The Austrian Grand Prix - The best laid plans go wrong

Osterreichring, Zeltweg, Aug 19th.

If anyone has doubts about the popularity of Grand Prix racing they should visit the Austrian Grand Prix, for even though the Osterreichring has only had three Grand Prix races there, it has built up a far-reaching reputation. No-one will ever forget the 1970 event when Ferrari finished first and second, and BRM enthusiasts will not forget 1971 when Siffert led from start to finish, while enthusiasts for youth will remember the smooth and competent performance put up by Emerson Fittipaldi last year. The Austrian organisers started off on the right foot by building their new circuit in beautiful mountain surroundings which encouraged spectators to have an open-air camping weekend, and they followed this up by increasing and improving the facilities each year, and with the backing of the government tobacco company called Memphis, the build-up to this year's event lacked nothing. People came from Yugoslavia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France and Great Britain, to form one of the greatest crowds ever seen in Austria. There were an estimated 50,000 for practice and race day estimates varied from 100,000 to 130,000 and it was certainly the biggest crowd seen at the Osterreichring, and they had everything going for them; glorious weather, perfect camping conditions, fairs, markets, beer halls, music, supporting races, parades, flying displays, and as the piece-de-resistance the Austrian Grand Prix for nearly 1½ hours. It was a veritable "summer-fest" with activity nearly all the week leading up to the short, sharp Grand Prix.

The McLaren team and the Hesketh team took the opportunity to do some unofficial practice and testing before the official periods began on Friday afternoon so that it was no surprise that they should set the pace when lappery became timed officially. The Hesketh March had been finely tuned aerodynamically in search of maximum speed at the expense of lower cornering power on some corners which were considered to be less important and James Hunt was putting the theories to the test with good results. The revamped Ferrari driven by Merzario did not go far before the engine went sick and it was immediately returned to the paddock and torn apart in order to install a new engine. Not far away the Goral Tecno was strewn all over the place in the throes of an engine change, having arrived directly from a test session at Goodwood, so Amon was driving the earlier car in the meantime. In the BRM pits Lauda had discovered very quickly that his damaged wrist, sustained in the German Grand Prix, was not going to let him race, so his car was put aside as a spare, which was just as well for Regazzoni's engine blew up in a big way, a mangled connecting rod being clearly visible through a gaping hole in the left side of the crankcase! Both McLaren drivers had a go in the spare M23, as well as in their own cars and they were setting the pace in this first part of practice, with Hulme fastest and Revson third fastest, the irrepressible Hunt being between them until his engine broke, which put a stop to his practice for the day.

After a short break practice continued until 4pm for a total of nearly three hours and in the second part the Lotus boys began to come into the picture. A sign that Peterson was beginning to get into the groove was seen when he came into the pits with his right rear tyre fizzing and bubbling and covered in blisters. At the other end of the pits Pace was in with a flat rear tyre on his Surtees, not due to heat and speed, but due to a manufacturing fault on the Melmag wheel, the bead-shoulder being low on diameter so that the tyre did not sit down properly. It was not the first one to be discovered, a poor reflection on the standards of Formula One construction that no-one had an inspection department to check "outside manufacture". While the Lotus team were beginning to get down to business, the Tyrrell team were a long way off, and Stewart seemed to be more concerned with counting the number of photographers round the circuit than concentrating on his driving, while Cevert's practice ended with that well-worn Tyrrell phrase "a brake problem". This time the problem was an unusual one in that a rear disc broke. After the pedals on 005 had been reset for the tall Frenchman, having been set up for the Wee Scot, Cevert continued his practice in the spare car, but the very high speed Austrian circuit was too much for him to shine brightly, added to which none of the Tyrrells seemed particularly well balanced to the high-speed swerves and swoops.

In the Brabham team Wilson Fittipaldi's car would not run properly so he took the spare car, which had Stommelen's number on it, and with Regazzoni in Lauda's BRM and both McLaren drivers using the spare M23 there could have been a lot of confusion, but the time-keepers coped admirably. Stommelen was number 9, Fittipaldi number 9T, Regazzoni number 19 and also in 21T, while number 35 was the spare McLaren no matter whether Hulme or Revson was driving it. The day ended with Peterson out in front, closely followed by Hulme and Revson, and the official lap record had long since been improved upon. The Formula One record was set up last year by Hulme with 1 min. 38.32 sec., although fastest time in practice had been Emerson Fittipaldi's 1 min. 35.97 sec. In the 1000 Kilometre sports car race earlier this year, Cevert set up a new circuit lap record of 1 min. 38.30 sec. in a Matra-Simca sports car, and now Peterson was down to 1 min. 35.37 sec. Such is the progress and the reason for all the activity.

On Saturday, with the weather getting hotter and hotter, the crowds getting larger and larger, and the beer halls getting noisier and noisier, it all began again, with most people ready once more. Hunt had another engine in the Hesketh March, the Tecno chaps had finally got the new engine to fit into the Goral chassis, Cevert's car was repaired, Regazzoni's BRM had another engine installed, the Firestone tyre people were muttering about Melmag wheels, the Goodyear tyre people were trying to pretend that they did not have any special short-life qualifying tyres, the CSI and the GPDA were getting up-tight about the social scene in the pits and shortly after midday the circus was in full swing, with the acrobats out to beat the 1 min. 35 sec. barrier, the jugglers balancing "wing drag" against "cornering power" and the clowns keeping everything on the boil and the crowds happy.

Since the Zandvoort accident, when certain drivers thought certain drivers went too fast through the smoke and past the rescue vehicles, the CSI, the GPDA and the F1 Constructors got together and dreamed up a "pace-car control system," and during the first part of practice this was given a "dry-run" (see Continental Notes). Between the fun and games, which included a brief protest meeting by journalists and photographers when they were banned from the pit lane, Team Lotus got down to some serious trying, using all their own tweaks and those of Goodyear tyres as well. The result was that by the end of the three-hour session, with its half-hour break, Fittipaldi had scored the first lap at under 1 min. 35 secs. with a time of 1 min. 34.98 secs, a speed of 224.04 k.p.h (approx. 139.1 mph) and he was alone in the class. Stewart tried too hard, too soon on the special "sticky" Goodyear tyres and returned to the pits with the left rear one flailing great strips of rubber. The McLaren team were still hard on the heels of Team Lotus and the lone Ferrari was well placed, Merzario having made a very respectable time with it on the first day of practice. Bearing in mind that he is not an outstanding driver and like Cevert, does not particularly like the high-speed Austrian circuit, it looked as though the re-vamped Ferrari 312B3 was going to be competitive, and one wondered what lckx was thinking about it all while he was "away on holiday". Down at the other end of the field all was not sweetness and bright for the new Tecno was running too hot and the old one had broken its engine, while Hailwood seemed to spend most of his time being towed in by the course car, his fuel system going on the blink continuously. His team-mate was much better off and was up with the fast runners, alongside Stewart on the fourth row of the grid. The Williams' cars were vying with Graham Hill's Shadow for the back of the grid, and as practice ended Ganley's engine blew up and spread mess all along the finishing straight.

On Sunday morning the circuit was packed out and those Formula One Teams who still were not ready or felt they had not done enough practice, had an extra untimed session. Lotus were confident and spent the time on detail preparation and inspection, and Regazzoni's BRM was having its engine changed yet again. Having achieved last position and two from last position on the grid with the two Tecnos, Amon felt he had better things to do and went off home. The jollifications, parades, and supporting races kept the spectators entertained from dawn until 3 pm when the serious business of the Austrian Grand Prix was due to start, and be run over 54 laps of the circuit. The heat was terrific and as the cars lined up on the "dummy-grid" drivers and cars were covered with every form of protection front sunshades to tarpaulins. The field was held on the "dummy-grid" for an awful long time before the signal was given that all was ready. The crowd of team managers, mechanics, friends, press, hangers-on and officials finally left the hot track as engines were started and the twenty-three cars moved forward to the starting grid led by the black and gold Lotus 72s of Fittipaldi and Peterson. As the flag dropped Peterson made a superb start, with Hulme tucked in behind him, followed by Fittipaldi and Merzario. In the midst of it all Revson could be seen almost stationary with his arm extended upwards front the cockpit. His clutch had given up and the Mcl.aren crept along the front of the pit wall and expired, baulking those immediately behind him as it went. In the dust and confusion Cevert baulked Beuttler, who had to lift off and Hailwood hit the yellow March in the rear and broke the oil cooler. As Beuttler went up the hill he left a stream of oil behind him, and retired before he had even had a chance to go racing. With the leader not yet half-way round the first lap two cars had retired, which was not a good start to the proceedings.

Swooping and diving round the undulating circuit Peterson led the field on the opening lap, closely followed by Hulme, who looked to be in a belligerent mood; they were followed by Fittipaldi E, Merzario (having a moment of glory in fourth place), Stewart, Reutemann, Pace, Cevert and Hunt, all good runners and going well. Hulme had split the Lotus team and there was not much they could do about it, though the rest of the field were trying to get themselves sorted out. On lap 4 Stewart forced his Tyrrell past the Ferrari into fourth place, but already the leading trio were getting out of sight. At the end of the third lap Hunt had arrived slowly at the pits with a control rod to the fuel metering unit broken and his race was ended, while on lap 6 Cevert ended his own race by misjudging the moment to pass Merzario's Ferrari and the two cars banged wheels together, the blue car suffering a bent front wishbone, while the red one went on its way unharmed. Cevert roared into the pits at an absurd speed, but he didn't roar out again, his race was finished. Almost unnoticed Follmer drifted into the pits the Cosworth V8 engine in his Shadow misfiring, and two laps later, equally unimpressively Oliver joined him with the second works Shadow. At seven laps things looked a bit stable, with Hulme still close behind Peterson and Fittipaldi watching them from a little way off. Then came Stewart on his own, unable to match the pace of the leaders, and then came Reutemann, Merzario, Pace, Jarier, Beltoise, Fittipaldi W., and Regazzoni all within sight and sound of one another. Ganley was circulating on his own, with Hailwood next along and then Hill leading the tail enders, comprising Stommelen, von Opel, van Lennep and the two black Shadows when they could be persuaded to run.

Already the pace was below the old lap record, which was no surprise, but it was nothing like as fast as practice had been. Peterson was clocked at 1 min. 37.39 secs, with Hulme still on his tail and looking like having a go to get by. However, on lap 12 the McLaren went up the hill past the pits sounding less crisp than usual and next time round it was not only on seven cylinders but Fittipaldi had got by into second place. While this was going on at the front of the race, in mid-field Merzario had lost another place as Jarier forced the works March past the Ferrari, and Hailwood was heading slowly for the pits with a flat left front tyre, (another duff Melmag wheel). Peterson ended lap 13 comfortably in the lead, followed by Fittipaldi in the second Lotus, then came Stewart's blue Tyrrell and Hulme was charging into the pits, everyone except van Lennep going by while the McLaren mechanics looked at the engine and found a plug lead had come adrift down in the deep plug recess of the Cosworth engine. It was clipped back on and Hulme took off in a cloud of dust and wheelspin smoke, now in fifteenth position. With the threat of Hulme gone and with Stewart barely keeping pace the two John Player sponsored Lotus cars had things all their own way and Peterson eased up and let Fittipaldi join him. Their pre-race instructions had been to "play it by ear" and see what the situation was, it being agreed that it would be to everyone's benefit if Fittipaldi could win, as it would give him a chance of winning the "points rat-race" for the World Championship title. No matter which car won, the team would benefit in the Manufacturers Championship. In complete command of the race Peterson waved Fittipaldi by into the lead on lap 17 and the two Lotus 72s circulated nose to tail, completely untroubled by any opposition. Behind Stewart there was a stir up as Pace got by Reutemann and drew away from the works Brabham. On lap 18 as Hulme was preparing to pass the tail enders his engine went on to seven cylinders again and he was back into the. pits; once again the faulty plug clip was pressed back on, and he was out again without losing a place.

With less than half-distance covered the race as such was all over and the more disinterested spectators began to head off for the car parks, a long crocodile of people streaming down the hillsides. For the enthusiasts there was still something to see for Pace was going strongly in fourth place and Lotus fans basked in the glory of Team Lotus domination, just as the Tyrrell fans had done at the Nurburgring. The pits were kept busy by Ganley whose engine would not work properly, Stornmelen whose Brabham had a seized front wheel bearing and Hulme who came in yet again on seven cylinders. This time the McLaren mechanics got really tough with the faulty plug clip and graunched it into place for ever more. Surprisingly the BRM pits were all peace and quiet, both cars running faultlessly, if not very fast, but the Embassy pit received Graham Hill with the information that the Shadow felt funny. This was not surprising as the right-hand radius rod of the rear suspension was pushing its way into the monocoque, just as the left-hand one had done at Monaco! It was said that after the first incident the mounting had been strenghened, but only on the left side! Obviously someone was joking or perhaps the remarks in last month's Continental Notes about the poor standards of engineering in Formula One are true. Wilson Fittipaldi visited the pits as his engine would not run properly and Hailwood came in with a fuel leak under the car. Oliver had already retired with a fuel leak and Follmer had gone out with trouble in his Hewland final drive. The Ensign disappeared quietly with a lack of fuel pressure for the injection system and Jarier retired the works March with a recalcitrant Cosworth engine and a troublesome Hewland gearbox.

Round and round went the triumphant Lotus team, with Stewart settled in third place, but not very secure for Pace was going faster and faster as the race wore on. At 43 laps he was seven seconds behind the Tyrrell and by 48 laps he was barely four seconds behind and had notched up a new lap record. While this woke everyone up from the heat torpor a black and gold car was seen to slow right up in the dip in the centre of the circuit. It was Fittipaldi's car and the engine had died. Peterson ended lap 49 on his own, his team-mate stranded by the trackside. The rubber petrol pipe feeding the fuel metering unit down in the vee of the Cosworth engine had come adrift from its union and there was no easy way of putting it back on. Peterson cruised home to a lonely victory while the drama of Stewart and Pace fizzled out about as undramatically for the Surtees car popped and banged on lap 52 as the fuel system failed to work properly and the pressure for the injection System fell. Poor Pace limped along in third place, with Reutemann closing on him fast, but the Surtees completed the race a few yards ahead of the Brabham. They were followed home by the BRMs of Beitoise and Regazzoni, with Merzario a lap behind in the Ferrari, followed by an unhappy Hulme, whose day was completed by the rear aerofoil mounting breaking during his last lap.

As a race this year's Austrian Grand Prix was not a classic event, apart from the vastness of the whole manifestation, the enormous crowd, the superb weather, the happy time the beer drinkers and campers had all week and the profits everyone must have made. Grand Prix racing is good business for everyone and has certainly brought a degree of prosperity to the centre of Austria. Long may events such as this survive, and with lap speeds close to 140 m.p.h. the drivers were impressive to watch. - DSJ

Fastest Lap : C. Pace (Surtees TSI4A/05) on lap 46, in 1 min. 37.29 Sec. - 218.720 k.p.h. (new record).

Retired : P. Revson (McLaren M23/2) on lap 1, clutch failure; M. Beuttler (March 721G/2) on lap 1, oil cooler knocked off; J. Hunt (March 731/3) on lap 4, injection control rod broken; F. Cevert (Tyrrell 006) on lap 7, suspension damaged in collision with Ferrari; J. Oliver (Shadow DN1/4A) on lap 10, petrol leak; R Stommelen (Brabham BT42/6) on lap 22, front-wheel bearing failure; G. Follmer (Shadow DN1/6A) on Iap 24, transmission failure; G Hill (Shadow DN1/3A) on lap 29, rear suspension failure; W. Fittipaldi (Brabham BT42/2) on lap 32, injection system failure; R. von Opel (Ensign MN01) on lap 35. fuel pressure failure; J-P. Jarier (March 731/2) on lap 38, engine trouble; E. Fittipaldi (Lotus 72/R7) on lap 49, petrol pipe failure.