Another motor racing tragedy occurs on Sunday, 11 July 1971,. 31-year-old Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez dies in Nuremberg, Germany, in a race without engine limitations. The accident happened at 3:13 p.m., during the first heat of the competition. Rodriguez was in the lead in the Ferrari 512 M. Suddenly, on lap 12, as the Mexican was taking a U-turn, the right front tyre came off its rim. The photographers and firemen gathered at the edge of the track tell the following story:
"The car went sideways, crashed into the protective wall, and bounced onto the road, turning upside down and catching fire".
German driver Kurt Hild crashed his car into the burning wreckage but came out unscathed. The race was brought to a halt as a swarm of firemen rushed to rescue Rodriguez, who was barely extracted from the metal sheets’ grip. The rider, whose full-face helmet had spared him facial injuries, was unconscious; he was taken to an ambulance and then to Nuremberg hospital. The doctors did everything they could to save the Mexican. His heart stopped once and the doctors were able to revive him. Then the inevitable happened. Rodriguez's death is particularly distressing because the Mexican driver did not want to take part in the competition. The organisers had to insist several times before they managed to convince him. In fact, Pedro had made an agreement with the event organisers which allowed him to take to the track in a B.R.M. P167 8100 cc, typically used in the Can-Am category. Unfortunately, while the car was being prepared, the engine broke down while it was on the test bench, so the two-seater would not be ready in time for the scheduled appointment. As a result of the incident, Gernot Leistner (the Norisring race director) had asked his friend Herbert Muller to lend Rodriguez one of his Ferrari 512 Ms. The Mexican driver immediately accepted the proposal, as he was on excellent terms with the Swiss driver: the two had shared the cockpit of a Porsche 908/3 a few months earlier at the Targa Florio. On Friday morning, before practice, Rodriguez arrived on time in the pits and immediately made himself known with a much-appreciated gesture: he offered his mechanics a crate of cold drinks. Once he got into the car - one that, among other things, he did not know - he immediately went very fast and qualified second on the grid, behind a McLaren Can-Am powered by a mighty 7500 cc engine. At the start, the Mexican immediately took the lead and made a lonely breakaway. Pedro unfortunately followed the same fate as his brother Ricardo, who died on 2 November 1962 during practice for the Mexican Grand Prix.
Pedro and Ricardo, two years younger, had earned the reputation of motor racing prodigies. Their father had been a mechanic before becoming one of Mexico's most important landowners, and Pedro and Ricardo had gotten their passion for motor sports from him. It was by special dispensation from the President of the Republic that the two boys were able to participate in their first official race in 1957 (when they were 17 and 15). Within a short time, they were among the most famous drivers in Latin America and racked up success after success. Then they took on foreign competitions. In 1961 they were the driving force behind the Nürburgring 1000 km and finished second. They were third in the 12 Hours of Sebring and triumphed in the Paris 1000 km. In the same year, they participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the following year, in 1963. They won the Paris 1000 km in 1962 too. On 2 November of the same year, Ricardo Rodriguez died. Pedro was deeply affected and decided to give up racing. But he was back on the track a year later, despite his father's prohibition. His was a splendid career, both in Formula 1 and in the sports car competitions. In this category he had several teammates: Graham Hill in 1963; Phil Hill in 1964; Lucien Bianchi in 1968, whom he won at Le Mans with. Meanwhile, he made a name for himself in Formula 1, and was triumphant in the 1967 South African Grand Prix and the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix. In this season, Pedro Rodriguez had proved to be in great shape. With Jack Oliver he had won the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 1000 km of Monza and the 1000 km of Francorchamps. In Formula One he had been fourth at the Spanish Grand Prix, ninth at the Monaco Grand Prix, and second at the Dutch Grand Prix. A fortnight earlier he had won another sports car competition, the 1000 km Zeltweg with Richard Atwood; that was his last success.
Pedro Rodriguez was a good - very good - driver, a kind man who found time to talk to you and say interesting things to you even when the mechanics were frantically working on the car or when the bitterness from a forced retirement would have made the calmest of these men, who risk their lives at 300 km/h, nervous. He died in an unimportant race, though he raced in Formula 1 with his B.R.M. or racing against Siffert, despite being team-mates, at the wheel of the Porsche 917 K. This destiny echoes that of another great champion, Jim Clark, who also crashed in Germany, but at Hockenheim, in a Formula 2 race. It was a great time for Pedro: this year he had won what he wanted, showing admirable temperament and grit combined with exceptional skill. In Austria, a fortnight earlier, he had driven for five hours, leaving the 917 K to his team-mate, Attwood, for only ten minutes. In Formula 1, the Mexican was working miracles with B.R.M. A standout moment was his duel with Ickx and the Ferrari at Zandvoort, though he was beaten by the supremacy of the Maranello single-seater rather than the talented Belgian. He had Ferrari in his heart. He had reluctantly left after an unlucky season in 1969. Some had said that, perhaps, Rodriguez was not that strong. And, instead, back then it was the Italian single-seaters that weren’t very capable, and not him. Last week, at the Paul Ricard circuit, the Mexican had confided:
"I dream about that 312 B2. I wonder if in Maranello they've realised that I'm not an unskilled driver".
They had realised it, but it's too late now. And the thread of his life snapped when he was driving a Ferrari, though a private one. Pedro joins Ricardo; the destiny of two young Mexican brothers who had started racing together has been fulfilled. He did not like to talk about Ricardo. He would only say:
"As far as racing goes, there’s nothing I can do. After my brother's death, I tried to stay away, but I couldn't. It's something you have in your blood".
He will be remembered with a Sherlock Holmes-style cap on his head, his hands in the pockets of those colourful jackets worn by those in the business, looking shy, his speech a mixture of Spanish, Italian and English. A quiet fellow, he carried pepper and tobacco, red pimentos that he needed to light the dull European dishes. Experts from the Bavarian State Motor Vehicle Inspection Office start examining the wreckage of Pedro Rodriguez's Ferrari right after the accident, looking for anything that might clarify the causes of the accident. One of the first hypotheses is that of structural failure, as Muller’s Ferrari is said to be in very poor condition. The car was bought at an auction that was selling a batch of cars from the filming of Steve McQueen's Le Mans, but Muller himself explains that the 512 was serviced directly in Maranello before being put on the track at the Norisring. Witnesses tell the organisers that the tyre on the Ferrari's right front wheel had begun to slip off the rim during the tenth lap, when Rodriguez braked sharply before entering a tight bend. Meanwhile, preparations are being made for the driver's funeral. Pedro Rodriguez will have an imposing funeral in his homeland. Luis Echevarria, President of the Mexican Republic, declares:
"Mexico has lost a brave young man, whose efforts to hold a place in the world of auto racing are an example of tenacity. Mexicans are deeply saddened by his passing".
The Government of Mexico City will take care of transporting the body - which has not undergone an autopsy - from Germany and will cover the travel expenses of the family members accompanying him, as well as paying for the funeral arrangements. The authorities will welcome the body in a manner that befits what the unfortunate pilot did.
"Rodriguez held his country’s prestige high and deserves this final recognition".
On the other hand, shortly after the first investigations the Nuremberg public prosecutor in charge of the investigation says that it is not yet possible to attribute the cause of the accident to a car defect. The State Prosecutor, Dr Werner Brockelt, says that the first testimonies, according to which a wheel came off or a tyre burst, are not entirely reliable. After all, there are many and conflicting testimonies; Brockelt himself thinks it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to discover the real cause of the accident. On the other hand, the commission of enquiry has ascertained that no blame can be attributed to the circuit's safety systems. Every mechanism was promptly triggered. The medical report mentions a fractured skull base, fractured pelvis, multiple leg fractures and burns. Two of the people who worked on extracting Rodriguez from the wreckage of the 512 M are hospitalised. They paid for their generosity with second- and third-degree burns. A third rescuer will be discharged on Monday morning. The heartfelt voices of those who had the opportunity to get to know Pedro Rodriguez, to admire his kindness and gentlemanliness come from all over the world. Jo Siffert, the Swiss B.R.M. and Porsche driver, who had so often engaged in bitter duels during races with the Mexican, says:
"He was one of the fastest drivers today. He was probably the fastest of all on circuits that required skill and courage because he was not afraid of anything. When the Porsche engineers presented him with the 917 model and told him it would do 400 km/h in a straight line, all he said was: I will make good use of it. He was a true professional and all he wanted was to race, no matter the danger. Unlike Jackie Stewart, who fights for maximum safety conditions, Pedro did not care about such things. For him, the idea of racing coincided with the concept of risk".
In London, Louis Stanley, head of B.R.M., states:
"I have never met a braver man than Rodriguez in twenty-one years in the motor business. His courage and skill find few comparisons, and to all this we must add that he was a great personality, out of his time".
Another peculiar motif concerns the fact that Pedro Rodriguez confided to those close to him in Germany that he no longer felt safe. In the weeks preceding the Nuremberg race he had lost his brother Ricardo's precious ring, which he had inherited on the day of the latter's death and that had become a lucky charm. After losing it, Pedro had an identical copy made, but as he himself repeated:
"It is not the same".
From the day the brothers were tragically separated, a ring was always in plain sight on Pedro's left pinky. It was a very precious object, both for its monetary value and its symbolic meaning. That ring belonged to Ricardo; Pedro wore it with the firm belief that it would protect him. Many were perplexed, but Pedro reinforced his convictions with his achievements. Until the day when, on an intercontinental flight, a trivial distraction shattered his certainty. Pedro forgot his ring on the sink after washing his hands in one of the plane's toilets. Realising his negligence, he went back to look for it but was unable to find it. He had lost the memory of his brother forever and began to agonise over what had happened, even going so far as to spend a considerable amount of money to have a copy of the object made. He showed up at the French Grand Prix with the new ring and, opening up to the journalists, candidly said:
"However, it is not the same ring, it will never be the same. It is not the memory of my brother Ricardo. And I don't know now if it will bring me the same buena suerte".
The rest is history: the following Sunday Pedro agreed to attend the Nuremberg race as a repeat guest. To do so, he apparently declined an invitation to spend a relaxing weekend at his team manager John Wyer’s home, who was disappointed by the refusal. While the investigation into the unfortunate Mexican driver's accident continues, on Monday 12 July 1971 Clay Regazzoni tests the two Ferrari 312 B2s at the Modena circuit; the 312 Bs will be fielded on Saturday 17 July 1971 at Silverstone, in the British Grand Prix, the sixth round of the Formula One World Championship. The cars - one of which will be Ickx’s - will be shipped on Tuesday 13 July 1971 along with a third, which will serve as a training car. Andretti will be absent as he is busy in the United States, but it is expected that the Italian-American driver will be able to compete with Ferrari in the German Grand Prix on 1 August 1971. The British Grand Prix concludes the Formula One World Championship’s first part of racing. It ends with Stewart leading the standings with 33 points, against Ickx's 19. Even if the Scotsman were to lose the challenge on home turf, without even gaining a point, and the Belgian asserted himself, Jackie Stewart would remain in the lead at this round. The controversy over the oversized engines and super petrol, which flared up after the French Grand Prix, do not cross the Channel. The British prefer not to pick up the subject.
"Stewart's successes are indisputable. It's a matter of driver, of car, of tyres. There is no mysterious or irregular element".
Ickx, who had set himself up as one of Stewart and Tyrrell's accusers, was keen to explain - on Thursday 15 July 1971, the Grand Prix’s eve - that his words had been misrepresented.
"I did not accuse anyone. I only argued that carrying out checks in Formula 1 would be appropriate. And I spoke about engines, not petrol. The rest is madness".
Ickx's outburst is justified. This is a delicate environment, certain controversies should not involve the drivers. It is certainly not appropriate for hidden grudges and ill-feeling to flare up between men racing at 300 km/h with 200 litres of fuel (legal fuel, for goodness’ sake) in their tanks. The British Grand Prix at sunny Silverstone, for during practice on Thursday and Friday it really is hot and perfect weather for the garden-party atmosphere you get at Silverstone. The party is somewhat marred, especially in the B.R.M. camp, by the absence of Pedro Rodriguez, that tough little Mexican, who has been killed in a small race in Germany only the week before, and to many people the cold fact still seems unreal. The death of a driver does not stop Grand Prix racing, so everyone else turned up for practice, which is held in four separate sessions, two on Thursday and two on Friday, each session lasting an all-too-short 60 minutes. Recently sonic races have overdone practice, with as much as seven hours, three of them continuous, for a two-hour sprint race, but the RAC (or BRDC, Daily Express, or Woolmark, or whoever is in charge) rather underdid it this year for 60-minute sessions are barely long enough to make any alterations and certainly not long enough if any troubles crop up. There are one or two changes in the normal combinations of cars and drivers, Team Lotus putting Wisell in the turbine car, which allows Charlton to take over the Swede’s Lotus 72, while Fittipaldi remains with his usual Lotus 72. Following the fashion, the Cosworth engines in the Lotus cars have been fitted with air-collector boxes fed by a large snorkel above the driver’s head, which confuses the original theory behind the earlier Lotus air-boxes and make me wonder if anyone knows what they are doing. It is surprising how many people still refuse to believe that Stewart drives faster than anyone else, and hope that his speed is to do with some Tyrrell or Cosworth mystique. For this race both the 1971 Tyrrell cars are using the Chevron/Porsche-like nose cowlings, while the original car is unchanged and only kept as a spare, not being used at all in practice, though it does do a few laps after practice is all finished, with a cine-camera mounted on the side, and Stewart drives it quite swiftly. The Ferrari team enters three cars, one for the mythical Andretti, who fails once more to appear, so his 312B/2 car is a spare for Ickx and Regazzoni, but they have no need to use it.
Following the fashions Ferrari has schemed up very neat air-boxes over the intakes of the flat 12 engines, fed from scoops blended into the sides of the cockpit. They also have new nose cowlings available, with spats in front of the front wheels like B.R.M. introduced at the Dutch GP. After experimenting in practice they retain the new noses for the race but abandon the air-collector boxes. The Brabham and McLaren teams are unchanged from previous races, except that McLaren adds Oliver to their team, driving the 1970 car, M14A/2. They try a Tyrrell-like nose cowling on Hulme’s car during practice, but only briefly, and do not use it in the race. Quite naturally the B.R.M. team leaves their number one car behind, and has Siffert in P160/02 and Ganley in P153/06, with the P160/03 as a spare, and in two practice sessions Siffert has occasion to use it when his own car brakes down. On the first occasion the fuel pump packs up and on the second occasion the flywheel ignition pick-up cracks. It is not until the last session that Siffert’s car is made to go properly and the Swiss then storms off and gets himself on the front row of the grid, more by exasperation than skill. A Cosworth-like air-box is also tried on Siffert’s car during practice, but not used in the race. In the March team there are numerous changes in both cars and drivers, for Soler-Roig’s contract is replaced by one with Galli, so that the little Italian takes over the Cosworth-powered 711/4, while de Adamich retains 711/1 with the works Alfa Romeo engine. The chassis and running gear of 711/2, which Peterson has been racing, is sold to the Clarke-Mordaunt group, who fits the necessary parts from their 701 March to it, for Beuttler to drive. Meanwhile, the March 711/6, which is built up as a second Alfa Romeo-powered car, is converted to a Cosworth-powered one and Peterson takes this over as the number one works car. The Surtees team has four cars at the circuit, 001 for the owner, 002 for Stommelen, 004 as a spare and the T-car TS7/001 for Bell, but during practice Surtees does a shuffle and lets Bell drive the latest TS9 and also use it in the race.
To make sure it is all right Surtees uses it himself for the first Friday practice session. The Matra team has transporter problems so can only bring two of their V12 cars, Amon having 06 and Beltoise 05, and throughout practice they are never really happy, being unable to match the lap times they have done earlier in the year. The lone private entry is that of the Williams March 711/3 for Pescarolo, whose practice is marred by a broken rear upright causing the Frenchman to crash mildly and bend the rear end, but the Williams mechanics get it all sorted out in time for the race. On this first day of practice at Silverstone, Stewart is once again the fastest in both the morning and afternoon practice sessions. Jackie set the fastest lap in 1'19"0 at an average speed of 214.66 km/h. Needless to say, the circuit record - belonging to Chris Amon in the Matra (1'20"0) - was beaten. Cosworth is said to have prepared a 480-horsepower engine for Stewart. That would be a true record for an eight-cylinder engine. Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian in the Lotus, follows Stewart with a time of 1'19"2, while Regazzoni in the Ferrari sets the third fastest time, a 1'20"2. There is a small group of drivers concentrated within a few tenths of a second: Hill in a Brabham (1'20"3); Schenken, also in a Brabham (1'20"3); Ickx in a Ferrari, Gethin in a McLaren and Cevert in a Tyrrell (1'20"6). Ferrari is hard at work, fine-tuning the cars brought to Silverstone. These are three 312 B2s (the same ones used in France, but with completely overhauled engines), one of which is a T-Car. Given the very fast characteristics of the circuit (two years ago Stewart won with an average speed of 204 km/h), the Maranello engineers devised new aerodynamic solutions. They’re new for the Italian car, as the engineers drew on the experiences of B.R.M., Matra and Tyrrell. The rear wing has been lengthened and redesigned, two dynamic intakes convey air to the engine more rationally, the nose has been redone. Two striking fairings have been mounted on the side spoilers to partially cover the wheels. They should improve the penetration of the single-seater, and thus increase its speed. Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari's technical director, says the following:
"We still don't know what real advantages may arise from these solutions. Regazzoni, who tested the new nose for a long time, claims that the gain is about fifty revolutions per minute. We'll see more tomorrow".
The various problems relate, once again, to the tyres. Perhaps this a boring topic, but one of great importance, given that today's single-seaters are on a level playing field and that success depends on one of the many components of these refined and delicate mechanical jewels. Firestone has prepared a new type of compound for Ferrari, suitable for ambient temperatures of 20-25°C. However, there are still vibration issues that affect the entire structure of the 312 B2, forcing the drivers to limit the use of the 480 horsepower of the 12-cylinder boxer. These vibrations are most noticeable during acceleration and when using fifth gear, which is used almost continuously at Silverstone. Jacky Ickx admits:
"I could be, at the very least, a second faster if it wasn't for this issue".
Nevertheless, the Belgian is convinced that he is validly in contention for the title.
"Last year in England I had just four points. With this Grand Prix there are seven races to go before the end of the World Championship. And let's not forget that Stewart was forced to retire five times in 1970. It seems to me, therefore, that the fight can be considered open. Those who say I have no drive are wrong. I want to win the world title, I do. I think I still have a chance to beat Stewart, and I will try to take it. There are still many races and many points to collect. If I don't succeed, well, I will try next year".
Lastly, a word about the two Italians entered in the English competition: Nanni Galli and Andrea de Adamich. The former drives the March-Ford and the latter the March-Alfa Romeo. The Tuscan did better than the man from Milan (1'21"54 versus 1'24"6), but they are fourteenth and twenty-third (last) respectively. The two drivers' single-seaters complained of various minor troubles. The turbine-powered Lotus, driven by Swede Reine Wisell, also reappeared. The aerodynamic, silent machine, which so closely resembles a jet taxiing on an airport runway, did not perform particularly well. The Lotus’s resurrection was also noticeable, considering it had not achieved much so far. Fittipaldi lapped in 1'19"2, just 0.2 seconds more than Stewart. The Brazilian had already run a beautiful race in France, taking third place, and his protests begin to have an effect. These, incidentally, were directed at his manager, Chapman, and pushed for a more efficiently tuned car. Throughout the four short-sharp practice periods the pace is set by Stewart, with Regazzoni hot on his heels, and Fittipaldi being in there with them rather unobtrusively, until Siffert gets in there at the last moment. Ickx just never gets fully wound up at all, in spite of the Ferrari team doing all they can to help. Fittipaldi’s progress is stopped, as is Charlton’s, when the top engine mountings begin to break up, caused by the high-speed cornering tyre vibrations, similar to those that have been plaguing Ferrari recently. Charhon’s Lotus brakes both sides and Fittipaldi’s only the left side, so the Brazilian’s car is repaired and strengthened during Friday and he manages to get out just as practice is finishing, and does an instant 1'19"6, a time that a lot of people have spent four hours trying to achieve. He has already put himself in the ace class with 1'18"3, just behind Siffert (B.R.M.) 1'18"2 and Stewart (Tyrrell) and Regazzoni (Ferrari), who has done 1'18"1. The British Grand Prix announces itself on substantially level playing field and, consequently, of great uncertainty. Four single-seaters and four drivers are concentrated in just 0.3 seconds: Regazzoni with the Ferrari and Stewart with the Tyrrell-Ford, who are credited with the same time (1'18"1, at an average of 217.130 km/h), Siffert with the B.R.M. (1'18"2), and Fittipaldi with the Lotus-Ford (1'18"3). Regazzoni, Stewart and Siffert will start on the front row, followed by Fittipaldi and Peterson, whose March-Ford appears to be progressing. Ickx, driving the second Ferrari, will be on the third row, together with Schenken (Brabham-Ford) and Hulme (McLaren-Ford). The happiest result of this second and final day of practice on the high-speed Silverstone circuit comes from Regazzoni. who places himself on the same level as Stewart. The Swiss driver set his sensational time in the morning practice, and the Scot matched him in the afternoon practice. It is the first time this year that Regazzoni occupies pole position on the grid, a sign of prestige for the man and the car.
"Today my 312 B2 was much improved. The tuning work was giving the right results. We had fitted more shock absorbers, tyres with stiffer sidewalls and carried out all the usual operations. The vibrations have decreased, partly due to the weather condition which are more favourable for our tyres".
This morning the sky was overcast and the temperature cool, almost ideal for the new tyres brought to Silverstone by Firestone.
"Hopefully this will be the case on Saturday as well. Our tyres have improved since the French Grand Prix, but the degradation continues. You go very well for two or three laps, then there is the usual progressive decline. However, I think we will do better than in France".
So, in the changing interplay of the thousands of factors that can condition Formula 1 racing, Ferrari is proving to be at the top of the game. It is a pity that Ickx was unable to flank Regazzoni more closely, but the Belgian had reduced training time, to the point that he was only able to complete about twenty laps. In the morning, the mechanics completed their work some twenty minutes after practice had begun, in the afternoon a blow-by from the 312 B2's engine forced the Italian technicians to make Jacky return to the box. In light of these facts, Ickx's time, the sixth, must be considered more than good. Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari's technical director, naturally arranged for the Belgian's car's engine to be changed.
"We have been working hard these days. The problems caused by the tyre vibrations are not easy to solve. This morning, compared to yesterday, we started from scratch. The vibrations prevented the drivers from having the necessary feeling needed to understand whether our fine-tuning was having a positive effect or not. The cool temperature helped us. Tomorrow Ickx will also start with the new aerodynamic nose. The gain is just about fifty revolutions per minute, which translates into an increase in speed of about a kilometre and a half".
It may seem trifle for cars reaching 300 km/h, but races can be won or lost for much less. Jacky Ickx is very keen to assert himself, perhaps under inferior tyre conditions. In Holland, Stewart could not fight, in France it was Ickx's turn; now the Belgian hopes the duel can be complete.
"And if the engine has decided to throw a tantrum today, all the better. It will mean that on Saturday it won't abandon me after three laps".
If the confrontation between Stewart and the Ferrari duo remains the yardstick for any prediction, at Silverstone the other drivers and other teams seem to present themselves in a better way than in the past, in particular Siffert and Fittipaldi. The Swiss driver set his time of 1'18"2 almost at the end of practice, after having fuel problems. It should not be forgotten that the B.R.M. has performed well in the last few races, especially thanks to poor Rodriguez. The Mexican will be remembered on Saturday, with Siffert driving one lap of honour in the Pedro's car. The Lotus is a single-seater created on this circuit, which is a short distance from the factory.
"The road-holding in fast corners is excellent".
Says Fittipaldi, who, in turn, is improving from race to race. It should be noted that the Lotus is fitted with 17-inch rims (those that Ferrari had to discard after the Dutch Grand Prix for safety reasons), which provide more grip, and that Cosworth has given Fittipaldi one of its best engines, one of those that had only been delivered to Stewart so far. It is said that in the evening the engines of the first six finishers will probably be examined by the technical commissioners; we shall see.
This is a wide-ranging battle, then, and it is interesting to note that seven of the nine Formula One makes (Ferrari, Tyrrell, B.R.M., March, Lotus, Brabham and McLaren) are gathered in the first three rows of the starting grid. Further back are Surtees and Matra-Simca, beset by various problems (engine, gearbox and brakes). De Adamich's March-Alfa is also experiencing problems due to a broken gearbox. The driver from Milan was unable to take to the track in the afternoon and his time was the last of the lot of the twenty-four competitors (1'23"2). The other Italian in the race, Nanni Galli, set the twenty-first time (1'20"9), in his March-Ford.
"On the other hand, I am here to gain experience, not to win. I am already happy to be able to race".
Henry Pescarolo ran off track in a harmless but spectacular way this morning. The Frenchman ended up in a wheat field, remaining unhurt. His March was damaged, but it will be repaired in time for the Grand Prix. Meanwhile, an interesting explanation of the accident in which Pedro Rodriguez lost his life bounces back from Germany to Silverstone. It was said that the cause was the loss of a wheel or a burst tyre. Instead, four films taken by four operators at the S of the Nuremberg circuit were examined and showed that the Mexican went off the track due to a collision with the slower Porsche of German driver Kurt Hild. Rodriguez had pulled alongside Hild in an attempt to overtake him. The latter, instead of facilitating the Mexican, moved to the left to better set the line for the next series of corners. Rodriguez ended up with both left wheels on the grass and tried to brake. The two right wheels, which were on the asphalt, responded, while the others skidded. This resulted in Pedro's Ferrari going sideways, spinning to the right, hitting a safety barrier and bouncing back on the other side in flames. This is the dynamic of the accident from the films. The Ferrari 512 M owned by Muller's team is not at fault. The investigation commission will now have to take action against Hild, a 41-year-old industrialist from Monaco, who is almost unknown as a driver, and ascertain whether the flaggers had indicated to him that the Mexican was overtaking. At Silverstone, everyone is wondering when extremely fast and slow cars will be denied admission to racing without examining the ability of certain drivers. In the meantime, Pedro Rodriguez's father demands the arrest and definitive suspension of German racer Kurt Hild, as the man is allegedly responsible for his son's death. In the meantime, the Mexican driver’s body arrives by plane at the Mexico City airport during the night of Thursday, 16 July 1971; a thousand people are present, including the mayor of the capital representing President Luis Echeverria and the driver's family.
Immediately afterwards, a long procession of cars formed, heading for the centre of the capital where the body will be watched over throughout the night in a church; Pedro will then be buried in the Aztec capital's Spanish Pantheon. The people who pay to go to Silverstone, and it is said that there are 100.000 of them, certainly get their money’s worth of speed, spectacle and sport. After an untimed practice session before the festivities begin, the Grand Prix cars are assembled ready for a 2:30 p.m. start, and the less says about the start the better. It would have done justice to any French motor race and resulted in Regazzoni jumping the flag and then stopping, and at the back of the grid Oliver rams the nose of his McLaren into the back of Hill’s Brabham, eliminating both cars and getting himself a naughty-boy fine of £50. On the warm-up lap Charlton’s Lotus blows smoke out of its Cosworth engine and a piston brakes up almost before he leaves the grid, while Wisell with the turbine car is last to arrive on the grid. The Woolmark race sponsors issue all the mechanics with blue Woolmark shirts, but it is noticeable that many teams refuse to wear them, conscious of their loyalties to their own sponsors, like STP, Gulf and so on, the March and McLaren boys having the Woolmark shirts stuffed under their belts. The 22 cars that roar away on the opening lap are led by the Ferraris of Regazzoni and Ickx, the Belgian having nipped in behind his team-mate from the third row, and they have Stewart’s Tyrrell hard on their heels. It takes Stewart one lap to dispose of Ickx and two laps to dispose of Regazzoni and that is it, the race as such is all over and we settled down to watch and admire the way Stewart and the blue Tyrrell make everyone else look like beginners. There is not even a moment of excitement with the Ferraris hanging grimly to the slipstream of the Tyrrell, for once past Stewart just disappears into the distance and cruises effortlessly onwards for the remainder of the 68 laps, making the Woolmark-sponsored British Grand Prix a one-man, one-car demonstration, and Ken Tyrrell’s team are on such a winning streak at the moment that their confidence is such that they do not make mistakes in preparation and maintenance.
Siffert gets his B.R.M. past the two Ferraris by lap 5 and the only real interest is to watch Peterson and Fittipaldi move up and actually catch and pass other cars, while no one can miss noticing that Schenken is driving the way he has gone at the French Grand Prix, holding a good sixth place ahead of Hulme. The first 10 laps see everything sorted out nice and tidily, with Stewart well ahead of Siffert, both lapping at around 1'20"0, followed by Regazzoni and Ickx, the two Ferraris being harried by Peterson, Schenken, Fittipaldi and Hulme. After a sizeable gap comes Ganley’s B.R.M. well ahead of the rest of the runners, in the order Gethin, Cevert, Stommelen, Amon, Pescarolo, Beltoise, Surtees, Galli, Beuttler, Bell, Wisell and de Adamich. On lap 20 when Cevert stops at the pits with hot water spraying on him from a broken pipe; it is bodged up and he rejoins the race at the back of the field. Then Beuttler goes missing with low oil pressure in his Cosworth engine, Bell drops out with a radius rod mounting broken on the new Surtees, and Hulme coasts to a stop at Beckett’s with a pool of oil around his McLaren, by which time the leader has covered 32 laps and there is a bit of a procession going on. However, there has been a little drama going on just behind Stewart, for the B.R.M. in second place has vibrated its coil loose and it is shorting the electrical system occasionally, so that Regazzoni is able to retake second place from Siffert, but until something happens to Stewart or the Tyrrell no one is going to get a sniff at the leading position for by now Stewart is cruising round at his leisure. At half-distance the engine in Amon’s Matra begins to fail, which drops him from a pretty miserable tenth place, and Gethin is unhappy with the feel of his McLaren, which two pit stops finally show to be due to a deflating tyre. Ickx goes missing on lap 38 and arrives late at the pits with a flat rear tyre, which drops him from fourth place to the back of the field where Wisell is circulating slowly and quietly with the turbine car and de Adamich is also circulating, having had to stop for repairs to the Alfa Romeo throttle linkage. Meanwhile, the popping and banging of Siffert’s B.R.M. is getting worse and it is only a matter of time before he is forced to stop, which happens on lap 43, when the coil is lashed up, and, after some trouble restarting the engine, a slave battery having to be used, Siffert rejoins the race down at the back. Hardly has the race recovered from losing its third-place car than the second-place one is heading for the pits and Regazzoni retires with a broken engine.
This leaves Peterson now in second place, followed by Schenken, Fittipaldi and Ganley, and just as the last named is lapped by the leader of the race his B.R.M. gets a flat tyre at the rear and the stop to change it puts him back behind the non-stop tail-enders who have been reduced to Pescarolo (March 711) and the two Surtees cars of Stommelen and Surtees. Next to go is Ickx with a Ferrari engine that is fast dying and he is followed by Gethin, whose Cosworth engine is dying, and it begins to look like a good thing that the race is only 68 laps long, for there are not too many healthy cars left running. As Stewart goes round and round it is interesting that there are three comparative new boys following him, all of them progressing steadily in the art of driving a Formula One car as distinct from racing a Formula Three or Formula Two car, these three being the only ones on the same lap as the leader. Just when Schenken seems all set for an honourable third place his Brabham brakes its transmission and he coasts to a stop out on the circuit on lap 64. Meanwhile, Wisell is creeping to the finish with the turbine losing power and only pulling about 60% and Galli has his fingers crossed as his Cosworth engine has been blowing out oil smoke for the whole race and his oil pressure is down to an uncomfortable 40 lb./sq. in. Stewart sweeps home the winner of the British Grand, having demolished all the opposition and the rest straggles home in various states of health. The British Grand Prix brings the first part of the Formula One World Championship to an end. The situation is developing in favour of Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell-Ford. The Scotsman has won four (Spain, Monaco, France and Great Britain) out of six races and finished second in one (South Africa), failing to score title points only in Holland. Ferrari was victorious twice (South Africa and Holland), with Andretti and Ickx, while Regazzoni had two good finishes. Now, Stewart has 42 points in the standings against Ickx's 19, who came second in Spain and third in Monaco. The Belgian's position has become precarious mainly due to the negative results of the last two races, which ended in retirements. Regazzoni suffered the same fate while Andretti, busy in the United States, will return in Germany on 1 August 1971, but will still miss the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Poor tyre performance is at the root of the 312 B2's disappointing performance in France and Great Britain.
After Dunlop's withdrawal, the tyre war is limited to Goodyear and Firestone, who are involved in Formula One solely for publicity, as there is certainly no hope of obtaining useful references for mass production from these tyres. Goodyear supplies Tyrrell, Matra-Simca, Brabham, McLaren and the Williams team (Pescarolo's March); Firestone is linked to Ferrari, B.R.M., Lotus, March and Surtees. It is a well-known fact that Goodyear compounds are clearly superior to Firestone in the dry, while the latter comes out on top in the wet, as Holland. What happens in the former case? The Firestones offer maximum performance in the first kilometres of use (meaning in the first three or four laps), with significant drops in performance in the later ones, after high temperatures have been reached. At Silverstone, the tread came off and the centrifugal force then caused parts of it to come off. The Goodyears improve after a few kilometres, usually after 6-7 laps. It is clear who is at an advantage, since Grand Prix races are not 3 or 4 laps long, but 50-60 (300-350 km) on average. The tyres are the car’s shoes and are intimately linked to the suspension. If there is no harmony between the former and the latter, problems of considerable severity arise, as Clay Regazzoni says.
"After three laps, more and more vibrations appear, so much so that driving becomes very difficult. The steering wheel, the pedals, the seat shake; everything shakes. It's as if you were travelling at 100 km/h in a normal car on a bumpy road. It becomes inevitable to slow down, at the very least you can't exploit the car's natural gifts. The 312 B2 is second to no single-seater, not even Stewart's Tyrrell, to which it is superior in many respects, for example in braking".
The Maranello engineers have certainly not been idle. They have made a few modifications to reduce the phenomena (small additional rear shock absorbers, a mass corrector), but unfortunately the defect lies at the base, precisely in the tyres, although it should be noted that it is less in other cars with similar tyres, perhaps due to a different structural layout and the lower performance allowed by the engine. Furthermore, in recent races Ferrari has had to record the failure of some engines, both in races (France and Great Britain) and in practice (Great Britain). It is clear that the fabulous 12-cylinder, capable of delivering 480 horsepower and with a range of use from 7000 to 12,500 rpm, is considered by engineers and drivers to be the lifeline of that mechanical jewel called the 312 B2. On the one hand, efforts are made to further increase its power, and on the other, in conditions of tyre inferiority, it is used to the full, sparing no effort. And you can see the consequences. No blame on the drivers, who bear no responsibility for what is happening. Ickx and Regazzoni are strongly committed. In this regard, the Swiss driver declares:
"I believe that tyres make up 75% of the success factor today. If the tyres are good, many deficiencies are remedied. Stewart has a good car, but not an exceptional one. He is also very good, without a doubt. But everything is easy for Jackie. You start and after a few laps he can go away calmly, while we struggle. Our engines are the most efficient, the car is excellent, and I say that sincerely. You know, it's a real shame to lose the races and the world title because of tyres".
What can be done? There are many ways to resolve the situation are many, and Ferrari certainly doesn’t need advice. However, there are believed to be three remedies, the first of which is a little difficult to implement: make it rain on all the next Grands Prix; study the most effective solutions with Firestone; choose another tyre brand. Leaving suggestion number one aside, it must be said that technical contacts between the two companies are intensifying: on Wednesday 21 July and Thursday 22 July 1971, Clay Regazzoni will carry out tyre tests on the circuit that will host the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday 15 August 1971. As for the third hypothesis, Ferrari has close relations with Michelin. Tests carried out at the Paul Ricard racetrack after the French Grand Prix showed that the tyres prepared by the French company for Formula 1 were inferior to the Firestones in acceleration and braking, but were clearly superior in terms of grip and, above all, did not cause vibrations. At this point, Ickx could only win the world title if Stewart had a performance crisis. However, Ferrari's resources and the skills of its technicians are well known.
Enzo Ferrari is not a magician but a very skilled man, will he be able to turn the current situation around?
"Don't make me say anything. It seems like we want to create alibis or make excuses with this tyre situation. Stewart won. Well done. That's all".
Exclaims Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari's technical director. In reality, the tyre issue is not a trivial excuse, but a serious problem. The tyres of both Ickx and Regazzoni's 312 B2s show clear signs of deterioration at the end of the race. Jacky Ickx adds:
"The car became almost undriveable. I tried hard not to lose contact with Stewart, Regazzoni and Siffert, but it was impossible. The car was oversteering terribly, I felt a slow but strong vibration".
And Clay Regazzoni concludes:
"For two or three laps everything went well, then the fun began. And if I tried to force the pace it was worse. You had to travel loosely".
Other competitors using the same type of tyres had the same problems Ferrari complained about. This includes Peterson, Fittipaldi and Siffert, who was forced to make a pit stop because the vibrations had caused the ignition system coil to detach.
"My B.R.M.’s road-holding had become non-existent".
The same statements were made by Fittipaldi, who also uses 17-inch wheels, which are less prone to the phenomenon. Peterson experienced fewer vibrations. March designer Robin Heard explains:
"Perhaps our suspensions are able to absorb them better".
Stewart won the British Grand Prix with his usual dominator's flair, preceding Peterson's March-Ford and Fittipaldi's Lotus-Ford. Cars with Cosworth 8-cylinder engines occupied the first six positions. Nanni Galli finished eleventh, while Andrea de Adamich was unclassified. There are still six rounds to go before the end of the championship and anything can happen, but the situation is now - as mentioned – in Stewart’s favour. He possesses superb class and has a single-seater that is competitive in all its components, from the engine to the chassis, aerodynamics and tyres. And, perhaps to quash any malicious rumours, at the end of the race the stewards took petrol samples from Jackie's Tyrrell (an operation also carried out on Peterson's March and Fittipaldi's Lotus) and arranged for the engine to be sent to the factory (at Cosworth), where checks on the displacement will be carried out by delegates from the British Manufacturers' Association. Ken Tyrrell states:
"At least no one will be able to say anything about our claims anymore".
Stewart's was a clear victory even at Silverstone, though slightly more challenged by his rivals Ickx and Regazzoni, Siffert in the B.R.M., Peterson and Fittipaldi, who were the fastest in practice. Pescarolo, with a Williams-Politoys March, achieved fourth place with a good race, and the Surtees behaved discretely: the manufacturer-driver was sixth, preceded by his team-mate Stommelen.
The McLarens and Matra-Simca cars did badly, while Brabham’s Graham Hill was taken out by Oliver at the start; the latter jumped on Hill's left rear wheel with his McLaren’s right front wheel, demolishing the Brabham’s suspension. Hill got out, approached Oliver, punched him in the helmet and drove off. After an official protest from Brabham, the stewards fined Oliver £50 for the incorrect manoeuvre. Galli, with a rather sluggish engine, performed well, finally managing to race and finish a Grand Prix. For Andrea de Adamich, on the other hand, the race was a mortifying display with continuous pit stops. The distributor control rod prevented petrol from flowing smoothly. In the end, Andrea was not even classified, which was a humiliation he did not deserve. Briefly returning to the accident which Pedro Rodriguez was a victim of, past the initial moment, gentleman driver Kurt Hild will be cleared of all charges following the viewing of amateur footage testifying to his lack of responsibility. On Thursday 22 July 1971 a new chapter, perhaps the final one, will open, in the affair linked to the tragic death of Ignazio Giunti, the driver killed in his Ferrari’s fire on 10 January 1971 in Buenos Aires. The FIA's International Appeals Tribunal is meeting in Paris and is called to judge the behaviour of French racer Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who caused the accident by pushing his Matra by hand in the middle of the track. This is a sporting trial with solely sporting consequences, but no one can ignore the human and moral implications it carries. The hearing was initiated by Beltoise himself and his car manufacturer, who appealed against the twelve-month disqualification imposed on the Frenchman by the Automobile Club of Argentina. The Appeals Tribunal must decide whether to ratify the measure or reduce or cancel the punishment (Beltoise has already served three months of disqualification imposed on him in France). According to rumours from Paris, the German judges are aligned with the position of the Italian ones, who are demanding a severe disciplinary lesson for the French driver. The final verdict is expected by Friday. In the Buenos Aires tragedy, many responsibilities could have emerged: the Matra pit mechanics did not properly calculate their car’s fuel intake; the marshals staggered around the circuit did not stop Beltoise, limiting themselves to displaying the yellow flag, a symbol of general danger; the organisers let Giunti burn for forty seconds before they could extinguish the flames with fire extinguishers. But the most prominent and most controversial culprit remains, it is clear, Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Instead of initiating the hand-pushing manoeuvre towards the pits across the track, he should have headed onto the grass. What he did was prohibited, as it was very dangerous. The International Sporting Code (Article 121, Paragraph N) states:
"It is forbidden to push or cause the car to be pushed in all cases, either to resume the race after a stop along the course or after stopping in the pits for any reason".
His action is not only forbidden, but also unnecessary. And Beltoise certainly knew it. In fact, the regulations of the various rounds of the World Championship state that pushing manoeuvres result in exclusion from the classification. How could Beltoise hope to get away with it? A careless act, perhaps, or a race driver's warped mentality; however these are no justifications. Without his foolish behaviour, Ignazio Giunti would not have died. Jean-Pierre Beltoise, however, is not resigned to his role as scapegoat. He wants to emerge from the tragedy with clean hands. Rather than blame, he speaks of fatality. He claims that he tried to push his car to the side, but the slope of the road at that point prevented him from completing the manoeuvre. However, he happily sidesteps the technical details of the accident and still speaks of fate and bad luck as soon as he can. He says he warned the marshals to signal the danger with the yellow flag:
"If everyone had seen it, nothing would have happened".
However, on Friday 23 July 1971 the French driver is suspended once again until Thursday 9 September 1971 by the FIA's International Court of Appeal. It took two days of closed-door discussions to reach the ruling. The FIA, abiding by the rules, left it to the French Federation to judge Jean-Pierre Beltoise's responsibility and the driver is asked on Wednesday, 10 February 1971 to return his licence having been suspended for a period of three months. For its part, the Argentine Automobile Club, meeting after the French Federation's decision, decided to suspend the driver for one year, judging the sanction adopted in Paris to be insufficient. The interested party appealed, supported by Matra, and since the appeal suspended the sentence, the driver was able to participate in the Grands Prix of Spain, Monaco, Holland, France and Great Britain.