The recurring news about the energy crisis and the measures adopted in many European countries to limit consumption have caused confusion and uncertainty in public opinion. The energy shortage has primarily affected the industrial structure and, in particular, some sectors more directly involved, with the automobile industry being at the forefront:
"Not only due to the scarcity and price of raw materials and the energy needed for its activities but because its product primarily uses petroleum derivatives".
As Giovanni Agnelli wrote to shareholders in the latest Fiat Newsletter. These difficulties have translated into an immediate 40% decline in car orders in the automotive sector compared to the same period the previous year. However, it was believed that this percentage was largely influenced by emotional reactions, so Fiat's forecasts for 1974 compared to 1973 limited the decline to 15-20%. Despite the exceptional period and ongoing restrictions on automobile circulation in Italy - "an emergency measure that can be valid if limited in time" - it is observed that the sales decline remains high and above expectations. Regarding Fiat, in the first fifteen days of January, the decrease in Europe compared to October - before restrictive measures - ranged from 22% to 39%. In particular, the overall demand for Fiat vehicles decreased by 22% in Switzerland, 27% in France, 29% in Germany, 30% in Belgium, 36% in the Netherlands, and 39% in Denmark. In Italy, sales in the first half of January, although significantly reduced compared to normal, are not considered significant as the market was also influenced by anticipation of price increases. With the improvement in relations between Europe and the Middle East, the situation should improve, although it will be impossible to recover what the European automotive industry has lost in three months. Calculating an average monthly production decline of 30%, it can be stated that an entire month of production has already been lost. This is confirmed by the measures that global automotive companies have recently had to adopt to cope with lower market demand, which are much stricter than those decided in Italy. In France, Citroen announced that it will suspend over 25.000 workers for five days in February due to the sharp reduction in orders from EU countries in the last two weeks. In Germany, General Motors announced the suspension of production at the Antwerp plant from February 11 to 15 due to reduced exports. Porsche stated that it would put 2.700 of its 4.170 Stuttgart plant workers on short-time work for five days in February and six in March, due to an increase in unsold cars.
Opel reported that 16.000 of the 19.000 employees in Bochum would be placed on short-time work from February 11 to 15. Earlier, the company had announced the suspension of 20.000 of the 36.000 workers in Ruesselsheim from February 4 to 15 and 2.000 of the 3.000 in Kaiserslautern. Volkswagen announced that 15.000 employees at the Hannover plant would be suspended from work for two weeks due to the slowdown in the sales of vehicles in the domestic market. Finally, Ford announced that it intends to put 13.500 employees at the Cologne and Genk (Belgium) plants on short-time work next month due to a slowdown in demand and a decrease in supplies from Ford UK, confirming a difficult situation also in England. In the United States, where the energy crisis is undoubtedly less pronounced than in Europe, there has still been a sharp decline in car sales. At the beginning of the year, they were more than 50% lower than the levels of a year ago. The decrease, according to the Italy agency, is attributed to fears of price increases, shortages, and possible gasoline rationing. Despite offers such as a gift of 250 gallons of free gasoline to each buyer of a large-displacement car, many dealers have been forced to sell cars at prices 25% lower than they would otherwise have found buyers. Dealers are therefore facing lower profits and simultaneous large operating expenses, represented by passive interests (about $30 per month for each car in stock). Attempts to contain costs include layoffs of non-essential staff and seeking new sources of income, such as enhancing maintenance services and selling more fuel-efficient models. As for Italy, the country is at risk of a more difficult situation than other countries due to the postponement of gasoline rationing by a few weeks and the consequent prolongation of the holiday traffic blockade, a measure that has already been adopted and even repealed in some countries (such as Sweden, Norway, and soon Denmark). Taking into account that the sales trend in the first 15 days of January was influenced by the anticipation of price increases, the results in the second half of the month are not better.
There is a significant decrease in sales of medium and large engines, which has forced Lancia, Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini to reduce working hours, requesting the intervention of short-time work. In the largest of these companies, Lancia, work is done three days a week, equal to 24 hours, instead of the contractual 40, and the measure affects 6.000 workers. Small engines are more in demand, but still, according to Fiat, global sales in the second half of January are significantly lower than the normal average for the same month in previous years. It is difficult to make predictions, also because a solution to this crisis is not foreseeable in the short term. Agnelli argues:
"Therefore, we must think directly about the possibility of enriching our production structures with new directions, further enhancing the complementary sectors of the automobile, seeking new solutions, developing and accelerating research, and constantly improving technology".
The Race of Champions, the first European Formula 1 race of the season (not valid for the World Championship), held on Sunday, March 17, 1974, concludes at Brands Hatch with perhaps the most unexpected result: Jacky Ickx wins, who, driving an old Lotus, beats Niki Lauda's Ferrari in a sprint. The Austrian remained in the lead for about three-quarters of the race, accompanied from the first to the last lap by pouring rain. Lauda, who seemed capable of securing this Formula 1 classic for the Maranello team, was matched and then surpassed by the Belgian just five laps from the end, perhaps due to a power drop in the Ferrari. After Ickx and Lauda, the finishing order records Emerson Fittipaldi's McLaren, Hallwood's McLaren, and Regazzoni's second Ferrari. Ickx also set the fastest lap. In the end, the Belgian, a specialist in wet driving, had the merit of never giving up. On a slippery and dangerous track, Ickx knew how to exploit every curve of the tortuous Brands Hatch circuit in the tight final, gaining precious seconds on Lauda. Ickx's victory is deserved for at least two reasons: until shortly before the start of the race, his participation was still uncertain. During the last series of tests, the engine of his Lotus broke, and mechanics had to work all night to allow him to take the track. In addition, Ickx used an old type of Lotus, the same one that had been seriously damaged in Fittipaldi's off-track during the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix. At the start, Ickx limited himself to staying in a good position, leaving Reutemann and Lauda to fight for the first place. The Argentine resisted Lauda's attacks for five laps, then the Austrian overtook him, taking the first position. Due to a front brake failure, however, Reutemann dropped to fourth place, then went off the track during lap 20. The driver remained unharmed. Lauda and Ickx, therefore, engaged in a duel for the lead, followed by Fittipaldi. During lap 35, Ickx overtook Lauda on the outside of a difficult turn and took the lead, maintaining the position until the end.
Only 17 of the 30 starting drivers finished the race. Among them is the only woman who, after fifteen years, has dueled with Formula 1 champions: Lella Lombardi, driving her five-liter Chevrolet, finished 14th, five laps behind Ickx. After the prelude to what will be the European season, on Saturday, March 30, 1974, in South Africa, the Formula 1 World Championship resumes. The calendar proposes events sporadically: at the beginning of the year, the Argentine and Brazilian Grands Prix, now this one in Kyalami, and, in a month, the subsequent one in Spain. Only in Madrid will the single-seater season enter the decisive phase: the series of European races will open one after the other, and the hunt for the title that belonged to Stewart will experience the most interesting moments. This year, Formula 1 presents special reasons of attraction for Italian fans. Ferrari has returned among the protagonists of the championship with its renewed 312-B3 and with Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda. The Swiss, third in Buenos Aires and second in São Paulo, leads the standings ahead of Hulme and Fittipaldi (10 points against the 9 of the McLaren duo), and the Austrian is in fourth place with the 6 points obtained in Argentina. It is a situation that rejoices and, in these difficult moments for Ferrari in the field of series production, represents a glimmer of hope. Enzo Ferrari does not give up, fights, stimulates, pushes, is full of initiatives and, despite everything, enthusiasm and faith towards the automobile. During the winter, he restructured his team, laid the groundwork for the renewal of his single-seater, entrusted trust to collaborators, technicians, executives, and bet on Regazzoni and Lauda. His wonderful GT cars, which have reaped the most abundant fruits from sports, are affected by measures that experts now consider useless for the so-called austerity.
Ferrari reacts, cannot certainly think - and neither do his employees - of turning his roaring berlinettas into tractors. From racing, from successes, which will naturally be considered in the context of the entire season, from the results that Ferrari will obtain, help can come, an encouragement to resist. And Ferrari, like the other brands operating in the sports car sector, needs friendship and solidarity in these moments. But memory is not a virtue for everyone, and perhaps many forget what the Maranello House has represented and represents for our entire industry worldwide. Or perhaps it is desired that Enzo Ferrari burn his machines? Regazzoni and Lauda, therefore, will have an extra task at Kyalami: in addition to racing for themselves, in addition to racing for the Ferrari team, they will also have to commit to Ferrari. There is nothing that shakes people like victories: just observe how many congratulatory telegrams arrive from all over. It will not be, logically, an easy task. Hulme and Fittipaldi, with McLaren, Peterson and Ickx, with Lotus, are strong opponents, even if not unbeatable. Lauda, for example, was on the verge of winning at Brands Hatch in the Race of Champions, and only a trivial problem with a shock absorber deprived him of the last-minute victory in favor of Ickx. The important thing is that between McLaren, Lotus, and Ferrari, there is now a certain balance. The 312-B 3 has made significant progress, although, probably, its evolution is not yet complete. But, according to the indications of the previous races, today Lauda and Regazzoni can fight, take to the track with the aim of aiming for success. In this expectation for the South African Grand Prix, it is impossible not to mention, at least in passing, the usual safety problems. Revson's tragedy has once again raised the issue with dramatic, disconcerting monotony. It has been seen that, once again, organizers have serious responsibilities. Drivers contest, but with little impact. When will the CSI finally decide to intervene seriously and decisively? Going back to talking about the Grand Prix, degree of uncertainty had surrounded the fate of this race for a few months following the South African Government’s ban on all forms of motoring sport which use pump petrol, and at one point it seemed as though the race would not take place at all.
Fortunately, the circuit and race are under the direct control of a very determined man called Alex Blignaut, primarily a very astute businessman but also basically a racing enthusiast for he owns Tyrrell 004 and enters it with the assistance of Embassy sponsorship in local races for his friend Eddie Keizan. Blignaut wanted his race to go ahead, and some subtle hints that the circuit could be sold as a housing estate eventually made the necessary approval forthcoming from the authorities, although the date has to be delayed until the end of March. Pre-race testing was allowed on a couple of days during the previous week, these sadly being highlighted by a fatal accident to UOP-Shadow team leader Peter Revson. Testing DN3/1A, the car in which he had taken sixth place in the Race of Champions the Sunday before, Revson crashed on the sweeping downhill right-hander called Barbecue just before the end of the main straight. The accident occurred at a point where drivers are changing from third to fourth gear and evidence suggests that the pin holding the front left wishbone to the upright broke and sent the car straight on into the steel barrier at almost ninety degrees. Denny Hulme, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill and Eddie Keizan all stopped to help extricate the American driver from the wrecked Shadow, but the impact inflicted fatal injuries on Revson and there was nothing they could do to help. It is significant, however, that a large number of drivers are expressing a new apprehension over steel barriers and their potential dangers after this accident. There was no need for such barriers at this point, and modifications to the circuit took place before official practice started, a triple-layer catch fence replacing the barrier at the scene of the accident. In the wake of this disaster, the Shadow team withdrew their second car DN3/2A for Jean-Pierre Jarier, but there's still a full entry from the other Grand Prix teams, their numbers supplemented by several ambitious local entries using second-hand Formula One machinery. Heading the list of entries, both cars taking place in their very first race, are Colin Chapman’s latest Lotus creations for Ronnie Peterson and Race of Champions winner Jacky Ickx. The Swede is allocated R9, the car which had been displayed to the Press at an elaborate John Player Press conference in February, while Ickx have a brand new chassis R10. One of the most interesting technical points of the car’s original design, the Automotive Products developed electric clutch system, had been left off Ickx’s car for although the Belgian had tried it and liked it on his road-going Lotus Plus 2, he preferred to stay with conventional controls on his racing car.
Peterson’s Lotus retained the automatic clutch system, and both cars had their nose sections mounted on small extensions so that air could be drawn from beneath, through the slight gap at the front of the monocoque and up over the top of the body. Otherwise the cars were to the specification as originally displayed, but Chapman hedged his bets by having 72/RR on hand as a spare and marked in the entry list as a reserve car for both his drivers. Tyrrell designer Derek Gardner was busy back at the team’s Ripley base putting the finishing touches to chassis 007 at the time of the South African Grand Prix, so Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler are left with chassis 006/2 and 005 respectively to the same specification as they had run in Brazil. The Marlboro Team Texaco McLaren M23s will run in the same trim as they’d been seen at Brands Hatch two weeks earlier, and the team is feeling quite confident as both Fittipaldi and Hulme each have a Grand Prix victory to their credit this year and Hulme put the McLaren M23 on pole position at Kyalami last year on its very first outing. Mike Hailwood is still running that very same car under the Yardley McLaren banner, and he's feeling similarly optimistic on a circuit which he knows and likes well. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team arrived with their South American GP machines for Carlos Reutemann (BT44/1) and Richard Roberts (BT44/2), their designer Gordon Murray hopes that things might come right for the team at Kyalami, for he at least is on home soil, hailing from just down the road at Durban. Both cars looked absolutely immaculate and almost completely free of sponsorship stickers, a situation which the attentive observer would have seen to change after practice with the appearance of a couple of Texaco decals on the cars. It wasn’t an indication of a fresh high-powered sponsorship deal, merely Ecclestone losing a gin rummy game with Texaco’s racing public relations man who had astutely been allowed to name the stakes. It was to provide a lot of free advertising in the days immediately following the Grand Prix. Supplementing the Brabham ranks is the brown Hexagon BT42/2 for John Watson, this car now having been extensively strengthened round the front of the monocoque as well as being fitted with a revised fuel system devised to counter the pick-up problems which troubled the car in 1973.
March Engineering brought along their usual pair of 741s, both now sporting a Formula Two-type extended nose section, Hans-Joachim Stuck is the number one works driver, despite his inexperience, now that Howden Ganley has left the team to join the Japanese Maki project. Stuck came to South Africa straight from his very first Formula Two triumph round Barcelona’s Montjuich Park, while Max Mosley’s business dealings now mean that the second works March is driven by Italian Formula Two exponent Vittorio Brarnbilla. The younger of the two Brambilla brothers, Vittorio drove a March-BMW in the European Championship during 1973 in the orange colours of the Italian Beta tools concern. His sole Formula One experience is limited to a few laps round Misano Adriatic in the McCall Martini Tecno late last year, but Beta have chosen to back Brambilla’s move into Grand Prix racing and March 741/2 now carries their distinctive orange colour and signwriting. The works Ferraris sported minor modifications not seen on the two which raced at Brands Hatch. Regazzoni (011) and Lauda (012) now have revised cockpit sections which incorporate the cold air box for the flat-12 cylinder engine in one large piece. The front of the cowling starts further forward than on the two-piece design, with a more gentle slope back towards the screen over the front of the cockpit. Neither driver found them to offer any difference in terms of straight-line performance, but they did at least provide a cooling draught into the cockpit which made things rather more comfortable under the sweltering South African sun. B.R.M. brought along their distinctive new P201 chassis for Jean-Pierre Behoise, leaving the other two Frenchmen in this British team to rely on their old faithful P160s which are now in their fourth season of Grand Prix racing. The P201 looked very promising in private testing, continuing the tradition of good road-holding which the P160 became noted for, although the team is still waiting for major engine modifications for their V12. A spare nose section of a slightly different shape is available as an alternative, while the shrouds over the side radiators were soon cut back to combat overheating in the official practice sessions. Both Surtees TS16s are here in their new Bang and Olufsen colours, Carlos Pace using TS16/02 and Jochen Mass has allocated a new chassis TS16/04, to replace the one which he spun into the pit wall during unofficial practice on the morning of the Race of Champions.
Frank Williams brought along his usual entry for Arturo Merzario plus a second car for Tom Belso, the Danish driver, an arrangement made possible by his connections with Marlboro, while a singleton Embassy Lola entry is on hand for Graham Hill to drive and James Hunt handled the Hesketh 308 on its first outing in a World Championship race. The Hesketh team had their second chassis, 308/2, flown out to Johannesburg just in case any damage should be sustained in practice. The local challenge is led by reigning South African Formula One Champion, Dave Charlton, an ex-works McLaren (M23/2) replacing his Lotus 72 in the colours of the Lucky Strike cigarette company. Their Lotus, 72/3, was entered for John McNicol, but was not ready in time to take part, though last year’s John Player Team Lotus 72s were out in force for Ian Scheckter (72/6) and Paddy Driver (72/7), both now running in the distinctive orange colours of Team Gunston. Keizan’s Tyrrell, 004, sported neatly constructed deformable structures round its monocoque, these having been made up locally. Originally Kyalami’s leisurely schedule provided for practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a break on Friday before the Grand Prix took place on Saturday. Unfortunately, with marshals turning up late owing to a misunderstanding over times and the incomplete work on the catch fences at Barbecue Corner, the organisers decided in favour of delaying first practice until Thursday, a move heartily approved of by the majority of teams in view of the severe thunderstorm which doused the circuit during Wednesday afternoon. As official practice started on Thursday it is clear that the strides forward made by Firestone over the winter months and emphasised by Hunt’s performance at Brands Hatch, are going to be maintained. But at Kyalami it is Pace in the Surtees TS16 who set the quickest time during the first session, injecting a good deal of confidence into the Edenbridge team even though one or two people doubted whether the Brazilian had recorded this quick lap. But 1'16"63 stood as fastest until the organisers reexamined their time sheets and discovered that Lauda had lapped the Ferrari in 1'16"58. The Ferrari team are almost hugging one another with this performance from the young Austrian for, although Lauda cannot he described as a natural, he is a willing worker who readily gives to the best of his ability.
On the second day, when the temperature is even higher and, in consequence, lap times fractionally slower, Lauda again topped the list with 1'16"66 which meant that a Ferrari would be starting from pole position in a Grand Prix for the first time since Ickx at Nurburgring back in 1972. Down in the Lotus pit, Ickx must have been reflecting on the wisdom of switching from the Italian team for Regazzoni is recording competitive times as well, the Swiss lapping in 1'17"20 on the Thursday and then slicing another 0.4 sec. off this time this afternoon. The Lotus team are experiencing a fair degree of strife with their new cars and plenty of their rivals are outwardly trying to make a joke of their apparent chaos while inwardly realising that it will not be too long before Chapman sorts out his latest Grand Prix car and then they will have 10 start looking to their laurels. Ickx is lucky on the first day, his car is lapping quite reliably with little drama at just over the 1'17"0 barrier, but Peterson is spending most of his time hopping from his new car to his old one as all sorts of little things went wrong. Firstly the starter motor jammed and, as the automatic clutch system relies on the starter revolving in the opposite direction to normal in order to activate the pump which pressurises its fluid system, Peterson climbed. into 72/8 and recorded 1'17"46 before getting back into R9 towards the end of the afternoon. The next problem seems to be an oil leak from the engine’s rear casting where the top forward parallel link is attached, so another lengthy spell in the pits is needed whilst mechanics checked whether it had cracked or not. On Friday Ickx’s car developed a misfire owing to low fuel pressure while Peterson’s, now running with its automatic clutch disconnected, firstly proved reluctant to fire up in the pit road and then developed a misfire of its own, particularly frustrating in view of the fact that it had rounded off Thursday’s session by losing its oil pressure and being abandoned by the Swede out on the circuit. Neither Lotus got below 1'18"0 on the second day, so their prospects for the race looked distinctly unpromising. One quite outstanding effort came from Merzario on the second day, as the little Italian put his Williams Special round in 1'16"79 to secure third place on the grid for Frank Williams. Frank is beaming from car to car after Merzario’s plucky performance which certainly earned him a capital A for effort, qualifying tyres or not, low fuel load or not. Belso, in contrast, had an unhappy time with an electrical problem stranding him out on the circuit on Thursday as well as gearbox trouble. He will start from the bottom of the grid, so that the Williams sponsors, ISO and Marlboro, are at both ends of the scale of satisfaction.
Predictably Reutemann and Fittipaldi produced competitive times for the grid, but the Brazilian seems not very happy with his McLaren’s handling at all on the first day, while Jody Scheckter had to use plenty of opposite lock with Tyrrell 006/2 to qualify for the outside of the fourth row. Another worthy surprise is provided by young Stuck, in the works March, who seemed to have terrific car control and still drives a Grand Prix car as though he were in a touring car. His efforts are worthwhile, for he pipped Scheckter junior for seventh place on the grid by one-hundredth of a second. Vittorio Brambilla is carefully keeping out of everybody’s way and, although he damaged a nose cone on Thursday, he's not last on the grid for his first Formula One race by any means. Ickx’ best lap earned him a fifth row start alongside Hulme’s McLaren M23, the New Zealander failing to reproduce the form which won him pole position in 1973. Most of the cars are almost a second slower than in 1973, slightly increased weight due to the deformable structure rules, bigger rear tyres and larger rear wings all being factors which could contribute to slightly lower speeds. Hunt’s Hesketh is far too slow down the straight for the peace of mind of designer Posthlewaite, so some adjustments are made to the rear wing which enabled him to manage 1'17"61 on the second day. The team also encountered what was thought to be a fuel injection trouble, so they changed the engine only to find that fuel vaporisation had been the root cause. John Watson managed a respectable time in the old Brabham BT42, while Peterson is sitting hack on the eighth row in his new Lotus reflecting that he could have been on the sixth row in his older 72, but as that wasn’t a worthwhile improvement this is clearly the time to concentrate on getting the new car right even if this was at the expense of immediate results. Depailler and Mass are looking rather glum, the latter unable to lap quicker than Hill’s Embassy Lola which is now creeping its way forward on the grids once more, it's driver having gone from back to front to back and now part way to front again on starting grids during his 16-year Grand Prix driving career. Neither of the B.R.M. 160s are even remotely impressive, while most of the locals suffered from a six-month lay-off with no practice for their racing cars at all in addition to having their first try in new machinery and endeavouring to match the seasoned Grand Prix competitors all at the same time.
Although the ban on motor racing in South Africa has been lifted, there is still a ban on the sale of petrol between Friday evening and Monday morning and this factor, combined with the fact that South Africa does not yet have television, attracted a large number of spectators, many of whom stayed through the night camping just like the Europeans do at Nurburgring for example. There is plenty of enthusiasm and atmosphere with eager racing fans bursting with anticipation to watch their first motor race since the end of 1973. They came by car, by motorcycle, by public transport and even by helicopter. When the eventual takings were added up, Blignaut announce that some 92.000 spectators have paid to come in and watch the South African Grand Prix, a terrific endorsement for the popularity of Formula One racing and an adequate comment against having too much motor racing generally. Saturday, March 30, 1974, Before the start there's a complicated warming up procedure which involved the field doing a pace lap on their own without an official car in front of them. The organisers put everyone on their best behaviour and emphasised that if anyone got out of line on this lap, they were not to be naughty boys and try and push back to their original position again. Needless to say, 27 Grand Prix drivers, all anxious to be getting on with their business, are interested in starting the race and not unduly worried over their correct positions on the pace lap. But they all arrived back at the startline in order and everyone is ready before the flag will be dropped. Lauda and Fittipaldi are anxiously gesticulating to the starter to get on with it as their engines are starting to overheat on the line, and it is Reutemann making the best start from the outside of the second row. He have to dodge round Pace, though, and Lauda beat him down to Crowthorne Corner by less than a length, Ferrari leading Brabham with Regazzoni and Scheckter squeezing in behind. Further back there are some rather unruly pushing and shoving and suddenly Peterson found his throttle stuck open and the only person he could lean against was Ickx, so both the Lotus cars found themselves in amongst the catch fences on the first corner, whilst Mass is pushed by Pescarolo’s B.R.M. and deranged his TS16’s nose section in the process. Pace’s Surtees almost spun in the middle of the corner, delaying both himself and Denny Hulme’s McLaren. All four delayed cars eventually managed to get going again, creeping round to the pits for attention long after the field went through.
Ferrari hearts leapt at the end of the opening lap for Lauda and Regazzoni occuping first and third place, their formation is split by that purposeful white Brabham. Fourth is Jody Scheckter, ahead of Hunt, Fittipaldi, Hailwood, Merzario, Depailler, Pace, Watson, Beltoise, Hill, Charlton, Stuck, Ian Scheckter, Watson, Keizan, Brambilla, Robarts, Migault and Driver. Ickx and Peterson are coming later, the Belgian’s car minus its nose section, and both are continuing. Peterson did only a couple more laps before stopping for good with damaged steering as a result of the collision. Ickx kept going for 31 laps, making a couple more stops, before he finally called it a day. For the first few laps Lauda’s Ferrari is maintaining its slight advantage, but Reutemann is starting to inch his way closer. The Austrian is driving to his complete limit and had nothing left with which to counter the determined Argentinian. Reutemann is closing right up on to the Ferrari’s tail as they came out of Leeukop Corner to complete their ninth lap, rushed up beside him as they slip-streamed past the pits and deftly outbraked his rival into Crowthorne. Reutemann is instantly opening an advantage of just over one second, but Lauda is managing to maintain the pace of the argentinian and the pair of them are gradually edging away from their pursuers. Third place is still in the possession of Regazzoni’s Ferrari, the Swiss is well-placed to protect his team-mate from any challenge from the bunch behind. The second Ferrari is pulling away from Scheckter, the Tyrrell team leader coming under intense pressure from Hunt’s Hesketh, Fittipaldi and Hailwood. Merzario is dropping away from this group slightly while great progress has being made by Stuck after his very slow start, the ambitious young German passed Hill and Charlton with ease although the local McLaren driver was left for 38 laps to sort out a way of circumnavigating the English Lola. Hunt looked as though he might displace Scheckter, for the Hesketh almost got alongside on one or two occasions, but Lap 13 was unlucky for the Englishman. A driveshaft broke and stranded Hunt out at Clubhouse Corner for the rest of the race. No sooner had the Hesketh retired than Fittipaldi renewed his attack on the Tyrrell and Scheckter, suffering from serious rear wheel vibration, let him through on Lap 21. Behind Merzario is running a lonely Pace, disappointed that adjustments made in the unofficial session during the morning had upset the handling of his Surtees and now well out of the running.
John Watson dropped from the duel between Ian Scheckter and Brambilla when a front wheel bearing started to break up and he was obliged to stop at the pits to investigate the trouble, leaving the Italian to sort out the local Lotus and then set off in pursuit of the Hill-Charlton battle. When he caught them he dived past in one neat manoeuvre, leaving a frustrated Charlton still behind the Lola. Hailwood chasing through ahead of Scheckter, leaving him to the attention of his team-mate, Depailler, while Hulme started to shape up for an attack on Merzario even though the vibration from his front wheels was so severe that the needles on his instruments were banging themselves against the stops. Ickx kept going for 31 laps, making a couple more stops, before he finally called it a day while the local McLaren driver was left for 38 laps to sort out a way of circumnavigating the English Lola but finally get throught. With the leaders pulling easily away, attention now must be focused on the progress of Beltoise in the B.R.M. P201. By Lap 40 the Frenchman pass Hulme’s McLaren and began wearing down the margin to the pair of Tyrrells just in front of him. It is particularly interesting to watch that Beltoise always staying clear of the slipstream from the cars he was pursuing. On the main straight the B.R.M. always staying in the centre of the track, about one car’s width to the left of the path taken by the others. But the B.R.M.’s performance certainly wasn’t being hampered by failing to be in a slipstream and, with 44 laps of the Grand Prix completed, Beltoise get's through on Depailler’s Tyrrell. Scheckter is the next victim of Beltoise and now it's Hailwood’s turn to watch anxiously in his mirrors. All three McLarens are trubled by serious wheel vibration, but Hailwood nonetheless found himself being held up by Fittipaldi and elbowed his way past on Lap 48. But Beltoise was by now well and truly wound up in his enthusiastic pursuit and, although the Yardley McLaren driver resisted as strongly as he could, Beltoise moved up to fourth place on Lap 63. It's lap 66 and Regazzoni, still running strongly in third place and looking all set to consolidate his lead in the World Championship for Drivers, noticed his oil pressure gauge flickering as he braked for Leeukop Corner just before the main straight. He accelerated out of the corner and the needle sank to the bottom of the dial, so the Swiss immediately switched off the engine and coasted into the pit lane to retire. Hardly having surmounted this disappointment, the Ferrari pit become apprehensive as Reutemann’s lead over Lauda started to increase.
But the Ferrari kept coming round, although its driver is now keeping an anxious eye on his oil pressure, slipping the gearbox into neutral and coasting through the corners. Lauda kept his Ferrari on the move and his big advantage over Beltoise still seems safe. Coming down the main Straight to start his 73th lap, Lauda is shaking his head vigorously as he passed his pit, the Ferrari now sounding very ragged indeed. Looks like the end of the race is near and, at the end of the following lap, Beltoise appear in second place after Lauda stop out on the circuit with a dead engine. For Reutemann, it's just about carefully round the remaining four laps to score a popular first Grand Prix victory, the first for the Brabham morgue since Bernie Ecclestone took it over, the last being in Jack Brabham’s hands at the same circuit four years earlier. Beltoise’s finish in second place, providing a much-needed confidence booster for the B.R.M. team, while Hailwood’s third place means he is the only driver so far this year to have scored points in every Championship event, a stark contrast to his bleak 1973 season. Races sometimes play bitter tricks on their protagonists. It happened at the South African Grand Prix, the third race of the Formula 1 World Championship, to Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, the two drivers of Ferrari. The Austrian and the Swiss, in second and third place until twelve laps from the end, were forced to retire as they were about to conclude a race that had seen them in the forefront, confirming the progress of the 312-B3. The Grand Prix was won by Carlos Reutemann, with Brabham, who preceded the surprising Beltoise, with the new BRMP201, Hailwood, with McLaren, and Depailler, with Tyrrell. Arturo Merzario, with Iso, finished in sixth place, earning one point. The Argentine obtained his first victory in a Formula 1 Grand Prix valid for the World Championship in South Africa.
"I am happy, really happy; it was a tough race. Lauda never left me a moment to breathe. I dedicate this win to Peter Revson".
Reutemann also set the fastest lap (1'18"16, at an average speed of 189.2 km/h), confirming that he is in excellent form and has an extremely competitive car. The Brabham BT44 is indeed one of the most valid Formula 1 cars today, both intrinsically and in terms of tuning. However, the Ferraris of Lauda and Regazzoni had shown during the Grand Prix that they could compete with Reutemann's Brabham. In particular, Lauda engaged in a long duel with the Argentine. The Austrian had maintained the first position at the start of the Grand Prix, having occupied the pole position belonging to the fastest driver in the practice sessions, but Reutemann managed to overtake him during lap 10. From that moment, the white Brabham and the red Ferrari raced on their own, distancing themselves from the rest. Regazzoni - who was focused on scoring in the World Championship - was in third place, with a gap of around half a minute. Reutemann and Lauda proceeded together, side by side, for over sixty laps, thrilling the 80.000 spectators along the Kyalami circuit, a small town 25 km from Johannesburg. Then, a series of disappointments for the Maranello team. Regazzoni returned to the pits on lap 66. The Swiss pointed to the oil pressure gauge: the pressure had dropped to zero.
"It was pointless to continue; one more lap, and the engine would have broken".
During lap 75, the second, and even more serious, bitterness arrived. Lauda also had to stop, and for a rather banal reason: a failure in the alternator.
"I ran out of electrical power, the engine shut down. Too bad because the car had behaved wonderfully".
For Regazzoni, a bit of consolation came from remaining at the top of the World Championship standings. In this sense, nothing is compromised, and the fight for Stewart's legacy is wide open.
"I had a waiting race, just to score some points. I am convinced that this year every point will be precious for the title".
Fortunately for Regazzoni and Ferrari, the other drivers better placed in the World Championship standings or with the best chances for a final victory remained in the shadows. Emerson Fittipaldi had tire and handling problems, so after staying in fourth place for a long time, he dropped to seventh. Hulme finished ninth after a frightening spin, while the two Lotuses eliminated each other. Peterson rear-ended Ickx on the first lap, and both the Swede and the Belgian had to retire. The two Italian drivers engaged in the South African Grand Prix had a very regular race. As mentioned, Merzario finished sixth, while Vittorio Brambilla, who was making his debut, finished tenth with the March.