#225 1973 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-07-06 01:00

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#1973, Fulvio Conti, Lara Ferrari,

#225 1973 Belgian Grand Prix

If the title of this article appears to be gibberish it is intentional, for it sums up the whole scene of the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix. It is in fact F

If the title of this article appears to be gibberish it is intentional, for it sums up the whole scene of the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix. It is in fact Flemish for the Belgian Grand Prix for the Drivers World Championship, for internal Belgian politics caused this year’s race to be held at Zolder, in the northern, or Flemish part of Belgium, and through general mismanagement on the part of all concerned the event must rank as the absolute bottom in the long history of the Belgian Grand Prix. When Jackie Stewart and his small, but vociferous, band got the Belgian Grand Prix removed from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit I was very sad, for they had removed a pure road-race from the Grand Prix scene, and when there was no Belgian Grand Prix in 1971 I was equally sad, but thought it best that the whole affair be dead and buried and we could close the book on a history of twenty-nine Belgian Grand Prix races, all but one held on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the odd one being in 1946, immediately after the war when the race was held in Bruxelles. Last year the Grand Prix was revived on the Nivelles-Baulers Autodrom, and it all seemed a bit of a joke as regards being the Belgian Grand Prix. This year it moved to Zolder and was such a huge joke that it was no longer funny, it was depressing in the extreme. The circuit of Zolder itself is not all that bad, and exudes quite a pleasant atmosphere, situated on sandy heathland amid pine trees, and is infinitely more pleasant than Nivelles-Baulers. For club-racing or small International events it is quite good, but it does not exude the air of a Great Occasion that is befitting a Nation’s Grand Prix. A great deal needed doing to the circuit itself to bring it anywhere near the standards required for a full-scale Grand Prix, and the work has been done with enormous enthusiasm and energy by the circuit owners, but all much too late in the day.
The CSI and the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium bent over backwards to get everything ready for the event, and the Formula One Constructors were equally helpful. When the whole Formula 1 Circus arrives for practice on Friday it is obvious that there are going to be short-comings, but everyone is committed. Practice has hardly been going for one hour before the Grand Prix Drivers Association militant group, of five or six, are convening a Union meeting and threatening strike action. The main complaint is that the newly-laid tarmac surface is being torn up by the enormous side-forces that their tyres are generating, and lumps of soft tar are flying about on two of the corners, and it looks as though the same thing is going to happen on other corners. The second half of practice is abandoned and while the GPDA holds their protest meeting the circuit owners bring in contractors who scrape up the faulty surface and start laying a new one. Although times are issued for the Friday practice, and all the drivers have taken part, it is all of little significance for no-one has been trying terribly hard or with much enthusiasm. The findings of the GPDA are quite remarkable, they want to abandon the whole event, and even suggest it should be moved en bloc to Nivelles-Baulers! This is on Friday evening. Two drivers make sound and sensible comment under the circumstances. Mike Hailwood shrugs and says: Let’s get on with the event, it’s the same for all of us and Jacky Ickx says: We must do the best we can. When practice is due to resume on Saturday afternoon the GPDA is once more in conclave and asking that the Belgian Club or the CSI representative be charged with the responsibility of cancelling the event if the new surface breaks up as it did the day before. While all this is going on the pits are packed out with cars ready to go, and certain team-managers and constructors are beginning to get very short tempered with their absent drivers.
The Constructors Association agreed from the start that their teams would have taken part, and while they all realise that the circuit is far from ideal, they are sensible enough to appreciate that the whole affair has gone too far to backtrack, and like Ickx agree that we must do the best we can. Not being a member of the GPDA, having resigned a long time ago as he didn’t agree with their continued talk of boycotts and strikes and never-ending demands, Ickx is sitting in the pits amongst his Ferrari team and ready to go. While the GPDA are still having their meeting the Belgian starts practice in one of the Ferraris, and the Union meeting is drowned every now and then as the Ferrari blasts along the back leg of the circuit. Nanni Galli has arrived too late for the meeting and goes straight to the pits, so he starts practising in one of Frank Williams’ lso-Marlboro cars, and John Surtees is preparing to drive his own cars, as time is running out and he wants to get brakes bedded in and tyres scrubbed, ready for race-day. Most of the team managements are beginning to get quite vociferous and some are wondering about tearing up drivers’ contracts. They all know the Belgian Grand Prix has got itself into a bit of a shambles, but for the overall good of racing are prepared to suffer and get on with the job. One or two say their cars are going to start the race, come-what-may, for they need the starting money to survive. Finally the GPDA and the CSI representative come to an agreement and all the members (workers!) return to work. The afternoon is divided into two sessions, with a track inspection in the interval, and though everyone goes round and round and some actually tries quite hard, there is a terribly non-serious atmosphere all afternoon.

The newly-laid surface stays down, principally because it is slippery and the tyres can not get a grip on it, but in other places sand is coming up through the tarmac and is being flung to the outside of some corners, so that there is only one line of travel through the bends, and to be off-line put you on the marbles, with an inevitable spin. Like Zandvoort, in Holland, there are a lot of fine sand particles flying about, which are being sucked into the engines and into the throttle slides and measures to prevent this ranged from old stockings and plastic bags, to nicely made aluminium dust shields, but all this is the problem of the engineers and mechanics, a problem they accept resignedly. Shortly before the end of the second practice session on Saturday, everyone realises that the race is definitely going to be held though in the minds of the organisers and the team managements there has never been any doubt. Consequently, practice suddenly gets serious, when it is almost too late, and the pits become a seething hive of activity as last minute decisions are made, and lots of drivers realize they are not in the starting grid position they would have liked to have been. On Sunday morning there is a test-session of one hour, then a Formula Super-Vee race, and eventually the Grand Prix field is lined up and ready to go by 3:30 p.m. Even the starting grid suffers in the overall chaos, for it is marked out for a 3x2x3 line-up, even though months beforehand it was agreed that the track was too narrow for this arrangement, and a 2x2x2 line-up would be used. At 2:00 p.m., when the cars are being made ready a revised list of practice times is published, which completely re-arranges the starting-grid, this being as a result of a protest by the teams.


The timekeepers have had a complete reshuffle of the second session Saturday times and everyone is fairly happy. After so much haggling and chat, it is remarkable that the start is given a mere 13 minutes late, and Peterson shoots off into the lead with the other 22 runners hard after him. His hastily rebuilt car (see Notes on the Cars at Zolder) is far from perfect and he is only able to hold his lead for a lap and a half, before Cevert forces his Tyrrell past the Lotus. The French star is on great form and simply runs away from everyone, going faster and faster until on lap 20 he overdoes his braking going into the hairpin in the Bolderburg forest and spins to a stop on the soft earth on the edge of the track, rejoining the race in eighth position. While Cevert has been running away with the race the rest of the field has sorted itself out in one way or another. Hailwood szpins his Surtees off the track at the Terlaemen corner, and ends up in the catch-fence, Hulrne is off in the dirt and gets his throttle-slides and engine air box all clogged up necessitating a long stop at the pits, both of the Williams cars have been into the pits, the lone Ferrari lasts only six laps before it goes out with engine oil pump trouble, Beltoise is to the pits with brake trouble on his B.R.M., Oliver spins off in his UOP-Shadow and crashes into Hailwood’s abandoned Surtees. Follmer comes to a stop at the same part of the circuit because his UOP-Shadow has collected sand and dirt in the throttle slides and they have jammed shut, and the car will not drag itself along on tick-over so he can not get back to the pits. Beuttler arrives at the pits with a flat rear tyre on his March, Reutemann retires at the pits when lying third when his Cosworth engine breaks a connecting rod, and the remainder have got themselves into a semblance of order.


Peterson holds second place for eighteen laps, but behind him his tearn-mate Fittipaldi is being very hard pressed by Stewart and the lap before Cevert spins away his lead they both pass the Swede, so that while Cevert is in the dirt, Fittipaldi goes by into the lead with Stewart hard on his tail, and as they start the twenty-fifth lap the Scot outbrakes the Brazilian into the first corner and takes the lead. From then on it is all over, even though there are still forty-five laps to run, for Stewart just drives away from everyone. By now many parts of the circuit are suffering from surface damage and there is one clean groove in which to try and stay. Those who manage this keep going until the end or until some mechanical disaster intervenes, while those who get a fraction off line and on the marbles are doomed to end up in the dirt, the wire catch nets, the guardrails or into an already abandoned car. Regazzoni’s attempt at racing is delayed on lap 33 when his right front tyre deflates and he limps round to the pits to have it changed. Revson ends up in the fence on lap 34, when lying third, for Peterson drops further and further back with uncertain handling and suspect brakes, and he eventually parks his Lotus backwards into the fence alongside the McLaren, having spun out of the groove. The only interest is that Cevert is regaining most of the ground he lost when he spun, and is climbing back up to second place, especially as Fittipaldi is suffering a loss of fuel pressure which is causing his engine to lose power and go slower and slower. When Cevert spins he blames a loss of brakes, yet eight laps later he sets up a new lap record, the brakes presumably having returned! When he gets past the sick Lotus of Fittipaldi the Tyrrell pit displays the signal STAY to their two drivers, and that’s how it is to the end of the seventy laps, the two blue cars coming through triumphant and unscathed in a magnificent 1-2 victory.


Of the rest, Fittipaldi nurses his sick Lotus home into third place, and Pace would have been fourth with his Surtees, but a rear tyre creeps round on its rim and puts everything out of balance and breaks the rear aerofoil mounting, so that the wing collapses onto the gearbox. He stops to have the wreckage removed and struggles to the finish with an oddly-handling car. This drama leaves Lauda into fourth place, but two laps from the end his B.R.M. runs low on petrol and he makes a quick pit stop, which leaves de Adamich go by, the bespectacled Italian having driven his Brabharn BT37 steadily along in the groove. With only a lap remaining Lauda just fails to snatch back fourth place. Beuttler, Jarier, Ganley and Regazzoni all go off on the broken-up surface, with varying degrees of mechanical damage, but no personal injury, and Jarier’s works March collects Revson’s abandoned McLaren as it spins off. In amongst all this carnage Amon has kept the new Tecno going non-stop and finishes sixth, even though he is so cooked in the cockpit as to be almost comatose. Hulme, Pace, Hill and Beltoise all trail in behind the winners and after the two Elf-sponsored Tyrrells have made their joyful parade lap, ten derelict cars are retrieved from one end of the circuit and the most disastrous Belgian Grand Prix of all time fizzles quietly out, and one has the feeling that if it is an example of the way Grand Prix racing is going, then we ought to fold the whole thing up before it becomes the laughing-stock of the rest of the world. Fortunately the average human being has a short memory and after a mere two weeks the whole scene is re-energised and wound up once more and put on display at Monte-Carlo. It is doubtful if anyone noticed, but the Grote Prijs van Belgie was given the old and worn-out title of the Grand Prix of Europe.


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