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#228 1973 French Grand Prix

2022-07-03 00:00

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#1973, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Matteo Liotta,

#228 1973 French Grand Prix

When the business of practice starts, it is mostly a matter of many drivers adjusting their psychological outlook, for the Ricard circuit has a long s

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On Thursday June 19th, 1973, the long-awaited interview between Enzo Ferrari and Jacky Ickx didn’t take place. The Belgian driver is not in Maranello, where the Modenese constructor was waiting for him to decide whether to continue racing together or end their work relationship, effective immediately or at the end of the season. Nevertheless, in Maranello, people don’t give importance to this missed meeting. It’s important to highlight that no serious meeting had been organized and that what did not happen during the course of this morning could take concrete shape in the next few days. 

 

"Ickx expressed his desire to meet up with Ferrari; Ferrari accepted, telling the Belgian that he would have been available from Thursday onwards".

 

So, the expectation of all the people that came to Maranello to witness, even afar, to this meeting that should have cleared the disagreements between Ferrari and Ickx, two men with a strong personality and a not-so-easy temperament, was disappointed. Though, the tifosi can console themselves by attending to the tests carried out on the Fiorano track by Arturo Merzario, who was driving the three-litre sportscar destined to race at the 1000 km of Zeltweg, third to last race of the Sportscar World Championship. Although, no official decision about this has been made yet. The technicians have to analyse the results of the tests before deciding whether one or two cars could be sent to Austria, where the first session of free practice will be held on Friday June 22nd, 1973, or Ferrari will be absent in this race, which follows the 24h of Le Mans. The French marathon has been really proving for the cars. The final decision is expected to be known on Wednesday morning. The hope is that - putting aside the Ickx-gate and, naturally, the conditions of the cars – it will be positive, otherwise the Matra Simca would have an easy life in winning that World Championship that Ferrari bravely fought for so far, so much that they’re leading the standings with a 26-point advantage. The title fight is running out and neither Ferrari nor Matra can afford taking breaks. Of course, the French manufacturer has a less onerous commitment than the Italian one, not participating in Formula 1 Grand Prix, but this is a well-known topic. Rather, the fact that Ickx left Brussels and his business to travel early to Zeltweg could be a positive sign of the Belgian’s commitment to the race. There has been a lot of talking around Ickx during these days, including a recurring rumour about his retirement from racing at the end of the season. And there have been discussions about his possible successors at Ferrari. Among the many graciously distributed names, we would pick Clay Regazzoni, who is always very welcome and is not getting along well at all with the B.R.M. team. From Switzerland, the deal is reported to be already done, since the contacts were concreted in Monte-Carlo, during the race weekend. We will see. At the moment, it’s better to focus on the upcoming 1000 km, which assumes great value in the challenge between Red and Blue. That mention, included in the statement that Ferrari released to the press, about the night-time completion of the cars and the last-minute arrival at Zeltweg is a little worrying. In fact, Ferrari decided to compete in the 1000 km of Zeltweg, in Austria, with two cars. The technicians came to this decision after a thoughtful examination of the conditions of the 312-Ps coming from Le Mans. In this regard, here is the press statement released by the Maranello team:

 

"The two Ferrari 312-P units destined for the 1000 km of Austria will be completed tonight (Thursday 21 June, ed.) and will leave for Zeltweg, where they can only arrive on Friday due to the interruption of the journey for tomorrow's festivities in Italy and in Austria".

 

Worrying in the sense that the cars might not be perfectly in order, however we know the value of Maranello's technicians and mechanics, capable of every miracle. On the other hand, it was better to dare rather than hide behind a more cautious but defeatist and depressing denial. In the complicated game of the Sportscar World Championship regulation and the relative scores, Ferrari needs to win at least one race out of the three scheduled and the Matra-Simca two, as well as getting placements. That's why the Austrian race is a very important episode in this dispute that never seems to end. But, at this point, we’re at the final squeeze and if red prevails over blue, despite controversies and technical problems, we will witness one of the most beautiful achievements obtained by Ferrari in many years of success. As far as Formula 1 is concerned, there is time to think, unless the June deadlines impose precise choices for 1974 and a possible renunciation to one of the two championships Ferrari traditionally takes part in. 

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On Friday 22 June 1973 the Gulf-Mirage stands out on the first day of testing for the 1000 km of Austria. But it must be clarified that the credit goes to the type of tires used by Hailwood and Watson's car and to the track conditions. The British team uses Firestone tires which, in the wet, are superior to the Goodyears used by Matra-Simca and Ferrari. A veritable deluge hits the Zeltweg circuit and surprisingly this three-litre Spider, which had only known one moment of glory at Spa so far, emerged. The time classification counts, therefore, relatively, also because the local meteorologists guarantee blue skies and sun for Saturday and Sunday. Under the water, however, the situation sees the Gull-Mirage of Hailwood-Watson at the top in 1'56"15, at an average speed of 183 km/h, then the Matra-Simca of Beltoise-Cevert (2'00"69 ) and Pescarolo-Larrousse (2'01"61) and the Ferrari of Merzario-Pace (2'02"76), then the second Gulf-Mirage with Bell-Ganley (2"03"25) and the Ferrari of Ickx -Redman (2'05"7). To give an idea of ​​the differences between dry and wet conditions, in the previous days, in private training, Cevert had lapped in 1'39"0. On this first day of testing, the various teams took care to perfect the set-up of the cars. Ferrari is present with a 312-P Spider of the usual type for Ickx (who didn't complete even one lap, leaving Redman in charge of setting up the car), and one modified by Mauro Forghieri for Merzario (who limited to five laps) and Pace. This is the specimen already seen in the 1000 km of Nürburgring, but with further updates to the front and rear suspension, nose, and brake air intakes. Matra-Simca reused the pre-Le Mans MS 670s, where the new C-type models with rear inboard brakes and Porsche gearbox were used. Here the voitures bleu are the usual and, as the time obtained by Cevert on a dry track indicates, they seem to be the cars to beat. The French are convinced that, in case of bad weather, the Gulf-Mirage will be able to count on an advantage of around 2 seconds per lap.

 

Naturally, they knock on wood. Finally, to close this brief overview of the forces lined up at Zeltweg, here are Alfa Romeo and Porsche. The Milanese company sent just one 33-TT-12 with the unprecedented Stommelen-Regazzoni pairing. The car, which has a new type of valve springs for the engine and two front bonnets with a new design, completes only one lap. During the second lap, Regazzoni was forced to stop due to the breakage of the 12-cylinder boxer, a breakage which - added to those that occurred at the Nurburgring - causes considerable alarm. Porsche is presented with two group 5 Carreras, of which the one reserved for the young Austrian Koenig is very interesting: it has a long tail that recalls the famous five-liter 917-K. The Porsche-Martini Team decided to end the season here, renouncing to the away races in the USA and Argentina. The challenge, if there was any doubt, is therefore limited to Ferrari and Matra-Simca. And both teams need to win. After Friday's downpour, on the second day of practice, sun and rain alternate on the Zeltweg circuit. The former, however, ended up prevailing over the latter and on the dry track again, the Matra-Simca confirmed its speed performances. Two voitures bleu will thus start from the front row for this ninth round of the Sportscar World Championship, while Ferrari had to settle for third time with the car driven by Ickx-Redman. The situation is this: Cevert-Beltoise lapped in 1'37"64, at an average speed of 218.020 km/h, and Pescarolo-Larrousse, the winners of Le Mans, in 1'38"94. Ickx, on the other hand, set a time of 1'39"64 which is slightly better than the time of the Gulf-Mirage driven by Hailwood-Watson. There are, therefore, exactly two seconds of difference between the fastest of the Matra-Simcas and the faster than the Ferraris (Merzario is fifth in the standings with a time of 1'39"98). It must be admitted that it is not a subtle difference, however Ferrari's technicians and drivers console themselves by thinking of what happened in other races, such as the Nurburgring: great performances by the French company in training and then engine failures in the race. Jacky Ickx confirms:

 

"Our best weapon is reliability. We find ourselves in a 1000 km race after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It will be a very tight competition, and the resistance of the cars will have its importance".

 

The Belgian obtained his best lap in the first phase of the session. In the second half it rained and only in the very last few minutes did the sky light up again.

 

"Tomorrow we’ll see a duel between Matra and Ferrari only if the track is dry, otherwise the Gulf-Mirage could teach us and them a lesson thanks to the more efficient wet pneumatics". 

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Tonight Ferrari hadn't yet decided whether to use the elongated rear bonnets on the 312-P, like Monza or Spa or Le Mans, or rather the short ones used on other circuits.

 

"With the long tail we gain something on the straights in terms of speed. However, the short one should give us greater confidence when braking before the corners, reducing the pitching of the car".

 

Adjusting the inclination of the large spoiler that stands out on the back of the spider produced in Maranello takes time, and the rain prevents the carrying out of comparative tests in the second phase of the free practice. Giacomo Caliri, technical manager of the team, says:

 

"We will make the decisive checks after Sunday's free practice session".

 

In the Matra-Simca team, the only fear is about an engine failure. There is the usual 12 cylinder lubrication problem. The engine problem also persecuted Alfa Romeo, present at Zeltweg with a new 33-TT-12 for Regazzoni-Stommelen, which was joined by an old eight-cylinder with Pam-Facetti. On Friday Regazzoni stopped with a broken engine after two laps, on Saturday it was Stommelen's turn after three laps. A heavy budget, so much so that Carlo Chili, the team's technical director, is uncertain whether to line up the car on the track for the race or not. The cause of these failures should be looked for in an oil pipe, which breaks causing the lubricant to seep into the gearbox and leaving the engine dry.

 

"It’s the gearbox that’s faulty. It’s a newly constructed specimen; the one we used previously never gave us any trouble".

 

On Sunday 24th June 1973, it’s the blue of France to take the victory in Austria. The Matra-Simca beats the Ferrari in this ninth round of the Sportscar World Championship, putting a serious claim on the title. For the fourth time Pescarolo-Larrousse emerge as winners, ahead of Cevert-Beltoise and the Ferrari of Ickx-Redman. The Gulf-Mirage of Hailwood-Watson and Bell-Ganley finish fourth and fifth, preceding the second Ferrari in the race, that of Merzario-Pace. The new Alfa Romeo 33 TT 12 of Stommelen-Regazzoni had a disappointing performance and failed to qualify due to a series of inconveniences that delayed its progress. The one-two of the French company was fully deserved. The two 670s held up throughout the race, with no lubrication issues like those that caused the downfall at the Nurburgring, and Pescarolo was able to run undisturbed towards victory, inflicting on average one second per lap to Ickx's Ferrari. Pescarolo was always in the lead, except for two brief periods (from lap 34 to lap 47, and from lap 69 to lap 84), when Cevert took the lead thanks to the leader’s pit stops. In short, the Matra-Simcas led the race from start to finish, and Ickx-Redman could only settle for second place from lap 60 to lap 63, from lap 85 to lap 93, and from lap 108 to lap 117. Pescarolo-Larrousse's victory over their teammates was aided by an extra pit stop that Cevert and Beltoise were forced to make due to fuel system issues. The fuel pumps were not picking up enough fuel, an issue also faced by Ferrari, and caused by the characteristics of the Zeltweg circuit, with very fast corners with different inclines and directions. While the Ferrari of Merzario-Pace lost time due to brake problems (Pace also hit a guardrail, damaging the nose), Ickx-Redman's car ran without problems.

 

"We were slower in turns, due to the inadequate road grip".

 

Ickx is also involved in an unfortunate incident with some Italian journalists. The driver lashes out at one of them, mistaking him for another journalist whom he believed to be the author of biased articles, full of fake news. A small scuffle begins, until some officers restore calm. Ickx later apologizes to his stunned and innocent opponent. The Alfa Romeo, plagued by engine failures during practice, stops at the pit after a few laps due to a fuel system issue. Then, the electrical system fails, and finally, a rearview mirror breaks. Stommelen and Regazzoni are not allowed to restart until the necessary repairs are made.

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So, while Pescarolo completes his 170th lap, the Milanese car only did 92 laps. The Gulf-Mirage and Porsche Carrera perform well. The British cars show no fuel supply issues and can reduce their disadvantage, while the German ones perform their usual consistent race. Only 10.000 spectators attend the 1000 km of Zeltweg. The cold wind and cloudy sky (it only rains for ten minutes towards the end of the race) prompt Austrians to stay at home. With the 1000 km of Zeltweg, held in Austria, Matra-Simca has put a serious claim on the Sportscar World Championship, of which the race was the third-to-last event. The French company now leads the standings with 104 points compared to Ferrari's 100, taking into account the rule that requires discarding the three worst results out of the eleven races on the calendar. Nothing is lost for the Maranello team, but they must win the next race, the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, in the United States (Tuesday, July 31, 1973). And here some concerns arise. There were two specimens of the 312-P at Zeltweg: one, for Ickx-Redman, of the usual type, the other, for Merzario-Pace, modified. The first and second places went to the two Matra-Simca cars of Pescarolo-Larrousse and Cevert-Beltoise, while Ickx's Ferrari came third, and Merzario's sixth. However, it was the latter that performed better, as demonstrated by the slight difference between Cevert's and Merzario's fastest lap times. Trivial brake issues halted their momentum. The problem now is only one: will they have enough time to improve the car for the American race? If so, the title fight is up for grabs. One fact raises doubts: it is from Vallelunga that the voitures bleu have a better performance than the Red Spiders in the corners. The new version of the 312-P only appeared at the Nurburgring and is not perfect yet. Why is that? Other disappointments come from Alfa Romeo. For one reason or another, the 33 TT 12 cars are unable to achieve anything good. Patience, yes, but how many years will their debut last for? Off-track at Spa, double incident at Targa Florio, two broken engines at Nurburgring, troubles in Austria. But why do only French constructors manage to align a new car at the start of a race and see it perform excellently? Mysteries. Meanwhile, the Formula 1 World Championship is at its eighth round with the French Grand Prix. Two drivers are competing for the victory of the title: Emerson Fittipaldi in Lotus and Jackie Stewart in Tyrrell. The Brazilian is only two points ahead of the Scotsman, who could overtake his rival at Le Castellet and beat Jim Clark's record of victories in World Championship races. A nice challenge, from which Ferrari is once again cut off.

 

The first three races of the season were contested with the 312 B2. Patience, it was said, it will retire anyway. From Spain the new B3 appeared. Patience, they said, it's just the beginning. But the same thing as Alfa in the 3000 cc sports is happening here. Time passes and no results are seen. Enzo Ferrari is impatient, but is Ickx doing his duty or not? And from this question follow endless controversies. In France, there are Ickx, with his two cars as per contract, and Merzario with a third single-seater that was assembled just before the race. The spirits are tense, the Belgian perhaps with resentment, especially after learning that Regazzoni conducted a secret test in Maranello of the B3, a kind of consultation, since Ickx himself cannot say what is wrong with this single seater. The situation with Tecno-Martini is even worse. The Pederzani brothers cannot stand David York, the team's sports director and a trusted man of the Rossi counts, who are the ones who provide the money. Anger increases between cars made in Bologna and others made in England, among planned tests that are then postponed and talks that should be clarifying and then turn into fights. How sad. But is it really that difficult to race in Formula 1? Someone begins to suspect - jokingly - that Ken Tyrrell and Colin Chapman are two disguised martians. When the business of practice starts, it is mostly a matter of many drivers adjusting their psychological outlook, for the Ricard circuit has a long straight, followed by a slot-track section. If you adjust all your aids to super-cornering, like nose fins, aerofoils, tyres and so on to give maximum adhesion through the wiggly bits then there is so much drag that the poor old Cosworth V8 can hardly push it through the air on the long straight. Alternatively, if you cheat the wind and get the Cosworth V8 wound up on the highest possible gear ratio and achieve 180 m.p.h. on the long straight, you are liable to find the course car keeping up with you through the twisty bits. Consequently, the practice problem is simple-strike a happy medium, without letting anyone else notice, and most of all not let them see what you understand so that they can’t copy it. Of course, there are all the usual problems to overcome, like engines that would not run properly, malfunctioning instruments, fuel systems that objected to the heat, wrong gear ratios, bits that broke, and for some teams, drivers who spin-off and do the damage.

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For those with 12 cylinders, either in vee formation or flat formation there is the all-important problem of keeping up with the V8 engines, especially those used by Stewart, Cevert, Fittipaldi, Peterson and Hulme. There is a feeling that drivers like those mentioned have special Cosworth engines, which is why they go so fast, and if that isn’t the reason then they all have special Goodyear tyres, for no one wants to admit that they are better drivers than Ganley, Oliver, Pescarolo, de Adamich or Wilson Fittipaldi, and no-one wants to admit that a Lotus or a Tyrrell is a better chassis than a Williams or a Shadow. One thing that cannot be blamed for this difference between the front and the back of a Grand Prix field is the Hewland gearbox, though it does occasionally decide whether you win or lose. Those who believe that some drivers have the ability and some do not like to think that the leading group are better than the tail-end group until along comes a new boy; young, carefree, happy, untroubled by sponsor responsibilities, team problems, money-grabbing, job-hunting, with no need to justify his existence, full of enthusiasm and eager to go racing. For the first time in his life he gets into a McLaren M23, the team’s normal spare car, 23/3, and he’s on the front row of the grid, with Stewart on his right and Fittipaldi on his left. This must prove that he has a special Cosworth V8 like the others and special Goodyear tyres. But wait, it is only his third Formula 1 event, and his first in Europe, but not his first motor race, nor his first works McLaren drive, for this woolly-headed youngster, is South African Jody Scheckter and the Colnbrook team have been promising him a car in Formula One for some time. With Revson away in America racing in a USAC event for McLaren, this is the chance for Scheckter and he will not hesitate. In the first practice session, Stewart is credited with a time of 1'48"37 and the next best is Cevert with 1'49"39 and nobody paid much attention, assuming that this first session is just the beginning. When nobody could approach the 1'48"0 in either of the Saturday sessions, not even Stewart himself, the various teams compare notes and find that the best time set for Stewart on Friday, is a low 1'49"0, so it looks as though the timekeeper misread by 1 sec., but if they have it they don’t say.
 

At the moment there are three brands that prevail in the Formula 1 World Championship: Tyrrell, Lotus, and McLaren. Each team lines up two drivers: Stewart and Cévert, Emerson Fittipaldi and Peterson, Hulme and Revson, or Schekter in their absence due to commitments in the United States. These drivers are doing what they want, especially Stewart and Fittipaldi, with Cévert and Peterson in the roles of young lions and Hulme and his wingman in the role of likely troublemakers. This is the line-up for the 1973 World Championship, and the French Grand Prix seems to conform to it, as the first day of practice has just taken place. The race, which will take place over a distance of 54 laps of 5,810 meters, represents the eighth round of the World Championship and the opportunity for Stewart to overtake Fittipaldi. The results of the practice sessions are favorable to the Scotsman and, in particular, to Tyrrell, as Cévert has placed second in the list of fastest times. However, Stewart has emerged on top with his time of 1'48"37, equivalent to an average speed of 192.952 km/h. The Scot has put over a second between himself and Cévert, who in turn is just ahead of Peterson and Hulme, and with a more substantial lead over Schekter and Fittipaldi, who, at 1'51"0, opens a series of seven drivers within one second. Among these seven are also the two from Ferrari, Ickx and Merzario. The situation is bitter, at least for now, and it is hoped that it will change with Saturday's practice. This does not take into account the times obtained with the reserve cars by Hulme and Stewart. Ickx is in eighth position, preceded by Jarier with the March, while Merzario is in tenth position, after de Adamich with an old Brabham. What is most perplexing is the lack of precise indications on the work to be done, on the modifications to be made to improve this beautiful car, which is modern in design, well-maintained, has a powerful engine, has been studied with method and affection. You look at it and you want to say:

 

"Why don't you make Tyrrell and Lotus bite dust?"

 

The 312 B3 doesn't speak, and neither does Ickx, who has long argued that the car is good, but then does not achieve significant results. Now Ickx appears disappointed, to the point that he confides to friends that he does not feel comfortable with the car. And perhaps the spin he had with his race B3 in a not even difficult turn of this flat but safe Paul Ricard circuit is evidence of this. The Belgian ended up with his wheels on a stretch of gravel-strewn track, widening the trajectory too much in the Sainte-Beaume turn and performing a spin that was rather harmless in itself: a blow to the rear wing and front wing, a slight tear in the bodywork. It is a delicate moment for Ickx, whose relationship with Enzo Ferrari has now seriously deteriorated, but it is also a delicate moment for the Maranello team.

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And Ickx, at least as long as he races for them, should give his best, as a true professional. On the other hand, we shouldn't expect much from Merzario either, who only received the B3 built for him on Wednesday. The man from Como is trying to fine-tune it and adjust it to his liking. He is not looking for a show-stopping time and on Sunday he will try to finish the race without any particular ambition. Meanwhile, Tecno-Martini didn’t show up for practice. Who did show up were sporting director David York and Chris Amon: the Kiwi driver expresses bitter words about the incredible situation that has arisen among the team members, namely the Tecno team of the Pederzani brothers and the Turin sponsors Gregorio and Vittorio Rossi of Martini.

 

"There are two cars ready, and I have been left without one".

 

The new Tecno-Martini Formula 1 car, designed by British technicians, was completed on Thursday, June 21, 1973, in Bologna, Italy, at the Pederzani brothers' workshop. The car, conceived by a young specialist, Fowell, and built by Thompson (who himself built the monocoque of the Ferrari 312 B3), was being tested by Chris Amon, who was supposed to drive it at the French Grand Prix. This car was supposed to replace the old Tecno-Martini, which was built with many difficulties by Pederzani. It features some very daring solutions in terms of suspension and aerodynamics. The water radiator is in the nose and the front brakes are located on the wheels and not on-board (like the Lotus). The new Tecno-Martini has very clean and elegant lines. It resembles the Ferrari a bit, but today, with safety rules imposed on constructors, Formula 1 cars end up having fairly similar shapes. In the second practice, Hulme is the fastest and in the third Scheckter is the fastest, so if the time-keepers are making an error of 1 sec., then Scheckter should be in the pole position! Even in the middle of the front row, made people ask what Fittipaldi, Peterson, Cevert, Reutemann, Hulme, Regazzoni, Ickx, Hailwood, Beltoise and other aces are up to. The French Grand Prix is being prepared under the sign of uncertainty, but always within the three teams that are dominating the Formula 1 World Championship, namely Tyrrell, Lotus, and McLaren. All the other teams, including the one from Maranello, are eliminated - except for electrifying surprises - from this battle, which for Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi represents another stage, the eighth of their thrilling duel for the title. The Brazilian has 41 points, the Scotsman 39: if the latter wins on the Le Castellet circuit, he will take the lead in the standings. The second day of testing has not changed the technical hierarchy but has brought some changes in the driver ranking. Stewart, with a time of 1'48"37 (apparently obtained with the use of very special tires provided by Goodyear or, according to others, simply due to a clear one-second gift from the timekeepers) remained the fastest on this track which has an endless straight of 1800 meters and two sinuous stretches, but by his side there will be Scheckter and Emerson Fittipaldi instead of Cevert and Peterson. The other two young lions of Formula 1 have fallen back to the second row. In the second session of practice, Scheckter and Fittipaldi stood out, while Stewart and Cevert, who had wanted some changes in the adjustment of suspensions and aerodynamic elements, were unable to repeat their previous exploits. Scheckter is 23 years old, South African, and made his debut in Formula 1 at the end of last season. He is one of the most promising young drivers, one of those pressing on the accelerator. It is said that he is also interested in Ferrari. His time of 1'49"18, in a context of so many established aces, speaks for itself. Fittipaldi lapped in 1'49"36: it was logical that the World Champion would improve his performance.

 

"Chapman sorted out my suspension, and now the car runs well. I'm just afraid of some whims of the fuel system, which hasn't worked perfectly even in these days".

 

Stewart, Fittipaldi, and Cevert pose together at the end of the testing for a series of ceremonial photos. The three joke with each other, then Stewart and Fittipaldi make some allusions to tomorrow's race. It seems like a duet.

 

"It's going to be a difficult race, there's no favorite, a trivial unforeseen event can be enough to stop us, the championship is at stake, the title is now our matter, we hope to get some points".

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Moreover, for some time now, there have been whispers that Jackie Stewart intends to retire from racing at the end of the season. The Scot has achieved an enviable financial situation and could therefore retire in luxury. Additionally, his health conditions, although significantly improved compared to last year, are not yet perfect, and he still remembers the tragedies that some friends, such as Courage and Rindt, fell victim to. Rumors are circulating, and in Le Castellet, it is said that Stewart has begged Ken Tyrrell not to take any initiatives on his behalf for contracts in view of 1974. The three-year agreement with the tire company Goodyear expires in October, and so far, the Scotsman has not engaged in any negotiations for renewal with the American executives. Finally, the two-time World Champion would have announced to Tyrrell that he will make a final decision at the beginning of September. When asked about it, Stewart said he was surprised about the matter, but he does not deny the possibility of retiring at the end of the year. The Scot stated, 

 

"I have not decided anything yet. I'll see later".

 

At this point, it can be assumed that Stewart really intends to retire from racing, but in style, meaning only after winning the title for the third time and surpassing the record of Grand Prix victories (25), held by Jim Clark. Two goals that he can achieve. Meanwhile, for Jacky Ickx and Arturo Merzario, the situation, for now, is not looking good. On this second day of practice, Merzario has made some improvements, but nothing significant enough to solve the problem, while Ickx has not improved since Friday. Leaving Arturo Merzario aside, who is still working on his new car, the technicians of the Maranello team expect more from Jacky Ickx, at least precise indications on what is wrong with the 312 B3. The Belgian does not provide these indications, and moreover, he is going through a particular psychological moment. The inability to assert himself, recent controversies, or difficulties in relationships with Enzo Ferrari have thrown him into a crisis that seems deep and dangerous, especially for him. A man who travels at 300 km/h needs all his psycho-physical resources, balance, and serenity. Ferrari's executives and mechanics, perhaps restraining the rightful impatience of those who would like to see their driver full of determination and spirit, have understood this moment and are trying to help Ickx. It is a difficult task because the number one driver of the Maranello team is down, absent, and nervous. The fact is that Merzario has the tenth time (1'51"17), and Ickx has the twelfth (1'51"44), among BRM, Surtees, Brabham, and March. Merzario should have changed the engine during the three hours and twenty minutes of the interval between the two training sessions, but it was preferred to help Ickx gain morale. The Belgian entered to the track about twenty minutes late, then stopped to make some adjustments, and finally could not restart due to the rev limiter, which caused a short circuit.

 

All that remains is to acknowledge Merzario's commitment, who is trying to give everything he can. It is a situation that leaves puzzled and attracts the curiosity of foreign technicians and commentators. Tyrrell, Lotus, McLaren are talked about, but also Ferrari. Why is it not winning? Early on Sunday morning, there is an untimed test session for the Grand Prix cars and then as the day got hotter and hotter there are races for everyone and everything, until 3:00 p.m. when the Grand Prix of France is due to start. After two warm-up laps, they begin to form up on the dummy grid, with the drivers standing protected from the heat with umbrellas, sunshades, sheets of cardboard and anything else that would cast a shadow. The free-ticket side of the start-line is packed out, with people fighting and struggling for a view, while opposite, the grandstand has plenty of empty seats in it, and anyone who cares to pay money could have sat and attended the race in comfort. The bridge over the start line, paid for by Marlboro cigarettes is banned to all except a television crew and even Mr Marlboro himself, the man who controls all the money the firm is pouring into motor racing, was refused permission to go up on his bridge, and had to stand behind the struggling crowds of free-loaders. As the 25 starters move up towards the main grid Merzario is having trouble starting his Ferrari and only just got going in time, taking a position behind Pace’s Surtees as the flag fell. Fittipaldi is trying hard to outsmart the starter’s flag, and Reutemann made a super jump-start from the third row with his Brabham, but the young eager lad in the middle of the front row is up and gone in one of the quickest starts imaginable, leaving all the aces looking like beginners.

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One driver who seems fated to start and never end is Oliver, who cooks his clutch on the line and his black Shadow barely got out of sight of the starter’s flag. At the end of lap one, a McLaren takes the right-angle bend before the pits straight in a lovely, ragged opposite-lock power slide, and it wasn’t Hulme. Scheckter keeps by, followed by Peterson (Lotus), Stewart (Tyrrell), Hulme (McLaren) and Fittipaldi (Lotus), and followed is the operative word. They are not trying to get by the South African, they are trying to keep up. A gap already appears between Fittipaldi in fifth place and Cevert in sixth place, when they put Scheckter in his place it would presumably relegate him to fifth place, ahead of Cevert, Reutemann, Ickx, Jarier, Regazzoni, and all the others, which would still be praiseworthy. Next time round Peterson is very close behind the McLaren, but behind nonetheless, though the Establishment said: Here they go, they’ll pick him off one-by-one, and elbow the cheeky little devil back to where he belongs. Forty laps later the Establishment shut up completely, for Scheckter, who is in the lead right to the end of lap 42, never look as if he is going to lose it, while all manner of desperate things is going on behind him. Until lap 17 it’s a case of follow-my-leader, the embarrassing thing for all the top drivers is that Scheckter is the leader, and Peterson, Stewart, Hulme and Fittipaldi can’t do anything but follow, while nobody else is even in the running for leading the race. As they start lap 18 Fittipaldi is in fourth place, and Hulme is heading for his pits with a flat left rear tyre. His stop takes longer than normal for he decides to have both rear ones changed for ones of different rubber, feeling that it is pointless to put the same type of tyre on again and risk another failure. Due to this, the leaders are due round again before Hulme is ready to go so his pit crew hold him back and as soon as Scheckter appears in sight they gave Hulme the go signal and he shot out of the pits and join onto the tail of the foursome in the same position as he had left them, but a whole lap behind. Anyone who goes to the bar for a Ricard at this juncture of the race could know Hulme has been into the pits. At 20 laps Fittipaldi took third place from Stewart, and on the next lap, he takes second place from Peterson, obviously despairing of the Swede ever being able to deal with the South African out in front.

 

On lap 22 Stewart headed for the pits as Hulme had done, with a flat left rear tyre, but unlike the McLaren team the Tyrrell boys have a new wheel and tyre on in a flash and Stewart is back in the race albeit, now in thirteenth place. This deflating tyre is the reason Fittipaldi moves up a place so easily, and Peterson let his team-mate by, to see what he could do about Scheckter. By this time they lapped the slowest car and are now beginning to pick off the other tail-enders, and the McLaren and the two Lotuses ran nose-to-tail, with Hulme close behind watching it all, even though he is a lap behind. Naturally, each time the leading trio lapped a tail-ender, Hulme goes by with them and moves up a place. Although Scheckter is on his own in his battle against the two Lotuses, or to be more accurate, the two Lotuses have only Scheckter to beat, the sight of Hulme in all their mirrors must be encouraging to the South African and annoying to the Brazilian and the Swede. At 35 laps Peterson’s Lotus hesitate momentarily on acceleration and Hulme nipped by and positioned himself between the two black and gold cars, and the four of them continue to circulate nose-to-tail, with Fittipaldi looking for a way by Scheckter, but not finding it. They are now lapping Pace and Regazzoni, with Hulme moving up a place at each manoeuvre and as they go down the long straight on lap 42 they caught up with Beltoise in his B.R.M. Unable to get by they are forced to follow him into the wiggly section which finishes with the right-angle turn onto the pit straight, and this slowed their pace slightly so that they all got closer to Scheckter, who was waiting for the end of the wiggly section to go by the B.R.M. Then something happens. With Scheckter behind the B.R.M. and waiting until the exit of the corner to accelerate by, Fittipaldi sees his chance and dives to the inside, but the South African doesn’t move over and the left front wheel of the Lotus hit the McLaren’s right side of the cockpit, the wheels tangle and as Beltoise left the corner the McLaren shoots into the air and land with a thud on the outer kerb, the impact bending the left front suspension mounting, while the Lotus skated across the corner and onto the rough with its left front suspension broken. Hulme can’t see it all happening and knows it was going to happen, from previous experience of Fittipaldi diving through the inside on slow corners, but he has no way of warning the inexperienced Scheckter. Hulme is the first out of the dust, now on the same lap as the leader who is, of course, Peterson, who drives through the dust into the lead. 

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Scheckter keeps his car on the road and set off after the Swede, but the front left corner is scraping on the ground, and at the end of the lap he draws into the pits and is forced to retire. Fittipaldi drives his Lotus a few yards beyond the corner and abandoned it, the left front wheel nearly being right off. As the dust settled the Lotus team heard yelling That crazy South African, while the McLaren team were screaming That stupid Brazilian, and Peterson drives carefully on in the lead, not believing that luck is on his side for once. Hulme keeps his same pace knowing it's been six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other and a coming-together of two fairly inexperienced young drivers, inexperienced by his standards, that is. Few people believe that Peterson is actually in the lead, with no one challenging him, and those who only saw the first six in a Grand Prix went to the bar for a glass of Ricard, while everyone else took stock of the situation, for those 42 laps had left little opportunity to worry about the plight of the people who are not going to win and the no-hopers, to say nothing of the rank outsiders. Almost unbelievably the complete B.R.M. team is still running and hasn’t made a single pit stop, but they are not very inspiring, Lauda is 9th, Beltoise 12th and Regazzoni 13th, Firestone tyres are the popular excuse, but it doesn’t ring very true for there is a Firestone equipped car way ahead of them in sixth place. This is the March 731 owned by Lord Hesketh and driven by James Hunt, and if Scheckter hasn’t been at the meeting Hunt could deservedly have all the glory, for him is going well. In practice he had beaten all manner of more experienced Formula 1 drivers, is on the sixth row of the grid, and right from the start of the race, he got on with the job and hang on to the pacemakers, leaving the also-rans well behind. Even though the air intake to his Cosworth V8 engine falls off on lap 45, he is depressed to collect a well-earned sixth place, after the leader’s fracas. Of the Surtees and the Williams teams the less said the better, for neither of them ever looked like producing a winner, and at times, even a finisher. Pescarolo takes Galli’s place in the Williams team and gives up when the engine appears to blow up, while Ganley struggles along at the back. The pace changes the tyres on his Surtees, but he isn't able to show how well he can drive, and Hailwood stops with oil coming out of the wrong places.

 

The Shadow team is a little better off making virtually no impression at all in practice, and Graham Hill with his private Shadow is faster than both the works cars, while in the race he led Follmer by a long way. Leading Oliver is no problem, as he barely left the starting line. Follmer’s miserable weekend came to a stop when his engine died, due to a lack of fuel pressure for the injection system on the Cosworth engine. The Ferrari team appears to be in good order, except that Merzario is faster than Ickx in practice, but then with his starting line trouble, he starts the race with a handicap, from which he never fully recovers even though he drives courageously. Ickx is content to drift along in eighth place, behind Cevert and Reutemann, but no threat to them, until after Stewart has his pit stop. As the Tyrrell driver is charging back up through the field from his thirteenth position, Ickx wakes up and tries hard to keep in front of the Scot, and they both close up on Reutemann. Stewart got by the Ferrari on lap 51, after pressing hard for several laps and indicating very forcibly that he wants to get by. This left Ickx in fifth place and put Stewart into fourth place, and though he tries all he knows there is no way past Reutemann. The Argentinian Brabharn driver holds a very good sixth place in the opening stages of the race, behind the pack that is chasing Scheckter, and he is ahead of Cevert, having passed the Frenchman on lap 5. Then on lap 27 he make a slight error and spin, letting Cevert go by, and stayed behind Tyrrell to the end of the race, finishing a worthy third, mere inches ahead of Stewart. The other Brabhams don't fare so well, de Adamich retiring from his position of 13th on lap 28 when a drive-shaft universal joint brakes, and Wilson Fittipaldi, in the latest Brabham BT42, retiring four laps before the end, while in eighth place, with his throttle mechanism jammed shut. Right at the back, from start to finish, but running completely reliably is the brand new Ensign of Maurice Nunn, driven by Rikky von Opel, straight from Formula 3 into his first Grand Prix. When the leading group started by him after only 17 laps, having made up a whole lap, he has a good chance to see what Grand Prix racing is all about, as Scheckter led Peterson, Stewart, Fittipaldi and Hulme a merry dance. On lap 31 they do it again, this time without Stewart. Unlike some new designs that appear in Formula One and last so short a time that they are hardly noticing, the Ensign goes through non-stop to the finish, which is more than can be said for a lot of other teams.

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The mixed bag of Marches is completely dominated by the Hesketh Racing one driven by Hunt, though Jarier in the works car is going well for the short while he last, actually leading Hunt, until a drive-shaft universal joint broke. The Stockbroker March, usually driven by Beuttler, is in the hands of Reine Wisell, as the regular driver is still suffering from an F2 accident the week before. On the start line, the Swede finds petrol seeping up the straps of his seat harness and beginning to burn into his body, he started hoping it would wear off. The pain gets worse and he has to stop after 3 laps, and while he is doctored with ointment his mechanics mop up the fuel, which is from an overflow, and not a leak. Bravely he rejoices in the race but has to give up when the engine show signs of overheating. As if with velvet gloves and velvet boots, Peterson completes the 54 laps, not daring to think about anything until he sees the chequered flag and a joyful Colin Chapman leaping into the air to celebrate yet another Grand Prix victory for Lotus and the John Player Team, but more important to Peterson, his first Grand Prix victory, after coming so close so many times. A long way back came Cevert in second place, followed by Reutemann fending off a truly on form Stewart who drives hard after his pit stop, followed by an unimpressive Ickx, the joyful Hunt, then Merzario, Hulme and Lauda, all on the same lap as the winner. It had been a long time since we last saw such a balanced and exciting race as this French Grand Prix, which was resolved in the end by an innocuous yet decisive incident between Jody Scheckter and Emerson Fittipaldi, which opened the way for a surprised Ronnie Peterson to claim his first victory in three years of Formula 1.

 

In response to Lotus' success, Tyrrell came second with Cevert and, above all, with Stewart's fourth place. It was not the placement that the Scottish driver would have wished for before the race, but nonetheless the three points allowed him to overtake Fittipaldi in the World Championship standings, which had its eighth act at Le Castellet: Stewart 42, Fittipaldi 41, one point difference and the promise of other exciting battles. Finally, it is worth mentioning the performance of Ferrari: not exciting, but certainly better than that offered in practice and, in particular, producing more reassuring considerations for the immediate future. Ickx finished fifth and Merzario seventh: let's consider it a beginning of a comeback. The race respected the balance of values that emerged in the two days of practice, and only three subsequent incidents not related to the cars gave a shape to the standings. At the start, under scorching sun, with thousands of spectators in bathing suits and the air impregnated with tanning lotions (it looked like a beach, not a racetrack), Scheckter with McLaren, Stewart with Tyrrell, Hulme with the second McLaren, Peterson and Fittipaldi with the two Lotuses and Cevert with the other Tyrrell imposed the law of the strongest. But it was at the end of lap 42 that, in the corner that connects the mixed section with the grandstand straight, while overtaking Beltoise's B.R.M., Scheckter's McLaren and Fittipaldi's Lotus collided: the young South African ended up in the flat safety area that surrounds the track and restarted, stopping on the next lap; the Brazilian spun and stopped immediately, with the front suspension damaged and the left wheel bent. Back in the pits, Fittipaldi is furious.

 

"It's all Scheckter's fault, his McLaren was faster than my Lotus on the straight, but I was better in the mixed section. I tried to overtake him three or four times, but he prevented me from doing so in every way. We arrived at the corner together and Jody braked suddenly, too much, almost stopping. I was alongside the McLaren with Beltoise on my right. Jody closed instead of letting me pass, and we collided, in fact, he touched my Lotus. Too bad, because I had a chance to pull away from Stewart".

 

Emerson also goes to the McLaren pit to exchange a few words with the opposing team. Scheckter, who - aside from the accident - had a beautiful race, simply explains that he was following his exact trajectory and that Fittipaldi had little to complain about. Peterson finished the race calmly. The Swede won the first Grand Prix of his career after losing his home race two weeks ago on the penultimate lap due to the gradual deflation of a tire. The blond Ronnie admits in the end that he would never have been able to come out on top and says:

 

"I was betting on Scheckter".

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This statement confirms that not everything is happy at Lotus and how much rivalry separates Peterson from Fittipaldi.

 

"In England, I really hope to do it again, and only with my own strength".

 

While Jackie Stewart staged a powerful comeback, climbing back to fourth place thanks to the retirements of those in front of him and the passes he made.

 

"I would have preferred to overtake Fittipaldi with a victory, but I'm not complaining, and I'm happy all the same. I don't know if I could have come out on top, but the problems I had with the tires today took away any chance I had. I even finished the race with a semi-deflated tire due to a puncture. As for my challenge with Emerson, it seems that it remains open. We'll see each other in England".

 

Jacky Ickx had a steady race, remaining behind the magnificent five and Cevert and Reutemann with the Brabham. Merzario had a difficult start due to a fuel pump that decided to work at the last minute, causing the Como-born driver to lose two rows in the starting lineup. Then, Graham Hill (according to what Merzario reported) tried to make it impossible for him to pass, causing him to lose valuable time.

 

"Watch your rearview mirror".

 

Merzario yells after the finish to Graham Hill, who looks indulgent. Jacky Ickx explains that the problem that slowed him down comes from the suspensions, particularly the rear ones:

 

"The car performed better than in practice. No problem with the engine, which ran beautifully. It was in the mixed section that the others were faster than me. We need to work on the rear suspensions to give the rear better grip. For example, Stewart in his comeback caught up and passed me because he could accelerate earlier than me in the turns: I would have spun out".

 

Finally, Ickx identified what was wrong and gave valuable information to the technicians, who were moderately satisfied with this Grand Prix, which they approached with some fear.

 

"The key elements to improve the B3 are understanding the nature of the problems, preparing remedies, and carrying out the relevant tests".

 

The first step was perhaps taken at Le Castellet. It is hoped that Ickx or Merzario will soon return among the magnificent five in an upcoming Grand Prix. Changing the subject, the tobacco company that finances B.R.M. does not intend to renew the agreement for 1973 due to the poor results offered by the English team this year. Negotiations are underway with McLaren and, according to some, even with Lotus, but it is unlikely that Chapman will separate from his current sponsor because the contract will only expire at the end of 1974. Regazzoni also seems determined to leave B.R.M., of which he is very dissatisfied. Needless to say, the Swiss driver hopes to return to Ferrari. At Le Castellet, rumors say that the agreement has already been made. At the same time, at a meeting held at Le Castellet on the occasion of the French Grand Prix, the drivers' association, chaired by Denny Hulme, has agreed that the Italian Grand Prix will be held in Monza. The problem with the track is well known: it is not possible to build variants or chicanes to slow down the speed and select the group of cars, so the race becomes extremely dangerous. However, the drivers' association was satisfied with the solution implemented last year. The temporary variants had given a decent result and restoring them for next September will be enough. Moreover, even the recent Lottery Grand Prix was held with these chicanes created at the junction of the junior track with the road track and at the height of the Ascari curve. The drivers also raised the issue of possible indictments by Italian justice in the event of accidents. The Chapman case was discussed, and it was decided to create a kind of common front with the constructors. This action is mainly led by the British teams whose managers are rather impressed by the prospect of seeing Chapman in handcuffs for Rindt's tragedy. Some would like precise assurances from the Italian authorities and threaten to boycott the Grand Prix. It is a risk that, with the mediation of the responsible people of the CSAI and the Csi, should not concrete.


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