That Jacques Laffite would win the French-dominated 1975 European Formula 2 championship was never really in doubt. The 31-year-old former racing mechanic had won five of the six races held when we reviewed the situation in July and, even though his successes suffered something of a surprise slump in the next few races, Laffite had wrapped up the title by the time the teams reached Silverstone on August 31st for the eleventh round. With three races still remaining in the series Laffite’s Schnitzer-engined Martini had amassed enough points from six wins (he either wins or fails to score it seems!) to put the coveted championship safely back in the hands of the French — not that there was ever much chance of them losing it anyway with Elf providing backing for five front running drivers. Laffite is the third consecutive Frenchman to win the Formula 2 championship and the fifth since the European series began in 1967.
He had dominated the racing in much the same way that Jarier and Depailler had done two previous years in their works March BMWs. Only this time it wasn’t March that were doing the winning. If there has been any sensation in Formula 2 this season it hasn’t really been the showing by Laffite at all, because overshadowing nearly every race in 1975 has been the glaring failure of the British-based March factory team to find form. In 1973 and 1974 the Bicester team were never headed in the European championship chase. This season they have but two wins — Michel Leclere taking victory at Rouen and Silverstone. Team-mate Patrick Tambay has finished second three times. It has been a disappointing year for both young drivers and for March it has proved an acute embarrassment; more than half of the field at every race line up in the latest March 752 model, virtually the same BMW-engined car used by Leclere and Tambay. To make things look worse, March have taken the Formula 2 monocoque, fitted a Cosworth DFV, beefed up the suspension and promptly humbled several Grand Prix fields. Little wonder the March bosses look grim as they review what’s been happening in Formula 2 this year. It is almost as though Laffite and his little band of Magny Cours men have sneaked up while no one was looking and stolen away the title. While every other team were still thinking about getting on with the job, Hughes de Chaunac’s equipe were already looking for that elusive last win to complete the package. Following his wins at Estoril, Thruxton, Nurburgring, Pau and the second Hockenheim race Jacques Laffite looked almost unbeatable. But the team were in for a bad patch and in four of the next five races engine troubles sidelined the little Martini. However it was an indication of the spell which Laffite had cast over the rest that they still weren’t able to gather him in.
A week after his win at the second Hockenheim race Laffite found himself pushed back to the second row after practice for the Austrian Salzburgring round. Ironically this race was the scene of Jacques’ first and only win in Formula 2 during 1974 with his BP-backed March-BMW. On the front row at the Salzburg speed bowl were Leclere’s March and Jean-Pierre Jabouille in his space frame Elf 2. The 55-lap race quickly developed into a closely bunched slipstreamer with the front runners huddled together in a tight knot. Leclere eventually broke away and looked prised to break March’s duck when the fuel metering unit packed up. Laffite was out with a broken rotor and it was left for Jabouille to sweep through for his first championship win of the year in the bright yellow Elf-Swiss Cheeses car. Second place went to the fast improving young Austrian Hans Binder in his March and third was the Italian Gabriele Serblin in another new March 752.
There was only a fortnight until the next race which saw the superb Rouen road circuit at les Essarts in Normandy return to the championship. Following his Salzburgring win, Jabouille was on pole position in his Schnitzer BMW-engined Elf with Tambay alongside. On the second row were Leclere and Laffite and only half a second covered these four. With Jabouille out front, the early stages were tremendously close but by half distance it had turned sour. The Schnitzer engines of Jabouille and Laffite both failed — Laffite having already pitted after tangling with Tambay anyway — and it was left for the two blue Elf Marches to race ahead to their first 1-2 finish in five months of racing.
Behind the factory team however only four other cars were left running! The 40-lap race was a disaster with thirteen cars retiring but it did herald a comeback for March. The first six were all in new March 752 models and it was also a good day for the Munich works BMW engines as the opposition faded for the first time. All six Schnitzer-engined cars retired. Third was claimed by Claude Bourgoignie in the Bang and Olufsen March and fourth was Jean-Pierre Jaussaud who had hired Brian Henton’s Ford-engined March.
From France the circus moved on down to central Italy for the ninth round at the modern Mugello autodrome north of Florence, the circuit which many Italians think will take over as the venue of the Italian Grand Prix within a couple of years. If Rouen was a disaster then it is difficult to find words to describe the Mugello race. The temperatures soared well over a hundred degrees and the track surface broke up badly. The two-part race took a heavy toll and from the 27 starters only nine cars were able to limp to the finish. A series of crashes, engine blow-ups and punctures turned the race into a long list of retirements which included every one of the regular front runners. When Brambilla blew his engine in the first heat, the pool of oil from this alone accounted for the cars of Leclere, Jabouille and two others. But through it all came the Italians, it was as if they had planned the whole thing. In practice Duilio Truffo’s Osella-BMW had been quickest with Maurizio Flammini second fastest in his year-old March-BMW 742. Truffo was delayed with a puncture in the first heat and Flammini raced through to win. He cruised to victory in the second heat while all around him chaos reigned.
Flammini had been steadily improving in the few races he had run this year. The 25-year-old Roman was using the same car that he ran last year for the disappointing Italian national team.
From the survivors at Mugello, Italians took the first five places but it was an appallingly bad showing by the rest. Everyone wanted to quickly forget Mugello and get on down to Sicily where the tenth round of the championship was held at the Enna Pergusa circuit at the end of July. This time everyone hoped it would be a good close race. It wasn’t. It was all over within five hundred yards as March’s Grand Prix driver Vittorio Brambilla stormed through from the second row at the start and sent the field scattering as they all tried to funnel into a new essbend just after the pits. Leclere and Tambay had lined up side by side on the front row for the race and it had all been to no avail. The controversial incident into the first corner had spoilt their chances and effectively eliminated Jabouille and Flammini as well.
Laffite started the race cautiously from the third row after troubles in practice and picked his way carefully through the carnage. From then on he had the race won. The notoriously bad Enna track surface broke up very badly and as the rest slithered and spun their way through two dull heats, Laffite drove steadily through to take his sixth win of the year. Gerald Larrousse’s Alpine survived to take second place, in spite of spinning four times and Gabriele Serblin staggered home fourth in his Trivellato March.
There was a month long lay-off leading up to the BRDC Silverstone race and the teams certainly needed it to take stock of the situation after the chapter of disasters that had struck. The eleventh round was the first Formula 2 at Silverstone since 1967 and was something of a gamble by the BRDC who didn’t have a major sponsor for the meeting.
The prize fund for a Formula 2 race is more than £29,000 and the club were hoping for a good crowd. Sadly less than 7,000 enthusiasts arrived to see the race on a bleak and grey British summer day. Leclere snatched pole position for the third time this season and having shrugged off an early challenge he went ahead to win from Larrousse who had changed from his older Alpine to a new Elf 2 for the first time: But for the British the excitement was that Brian Henton managed to qualify on the outside of the front row in Tom Wheatcroft’s modified Formula Atlantic car. Henton, using his own Brian Hart alloy block BDA engine in the Wheatcroft, actually led the race for the first two laps and stayed with the leaders for most of the distance. By the finish he had dropped back in traffic to finish third. Showing again that the British can run well up with the Europeans, Jim Crawford was running a good fifth in his Atlantic Chevron before the gearbox failed.
Laffite qualified in the middle of the front row at Silverstone then a last minute drama with the fuel system forced him to miss the start. He got going but only stayed in the race long enough to see Jabouille fall out and his championship assured. Laffite has done exactly what he set out to do — make his name in International racing using the Formula 2 championship as a springboard into Grand Prix racing. It remains to be seen whether this smooth-driving and consistently fast Frenchman can do the same in the top echelon at the sport. — M.T.