#214 1972 French Grand Prix

2022-02-04 23:00

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#1972, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#214 1972 French Grand Prix

After a certain amount of doubt the Grand Prix of France finally take place on the Circuit of Charade, in the hills above Clermont-Ferrand. The CSI ci


After a certain amount of doubt the Grand Prix of France finally take place on the Circuit of Charade, in the hills above Clermont-Ferrand. The CSI circuit safety sub-committee keep muttering about improvements and safety barriers and the Automobile Club of the Auvergne keep muttering about building a new link road across the middle of the circuit to reduce its 8.055-kilometre (5 miles) length to half, as the drivers didn’t like being away from the pits for three minutes on end. The Grand Prix circus haven’t been to Charade since 1970 and have spent so much time on Autodromes that they have forgot what the Charade circuit is like, apart from it having more than 50 corners and at one point giving you a shattering view out into space across Clermont-Ferrand as you are braking for a hairpin bend. Of the present bunch of Grand Prix drivers (or Formula One drivers to be more precise) more than a dozen have never even hear of the Circuit of Charade, they are so new to the game. Eventually the Club spent a lot of money and the CSI accept the circuit for the Grand Prix of France. Most of the money are spent on a fine new concrete grandstand and restaurant, for without the support of the spectators and local dignitaries who agree to financial propositions you do not get anywhere, so it pays to look after them first. On the circuit a dodgy bridge on a tight hairpin is remove and a run-off area with catch-nets is build, but apart from that and a little widening in the start area the circuit remain its splendid challenging self and the idea of the link-road shorter circuit is shelve. Throughout the two days of practice and the race the words of praise that are shower on the circuit are almost embarrassing. Magnificent, Terrific, Superb, The Best in Europe, Marvellous, Beautiful, are all expressions hear continuously from drivers, professional followers, and the elite of the inner-circle of Grand Prix racing.


The circuit of Charade has always been all these things, it is just that some people are new to the scene and others had never been to Rouen, Nurburgring, Spa-Francorchamps or Osterreichring. Indeed, the circuit of Charade ranks among the best and sorts out those who can drive from those who are just trying to kid us, although it has its faults, but they are not serious. After a lay-off of one month from Grand Prix racing everyone arrived at Clermont-Ferrand in fine form, except that Ferrari is without Regazzoni, still laid up with the broken wrist he acquires in the Osterreichring paddock, and Andretti, commit to a USAC race in America. As team-mate to Ickx the Ferrari team have taken on Nanni Galli, on loan from the Tecno team. The reason for this is a bit obscure, especially after Galli had been the cause of Regazzoni’s retirement in the last Grand Prix, but the Ferrari team-manager smile as he says they feel they ought to use an Italian driver occasionally. Ickx has Ferrari No. 6, with No. 5 as a spare, and Galli has No. 7, the latest one, No. 8 being left at home. Details of the cars will be find in an article elsewhere in this issue. Also affect by USAC racing is the McLaren team who are without Revson, so they co-opt Brian Redman again. Hulme has M19C/1 as his race car, and M19A/1 as a spare, and Redman has M19A/2. The Tyrrell team are back on form with the return of Stewart, his ulcer having been made to lie low, and they have their brand new 1972 car. Cevert is number two driver as usual, and for this race the local boy from Clermont-Ferrand Patrick Depailler join the team. Stewart has 003, the car he has used for most of his victories. Cevert has the new 005 and his usual 002 as a spare, and Depailler has the last of the 1971 cars, number 004.


Team Lotus have their usual three cars, 72D/R5 and 72D/R7 for Fittipaldi and 72D/R6 for Walker, and the Surtees team, divide into three as regards sponsorship, but unit mechanically, have their usual trio of cars, TS9B-004 for de Adamich, 005 for Hlailwood and 006 for Schenken. A new car is under way, but is delayed by CSI regulations wavering. The March trio of Peterson, Lauda and Beuttler all had 721G models, the Swedish driver having 3, the Austrian 2 and Beuttler his usual number 1. The other March cars are those of the Frank Williams team, 721/3 for Pescarolo and 711/3 for Pace. All five B.R.M.s are P160 models, 01 for Beltoise, 03 for Gethin, 04 for Wisell, 05 for Ganley and 06 for Marko, and Ecclestone’s trio of drivers, Hill, Reutemann and W. Fittipaldi has their usual cars, BT37/1, BT37/2 and BT34/1, respectively. Singleton entries are those of Amon, with the new Matra and an oId one as spare, Derek Bell with the flat-12 Tecno, Stommelen with the Eifelland-bodied March 721/4 and South African Dave Charlton with Lotus 72D/R3. This make a total of 29 drivers for the Grand Prix of France, and one can’t help wondering about the remark “Quality not Quantity”, though in a reverse context. Driving a Grand Prix car is suppose to be a very exacting art and only a favour few are able to excel in this art. As practice go on it became very apparent that the last sentence is very true. The circuit of Charade bee on public roads there is no opportunity for pre-race test sessions and everyone arrive on Friday morning with the same handicap of not having done any pre-practice unofficial training, which is not a bad thing. Those drivers who have race at Charade before know what they are up against, for the circuit has everything in it except a long straight, and so many of the corners are blind, over brows, or round rock faces that you really have to know where you are going. Those drivers who haven’t been before have spent the previous days sizing it up, some doing 50 or more laps. In a road car, others not bothering and waiting until official practice begin.


The first session of practice is for two hours on Friday afternoon and it soon show who had been to the circuit before and who hadn’t. The lap record stood to Jack Brabham, from 1970, with a time of 3'00"75, although during practice that year six drivers have got under the three-minute barrier, Ickx being fastest at 2'58"22, so there is a simple problem in practice for the newcomers, and that is to break 3 min., while the old hands with two years’ development in their cars can aim at 2'55"0 or even lower. For the first practice day Cevert drives the interesting new Tyrrell car and is soon setting the pace with it, much to the surprise of many people, while Stewart content himself with last year’s car in order to get back into the swing of things. It didn’t take him long and he is soon up with Cevert on lap times, the two Tyrrells getting well below the 3-min. bogey time. Hulme is on good form, drive both his cars and actually going faster in the older car. Cevert is comfortably fastest with the new Tyrrell and is in the midst of trying to do better when he overdid things and shot off coarse into the guard rail. That is the last we see of the new Tyrrell for the front end is damage and the monocoquc was crinkle, so it is cover over and Cevert rather sheepishly went out in his old car, running under number 7T, while Tyrrell himself look somewhat displease. The Matra camp is very happy for the new car is going so well and Amon like it so much that the spare car is never even start up, which is always good for morale. There is nothing worse than a driver who dithers between a new car and an old one, unable to make up his mind which to use, but Amon was giving no trouble at all and really trying, making fourth fastest practice time, with the certainty that he can go even faster.


Of the drivers who haven’t been to the circuit before, Reutemann is the fastest, missing the 3-min. barrier by seven-tenths of a second, and Pace and Emerson Fittipaldi are right behind him, as is Hailwood. The young French lad Depailler is doing well on his first outing in a Formula One car, though doubtless circuit knowledge help him, but even so he is in amongst the Brazilians. Others are struggling a bit and some are getting nowhere at all, and apart from Charlton who is having all manner of irritating troubles with his rebuilt Lotus 72, there was a 20-sec. gap between the fastest and slowest drivers. A welcome change from Autodrome racing where fractions of seconds cover the entire field. Towards the end of practice Redman is following HuIme round when the McLaren slipped from under his foot and he clobber the guard rails with disastrous results to the front end, and Hulme resign himself to the fact that his spare car will be hand over to Redman. In the Lotus pit there is a bit of despair when Walker appear down the pit road with his left rear wheel smash, the tyre in shreds and an oil radiator wiper off from the rear. Not being a prima donna or a hero, Walker make no song and dance and just admit he has overcook things, cursing himself for a fool. Galli is Irving desperately hard in the second Ferrari, having the odd spin while finding the limit, but not hitting any hard objects, though his best time of 3'02"0, is not really commensurate with the effort he is making. When the noise and dust has settle a great cry go up that the Goodyear tyres are better than the Firestone tyres and that it is prove because the fastest four cars are on Goodyears and the first Firestone-shod one is the Ferrari of Ickx.


His time is 1.4 sec slower than Cevert’s, so if we give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that the Goodyear tyres are worth two seconds a lap over the Firestone ones, it will not have got any of the grumblers into the first six, and quite a lot of them will not have brake three minutes, even with this bonus. Most people are prepare to believe a one second differential between the rival make of tyre, which will not have affect the issue very seriously. The truth of the matter is that the circuits have all be too easy up to now, this season, and some drivers have forgot how to try hard, so are looking for an excuse. On Saturday practice is divide into two sessions of an hour each and the first session is late in starting. There have been signs of rain during lunch so most people are prepare for a wet track and fit wet weather tyres, but as practice time approach the weather clear up so there is some hurry changing back to dry tyres. Peterson’s March arrive at the pits with dry tyres on the front and wet tyres on the back, so that whichever way the decision go there is only half the work to do. Stewart’s Tyrrell had wets all round so all four have to be change, and the mechanics proceed to do this slap in the middle of the pit road so that when the course is open for practice no-one can get out and an angry steaming mob were queue up behind the blue Tyrrell, various team managers wondering if Tyrrell is trying to give them ulcers! Eventually the Tyrrell team leave everyone start practising and the heat is on. Cevert is out of the running as, apart from bee in his 1971 car, he has bange his left hand in the previous day’s accident and the pain is give him a bad time, but even so he is continually under the 3-min, mark.


Amon is on great form and the Matra V12 is screaming joyously as he flange the new car round the circuit. Stewart also right on form, though Hulme isn’t so quick with the latest McLaren as he has be with the old one, but that have bee give to Redman so Hulme is having to re-adjust the new car. Walker’s luck don’t change as the engine brake in his Lotus, and Reutemann’s Brabham suffer a similar fate. Peterson has a slight argument with a guard rail, but the damage isn’t serious. Amon made fastest lap with 2'54"7 on Goodyear tyres, and even admitting to a two-second tyre-handicap, none of the Firestone-shod runners will have got anywhere near him, Ickx and Fittipaldi be the only two within striking distance. Obviously the circuit is sorting out a few things like engine power, road-holding and driver determination. After a break the final session of practice start, and Fittipaldi does only one lap before the oil pressure fade on his Cosworth engine, so he transfer to the spare car, and as Walker’s car is have a new engine fit the Australian has to stand and watch for this final session. Of the two Ferraris available lckx has settle on the spare car and is concentrating on this, not using the other one all. People are still flying off the road, the twists and turns of the circuit catching out the unwary. In addition some drivers are cutting the corners fine or sliding out wide when leaving the corners and putting their tyres into the loose earth on the edge of the road, throwing up clouds of dust and stones which spread across the track. Beltoise go off the road at one point and shovel up a nose-full of earth and stones in the front of his B.R.M. and when he got going again, to return to the pits, he leaves a liberal sprinkling of marbles on the track.


A little while later Gethin arrived, got all crossed-up on the dirt and stones and hit the guard rail a hefty thump and put his B.R.M. completely out of action. Another one to overdo things and wreck his car against the guard rail is Pescarolo with the Williams March 721, the car be badly wreck at both ends. Amon is proving uncatchable with a time of 2'53"4, but Hulme has a go to do something about it. With 50 corners in five miles the chances of getting a clear run on the limit are small, especially with 20 or more drivers out at the same time, and a fast driver can get hold up through quite a lot of corners behind a slower driver. Hulme was hold up through the wiggly bit at the end of the circuit on one lap and go by the pits shaking his fist. He got by on the next corner and then really go, staying wound up tight for the rest of the lap, which was 2'54"3, and carry on for another one at the same pace, clocking 2'54"2, which give him second fastest lap behind Amon. Afterwards he is his normal quiet self and explain how he got a bit mad at being hold up on a lap on which he is really try. It actually make him go quicker than if he has a clear run! As practice draw to a close Ickx came walking back to the pits, but all is well, his Ferrari has merely run out of petrol. The result of the rather hectic two days of practice is that the new Tyrrell is a non-starter, Gethin’s BRM was a non-starter, and there isn’t spare car, Pescarolo’s March 721 is a non-starter, McLaren has a wrecked car, but Redman is able to start in the spare car. Ickx elect to drive his spare car, having make his best lap in it, and the Tecno isn’t go to start as some cracks have appear in the chassis. Matra are full of joy, with pole position on the grid, and Lotus are very unhappy, having run out of good engines.


Sunday is warm and dry and between some National races and a Formula Three race there is another short period of until practice for those Formula One cars that are still in trouble, and that seems to be almost everyone. Fittipaldi is much happier with his car in this session and is confident he is going to do better than his grid position indicate, Cevert has injections for the pain in his damage hand, and Lauda is unhappy as everything seems to be wrong with his March 721G. The B.R.M. team are not very happy with Marko being their fastest driver and he only in the third row, while gloom descends on them when the inner universal joint brake on the right-side drive shaft on Beltoise’s car during this extra practice and did irrepairable damage. There is an immediate re-shuffling and Ganley had his car taken from him and give to Beltoise, but as the Frenchman hasn’t practise in this car he is move to the back of the grid. In the first practice period he has driven Marko’s car, with 5T on it, before transferring to his own car, and the training car become 25 for Marko, but the alterations to the seating position and pedals take a long time to do. Strangely Ganley’s racing number 23 is change to 5T when P160/05 was bring out to the grid for Beltoise. With his own car he has qualify for the seventh row, so when he is move to the back Redman and everyone behind him move up a place. Lined up in pairs, with Amon and Hulme on the front row, some people arr quick to point out that they are both New Zealanders, and behind them are Stewart and Ickx, with newboys Schenken and Marko in row three, and there are people who suspect faulty timekeeping, but both Cevert and Fittipaldi in row four have good reason to be behind the newcomers, Cevert’s super-fast time in Tyrrell 005 not counting and Fittipaldi only having got his car going properly on race morning, and he is overheard to ask Marko very politely if he will help him in his endeavours to get up with the leaders.


After lunch the cars are lined up on the grid and sent off on a warm-up lap and then form-up on the dummy grid, moving forward to the grid proper for the 3 p.m. start. With Ganley give the boot, Bell having no car, Charlton not being sort out sufficiently to join in, and Gethin and Pescarolo without cars, there are 24 drivers and cars on the grid for this the fifth in the new series of French Grand Prix races, over 38 laps of the splendid Circuit of Charade. It is a grand start and all 24 cars power into the first left-hand bend, jostling for positions, Peterson and Hill both trying to pick up places as they go. Amon led with Hulme right on his heels, and away they go through the twists and turns, downhill, uphill, round fast bends, round tight hairpins, through fast open bends, through fast blind ones, to eventually reappear in the valley behind the pits and start the climb up to the top of the hill by the village of Thedes, and then plunge down through the right-hand swerve to the Rosier hairpin leading to the start/finish line. The order is Amon, Hulme, Stewart, Ickx, Marko, Schenken, Hailwood, Fittipaldi, Peterson, Cevert and the rest, and all seems to be in order. It requires only one lap for things to start getting sort out, and Amon, Hulme and Stewart draw away from lckx, although there is already 4 1/2 sec. between the leading Matra and the third place Tyrrell, but on this circuit that appears to be close. The old lap record is easily broken on the first flying lap by all three of the leading group, and Stewart is give the credit, with 2'57"8. There is a condition of stalemate out at the front, Amon, Hulme and Stewart driving really hard, none of them giving or gaining anything, So interest switch to the progress of Fittipaldi, who by recent events should have been up with them.


The Charade circuit is not the best of places for passing, especially if the chap in front doesn’t want to lose his position. However, on lap 3 the young Brazilian pass Hailwood, on lap 4 he passed Schenken, on lap 5 he pass Marko, and this bring him up to fifth place behind lckx, who is holding fourth but drop back rapidly from the leading trio. Little by little Fittipaldi close up on Ickx, and at the same time Peterson has got past Schenken, Hailwood and Marko, and close up on Fittipaldi, who is sitting back a bit as stones and dirt are flying from the back wheels of Ickx’s Ferrari. Stones on the circuit are proving to he a hazard and poor Marko collect one right through his visor and straight into his eye. In terrible pain he stop his B.R.M. and got out to look for help, and is soon rush off to hospital in a very serious condition as regards the future of his sight. The stalemate at the front go on for fifteen laps, but it isn’t dull to watch, for all three drivers are really hammering away and Amon has got the lap record down to 2'56"9. At this point Hulme show signs of easing off a little bit, and this naturally force Stewart to ease up as well, so that Amon pull out quite a substantial lead. The very rearward mounting of the aerofoil on the McLaren is proving so effective in down-thrust that the rear tyres are being overloaded and getting hot, with subsequent loss of adhesion, so Hulme is being force to relax his pace. On lap 17 Stewart go past into second place, but by now Amon has quite a comfortable lead. At this point nobody realise just how important a factor tyres are going to be in this race, for the wide smooth treadless tyres are very susceptible to punctures, especially if drive over the rough edges of the track, as many drivers are doing.


Redman has already been into the pits to change a wheel that is out of balance, and at 13 laps Depailler arrived with his right rear tyre flat on the Tyrrell. Schenken is in the pits at 18 laps with low fuel pressure, and at 19 laps Pace retire out on the circuit with engine trouble, just when he is engage in a nice battle with Wilson Fittipaldi. The younger Fittipaldi is right up behind Ickx, trying to take fourth place, with Peterson just behind him, but the Belgian Ferrari driver don’t intend to let anyone come by. At 20 laps Stewart appears in the lead, and the 50.000 Frenchmen around the hills groan as Amon is see heading for the pits with his left front tyre flat. With a ring of nuts to undo before the wheel can be change it is 50 sec. before Amon can rejoin the race, and not only Stewart, but Hulme, Ickx, Fittipaldi, Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and Schenken go by while the stricken Matra is at the pits. In a slightly angry mood Amon scream back into the race, in ninth place, making the Matra V12 engine give all it is got, and it sound wonderful. After his valiant rush up with Fittipaldi, Peterson has to ease off when a mounting for the rear anti-roll bar broke on the March, but he manage to hold on to fifth place. Stewart now has a comfortable lead, picking his way carefully through the stones, and keeping his tyres well on the track and not on the rough edges, and Fittipaldi is doing the same, knowing that if Ickx continue to drive on the rough stuff he will eventually got a puncture. Wisell disappears front the scene, almost unnotice, when he can’t longer get any gears on his B.R.M., and as Amon pas Hailwood on lap 25 he set a new lap record of 2'54"7. After 23 laps Hulme has had enough of his unstable back end so he stopp at the pits and has the rear tyres change, and a front one as well, and this left Stewart with an unassailable lead of more than half a minute.


Depailler was back at the pits with his left rear tyre puncture this time, on lap 27, and one lap later Stommelen arrive with the right rear tyre flat on his Eifelland-March, and on lap 29 Fittipaldi’s patience pay off and Ickx got a flat right rear tyre, which leave the Brazilian move up into second place, but with no hope of catching Stewart, unless the Scot got a puncture, but he is being too wily for the chances of that happening. The Ferrari wheel take a long time to change, and Ickx is a lap behind the leader when he rejoin the race, down in 12th place, with no hope of improving his position. For Amon it is a different story, for he is really wound up and the Matra is responding beautifully, revving to its absolute limit, and twice more he set new lap records. He is gaining rapidly on Peterson, who have been pass by Cevert, the combination of one sick driver in a healthy car equalling out with a healthy driver in a sick car. Behind them is a very healthy driver in a very healthy car, and the Matra is right behind Peterson’s March as they start lap 35. In one lap Amon dispose of Peterson and Cevert, passing them as if they are not there, and on a circuit that is note for its lack of passing places. It was fantastic and almost unbelievable. Not content with that he continue this terrific drive and loppe four seconds a lap off Fittipaldi’s lead, but the race is one lap too short for the courageous New Zealander. As Stewart cruise home to a well-judged and cautious victory there are some well done cries, but when Amon arrive, in third place, just 4 sec. behind Fittipaldi and still going like the veritable hammers of hell, there is a thunderous roar of applause and the grandstands, and even the pits, vibrate with the enthusiastic appreciation of everyone for the drive of the year. With only third place to his credit, after looking like a certain winner, Amon stands higher in everyone’s estimation than if he has won the race. 


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