When Ickx and Rodriguez fought a Dutch GP duel that was out of this world


When rain hit Zandvoort for the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix, Jacky Ickx and Pedro Rodríguez slithered into a race of their own, as they lapped the rest of the field in a hard-fought battle

Jacky Ickx leads Pedro Rodriguez in the 1971 Dutch grand Prix

Ickx leads the harrying Rodríguez at Zandvoort in '71

Grand Prix Photo

“Why doesn’t somebody tell Pedro it’s raining?”

Motor racing’s great leveller is not always so. Just ask Chris Amon.

The talented New Zealander could only flounder in wonder as Pedro Rodríguez hooned through the monsoon of 1970’s BOAC 1000km at Brands Hatch.

The Mexican won by five laps having driven 197 (of 235) – and emerged from the cramped confines of his Porsche 917K with not a slicked-back hair out of place. Freakish.

It might – might – have been different, however, had not the wiper motor on Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari 512S packed up to cost him an early lead.

The Belgian with more than a whiff of arrogance about him was on the same page as the mildly eccentric, oddly fatalistic Rodríguez when it came to racing in the rain – preferably at the old Nürburgring or the old Spa-Francorchamps.

That is to say they were in Jackie Stewart’s bad books.

The Scot was no shirker and would put his imagination in a box if and when he deemed it necessary. But unnecessary risk was anathema.

Jackie Stewart passes the crashed car of Nanni Galli at the 1971 Dutch GP

Stewart passes Nanni Galli’s crashed car

Grand Prix Photo

For instance, for several laps during the rain-hit Dutch Grand Prix of 1971 he signalled for marshals to move the stranded March of ‘Nanni’ Galli further from the track’s edge.

Yet the Italian had been stood next to his beached car, surveying the tangled scene with Stewart’s bemused Tyrrell team-mate François Cevert, when Rodríguez slithered his BRM P160 down the inside to take the lead from Ickx’s Ferrari 312B/2 on lap nine (of 70).

Stewart’s agitation was understandable; the banked Tarzan hairpin was horribly slippery and he had spun there on the third lap.

From the archive

Its other early victims included: Amon’s Matra; Dave Walker, briefly making hay while the clouds glowered before sailing straight on in the 4wd Lotus turbine; and Ferrari’s Mario Andretti, on his first lap out of the pits after a last-minute fuel pump drama.

Rodríguez and Ickx, however, were already by then in a different world/league/race: red in tooth and claw, not yellow in streak and flag.

That’s how it looked at least. Stewart, accused by Denis Jenkinson of Motor Sport of imitating a typical Swiss Sunday motorist, would later insist that he had been on the limit in finishing 11th, five laps in arrears.

Three years before, his Matra’s Dunlops sporting wide central drainage grooves, he had lapped Rodríguez (once) and Ickx (twice) in winning another storm-tossed Dutch GP.

This time, however, the boots were on the other foot.

Jackie Stewart at Zandvoort for the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix

Stewart was unstoppable at Zandvoort in 1968 but ’71 was a different story

Emmanuel Zurini/DPPI

Having strangled the ascendant ‘12s’ at Monaco – with front brakes only – and at Montjüich Park – on newfangled slicks – Stewart was poised to attempt more of the same from the outside of a front row that also included Rodríguez and, setting pole in Friday’s dry, Ickx.

Instead he lost his grip entirely on far too hard a compound.

Stewart would be dismayed to discover that Goodyear representative Leo Mehl had done a runner, post-haste, post-race. (He eventually spotted him hiding behind a pillar at Schiphol airport! By which time all heat had been removed from the situation.)

Firestone’s ‘knobblies’ in contrast caught light under a slate sky, amid a North Sea fret.

Rodríguez and Ickx were lapping backmarkers – Stewart and fellow world champions Graham Hill and Denny Hulme included – within 10 laps, scything past with the haughty skill and daring that they so often exhibited in long-distance enduros.

Regularly they skirted the rim at Tarzan, too. Always they pulled it back from the brink.

Pescarolo, Peterson and Schenken pass the crashed car of Nanni Galli at the 1971 Dutch GP

Pescarolo, Peterson and Schenken pass Galli’s car

Grand Prix Photo

Gradually a pattern emerged from the mist: the BRM was the quicker through the fast sweepers out in the dunes; the Ferrari appeared to have more traction from the tighter corners.

Ickx, his flat-12 smoothly torquey, was able to begin the climb towards Hunserug in measured fashion in third gear; Rodríguez, his V12 fluffing otherwise, was fishtailing wastefully in first.

The Belgian retook the lead in this fashion on lap 30.

And would have to do so again on lap 32.

For between times Rodríguez had somehow squeezed him out while squeezing between Tim Schenken (Brabham) and Henri Pescarolo (March) – more Tarzan tanglers – exiting Hugenholtzbocht.

This was a final show of defiance, however, and Ickx would control the remainder of the race to win by 8sec.

Jacky Ickx on track at the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix

Rodríguez dropped back, giving Ickx the win by 8sec

Grand Prix Photo

Ferrari team-mate Clay Regazzoni, who left his Tarzan adventure until lap 65, was a lapped third; March’s Ronnie Peterson was doubled twice in finishing fourth.

Goodyear’s best finisher was Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s Matra: ninth

From the archive

But this hadn’t just been about tyres making the difference.

The following weekend Ickx and Rodrîguez were at it again, this time at the Österreichring’s Austrian 1000km.

The latter’s Porsche started from pole and pulled away steadily from the former’s less powerful but more nimble 3-litre Ferrari 312PB in early damp conditions – only to lose three laps to a dicky voltage regulator.

Driving all bar 10 laps (of 170) – and ignoring a shower to obviate two extra tyre stops – Rodríguez never gave up and closed relentlessly.

Clay Regazzoni and Jacky Ickx in the pits at the 1971 Dutch grand Prix

Regazzoni, Ickx and Ferrari chief engineer Mauro Forghieri during practice for the ’71 Dutch GP

Grand Prix Photo

Ferrari responded by plugging Ickx back in for an unscheduled third stint – but the pressure continued to build until, with Regazzoni back behind its wheel, the Ferrari wilted, broken suspension sending it into the barriers after 148 laps.

Rodríguez, scheduled to just about catch the leader by the finish, is said to have been disappointed to win in such a fashion.

A fortnight later he would be killed driving a privateer Ferrari in a minor Interserie race.

He’d said that he needed the money. It’s just as likely that he needed the buzz.

And anyway, when it’s your time, it’s your time.

Happily, Ickx is still with us – and will admit that he might not have been but for Stewart’s more astute assessment of risk.

Fifty years ago. That drip-drip-drip of time.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” LP Hartley