1973 Italian Grand Prix race report

Ronnie Peterson slides through the chicane in Lotus at the 1973 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Ronnie Peterson won his third race of the season at Monza for Lotus

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Stewart’s Championship

Monza, Italy, September 9th

The Italian Grand Prix produced the first Team Lotus one-two result for some six years, but the race around Monza’s famous, if “chicane” bedevilled track, will be remembered as one of Stewart’s classic races. An early pit stop with a flat tyre on his Tyrrell cost him just over a minute and dropped him to 19th place. The Scot refused to accept defeat and with the vainest possibility that he might still that day be able to clinch the World Championship he demonstrated every ounce of his incredible and unmatchable skill to carve back through the field, sending the lap record flying as he went. His reward was fourth place overall which was indeed good enough for the Championship title, as Peterson won the race inches ahead of Emerson Fittipaldi.

Last year we, along with ten of thousands of fans, were disappointed with the effect of the two “chicanes” added by the organisers at the request of the GPDA in an effort to slow the cars down. We felt that one flat out blind a year was worthwhile and when we looked at the “chicanes” they seemed to add as much of their own danger as they had taken away by reducing the outright top speed.

So when the Monza 1000 Kms sports car race was run earlier in the year, without the “chicanes” and with about eight GPDA members competing without complaint, there seemed some glimmer of hope. But the 1973 Italian Grand Prix was run with the “chicanes” and was poorer for it. The most ridiculous aspect of the affair however is that at least 50 per cent of the drivers consider the “chicanes” more dangerous than the slip-streaming, but the balance of power in the GPDA is held by the pro-“chicane” people. Quite what the constructors think about these additional corners we don’t know but they must realise it’s a costly business Hunt’s March was written off against one, a couple of other cars were quite badly damaged and several others finished up with a collection of bent wheels and suspension components.

There was the day when Monza produced a spate of new cars which would be tested and raced in the Italian Grand Prix, giving the teams the kind of knowledge they needed to develop and perfect the models over the winter break. Now there is no winter break and new cars come along just when they are ready. At present the majority of teams have cars which look unlikely to be swopped for a new model next year – – simply updated. Lotus and BRM are the particular exceptions but neither had their new car off the drawing board by Monza time.

So the main excitement in the paddock was that, after their period in the doldrums, Ferrari were back in force. All three of their B3 models were now updated to the very latest Forghieri specification, and Jacky Ickx was back in the team although on a freelance rather than contract basis. Ickx was allocated chassis 12 while Arturo Merzario (making his Monza F1 debut) was in car ii used in the Austrian GP with to as a spare. However Merzario clipped a “chicane” and asked if he could try Ickx’s car which he did while the Belgian moved on to the spare. Incidentally Forghieri is adamant that the Ferrari flat 12 engine uses very little more fuel than a Cosworth V8.

John Player-Team Lotus thought they might be back at full four car strength for this meeting and before leaving England got a brand new chassis 72/9 onto its wheels. However it was decided to leave the car behind and so Peterson had his regular 72/6 with Emerson Fittipaldi in 72/7 and the unpopular 72/8 as a spare with Peterson’s name on it. The two race cars both had the new extended wing-stay-cum-oil-tank arrangements fitted, as first seen on 72/6 with Emerson Fittipaldi in 72/7 and the unpopular 72/8 in Austria, although this car had now reverted te the older arrangement.

Elf Team Tyrell tended to their usual trio of blue Derek Gardner designed cars although the absence of Gardner himself suggested he might be closeted behind his drawing board. There was no change of specifications, the team relying on the superb preparation of 006/2 to bring Stewart the championship. Francois Cevert was in 006 while the spare development car, 005, was still in the wedge nose trim.

Yardley Team McLaren thought they had some tricks up their sleeve, for Gordon Coppuck had devised some suspension modifications for the already very competitive McLaren M23. However a test session at Silverstone showed that there was no significant improvement so the three cars were put back to the original specification. Denny Hulme remained with his original car. but Peter Revson decided to try M23/4 and leave his usual car M23/2 as the spare.

By the time the Motor Racing Developments huge articulated truck arrived in the paddock it was the centre of a certain amount of abuse for it had given trouble with wheel bearings and missed first practice. It is fine to have the largest transporter in the paddock but it helps if it is reliable. However Brabham now also have a single car Mercedes-Benz transporter as well and that arrived in time. Altogether there were four BT42s, Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi had their regular cars while Rolf Stommelen, running under the Ceramica Pagnossin colours decided on the latest car BT42/6, leaving 42/5 as a spare for everyone. In fact Fittipaldi drove it in the race.

It is disappointing to see the UOP Shadow team struggling so much in their first Grand Prix season but at least they are trying. They had been to Silverstone just before leaving for Italy to evaluate some new modifications. However after tests with the latest car, fitted with twin radius rod suspension and a longer bellhousing to increase the wheelbase, Oliver decided to run his regular DN1/4A in normal trim while Follmer’s DN1/5A was fitted with the newer type rear suspension, thus leaving the development car as a spare. Graham Hill’s Embassy Racing Shadow had been stripped to the bare chassis in the three weeks since the Austrian Grand Prix and was re-built with a few further Graham Hill Racing modifications.

There were three Marches on hand, the one undoubtedly attracting the most attention being the Hesketh version, running in the same Postlewaite developed trim seen in Austria, Incidentally Postlewaite is now working on a Hesketh chassis for next season which can be powered by either a Cosworth V8 or a new V 1 2 engine which the Lord has commissioned ex-BRM man Aubrey Woods to design, build and develop. It should be fun to see how the team get on with that. Mike Beuttler had his usual yellow car with a Mk2 nose and Hesketh airbox and David Purley was in the works car, as driven by Jean-Pierre Jarier in Austria, with the original nose design. Designer Robin Herd was again not present – he was more interested in the progress of the Formula 2 cars.

The Marlboro BRM team were somewhat despondent having just tested at the Paul Ricard Circuit. It certainly doesn’t help when you can not reproduce the lap times you managed at the start of the season. The car being used for the tests was built up around a brand new chassis, P160/10, which Niki l.auda had for the Monza race his wrist now recovered after the German jolt. Regazzoni used P160/09 but he obviously can’t wait for his contract to expire while Jean-Pierre Beltoise was in P160/07. All three cars were fitted with special small rear wings.

The familiar face of Ron Tauranac, who has his own Formula I design completed, was to be seen giving Frank Williams a hand as he did on occasions last year. He had suggested a few modifications to Williams cars mainly to roll bars and wings and Ganley was confident this would improve his lot. Gijs van Lennep was being given his third drive for the team although he will not finish the season with them.

Finally one team whose fortunes have improved dramatically over the last two or three races is Team Surtees. They had the usual pair of TS14A cars for Carlos Pace and Mike Hailwood. Some modifications had been made to the front suspension of Hailwood’s car to bring it in line with Pace’s and hopefully kill the understeer.

Rounding off the list of drivers who actually turned up was Rikky von Opel with the so far one-off Ensign, although the second car is almost complete. Morris Nunn had made a few detail changes, but otherwise was leaving von Opel to get on with learning about Grand Prix racing.

The dismal Tecno story did not have another chapter added at Monza. Under the banner of’ the Martini Racing Team entries were made for both Chris Amon and Vittorio Brambilla, the latter was said to be driving the old space frame car from last year with safety cladding added. However the only glance we got of Tecno was at the end of the meeting when a little Ford Transit lorry appeared and unloaded the Goral chassis, less engine, into Frank Williams’ transporter. Two days later it was lying under a tarpaulin at the back of Williams’ workshops in Reading.

The problems between the Press and the drivers/constructors was in part resolved by the printing and distribution of special yellow passes without which no one was allowed in the pits. A fair number were allocated to the press while the teams had more than enough to go round their personnel, while quite a few genuine if professional lurkers had also managed to obtain them.


Peter Revson pushing his McLaren at the 1973 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Peter Revson impressed by putting his McLaren 2nd on the grid

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However when practice started the pits seemed almost completely devoid of Press men to faithfully record the scene the change of timing clashed with the annual Press Union-meeting. Fortunately there was no panic amongst the drivers and they got on with the job without the ears and eyes of the world upon them. What the Press missed was the fact that Peter Revson was setting the pace. In fact he finished up fastest in both parts of Friday’s session to record 1m 36.743.

The nearest to the American was Peterson who had ample time to practise both cars and he finished second fastest at 1m 36.795. ‘I’he only other driver under 1m 37s was Carlos Pace who was delighted with his Surtees. Arturo Merzario kept the Italian fans more than happy by lapping in 1m 37.00s after switching to Ickx’s car in the afternoon. The two Tyrrell drivers were not entirely happy at 1m 37.325 for Stewart and 1m 37.74s for Cevert who, for once, was slower than brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Beltoise who seemed pleased with his BRM. Both Hulme and Emerson Fittipaldi were in trouble; the Brazilian’s ankles were still giving him pain and he had them strapped up by the medical unit while the engine in his car was looked at by the Lotus mechanics as it would not rev. Hulme thought he was happy with his engine, but once a fresh one was fitted he decided the problem was that he was asking the team to try and make the car suit him. On Saturday he decided it would be better to try to adapt himself to the car and immediately he was up near the front. Jacky Ickx wasn’t setting the world on fire in his revised Ferrari and seemed content to lap a little slower than Merzario.

The final half hour in practice for the Italian Grand Prix used to see bunches of cars roaring round swopping places frantically as drivers got the effect of a good slip-stream. Other cars could be seen cruising around just waiting to join the right bunch while, in the pits, drivers made agreements to help each other which were usually promptly broken as soon as a better chance appears. Thanks to the “chicanes” it doesn’t happen any more although there was a poor imitation of’ it, with a couple of groups forming in the dying minutes.

Meanwhile Peterson was lapping in his own good time by himself and proved yet again that when it comes to turning on the pole position performance he has no equals. Towards the end of practice,with some “sticky” Goodyears fitted, he slashed his lap time to 1m 34.80s to take pole position yet again Team Lotus. Peter Revson was still showing the previous day’s form and stayed on the front row with 1min 35.29s. Hulme, now fully on terms with his McLaren, lapped in 1m 35.45s with Emerson Fittipaldi showing that he is not to be forgotten either with 1m 35.68s.

Carlos Pace was happy with 1m 36.065 so shared row three with Jackie Stewart’s Tyrell. Merzario was doing his very best for the horse crowd and his 1m 36.37s was a bold effort.

Eighth fastest was Mike Hailwood, whose Surtees was dogged with misfiring until ten minutes before the end of the session. In four laps he slashed his time to 1m 36.44s

The fifth row of the grid comprised two Brabhams. Rolf Stommelen surprised almost everyone by lapping in 1m 36.545 faster than team mate Carlos Reutemann who was lower down the grid than usual. Reutemann’s engine blew up on the first day and he had a notebook full Of other problems too. Cevert’s best of 1m 36.58s put him back in the middle of the field and he shared the row with Mike Beuttler, who, as in Austria, was much further up the grid than ever before. Beuttler said that at last he could see light at the end of the tunnel.

Jean-Pierre Beltoise was the best of the BRM drivers and he shared row eight with Jacky Ickx, who had his Ferrari’s engine blow up just when he was poised for a fast lap. ‘Then came Lauda who was dogged throughout practice by brake problems and the rest were as per the grid with the Shadows and Isos in their usual rearward places.

One man missing from all this was James Hunt who had the misfortune to hit the second “chicane” early in first practice. The monocoque was damaged and rather than bodge it for the race, and perhaps jeopardise their efforts in North America, the team set off immediately for England to start the repairs. Hunt admitted the fault was his and also said he didn’t think much of the “chicanes” either. Merzario was another to clip the Ascari Curve “chicane” in practice but fortunately only sustained suspension damage. Just as last year several drivers overshot in practice to the wild cheers of the crowd.

No nation loves its motor racing more than the Italians and throughout the meeting they swarmed all over Monza, few obstacles, even ten foot high fences, getting in their way as they fought to catch a glimpse of their favourite car or driver. At times in the paddock, to which there were various illegal hole-in-in-the fence entrances, it was worse than being at a pop concert.


Cars smoke their tyres as the 1973 Italian grand Prix gets underway.

Tyres smoke as the race gets underway

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The crowd were undoubtedly in force on Sunday packed in much more densely than last year and, as ever, clambering up every tree and hoarding in sight. Apparently after every Italian Grand Prix the local hospital treats over 50 people for the after effects of falling from vantage points, scuffling generally and getting their clothes caught on the barbed wire when climbing those fences.

What they had all come to see was a motor race that promised plenty. There was the chance of seeing Stewart clinch the World Championship; of a tremendous battle between Lotus and McLaren and most important of all the possibility of Ferrari fighting with the best of them. Jackie Stewart’s hopes took a dive during the unofficial morning session when his engine went sick with valve trouble. The Tyrrell team had a fresh engine fitted in time for the race but the car still had problems when it came to the line, where brakes had to be bled and the ignition adjusted.

As usual most of the drivers filtered slowly out of the pits for the warming-up lap and made practice starts. On the “cheerometer” Merzario was the crowd’s favourite followed by Stewart and Regazzoni while Graham Hill, Mike Hailwood and Jacky Ickx also recorded good readings.

The start was made on the left of the big wide pits straight so that the cars missed the first “chicane” on the opening lap. The Italian flag swept down right on time with Peterson making a superb get-away as did Fittipaldi, both the McLarens being outfumbled. Carlos Pace found himself in a gap which was getting smaller and smaller and had to back off while his team mate Hailwood changed from first to fourth and lost about twelve places in the process.

At the end of the first lap it was the two black and gold Lotus cars powering out of the Parabolica first with Peterson ahead of Fittipaldi. The pursuit was led by Hulme, Stewart and Revson with Merzario right there in sixth place. Then came Cevert, Pace, Beuttler, Reutemann, Ickx, BeIroise, Lauda, Hailwood, Regazzoni, Follmer, Oliver, Stommelen (the engine sounding rough), von Opel, Hill, Ganley, Purley, Wilson, Fittipaldi and van Lcnnep. Ferrari hopes were dashed the first time that Merzario took the main straight “chicane”. He managed to clip it with his right wheel which bent the top rocker arm and he was left to crawl round and back to the pits to explain the sad news.

Jacky Ickx rounds the Curva Sud in his Ferrari at the 1973 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

There was disappointment for the home crowd as the best-placed Ferrari of Ickx only finished 8th

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There was no doubt about it this race was going to have a similar story as Austria with the two Lotuses soon pulling away from the others, led by Hulme and Stewart. The Scot was pressing Hulme hard for third place until about the fifth lap when he started to drop back with the handling feeling peculiar. Revson moved up to fourth place so, at the end of lap eight, Stewart made a pit stop. The left rear tyre had picked up a nail and was deflating and by the time a new wheel and tyre was fitted and Stewart had roared out of the pits he was 19th.

Stewart was able to join the race just in time to see Denny Hulme recovering from a big moment at the first “chicane”. Hulme’s brakes hadn’t reacted quite as expected and he arrived at the “chicane” too fast and caught the kerb which launched him into the air. He landed on two wheels sideways across the track right in front of Revson who had to brake sharply to avoid him and lose a great deal of time in the process. Thus the two Lotus 72s had disappeared into the distance by the time Revson got going again and, assuming Cohn Chapman’s cars were to prove reliable, the race was all over bar the shouting. Hulme limped round to the pits where a crease in the monocoque was quickly spotted but the New Zealander was sent back into the race rejoining, after losing a couple of laps, just ahead of Peterson and Fittipaldi.

Already there had been several other pit stops Stommelen had been in to replace a loose plug lead, Wilson Fittipaldi had a bad oil leak which was effecting the brakes. Frank Williams soon had problems on his hands with Howden Ganley pulling in from twelfth place with the rear wing loose which was fixed and Gijs van Lennep followed soon after with the engine very rough and was retired.

By lap 20 the order seemed set with Peterson leading Fittipaldi (although with Hulme between them and two laps behind), Revson third some 14s behind, then Cevert fourth with Reutemann fifth and closing slightly. Hailwood had made up for his early problem by moving up to sixth place, passing Ickx on lap 18, and had been running just behind Pace. On lap 18 the Brazilian’s left front tyre fell apart as he braked for the second “chicane”, and he took the escape road, parked the car and walked back to the pits. In fact he was the second visitor up the escape road, David Purley taking to it earlier on whilst trying to outbrake Graham Hill. Mike Beuttler had dropped from his high placing with a puncture and von Opel was an early retirement when the engine overheated.But all eyes were on John Young Stewart who, urged on by the crowd, was driving a race that he later described as “second only to my performance in the fog at the Nurburgring”. That he can drive has never been doubted and he was taking more out of Tyrrell 006/2 than has ever been taken out of it before. Almost every lap he picked-off another car and by half distance he was up in eighth place.

However by this stage it seemed that the World Championship would not be decided until the Canadian GP. Peterson and Fittipaldi were running in very close company having dropped Hulme, and it seemed certain that Peterson would wave Fittipaldi through to take the nine Championship points. Stewart looked unlikely to collect more than one point which would still leave the points race open.

BRM were having another unhappy day. Regazzoni stopped with a serious misfire, Jean-Pierre Beltoise had a puncture and Lauda, after a pit stop to have a loose brake duct inspected, crashed heavily at the Parabolica when the car turned sharp left. After a similar incident in Germany he must be wondering if the stars are on his side.

By lap 30 Stewart had Ickx in his sights, the Ferrari having lost some of its radiator ducting and the Scot snatched seventh place on lap 33. Next up was Mike Hailwood who was already slowing, having clipped a “chicane” and badly dented a wheel. On lap 37 Stewart disposed of Hailwood without further ado, but he was not content with that and next in sight was Reutemann, who never did manage to close up on Cevert. The Argentinian is never an easy customer to pass and Stewart trailed him for a lap and a half before moving up to fifth place. Now Lotus would definitely have to move Fittipaldi ahead of Peterson if the championship was to be kept alive. The two cars at the front were still running as sweetly as ever and were rarely more than a second apart. Fittipaldi was definitely quicker into the “chicanes” and on one occasion, looked like taking the lead accelerating out of the first one. But Peterson stayed in front.

Stewart’s next on the list to be caught and passed was team mate Cevert. He obviously wasn’t going to present any problem and with seven laps to go Stewart was fourth. Peter Revson seemed distant but Stewart certainly had no intention of relaxing. In fact the stop watches showed that despite closing on the American at two seconds a lap Stewart wouldn’t make third place.

The pits strained each time to see if Peterson would wave Fittipaldi by. With Stewart now fourth it meant that the Brazilian would have to pass the flag first at Monza and repeat the performance in the two American races with Stewart unplaced to stay in the points race. If this happened Fittipaldi and Stewart would have equal points and the verdict would go to the Brazilian on number of victories. A tall order but still a possibility. However there seemed to be no instructions from the pits for Peterson to give way, apparently he had been told before the race to use his own discretion.

Peterson is the kind of driver who is only interested in winning and, as the two Lotus 72s flashed by the pits with a lap to go, the Swede was still in the lead. As they came out of the Parabolica for the last time he was still there. Peterson said afterwards that he thought of trying to make it a deadheat but then thought better of it. As soon as he saw Colin Chapman leaping in the air however he lifted off the throttle, Fittipaldi very nearly came by and he had to accelerate again to take the flag first, the actual gap being 0.8s.

Ronnie Peterson celebrates on the podium after winning the 1973 Italian Grand Prix, Peterson.

Peterson shares the champagne on the podium

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Peter Revson finished third, 28s further back, after a trouble free run followed by Stewart who was only 4s behind. The rest didn’t seem to matter but it was Cevert fifth ahead of Reutemann, and Hailwood. lckx had been lapped for eighth place while Purley drove sensibly to ninth spot after his early slip, passing Follmer only three laps from the end. Oliver was 11th with clutch problems while pit stoppers Stommelen, Beltoise, Hill and Hulme completed the classified finishers.

The 1973 Italian Grand Prix was certainly a race to remember thanks mainly to the superb driving of Jackie Stewart but not forgetting the dominant performance of Team Lotus.