1971 Austrian Grand Prix race report

Jo Siffert driving for BRm at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix.

Jo Siffert on his way to his second F1 victory

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A fine victory For BRM
Zeltweg, Austria, August 15th

Last year the Austrian Grand Prix was memorable for a number of things, it was the first Grand Prix to be held on the new Osterreichring, it was the first victory by Ferrari in a long time, it was the last race by Stewart with a March car before the announcement of the new Tyrrell car, Italian enthusiasm ran wild after the race, and altogether it was a Grand Prix to remember. There was an incredible atmosphere running across Austria even before the event began, for Ferrari had come so close to victory at the previous Grand Prix and the writing was on the wall for an Italian victory. The sun was shining, Austria was in great form, everyone was delighted with the new circuit the Austrians had built and from the moment of crossing the frontier from Germany into Austria the whole affair had been a roaring success.

This year as I approached the frontier it was all very different, it was late at night, the rain was pouring down, the previous Grand Prix had been won by Stewart with a Tyrrell when everyone had expected Ickx to win it with a Ferrari and when I arrived at Zeltweg the rain was still pouring down and there was none of he animation and excitement of last year. Everywhere there was a feeling that Stewart and the Tyrrell car was all set for another victory, which would be his fourth in a row and the sixth this season so that points scoring or no points scoring the Scot would be the undisputed World Champion driver for 1971. Stewart’s last three victories were achieved with so little apparent effort, with Cevert backing him up in second place with the number two Tyrrell car in two of the races, that the ELF Team Tyrrell had got everyone thoroughly depressed, and Matra withdrew from the Austrian race in a desperate hope to improve their cars in the lull this would give them.

Although Ferrari had three entries and the three 1971 cars, only Ickx and Regazzoni arrived in the rain, Andretti still playing “ducks and drakes” with European racing and USAC racing. In weight of numbers BRM were very strong, having four 1971 cars and a 1970 car with them, Siffert being joined by Ganley and Gethin on the new cars and the Austrian Dr. Marko joining the team with the 1970 car. Gethin had been released prematurely by the McLaren team for his contract was due to end after the Italian Grand Prix and BRM were taking him on for the Canadian and American Grand Prix events anyway, so he joined them for the Austrian race by general agreement and this meant that Oliver could take over Gethin’s 1971 McLaren, in support of Hulme. The STP-March team had undergone a shuffle both in drivers and machinery, for though Peterson still led them with his usual 711 model, Galli’s car was still using an Alfa Romeo engine and the original Alfa Romeo-engined car was converted to a Cosworth power unit and this was hired out to Niki Lauda, a 22-year-old Austrian driver who has been showing promise in Formula Two racing. Beuttler was driving a March 711 as usual for the Clarke-Modaunt combine and Pescarolo was driving for Frank Williams.

In the Surtees team the Stommelen supporters had been complaining that the young German’s usual car was no good so John Surtees gave him his own car and took the latest one for himself, hoping this would allay any suspicions that there were any differences between the two TS9 cars they have been racing all season. The Lotus team and Tauranac’s Brabham team were unchanged and like the Tyrrell Team all was amicable in their ranks. A last minute entry was Bonnier with his old McLaren.

Altogether there were 26 drivers entered but this number was reduced to 22 with the absence of Andretti, Amon, Beltoise and de Adamich. The F.I.A. rules permit 25 Formula One cars to compete on the 5.911 kilometre Osterreichring.

Qualifying

Jackie Stewart piloting his Tyrrell at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix.

Jackie Stewart qualified 2nd behind Siffert

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all was peace and quiet on Thursday morning as the rain poured down and the clouds obscured the hillsides.

There may have been peace and quiet but all was not well for both McLaren and Williams were in trouble with transport vehicles so that Oliver’s car had not arrived, nor had Pescarolo’s rebuilt March 711. While everyone was wondering about wet weather tyres and suitable gear-ratios, to say nothing of water-proofing, the rain suddenly stopped, the clouds lifted and within three hours it was a glorious afternoon and the track was dry. Practice began at 3 p.m. and was continuous for three hours, and conditions were ideal for though the sun was strong the Zeltweg plateau was still full of cool, damp air, so that the temperature was just right for racing engines and some fast practice times were expected. The lap record for the fast Osterreichring was set in June of this year by Rodriguez with a 917 Porsche in 1 min. 39.35 sec. (132.9 m.p.h.), but the fastest lap ever was 1 min. 39.23 sec. by Rindt in practice for the Grand Prix last year with a Lotus 72. Everyone was a bit taken aback when Stewart started lapping in under 1 min. 39 sec. and when he got under 1 min. 38 sec. it was almost too much for the opposition. During the three hours he just went faster and faster and left FTD at 1 min. 37.65 sec., being the only one in the thirty-seven second bracket. The two Ferrari drivers made a big improvement on last year’s best time but they were nowhere near fast enough, and a gloom settled over the Scuderia. Right at the end of practice Stewart was well wound up and Fittipaldi saw the chance of nipping his Lotus 72 in behind the Tyrrell and he got a very useful “tow” which gave him fourth fastest time of the day, ahead of Cevert who was supposed to have got in behind “the master”.

While some people were having a good time and going fast, others were already in trouble, both the Brabhams wasting a lot of time in the pits having their drive-shafts attended to, while Galli’s Alfa-Romeo engine was in trouble, as was Peterson’s Cosworth engine. With the pace that Stewart was setting it was clear that anyone who hoped to be in the running would have to improve on the existing lap record, preferably well below 1 min. 39 sec., while anyone who could not get below 1 min. 40 sec. was likely to find himself getting in the way of the motor-race. In the BRM team Siffert was all on his own, his regular team-mate and the two “new-boys” being left way behind, and Hulme was having a very lonely time, but going very well nevertheless.

Friday turned out to be a scorching hot day, all the damp and moisture was gone from the plateau and it was really too hot for any serious practice, there being another three hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oliver and Pescarolo were still waiting for their cars to arrive, Lauda was also without a car as his March 711 was in bits behind the pits awaiting the arrival of another engine, and Galli was also a non-runner as a replacement Alfa Romeo engine had been installed in his March and had made a nasty noise when it was started up. Stewart was not happy with the feel of the throttle slides on his Cosworth engine so his mechanics stripped the slide assembly in front of the pits and inspected the tiny balls and rollers on which the throttle slides move. Cevert was finding that the wide nose on his Tyrrell was scraping the ground on the downhill right-hand bends, but it was not too serious, and Regazzoni and Ickx both practiced with the spare Ferrari; the Austrian time-keepers, unlike some countries we’ve been to this year, were fully aware of these changes and recorded them correctly. Quite early in the afternoon Stommelen had an oil pipe come adrift on his Surtees and as he was doing more opening laps than he had been told to he went on until the engine seized up and the track was well oiled. It was just as well there was plenty of practice time and everyone could sit back and wait for the oil to dry up. Hulme and Hill appeared to be doing endurance testing on their Cosworth engines, for Hulme covered 50 laps and Hill did 55 laps during the afternoon practice for a race that was only ever 54 laps.

It seemed that most people were waiting for the heat of the sun to disperse, and at 5.15 p.m. it looked as if there might be a rush of fast laps, but it did not work out that way. Ickx disappeared on the far side of the circuit in a cloud of smoke as an oil pipe broke, and Stewart was not too happy with the way his Cosworth engine was opening up. The weather conditions were not as good as the previous day from the point of view of engine efficiency, but they were marvellous for spectators and for most drivers there was no improvement over the first day’s times. Once again Fittipaldi benefited from some crafty slip-streaming, this time from Hulme’s McLaren and his 1 min. 38.41 sec. proved to be the fastest of the day. Siffert used the spare BRM as well as the one allotted his race number, the newer car having the first of the “short-stroke” engines, while the spare car, which was the one he normally races, had an old type engine, but with the 1971 cylinder heads, and this proved to be the faster of the two. In less than half the number of laps that his team-mate covered Schenken proved to be quite a lot faster and was a very worthy fifth fastest overall for the day,, driving his 1970 Brabham.

Saturday was another scorching hot day and this time practice was from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., making a total of nine hours altogether, for a race that was to last barely 1 1/2 hours. At last there was a full complement of cars for Pescarolo’s March 711 had arrived and the McLaren M19A/1 for Oliver, while engines had arrived for the March works cars so Lauda was back in the fray. Stewart’s Tyrrell had been running with an experimental longer wheelbase (described elsewhere) during the first two days, but was now back to its normal length. Siffert seemed to be concentrating on the spare BRM and Regazzoni was spending a lot of time in the spare Ferrari. Practice was rather slow in getting under way as nobody seemed keen to go out in the heat, except those who were short on practice laps. Oliver only managed six laps before he crashed going into the downhill right-hand Bosch Curve at the end of the top straight. He blamed it on a lack of brakes and when the bent McLaren was brought back to the paddock it was found that there was no outer brake pad in the left-rear caliper for the keeper plate had disappeared!

Temperature conditions were not going to return to those of Thursday so everyone had to get on with the job and towards the end of the afternoon there was a sudden rush of activity. Lauda went by in a cloud of smoke as an oil pipe came adrift and spewed oil onto the exhaust system of his March 711, and Stewart’s Tyrrell had the gearbox apart and the internals were being inspected closely for any flaws as it had shown signs of playing up. One by one a select group of drivers were getting their lap times down into the 1 min. 37 sec. bracket, those being Fittipaldi, Cevert, Siffert and Regazzoni. As soon as his gearbox was reassembled Stewart rushed out to join the last-minute thrash and was immediately in with the select group. However, it was not the Scot who was fastest overall, but Siffert with the spare BRM running under number 14T and Regazzoni made his best time with the spare Ferrari under number 6T. Siffert’s brave efforts were not only rewarded with the fastest lap of the day, but it was also the fastest lap of the whole three days and got him pole position on the starting grid. Stewart was just pipped by his team-mate, but his Thursday time was still faster and assured him of a front row position on the grid. Top lap scorer on this occasion was Pescarolo, who did a total of 41 laps, trying to make up for the time lost of the previous two days, while Wisell did 40 laps, to make his fastest lap of 1 min. 38.95 sec.

Altogether 13 drivers improved on the existing lap record and they were all faster than last year’s best practice time. Hulme did one brief lap with a Tyrrell-like wide nose cowling on the front of his McLaren, but it was gone almost before anyone noticed, although the Tyrrell mechanics smiled broadly when they saw it. Only five drivers failed to break the 1 min. 40 sec. barrier and one of these was Oliver, who did not have much chance, and the overall standard was very fast. Both Siffert and Regazzoni elected to start the race with their practice cars, Siffert’s spare BRM actually being the one he has raced all season, while the spare Ferrari was the one Andretti has raced on occasions.

Race

The cars pull away at the start of the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix.

Stewart and Siffert lead the cars off the grid

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The start of the race was not due until 3 p.m. on Sunday, but another scorching hot morning brought the crowds to the circuit very early, a great number having camped overnight. The morning was taken up with a further 50 minutes of practice for the Grand Prix cars, this session being untimed and called Informationstraining. No Ferraris, no Lotus and no BRMs appeared, but the rest went thrashing round and round, Hulme and Oliver doing a vast number of laps and even Stewart and Cevert put in quite a few laps, the leading Tyrrell still being in its normal wheelbase length. Oliver was making up for lost time, his car repaired all right, and Pescarolo made the most of the extra time. Just before the 50 minutes was up Gethin put in some laps as his BRM would stop working on 12 cylinders when it got hot. The rest of the time before the start was filled in with some National Saloon Car and Formula Vee races, bands, parachute jumping and a parade of 11 507 BMWs, the shapely V8 two-seaters of the mid-fifties.

By the time 3 p.m. approached the hills round the circuit were covered by solid masses of spectators, an estimated 130,000 turning up on this beautiful sunny day in the lovely Austrian countryside. More than 100,000 tickets had been sold before race day, and there is no doubt that the Osterreichring is popular with spectators for the viewing facilities are wonderful. The 22 starters lined up in pairs on the “dummy grid”, rather a long way back from the starting line, over which a Mobil banner was displayed. There were, in fact, only 21 cars on the grid, for Bonnier’s McLaren had sprung a leak in one of its fuel tanks while still in the paddock.

At the 30 sec. signal the cars moved forward and by the time they reached the starting line the 30 sec. had ticked by and the Austrian flag was dropped while everyone was still on the move so that it was quite a good rolling start for all except Beuttler whose engine would not start. While Siffert’s BRM led the pack away the red March 711 was wheeled into the pit road where it lost two laps before getting going. From the moment the 12-cylinder BRM beat the blue Tyrrell off the line and up the steep hill after the start it was Siffert all the way, with Stewart desperately trying to hang on. In only four laps they had opened a gap between themselves and the rest of the runners, but it was already obvious that a gap was appearing between the BRM and the Tyrrell. Behind them Regazzoni’s Ferrari was in third place followed by Cevert’s Tyrrell, Ickx’s Ferrari, Schenken’s Brabham with its full-width nose cowling, and then Fittipaldi and Wisell in the Lotus 72s and Hill in the BT34 Brabham.

On lap 5 Cevert got by Regazzoni and took third place, but only for a lap, and Ickx meanwhile was dropping rapidly down the field, his engine sounding very rough. On lap 8 Cevert was back in third place again and on the following lap Regazzoni’s Ferrari engine died on him out in the country and that was the last of the Ferrari challenge for the day. By this time it was clear that Stewart was not going to catch Siffert, but more important was the fact that he was not keeping up with him. Hulme had already retired with a broken engine on lap 7 and Ganley had been in and out of the pit since the first lap with an obscure ignition fault in the engine of his P160 BRM, thought to be somewhere deep down in the flywheel distributor pick-up mechanism.

By 10 laps the race had settled down with Siffert in a commanding lead, followed by the two Tyrrells, but neither of them any danger to the Bourne car which was sounding strong and healthy. Stewart was in slight trouble with his car understeering too much for he was using narrower Goodyear tyres on the front wheels than he normally uses and the decision to experiment was a wrong one. He lacks the inspired ability to make up for such tactical errors like a Nuvolari, a Fangio, a Moss or a Clark would have done, so it was second place for the little Scot. Behind the two Tyrrell cars Schenken and Fittipaldi were engaged in a great battle, the Brabham being faster on the fast parts of the circuit and the Lotus being faster on the slower parts so that they finished each lap nose to tail with the turquoise Brabham always in front and in fourth place. Then came Wisell and Hill, their cars in the same situation, so that they, too, were having a good race, and after that Pescarolo was leading all the March cars, and Ickx was back amongst them in 11th place and getting nowhere at all. Surtees disappeared on lap 13 when his Cosworth engine broke and by this time some hazy clouds were appearing and obscuring the sun so that the temperature dropped considerably.

There was nothing that Stewart could do about the Flying Swiss and as he failed to make any impression on the BRM he started to relax and Cevert closed on him, going by into second place on lap 23, but not gaining on the BRM, for Siffert had just set a new lap record. The two Brabham versus Lotus battles were still in progress, with Tauranac’s cars leading each pair, and Pescarolo was alone as the last of the serious runners, those behind him either being uninspiring or in some sort of trouble, like Gethin whose BRM engine was sounding flat and Ickx in the slowest Ferrari we have ever seen. Marko and Oliver were bringing up the rear apart from Beuttler and Lauda, the former having lost so much time at the start and the latter having had a pit stop to change a front tyre.

Francois Cevert in his Tyrrell at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix.

Cevert qualified 3rd but retired with engine failure on lap 42

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At half-distance Siffert was as firmly in the lead as ever and the BRM engine sounded strong and healthy and the two Tyrrells looked to be outclassed, but nevertheless were still in second and third places. Still the Brabhams were leading the Lotuses but on lap 29 Wisell got by Hill as one of the Brabham’s Goodyear tyres was beginning to deflate, making the handling tricky. At the same time Fittipaldi was screwing his courage together to try and get past Schenken for he felt sure that once past he could pull away, but the lanky Australian was not giving way easily and the rugged little Brazilian was going to have to find his own way by. This happened on lap 32 as they started the descent from the top straight, for Fittipaldi had been looking for an opening for a lap or two and Schenken was not so tidy on the Bosch-Curve as he should have been on that lap and that was all the Lotus driver wanted. Once past he pulled steadily away from the Brabham, consolidating his newly-won fourth place.

He had not been there for long when it became third place for on lap 36 the left-rear wheel on Stewart’s Tyrrell parted company with the car on the left-hand bends in the middle of the circuit. The short stub axle, which takes most of the loading on this circuit which has some very fast right-hand bends, had broken and Stewart ended his race in a cloud of dust. Although another Tyrrell was in second place it was not very sure for Cevert was having trouble with his gearbox and Fittipaldi was closing on him. By 40 laps the trouble was so bad that it was only a matter of time before Cevert dropped out and this happened right in front of the pits on lap 43 when the engine blew up in a cloud of smoke, due to the gearbox jumping out of gear and letting the engine get overstressed. This put Fittipaldi in second place, with Schenken a strong third, followed a long way back by Wisell and Hill, then came a lonely Pescarolo, and an equally lonely Stommelen and the rest had been lapped by Siffert. These were Peterson, Oliver, Marko, Gethin and Galli, the last named struggling along to finish with a very sick-sounding Alfa Romeo engine.

At about this time Siffert was becoming aware that his BRM was beginning to feel a bit odd on the fast right-hand bends and after a few more laps he was very conscious that his left-rear tyre was losing air, but he had sufficient lead over Fittipaldi to stay in front, providing the tyre did not go completely flat.

In the closing 10 laps there were no changes in position apart from Gethin passing Marko, to move up to 10th place, but Fittipaldi was closing rapidly on the slowing BRM, though no one really knew why at the time, only Siffert knowing what was happening. For the last three laps the BRM situation was precarious as the Firestone tyre lost more and more air and the Swiss driver was having a really bad time on the right-hand bends, though everything was fine on the straights. Not until after it was all over did anyone know just how fraught Siffert’s last lap was, nor that the car was virtually uncontrollable on the slowing-down lap. Fittipaldi was a bare four seconds behind at the finish and had the race been 55 laps long he would have won. He may also have won had he passed Schenken earlier, but “ifs” don’t win races, you win them the way Siffert and BRM did; fastest practice lap and lead the race from start to finish, no matter what happens once the chequered flag has fallen. It was a great victory for the BRM team and the “Mexican Bandit” sitting up in Valhalla must have been proud of the “Crazy Swiss” and all the lads at Bourne.

Jo Siffert waves to crowds from the podium after winning the 1971 French Grand Prix.

Siffert waves to the crowds after taking a popular victory

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Once the BRM had crossed the line the crowds went wild with excitement and Swiss flags appeared from all quarters and the whole circuit was completely flooded by enthusiastic spectators, for Joseph Siffert is exceedingly popular with European crowds, and Austria and Switzerland have a much closer affinity than just being neighbouring countries. Long after darkness had fallen the beer tents behind the paddock were still lit and joyous community singing could be heard right across the valley until late in the evening. It had been a wonderful day and most of the 130,000 spectators must be looking forward to visiting the Osterreichring again in 1972.—D. S. J.

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