Most teams are still practising, or testing during the early part of race week, so that when official practice begins at around mid-day on Friday, to continue for 2 1/2 hours, it seems that it would be a mere formality for sorting out grid positions. Everyone is present except the McLaren team whose Ford van has broken down at Lyons. Team Lotus has but two cars, the two Lotus 72D models for Fittipaldi and WiseII, the former driver fit to drive once more, but with his rib-cage still firmly bandaged. The Ferrari team are also running only two drivers, Ickx and Regazzoni, as Andretti is competing in a high-speed USAC race on the super-speedway at Pocono in the United States. This means that while Ickx and Regazonni have their usual 1971 cars, the third car of the 312B/2 series can be a stand-by for Ickx. The works Brabhams are as raced at Zandvoort, for Hill and Schenken and Stewart and Cevert have their usual 1971 TyrreIls, with the original car as a spare for Stewart. The B.R.M. team is unchanged since Zandvoort, but the works March team has undergone a shuffle, for Alfa Romeo has re-instated de Adamich in the March-Alfa Romeo which they support. Having a shortage of good Cosworth engines, unlike the Tyrrell team, March decides to concentrate on their new March-Alfa Romeo with Peterson, caving Soler-Roig with the only Cosworth engined 711 from the factory. Galli is on hand in case a Cosworth engine can be borrowed and installed in Peterson’s original chassis, in which case the Italian would have driven it. The works Matra team seems to have been living at Castellet recently and has their three 1971 cars for Amon and Beltoise, hopeful of a victory in their own Grand Prix, while an expected arrangement for Larrousse to drive a Surtees car does not materialise, Surtees and Stommelen having their normal TS9 models, with a brand new one being finished off in the pit garages. Frank Williams has Pescarolo in his March 711 as usual, and hires his Match 701 to Jean Max, and another local hopeful is Francois Mazet who drives Siffert’s March 701.
During Friday and Saturday there are seven-and-a-half-hours practice for a mickey-mouse little race that lasts just over one-and-three-quarter hours. On Friday there are two-and-a-half hours, on Saturday morning there are three hours, and on Saturday evening a final two hours, and just in case someone is not ready for the Great Sprint of Sunday, there is a further 20 minutes before the race actually starts. And yet there are still those who wonder why Grand Prix cars fall apart during an hour-and-three-quarter race. During all this preliminary flogging round the weather is magnificent and the dust and filth lay over the paddock and car parks the way it does at Le Mans in June, and as time goes by the Paul Ricard Circuit takes on the atmosphere of the Le Mans circuit more and more, with the pits and paddock overflowing with free passes and the paying public areas being like Brooklands. The Right Crowd and no Crowding. Both Stewart and Cevert are practising with Girling double-disc brakes on their front wheels, the spare car remaining on single discs, and Stewart’s car is sporting the all-enveloping front cowling, making the Tyrrell look like a Prototype for Fords 1972 sports car for 3-litre racing. (Even now someone, somewhere with Ford emblazoned on his heart is scheming up ideas for getting 1.000 kilometre Sports Car races reduced to 100 kilometres). Stewart is scratching away better than anyone and his Cosworth engine has an entirely different note to all the other Northampton V8 engines and the Tyrrell is as fast, if not faster, than the Ferraris down the straight. He is really scratching away through the misty bits of the circuit, with the result that he makes FTD on all three practice sessions, as the table shows, which upset the Ferrari team and there are mutterings about a 3.5-litre Cosworth engine, to which the English reply is: Yes, like the 2-litre Dino Ferrari engines in Formula 2 in the Argentine two years ago.
Another mutter is about the super-lightweight ELF petrol that ELF Team Tyrrell are using! Even if it has been 130 Octane stuff no-one can imagine a protest being upheld against the Essence, Lubrificant, Francais firm at the French Grand Prix. The simple fact of the matter is that Stewart has the best Cosworth engine that Keith Duckworth can build (and who else would you give it to?), and as the Ricard circuit is nice and hygienic, not to say clinical, Stewart is enjoying himself, and out-driving everyone. He can do the same on a grubby, malicious circuit like Barcelona, but with less personal enjoyment (or so he would appear to say). Rough and tumble drivers like Ickx or Rodriguez have not really got their hearts in the business of going fast round the most modern Autodrome in Europe. It is like giving them a splendid new plastic American, ice-cream, they would eat it, but would rather have an un-hygienic, rather dubious Sicilian ice-cream off a hand-cart. We all know that people like them are a dying race and a thing of the past, but I bet in years to come everyone will remember with nostalgia the real old fashioned ice-cream out of the bucket, long after the plastic ice-cream has been replaced by the next wonder of modern science. While ear ‘oling round on the limit Stewart spins off into the catch nets, and while not exactly blaming the Girling double-disc brakes, he has the single ventilated type put back on Tyrrell 003, taking 001 out in the meantime until its Hewland transmission brakes. Cevert is not on the same limit of dicing so is more than happy with the new brakes, but Girlings are pretty happy with their progress so far and withdraw the lot, possibly looking for another type of car to try them on. Both Tyrrell and B.R.M. are experimenting with guide vanes on the rear aerofoils, a pair being spaced equally between the end vanes, these being described rather quaintly by B.R.M. as Intermediate end plates.
Ferrari are still worried about rear tyre vibrations and in addition to the transverse telescopic shock-absorbers being bigger they are attaching inertia dampers to the rear uprights, taking a leaf out of the 2 cv Citroen book. Since Tyrrell turns up at Zandvoort with a large air-box over his Cosworth engines and a conning-tower-like forward-facing snorkel, everybody rushes to follow suit, with Tauranac well in the lead. Lotus does not bother as they have had cold-air ducts on the Lotus 72 since last year. When the McLaren team arrives for practice on Saturday with their two M19A cars for Hulme and Gethin, even they have a large aluminium cold-air box for Hulme’s car, though they have forgotten about this year’s in phrase, the rear tyre vibrations, their drivers having learnt to live with the apparent phenomena. Like so many Cosworth powered teams the real problem in life is how to get a Cosworth engine like the one Stewart is using. Due to the vastness of the pit and management area the whole of practice seems rather remote and unreal, but in actual fact it is all stark reality for Stewart takes pole position on the grid almost a whole second faster than Regazzoni, and more than a second faster than Ickx, but nonetheless the front row sees the Tyrrell and the two Ferraris shoulder-to-shoulder and all the Ford coniving to keep Stewart on the books and happy, is justified. In the second row is Rodriguez, which is reasonable, but alongside is Hill in the Brabham BT34/1 with a time he has achieved in sheer bad temper and frustration after two days of no progress. If only more designers and team-managers would apply a little more psychology and a little less science to practice we would get results a lot quicker. The only fear is that they might overdo it, like the late Joe Craig did with his Norton motorcycle racing team, and kill a few drivers, but it would save the endless and aimless flogging round and round that is becoming an obsession. Apart from Hill the line-up on the grid has a pretty normal look about it, except that a very pleased Schenken is ahead of Ganley, and in fact has been ahead of Hill until quite late on Saturday.
After a galaxy of little car races intersperse throughout Saturday and filling Sunday morning the World Championship of Paul Ricard, alias the 4th Grand Prix of France, is due to start at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday on what is a truly magnificent day, when most of France is either on the beach or on their way to the beach. The pit area is packed to overflowing with free-ticket holders as the cars are assembled on the dummy-grid facing the all-singing, all-dancing electronic starting bridge (discussed elsewhere) that is not going to be used for the start, after a practice run by the GP drivers on Saturday and a fiasco in the F3 race. The start is given by an old-fashioned man with an old fashioned flag and the two Ferraris and the dark blue Tyrrell surges away in a fine manner. As the 23 cars charge off along the straight and through the fast ess-bend heading for the tight ess-bend of the chicane Ickx is already being overtaken by all manner of people as his Ferrari engine is going sour on him. Stewart leads Regazzoni, Rodriguez, Beltoise, Cevert, Amon, Peterson and the rest as they squiggle their way round the twisty bits before heading off along the 1.8 kilometre back straight. On the second lap Amon gets his Matra ahead of Cevert’s Tyrrell, but it is not desperately important, and on the fourth lap Rodriguez locks up his wheels braking for the chicane and bounces across the kerbs and the dusty infield, only losing one place in the process, but the race as such is all over. There is no one to touch Stewart, and the Tyrrell and his second lap have been at a leisurely 1'54"09 secs which is to remain as the lap record. Regazzoni may be good but he is not that good, and can only hope to hold on to Stewart, while Ickx has his engine blows up on lap 5, so it is all over. Apart from Stewart being faster than anyone along the straight he is visibly faster than anyone through the high-speed ess-bend at the end of the pit straight.
Add to this his ability to brake later than most people at any corner, and to go round all the slow twisty bits faster than most people and it is no surprise that he just motors steadily away from the field. All that remained is that the Tyrrell chassis does not fall apart, the Cosworth engine does not blow up, the Hewland transmission does not break, the Goodyear tyres do not deflate, the Girling brakes do not fail and all the dozens of other firms who contribute parts to the assembly of Ken Tyrrell’s Special do not fail him, and Stewart has got the French Grand Prix won. There are no other interesting asides to intervene, like re-fuelling stops, tyre changes, or driver changes or even physical fatigue to play its part, so that is the story of the 1971 French Grand Prix. Fortunately it is not quite as dull and boring as that for the other 22 starters are all having great fun playing at motor racing and providing an hour-and-three-quarters of interest and excitement. After Ickx has disappeared with engine trouble it is left to Regazzoni to save the day for Maranello and this he does to the best of his ability, holding a firm second place until his twenty-first lap. By this time he and Stewart are catching the tail end of the field and down there is Peterson with the March-Alfa Romeo. As the Swede starts down the back straight the Italian engine blows up and laid a trail of oil, which Stewart negotiates safely, probably because he is nowhere near the limit of his capabilities, but Regazzoni skates off the road on the oil and bounces off the guard rails with the right rear wheel bent out of line. Rodriguez and Cevert go by alright and then Hill arrives battling away well in fifth place with the leading Brabham. He has a huge spin on the oil, slides off the road, across the safety verge, bounces off the guard rail and goes behind a surprised Regazzoni, who is looking at his damaged Ferrari, in a cloud of dust. This really sorts out the race, for it leaves Rodriguez in a poor second place, with Cevert third, for it all happens as Hill is making up distance on Cevert.
Before this happens Hulme has given up with an engine that would not run properly, Soler-Roig’s March-Cosworth has expired with ignition trouble, Max is in and out of the pits with clutch operation trouble and Mazet is running last of the non-stop runners, and has nearly been run over by Rodriguez, Cevert, Beltoise, Amon, Hill & Siffert when they lap him in a solid pack on lap 11. Out of the mid-field pack two drivers are coming out with great credit, Fittipaldi in his Lotus 72 and Schenken with his Brabham BT33, these two shaking themselves free of their opening lap bunches in great style. The next happening is on lap 28 when Rodriguez has his B.R.M. V12 engine die under him, due to the Marelli coil packing up, and it begins to look as though the ten little n****r boys act is going to take over the race. After his accident Hill has stopped at the pits to have the left-front wheel changed and though the handling feels a bit peculiar, probably due to something being bent, he charges on with great enthusiasm. (See what I mean about psychology overcoming science?) On lap 35 an oil pipe falls off the Brabham’s engine and sprays oil all over the rear tyres and the road, so that as he goes into the chicane Hill finds himself spinning off the road and out of the race. Fittipaldi and Schenken have worked their way forwards in a fine manner, the Lotus driver being up in fourth place behind Siffert, and the Brabham driver being in sixth place behind Amon’s Matra. Behind this quartet is another quartet consisting of Wisell (Lotus 72), Beltoise (Matra), Surtees (Surtees) and Pescarolo (March 711), and the Hill oil laying affects both these groups. Schenken gets all out of control at the chicane, and goes straight on in amongst the catch nets and has to do a complicated wiggle-woggle to get out of them, which drops him back behind Amon. Then WiseII spins off into the dust at the exit of the chicane and this drops him to the back of his foursome.
Both these drivers make remarkable recoveries, Schenken not only regaining his lost place, but catching Siffert’s B.R.M. as well and taking fourth place on lap 49, just as Cevert has an exhaust pipe break at the right side manifold. The starry-eyed young Frenchman has inherited second place when Rodriguez retires and has been driving hard ever since to keep it and support the flying Stewart who is out in the lead. Although the broken pipe makes a nasty noise it does not lose the engine too much power and the very apprehensive Cevert presses on praying hard nothing awful would happen to spoil his glorious second place in his own Grand Prix. Just when Schenken has got his Brabham into fourth place all the oil pressure disappears from his Cosworth engine and he comes to a grinding halt by the finishing line, unable by law to push the car to the chequered flag; a bitter disappointment after such a fine race. Pescarolo has spun out of his racing foursome, and tenth place, when the Hewland gearbox in his March 711 goes wrong and though he does another lap that is it. In the closing laps there is just a possibility that Fittipaldi might get his Lotus into second place, but it would mean Cevert’s Tyrrell losing a lot more power, which it does not do, so that a delighted Frenchman pleases the locals with his second place. Stewart has done another of his perfect demonstrations, leading from start to finish with the record lap thrown in for good measure, and Tyrrell and ELF and all the other backers are delighted with the victorious double. In a shady corner of the pits the boss-man from Ford (England) is wishing they have come out in the open last August and insist on the blue cars being called Ford V8, instead of Tyrrell, for it is their money that buys the brains and driving skill that still can keep the 12-cylinder opposition at bay, on occasions. Fittipaldi’s drive into third place brings joy to Team Lotus, and Matra are depressed, for though both cars finished they have never been really competitive, lacking a combination of power, speed and handling. The Ferrari team packs up their material wondering what they are going to do about Stewart, apart from buying him.