Formula Two Review
With just two races to go in last year’s Formula Two Championship, the plucky little Frenchman Rene Arnoux looked so to win the European title. His Martini-Renault was ahead on points after three outright wins, and he was driving well. Yet, as it turned out, the coveted Championship was stolen from his grasp at the eleventh hour when Jean-Pierre Jabouille snatched the overall victory in that tense Hockenheim final. Now, nearly twelve months later, Arnoux finds himself in almost exactly the same situation. As the Championship builds up to another desperately close finish, Arnoux is once more ahead on points and, just as in 1976, he has won three races. Following the late cancellation of the rounds scheduled for early September at Zolder, in Belgium, and the Salzburgring, in Austria, the Championship will now be decided at the two remaining rounds. The first is at the modem Estoril Autodrome near Lisbon, Portugal, on October 2nd and the thirteenth, and final round, will be the BRSCC (Midlands) meeting at Donington Park on October 30th.
After eleven rounds, Amoux, with wins at Silverstone, Pau and Nogaro, had amassed 45 points and once again looked in a strong position. His closest rival, the talented but rather erratic American teenager, Eddie Cheever, was lying second having taken just a single win. However, Cheever’s victory in the Rouen-les-Essarts road race in France, combined with regular finishes in the points throughout the year, had lifted him to 36 pts., just 9 pts. behind Arnoux and the 19-year-old was still a very real threat in his works BMW-engined Ralt. In third place was the Italian Riccardo Patrese. Although still without a win in Formula Two, Patrese’s showing in the Trivellato team’s Chevron, fitted with another of Jochen Neerpasch’s factory BMW engines, had been steady all year. He had 31 pts.; while in fourth place was Arnoux’s Martini-Renault team-mate, Didier Pironi. In spite of having won two races outright in the British works March, yet another car running Munich-built BMW engines, Bruno Giacomelli was down in fifth place in the points table with 23 pts., just 2 pts. behind Pironi. Sharing sixth place were Cheever’s Project Four team-mate Ingo Hoffmann, the Brazilian having earned 18 pts. along with the Italian Alberto Colombo.
From the eleven races held up to the end of September there had been seven different winners, among them five drivers who had taken their first win in Formula Two this year. Among the constructors there had been five different winners, and four different engine manufacturers built the engines that powered those winning cars.
March, with two wins apiece for Jochen Mass and Giacomelli, had taken four wins; Martini had three, thanks to Amoux’s sterling work, and Chevron, with a late season bid, had taken two. The other two fell to one of Ron Tauranac’s Ralts, driven by Cheever at Rouen, and Brian Lewis’ all-British Boxer at Thruxton.
The factory BMW engines were at the top of the keenly contested engine builders’ league with five outright wins to Renault’s three, the two scored by Brian Hart’s 420R engine and the important single win scored by the Ferrari Dino V6 engine in Lamberto Leoni’s Chevron in the most recent round at Misano in Italy. With drivers, constructors and engine builders all vying for supremacy and some of the closest racing for years, the Championship looks to be building up to another battling climax. So far it has been an intriguing season of Formula Two. Chevron’s win at the Enna Pergusa circuit was the first for one of Derek Bennet’s cars in the European Championship in five years while the Ferrari-powered victory at Misano was the first for the Italian company in Formula Two in nearly a decade. These breakthroughs have set the seal on a year in which the European Championship has produced some of the most exciting Grand Prix driver prospects in years.
Since our Formula Two Review in the July issue of Motor Sport there have been a further five races in this flourishing International Championship. The round at Mugello near Florence in mid-June gave Giacomelli the chance to take his second win in the unique March-BMW 772 prototype being run this year by the Bicester team. The car is based on a slim-line Formula Atlanticc chassis unlike the wide-bodied customer March 772. Giacomelli shared the front row at Mugello with Patrese’s pole position winning Chevron although at the start the little March swept straight into the lead and led Patrese for the entire 42 laps. After being swamped in the opening laps, Patrese fought his way back up to second while the two main Championship contenders, Arnoux and Cheever, were both in trouble in the dying minutes of the race and retired. Cheever, who was battling for a lowly fifth, tangled with a tail-ender he was lapping with only four laps to run and Arnoux’s Martini spluttered, to an embarrassing stop—out of petrol!
It turned out to be a field day for March because, apart from Patrese’s Chevron, there were five Marches in the first six and of that top half dozen, every one was running a BMW engine. In third and fourth places were the Italian team-mates Alberto Colombo and Alessandro Pesenti Rossi, so that meant there were four Italians in the first four places. Giacomelli’s second win in three races with the works March team had leap-frogged him ahead of Chrome and into second place in the Championship at that time, just 10 pts. behind Arnoux.
A week later the team had hauled across Europe so the fast Rouen road circuit to the west of Paris and Arnoux was determined to edge ahead once again. However, his hopes were dashed within yards of the start. As the field crested the brow and began the plummeting deep down the notorious Rouen hill, the cars at the front suddenly bunched and there was a spectacular coming together between Arnoux and the Chevron-Hart being driven by his former team-mate Patrick Tambay. Tambay’s car went careering up the bank and Arnoux’s straddled the kerb so that both were badly damaged.
With these two eliminated the way was left clear for Cheever to romp to his first Formula Two win which was also the first Championship victory for Tauranac’s Ralt RT1 chassis. He led strongly for the whole race and was never challenged. Giacomelli dropped out with a blown engine and that meant Cheever was again lying second in the Championship. Patrese finished second yet again while a close third was Pironi’s Martini. The Ferrari V6-engine, in the Ralt driven by Gianfranco Brancatelli, finished in the points for the very first time with fourth place, although the drive of the race came from Ingo Hoffmann. In spite of a pit stop in the early stages of the race, the Brazilian quickly rejoined and, after setting a blistering pace, Hoffmann climbed back up to fifth and set a new lap record.
The Championship moved to southern France in mid-July for round 10 at the Nogaro circuit. The race coincided with the mopping-up operation after the biggest floods in the area for years and at one stage there were fears the meeting would have to be cancelled after the local tragedy. However, it went ahead and provided Amoux with his most masterful display of the year. He simply pulverised the opposition to take his third win of the season and strengthen his grip on the Championship. The other Martini-Renault, driven by Pironi, chased him hard in the opening laps until the engine failed and that left Patrese to take his fourth runner-up spot of the year and take his turn at second place in the Championship. Hoffmann was its the points again with third place and next came Giacomelli and Cheever, the American dropping back after an early mistake. In sixth place was the consistent Italian Colombo. Once again the variety was there because in the first four places were a Martini, a Chevron, a Role and a March.
Chevron’s challenge in Formula Two has been mounting all season and at the Pergusa circuit in Sicily at the end of July the British marque took its first Formula Two victory since Gethin won at Pau, way back in 1972. It was an incredible race. Victory went to the Finn Keijo Rosberg who had been on pole position in the Hart-engined B40 chassis entered by the enthusiastic North American Chevron agent Fred Opert. Rosberg was second in each of the 30-lap heats to give Opert his first European win, in spite of a crash at the start of the second heat that threw the me in the air and dropped Rosberg right back to thirteenth. The track surface at Enna Pergusa broke up badly during the very hot race and this became a major factor. Patrese’s Chevron led both heats strongly in the opening laps only to fall foul of the atrocious conditions and it was Cheever who emerged as Rosberg’s rival. Cheever won the first heat narrowly from Rosberg and looked set to take another outright win in the second heat until Rosberg clawed his way back up through the field. The Finn caught and passed Cheever, and soon after the American’s Ralt crashed on the badly deteriorating track. It was Arnoux who worked his way through to win the second heat and take second place overall while Hoffmann salvaged third place for Ron Dennis’ team and Pironi was a trailing fourth.
Round 11 was back in Italy, at the Misano Adriatico circuit near Rimini on the eastern coast. This was to have been a non-Championship race until the cancellation of Zolder allowed the FIA to give it full Championship status. In practice it was Giacomelli who was fastest in the March ahead of Arturo Merzario in an Opert Chevron and Arnoux’s Martini. Patrese was fourth fastest in his Chevron but poor Cheever was right back at eighteenth after a troubled time. The race was in two parts and the most significant thing about it, apart from the fact that Arnoux eliminated himself with a very uncharacteristic mistake at the first comer, was the sudden strength of the Ferrari engine.
In the first eventful heat it was Cheever who rocketed up through the field to snatch the win after Giacomelli pitted with gearbox trouble and both Merzario and Patrese tangled with Italian newcomer Elio de Angelis. This bright youngster was in a Ralt-Ferrari and, in his first Formula Two race, he led for nearly the entire first heat. It wasn’t until an error under braking with just a couple of laps to go that Cheever, Lamberto Leon, and Hoffmann scrambled through.
Leoni was in the Trivellato team’s Chevron-Ferrari which had only been raced for the first time in Sicily. The car had originally been intended for Patrese but he decided to stay with BMW and so Pino Trivellato put the little-known Leoni into his second car. In the other heat Leoni was able to beat Cheever after the American made another of his small errors and that gave Chevron their second consecutive win. The most significant thing, however, was that Ferrari, on the eve of announcing ambitious plans for Formula Two in 1978, had taken an important win.
Cheever had to settle for second place which put him back behind Arnoux in the Championship, Hoffmann took another fine third and then came Pesenti Rossi and Pironi. In sixth place, and having an outing in the British Ardmore team’s Chevron-Hart, was Clay Regazzoni.—M.T.