#189 1970 Dutch Grand Prix

2021-10-29 00:00

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#1970, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Gentile,

#189 1970 Dutch Grand Prix

On Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th of June 1970 the most prestigious race of the season is back: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eighth round of the World Cham


On Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th of June 1970 the most prestigious race of the season is back: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eighth round of the World Championship Brands. The title has already been assigned to Porsche, but the French race will not be less interesting because of this. It presents itself as a new chapter in the challenge between the German company and Ferrari, which hopes to achieve an important victory here. Both teams come to Le Mans at their best: on the one hand the 4.5 and 5-liter 917s, with long and short tails, on the other hand the five-liter 512 S produced in Maranello. Four official Ferrari crews (Ickx-Schetty, Peterson-Bell, Giunti-Vaccarella and Merzario-Regazzoni) and six Porsche crews (Siffert-Redman, Rodriguez-Kinnunen, Hobbs-Hailwood, Ahrens-EIford, Hirrmann-Attwood and Van Lennep-Piper), plus others from private teams. Thursday, June 11th 1970, during the first session of tests, the fastest is Nino Vaccarella from Palermo, who runs on the 13.469 meters of the circuit in 3'20 "0, at an average of 242.44 km/h. It is an average-record (even if not official, like all those established in training): Elford, last year, with the 017 of 4500 cc, did 3'27"2 at the average speed of 234.017 km/h. Rodriguez scores a time of 3'21"9 and Elford 3'22"0. However, the Ferraris have some stability problems under braking. During the tests, Merzario is very good at keeping his 512 S on track when, at the Dundop bend, the front left tire bursts. In the first hours of practice, Jack Brabham and Dieter Spoerrl are protagonists of a frightening accident. The Australian's Matra-Simca and Spoerry's Porsche 917 come into contact and the Stuttgart car is destroyed. Brabham's car, unharmed like the German driver, is only slightly damaged. For Ferrari and Porsche the longest day will begin on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. in the green French countryside. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the most prestigious race of the season, and it doesn't matter that the World Championship for Makes is over for the second year in a row in favor of the Stuttgart Company: the challenge between the two manufacturers is renewed in the most heated and exciting race ever. Porsche, which entrusts its cars to the Gulf team directed by English manager John Wyer, and to the Porsche Salzburg KG team, has so far won six races out of seven, thanks to the powerful 917 of 4500 and 5000 cc, and to the agile 908 three-liter spider. Ferrari, with the 512 S, has established itself only at Sebring. At Le Mans, however, Ferrari has a favorable tradition that no one else can boast: nine victories, the last of which dates back to 1965. Porsche, instead, has never achieved success. 


In nineteen years of uninterrupted participation, the men from Stuttgart have made a progressive escalation: from 1086 cc cars to 4907 cc cars, from 44 to 600 horsepower, from 4 to 12 cylinders, from 160 to 360 km/h. And yet, the car of an opposing brand has always paraded across the finish line, until the mockery of 1969, when Ickx's venerable Ford beat Herrmann's Porsche by 120 meters. The reason for this 24 Hours of Le Mans is therefore once again the challenge between Stuttgart and Maranello, with a particular difference: for Porsche, winning at Le Mans means achieving a success pursued with doggedness and putting the definitive seal on the championship; for Ferrari, it means resuming a thread interrupted by Ford and demonstrating, in the competition that is worth a world title, as it is claimed, that it is still at the top of Motorsport. Both have prepared for the test with great care. Months of testing, above all in search of the most effective aerodynamic solutions to increase speed on the long Mulsanne straight. Ferrari has tested its 512 S on the Turin-Piacenza freeway, while those of Gulf-Porsche have also turned to the laboratories of the English center Mira. Result, for both: long and short tail cars, 345 km/h for the Ferrari, 330 km/h for the 917 five liters of normal type, 360 and 390 km/h for the 4.5 and 5.1 profiled ones. But speed is not everything, and John Wyer's drivers preferred the usual models, more stable, leaving the others to Ahrens-Elford and Larrousse-Kauhsen. After all, the Sarthe circuit does not just consist of the Mulsanne straight. There are difficult and demanding curves such as those of Tertre Rouge or Amage, and many factors come into play: brake wear, tire wear, fuel consumption (the five-liter cars use more than 150 liters of gasoline every 100 kilometers and are forced to refuel every 55-57 minutes), the speed of the mechanics at the pits. If the Porsche-Ferrari challenge is the highlight of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the battle between the Matra-Simca and Alfa Romeo cars in the prototype sector will be another reason for spectacle. Also Alfa, like Ferrari, needs a convincing affirmation. The absolute one seems impossible, even if Ickx, on the basis of what happened last year, maintains that at Le Mans anything can happen, but not the one in the category. On Sunday, June 14th 1970, at its twentieth participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche succeeded in crowning - with the victory of Herrmann-Attwood and the placings of Larrousse-Kauhsen and Lins-Marko - a fantastic season, culminated with the conquest of the world title of manufacturers. 


Porsche's adventure at Le Mans began in 1951 with the 356/4 berlinetta, equipped with a four-cylinder engine of 1086 cc and 44 horsepower, able to reach 160 km/h. It touches the top now with Herrmann's 917, a green and red racing car with a 12-cylinder engine of 4500 cc and 585 horsepower, capable of touching 330 km/h. Between the two extremes, a continuous rapid progress of means and men, an escalation that the Ford-GT 40 and Ickx-Oliver managed to stop last year only temporarily. The feat was not repeated this time by Ferrari, which after only ten hours of racing found itself without any of its four official cars. It's a new defeat, and it must be recognized that the Stuttgart-based company came out dominating the challenge with the one from Maranello. Ferrari has not been favored by luck in this 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it must be recognized that the Porsches have shown, until a direct comparison, to be superior. Vaccarella and Giunti had to stop after only seven laps because of the engine failure, Bell-Peterson and Merzario-Regazzoni were protagonists with Parker-Muller and Wysell-Bonnier of a frightening multiple accident (and it is due to the sturdiness of their 512 S if they came out without damages), while Ickx, who was paired with the good Schetty, went out of the track killing a marshal. Speaking of Ickx, rumors circulate that he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The Belgian driver, after the terrible fire in Madrid, during the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix, in which he was involved through no fault of his own and from which he almost miraculously escaped with numerous burns, could not sleep at night, he would have continuous nightmares. He would be too tired and tense. This Le Mans is his second serious accident in two months. At Le Mans - as elsewhere - Ickx preferred the company of his team to that of Wyer's team, sleeping in the same hotel outside the city. Someone has noticed a certain indolence in the Brussels champion and it is already whispered that in 1971 he will no longer race for Ferrari. Rumors, for now, that hopefully the Grand Prix of Formula 1 can dispel. 


We must not forget that the Modenese Company is engaged on two fronts (and that, after all, the 512 S was at its first year of activity while the 917 had a more complete experience). What remains is the single-seater sector, in which the championship is wide open. We must not miss any more opportunities, otherwise the balance would be too negative. It was a merciless and dramatic 24 Hours of Le Mans, which Jack Brabham defined as madness. The rain, especially during the night between Saturday and Sunday, made the drivers' efforts almost inhuman, making the track a trap: streams of water, mud and oil snaked everywhere, turning the cars into boats. Numerous accidents occurred and in one of them Jacky ickx, on his Ferrari 512 S, went off the track, as anticipated, running over and killing a marshal who was resting at the foot of a wall. The Belgian was unharmed, but his car was destroyed. One more emotion for the 400.000 spectators who flocked to Le Mans. The Belgian went off the track at 1:35 a.m. on Sunday (during the tenth hour of the race) at the Ford chicane. This is the sided variant that precedes the pit area, in order to force the cars to slow down considerably (from 280 to about 110 km/h). At that moment, Ickx was in second position, trying not to be overtaken by Siffert's 917. In the pouring rain, Jacky arrived too long and braked too hard. The wheels locked, the 512 S spun around, spun off the track and ended up in an area of sand made compact by the water, reared up and fell back on a wall. Behind the shelter, sleeping wrapped in a sleeping bag, was Jacques Argoud, forty-seven years old, from Saint-Brieuc, a village near Le Mans. The poor man was a route commissioner. They had given him a shift and he was trying to get some rest. Ickx's car crashed into him, crushing him, then spun around again, hitting a nurse and finally stopped against an embankment. While Argoud, who died almost immediately, and the nurse, who was hospitalized with minor injuries, were being rescued, Ickx walked back to the box. He hadn't even realized he had run over two people. Pale, the driver simply said:


"My brakes locked up".


 However, a quick check will show that the braking system is in very good condition. Six years ago the Belgian had already had a similar experience: at Spa he had run over and killed a signalman. With the 512 S of Ickx-Schetty the last official Ferrari in the race disappeared. The car of Vaccarella-Giunti was stopped after just twenty-seven minutes of racing by engine failure while those of Merzario-Regazzoni and Bell-Peterson were eliminated in a multiple accident at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.


Alfa Romeo and Matra-Simca also ended their race rather poorly. The Italian manufacturer had four 33.3s and the French manufacturer had one 660 and two 620s. No car made it to the finish line, and in six cases out of seven it was engine failure. Thus, in the sport prototypes category there was another Porsche success, with the 3000 cc 908 of Lins and Marko. A result that neither Alfa nor Matra-Simca at the eve thought could come out. The start of the thirty-eighth edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was given regularly at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 13, 1970, under an overcast sky. Starter of honor was Ferry Porsche, who twenty-four hours later would celebrate his first victory in the classic French race. Now, the Makes championship is practically over. Two races left and they no longer count for anything. The bottles of champagne generously uncorked at the Porsche box during the afternoon close the dispute. Herrmann, a forty-one year old German, has taken his revenge on last year's defeat, and Porsche can look to the future with peace of mind, paying for its seven wins out of eight races for the title. For Ferrari, which at the beginning of the season won only at Sebring, thanks to the splendid race of the Italian-American Mario Andretti, the moment is delicate: something doesn't go right in the team, perhaps between drivers and managers there is also some misunderstanding. It is time to work for next year, for the next competitions. It is necessary to think about it in time, otherwise 1971 could offer the same bitterness as 1970. The Tyrrell team, after much speculation, has managed to find a driver who could replace Johnny Servoz-Gavin, who retired of his own free will from racing due to his health problems. He is the Frenchman François Cévert, who had experience in Formula 3 and Formula 2. The young French driver is considered a special guy by the oil company Elf, which has a big influence on the Tyrrell Racing Organisation. He is entrusted with the single-seater of his predecessor, the March 701/7. McLaren returns to racing with two new drivers. One is Dan Gurney, who makes a welcome return to Grand Prix racing, driving Bruce McLaren's car, the M14A/1. The latter is selected as a qualified driver by right by the team, since Hulme cannot take part in this race. His left hand, in fact, is still bandaged after his training accident in Indianapolis. 


The second driver is the Englishman Peter Gethin, who is in charge of the M14A/2. During the unofficial tests, Jack Brabham is the victim of an accident in which he overturns the car of his teammate, Rolf Stommelen. So, when the official tests start, the single-seater is still being assembled, although it has already undergone a rather important restructuring. Brabham, on the other hand, can run on his usual car. The March team arrives in Holland totally disorganized. Of the three cars, only one is equipped with an engine. In addition, while Amon and Siffert keep the cars with which they had competed in Belgium, the STP Oil Treatment Special - or March 701/3 - is unable to return from America, due to the lack of availability of Cosworth engines. Also fighting for a place on the starting grid were the Lotus of Graham Hill, with the 49C/R7, and Pete Lovely with the 49C/R11, John Surtees with the McLaren M7C/1, Ronnie Peterson with the March 701/8, and the De Tomaso 38/2 of Piers Courage. On Friday afternoon, shortly after the start of the session, Rodriguez went off the track at a speed of more than 240 km/h, demolishing his B.R.M., but recording one of the fastest laps ever recorded. The Mexican driver returned to the pits unharmed, convinced that the off-track incident was not his fault. And indeed, subsequent investigations show that the tire was punctured by a sharp object picked up off the track. Also Brabham is protagonist of a similar episode at the beginning of the week, and in the same part of the circuit. For Amon, too, practice ends early, but for a different reason. One of the rubber fuel tanks inside the monocoque causes a rather significant fuel leak. Removing the bag and cleaning up the car takes a long time. The following week, preparations were made for another round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The teams and drivers arrived in Zandvoort, Holland, for the fifth Grand Prix of the 1970 season. After a certain amount of alarm and discouragement, the Dutch organizers managed to raise the necessary funds to organize the Grand Prix. Of the twenty-seven entries, twenty-four show up for free practice. The qualifying system is the same as that already seen in the other races: to secure one of the ten places to be added to the other ten of the qualified drivers by right, the fastest lap must be recorded. For the occasion, three practice sessions of two hours each are scheduled: one in the afternoon of Friday 19 June 1970, one on Saturday morning and one in the afternoon. 


Awaiting the start of the race weekend, many teams had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the track in the first part of the week. Problems, however, were not long in coming. Right off the bat, many teams relying on Cosworth Engineering complained about the lack of engine availability. With sixteen racers running Cosworth engines in their cars, including four spares, this is to be expected. Each team expects to have at least two engines per car, and those with more money aim to have as many as three. For the Dutch Grand Prix alone, the company must provide a total of forty engines. As a result, well organized teams are more or less in the clear. The others, however, end up with cars without engines. On the other hand, the Yardley B.R.M. team is in a happier position. With the drivers accepting and respecting what they were told, the racing department was able to work smoothly, arriving at Zandvoort with four complete cars: two for Rodriguez, a 153/02 and a 153/05, new but used as a spare, the 153/04 for Oliver and Eaton's 153/03. The cars arrive in Holland with an all-new look, painted in Yardley Perfume colors. But B.R.M. isn't the only one presenting new cars. De Adamich's McLaren-Alfa Romeo Special was rebuilt on a new M14 with a monocoque chassis and suspension. The second March of the Tyrrell team, the 701/4 kept by Stewart as a spare car to the 701/2, has been completely rebuilt using a lightweight monocoque and making all the latest changes to the suspension. There is also a brand new single-seater signed Guglielmo Bellasi, entrusted to the Swiss driver Silvio Moser. This one uses the Cosworth engine and the Hewland gearbox of his old Brabham, as well as the wheels and the axle shafts. But the base of the car is a riveted aluminum monocoque with a rather large section and very neatly executed, with the engine-gearbox aggregate forming the rear half of the car, in typical British style. Team Lotus, which since the Belgian Grand Prix has only run a couple of laps with the 72 during the tests, arrives in Holland with two new single-seaters. The first is the 72C driven by Rindt, which during the unofficial tests proved to be ready for the races, making the driver confident. The second one is Miles' 72B. The old 49C, entrusted to Soler-Roig, instead, this time does not go on track. The French Matra are back with the usual two V12 cylinder cars. 


The first without a windshield, but only with a raised deflector lip at the front of the cockpit. The second with a dark perspex wraparound screen. Ferrari comes to Zandvoort with three cars, all equipped with flat 12-cylinder engines: two for the first driver, Jacky Ickx, who drives the 312/001 and 312/003, and a 312/002 for the rookie driver in Formula 1, Clay Regazzoni. During all three test sessions, the cars will show various problems with the fuel system, fuel pumps, exhaust systems and seizing engines. This will force Scuderia Ferrari to make modifications on all three single-seaters. Stewart's tests begin with the old March, which is later replaced by the brand new model. The Scottish driver is satisfied with the performance of the new single-seater and records the second fastest time of the day, 1'19"98. But the driver cannot be too calm: the Lotus Team, in fact, is beginning to fill the gaps that emerged earlier. Rindt is the fastest on the track, thanks to a time of 1'19"48, which he records with such a naturalness that it seems he is not making any effort. However, some problems with the brake pads cause a spin-off at the Tarzan hairpin, taking the Lotus away from the tests, although the car is not seriously damaged. Ickx's Ferrari is stopped almost immediately by a failure of the fuel pumps, but the Belgian continues with the reserve car. Regazzoni shows a competitiveness that is greater than expected: the Swiss driver runs in 1'21"71, just 0.031 seconds more than his team leader. Before taking part in the tests, at the Amsterdam airport, Regazzoni was obliged to follow two police officers in order to be interrogated about the accidents of two years ago in Formula 2, where the English driver Lambert lost his life. He was released just in time to begin rehearsals. The Swiss driver, aboard his Ferrari, is the fastest of the newcomers, as Gethin is struggling with a car that requires much more finesse and precision than those with which he is accustomed to racing, and the same can be said for Cevert, whose car seems to be too far out of his league. For the tests that take place on Saturday morning, many engines and suspension units are changed. Nonetheless, all of them are operational again. Even on this occasion, as in Friday's tests, there are surprises. Pescarolo's Matra goes off the track and crashes violently, leaving a hole in the side of the engine. 


The Cosworth engines of Siffert's March and Rindt's Lotus continue not to work as they should: in the first case it is only a matter of moments before it breaks down again, in the second it only gives problems. Ickx's Ferrari 003 develops a serious oil leak that reaches the engine. In the case of the De Tomaso, on the other hand, it is decided to convert the track of the rear suspension from wide to narrow. Courage pushes his car hard to try and make up for the time lost the day before, but brakes too late on the stretch of track beyond the pits, to return to the Tarzan hairpin. The British driver overdoes it and goes off the road. He decides, therefore, to leave the car where it is, for the mechanics to recover it, and returns to the paddock. Afterwards there is a moment of embarrassment in the pits, when the confusion leads to a collision between Stewart's car and Brabham's, just as the Scotsman tries to engage the gear to leave the pits and go down the track, causing his wing to crumple. Fortunately, the damaged car is the old one, as the new one is being prepared for the afternoon practice. After Rindt and Stewart's performance on Friday afternoon, the time to beat is 1'20"0. However, only Amon and Ickx succeed in this task, recording respectively 1'19"7 and 1'19"5. In the afternoon, the sky becomes dark and the air is filled with mist. But these conditions do not prevent the cars from running the trials and some of them from being even competitive. Immediately a great battle for the first position starts, very important in Zandvoort, because it is difficult to overtake on this narrow circuit. Rindt, Stewart, Amon and Ickx set the pace. The drivers with a guaranteed place on the grid are limited to running a few practice laps, while a fierce competition breaks out among the others. Stewart takes a break to show his new teammate Cevert the route to take. His driving helps the young Frenchman a lot, who improves by two seconds. Turning in 1'21"0 it is evident that Stewart is only driving around the circuit without really pushing the car to the limit, but Cevert works hard to keep up with his teammate. The hard work of the Lotus team to fix Rindt's 72C is rewarded when, with full fuel tanks and new tires, the Austrian driver sets a time of 1'19"1, and immediately after, with less fuel and worn tires, he makes a lap in 1'18"3, without any minimum effort. The situation is completely opposite for Stewart, who is now forced to push his car to the limit to set a time of 1'18"73, the second fastest of the day. The Scottish driver did not think that Rindt and his Lotus could be so fast. 


Aboard his B.R.M., Jackie Oliver is the author of an incredibly fast lap of 1'19"3. This result is due, in part, to the only set of Dunlop tires available to the team which, in reality, was meant for Rodriguez. The Mexican, however, was still unable to get in tune with his car and very nearly missed the time set by his teammate, recording a sad 1'20"07. In the meantime Clay Regazzoni, without any problems or clamor, manages to go well below the 1'20"0 limit, setting a time of 1'19"48, placing himself right behind Oliver in his first experience in Formula 1. The fact that Ferrari has taken the right direction in terms of mechanical developments is also demonstrated by the performance of Jacky Ickx who is, together with Rindt and Stewart, below the 1'19"0 limit (1'18"93). It is a disappointing day, instead, for Siffert who arrives at the end of the tests with a tired and old engine, mounted in the middle of the paddock among the dust. This last unit, however, is all that remains for the March team. Graham Hill is anything but exciting in these tests, having scored a time of 1'21"75. The Briton, however, is lucky to be among the qualified drivers by right, at the expense of De Adamich who, along with Stommelen, Lovely and Moser, will not be able to take part in the race. For the four, the Dutch race weekend ends here. During the evening, after two unsuccessful attempts, the marshals finally manage to establish a starting grid. In the first row there will be Rindt, Stewart and Ickx. They are followed by Amon and Oliver in the second row. The sixth, seventh and eighth positions are occupied respectively by Regazzoni, Rodriguez and Miles. The fourth row is occupied by Courage and Beltoise. Behind, Gethin, Brabham and Pescarolo will start. Surtees and Cevert will start from the fourteenth and fifteenth place, ahead of Peterson, Siffert and Eaton. Finally, Dan Gurney and Graham Hill close the group of starters. About the American driver, during the night between Saturday and Sunday, some fans expose in front of the pits the writing Welcome back Dan Gurney in big letters. Sunday 21st of June 1970 the fog of the North Sea invades the circuit, and any building taller than three floors disappears. The whole of Zandvoort takes on a gloomy air. A few moments before the start, although the mist has lifted, the sky remains gloomy. But the asphalt was dry and everything was ready for the ninety-lap Dutch Grand Prix. 


By lunchtime, the mechanics gather in front of the pits, where the cars are transported. Afterwards, the drivers leave one at a time to drive around the circuit and position themselves on the dummy grid. Some take the opportunity to do some practice starts. The starter is positioned in the middle of the track and, while the cars advance to settle, the starter does not move. Only a few seconds after the signal, he suddenly runs to the edge of the track. This raises the adrenaline in the drivers' bodies: Stewart and Rindt's foot even shakes on the pedal, and the cars slide forward a few millimeters. But it is not yet time to start, and both immediately recover their balance and stability. However, this hesitation plays a fundamental role when the flag starts waving: this imprecision is enough to allow Ickx to start at his best from the first row and, although Rindt courageously throws himself inside the first curve, the Ferrari driver manages to overtake him. Behind the first three, confusion reigns. Amon burns the clutch of his March and the competitors behind him have to dodge, allowing Oliver and Miles to follow the leaders at the first curve. Oliver manages to overtake even Stewart who, among the leaders, is the author of the worst start. At the end of the first lap, the situation is totally different than a few moments before the starter's signal. Ickx is in the lead, followed by Rindt, Oliver, Stewart, Miles, Rodriguez, Courage, Beltoise, Regazzoni, Pescarolo and Gethin. Veterans such as Brabham, Hill, Gurney and Surtees, however, remain lagging behind. When all the competitors leave the starting grid, Chris Amon walks back to the pits and retires. On the second lap Ickx still maintains the first position. Further back, Rodriguez overtakes Miles. The first four are already well separated from the rest of the group. On the next lap, at the Tarzan hairpin, Rindt takes the first position from the Ferrari driver, overtaking him from the outside and taking the lead of the race. It is immediately clear that the Lotus will run a lonely race. Rindt's car becomes unreachable for anyone; without any particular effort, the Austrian driver moves away from everyone. At the same point Gurney's Cosworth engine breaks down and, to the displeasure of many fans, he has to retire. At the end of the third lap Stewart begins to fight ruthlessly and, at the end of the straight, he takes advantage of the only point where he can overtake to overtake Oliver, who had managed to stay ahead of him in these first minutes of the race. All this effort, however, does not make any impression on Jacky Ickx, let alone Jochen Rindt. 


Rodriguez, meanwhile, manages to distance himself from his rivals, who begin to create a long line behind Miles. At each lap, when the British driver appears along the straight, he is followed by a string of cars and drivers who adapt to his pace. Miles is not fast enough to justify him being ahead of them but, as already mentioned, at Zandvoort it is difficult to overtake with cars of equal power and quality. Rodriguez, meanwhile, quickly approaches Oliver: the Mexican is not willing to stay behind the English driver's B.R.M. for long. On lap 6 Regazzoni manages to overtake Miles, and now he has a clear path. Therefore, now the driver close to Miles is Piers Courage, with his De Tomaso. The French driver is waiting for an opportunity to overtake his rival. This opportunity presents itself only on lap 12, but by then the leaders are already far behind. Jochen Rindt, in the lead, laps comfortably under 1'20"0, setting new lap records. Just further back, although Stewart has closed the gap on Ickx, the Ferrari is still too hard to catch. Regazzoni follows in sixth, but Courage - who is busy making up ground - is closing in. Miles, meanwhile, continues to remain in eighth, with Beltoise, Gethin, Brabham, Surtees and Siffert in tow. Pescarolo, instead, lost positions; his Goodyear tires caused a violent understeer, on a track that was already quite dusty. As soon as the long line of cars starts the twentieth lap, Rindt is already close to the group, ready to overtake. Before the end of the 20th lap, Gethin is the victim of a spin. The British driver escapes unharmed, but this creates a bit of confusion and separation within the group of drivers following Miles. In the meantime Rodriguez overtakes his teammate Oliver, taking fourth position. Rindt manages to overtake Hill, who stops at the pits to try to solve the problems to his car, which do not allow him to run as he should, and Stewart overtakes his teammate Cevert, who continues his race in second last position. A few moments later, suddenly, silence falls among the stands. On lap 23, a column of smoke and flames rises from the Tunnel Oost. Courage and Siffert are missing. A car, filmed on television by a helicopter, has gone off the track at very high speed, crashing into the external containment embankment on the left of the track, then overturning and exploding on impact. Piers Courage's De Tomaso is surrounded by flames. The 28-year-old Briton, who a few moments earlier had been trying to make up ground on Regazzoni, after going off the road due to high speed, did not make it.


According to some, Courage would have died on the spot because of a wheel that hit him on the head, according to others he would have remained conscious and would have tried in vain to get out of the grip of the inflamed sheets. The fact is that the pilot remains trapped in his De Tomaso. His body, still in the flames, is charred inside the car. Normally, the overalls and helmets protect the driver for around 20-30 seconds. During this time, rescuers must intervene, otherwise there is nothing to be done. But safety officers and firefighters are not equipped to fight such a fire. The flames are very violent, and the marshals can do nothing but bury Piers Courage still inside his single-seater. While Courage loses his life in the fire, a cloud of black smoke rises high in the sky from the pits. The driver's wife, Shelli for her friends, but Lady Sarah for the Gotha, half-sister of the Count of Home, is in the De Tomaso pits. A few minutes later, and the tragic truth is revealed to her. The poor lady is held up by friends. Desperate, she calls out the name of her husband and her two children, Jason, two years old, and Amos, only four months old. In the course of the evening, she will be hospitalized in shock. Siffert, on the other hand, will be discovered to have broken his engine in a section of the track preceding the fast turns where the accident occurred. In the meantime, the cars of the competitors in the race continue to whizz by. None of the drivers know anything about the sad fate of Piers Courage, although they can easily guess. In the meantime, the three leading cars approach one by one the group composed of Miles, Beltoise, Surtees, Brabham and Pescarolo. At the end of the twenty-fourth lap, after having passed the pits, the engine of Oliver's B.R.M. fails, forcing the British driver to retire. The other B.R.M., that of Eaton, stops during the 26th lap because of the breakage of the oil tank, while Hill goes out of the pits with his Lotus 49C. Three laps later Rindt is behind Brabham who, in turn, pushes on Beltoise, Surtees and Miles. None of the three seem to care about what happens just further back. The Austrian makes an impossible maneuver. The Lotus driver overtakes a driver on every lap, managing to lose very little time to his pursuers, despite the fact that none of them moved or signaled him to pass. Rindt overtakes Brabham at full speed, then throws himself into the trajectory at the Tarzan hairpin to pass Beltoise on the next lap. 


At the same point, one lap later, Rindt overtakes Surtees and the next he passes Miles in the middle of the straight, beyond the pits. Now that he is quiet, the Austrian driver returns to his cruising pace. In the meantime Stewart is quite close to Ickx, but he still doesn't seem able to overtake the Belgian driver. It's their turn to lap the quartet of drivers led by Miles. But while Rindt needed only four laps to overtake all the competitors in this small group, Ickx needed five laps to do the same. Even worse for Stewart, who was forced to use seven laps. It is clear that no one stood aside to facilitate the passage of the Belgian driver, and even less for the Scot, despite the marshals waving blue flags. In this way, the March driver loses what little ground he had managed to gain on the Ferrari driver. During the forty-fourth lap Brabham heads to the pits with a punctured front left tire. After replacing the damaged tire, the Australian driver gets back on the road just as Rindt is lapping him for the second time. A few minutes later the queue behind Miles is reduced to just two drivers: Beltoise and Surtees. However, when the British driver is victim of a spin, the two pursuers manage to overtake him; in this action Surtees also manages to pass Beltoise. However, few moments pass before the British driver, on board of his McLaren, turns near the bend behind the pits, and is overtaken by both. Surtees is thus forced to have to start all over again. At the fiftieth lap Rodriguez stops at the pits to mount a new hood, while Ickx doubles Regazzoni. On the next lap, Ickx returns to the Ferrari box to change a punctured tire. Stewart takes the second place. When he returns to the track, the Belgian is in fourth position, behind his teammate. In the meantime, having noticed the punctured Firestone tire on Ickx's car, at the Lotus box they prepare themselves with jacks and spare tires. But Rindt does not seem to need them: the Austrian driver continues his race with regularity. The Lotus with the torsion springs, on which very few would have bet, continues to dominate the race, without too much effort. When Rindt appears over the hill of the Hunzerug hairpin, ready to complete another fast lap, Stewart passes in front of the pits. Ickx does not take long to reach Regazzoni and overtake him again. And, on the other hand, his teammate does nothing to prevent the Belgian driver from passing, unlike what many other competitors do towards their teammates. Ickx is third, although one lap behind the leader. 


Cevert, meanwhile, has already retired during the thirty-first lap due to the breakage of the Cosworth engine on his March. Five laps from the end, after a hard fight, Surtees manages to gain the sixth place, and therefore a precious point for the championship. In the meantime, Rindt continues his solitary race, without ever making any mistakes. His advantage over Stewart is over a minute. The Scotsman has to be content with second place. At the end of the eighty laps, the two of them are the only ones to reach the finish line by completing the entire distance. The two Ferraris gain the third and fourth position. This is the proof that Maranello is going in the right direction, even though there is still work to be done. Although Rindt did not have a particularly complicated race, the Austrian driver admits to having pushed the single-seater to the limit when, on the third lap, he overtook Ickx. And also Regazzoni exceeds the expectations, since the tests, arriving fourth at the finish line. The Swiss driver precedes Jean-Pierre Beltoise and John Surtees. When all the competitors returned to the pits, what had been rumored since lap 23 was confirmed. Courage is dead inside his burning car, which the competing drivers were quickly overtaking. All awards ceremonies and festivities are cancelled. In Madrid, in April, Jacky Ickx and Jack Oliver are miraculously saved from the fire of their two cars in the Spanish Grand Prix. Fate, this time, was not kind to Piers Courage, as it had not been to the Finnish Laine in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometer race. Both drivers, conscious, perished in the flames. An atrocious, terrible death. And the three accidents are linked by the same thread: the lack of emergency vehicles. Ickx and Oliver were saved by jumping from the single-seaters, which burned for a long time, because they tried to tame the fire with a water lance. There were no firemen in asbestos suits and no suitable extinguishers. At the Nurburgring, the same thing. Laine's Porsche tips over, the racer tries to get out of the cockpit, the first flames appear. Nobody intervenes. The event happened again in Zandvoort, a circuit that is one of the best organized. 


Now, it is true that the drivers are well aware of the risks they are running, but it is also true that competition cars (both single-seaters in Grand Prix and sports and sport prototypes in the brands championship) are substantially fragile due to the use of lightweight materials and the search for technical solutions that tend to reduce weight, and that single-seaters, above all, are fuel tanks on four wheels (530 kilos of weight, 220 liters of petrol) that are easy to ignite. But this is not the reason why such an incredible and guilty negligence in the preparation of the fire-fighting services should continue. The suits and helmets protect the pilot for about 20-30 seconds. During this time, rescuers need to intervene, otherwise it is useless. Well, sometimes firefighters are not deployed in sufficient numbers along the circuits or there are means that do not work, the fact is that for the moment, it emerges that there is not enough safety for the drivers. Only in the United States, at Indianapolis, is there an effective service. In Europe, needless to say, we are still terribly behind. The death of Lorenzo Bandini in Monte-Carlo has taught us something, it has brought the problem to our attention, but a real solution has not been found. Regulations must be changed to allow manufacturers to make safer cars, but the sporting authorities must be strict with organizers and circuit managers. And if at one time or another the drivers decided to challenge, they would be completely right. The English driver spun off the track at a very fast point of the circuit, at 250-260 km/h, and his De Tomaso hit an embankment on the left side of the track. The car seemed to explode, immediately catching fire. According to some, Courage died on the spot; according to others, he remained conscious and tried in vain to get out of the grip of the burning metal sheets. One fact is certain: while the 200 liters of gasoline contained in the tanks of the De Tomaso caught fire (it was lap 23, just a quarter of the race), no firefighter was nearby. The fire-fighting services worked poorly and late: the first firemen were unable to tame the fire and had to request the intervention of a special vehicle. In this regard, the authorities decided to open an investigation. About the causes of the tragedy, Frank Williams, manager and friend of Courage, states at the end of the race:


"The car is a wreck. We don't know anything yet, but we don't think it could be a mechanical failure".


The tragedy overshadowed the events of the race, which was also interesting and which saw the second consecutive success of Rindt and Lotus in the world championship, the second place of Stewart, who jumped to the top of the world championship and the good performance of Ferrari: Ickx came third (and an unfortunate puncture took away his place of honor) and the rookie Regazzoni, fourth at the finish line. By now we go to the Formula 1 Grand Prix with a knot in our stomach. One is terrified of seeing a red flame, of seeing a cloud of black smoke rise into the sky. Enzo Ferrari once said that the current single-seaters are coffins, others called them petrol bombs. These are not exaggerated definitions. The architecture of a Formula 1 car is, in practice, very simple: four wheels, monocoque chassis, side tanks to bandage the pilot who drives in a semi-recumbent position, rear engine, water and oil containers. The weight is around 530-550 kilos. In the tanks, at the start, are crammed 200-220 liters of gasoline (without special additives). Light alloys are widely used, especially magnesium, a highly flammable material. The causes of fire are many: defects in the electrical system; elements brought to high temperature of the exhaust manifolds); sparks caused by impacts of the chassis or bodywork with the road surface; contact between glowing disc brakes and gasoline or lubricant; engine failures; accident. This, of course, is the main cause, as it ties directly to the fuel tanks. If these rupture - whether through a car collision or a collision with a fixed obstacle - there is no escape. Gasoline sprays out, covering a large surface area. A matter of moments, and vapors are formed that end up finding the hot spot (the brake disc or the exhaust manifold) or the spark from which flames will break out. On the single-seaters is mounted - by regulation - an automatic extinguisher, which comes into operation at the first appearance of the flames. But it is one or more cylinders of limited capacity, which can at most slow down for a few seconds the spreading of the fire or extinguish small fires. The tanks are made of rubber, built with systems borrowed from aeronautical technology. They are strong, they resist heat, but not the demolishing action of the twisted sheets: it is enough a tear in the casing, and the petrol bomb is triggered. Up to this point, controversy and criticism concern sporting regulations, manufacturers and, in a certain sense, drivers. The regulations, because they are the ones that set standards and limits for the realization of the car. 


We talk about ‘formula’ because we are faced with a module, a set of fixed canons that manufacturers must adhere to. It is therefore felt that if these favor or lead to the creation of dangerous cars, they must be changed. The manufacturers, because - with a few exceptions - they stop at nothing to make their single-seaters competitive. They look for the most exasperated solutions to make their cars lighter, they resort too widely to dangerous materials such as magnesium (almost always combined with aluminum), which can explode once ignited by burning gasoline. Driver’s stances are rarely firm and conscious. And the reason is not only to be found in their passion for racing, they are all bound by solid commercial interests with the manufacturers and accessory makers. Each of them is convinced that nothing will ever happen to him. But when the single-seater burns on the track with its human load, here is the very serious responsibility of the organizers and the fire-fighting services. Up to now, the safety of spectators has been taken care of - above all with the installation of guardrails - and the assistance to injured people has been improved with mobile hospitals and helicopters for rapid transport to resuscitation centers, but we have remained terribly behind in the fight against flames. We are not talking about road races (especially uphill races), with tracks that stretch for dozens of kilometers between hills and mountains: in these cases - let's be honest - safety does not exist. Either they are accepted or they are forbidden, even if they are called Targa Florio or Gran Premio del Mugello. It is thought - within the Motorsport environment - that a few certain races are better than arriving at a tragic day and then at absurd total bans. However, in racetracks, the rescue of drivers should be immediate. At Monza, in the past, cars were left to burn for tens of minutes, in Madrid they tried to extinguish the fire of Ickx's Ferrari and Oliver's B.R.M. with a miserable water lance, at Zandvoort the firemen intervened with suitable means only twenty minutes after the tragic accident of Piers Courage's De Tomaso against a slope. But, as mentioned, the space of time to intervene is therefore limited. But why in America, in Indianapolis, is it possible to put out a fire in 12 seconds? It's a question of means, it's a question of men. So we get to the heart of the matter: it's a deficiency linked to economic reasons. It costs a lot to hire firemen, to create specialized corps of rescue workers, to assemble vehicles and fire extinguishers like those used in airports. And sometimes, because the car races are fabulous, the controversy dies down and the races continue.


"The dangers are many, but when you're driving, you're not afraid".


Said Piers Raymond Courage, twenty-eight years old, from England, married and with two children. He was considered the gentleman of racing: heir to an important beer industry, educated at Eton, he had approached the sport of driving in 1962, first in Formula 3 and 2, then in prototypes and, finally, in 1968 in Formula 1. He had joined Frank Williams' team and this year he was racing for De Tomaso in Formula 1 and for Alfa Romeo in the makes championship. Witty, sympathetic, he had not yet won Grand Prix, but he had placed several times and had won many successes with the other formulas, including the Enna Grand Prix in Formula 2.


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