Return to Sanity
With the 1972 season passing its midway point Grand Prix races are happening with great rapidity, being held every alternate weekend, so that there is little time for the teams to do other than repair the ravages of the previous race before the next one is due. A very full entry arrived in the Nurburgring paddock for the German Grand Prix and they were all on time and ready to go, for the 22.835-kilometre circuit round the Eifel mountains is not one to be taken lightly. The Ferrari team had been testing some weeks earlier and, in conjunction with the Firestone tyre engineers, had come to the conclusion that the layout and geometry of the rear suspension was not all it might be, so the revised layout that appeared at Clermont-Ferrand was designed, and they were now keen to see if it was equally successful on the Nurburgring. Chief engineer Forghieri was paying a visit to the German race to watch developments as he was not convinced they had got the right answer to the rear wheel movement, though it appeared to be a reasonable one. Regazzoni was fit once more, his broken wrist mended, so the team was up to full strength, with Ickx in car number 5, Regazzoni in car number 7 and Merzario in car number 8, there being no spare car. The black Team Lotus had their usual three cars, R5 and R7, both with the tapered oil tank and single oil radiator under the small aerofoil tor Fittipaldi, and R6 with the old twin oil-radiator layout for Walker. With Revson racing in a USAC track race, Redman took over his car in the McLaren team, the original M19A/1, while Hulme as usual had M19C/1. The car that Redman crashed at Clermont-Ferrand has not been rebuilt, and probably never will be, as the little Colnbrook factory is busy with a full programme of racing and are concentrating on finishing off a new C-series car, rather than spend time repairing one of last year’s models. The BRM team were looking a lot more organised, which pleased their faithful supporters, and had three drivers and four cars. The drivers were Beltoise, Ganley and Wisell and the cars were all P160 models, and were all using the new layout of ducted oil radiators on the sides of the monocoque, giving a cleaner air-flow to the rear aerofoil. This experiment was tried at the British Grand Prix and in addition to improved down-thrust at the rear gave lower oil temperature, so the layout was adopted on all the cars. Beltoise had his usual car P160/01, Ganley had P160/06 and Wisell had P160/05 while P160/03 was the spare car. The Tyrrell team had done a fantastic amount of work in a very short space of time for the British Grand Prix saw them with Cevert’s car bent when he crashed, and then bent some more when Peterson ran into it, and the new car crashed in practice by Stewart. Although the new car 005 was repaired it was not taken to Germany, and Stewart used 003, his 1971 car, with 004 as a spare, and Cevert had his usual car 002 completely new after its Brands Hatch crashes. Matra had straightened out their new car MS120D/07 after its Brands Hatch crash and Amon was confident once more and ready to try really hard, and the old car MS120C/04 was there just in Case of emergency, but he did not intend to drive it unless it was absolutely necessary. Peterson and Lauda had the two Formula Two-based March cars, as in previous races, the former with 721G/3 and the latter with 721G/4, both looking like brand-new, while Beuttler had 721G/1, the “original idea” car in this March-design offshoot. Bernard Ecclestone’s team of white Brabhams were as before, with Reutemann in BT37/2, Hill in BT37/1 and Wilson Fittipaldi in last year’s car BT34/1, the last car retaining the lower wishbone rear suspension layout for driver preference, the other two having the parallel link layout first tried at Clermont-Ferrand.
Schenken, Hailwood and de Adamich represented the Surtees factory, in the usual cars, the first-named having had a bit of a repaint as one of it’s sponsors had used up his agreed time of two races. The Frank Williams team are just about keeping pace mending cars as fast as Pescarolo wrecks them, and had their March 721/3 all ready again, having been completely rebuilt round a new monocoque, and Pace had the March 711/3 as usual. The brand new Politoys Special, crashed at Brands Hatch, was still in pieces back at the works. Stommelen had the blue and white Eifelland March, possibly on its last outing as such, for the owner had sold his Eifelland Caravan business and the new owner did not seem keen on motor racing. To complete this enormous field were Bell with the flat-12-cylinder Tecno, now with Tauranac-inspired front suspension, to match the new rear end it had at Brands Hatch, the front wishbones having a wider base with more fore-and-aft rigidity, and more vertical movement. To complete the official list there was Dave Charlton with his Lotus 72D/R3, having one last go at European racing before returning home to South Africa for his national Formula One season. In the paddock there was the Connew, which appeared briefly at Brands Hatch, this small private group arriving “on spec”, hoping they might join in, but the organiser’s refused them permission on the grounds of it being an unknown car with an inexperienced driver, the Nurburgring not being the place for such a combination to start Grand Prix racing.
There were two sessions of practice on Friday and two objectives for drivers to aim for, one was grid position and the other was to qualify for the grid. With Grand Prix cars getting wider and starting areas remaining the same width, the number of cars considered to be “safe” on the front row keeps diminishing, and this year only two were to be permitted, so that fastest practice time and second fastest were going to be all-important. In addition the field was to be limited to 25 cars, so the slowest two drivers would be out. For such a long and difficult circuit the first session of just over one hour seemed ridiculously short but even so a lot of activity was packed into it. When the BRM for Beltoise was brought to the pits it was found to have a leaking connection in one of its fuel tanks, so he promptly took the spare car, and everyone else was soon out on the circuit. The lap record for the “cleaned-up” circuit was set last year in the race by Cevert with a time of 7 min. 20.1 sec. in the Tyrrell 002, and the Frenchman showed it was no fluke by recording 7 min. 19.7 sec. in the same car quite soon in this practice. However, Stewart was in even better form and recorded 7 min. 17.2 sec. and the only other driver to get below the old record was Peterson, with 7 min. 19.5 sec., the F2-based March proving to be about right for flinging round the twists and corners of the Nurburgring, in the sideways motions that the Swede enjoys. On the very fast approach to the Aremberg corner a small shower of rain dampened the road surface and Walker spun off on it and broke the left rear corner of his Lotus 72 and shortly afterwards Merzario lost his Ferrari and hit the bank, a bit further on, on the descent into the Fuchsrohre, while Charlton had a big slide at the point where Walker crashed, but got away with it. Although the session was short most people were able to get into contact with the the circuit and set themselves a standard.
Two hours later practice began again and the two crashed cars had been returned and were back in the garage workshops, but the rebuilding was going to take some time. The time-keeping in the morning had not been beyond suspicion, some official corrections having to be made to the published results. In the afternoon it was little better, and one source of confusion was that Stewart’s blue Tyrrell was number 1 and Cevert’s identical car was number 7. Add to this the system whereby a driver can take the “short-loop” round the North Curve before setting off on a full lap and it can be appreciated that the time-keepers do not have an easy task. Cars can pass them starting a full lap, finishing a full lap, finishing a “short-loop” run and starting a full lap, finishing a full lap in the pit-lane or finishing a “short-loop” in the pit-lane and there is no way of knowing exactly what the driver is doing until the times recorded at each passing are analysed. The result of all this was that many people in the pits timed Stewart to be going very fast indeed, while officially it was Cevert who went very fast. However, there was no argument about the speed at which Ickx was going, the Ferrari being well set-up for the Nurburgring. He made all previous fast laps look pathetic with a time of 7 min. 10.0 sec., but towards the end of the practice it was generally agreed that Stewart was equally fast, but officially he was given 7 min. 16.4 sec., while Cevert was given 7 min. 12.2 Sec. The Frenchman was going fast, without a doubt, but whether it was that fast we shall never know, for as he aviated over the brow after Pflanzgarten, he landed badly and crashed into the barrier, escaping unhurt but Tyrrell 002 was bent around the cockpit and the suspension units broken, entailing another extensive rebuild.
The McLaren team were also hard at work, for practice had barely begun when Redman spun and hit the barriers coming out of the South Curve, just as he was about to set off on the full circuit, so M19A/1 was in for a pretty extensive rebuild. The way the racing mechanics manage to straighten everything out, working in a paddock lock-up with the equipment and spares they carry in their transporters, is nothing short of amazing. Once again the time-keepers had to have two goes at getting the results of practice sorted out correctly, and the official order was lckx, Cevert, Fittipaldi, Stewart, Amon, Peterson, Reutemann, while Hulme and Stommelen just scraped under the old record. For a first day of practice the wreckage rate was quite absurd, with four cars needing major rebuilds, but to balance this the pace was impressive, with ten seconds being knocked off the old record, and more to come. The new rear suspension on the Ferraris was obviously working well as had been suggested by the Brands Hatch performance, and Ickx was never so happy. Regazzoni’s return to racing was cut short in the afternoon by engine trouble caused by an oil leak. Fittipaldi was showing his natural driving talent by being up with the “Ringmasters” in only his second Grand Prix appearance at the difficult Nurburgring. Those drivers who had raced in the 1,000-kilometre sports car race earlier in the year had a distinct advantage for the rebuilt Nurburgring is now very much faster and a lot of different things are having to be learnt, as well as the old things being forgotten.
On Saturday there was a full two hours of practice from 1.20 p.m. to 3.20 p.m. on paper, but it all ran a bit late. Redman’s McLaren was repaired, the method used to remove the dent in the monocoque making honest tool-room and jig workers wince with pain. Walker’s Lotus was ready again and Merzario’s Ferrari was having the finishing touches put to it. Cevert’s Tyrrell was still being worked upon so he took out 004, with the number 7T on it, as Stewart was content to concentrate on 003. This time Ickx was really out to show who was “Ringmaster” and he was soon lapping in the 7 min. 10 sec. bracket, but there was more to come as the Ferrari mechanics made fine adjustments to the mixture control setting of the fuel injection. Peterson was still in fine charging farm, going as fast as ever, but Lauda had to miss this last practice as there was something wrong with the fuel system on his March, which turned out to be a faulty non-return valve in the central fuel collector tank, so that air was not being expelled and fuel could not get in from the side tanks. Merzario’s Ferrari was brought up from the paddock and he tried it round the “short-loop” expressing satisfaction with it, but the engineers knew they still had to line the wheels up correctly for camber and toe-in, and set about doing this in the pit road. The overall pace was really hotting up and beating Cevert’s old lap record of 7 min. 20.1 sec. was for the beginners, the real aces were aiming to beat 7 min. 10 sec. Wilson Fittipaldi’s practice ended abruptly on the return leg behind the pits when his engine broke, while his young brother was going steadily faster and faster, trying to use the Lotus 72 to its full potential. The rugged Argentinian Carlos Reutemann was really taking to Formula One on the Nurburgring and was making a lot of publicised heroes look a bit silly, getting his Brabham round in 7 min. 12.4 sec. and that other South American “racer”, Carlos Pace, got his March round in 7 min. 16.6 sec., his Williams teammate Pescarolo doing an exciting lap in 7 min. 14.4 sec., that many people felt was driving beyond his capabilities. Travelling fast up the leg behind the pits Hulme had a remarkable happening, far something fell off the car in front of him and Graham Hill (nobody noticed who it was and nobody claimed to have lost anything). Hill missed the object but Hulme hit it and whatever it was it shot past the cockpit arid sliced the right rear tyre completely off the rim in an instant, and the McLaren skated along on three tyres and the bare rim, giving the Armco a slight clout as it came to rest, so there was more repair work for the McLaren team. Hulme had been going well and had recorded a lap in 7 min. 14.5 sec., but the way things were progressing among the aces, this was not in the running. Ickx was consistently below 7 min. 10 sec. and ended up with a shattering 7 min. 07.0 sec. a speed of 192.5. k.p.h. (approx. 119.5 m.p.h.). It was Grand Prix driving at its best and a complete justification of the “face-lift” given to the Eifel circuit, making it the sort of challenge to man and machine that is sadly lacking on the flat Autodromes. A lap at nearly 120 m.p.h. round the Nurburgring is the sort of performance that makes the most blasé follower of the Sport reel back and exclaim “Ker-rist” or “Mon Dieu”. Ickx was not alone in these last-minute heroics, for Stewart was well under 7 min. 10 see., and right at the end of practice got one in at 7 min. 08.7 sec., a mere 1.7 sec, slower in more than seven minutes of 100% concentrated high-speed driving. These were the undisputed “Ringmasters” and Fittipaldi joined them with a lap in 7 min. 9.9 sec., a praiseworthy effort for the “newcomer” but it caused Chapman to remark “Only two seconds behind now”. Anyone worth his place in Grand Prix racing should have been below the old lap record by now, apart from those like Merzario and Redman, whose progress had come to an abrupt halt, and the starting-grid times and positions on the two-by-two line up tell their own story. Bell had been finding that the front and rear suspensions on the Tecno seemed to he working well, but they did not seem to be joined together well enough, so perhaps Tauranac will have a go at the bit in between his two modifications before the Italian GP. The Pederzani flat-12-cylinder engine seemed to be going quite well, although it blew a cylinder head joint in this last practice session, necessitating the fitting of another engine. Charlton was getting nowhere in his third European outing, suffering from G-sickness, though the car was healthy enough, and Beuttler’s March was plagued with bother in a new fuel system; consequently these two drivers were at the bottom of the list and were posted as non-starters. After sonic negotiations with the AvD “Oberfuhrer” and sonic help front a member of’ the CSI it was agreed that they could both start, but would not be paid starting money. There were no offers of forming a “kitty” by the 25 who had qualified for the large bags of gold!
Early on Sunday morning there was a short free practice on the “pits-loop” for anyone who wanted to make last-minute adjustments, especially useful for Cevert to try his rebuilt Tyrrell and Lauda to try his unblocked fuel system. Pre-race preparation was a leisurely affair as the German Grand Prix was not due to start until 1 p.m. The distance had been changed from the 12 laps of last year to 14 laps this year, and no-one complained, it finally sinking into some thick heads that “Grand Prix” racing has been heading to being written “grand prix” racing.
In good time ever one moved up into the pit lane and the enormous crowd of nearly a quarter of a million waited expectantly for a classic German Grand Prix, and they did not wait in vain. From the pits everyone went off on a warm-up lap, but not everyone got back to the starting area, for the ignition died on the Matra V12 and poor Amon had to be towed back to the pits. With full tanks the Matra had been scraping the ground in the dips, and something had been scooped up into the flywheel housing and had damaged the static ignition-pick-up. While the French mechanics searched for the trouble and then fitted a new contact, the other 26 competitors lined up for the start, with Ickx and Stewart at the front, with Fittipaldi and Peterson behind them and Beuttler at the back. Outstanding was Reutemann’s position in the third row. Conditions were perfect far racing, warm and dry and not too bright, and as the starter made the unusual manoeuvre of raising the flag on high, all 26 cars surged forward, with Peterson joining the front row on the extreme left. Fittipaldi getting between Stewart and Ickx and Regazzoni making a superb start and tucking in behind his team-mate. As they raced for the narrowing road entering the South Curve, Peterson, Stewart, Fittipaldi and Ickx were side-by-side and somebody had to give way. Peterson’s March was bumping tyres with Stewart’s Tyrrell, and the Scot lifted off early, while Fittipaldi gave best to Ickx, which let Regazzoni nip by. Peterson decided lckx had the better line for the corner so contented himself with second position and they streamed up behind the pits and away on the opening lap in the order Ickx, Peterson, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, Stewart, Reutemann, Pescarolo and Cevert. With a clear road ahead Ickx was away, and he was already 3 seconds ahead at the end of the opening lap, with the standing start lap time of 7 min. 29.1 sec. After all 26 cars had gone by and were out of earshot on their second lap the Matra V12 burst into life and Amon screamed off from the pits in a vain chase, already a lap and a half down. The sound of the Matra exhaust could be heard for miles as it sped after the field, on its lonely way over the Flugplatz and open fields towards the descent to Adenau while the rest were climbing up towards the Karussel. By the time they reached the observation post in the Hohe-Acht area Fittipaldi had found a way past Regazzoni’s Ferrari, moving into third place behind Peterson who was really on form. This gave the Brazilian a lap in 7 min. 22.6 sec., but Ickx was even quicker in 7 min. 20.7 sec. and as he passed the pits he cocked his head sideways to look in the mirror to see how close his nearest rival was, but Peterson had not yet appeared in sight.
On the third lap the race took up a distinct pattern, with Ickx out on his own, his Ferrari sounding very strong, then came Peterson with the black and gold Lotus of Fittipaldi right behind the March, and a little way back Stewart had his Tyrrell pressing hard on the tail of Regazzoni’s Ferrari, but unlike Fittipaldi the Scot could not find a way by the swarthy Swiss. Reutemann followed in a firm sixth place, followed by Pescarolo holding seventh place after a good start. After a fair gap came Cevert, Hailwood, Schenken, Beltoise, Stommelen, Hulme and Ganley in a tight procession, all hoping to lead it and become a rather uninspiring eighth overall. The real aces were putting on such pressure at the front that the mid-field runners were completely over-shadowed. Wisell was running on his own and Pace stopped at the pits as it felt as though the car was falling apart. It was jacked up and shaken and kicked but nothing seemed to be falling off so he went on his way. Another bunch were racing merrily among themselves for the honour of sixteenth position, and these were Merzario, Redman, Lauda, W. Fittipaldi, de Adamich and Hill, while Charlton, Beuttler and Walker were bringing up the rear ahead of a depressed Bell in the Tecno, which was not going at all well, and when they had all gone the lonely Amon screamed by, but he was not going to repeat his Clermont-Ferrand performance for the incentive was not there.
This third lap saw Ickx and Fittipaldi set a joint new lap record with a time of 7 min. 19.0 sec., but the Ferrari already had a lead of nearly ten seconds over the Lotus, and as the fuel load lightened it went faster and faster, while Fittipaldi had the problem of trying to get past Peterson, who was driving on the inspired limit to retain his second place. The fourth lap saw a number of the lesser lights fall by the wayside. Wisell stopping out on the circuit with a broken engine. Lauda stopping at the pits with oil leaking from a split tank, and Charlton became overcome by his sickness once again, while the Tecno only just completed four laps before the engine broke internally and water spewed out of one of the inlet trumpets. Ickx did his fourth lap in 7 mins 16.7 sec., which settled any more nonsense about sharing the new lap record, but during the fifth lap Fittipaldi got by Peterson, but he was never going to catch lckx, who was now well out of sight in front of him. Stewart was still looking in vain for the way past Regazzoni, so was still in fifth place, while Reutemann and Pescarolo were comfortably sixth and seventh. Pace made a return to the pits now knowing what was wrong for the front anti-roll had broken in two, the feeling he had had earlier being the beginnings of a welded joint breaking up, and his mechanics set about fitting a new bar. Stommelen’s electrics had gone on the blink and he was heading slowly back to the pits and Walker was concerned about a low oil pressure reading on his gauge. On lap 6 Ickx lowered the record to 7 min. 16.2 sec. and his immediate pursuers were unchanged, but as Reutemann started lap 7 his Brabham made sounds of jumping out of gear, or clutch slip, and it was no surprise to hear he had stopped half-way round the lap with no drive to the rear wheels. Walker came into the pits and a leak at the top of the oil tank was found, which was letting oil escape as it was pumped back from the engine, so his race was run.
The half-way point was reached without further drama and Ickx had the race in his pocket, providing the Ferrari did not let him down. and behind him Fittipaldi was getting away from Peterson who was troubled by his left-front wheel vibrating badly on right hand bends. Stewart seemed to have given up all hope of getting past Regazzoni’s Ferrari and the rest were playing “follow-my-leader” though any sort of fast lap round the Nurburgring, even those of the tail-enders, calls for so much concentration and effort, that there is not much left in reserve for wheel-to-wheel battling as on an Autodrome. Ickx was not slackening the pace having got into a splendid swinging stride, and his eighth lap was another new record in 7 min. 14.7 sec. and at the end of this lap both Cevert and Schenken stopped to have a tyre changed and were soon back in the race. At the end of lap 9 Ickx was 15 seconds ahead of Fittipaldi, who no longer had Peterson following him, for while braking heavily for the hairpin before the climb up to the Karussel, the March had locked a front brake and spun along the road, doing no damage, and continuing but letting Regazzoni and Stewart go by into third and fourth places, and further down the field Hailwood’s Surtees had collapsed beside the road when the left front suspension broke, and to add to the toll Hulme’s engine blew up just before the end of the lap. As Fittipaldi set off on lap 10 his mechanic was watching from behind the pits as the car took the North Curve and he noticed an ominuous smoke haze behind the car, only just perceptible to someone who knew the car so well. During the lap the blue smoke increased for all to see and by the time the Lotus appeared over the brow leading onto the start area the smoke cloud was enormous, but the Brazilian carried on past the pits. The trouble was obviously more serious than a simple oil leak for Regazzoni, Stewart and Peterson had closed up behind the Lotus. Out of the South Curve and up behind the pits there was a horrible jangling from the back of the Lotus as the gearbox burst asunder and a minor the started but Fittipaldi stopped smartly and leapt out, the fire being put out before it could spread. The trouble presumably started with a crack in the gearbox casing, everything breaking up as the oil leaked out. This left Ickx even safer in the lead than ever, not that Fittipaldi or anyone else was giving him any trouble, and his tenth lap was yet another record in 7 min. 13.6 sec. During this lap Pescarolo lost control and had an enormous accident on the descent down to Adenau and the March 721 was written-off once more against a guard-rail, the bearded Frenchman stopping from the wreckage unhurt. As Ickx started lap 11 the Ferrari did not sound quite so crisp for an exhaust manifold had split and on the final straight he found the engine would not pull maximum r.p.m. anymore, but with 46 seconds lead he had time in hand. The string of retirements was allowing the steady runners at the back to gain places and Beltoise was up into fifth place, followed by Ganley, Redman, Hill and the elder Fittipaldi. Merzario stopped at the pits at the end of lap 11 to point out a drastic loss of oil pressure, and was told to drive on slowly and try and finish. An observant marshal round the circuit saw that the battery mounting on the BRM of Beltoise had broken and the battery was in danger of falling off. He telephoned race control who put out the black flag for Beltoise, who instantly slowed up, but of course had to complete another full lap before he could stop at the pits. By the time he passed along behind the pits the battery was trailing along the ground held on only by its leads, and before he completed the lap it fell off completely, but the alternator kept everything working. He stopped at the pits next time round but there was nothing to do so he rejoined the race with one lap to go, down in ninth place, letting Ganley move up into fifth place.
Ickx started his last lap with no worries, for the split exhaust manifold was not causing anymore bother, but Stewart was still trying to find a way past Regazzoni. In the series of medium speed swerves before leaving the woods in the descent after the starting area plateau, at the Hocheichen corner, Regazzoni ran a bit wide. Stewart saw an opportunity to get by, the Swiss recovered, and there was a coming together of wheels and the Scot’s Tyrrell was spun off, while the Ferrari continued on its way unmarked, leaving the Tyrrell with a broken right front corner and a driver shouting abuse and pouring out his soulful tale (slightly exaggerated) to his favourite newspaper reporter.
To say that the Ferrari victory was popular would be an understatement, while Ickx was smiling happily because any driver knows when he had done a superb job of driving, and he knew. Regazzoni was a solid second, saying in effect “Don’t blame me, the World Champion ought to be able to look after himself” and Peterson was third after some heroic driving that earned him the “Joseph Siffert, Man of the Race” prize from Marlboro. The rest trailed home, those who had run steadily and consistently profiting from those who broke or collapsed by the wayside. The front-running racers had set such a cracking pace that it was surprising the also-rans stayed on the same lap, but the attrition rate can be judged by Ganley finishing in fourth place, having been fifteenth on lap 2.
It was one of the better Grand Prix races, and was more than worthy of taking its place in the annals of the history of the great German Grand Prix, held on its only right and proper home, the magnificent Nurburgring. — D. S. J.
Some people seemed to think it was a “non-event” because neither Fittipaldi nor Stewart scored any points for the Drivers Championship. They seemed incapable of appreciating that Ickx had won the German Grand Prix.
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Graham Hill, succinct as always, summed up the mass-media delirium about “points chasing”. Before the race he had one World Championship point, his sixth position won him another point. He said “Big deal. I’ve doubled my score”.
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In Britain’s loudest-mouthed newspaper (the Voice of Britain) Stewart’s script-writer quoted a Speed of 120: m.p.h. through the Hocheichen corner. That I would like to see, and I’d ride in with Stewart to see how its done, if there was room in the cockpit.
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To be able to write the result, “First Ferrari, Second Ferrari” without a smooth-talking PR man, whining at your elbow asking you to mention his sponsor’s name was a great relief to more than one journalist.