Reflections in an Austrian Summer
When we arrived for the Austrian Grand Prix we received a very polite reprimand, worded in the nicest way, but nonetheless firm. It came from the Tourist Traffic Association of Knittelfeld and oddly enough it was nothing to do with cars or traffic. Since the opening of the Osterreichring in 1969 everyone has been saying that it is at Zeltweg, and the small town of Zeltweg has been getting all the publicity. The Osterreichring is in reality in the district of Knittelfeld, and in fact, Zeltweg also comes under the jurisdiction of the district of Knittelfeld. The reprimand came from the committee of the Tourist Traffic Association of Knittelfeld, which comprises the Mayor, the secretary and an hotel keeper from the town. Naturally everyone is very satisfied with the way the Osterreichring has attracted 130-150,000 people each year for the Grand Prix, apart from all the other races held during the season and one of the aims in financing the building of the Osterreichring has been achieved, namely an influx of tourism to the area. However, it was the Knittelfeld Section of the Austrian Motorsports Club that inaugurated the original races on the old Zeltweg Airfield, and who got the splendid Osterreichring built, so that it is only reasonable that Knittelfeld should be mentioned in connection with the 'Ring and not Zeltweg.
In those days back in the sixties when races were held on the bumpy old airfield circuit, with stands and pits erected overnight and taken down again immediately the racing was finished, the race headquarters used to be in an hotel in Knittelfeld and the whole thing was much more of a social affair than a business organisation. When signing on at the Press Office there was time for a coffee or an aperitif and a chat, and there was never a great jostling and steaming mob on the scrounge for free passes like there is today. After the racing everyone went back to Knittelfeld for the prize-giving in a big banquet hall and the party went on until the small hours. That was in the days when 15-20,000 people turned up to watch sports cars and Formula Vee cars racing for fun. Now that the Austrian Grand Prix is fully professional and established as a classic in a very short space of time it is all very different, but still just as friendly and relaxed, although the professional racers are not interested in collecting cups and presents on Sunday evening. Now they disappear as soon as they can, leaving their business executive to sort out the money question and send them a cheque later on. From the public point of view, today is vastly better and with the heatwave that was in full swing the spectators that were camping for the three day meeting must have had a superb time. So before we leave the subject let us say once more that the Osterreichring is at Knittelfeld in central Austria. When people make a request nicely and with justification I am only too pleased to acquiesce, it is only when I am told "It will be this or that" and I can see no justification that I dig my heels in and upset people like the RAC, John Player, Marlboro and even Colin Chapman!
After the German Grand Prix at the beginning of August I was full of praise for the Ferrari team, admiring the way they went about things when they were winning and dominating the scene. Two weeks later, in Austria, the whole thing fell apart and they were in a chaotic state and had the BRM team not taken the Shambles Trophy for all time, the Scuderia Ferrari would have been worthy recipients. All this season we have been saying how powerful and strong the flat-12 Ferrari engines are, but during the Austrian meeting two of them blew up, one in the biggest possible way; this was Lauda's practice engine which brought him to rest out on the circuit. The car was towed back to the paddock and when the airbox was lifted off the top of the engine the scene was hastily covered with a pile of old rags. Not only was there a big gaping hole in the crankcase, but one of the connecting rods, or to be more precise the mangled remains, was lying among the fuel injection equipment! In the race Lauda had another blow-up, not quite so drastic this time, there being no visible holes through which to survey the inside of the engine. In addition to the mechanical disasters the Ferrari team did not set the pace during practice, it not being until the very last practice period that Lauda was able to snatch pole position from Reutemann. Austrian honour was saved at the last moment, though Regazzoni could not support him and was way back on the grid alongside James Hunt. After Lauda had retired in the race Regazzoni took over second place only to have his left rear tyre start to lose pressure and after dropping back behind Pace and Peterson he made a pit stop. The simple business of changing one rear wheel became as big a fiasco for the Ferrari team as some of the British teams had made of things in the Spanish Grand Prix at the beginning of the season. The major cause can be traced back to practice when Regazzoni came into the pits to have a set of qualifying tyres fitted and all the wheels were changed smoothly, but when he came to restart the engine it was very reluctant to fire. This was due to the intense heat of the day which caused the petrol to vaporise, and a bubble of air in a fuel injection system is not conducive to good starting. Eventually the Ferrari engine fired up, but Regazzoni remembered this, so when he stopped during the race he kept the engine running. Everything was going fine, the jack went under the back, the mechanic spun the wheel nut off with the pneumatic spanner and took the offending wheel off the four driving pegs. Meanwhile a very calm Regazzoni was sitting with the engine running at constant rpm. When the wheel was off the oil drag in the transmission caused the shaft and hub to start rotating, aggravated by the fact that Regazzoni had left the car in first gear, ready for a quick getaway, with his foot on the clutch pedal. Now clutches never free completely so when the mechanic came to put the new wheel on the driving pegs he was completely baffled for the hub was whirling round. This caused other members of the team to try and make Regazzoni switch off, or take it out of gear, but of course he did not realise why and there was a bit of a "gerfuffle" in the cockpit area. The poor, sufferning mechanic eventually got the wheel on the rotating hub and put the big central locking nut on and was about to start doing it up when Regazzoni thought it was about time the job was finished, so he gave a quick blip on the accelerator. As the Ferrari engine went "Whummmmm" the wheel flew off the hub and the struggle started all over again! Eventually amidst a lot of shouting and pushing and struggling, the simple business of changing a wheel was completed and a furious Regazzoni roared back into the race, but the few seconds lost were enough to lose him fourth place, for he just failed to catch John Watson in the closing laps. It was not a Ferrari weekend, somehow.
In complete contrast it was certainly a Brabham weekend, for Bernie Ecclestone's team could do no wrong. Reutemann was on top form from the word go, making fastest time in the first two practice sessions, while his new team-mate Carlos Pace finally got back into his 1973 form and made fastest lap in the third practice session. Reutemann really won the race, leading from start to finish, while Pace was never far behind, and for a glorious moment he got into second place and it looked on the cards for the white Brabhams to finish 1-2. It would seem that Reutemann suffers a bit from temperament and if something upsets him before a meeting he gets put off for the whole time, whereas when he is really on form he is very good indeed. It may have been the intense heat that switched him on, making him feel at home, but whatever it was he did not put a foot wrong all weekend. Pace lost his second place for a simple and frustrating reason, a clip in the fuel system failing and starting a fuel leak, the engine dying before he could coast over the last hill and down into the pits, where it could have been fixed. During all the traumas this season with John Surtees it was beginning to look as though Carlos Pace had lost the ability to drive fast, but it was all back again in Austria and he seems to have got over his mental hang-up, which is a good thing, for last year he was showing immense form and shaping up to be a really brave and skilful driver with the right sort of attitude to Grand Prix racing. When the Hesketh team first appeared a lot of play was made of the fact that the car was pure white, carrying no advertising, but it seems to have been overlooked this season that Ecclestone's Brabhams are also pure white, or at least they are white. They did not have the drivers' names on them in Austria, merely carrying the word Goodyear discretely painted along the bottom of the monocoque. They are Ecclestone's own cars and where the money comes from to build and race them is neither here nor there. Without being flashy, like some teams, the Brabham team are always neat and tidy and the Boss is a stickler for this, one mechanic leaving the team because he didn't like wearing clean clothes all the time. During practice the team wear pale yellow shirts and black trousers, and on race day they all change into bright green shirts and black trousers so that you can tell if anyone tries to sell a colour photograph of practice as a race picture! The Gordon Murray designed BT44 has a pretty low frontal area and a slippery shape, so that on the fast Osterreichring it came into its own, while its neutral handling was not affected by the downhill understeering-provoking corners as were some of the other cars. One of the greatest enthusiasts for the Brabham BT44 was John Watson who was driving the new one belonging to the Hexagon-of-Highgate team. Having driven a BT42 all season, he found the new car, with its rising-rate front suspension, vastly superior and a real joy to drive. He had a front Firestone tyre develop bubbles, like Hunt did on the Hesketh, two laps after M'Lord's car, and whereas Hunt dropped to 18th place on lap 14, Watson dropped to 21st place on lap 16. After that they both drove really well to finish 3rd and 4th respectively, admittedly helped by a lot of retirements among the front runners, but the fact that they both finished on the same lap as the winner is sufficient proof of their ability.
After the last few Grand Prix races, especially the Dutch and the German, the telephone at Cosworth Engineering in Northampton had been ringing pretty steadily with people asking "What are you going to do about the Ferraris?" If Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin stop development work on the DFV engine with Ford stamped on the cam covers, the English teams will all die overnight. I say English teams, because BRM have a copyright on British, though this season a lot of people are trying to overlook the fact that BRM stands for British Racing Motors, with three second-rate French drivers in the cars and little hope of keeping up with the Surtees and Williams of the Cosworth world. I hope nobody phoned up Ford and asked what they were going to do about the Ferraris. Obviously the Cosworth lot have not been sitting back complacently and Mike Costin was very much in evidence in Austria, particularly in the Tyrrell pits. It was ironical that on the fastest of all Grand Prix circuits the Cosworth powered Brabhams were setting the pace and the much vaunted Ferraris were panting along behind trying to keep up. Fortunately Mike Costin is not a typical Midlands businessman otherwise he would have gone away saying "I don't see what they are making all the fuss about, our engines finished 1-2-3-4 and we had pole position on the grid." Instead he went away knowing what they were up against, knowing what was wanted and also knowing that what they have been working for at Northampton all along the line is the right approach. The healthy competition that Ferrari has been providing all this season is just what Cosworth enjoy, for it keeps them at it even when the telephone is not ringing. What they would really enjoy is even more competition, from engines like Matra, Alfa-Romeo, Weslake and BRM.
One thing that was disturbing Costin was the number of Cosworth engines that blew up during the meeting, for reliability is one of the things that they have always had at the forefront of their design concepts. The Hesketh team had one of their Cosworth engines literally cut itself in half when a connecting rod bolt broke. When the smoke subsided you could see a piston sticking out of the left side of the block and could look right through the engine and see the ground the other side. The main part of the McLaren team had three engines fail in practice and another in the race, while Team Tyrrell had the rare occurrence of an engine failure in the race. Some of this carnage was no doubt due to the local conditions, for the air temperature was hotter than we have had all season and on the Osterreichring the engine is not only flat-out for a long time but also has to work incredibly hard for most of the flat-out part is uphill. A top driver once he is out of the Jochen Rindt curve before the pits keeps his foot hard down in fifth gear up the steep hill after the start and all round the swerves climbing up to the far corner, which is a climbing right-hander. A lot of work is done by an engine during that part of a fast lap.
A feature of the Osterreichring is the fast downhill corners that fall away as you go round them and this naturally encourages a car to understeer, or drift wide on its front tyres. If a car has a natural tendency to understeer on a smooth flat surface it becomes excessive on these downhill corners, while a car that steers fairly neutrally in normal circumstances will understeer in a controllable fashion and a car that normally oversteers, which is to say slides its back wheels out easily, will become almost neutral on these downhill corners. This is only the basic reaction of the car, the driver can provoke these conditions if he is skilful enough and adjustments to roll-bar, tyres, aerofoils, trim tabs, and wheel geometry can also adjust the situation but not get rid of it completely. These factors were basically the reasons behind the various changing fortunes of teams like Lotus, Ferrari, Brabham and Tyrrell in Austria, some got their variables about right coupled with a car that was basically suited to the corners, others got confused and finished up a mile out, while others had a fundamental situation that did not suit these downhill, falling away type of corners. Some drivers in almost identical cars were not as fast as they were last year, while pole position was down from 1 min. 34.98 sec. set by Fittipaldi in a Lotus 72, to 1 min. 35.56 sec. set this year by Reutemann in a Brabham BT44. Last year the Argentinian did 1 min. 36.01 sec. in a Brabham BT42. Fittipaldi's best this year in a McLaren M23 was 1 min. 35.76 sec. and Peterson could only do 1 min. 36.00 sec. in his Lotus 72 this year, whereas he did 1 min. 35.37 sec. last year in a similar car. A lot of people were puzzling over this problem, unable to trace the reason and some actually suggested that Goodyear had detuned the tyres in anticipation of very hot conditions and the likelihood of excessive heat problems with the soft sticky rubber. Certainly they did not have any serious tyre problems, though they were pretty near the limit, especially on the front left tyres which do the majority of the work at the Osterreichring.
One can usually say that a race has settled into a pattern by the fifth lap and it is interesting that at that point Denny Hulme was in twelfth position. Without really passing anyone he finished second, which gives a good indication of the troubles that were going on ahead of him. Lauda retired, Pace retired, Regazzoni had a pit stop, Scheckter retired, Hunt had a pit stop, Fittipaldi retired, Peterson retired, Watson had a pit stop, Merzario retired and Depailler retired and the lucky old grizzly bear cruised quietly home to second place. Some people call it tactics and wisdom, others call it luck. On the grid lckx was in row eleven, in twenty-second position, having made no progress in practice, and deciding to race the Lotus 76. By lap five he was in seventeenth position and he climbed rapidly up to eighth place by lap seventeen, where he stayed for most of the race until he collided with the spinning Depailler. You can't help wondering why he didn't try like that in practice and get a good grid position.
Of the twenty-five cars that started twenty-two of them were Cosworth powered "kit-cars" of which twelve finished, two were Ferraris of which one finished, and there was one BRM which did not finish. Ferrari and the opposition were about equal with a 50% reliability factor. - D.S. J.