With the Formula Two season drawing to a close and this month’s only Formula Two race, at Zandvoort, cancelled, it seems appropriate to take a look at the future of the second Formula and to glance back briefly at the season thus far.
Unless the Italian authorities reverse an already announced decision, the race at Enna which takes place after we have gone to press (on August 24th) will be the last round in the European Championship of non-graded drivers.
Since the first year of the current 1,600-c.c. formula the Championship has been the domain of the French Matra concern. However, the 1967 Champion was Ickx, who used a car belonging to Ken Tyrrell. He proved a worthy winner by going on to even greater things in Formula One with Ferrari last year, and with Brabham during the current season. Beltoise, who won last year, is regarded as France’s top driver and is presently employed as Stewart’s number two in the Matra International team, as well as continuing in Formula Two with the French-run Matra Sports organisation.
There can be no doubt, therefore, that Formula Two provides the aspiring driver with much of the experience and practice which can make him a Formula One contender. The 1969 Championship unhappily, has not enjoyed the same prestige as during the past two years: Servoz-Gavin, for example, whose chances of becoming the 1969 Champion (also in a Matra) were considered good, did not go to the Austrian round of the Championship last month and instead drove a sports car in America. One can only assume that he (or his team) believed his chances of gaining recognition were greater in the U.S.A. than they were in winning the Formula Two Championship, for Servoz-Gavin has already proved himself to be a daring and competent Formula One competitor.
The situation at present is that a member of the German B.M.W. team, Hahne, leads the non-graded table. His car has been far from reliable and his driving at times erratic, but he has been sent to every qualifying round and picked up sufficient placings here and there to score the necessary points. However, it looks most unlikely that he will win the non-graded section of three races, which would mean that he will not be given graded status in 1970. Yet Hahne, who is something of a hero in his own country, is already talking of Formula One for next year, as though his limited successes in Formula Two are an “open-sesame” to the hallowed ranks. One fancies that some Formula Two teams will not be sorry to see Hahne move on, while Formula One badly needs more entrants, so the change may not all be for the bad.
The loss of prestige which has become apparent can readily be accounted for. When the new Formula started there were works teams from Matra, Lotus, Brabham, Lola, McLaren, Ferrari, and B.M.W. Only the latter two teams used engines other than the Cosworth FVA, but the dominance of Cosworth engines is not unique in Formula Two racing. The closeness of the racing and the quality of the cars has produced exciting competition during the past three years, although Lola and McLaren virtually dropped out of the formula in 1968 to concentrate on Can-Am sports car racing. Tecno came in to take their places.
For a variety of reasons, Formula Two racing places works teams and the better-organised privateers on a fairly closely-matched basis. The full works teams, in fact, have not been seen in every race, although they continue to set a standard against which private entries are eager to match themselves.
Ferrari, represented by the noisy and spectacular Dino V6 machines, has had a disappointing season. With three wins in four outings during the 1968 Argentine Temporada the red cars returned to Europe with a formidable reputation. Leading Brabham drivers like Rindt and Courage had been quite unable to keep up, but the tables were promptly reversed when the Ferraris returned to the fray at Thruxton, and they have proved far from impressive ever since. Not only have they failed to repeat South American form, but they have also proved thoroughly unreliable, to the disgust of team drivers Bell, Brambilla and Regazzoni. Nor do the Ferraris take part in the non-European Championship French races, so these three men have hardly done any racing at all this year. Bell went well at the Nürburgring in the Eifelrennen, finishing fifth behind Stewart and Siffert, which has been the best result for Maranello of the entire season. The new version of the V6 engine with radially-disposed four-valve cylinder heads has yet to race, but early reports suggest that it offers more torque without any increase in top-end power. It only ran for a short period in practice at Monza before blowing out all its coolant.
In the Tecno camp there have been far more consistent results. In spite of using slightly-modified 1968 chassis, the team has finished in nearly every race. What is more remarkable is that the Tecno drivers, Cevert and Galli, are still using early Cosworth FVA engines, albeit very well-prepared examples. The Tecno factory not only builds Formula Three chassis but also adapts Ford 105E engines for Formula Three, and the Italian feel for good engineering has obviously paid dividends in the Formula Two department. The Tecno looked very promising in 1968, but no major successes came their way until Cevert had a fluke win at Reims: like Galli, it took him some time to come to terms with the distinctly twitchy handling characteristics of the car.
When Rindt moved to Lotus for Formula One, he also asked for a Formula Two car to be made available, having been by far the most successful driver in the Formula in 1967 and 1968. So the Roy Winkelmann (Racing) Ltd team, which had been entrusted with running semi-works Brabhams the previous year, turned in 1969—like Rindt—to Lotus for chassis. Gold Leaf did not want to support Formula Two, but the cars are works entries to all intents and purposes. Basically the 59B chassis is an adapted Formula Three design, of effective square-tube configuration. On high-speed circuits the body shape has proved unsuccessful, but Rindt has had a good number of wins, notably those at Thruxton, Pau and Zolder. Hill has driven well in the second car, but it has proved less reliable than Rindt’s although he was a very close third behind Rindt and Stewart at Tulln-Langenlebarn in the second heat.
Using chassis which date back to 1967, both Matra teams have continued with the latest Cosworth FVA engines during the current season. The British Matra International Division has suffered an inordinate number of expensive engine blow-ups with drivers Stewart and Servoz-Gavin, but Stewart scored a fine victory at the Nürburgring and another in Madrid, the latter when Rindt was not present. The Matra Sports team has also suffered set-backs, especially when Pescarolo’s practice accident at Le Mans put him out of racing for four months, but Beltoise won the first Hockenheim, again when Rindt was not present.
Hahne’s progress with the B.M.W. is recounted above. The new Dornier chassis designed by Britain’s Len Terry has gradually been developed to the point where the older Lola design is superfluous. A very complicated engine (described in Motor Sport’s November 1968 issue) has become, if anything, less reliable as the season progressed, but Siffert drove well to take second place at the Eifelrennen and worried the pack by seizing the lead at Reims in a streamlined version of the car before it blew up. The preparation of the German cars has not been as good as one might expect of a works team and Team-Manager Steinmetz has expressed his disappointment with the interference from outside sources by resigning.
Other cars, produced by the French Pygmeé and Italian De Tomaso factories, have been somewhat disappointing. The French team was sadly under-financed and under-prepared for Formula Two. Offenstadt started in three consecutive races without completing a lap, and promptly retired from racing, while Dal Bo, who had moved up from Formula Three, made a good impression when the car was running properly, which wasn’t very often. His father, whose business supported the cars, would have done far better to buy a couple of Brabhams, although the monocoque cars (built along Matra lines) of his own design were well made and looked pleasant enough. The De Tomaso has raced but twice, running into problems on both occasions when well back in the field. This, too, is a monocoque design, but takes a leaf from Formula One design by utilising the engine as a stressed part of the chassis. When team driver Williams suggested that stresses imposed on the crankcase by torsional forces under cornering might be the reason for the sudden loss of power in the bends there was stony silence and the problem has not been mentioned since.
The Brabham banner has been carried high by private owners. Until very recently it was apparent that owners of 1969 chassis had only a negligible advantage on the later and very different-looking design. The two races won by Brabhams this year have actually been won by the same 1968 car, belonging to Bob Gerard Racing, but with different drivers in each case (Hart at the second Hockenheim and Widdows at Monza). But Courage, for whom Frank Williams (Racing) bought a newer car in June, showed conclusively that it had improved into an even more competitive design, although an outright victory still eludes him. Westbury, another private owner, has got his 1969 model well sorted out and has achieved some high placings in the fast slipstreaming races.
Turning to Championships, the French are once again running their own Trophées de France series, reduced this year to three qualifying rounds. They prefer to have comparatively small fields and as many graded drivers as possible, so their races are almost as good as genuine Grands Prix.
With enthusiastic promotion and a careful choice of dates, Formula Two has shown that it can bring in the Continental crowds and provide good racing. The Editor, reviewing a book last month, quoted its author as describing Formula Two “even when the racing has been fast and close”. . . as “tedious and uninspiring”. There are many people who would readily contest this verdict: if only the circuit-owners in this country were among them and put some effort into promoting Formula Two there would surely be more members of the public with a more enthusiastic outlook on racing than at present.
M. G. D.