Silverstone, July 19th
The British GP, for what it was worth, took place at Silverstone on Saturday, July 19th, in very unsettled weather conditions and had to be abandoned after 56 of the 67 laps had been run, not so much because of the torrential rain, but because there were so few of the competitors left on the track, the majority being tangled up in the catch-fences that now cover the run-off areas. Things had started off well on Thursday, when the first practice was held and everyone got used to the new ess-bend introduced at Woodcote Corner. Instead of the spine-tingling 145-150 m.p.h. long fast bend with the cars teetering on the limits of tyre adhesion, the new layout called for some heavy braking and then a right-left-right flick through the ess at around 100 m.p.h. Amusing to watch but not enthralling, it added some three seconds to the lap time. Most important, it did not upset the high-speed rhythm of the whole circuit, but it did call for some new thinking on gear ratios. One driver thought it was too fast, others preferred the challenge of the old Woodcote Corner, most accepted it for what it was and one thought it was first-class “… but they should have put it in the middle of Hangar Straight, not at Woodcote….”
A study of the table of practice times will show that the overall form was well up to standard, with a lap at under 1 min. 20 sec. being the “ace” time to aim for. Of the four sessions of practice Scheckter was fastest in the first, Pace in the second and fourth and Pryce in the third, with the Welshman on pole position. There was joy in the Cosworth camp for the two Ferraris were third and fourth, but it should not be overlooked that Lauda scored an “ace” time in all four sessions and Regazzoni was only one-hundredth of a second slower on the one “ace” lap he managed. Carlos Pace also got four “aces”, including second fastest overall, but most people could only manage a pair of “aces”. A—for effort this time went to Hans Stuck, making his first appearance in Formula One this year, driving the March 751 that Lella Lombardi normally drives. He got down to 1 min. 20.46 sec., in row seven at the start, and no doubt would have gone quicker had he not had a lurid spin off the circuit at Abbey Corner when a rear suspension part broke.
On the driver front there were a number of changes, notably with Lotus, for Jacky Ickx had finally decided to tell someone that he had given up Formula One racing, even though it has been obvious for a long time. His car, 72/R5, was given to Brian Henton and Jim Crawford joined the team with 72/R8 which is usually Peterson’s spare car. Both these cars had the lengthened wheelbase, as seen at Paul Ricard, with the oil tank between the driver and the engine, and both had been converted to coil spring rear suspension in place of the torsion bars. Peterson was still driving 72/R9 and it had been put back to as near to 1973 specification as it could be got, not that it made much difference. The three black and gold Lotus cars were so far back on the grid it was embarrassing to look at them. The Brabharn team had all four of their B-series cars in the paddock, but only B3 was used as a spare when Reutemann had the engine in B1 punch a hole in the sump when a big-end bolt broke. There were four March 751 cars, with Donohue driving a brand new one in Penske’s colours, and very quickly showing what has been wrong with their own car all season. In the March, Donohue was well up with the mid-field runners, whereas in their own car he has usually been much further back. Brambilla had a new rear aerofoil treatment on his March, with deep side-plates to the main aerofoil and with wedge-shaped extensions out each side, well below hub level, filling in the space behind the rear wheels. It was claimed that these improved the down-force at the rear even though they were in the most turbulent air imaginable, though it was more likely that the increased weight of this structure out behind the rear wheel centre-line was having an effect. With Stuck taking her usual car, the Italian girl in the March team was given the prototype test car, and had four mere males slower than her by the end of practice. Ferrari had three cars, 024, 023 and 021, unchanged from the French GP in specification and Regazzoni used 024, with a few laps in 021, while Lauda stuck to 023. The lone BRM entry was withdrawn as it was felt that the new VI2 engine was not competitive, which seemed a bit late in the day to find that out. Rather like Ickx deciding to give up. Team Surtees had a newcomer in their ranks in the shape of Dave Morgan, driving TS16/ 02-4, but their number one driver was having a bad time with two Cosworth engines blowing up behind him during practice. Frank Williams was in Cosworth trouble, being unable to replace the two that were wrecked at the French GP, the Northampton engine firm closing for summer holidays just at the height of the season. Consequently the second Williams car that Jabouille was going to drive had to be withdrawn. The Parnelli team had a setback in the first practice when the car they proposed to race broke a front brake shaft and Andretti went off the circuit, damaging the front end slightly. Although it was repaired this meant they had to use the spare car, VPJ4/00I, for the rest of practice and the race.
Throughout practice the weather was very unsettled, with thunderstorms intermingling with periods of bright sunshine, but luckily the Formula One practice sessions were not unduly upset by the rain. Their turn came on race day, on Saturday afternoon. Of the 28 drivers who practised the Japanese driver Fushida failed to qualify the Maki-Cosworth V8 and Wunderink failed with Nunn’s 1975 Ensign MN04 (not 03 as previously noted, that chassis never having been completed). The 26 starters lined up on the 2 by 2 grid, stretching back through the run-off area of the Woodcote chicane, the wire netting being removed to allow the cars to line up, and after a warm-up lap all was ready, the regulation “dummy-grid” not being used. The first lap was not going to be a full one as the GPDA had decided there should be a “no-passing” zone between the vehicle bridge after Abbey Corner and the exit of the chicane ess-hend on the opening lap. They did not want Scheckter to repeat his 1973 performance and obviously believe that lightning can strike in the same place twice. As at least ten of the GP drivers cannot be trusted to keep to an agreement, and eight more would break the agreement if encouraged by the others, it was made a rule with yellow flags displayed and heavy penalties if observers saw anyone overtaking. At 2 p.m. they all set off cleanly on the opening lap having been started by a red light glowing for ten seconds and then a green one appearing, signalling “go”, in place of the Union Jack and on lap 2 the British Grand Prix began. (The cautionary yellow flag system is used at Monza on the opening lap but the Italian Grand Prix as a motor race is dead anyway, so no-one notices.) Pace led the procession for Brabham, followed by Pryce, Regazzoni, Lauda, Scheckter, Hunt, Fittipaldi, Andretti, Brise, Reutemann, Mass, Brambilla and so on down the grid, all fairly orderly.
At the end of four laps Pace, Pryce, Regazzoni, Lauda, Scheckter, Hunt and Fittipaldi had broken away into a race of their own and it began to look interesting. Regazzoni, who a lot of people still under-rate, then made it more interesting by passing Pryce and taking second place, and then taking the lead in a most audacious manner as he and Pace headed for the Woodcote ess-bend side-by-side. It was something you could not do on the old Woodcote Corner and raised the spirits of the Ferrari enthusiasts no end. This was at the end of lap 13 and by this time all manner of less important things had happened. Lombardi had been in and out of the pits, hoping the March team could make her engine run properly, Reutemann had retired with a broken Cosworth engine, Laffite was out with a broken Hewland gearbox, Peterson was out with a broken engine, Jarier was continually bouncing over the chicane kerbs with his Shadow, Brise had overtaken Andretti and was gaining on the tail of the leading pack, only to make a pit stop because a wheel was apparently coming loose, and Fittipaldi had overtaken Hunt. The days of the Grand Prix driver being an artist at the wheel, driving with a precision and polish that makes the onlooker full of admiration seem to have gone. Almost without exception the Grand Prix drivers of today give the impression of being unable to place their cars more accurately than to the nearest twelve inches. Whether this is due to imprecise steering and handling of the modern Grand Prix car, poor visibility for the driver or plain lack of skill is difficult to say, but anyone observing the field in the 1975 British Grand Prix trying to negotiate the new Woodcote ess-bend would not have a high opinion of the modern GP driver’s skill. There were exceptions, notably Emerson Fittipaldi and Lauda, but you could not guarantee them to be perfect on every lap. Others were plainly rough, untidy and uncouth, like their personalities, and all this was brought to light later in the day.
Having got the lead Regazzoni began to pull away from the others and all was going well until lap 18 when passing rain decided to fall on the far side of the airfield, at Stowe Corner and Club Corner. This caused Regazzoni to lose control on lap 19 and he clouted his rear aerofoil on a barrier, losing the lead and driving into the pits at the end of the lap. Tom Pryce was now in the lead, but not for long, for he lost control at Becketts Corner on lap 21 and crashed into the catch fences, so that it was Scheckter who led through the far corners having overtaken Lauda when the rain came but he finished the lap heading for the pits as the rain was now spread right across the circuit, so Pace was once more back in the lead. The Brabham driver was followed by Fittipaldi and Hunt, as Lauda had decided on an early change to wet-weather tyres like Scheckter. On lap 23 Jarier and Depailler made tyre-changing pit stops and so did some of the lesser runners and it all left Pace, Fittipaldi and Hunt tip-toeing round on “slick” tyres on the wet track, with Mass close behind them. Lauda’s pit stop went all wrong, the Ferrari team returning to “the good old days” and sending him off with one of the wheels not properly secured. It fell off before he had left the pit-lane. A bit of a scramble by the mechanics got it back on and Lauda did a slow lap and returned to the pits for a check. With Regazzoni losing more than a lap while his bent rear aerofoil was replaced and Lauda now a lap behind, the Ferrari dominance of 1975 had gone down the drain. The Tyrrell wheel-change was more realistic than the circus-turn they had performed for the public the day before, and Scheckter rejoined the race in seventh place, immediately gaining two places as the two cars in front of him went into the pits.
There was now the delicate situation of Pace, Fittipaldi, Hunt and Mass pussyfooting round on the damp track, the rain having stopped, with Scheckter on “wet” tyres really charging along after them. The skies had cleared and the track was drying rapidly, so while the leaders kept on the dry line, Scheckter made use of the damp parts and sailed by into the lead on lap 27 and galloped away into the distance. Jarier had rejoined the race on “wet” tyres behind Scheckter, and he too went galloping by. With conditions improving all the time it was obvious that the Tyrrell and the Shadow would have to make further stops to go back onto “dry” tyres, but the exciting thing was whether they could pull out enough distance to allow for this. It was an interesting gamble and on lap 32 Scheckter was going down the pit lane, letting Jarier go by into the lead. The pussy-footing quartet had changed places as well, Mass getting ahead, and then Hunt taking a turn at the front. At the end of lap 35 it was Jarier’s turn to return to the pits, which let Hunt into the lead and by now the sun was shining. Unintentionally Mass was also heading for the pits, holding the McLaren nose cowling on the side of the cockpit, as it had come adrift, so that when things settled down again Hunt was leading from Fittipaldi and Pace, with a fair gap back to Scheckter, who hadn’t pulled out enough lead on “wet” tyres to compensate for the extra stop, and Jarier was a long way back in fifth place.
The leading Hesketh split an exhaust system, the tail pipe eventually falling right off, and this slight effect on the power was enough for Hunt to be passed by Fittipaldi and Pace and it now seemed to be all over. The smooth and calculating Fittipaldi was safely in the lead, Pace was second but had Regazzoni ahead of him on the road, two laps down, which prevented the Brabham driver getting at his compatriot. Hunt looked pretty safe in third place, Scheckter very safe in fourth place and a long way back, but on the same lap, Brambilla and Donohue had got by Jarier and then came Mass, the only other driver on the same lap as the leader. This was on lap 48, with nineteen more to go, and the very busy British Grand Prix looked as though it was going to settle into a typical dreary processional ending.
However, the weather man thought differently, and rain appeared again over beyond Stowe and Club and was sweeping across the fields, not light summer rain this time, but a good torrential downpour. It took some five laps to reach Stowe, and two more to get to Woodcote, with more following. At the end of lap 54 Jarier lost control out of the Woodcote ess and flew off into the catch fences suffering head injuries while flying fence bits injured a spectator. The others went splashing on through the rain thinking about pit stops. Fittipaldi went by the pits and started his 56th lap, followed by Pace, still with Regazzoni ahead of him, then came Scheckter, who had passed Hunt’s down-on-power Hesketh on lap 53, and Hunt was a long way back in fourth place, having had a spin on the wet track. Brambilla was next to arrive, going into the pits to change tyres, and Donohue went by into fifth place, followed by Mass. There were a whole lot of slower cars mixed up in all this, all a lap or more behind, including Brise, Jones, Watson, Morgan, Wilson F., Nicholson, Andretti, Lauda, Depailler and Henton. Really heavy rain had now arrived at Club and Stowe and while Fittipaldi negotiated it all with delicacy as did Regazzoni, Pace spun at Beckett’s Corner, but caught it and continued, though it let Scheckter go by and then it all happened. Mass, Donohue and Watson spun off at Stowe, while Hunt, Brise, Scheckter, Pace, Morgan, Henton, Wilson Fittipaldi and Nicholson went off at Club, and Depailler had his own private incident.
At the pits Fittipaldi E. arrived to have “wet” tyres fitted, while Regazzoni splashed on round, this being at the end of the leader’s 56th lap. In the chaos at Club Corner a marshal was badly hurt, a spectator slightly hurt by flying bits and Brise had nasty facial injuries. Most of the protective catch-fencing was flat on the ground and the Chief Marshal in charge of the corner deemed it unsafe for the race to continue. Race control was informed and the Red Flag was shown at the finishing line when Fittipaldi finished his 57th lap, now on “wet” tyres. He carried on to the end of the pit-straight and stopped. Then Alan Jones appeared in the Hill car and did likewise, followed by Andretti, while next along was Lauda who was going down the pit lane. Brambilla finished the lap and joined the stationary cars at Copse Corner and Regazzoni followed Lauda down the pit lane.
The whole race had blown sky-high and everything came to a stumbling halt. After deliberation the RAC decided to award the results at the point at which the time-keepers had last seen the competitors in any semblance of order, which was at the end of lap 55. As the race had covered more than two-thirds distance, that is more than 60%, it could have been officially considered to be finished and could have been stopped with the chequered flag, in which case the results would have been very different from those decided upon. When last seen officially the order was Fittipaldi, Pace, Scheckter, Hunt, Donohue, Brambilla, Mass, etc. as listed in the results, though at the time of the demise of the event the order was different, and different again when the last car came to rest. In 1973 the British GP started in chaos when Scheckter eliminated a large proportion of the entry, in 1974 the British GP ended on a sour note when Lauda was prevented from completing his final lap and in 1975 the British GP ended in chaos. It might be wise to abandon the 1976 British GP now before the rest of the sporting world get really rude about us—D.S.J.