The British Grand Prix

Scheckter finishes first

Brands Hatch, July 20th: Britain's World Championship qualifying round arrived at Brands Hatch for its 1974 edition, the bumpy and undulating Kent circuit being just about as far removed from Silverstone's wide open spaces as it is possible to get. The one common factor which this year's race shared with the 1973 Grand Prix was major sponsorship from the John Player tobacco conglomerate, and although the apparently never-ending pressure from their "public relations" men to call the event by a different title was present as usual, their advertising efforts around the country ensured that this year's British Grand Prix attracted enthusiasts and casual onlookers in their droves. Financially it must have proved rewarding for Motor Circuit Developments and fortunately there was very little unruly back-biting between the sponsors, so it was left to the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain to provide the major talking-point of the weekend with an unparalleled display of incompetence in the closing stages of the race.

Amidst the biennial arguments as to just whether the 2.65-mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is a suitable or desirable meeting point for Formula One machinery, practice got under way on the Thursday prior to the race, the CSI having ruled that everyone who wished to come along should "have a crack of the whip" in an attempt to qualify. Whilst the Formula One Association feared that there would be too many cars on the circuit at one time for official practice to be conducted safely, it became pretty obvious from an early stage that the "aces" would sratch round the circuit quicker than the "no hopers" no matter what was in the way and, in any case, everyone would be under the same handicap. Admittedly the pits were rather crowded, but the erection of some temporary structures on the paddock approach road to accommodate the non-Formula One Association members who were not regular members of the Grand Prix circus catered for everyone who wanted to have a try at being a Grand Prix driver: In Sweden one could measure the stature of an individual driver by whether or not the Ferrari timekeepers considered him worthy of one of the free buttons on their complicated, electronic Heuer timing equipment; at Brands Hatch one could judge the people who had been accepted as full-time members of the "circus" by whether they had proper pit facilities or not!

There were several new cars to be seen in the paddock, including Tyrrell 007/3, this new spare for the British team allowing faithful old 006/2 to be finally delivered into the custody of Tom Wheatcroft's Donington Collection. The car was briefly used by Scheckter on the second day, but spent most of its time standing at the end of the pit lane "just in case". Team Lotus still had one of their new 76's on hand, but neither driver went near it all weekend, both Peterson and Ickx preferring to concentrate all their efforts on the 72. Drilled brake discs appeared for the first time on these cars and a weight saving trial was carried out on Ickx's car by the addition of a titanium roll-over hoop. In the Surtees camp there was another extensively modified TS16 (02-3) to be seen with fresh front suspension and rear-mounted water radiators although it differed only very slightly to the cars seen at Dijon.

Among the "hopefuls" were one or two new faces. Mike Wilds had hired the old Hesketh March 731/3 used by James Hunt last season in which to make his Grand Prix debut (or to try to make his Grand Prix debut), Howden Ganley at last turned up on the second day of practice with the privately developed Japanese Maki which looks far removed from its futuristic original apearance when unveiled in March, sporting as it does a chisel nose section and sidemounted water radiators. Signorina Lella Lombardi became the first member of the female sex to try her hand at Formula One racing since Maria Theresa de Fillipis some seventeen years ago. Despite a game try, the young Turin lady was unable to qualify her ex-works Brabham BT42/3 for the race. Completing the "non-Association" line-up was Vern Schuppan in Ensign MNO2, the ever-optimistic Ron Tauranac's Trojan T103 for Tim Schenken and David Purley in the neat Ray Jessop-designed Token.

After Peterson's Lotus trounced the flat-12 Ferrari 312B3's at the littleDijon-Prenois circuit, there was much speculation as to whether the Italian cars could prove themselves front runners round the tight and twisty Brands Hatch track. In three of the four sessions the answer to this question was a definite "yes, they can" as Niki Lauda worked his times steadily down to 1 min. 19.7 sec. to earn pole position for the Grand Prix in 312B3/015. Alongside the scarlet machine on the front row of the "two by two" starting grid sat French Grand Prix victor Ronnie Peterson who, by dint of some heroic opposite lock driving, had managed to equal the Austrian's time at the wheel of Lotus 72/R8. But the Swede was obliged to work: tremendously hard, covering forty-nine laps before clocking the time in the very last session of practice, Lauda having driven his Ferrari gently round with very little fuss to gain pole position in a mere 16 laps.

In the very first session on Thursday morning, young Tom Pryce sprung a surprise by taking his Shadow DN3 round in 1 min. 21.4 sec. to snatch the 100 bottles of champagne offered by the Evening News for best time in the first session. Pryce is a genuine enthusiast of motoring and motor racing, and his pleasant and unassuming manner provides a quiet contrast to one or two of the more voluble members of the Formula One fraternity. Of course, it was a bit too much to expect him to maintain this sort of form as practice wore on, but he nevertheless got down to 1 min. 20.3 sec. by the end of practice to claim fifth position on the grid.

Emerson Fittipaldi's Formula One unofficial record of 1 min. 20.8 sec., established by the Brazilian when driving a Lotus 72 in practice for the 1972 John Player Victory race, was the mark at which most serious contestants aimed. Lauda and Peterson were the only runners to get into the "exclusive" sub -1 min. 20 sec. barrier, but a very worthy effort came from Jody Scheckter whose Tyrrell 007/1 lapped in 1 min. 20.1 sec. despite his car suffering the rather disturbing breakage of a rear suspension top link whilst he was practising on Thursday morning. In the Ecclestone-Brabham camp, Carlos Reutemann displayed a welcome return to form with 1 min. 20.2 sec. at the wheel of Brabham BT44/1 although his new team-mate, Brazil's Carlos Pace, ended his practice way down the grid with 1 min. 21.7 sec. after two days fraught with problems as he struggled to get to grips with his new car's erratic handling. Right at the end it was found that a circlip on the front suspension was loose, accounting for the car's peculiar behaviour.

Sharing 1 min. 20.3 see. were Pryce and James Hunt, the latter having practised in both the original Hesketh 308/1 and the latest 308/3 which had been completed just in time to replace 308/2 after this latter car had been badly damaged in the French Grand Prix start line accident. The new car suffered a transmission breakage on the first day, but Hunt finally established his best time in this car after it was repaired. Unfortunately a leaking fuel bag was detected shortly before the Grand Prix was due to start on Saturday and the decision was taken for Hunt to be transferred into 308/1 for the race.

Regazzoni managed the same time in Ferrari 312B/014 although, being the third to register this time, he found himself pushed back onto the fourth row of the grid alongside Emerson Fittipaldi (1 min. 20.5 sec.). The McLaren team leader had at his disposal a brand new car, M23/8, which featured one or two detail revisions such as low-offset front suspension designed to reduce the steering load as well as a parallel link arrangement replacing the regular triangular wishbone set-up at the rear. Fittipaldi tried both this new car and his regular M23/5, itself doing service as the team spare, in practice before choosing to handle the newer machine in the race.

The only other competitors to record times below the old unofficial record were Hans-Joachim Stuck in his works March 741 (1 min. 20.7 sec.) and Patrick Depailler who managed to equal Fittipaldi's old mark in Tyrrell 007/2. For the remainder of the grid, the "second best" achievement was to lap quicker than the official lap record, which was established in the 1973 Race of Champions by Ronnie Peterson's Lotus 72 and the BRM P160s driven by Beltoise and Lauda, at 1 min. 23 sec. Everyone who qualified for the grid successfully managed this feat, as did the first two non-qualifiers.

In the second half of the grid there were one or two mild surprises, Mike Hailwood's Yardley McLaren M23 dropping back to 1 min. 21.2 sec. after sustaining a fine challenge for a higher position on the first day; John Watson's private Brabham BT42 turned in a respectable 1 min. 21.3 sec. while Francois Migault amazed the BRM establishment and just about everyone else with a determined 1 min. 21.4 sec. lap which probably proves most racing drivers can scratch round Brands Hatch with a bit of bravery and enthusiasm but it takes a little bit more to get a place right at the front of the grid. His efforts left an even more depressed expression on the faces of Beltoise and Pescarolo who were really struggling with their P201's to qualify for a place on the grid at all. What with ignition problems and porous wheel problems and problems with the new short stroke "special" V12 engine which threw oil out onto the clutch of Beltoise's car, the BRM team had very little to be happy about.

Denny Hulme just didn't want to know about Brands Hatch as can be seen by his low grid position, while Guy Edwards had to hand over the second Embassy Lola T370 to Peter Gethin after a couple of laps practice after finding that it was impossible to handle a racing car properly with one's wrist in a plaster cast, a legacy of a minor Formula 5000 accident at Mallory Park the previous weekend.

Team Surtees seems to be making very little progress and, with Jochen Mass occupying a lowly grid position with his TS16, it came as a surprise that Derek Bell didn't manage to qualify his similar car on his first outing for the Edenbridge-based team. Surtees himself did not bother to take up his entry in an attempt to qualify one of his own cars; he could probably see the writing on the wall that there would be very little prospect of his qualifying in view of the length of time he has been out of Grand Prix racing.

Tim Schenken (Trojan) scraped on to the back of the grid, but everything else remained much as expected, with those who were not expected to qualify not in fact qualifying, these being David Purley (Token), Tom Belso (Williams), Lella Lombardi (Brabham BT42), Vern Schuppan (Ensign), John Nicholson (Lyncar), Howden Ganley (Maki), Mike Wilds in the Hesketh March 731/3 and Leo Kinnunen's very slow old Surtees TS16.

After a half-hour warming up session on the morning of the race, at which neither Jochen Mass nor Carlos Reutemann were to be seen, and following in the wake of a couple of supporting races, the Grand Prix cars were sent out on their warming up laps before assembling on the grid in preparation for the start. Just as he did in Dijon, Niki Lauda took his Ferrari off the line very smartly to lead into the tricky downhill, reverse cambered Paddock Bend with Scheckter and Regazzoni pushing in ahead of Peterson so that the Austrian Ferrari driver had not got to worry about the tenacious Swede on this occasion.

By the end of the opening lap Lauda's lead had built up to almost a couple of seconds, for Scheckter's Tyrrell was unable to quite compete with the powerful Italian car, even though the 12-cylinder Ferrari starts the race with a heavier all-up weight with its extra fuel, water and oil load. Little by little, length by length, Lauda drew away from his pursuers. A measure of the Ferrari's superiority round Brands Hatch could be seen from the way in which Lauda neatly drove round the 2.65 miles, never putting a wheel out of line, never applying more than a touch of opposite lock, and pulling away from Scheckter all the time. In turn Scheckter was edging the Tyrrell away from Regazzoni, the second Ferrari having Peterson's Lotus almost climbing over its gearbox, while Reutemann led Fittipaldi, Pryce, Stuck, Ickx and Hailwood. James Hunt led the rest, but the Hesketh only got as far as South Bank on the third lap before a titanium bolt in the rear suspension snapped, the car spun wildly to a halt and out of the Grand Prix.

Further back Mass had his hands more than full with the works Surtees, but gamely fought off Merzario's Williams, Jarier, Brambilla, the BRMs and Hill's Lola while poor Gethin packed up at the end of that opening lap having been forced to take over Hill's spare car after the warming-up lap, his regular car's engine having blown up. Unfortunately there is a great difference in height between Hill and Gethin, so the little Londoner was virtually lost in the huge cockpit tailored for the team leader. Barely in control, Gethin decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stopped after completing that single lap.

As far as any hopes of a race for the lead were concerned, Lauda just about finished them. Scheckter made a vain chase for fifty laps as the Austrian opened out a lead of just over eight seconds, while the race between Regazzoni and Peterson terminated with both cars being forced into the pits for tyre changes. Much of the responsibility for the rash of tyre changes is probably attributable to Stuck's March scattering debris across the circuit after crashing on lap 36 at Dingle Dell, and it was most likely here that race leader Lauda picked up the cause of the puncture which was to slow him in the closing stages, for he certainly was not putting wheels onto the rough as he went through the corners.

Mike Hailwood and Ickx enjoyed a spirited race until the McLaren spun at Hawthorns and was unable to restart; the driver had been nursing an overheating engine by means of keeping the car in as high a gear as possible. Thus, after getting a little out of line at Hawthorns in fifth gear, he had insufficient torque to power him back into line, resulting in his spinning through 360 degrees. By this time Merzario's Williams had stopped with engine trouble, Depailler's Tyrrell came to an abrupt standstill at Paddock Bend when the engine seized up and Jarier retired the second Shadow with a "chassis breakage", probably feeling rather crest-fallen when he later discovered that his team-mate Pryce was suffering from the same problem and had only been a few miles off lapping him when the Frenchman stopped!

Rather than give up, Pryce carefully worked out that his car's strange handling must be something to do with the chassis, for he could see no change in the profile of any of the tyres and he was having serious trouble selecting gears. In fact he could only find fourth and fifth, adapting his style so that he could lap the entire circuit without too much trouble, for a chassis tube had fractured at the rear of the car, causing the gear linkage to distort.

Meanwhile, with twenty laps or so left to go, Lauda began to realise that a rear tyre was deflating and, by lap 70 most of the pressure had vanished from his right rear cover. The Ferrari team indicated furiously that they were ready for him to come in for a fresh wheel, but Lauda chose to stay out and plug gamely on even though Scheckter went past on Top Straight at the end of the 70th lap and Fittipaldi went past one lap later. On his 74th lap, with just over three miles left to run, the tyre began to break up, leaving Lauda with no choice but to come in for a wheel change.

What followed was a sequence of events which everyone wants to forget. The Ferrari mechanics changed the wheel in double-quick time, Lauda roared off down the pit road to rejoin the race and was confronted with his path blocked. He had only twenty feet to go in order to pass the timing time, be credited with 74 laps and take fifth place, but the appalling organisation of the RAC had allowed the pit exit road to be blocked by various "bods" who had no business being there whatsoever, not to mention a Ford Cortina course car which somebody had left in their midst. An official gestured to Lauda that he couldn't go out, so the infuriated Austrian leapt from his car and stalked away near tears, leaving Scheckter to score a lucky victory and Fittipaldi to cross the line in second place, thus re-taking the World Championship lead from an anguished Lauda who could be forgiven for his sullen expression. He had driven an excellent race, perhaps lost the lead by his own mis-judgement, but certainly lost the World Championship lead by the appalling organisation of the Royal Automobile Club who should have hung their heads in shame as the 1974 British Grand Prix ended in a cloud of embarrassment, argument and general bad feeling which will take a long time to clear.

A.H.

***

Results (top five): Brands Hatch -- 4.26 k./lap, 75 laps

1st: J. Scheckter (Tyrrell 007/1) 1 hr. 43 min. 02.2 sec. -- 186.25 k.p.h.

2nd: E. Fittipaldi (McLaren M23/8) 1 hr. 43 min. 17.5 sec.

3rd: J. Ickx (Lotus 72/R5) 1 hr. 44 min. 03.7 sec.

4th: G.Regazzoni (Ferrari 312B3/014) 1 hr. 44 min. 09.4 sec.

5th: C. Reutemann (Brabham BT44/1) - 1 lap behind.