Although some of the scandal-mongering newspapers insist that the Zandvoort race-track is doomed and the future of the Dutch Grand Prix is in doubt, nothing could be further from the truth; the year-long activities at the Dutch circuit continue to make the whole setup a good business proposition, of which the local town council benefit by receiving a large slice of the income, as distinct from the profit. With the ever-increasing demands by the Formula 1 entrants and further demands of expenditure of hard cash by the GPDA Safety Brigade, there are times when one is given to wondering why organisers carry on with Grand Prix racing. Whatever the reason, this year’s Dutch Grand Prix sees a bumper entry and there is no squabbling or dissatisfaction over who is to start as all 25 drivers listed in the entry are to be accepted on the starting grid. After scrutineering has taken place on Friday morning, practice gets under way in the afternoon with a following wind blowing down the straight, thus encouraging a fast day as it is known. The weather is very grey and gloomy and with the scrub grass and sand dunes all around and the muddy-looking North Sea just behind the grandstands, the Zandvoort circuit is about as gay and entrancing as it is ever likely to be and one begins to see why everyone likes circuits like Barcelona and Monte-Carlo. However, the job in hand is to put in some fast laps as soon as possible as there is every likelihood of the weather breaking up later on, and the bogey time is the 1'19"23 set up by Ickx last year in the original prototype flat-12-cylinder Ferrari. Now there are not only two similar cars as spares, with 1971 engines, but three of the second version of the flat-12-cylindered cars, the 312B/2 models, and it is Regazzoni setting the pace with #5 car, having been out earlier in the week doing some unofficial practice. He has got down to a cool 1'17"98 when the engine blows up and the car is wheeled round the back of the pits with oil dripping from everywhere, and work begins on removing the engine and installing a new one.
Also in the first part of the afternoon Team Lotus has a disaster, for Walker has barely begun to circulate in Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72 when he falls off the edge of the track and damages the rear end too badly for immediate repair, so that is the end of all Charlton’s hopes of joining Team Lotus for this race. He is to have taken over 72D/R5 when the turbine car is ready for Walker to drive. It is quite clear that laps under 1'20"0 are the least that can be considered competitive and both Andretti and Ickx are well inside this figure by mid-afternoon, as is Wisell, who is now alone in upholding Lotus’ honour, Stommelen is in there with the second of the 1971 Surtees cars, and Ganley also, indicating that the sparkle that appears in his driving at Hockenheim has not been a flash in the pan. Stewart is experimenting with the new Girling double-disc brakes on the latest Tyrrell car and amid a certain amount of detail bothers he just scrapes in under the 1'20"0 barrier. After the mid-afternoon break things really begin to happen and Ickx sets up a new fastest time with 1'17"42, with Rodriguez right behind him with 1'17"46, these two 12-cylinder cars being visibly faster down the straight than anything else. After a bit more experimenting with the new brakes on the Tyrrell, Stewart goes out and very quickly got within striking distance of the twelves with 1'17"64, and you can almost hear The Good Ford saying: Thank the Lord for Stewart. Things are really warming up now and the 1'20"0 bogey time is for beginners, 1'19"0 is for the pros, 1'18"0 for the stars and 1'17"0 for the aces, with more yet to come. While the general increase in pace is going on Regazzoni crashes his spare Ferrari, number 4, and just before practice ends Andretti has a spectacular accident past the pits in the brand-new 312B/2 and it is later revealed that both are the result of tyres centrifuging inwards on some new ultra-wide rims. This means a reshuffle in the Ferrari camp, and Andretti takes over the remaining spare car on the following day, while Regazzoni has his 1971 car back again.
There seems every possibility that the aces would break 1'17"0 in the following practice periods, providing everything stayed constant, but as so often happens things do not remain constant and on Saturday morning it is pouring with rain. So bad is the rain, and prospects for any improvement in the weather so remote, that a lot of drivers give Saturday morning practice a miss, knowing that there is plenty of time in the afternoon to splash round in the rain. Unfortunately this catches them out, for suddenly the weather clears and, apart from a change in direction of the wind, the afternoon becomes fine. Those who have deliberately not practised in the morning, like Surtees, Cevert and Hulme, are not to know they have been caught out until next morning when the rain returns. Due to an impressive piece of organisation and a lot of hard work Team Lotus has got the Pratt and Whitney turbine engine back from Canada and installed in the 4-wheel-drive chassis and Walker is out practising as soon as possible. It is not possible to effect immediate repairs to the crashed Lotus 72 so Charlton has to remain a spectator. Andretti takes over the remaining spare Ferrari and Regazzoni have his 1971 car back again. So bad are the conditions during the morning that even the fastest laps recorded are 20 seconds slower than the previous day’s times. Only Regazzoni and Rodriguez brake the 1'40"0 mark and then by only a gnat’s whisker. During the lunch break conditions suddenly improve and the afternoon becomes warm and dry, but the wind is now head-on up the straight and though everyone is out and trying hard there is no question of approaching the Friday times, so for most drivers their first day’s times are the ones to count for grid positions. Regazzoni and Siffert are fastest, with Rodriguez, Stewart and Ickx close behind. As Peterson is not too happy with the general feel of the new March 711 it has been put away, and he is concentrating on the early model, with the Cosworth V8 engine.
The Ferraris and B.R.M.s are significantly faster down the straight than all the other cars, even the Matras, and but for Stewart and the Tyrrell the outcome of the two days' practice would have been a clean sweep for the 12-cylinder cars. Race day is as wet and dull as Zandvoort has ever known, yet an impressive crowd of spectators pour into the circuit all morning, as everyone prepares for a really wet race, with knobbly wet-weather tyres, waterproofing over the electrics and much preparation for keeping water out of visors and cockpits. In view of the dreadful conditions a 15-minute free practice session is allowed before the start so that drivers can weigh up the conditions of the track. While everyone is assembling on the dummy grid the Ferrari mechanics suddenly rush Andretti’s car back to the pits and feverishly start to change the petrol pumps, as the system has lost all its pressure. Andretti has to sit patiently in the cockpit while mechanics work away at the back of the car and, though the Dutch officials delay the start as long as possible, they can wait no longer and one by one engines are started up and preparations made to move the 23 cars forward to the starting grid. Ickx makes a spectacular practice start off the dummy grid, and then he, Rodriguez and Stewart lead the rows of cars forward to the starting line. The flag falls and so slippery is the track that nothing seems to happen for seconds, and then the Firestone tyres of Ickx and Rodriguez find grip and pull away from Stewart, who is still trying to make his Goodyears grip the road. As the field pours into the Tarzan hairpin in a cloud of spray Amon has his Matra right on the outside edge of the raised corner and is going round the outside of Stewart, but just fails to get by so that the order round the back of the pits and away across the sand dunes is lckx, Rodriguez, Stewart, Amon, Regazzoni, Surtees. In the opening scramble Siffert and Soler-Roig have spins on the wet track and there is a lot of dodging about but no damage.
Ickx leads from Rodriguez on the opening lap, and once again Amon goes high on the banked Tarzan corner, and this time falls over the edge into the sand and the wire mesh safety fence, where the Matra remains stuck while everyone goes by. At the end of lap 2 the Ferrari of Ickx and the B.R.M. of Rodriguez have opened up quite a considerable gap from Stewart, who is still in third place, but as the dark blue Tyrrell goes into the Tarzan comer at the end of the main straight it spins helplessly and Stewart has to sit and watch while a whole row of smiling opponents go by him, and he is in eighth place when he gets going again. As he motors off from the corner leaving Amon still working away to get his Matra out of the safety fence, Andretti joins the race from the pit lane with a great rush of noise and spray. He arrives at the first corner and promptly spins, luckily staying on the track, and sets off at a more sedate pace, after which Amon gets his Matra disentangled and motors round to the pits but the radiator is split so that was that. By the end of the third lap the Dutch Grand Prix is over for all except Ickx and Rodriguez, who are way out on their own and indulging in a motor race that must go down in history. On the next lap Pescarolo gets his Frank Williams March 711 all sideways and out of control and runs into Schenken’s Brabham as they accelerate out of the Tarzan hairpin along the short straight behind the pits, and the rather vulnerable aerofoil on the nose of the March is badly bent. Pescarolo stops at the pits next time round and has the complete aerofoil removed and continues the race with the front of the March looking very light and almost airborne.
Accidents are by no means over, for, as the Lotus turbine car ends lap 5, Walker misjudges his braking point past the pits and goes straight on over the bank and almost out of sight amongst the restraining mesh fences and advertising hoardings, escaping unscathed, but with the nose of the Lotus wiped off. It is no day at all for Team Lotus for two laps later Wisell pulls his Lotus 72 smartly out of his race with Peterson’s March and stops just beyond the pits with a rear wheel coming loose. He reverses back into the pit lane but of course this entails immediate disqualification. While this is going on there is another coming together at the end of the main straight when Galli and Cevert get tangled together under-braking and the March and the Tyrrell end up in the sand. Amidst all this unruliness Ickx and Rodriguez are really getting on with a motor race and they end lap 8 side-by-side, trying to out-brake each other for the Tarzan hairpin, and it is Rodriguez who gets in front as they fight each other all the way round the twisty bits behind the pits. Regazzoni is a comfortable third, followed by Surtees, Peterson, Beltoise and Stewart, but the little Scot is fast giving up and lets Stommelen, Ganley and Siffert go by on the next lap. Andretti retires at the pits as his engine has not worked properly even with the new fuel pumps fitted, and Hulme, van Lennep and Hill are having a little race of their own at the end of the field, apart from the stragglers like Soler-Roig, Barber, Schenken, Gethin and Pescarolo. By 10 laps, with 60 still to go, the two tigers battling for the lead are lapping the end of the field and they race in and out of the traffic the way they do in long-distance sports-car races. Nothing is sacred to them and they sweep past Hill, van Lennep, Hulme and Stewart as if they are not there. Then they whittle down the distance to Ganley and Beltoise, who have been overtaken by Siffert, and then they catch the Swiss and after that Stommelen, all the while Rodriguez being first and Ickx second.
Now the rout of the also-sans ends and Regazzoni, Peterson and Surtees remaine unlapped. The Swedish March driver has overtaken Surtees on lap 11, but can not get away and the two cars are circulating in close company, in fourth and fifth places. Down at the back of the field Stewart lets Hill, van Lennep and Hulme go past and is going so slowly that the leaders are soon to lap him again. It is now very obvious that the first seven cars are running on knobbly Firestone wet-weather tyres, and the Goodyear-shod cars can not keep up, apart from Beltoise, who has his Matra in eighth place, whereas Hill, Hulme and Stewart are just so far back it is pathetic to watch. On lap 20 Hulme gives up even more than Stewart has done, and lets the Scot get in front just as Rodriguez and lckx sweep by for the second time. The Dutch driver Gijs van Lennep, driving the original 1970 Surtees car, pleases his fellow countrymen by leaving behind the three ex-World Champions, Hill, Stewart and Hulme, and even though he is on Firestone tyres and they are on Goodyears, it is still a commendable effort, for they really should have been up in front of Beltoise, who is just ahead of van Lennep. The circuit is still desperately wet and slippery and, though the rain eases off, a sea mist is lying about everywhere making conditions terribly greasy, but this does not seem to worry Rodriguez and Ickx, who are still hard at it, even though their lap times are around 1'35"0. Shortly before half-distance lckx begins to put the pressure on harder and taking opportunities caused by slower cars in front of the B.R.M. he has the Ferrari’s nose right up with the rear tyres of the Bourne car. On lap 30 Ickx gets the lead back again, but Rodriguez is not giving up and side-by-side they run, coming up behind Schenken and Pescarolo, who are together once more, even though they have both had pit stops, the March to have its nose fin removed and the Brabham to have its accelerator linkage fixed when it comes adrift.
For a moment the road is completely blocked for the Ferrari and BRM, and then Rodriguez dives between the two cars in front and is back in the lead again. That does not suit Ickx at all, and after one more lap he again scrabbles past the BRM and back into the lead. All this would have been great stuff in perfect conditions, but on the wet and slippery track it is unbelievable and motor racing at its best, and this furious pace now carries them past Surtees and Petersen, so that only Regazzoni remains on the same lap as the two tough little heroes out at the front. Siffert is firmly in sixth place, followed by Ganley equally surely in seventh place, and then van Lennep driving a very good smooth race in his first Grand Prix event. Stommelen has gone off the road at the end of the straight and been helped back on again, which caws his disqualification. Then come the Goodyear-shod runners, with Beltoise leading them and Hill trying very hard to catch the Matra, while Stewart is doing a good imitation of a typical Swiss Sunday motorist, telling other people what to do instead of getting on with his own driving, and HuIme is wishing he is in a nice comfy Can-Am race where there are not too many racing drivers about. After tangling with Galli’s March-Alfa Romeo, which is quite badly bent, Cevert finds that his Tyrrell has only suffered a dent in the monocoque on the right-hand side and a flattened oil catch-tank at the rear, so he extricates the car from the sand and goes on racing. The March is still just off the edge of the track and Stewart is trying to encourage the marshals to drag it further out of the way. Cevert’s race comes to a sudden stop when the left rear suspension collapses, obviously as a result of the earlier impact, and the Tyrrell spins off the road as the drive-shaft comes apart and bends the exhaust system and the rear cross-member over the gearbox.
Although the weather does not exactly improve, the rain lets up and Ickx finds that he can pull away from the B.R.M. out of the two slow hairpins, as the Ferrari engine is pulling solidly from fairly low r.p.m., letting him use third gear, whereas Rodriguez is having to use first gear and keep the r.p.m. high to prevent it fluffing on acceleration. On the fast bends round the back of the circuit the Mexican finds he can gain ground on his Belgian rival, but in the overall lap he is losing contact and for the last part of the race has to settle for second place and watch the Ferrari pull slowly but surely away. At the back of the field Soler-Roig has the Cosworth engine in his March 711 break and he pours out oil and smokes until the whole thing comes to a grinding halt on the back of the circuit. Then with only five laps to go Regazzoni misjudges his braking at the end of the straight and slides off the road into the wire mesh fence, but luckily is able to back out to rejoin the race still in third place. The fibre-glass nose of the Ferrari is shattered and the radiator pushes out of line, but there are no leaks so he presses on, scattering bits of fibre-glass as he goes. He has been lapped by the two racers and they have lapped Siffert, Surtees and Peterson for the second time, and the three Goodyear-shod ex-World Champions more times than is decent. The lap after Regazzoni makes his mistake, Surtees makes one out of the slow Hunzerug hairpin and clouts the guard rail with his right front wheel, which bends the suspension out of shape, and, with fingers crossed and an anxious eye on the front end, he slowed down and manages two more laps, by which time Ickx has crossed the line the winner of the 1971 Dutch GP by 8 seconds, he and Rodriguez having put on the sort of display of racing that Grand Prix badly needs.