80 – 1972 French GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

Click here to buy the lead image.

From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month. It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache… Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided. Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been… Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for! Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport. So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1972 French GP
July 2, Clermont-Ferrand

“Bravo Stewart, but thank you Mr Amon,” read a French newspaper headline the following day. Matra had won Le Mans in June, and now it had pulled out the stops to conquer the French Grand Prix, too.

Its driver certainly delivered the performance required – only for his infamous bad luck to rob him once again. Then again, the puncture that cost Amon the race did lead to a fabulous, charging comeback.

The Kiwi had been imperious around one of the last great road racing circuits and in many ways it was a performance that would define the career of a Grand Prix great – and a man destined never to win a World Championship race. It must be said, Jackie Stewart’s victory shouldn’t be forgotten, given that Clermont-Ferrand marked his return to the cockpit following treatment for the ulcer that had forced him to miss six weeks of the 1972 season. But in truth, this race was all about Amon. He’d qualified on pole position in the new MS120D, eight tenths clear of Denny Hulme’s McLaren, which joined him on the front row ahead of Stewart and Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari.

From the start the three fastest qualifiers drew away and Amon began to build a gap as Stewart passed Hulme for second on lap 17. But three laps later Stewart emerged in the lead, Amon’s flat left-front tyre leading to a 50sec stop to replace it. The partisan home crowd groaned. Loose stones on the swooping, demanding track had been a problem throughout practice, and one had already cost Helmut Marko his F1 career. In the early laps of the race a stone was flicked up by a fat slick tyre, smashing through Marko’s helmet visor and into his eye, causing irreversible damage. Consequently, his Formula 1 career is a footnote, and he’s better known as Red Bull’s outspoken driver development manager – Sebastian Vettel’s biggest fan.

Following Amon’s puncture, Stewart consolidated his lead as Emerson Fittipaldi moved up the order, the pair taking care to avoid the ‘marbles’ that had done so much harm. Amon pushed his wailing V12 to its maximum, throwing caution to the wind as others pitted with punctures. He passed both Ronnie Peterson and François Cevert on one lap, on a twisty circuit at which overtaking was difficult, and at the flag was just four seconds down on Fittipaldi. Denis Jenkinson, not exactly known for dishing out praise, described the drive as “fantastic and almost unbelievable”. It was one that deserved so much more. DS

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