrong” at the second chicane and severely damaged his March. Ganley was still trying very hard but his BRM had a poor engine and he was lacking speed on the straights, so that his lap times were well down on those of Wisell who was not going round the corners anything like as well, which must have been very frustrating for the New Zealander. Hailwood was going well, keeping very close to HuIme and Fittipaldi, while Amon did very little practice in the early part of the afternoon. During a short break Peterson’s car was collected and then as the sun went down and the temperature dropped the activity not only increased in volume but in desperation as well. The escape road at the first chicane was being used overtime as drivers continued to search for the ultimate braking point, few of them being able to find it without going beyond it. The only one who had no option was Revson, who stood on the brake pedal on one lap and had the master-cylinder and reservoir for the rear brakes snap off its mounting flange on the front bulkhead. With rear brakes only he went up the escape route quicker than anyone, with no damage, which satisfied the people who had done the layout for the braking area.

During the final hour of practice drivers were not only trying hard for fast laps but were also doing some pretty serious “practice” at overtaking groups of cars under braking, and on two occasions it was a case of the last one into the chicane area being the first one out, as everyone dodged about and some went straight on. The session ended on a lively note with the prospect of all the front runners finding themselves up the escape road in a confused jumble, while a back marker went through into the lead. Three more drivers joined the elite group who got under 1 min. 36 sec. these being Regazzoni, Amon and Ickx, the last two taking the front row of the grid, as Stewart did not improve sufficiently on his first day time to retain pole position. There were only very small fractions of seconds involved, but with the modern two-by-two grid line-up three-tenths of a second put Hulme in the third row, and one tenth of a second relegated Stewart to the second row. Wisell was a surprise leader of the BRM quartet, and Beltoise in the revised P180 was disappointingly slow by comparison. As only 25 cars were being accepted for the start, two had to drop out, and these were Pescarolo (March 721) and Bell (Tecno), both of them well over 1 min. 40 sec.


The 1972 Italian Grand Prix gets underway as the cars leave the gird, Monza.

The cars leave the grid

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There was more rain in the small hours of Sunday morning, which left parts of the track still damp when the cars were allowed out for an hour’s untimed practice at mid-morning. Pace was caught out by the damp patches at Lesmo and damaged his car slightly, but by robbing Pescarolo’s car the 711 was made ready for the race. Peterson’s works March was in one piece again but the chassis was not quite as straight as it should have been and the road-holding was a bit odd. After a GT race just before lunch, which was won by John Fitzpatrick driving one of Kremer’s Porsche 911 coupés, Fangio presented the Marlboro prize for “Man of the Race” in the Austrian GP to Mike Hailwood, and then a parade of old Italian racing cars on open transporters took place to celebrate the 50th year of the Monza track, exhibits being loaned by Fiat, Alfa Romeo, the Monza Museum, and private-owners. The cars were meant to be representative of Italian winners of the Italian Grand Prix, but there were some glaring ommissions, and the end of the parade was brought up by the giant Eldridge Fiat that was resurrected in England a few years ago, and is now owned by Fiat (that’s where it went !). For anyone not interested in all these activities the restaurants were in full swing and there was a very complete exhibition of current racing cars and motorcycles from every imaginable category, from 500 c.c. Fiat-engined cars, to Proto-type Ferrari and Can-Am McLaren. The fibreglass and plywood Marlboro P180 BRM was also on display.

A good crowd lined the track ready for the Italian Grand Prix to begin, but not a record crowd, and though the afternoon was cloudy with a chill north wind blowing from the Alps, the weather was set fair. Some of the drivers like Hill, Regazzoni, Cevert and Andretti came out of the paddock through the main gate in front of the grandstands, to enthusiastic applause (especially for Graham Hill) and walked down the track to the pits, while others entered the pits unseen through the back door. One by one, in no particular order they set off in their cars on a “warm-up” lap, Ickx and Stewart getting vociferous acclamation from the main grandstand as they appeared out of the pit road, and in pairs the cars lined up on the “dummy-grid”. From the start the first chicane was to be by-passed, giving the cars a straight-through run up the left-hand side of the starting area to the Curve Grande, and though the grid was supposed to be in staggered pairs, they were more nearly one behind the other. On the “dummy grid” Stewart’s mechanics were adjusting the clearance on the clutch pedal movement on the Tyrrell 005, and when the field moved forward to the main grid the front line was a mirror-image of 1971, with Ickx (Ferrari) in pole position and Amon (Matra) alongside him. Stewart (Tyrrell) and Regazzoni (Ferrari) were alongside each other in row two, whereas last year they had been in the fourth row together. Everyone made an excellent start but Stewart only went a bare hundred yards or so when all the drive from his engine to the gearbox disappeared and he was left free-wheeling in the middle of the track. There was some hair-raising dodging by all those behind him, by which time Ickx, Amon and Regazonni went past the chicane on the un-used part of the track and a fantastic dust cloud rose up and obliterated everything so that after dodging the Tyrrell everyone plunged into a thick fog. It was the most perilous start situation that has arisen for many a year, and by luck and the skill and coolness of the drivers there were no collisions, though there were a number of pulse-rates that quickened almost audibly.

By the time the Lesmo corners were reached Ickx had quite a long lead and as they all got in line, one behind the other, to go through the chicane on the back leg of the circuit, a typical Formula One procession was produced and it was a case of follow-my-leader at the end of the opening lap, at neat and tidy intervals and gone was the Monza scene of cars three and four abreast, with wheels bare inches apart at 150 m.p.h. One by one they roared past the pits, braked hard, but cautiously for the chicane, followed one another through at regular intervals and set off for another lap. As a nice tidy modern Formula One race, with no need for heroics or bravado it was very satisfactory, but as a Monza race it was a farce, and I felt that the Italian Grand Prix was dying in front of my eyes the way the Belgian Grand Prix died last June.

Only 23 cars went by at the end of the opening lap, for Stewart’s Tyrrell was abandoned just out of sight of the start, and Lauda had gone to the pits with his March 721G as dust and stones had got into his throttle system and blocked it. The procession was in the order Ickx, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, E., Andretti, Amon, Hailwood, Hulme, Reutemann, Revson, Hill, Wisell, Gethin and the rest. Revson moved up a place on the second lap, and Hailwood moved up a place on lap 3. By five laps the scene was settled, with the two Ferraris of Ickx and Regazzoni ahead, then a small gap and Fittipaldi, Amon and Hailwood nose-to-tail, as distinct from side-by-side; then came Andretti and Hulme in a similar situation with Revson not far away, and the rest at tidy intervals, apart from de Adamich, who had made a quick pit-stop and Lauda who had lost three laps already. Hardly had the Austrian gone than his team-mate Peterson was in to have his aerodynamic devices adjusted to see if the bad handling of the bent chassis could be improved. On lap 7 Schenken showed a little bit of daring as he braked for the first chicane amidst a sea of BRMs, but other than that nobody was taking any chances and risking being up the escape road while everyone else went on their way. Obviously the lessons learnt in practice had been digested and drivers were controlling their natural instincts. As Galli braked for the Parabolica curve the Tecno engine blew up, which gave him quite a busy moment.

Ronnie Peterson (March) leads Niki Lauda (March) at the 1972 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Ronnie Peterson leads Niki Lauda

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Still thinking of Monza in terms of the old flat-out blind in each others slipstream, and the “nipping and tucking” from one slip-stream to another, Ickx decided it was not a good thing to be out in front and setting the pace, so he did not mind when Regazzoni went by him and took the lead on lap 14. Almost unnoticed Cevert free-wheeled the second Tyrrell into the pits with a broken engine, and out of the race at this point, and Surtees brought his new car in for some brake adjustments. Regazzoni’s lead did not last long for on lap 17 he sailed into the second chicane on his usual line and at his usual speed and at the exit found Pace trying to sort out his March 711 after a spin in the middle of the corners. The Ferrari just clipped the March, which pulled the right front upright out if its mounting on the English car and broke the left-rear suspension on the Italian car. As the Ferrari skated to a stop a minor fire broke out among the auxiliaries alongside the gearbox, but it was quickly extinguished as the driver jumped out, both cars being out of the race. The leading group now comprised Ickx, back in front again, Fittipaldi, Amon and Hailwood in unchanged order, but as they passed the pits to start lap 19 the air-collector box on top of the engine of the Surtees flew up in the air and landed on the track. Poor Hailwood, who had been enjoying his fourth place, now found he was 300 r.p.m. down on maximum speed, and with less obstruction to the wind over the rear aerofoil it was producing more downthrust on the rear wheels than the car had been adjusted for, with the result that the balance of adhesion between front and rear was upset and the handling characteristics changed. While many drivers would have stopped at the pits to talk about the matter, or would have eased up and stopped trying, the ex-motorcycle “King” coped with the new situation and stayed with the leaders by changing his driving methods to suit the car.

Retirements seemed to be happening in all directions to the lesser lights, Schenken clipping the first chicane on lap 21 and bending the left-front suspension, and Reutemann walking back to the pits after abandoning his Brabham. His Brazilian team-mate, Wilson Fittipaldi abandoned his Brabham at the pits with a broken ball joint as a result of hitting a chicane, and on lap 23 Andretti shot into the pits with the right-front tyre flat on his Ferrari, and after a quick change of wheel he was back in the race again. The BRMs of Wisell and Ganley had been in and out of the pits, and Surtees had been in again, this time to retire as his fuel system was still starving and it was no fun having the engine cut-out in the middle of corners. By lap 26 the leaders were still in the same situation, but HuIme had taken to the escape route at the second chicane and Hill and Revson now had him in their sights, Hill driving an admirable race in sixth place, which he was enjoying enormously. On lap 29 the leading foursome were lapping some of the slower cars and Hailwood got separated from Amon for a moment, but it broke him out of the Matra’s suction and with his engine being down on power through reduced breathing he could not regain his “tow” and rapidly dropped back. On the next lap, Ickx, Fittipaldi and Amon lapped Andretti’s Ferrari, and next time round Ickx had his Ferrari well ahead of his two shadowers, but they soon caught him up again. Revson had been looking for a way past Hill’s Brabham, and at the beginning of lap 33 he thought he had found it as they braked for the first chicane, but he was wrong and had to take to the escape road, making the McLaren team’s score one-all. Although it dropped him back it did not lose him a place as Gethin, who was next along, was not very close. Beltoise was lapped in the new BRM, and then Andretti passed the Frenchman, to take ninth place.

At the end of 37 laps, with 18 still to run Fittipaldi began to show signs of “shaping up” to have a go at getting past the leading Ferrari, having been content up to this point with sitting close behind. At the same time Amon felt his brakes go funny, and lost a lot of ground, and next lap he drove slowly into the pits with smoke pouring from the right-front brake. He had used up all the pad lining and the metal to metal contact made everything red hot, the caliper had expanded and the flexible brake connection had come undone and the fluid had poured over the hot disc. The Matra mechanics tried to do something about it, but it was impossible and Amon’s race was run, the French engineers wishing they had taken heed of the Ferodo representative’s warning in practice. The next question was whether Fittipaldi could do anything about getting by Ickx, the Lotus and the Ferrari being very evenly matched. Just when it seemed that a deadlock had been reached the Ferrari engine went dead as it came out of the Parabolica curve and Ickx coasted towards the pits to finish lap 46 as Fittipaldi sailed by into the lead. Somewhere in the Ferraris complex wiring system there had been a short-circuit which killed the battery and put all the electrics out of action and with no current to the Dinoplexi transistor ignition system that was that.

Emerson Fittipaldi receives the winner's trophy on the podium at the 1972 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Fittipaldi receives the winner’s trophy

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Fittipaldi could now ease right up and nurse his brakes for the remaining laps as Hailwood had dropped well back by now. Hulme was a steady third, Hill fourth, Revson fifth and Gethin sixth, the remainder having been lapped. With five laps to go Hill found his Brabham running out of brakes and had to rely on his gearbox to slow him down, so that Revson went by to follow his teammate home, while Hill struggled round the final laps with his brake pedal down on the floor and producing very little retardation. One by one the thirteen cars left running crossed the finishing line, and it was hard to believe that the Italian Grand Prix at Monza had just finished. To anyone who has witnessed the wheel-to-wheel racing of past events at Monza, with finishes that had the spectators and blasé regulars like yours truly standing on their seats with excitement, to collapse in an exhausted heap afterwards, the 43rd Italian Grand Prix was a terrible let-down, and most people yawned, stretched themselves, and walked away wondering what those in control of the destinies of Grand Prix racing were doing to the sport. — D. S. J.

Monza Mumblings

This victory by Emerson Fittipaldi in a black and gold John Player Special, that enthusiasts know as a Lotus 72, and remember Team Lotus as a British Racing Green team, clinched the 1972 Drivers World Championship for him. Won by reason of five Grand Prix victories this year, points or no points.

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Things are seldom easy for the Lotus lads. Shortly before getting ready to go to the pits for the start the Lotus sprung a leak in a fuel bag and it had to be replaced with only minutes to spare.

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Prize money was paid in Swiss francs, there being 22,000 for the winner, and 4,300 for the leader on laps 13, 26, 39 and 55. Not a lot of money compared with the recent Rothmans race that Fittipaldi won at Brands Hatch with the same car.

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As darkness fell on the paddock two brand new and shiny Gilera 150 c.c. motorcycles zoomed off into the gloom, ridden by two ex-World Champion motorcyclists. It was Surtees and Hailwood returning to their hotel in Arcore, the home Of Gilera, and the sight warmed the hearts of a great many Italians, for the ex-MV-Agusta riders are still remembered with great affection in Italy.

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What a lot of people would like to know, including Ken Tyrrell himself, is what, has gone wrong with the all-conquering Elf Team Tyrrell that we knew in 1971.