The Belgian round in the World Championship series is taking place on the Nivelles-Baulers Autodrome, south of Bruxelles and the scene is almost identical to that in Spain, reported in detail elsewhere in this issue. Missing from the lists is Chris Amon with his own car, while added to it is Tom Pryce with the neat Token car designed by Ray Jessop, Teddy Pilette with a works Brabham BT42 on loan, Leo Kinnunen with the first of the 1974 Surtees TS16 cars, Gerard Larrousse with the two 1973 Brabhams owned by Moser’s Bretscher sponsored team, and Vern Schuppan with Morris Nunn’s Ensign, now supported by Theodore Yip from Hong Kong, and painted orange. Frank Williams has replaced Tom Belso with Gijs van Lennep in his second car, otherwise the rest are in their usual paces, making a total of 32 drivers. On the mechanical front Tyrrell produced the second car of his 007 series, which is now available for Depaillier, Lotus still have last year’s 72/R8 standing by, March have rebuilt their orange car for Brambilla, Ferrari have their second pair of cars, 011 and 012 with 010 as the hack, B.R.M. replaced Migault’s car with an earlier one, P160/05, while Hill’s Lola team will have no spare this time. There is an all-time record of 41 cars in the paddock, though not all of them are going to be used, but Brabham’s had to use their spare as Reutemann damaged BT44/1 on the first day of practice, and Regazzoni damaged 011 Ferrari on the same day and used the spare until his own was repaired, and March had to bend 741/1 straight after Stuck tried to destroy it. During the week before the event began officially, two days were set aside for testing, and most teams took advantage of this, but they did not seem to have learnt very much judging by the state of things at the beginning of this qualifying session. The circus has moved from Spain to Belgium for its sixth appointment, but the story remains the same. Even at Nivelles, a medium-fast circuit compared to the slow and twisty Jarama, Lauda set the fastest time, repeating this feat in different conditions: wet and dry, confirming the high level of competitiveness achieved by the car. Niki Lauda states:
"And imagine that in the last minutes of the practice, it was all a flurry of yellow flags: many drivers had scary spins. For example, Merzario spun twice while I was approaching".
Needless to say, Lauda is thrilled with his Ferrari. The car, just like in Madrid, had no problems to solve. It is the result of the new Ferrari organization: tests at Fiorano, testing on the circuit where a Grand Prix is to be held, meticulousness, and commitment at every level. Regazzoni also did well, and his spin with an adventure in a meadow is of little importance. The Swiss driver went off the asphalt track, and the slick tire did not allow him to regain control of the car. A few spins and some slight damage to the nose of the 312-B3. It is much more interesting to note that even Regazzoni was at the same level of performance as Lauda, testifying to the objective superiority of Ferrari, at least in the context of the first day of training.
"I have the fifth time, but I'm sure I could have done as well as Niki or almost".
Clay and Niki continue to be friends. Some try to find a certain rivalry between them. Although Regazzoni is first in the World Championship standings with 16 points and Lauda second with 15 points, their relationship is excellent, and no one at Ferrari wants to favor the Austrian over the Swiss or vice versa. Luca Montezemolo says:
"Regardless of any considerations, it must be remembered that the championship is still long, and we have many rivals. The season is not decided. Probably, I hope, luck will decide between Clay and Niki, to put one of them in a better situation. At that point, we will see".
For now, therefore, Ferrari finds itself in the embarrassment of choice, but already with the Belgian Grand Prix, things will begin to clear up. On Saturday it is dry and fine, and while Lauda and Fittipaldi are battling away solidly, with Peterson having flashes of inspiration when Team Lotus could get his new car to function properly, Scheckter suddenly appeared amongst them and then broke the barrier. But things are thrown into confusion as an official statement says that Regazzoni managed to go below 1'10"0.
A lot of drivers felt they are wasting their time, while the Ferrari team shrugged as if to say: If that’s the way the Belgians want it, who are we to complain? The starting-grid order that is finally published bore some resemblance to reality, A-for-Effort going to Merzario, Stuck, Depaillier, Schuppan and Pryce, while G-for-Gloom goes to Ickx and Reutemann, neither of whom got off the ground throughout the whole meeting. The Belgian Grand Prix appears to be highly uncertain. While in Madrid, at the end of the practices, Ferrari had established a clear superiority over other teams, at Nivelles, the situation of balance that characterized the early races of the Formula 1 World Championship has been restored. The weather was not as capricious as on the first day of training, allowing Lotus, McLaren, Tyrrell, and, of course, Ferrari to provide more valid indications for the race, representing the fifth appointment of the World Championship. Within about a second, a dozen drivers from the teams that have played the leading role so far, plus some relatively new names, are found. Niki Lauda comments:
"Those who achieved the top eight best times can all win the Belgian Grand Prix".
Indeed, the Nivelles circuit is less selective than others and tends to level both the performance of the cars and the skill of the drivers. It is a rather uniform, very fast track that allows speeds over 280 km/h. There are quite challenging bends where those who have the courage and keep their foot on the accelerator can hope for an exploit. It is also a track where the left wheels work a lot in support (the bends open to the right), creating complications for tire specialists. Tire wear is different, to the point that different types can be mounted on the same car without altering other qualities. Ferrari has dedicated itself to this crucial work with commitment. Lauda and Regazzoni sought optimal solutions, giving up the fight for the best times for most of the practices. They only entered the competition at the end when all the drivers competed for the top positions on the starting grid. The timers assigned a fabulous time of 1'09"82 to Regazzoni and an excellent time of 1'11"04 to Lauda. Between them is the young South African from Tyrrell, Jody Scheckter, with a time of 1'10"86. Then, Fittipaldi with McLaren, Peterson with Lotus, and other drivers follow, up to Hailwood, who closes the list of men and cars gathered more or less within a second. However, Regazzoni's time is a ghost time, recorded only by the official timers, who must have made a mistake, as often happens. Neither Ferrari specialists nor those of other teams, nor the technicians of the Swiss company Heuer, with sophisticated electronic equipment, noticed this 1'09"82. The other teams protested, and Luca Montezemolo, with great fairness and sportsmanship, went to the organizers.
"According to us, Regazzoni's best performance is the time achieved in the last lap of practice".
Race timing officials insisted on the accuracy of their measurement and showed Montezemolo, who was with Ken Tyrrell, Teddy Mayer (McLaren), and Peter Warr (Lotus). Useless to insist. The English appreciated Ferrari's gesture, and Montezemolo commented calmly:
"For once, favorable refereeing. It's as if they had given us a last-minute penalty in our favor".
Regazzoni is thus in pole position. For the Swiss, it's a nice gift, but at Nivelles, starting in the front row is not as important as at Jarama or Monte-Carlo. Clay says:
"Today, the new engine we had installed on my car wasn't very brilliant. I just couldn't go below 1'11"0. Tomorrow, after this gift from the timers, I'll have to attack. In other Grand Prix races, I strolled; this time I'll have more fun".
Of course, if the Swiss's time had been real, we could talk about Ferrari's superiority. Knowing the reality, it is better to speak of a balanced situation in which Ferrari cars are still in excellent positions.
Even Lauda, at the end of the practices, experienced a certain drop in performance in the twelve cylinders of his car. It happens, and there is no need to worry too much. The Austrian begins to think about the World Championship.
"Tomorrow's race and those of Monaco and Sweden should clarify the situation. I think it is mainly important to collect points. If these three races go well for Ferrari, the others will begin to have difficulties".
For now, the others are holding up quite well. Scheckter, on a track more suited to his abilities, has included the new Tyrrell 007 among the most valid single-seaters. Fittipaldi and Peterson have reaffirmed the competitiveness of McLaren and Lotus. However, Peterson was the protagonist of a spectacular off-track excursion. Ickx says that the road holding of the Lotuses still leaves something to be desired. Among the outsiders is Beltoise, with B.R.M., Merzario with Iso, and Pace with Surtees. Merzario set the sixth-best time in the first part of the practices. In the end, when the group of drivers looking for the best performances unleashed, the Italian driver had to return to the pit with the engine grumbling.
"It's clear that I could have improved".
It went worse for Vittorio Brambilla, who stopped after two laps due to a water pump belt failure.
"The same problem as yesterday".
On Sunday, May 12, 1974, the start of the Belgian Grand Prix is incredibly neat and clean, the whole pack surging away up the straight towards the long right-hand curve at the end. Only three laps and it look like the scene is splitting up into three races, one for those who are, one for those who have, and one for those that never will. The first group consisting of six cars nose to tail, pressing hard on one another, in the order Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, Scheckter, Lauda, Peterson and Hunt. Then we have Pace (Surtees), Depaillier (Tyrrell), Beltoise (B.R.M.), Hailwood (McLaren) and the rest. Stuck overdid his clutch slip at the start and was last on the opening lap, but he's charging through the tail-enders .Unlucky for him, after six laps, the clutch give up the unequal struggle. Depaillier is passing Pace trying valiantly to catch the leading sextet, leaving the rest behind him, so that he's one of the few drivers to run a lonely race. Lauda put Scheckter behind him, and he's now right behind Fittipaldi, but that's the only change to the picture, for the funny little Nivelles Autodrome does not offer much opportunity for passing. For 24 laps it's stale-mate. As we're entering Lap 25 they lapped the first of the tail-enders and a new dimension came into their race, for slow-moving chicanes now being introduced onto the circuit and high-speed traffic driving and judgement and perception are about to play a big part as well as normal steering skill. From the general run of competitors odd ones had dropped out or made pit stops, Reutemann has changed front tyres, Pescarolo retired when he got elbowed off into the barriers, and Pace lost the air from a rear tyre when the split-rim wheel leaked. The leaders are lappeing Migault and the tempo changed slightly, for Lauda is held up and he's losing contact with Fittipaldi’s McLaren and Scheckter is also taking advantage of the situation, overtaking the austrian. On Lap 33 the swinging sextet is all fouled up with a whole bunch of slower cars and the rhythm of the race is slowing down too. Regazzoni still leading with Fittipaldi right behind, then there is a small gap to Scheckter who's having Lauda right behind, and then another small gap to Peterson and Hunt. They are now catching up with more and more traffic, and it's not going quite as slowly as the real tail-end Charlies and on Lap 39 it happened. Regazzoni makes a slight error of judgement, as regards what another driver was going to do, and he's boxed in as Fittipaldi and Lauda are going through on the other side, Lauda already having jumped Schekcter in the traffic just before this. Peterson is disappearing into the pits at the end of Lap 38 with his front tyres changed for some that he hoped would grip better.
The sextet is now reduced to a quintet as the dust of the overtaking scrimmage settled. In the order we have Fittipaldi, Lauda, Regazzoni, Scheckter and Hunt, with Depaillier next along on his lonely drive keeping well ahead of the rest. Hailwood is forcing his way clear of the midway miscellany and he's going well, but a spin at the hairpin puts him back among his old race-mates once again. Hunt spins off onto the grass with a ball-joint on the right-rear suspension of his Hesketh broken and the corner collapsed. That's the end of the race for him , after 46 laps. In the leading group stale-mate has returned as we are on lap 50 and Fittipaldi is leading Lauda, followed by Regazzoni leading Scheckter. Lap 54 and Depaillier is in the pits, but it's not just a pit stop for him, as the well-known Tyrrell brake problem - a broken strap drive on the left-front inoard brake - force him to retire. The midfield-miscellany is dwindled a bit and now with Beltoise in the 1974 B.R.M. ahead of Hulme, Hailwood and Jarier. Their situation is suffering the same stale-mate as the leaders. Team Lotus are excelling themselves once more, with both their new cars in the pits together with a variety of troubles including brakes being bled, fuel leaks, oil leaks and tyre indecisions, as well as a spot of over-heating for luck. While the leading four cars cruising round and round, Hailwood is getting all worked up at the sight of the rival sponsor’s McLaren in front of him, and he went by on Lap 69. Jarier is equally inspired and follows Hailwood along. Schuppan had been having a good run on his first try with Ensign, almost avoiding being lapped by the leaders, but now he's car is going real slow. Looks like his fuel system went on the blink and refused to pick up from the left-hand tank, so he's forced to stop to take on petrol and Pryce is having the same trouble with the Token. While he's spluttering his way back to the pits Scheckter ran over him with the result that the Tyrrell now have large grinch on its right rear wheel and the Token a broken top wishbone on the left front corner. While some are having fuel system problems, probably caused by the excess of right-hand centrifugal force over left-hand on the circuit, others are having tyre troubles, among them being Watson, whose front tyres are so badly out of balance and he's forced to stop for a change. That drop him further down the results than he should have ben. With five laps to go Jarier’s Shadow suffered from fuel starvation and a certain sixth place is lost while he's stopping in the pits for a top up.
With three laps to go Hailwood' hard-earned fifth place disappears. His McLaren suffered the dreaded fuel starvation and he could only creep along hoping to finish, while Beltoise and Hulme go by again. On the very last lap Regazzoni is also suffering of the Nivelles disease, only this time there was no technical reason, the Ferrari simply ran out of petrol and, as it coughed and spluttered, Scheckter get's up into third place. Since Lap 39 Lauda has been behind Fittipaldi and it is difficult to see how true situation is going to change on the last lap. Fittipaldi is coming down to the finishing line and lift off a fraction early. Lauda is right alongside him but dodn't make it for just 0.35s. Emerson Fittipaldi and McLaren are back to winning. The Brazilian wins the Belgian Grand Prix, taking the lead in the Formula 1 World Championship. Ferrari's performance was once again positive: Lauda finished second, and Regazzoni fourth. However, there is some bitterness about how the race ended because, with a bit more luck, the exhilarating double victory from Spain could have been repeated, or at least a second and third place could have been secured. But that's how competitions are: it takes very little to alter them, and it's pointless to dwell on it. The fact remains that Ferrari offers, in the challenging world of Formula 1, the greatest continuity of results, a sign of the balance within the team, the competitiveness of the cars, and the value of Lauda and Regazzoni. No other team has achieved such a satisfying result in Belgium, especially with their drivers earning so many points for the World Championship. Fittipaldi now has 22 points, compared to Lauda's 21 and Regazzoni's 19. Three drivers within three points, while others are starting to lag behind, especially those from Lotus, which had another disastrous day, and Brabham. Scheckter, for Tyrrell, has only 6 points. Ferrari, therefore, remains in the forefront, and the Belgian Grand Prix has thoroughly demonstrated it. It was suggested that the cars from Maranello could have won. Regazzoni led for thirty-eight laps, followed by Fittipaldi, Lauda, and Scheckter. The Frenchman Larrousse, with a Brabham, obstructed the Swiss, not allowing him to overtake in a challenging bend, and Fittipaldi and Lauda took advantage to move into the lead. Then, on the last lap, Regazzoni ran out of fuel, and Clay miraculously finished the race, allowing Scheckter to secure an unexpected third position. Lauda, moreover, couldn't attack Fittipaldi because the front wheels had lost their balance weights, and the vibrations in the steering and the entire structure of the car were very strong. In essence, a good test for the robustness of the 312-B3.
These are two incidents that will be discussed and that influenced the Belgian Grand Prix. The organizers' decision to allow 31 cars to enter the race created a dangerous congestion on the track, forcing the leading drivers to perform acrobatic overtakes on the lapped cars. In such a situation, a slow backmarker may inadvertently get in the way. Unfortunately, it happened to Regazzoni, at the end of the grandstand straight. Larrousse approached the corner slowly, following a trajectory that prevented the Swiss from attempting to overtake. Regazzoni was blocked by the Frenchman, and with understandable anger, he saw Fittipaldi and Lauda pass by. Regazzoni - he admits candidly - got discouraged. Before managing to pass Larrousse, he lost more time, and the rival and teammate sped away. Clay slowed down a bit, easily containing Scheckter and hoping that Lauda would manage to pass the Brazilian. But the race was already marked. Fittipaldi, whose McLaren performed admirably without the slightest problem, maintained a lead of 3-4 seconds over Lauda, who, with the Ferrari plagued by vibrations, couldn't attempt anything. Indeed, in the pit, at one point, they had even prepared for a possible return of the Austrian and a quick tire change. Fortunately, it was not necessary. Lauda said at the end of the race, with two large reddish blisters on his hands:
"The wheels lost their balance weights around lap 40. They started transmitting frightening vibrations to the steering and the gearbox, and I was dancing inside the cockpit so much that I could hardly see the track. In the end, it was Emerson who slowed down; by then, he was sure of winning, and he was right. Even though I didn't win, I'm happy. I got six points, and that's what I was ultimately aiming for. Here, and in the upcoming races in Monaco and Sweden, the foundation for the championship will be laid. Of course, if I could have started on the front row, maybe I would have had a better chance of success".
For Regazzoni, the second disappointment on the last lap. In his Ferrari's tank, 185 liters of fuel had been inserted, a quantity considered sufficient to cover the 85 laps of the Grand Prix, equal to 316 kilometers.
"I ran out of fuel. The car failed me three times, and I barely made it to the finish. Too bad because at least the third place wouldn't have escaped me. What could I do? Throw him off the track or maybe go off myself?"
Technicians strive to fill the cars as little as possible, measuring liter by liter. This is for an obvious reason: the Ferrari 12-cylinder engine consumes more than the 8-cylinder Cosworth. In Nivelles, the Cosworth engines needed only 160 liters. It was necessary to contain the difference, especially to avoid self-penalization at the start - with a full tank - by auto-weighing too much. The calculation didn't work out for Ferrari by two or three liters, and Regazzoni lost the third place. The curious thing is that Lauda finished the competition with 10-15 liters of fuel in the tanks: perhaps the different driving styles of the Austrian and the Swiss can explain this different consumption. After recounting the two highlighted incidents, there is no need to dwell excessively on the fifth act of the World Championship. Lotus's collapse is noted, with Peterson stopped by issues with the fuel pump, and Ickx hindered by a series of problems (brakes, water, oil); Merzario's retirement, whose Iso suffered a semi-axle break; Pescarolo's protests, accusing Edwards as responsible for his off-track excursion; a spectacular flight by Hunt, whose Hesketh lost a wheel; the long drip of retirements and pit stops, particularly for abnormal wear of the front tires; the ninth place of Vittorio Brambilla, who with his March continues the adventure in Formula 1 serenely. Says Arturo Merzario at the end of the race:
"I was going quite well. We had changed the engine before the start, and we no longer had the problems that had damaged me in the practices. Too bad; it's a moment when we would need some results".
The next appointment is in Monte-Carlo, on May 26, 1974, in the seaside circuit, among gardens and houses. The roaring three-liter single-seaters will unleash their 450-500 HP. It is a traditional event for Italian fans. They can go to the Principality with confidence: they will see a magnificent Ferrari, a Ferrari that deserves the warmest encouragement and the most affectionate admiration.