1973 Dutch Grand Prix race report

Jackie Stewart driving for Tyrrell at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort.

Jackie Stewart claimed his fourth win of the season for Tyrrell at Zandvoort

Motorsport Images

An unhappy affair

Zandvoort, Holland, July 29th

The Dutch Grand Prix got off to a bad start when the mechanics arrived in the racing transporters the day before practice was due to begin and found that they could not get into the paddock as workmen were still building it. This was part of a huge facelift that Zandvoort was undergoing, for last year it lost its permit to hold the Grand Prix as the CSI decided that the safety requirements were not up to scratch. After a lot of haggling, agreement was reached, the money was raised, a 15-year lease was signed and the NAV, the Nederlands Autorensport Vereniging took over the whole project. In a matter of a few months the track was cleaned up, widened, resurfaced and completely lined with steel guard rails in direct contrast to the previous safety measures which had catch nets round most of the corners. On the fast back side of the circuit, after the East Tunnel bend, a new second gear corner was built, this corner dropping away slightly as it turned right and then running into an opening-out left-hand bend which provided a fast entry into the righthand sweep onto the finishing straight. The sand dunes had been cleared away from the edges of the track giving a wide run-off area at most places and bevelled curbs had been put in at a number of crucial points, but for the rest of the circuit the new tarmac merely butted up to the sand and soil edging. The pits had been moved back (for the third time now in Zandvoort’s history) to give a wider pit lane, and the paddock was lengthened. The entry to the pits from the main straight was down a veritable tunnel of guard-rail, so that anyone allergic to steel must have felt very uncomfortable. As the surface of the circuit looked good, and the edges and safety measures looked all right everyone was tolerant of the fact that time had run out and the pits and paddock were not finished.


Practice was due at 12.30 on Friday and the rain started to fall, and it went on raining all day. Some places are almost tolerable in the rain, but Zandvoort is not one of them for you are always conscious of the gloomy North Sea just behind the grandstand and the depressing wind that is always blowing makes rainy conditions really bad. Hunt in the Hesketh March and Stewart in the experimental Tyrrell were among the first to brave the elements, the wedge-nose on the side-radiator Tyrrell having less of a point at the front, with a protruding lower lip. Follmer would have liked to have joined in with his UOP-Shadow rebuilt after its Silverstone accident, but while the engine was being warmed up the camshaft driving belt broke, so that he never did get out in the rain, even though there were two sessions of practice. Under cover of the large tent attached to the side of the transporter the UOP mechanics were finishing off a brand new car with a completely new rear suspension on more orthodox lines than the normal Shadow layout. Instead of the integral lower wishbone and rearward running radius rod, there was now a simple wishbone locating the bottom of the upright and a separate radius arm running forwards, with a parallel one above it to the top of the upright. Although the car was worked on all day it never got running and the other team member, Oliver, was using his usual car, it having been straightened out after his Silverstone starting-line accident.

Others who had fully recovered from the Silverstone multiple accident were March, who had rebuilt their car completely for Roger Williamson; Surtees who had straightened out Hailwood’s car and given Pace the spare one; BRM who produced Regazzoni’s old car for Beltoise, while McLaren had a brand new M23 with them, but only two entries, and Brabham had no need to repair BT42/4 as de Adamich was out of racing until his broken ankle and leg mended. They had BT42/5 standing by as a spare for Reutemann, although on this first practice day Wilson Fittipaldi did a few laps in it. In the pouring rain Lotus put their two spare cars away, conscious of the fact that the German Grand Prix was only one week away from the Dutch Grand Prix, so Fittipaldi had to concentrate on R5 and Peterson on R6. The McLaren team were not interested in practising in the wet, though Revson relented and went out in the second session but Hulme stuck to his principles and did not go out at all.

The most unusual thing about the meeting was the complete lack of any Ferraris, the Commendatore having withdrawn his team until they can make the new cars go a bit better. The other muddled team from Italy, the Martini-Tecno group were just as unhappy as they were at Silverstone. The new Goral-design car spent all day having a new engine installed, while Amon practised with the McCall-design car. Due to the appalling weather conditions the drivers of underpowered 12 cylinder cars were having an easier time than those with V8 engines and less flexibility, so that by the end of the day Lauda was fastest with a BRM, followed by Regazzoni, also in a BRM and Amon was third with the McCall-Tecno, but none were fooling themselves with this freak result. Other things noticed in the pouring rain were that Beuttler was sporting a Postlethwaite-designed air box on his March, like the one on Hunt’s car, the Embassy sponsored Shadow had new bodywork designed by Graham Hill, which did away with the channel effect along the sides to the radiators, Gijs van Lennep was driving the second Iso-Marlboro car for Frank Williams, both Williams cars sporting new “wedge” noses and the Ensign never appeared as the engine was being changed. Hailwood had a miserable day as his engine would not run properly, and Stewart had a bit of a fright when his cockpit fire-extinguisher suddenly fired itself off as he was travelling down the main straight. The new corners introduced into the circuit were received with mixed feelings, nobody being quite sure of their function and some not liking the stop-start characteristic following a fast sweeping section of track.

Ronnie Peterson racing for Lotus at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort.

Ronnie Peterson put his Lotus on pole

Motorsport Images

On Saturday the sun appeared and for Northern Europe it was not a bad day, and it meant that the serious business of vying for the best positions on the starting grid had to be crammed into one afternoon, divided into two sessions to allow a break for collecting anyone who had fallen by the wayside. The new Tecno appeared briefly and did a slow lap and was then worked on for the rest of the first session, while the old one was used. BRM tried a new air-box on the engine of Regazzoni’s car, aimed at improving the air-flow over the rear aero-foil, and Lotus had new air-boxes with much larger openings for their cars, but did not use them for a time. The newest McLaren M23 was brought out for Hulme to try and then Fittipaldi skated off into the guard-rail when the left front wheel broke its centre, just as he was entering the long straight. The Lotus was very badly crunched against the iron wall and as the broken wheel and suspension were crushed into the cockpit structure the Brazilian’s feet were trapped and his ankles were badly bruised. A look at the wreckage afterwards gave cause to think he got off very lightly indeed. There was a pause to clear things up, during which time Ganley’s Williams-Special was towed in, a wheel nut having come loose and allowing the driving pegs to get chewed up, and there was time to review the situation briefly. On the dry track Stewart was fastest with a time of 1 min. 20.28 sec., closely followed by Hulme, who was driving very smoothly and in a determined fashion; followed by Fittipaldi before he crashed. Hailwood was still having a bad time, his engine popping and banging with an untraceable electrical fault, so that the only flying lap he managed was so slow the time-keepers did not bother to record it. Follmer was also in trouble and did not record a flying lap, though he kept going round stopping and starting. With the dry track the Cosworth V8-powered cars were back on top and all the aces were up at the front. As all the aces run on Goodyear tyres it made it look as though they were vastly superior to Firestone’s, but when you realise that Stewart, Hulme, Fittipaldi, Peterson, Cevert, Revson and Reutemann, all run on Goodyear tyres the results should not be a surprise to anyone. The new corners added to the circuit seemed to nearly equal the overall racing development of two years, in terms of seconds per lap, for the 1970 lap record stood at 1 min. 19.23 sec., set up by Ickx in a Ferrari, and Stewart had done 1 min. 20.28 sec. However, the fastest time recorded before the rebuilding of the circuit was 1 min. 17.42 sec., which lckx set up in practice in 1971, also in a Ferrari. Consequently the final practice session held much in store, for it was an all-out effort and Lotus wheedled some special short-duration tyres out of Goodyear for their front runner, who was now Peterson, as Fittipaldi was in no state to be competitive. The Swede rose to the occasion, as he always does, and went round in 1 min. 19.47 sec., but Stewart was in cracking good form and did 1 min. 19.97 sec without the aid of special “sprint” tyres, and these two were the only ones to break the 1 min. 20 sec. barrier, so that the new corners won the day, but not by as much as was expected. There was a certain amount of muttering among some of the drivers on Goodyear tyres because Peterson used the Good Goodyears! Fittipaldi’s Lotus was quite beyond repair so his spare one was brought out, but he was unable to drive very comfortably. Hulme and Revson both had a go in the brand new McLaren, and Amon actually got out in the new Tecno. Hailwood’s miserable meeting came to an inglorious end when his engine caught fire and he drove the Surtees to a marshal’s post and asked them if they would mind helping him to put out the flames. He had already actuated the “on board” mandatory fire extinguisher system and all that had done was to fill the cockpit, it not being piped to the engine department!

In the Shadow camp there was a certain amount of puzzlement for Oliver had thrown away all the niceties of text book driving and hurled his car at the corners in a most unruly fashion, with the result that he at last recorded an excellent lap time which put him on the fourth row of the grid, just behind all the ace drivers! Lauda, who drives his BRM like that anyway, was not getting results relative to the effort he was putting in and came to a stop when his latest-type V12 engine with the improved crank-case oil scavenging, blew up and there was a lot of water coming out of the lower left-side exhaust pipe. Williamson was not having a very happy time with the works March, for having got the tyres and springs and things more to his liking, the clutch packed up before he could have a real go. Up amongst the fast drivers, as is becoming embarrassingly frequent, was James Hunt with the Hesketh March, looked after and fiddled with by ex-March technical man Harvey Postlethwaite. M’Lords pristine white car, devoid of any advertising stickers, was carrying patriotic red, white and blue stripes across the bodywork, and Hunt, who could not be more English if he tried, was having a good old go, much to the embarrassment of many “old pros” and healthily-paid works drivers or publicity-backed drivers.

The small Ensign group were making quiet but impressive progress, unaccompanied by any bally-hoo or sensational journalistic following, and von Opel was discreetly in midfield, just behind the BRM team. When practice was all over it was found that Hailwood had not gone fast enough to qualify, under a CSI rule aimed at keeping out hopeless cases, but everyone agreed that it would be ridiculous to leave him out because of a technicality, so he was re-instated on the back of the grid by a Steward’s decision, backed whole-heartedly by the rest of the entry. All that Team Surtees had to do was to rebuild the car after its fire, hoping that the elusive electrical problem had gone up in the flames.


Lotus driver Ronnie Peterson leads the field on the opening lap of the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort.

Ronnie Peterson leads on the opening lap

Motorsprot Images

Sunday was dull and overcast, but at least it was dry, and a very good crowd poured into the circuit, Zandvoort being one of those rare circuits where you park out in the town and walk to the vantage points, the fittest presumably getting the best view from the tops of the sand hills. There was supposed to have been an untimed session of practice in the morning, but Dutch law forbids the making of a commotion before 1 p.m. on a Sunday, and the local police enforced this law. The Test Session was reduced to a bare 15 minutes, as soon as noise was allowed, and it could not be any longer as a national saloon car race was due to take place before the Grand Prix. The organisation had got itself in a bit of a twist over the starting grid, insisting that International rules credited the individual driver with a lap time, not the driver/car combination. In consequence they put Emerson Fittipaldi in the third row with the time he had done in the wrecked Lotus R5, even though he was going to drive R7. Then they climbed down and re-read the rules and the reigning World Champion was put in his proper place, back on row seven, with the time he had recorded in Lotus 72/R7. Both of the Team Lotus cars were race-prepared with the new enlarged airboxes (making an instant nonsense of the article in the August MOTOR SPORT) and Regazzoni’s BRM was using the new-look from Bourne on its engine.

The Test-Session may have been short but it was enough for Lauda’s BRM and Beuttler’s March to die out on the circuit with electrical problems, and for Hailwood to find out that his car was not much better than it had been in practice. Emerson Fittipaldi soon realised he was not going to do any racing, for his swollen ankles were giving him great pain and preventing him from pressing on the brake pedal, but he bravely agreed to start in the race. During the morning the unfortunate Ensign team discovered that the rear suspension mounting was about to fail, and wisely withdrew rather than “cobble” it up. The original 1973 Tecno was race-prepared, using the term loosely, while the nice new car was once more put to one side, and there was a complete lack of happy, smiling faces in their pit. The race organisers let loose a remarkable collection of saloon cars in their National race, while leaving some of the Grand Prix cars being worked on in the pit lane, and when the lone works BMW of Hezemans ran into trouble with its front suspension the Dutchman shot into the pits, looking for help, and ran into the rear wheel of Follmer’s Shadow, knocking the car off its jack and nearly injuring mechanics working on it.

The start of the Grand Prix was due at 2.30 p.m. and the cars were driven round the circuit to the “dummy-grid”, in all twenty-two of them setting off, for the works March would not start and was delayed in the paddock. While everyone was formed up in rows of three-two-three, with Peterson (Lotus) and Stewart and Cevert (Tyrrells) on the front row, Roger Williamson shot out of the paddock and was just in time to join on the back of the field as they prepared to move up to the starting grid. It was Peterson who got to the first corner first and as the pack poured round the first hairpin and along behind the paddock to the downhill hairpin of Hunzerug, they were in a solid mass. Braking for the hairpin Ganley’s Iso-Marlboro Williams nudged Lauda’s BRM, sending it off into the dirt on the inside of the corner, and while everyone roared away over the hill the poor Austrian was desperately trying to get some wheel-grip with his “slick” rear tyres. He eventually got back on the road and roared off in pursuit, while Ganley was preparing to head for the pits as the nudge had dislodged the nose cowling. Peterson, Stewart, Pace (who had made a meteoric start from the third row) and Cevert were already away from the pack at the end of the first lap, the rest of the field being led by Hunt. As they streamed round the Hunzerug hairpin for the second time Oliver’s Shadow slid gently into the guard-rail with a crunch, right in front of designer Tony Southgate; who turned and walked off in despair. The unfortunate Oliver climbed out unhurt, trying in vain to explain how the throttles had stuck open. Next time the field appeared Emerson Fittipaldi stopped at the pits, having felt he had gone far enough to keep the faith, and in some pain he was helped from the Lotus. The bright yellow March of Beuttler was not seen again as the engine died once more out on the circuit, with a failure of the electrics, so that the field was dwindling rapidly.

Hesketh's James Hunt takes corner at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort.

James Hunt finished an impressive 3rd in his Hesketh

Motorsport Images

By five laps a pattern was beginning to emerge, with Peterson still leading Stewart, Pace and Cevert and with Hunt, Hulme and Reutemann keeping in touch. After a short gap came Revson, Regazzoni and Beltoise, then Wilson Fittipaldi and van Lennep, the Dutchman going well in only his second Grand Prix, then came Williamson and Purley in very close company, followed by Graham Hill leading Follmer, Lauda, Amon and Hailwood, the BRM driver in the process of making up time after his excursion into the dirt. A long way back Ganley brought up the rear delayed by his pit stop on the opening lap. On the next lap Cevert passed Pace and Lauda moved up a place. At the end of lap 8 everyone went by according to plan, until after van Lennep had gone by, and then there was an ominous gap before Graham Hill and his followers arrived. Williamson and Purley were both missing, and an ominous column of smoke could be seen rising over the sand dunes, and bad memories of Piers Courage clouded the thoughts. While the leaders came round again, with the gap between Peterson and Stewart longer than before, few people at the circuit realised that Roger Wiliamson had crashed and was pinned in the March which was upside down and on fire, and that David Purley stopped and was desperately trying to turn the car over on its wheels to release the driver, and unaided was trying to put the fire out. No-one in the pit area realised what was happening, and even as Hulme slowed right down and gesticulated to the officials few people realised what he was trying to convey.

The works March had gone off the road on a 130 m.p.h. fast right-hand bend, due to something going wrong mechanically, and had hit the guard-rail at a 45-degree angle. The newly installed rails had collapsed and formed a launching ramp which projected the March through the air a fantastic distance and it had crashed back into the road upside down and skated along as far again until it came to rest. Poor Roger Williamson died in the accident and David Purley was completely overcome by the tragedy and the fact that there were no suitably equipped Marshals on hand to help him. Meanwhile the rest of the drivers drove through the smoke and dust at speeds they felt were safe, and some would have liked the race to have been stopped, while others used their discretion. The gap between Peterson and Stewart opened out dramatically, while Cevert was close up behind the Tyrrell team leader, but Pace and Hunt dropped quite a long way back. On the lap after this tragedy began, Reuteman was passing the pits when his Brabham threw the tread off its left front tyre, the bits flying high into the air while he brought the car to rest just round the Tarzan Hairpin. While Hulme was slowing down on each lap to gesticulate wildly to the organisers, Revson, Regazzoni and Beltoise closed up on him, and through it all Lauda continued to pick off the slower cars one by one, and Ganley had a moment of joy when he caught and passed Amon in the Tecno. The Italian car was suffering from fuel starvation, just as it had done at Silverstone for the simple reason that the Tecno people did not believe what Amon had told them in England, so had done nothing about it. Peterson was well on his way, lapping the tail-enders, as were the two Tyrrell cars, and was the full length of the main straight ahead of Stewart by lap 18. Meanwhile Pace was in trouble with a pounding front wheel, for the balance weights had come off, and Hunt and Hulme went by him, and on lap 19 he was heading for the Armco avenue into the pits to have his front wheels and tyres changed.

Amon gave up the unequal struggle and the Tecno joke was put away while everyone scowled at each other in this happy little team, and the race settled down into a rather gloomly procession with the knowledge of the disaster on the far side of the circuit hanging over the grey scene. Peterson was piling on more and more lead and Stewart was obviously not trying all he knew for Cevert was sitting all the while in his slipstream, occasionally being unnecessarily close. Hunt was firmly in fourth place, with Hulme behind him, followed by Revson and Beltoise; then came Regazzoni with Lauda closing up on him, and amongst them was Pace, back in the race but one lap behind. Hulme could do nothing about Hunt, and on lap 31 could do nothing about anything at all, as his engine blew up and he coasted into the pits to retire. By 40 laps there was a slight change of scene, for not only was Stewart closing up on Peterson, but the Lotus was showing signs of failing and was losing speed. Regazzoni had been into the pits due to tyre troubles, Lauda was in bother with the fuel pump on his BRM engine and Graham Hill was making frequent stops for water, the Cosworth V8 engine in his Shadow having an internal leak. By 45 laps Peterson was in very obvious trouble and the two Tyrrells were closing on him rapidly, but Hunt could not keep pace with them as the clutch had gone on his March and he was having to make all his gearchanges without its help. As his fourth place was not in any danger, Revson and Beltoise being well behind him, he was not unduly worried. As the two Tyrrells closed on the leading Lotus Hailwood’s unhappy weekend came to a close when his Surtees died quietly out on the circuit, still suffering from an obscure electrical failure, while his team-mate Pace was still going strongly in company with Beltoise.

Jack Stewart stands on the podium after winning the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort.

Stewart is shown in pensive mood on the podium after learning of Roger Williamson’s fatal accident

Motorsport Images

At the front of the race Peterson could not only see victory slipping from his grasp, but he could feel it, for his gearbox was breaking up and he was having to overstrain the engine in his endeavours to keep his lead without all five available. On lap 63 the two Tyrrells were ready to pounce on the black and gold Lotus and on lap 64 they were right behind it. Lap 65 and they were first and second and the Cosworth engine in the Lotus had gone very flat, and next time round Peterson free-wheeled into the pits with all sorts of nasty bits coming out of the exhaust ports, the engine well and truly broken. Stewart completed the 72 laps to win his fourth Grand Prix this season, and his twenty-sixth all told, but it was an unhappy victory for the crashed remains of the works March still lay on the side of the circuit, and further down the track the Armco barrier still lay back drunkenly, a sad testimony to its inefficiency and a reflection on the need for a lot more serious thought being called for in the crusade for ultimate safety. While the people at Zandvoort were watching this grey race run to its conclusion they little realised that world-wide Television was exposing the whole ghastly scene and doing little to help, as was that giant of mischief, the world’s Press. – D.S.J.