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#174 1969 South African Grand Prix

2021-11-20 23:00

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#174 1969 South African Grand Prix

After a farewell meeting with Enzo Ferrari on the 28th of December 1968, young driver from Trieste Andrea De Adamich defines his sporting program for

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After a farewell meeting with Enzo Ferrari on the 28th of December 1968, young driver from Trieste Andrea De Adamich defines his sporting program for the 1969 season. De Adamich, who is on holiday in the Swiss town of Villars-sur-Ollon, travels to Milan on Thursday 2nd January 1969 to sign a deal with Alfa Romeo to compete in the International Championship for Makes, driving the new Alfa Romeo 3-litre prototype. Regarding formula races, De Adamich becomes part of Team Surtees. Surtees will be the Italian’s teammate at Alfa Romeo, while in Formula 1 he will be driving a single seater built by British manufacturer B.R.M. The relationship between the former Formula 1 World Champion and De Adamich is very cordial and this chemistry is also brought on the racing track:

 

"At the moment, I know that John will assign me a new car of his team to participate in the ten races of British Formula A. It’s an original formula which provides for Formula 1-like cars, but with 5-litre engines and a weight of 550 kilograms. These are quite challenging cars, with a power output of around 430-450 horsepower".

 

The driver from Trieste will travel to Great Britain mid-month to test Team Surtees’s cars and, maybe, to make a deal with B.R.M. to compete in the Formula 1 World Championship, which will see its first round in South Africa on the 1st of March 1969.

 

"I’m planning to participate in all the Grand Prix of this season. Alfa Romeo will let me go in case of date-conjunction with the International Championship for Makes".

 

There is also the chance that De Adamich participates in the Can-Am Cup, always with Surtees’s cars, starting from August. Surtees is not just a professional racing driver but has also organized a team with qualified staff and cars. It is going to be a full year for De Adamich. At the moment, the Italian driver only thinks about enjoying himself skiing in Villars, as he will take part in a sort of Skibob World Championship. His rivals will be other famous racing drivers, such as Jacky Ickx from Belgium, Jackie Stewart, Jo Siffert, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jo Bonnier, Servoz Gavin, Clay Regazzoni and Vic Elford, who will suspend for a day his training for Rally De Monte-Carlo.

 

"For once, we will be racing at 50 km/h, without the fear of an engine issue".

 

To what concerns Ferrari, in the afternoon of Saturday 4th January 1969 Chris Amon, Derek Bell and the two Ferrari Dinos begin their adventure in the Tasman Series with the New Zealand Grand Prix, first of the seven rounds in the calendar. The two Ferrari drivers, the only ones confirmed from the previous year by the Maranello-based manufacturer, will have to demonstrate they deserve the trust put on them. Both Amon and Bell are in a similar situation. In 1968, they were not given the chance to show their potential due to reasons that were not related to their skills.

 

Amon was unable to win a race (in fact he was awarded the Oscar for the worst luck in Grand Prix racing) and at the end of the season he appeared a bit demoralized. The same can be said for Bell, arrived at Ferrari as the ace of Formula 3 and 2. The Briton was never able to express his qualities. For both, trying to win the Tasman Cup represents a great chance to earn a premium pass for the Formula 1 championship, which will begin in South Africa in March. Amon and Bell drive the 2.4-litre Dino 246 Tasmania, brought from 285 up to 300 horsepower. The weight is around 450 kilograms. The cars, derived from Formula 2 single seaters, are equipped with a rear wing, front baffles and other solutions successfully experimented the previous year. Rivals are numerous and with elite weapons. There are a couple of official Lotus-Fords, one of which driven by defending world champion Graham Hill and the other assigned to his new teammate, Jochen Rindt from Austria. Then, there is Piers Courage, winner of the last Temporada, who drives a Brabham-Ford prepared by Frank Williams’s team; Frank Gardner, driving the new Mildren build in Alan Mann’s workshop and equipped with Alfa 33’s engine brought to 2.5 litres. The car has Brabham suspension but the monocoque is completely self-built. Jack Brabham and probably the two ‘kiwis’ Dennis Hulme and Bruce McLaren will be part of the group too. That is a remarkable grid, with things furtherly shaken up by local drivers, who do not always live up to such challenging events. However, Amon too plays on home turf. That can be a crucial factor.

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In fact, Chris Amon in the Dino Ferrari is the fastest in New Zealand, during the qualifying of the Grand Prix that will be raced in Auckland. 58.2 seconds is all it takes to the Ferrari driver to cover the 2800 metres of the Pukehoke circuit, at an average speed of 173 km/h. Jochen Rindt is second fastest in the Lotus-Ford (58.4 seconds), followed by Derek Bell, with a time of 58.6 seconds, Graham Hill (58.8 seconds), who had some issues with the engine of his Lotus, and Piers Courage in the Brabham (59 seconds). And it’s Chris Amon again who wins the New Zealand Grand Prix, first round of the seven races of the Tasman Series. The New-Zealand driver, who had won the previous year too, covers the 58 laps of the race (equal to 162.5 kilometres) in 57’55"4, at an average speed of 169 km/h. In second place comes Jochen Rindt from Austria in the V8 2.5-litre Lotus-Ford, the most fearsome rival of the Ferrari driver during the whole race. This is a dream debut for Ferrari and Amon. The Dino, derived from a Formula 2 single-seater, has a six-cylinder 2.4 litre engine with 300 horsepower. Amon, on his part, defeats his usual bad luck and appears in great shape. The kiwi beats his own race record of 59’20"1 (average speed of 164.812 km/h), set in 1968. The fastest lap is set instead by Jochen Rindt on lap 9, while he was leading the race, in his effort to extend his gap on Chris Amon. Third and ahead of Derek Bell’s Ferrari Dino is Piers Courage’s eight-cylinder Brabham-Ford, who was able to be part of the fight between the Italian cars and the two Lotus-Fords of Rindt and defending Formula 1 World Champion Graham Hill.

 

On lap 16, while standing in fifth position, the Englishman is forced to retire due to mechanical issues. Already on qualifying day Hill’s car had had some problems, but the racing driver was able to finish his session, setting the fourth fastest time. The race witnesses a fierce fight. Amon, started on pole position, loses the lead at the end of the second lap in favour of Rindt, while Courage keeps third place. For sixteen long laps the kiwi chases the Austrian driver’s Lotus without losing a single centimetre, and on lap 18 retakes the lead. Rindt, in turn, tries to overtake his rival, but Amon keeps his position and crosses the finish line with a 20-second advantage on the Austrian. Apparently, it seems to be written by fate for Jochen Rindt to be beaten by the Ferrari Dinos. The Austrian, who suffered a scorching defeat in the Argentinian Formula 2 Temporada by Andrea De Adamich driving a Dino, arrived in Pukehoke ready for a rematch. However, this time too he has to postpone his victory. Amon, on his part, has put up a convincing performance. His fans are sure that Ferrari was wrong not to renovate his contract for 1969, despite all the criticism for the poor results in Formula 1. The young kiwi, according to the experts who saw the race, has reached the maturity he had always lacked. For example, his start was excellent, and this should not be underestimated: in fact, the start had always been a weakness of his. We will see what he can do in the next round of the Tasman Series in Levin.

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One week later, on Saturday 11th January 1969, Jochen Rindt in the Lotus-Ford sets the fastest lap in practice for the Levin Grand Prix, second round of the Tasman Series, with a record 45"2, at an average speed of 150.600 km/h. Shortly afterwards, the Austrian goes off track at a difficult corner, getting away with not too much damage. The driver is unharmed, and although the Lotus suffers some light dents on its nose, Rindt will easily take part in the race. Three other racing drivers are faster than Chris Amon in 1968 (who set a time of 48"6) and, apart from himself with a time of 45.6 seconds, these are Derek Bell (45.8 seconds), driving a Ferrari Dino 2400 as well as Amon, and Frank Gardner from Australia (46 seconds) with his Mildren powered by the Alfa Romeo eight-cylinder engine. Current Formula 1 world champion Graham Hill, in the second Lotus-Ford V8, stops the clock at an unimpressive 46.4 seconds. Amon, winner on the previous Saturday in Pukehoke, remains the man to beat, mostly because the Levin circuit, around 2-kilometres long and with its numerous curves, suits the main characteristics of the Ferrari Dino 2400: acceleration and roadholding. Lotus may have a higher maximum speed, but Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt will be able to take advantage of it only in the following races, held on less twisty racing tracks. What is more, the Ferrari kiwi seems to be in great shape. He is racing at circuits he knows very well, where he already clinched excellent results the year before.

 

In fact, it’s Chris Amon’s Ferrari to cross first the finish line at the Levin circuit, repeating his prestigious win in the first round of the Tasman Series in Pukehoke the previous week. Jochen Rindt, who after setting the fastest time in qualifying seemed the most dangerous adversary of the kiwi, miraculously escapes a terrible accident while he was chasing his plans of payback. The Austrian went off track on lap 8, while he was sitting in sixth position. The Lotus-Ford V8 skidded towards the edge of the track, hitting the outside part of the kerb and rolling over. The car remained upside down and several minutes passed before rescue could extract the driver from the wreckage and put the car in the right position. Rindt, soaked in oil, after the accident unfastens his seatbelt and goes away perfectly uninjured. But even without the accident, probably, Rindt could not have done much more: on the first lap his Lotus had major gearbox issues, then partially solved: the Austrian recovered up to fourth position at a record speed, but without being able to overtake Hill, just to lose two more positions before the accident.This Formula 2 race is very exciting and rewards the wait of the crowd who has come to the circuit, taking every available seat around the track. Amon leads a perfect race, holding off brilliantly a charging Piers Courage on the last lap. The British driver is second with a gap of 6.8 seconds. The other Ferrari driver, Derek Bell, impresses positively the spectators despite his bad luck, after a long duel with Australian driver Frank Gardner for third place. In fact, the 26-year-old Briton, who had crossed first the finish line in the preliminary practice ahead of his teammate by just a few metres, is forced to retire due to a problem with the exhaust pipe and oil leaks.

 

Graham Hill is unlucky again: while sitting in third place, the defending Formula 1 World Champion is forced to retire due to crankshaft issues with his Lotus-Ford V8. Jochen Rindt, driving a 2.5-litre Lotus, wins the Lady Wigram Trophy in Christchurch, third round of the Tasman Series, but Chris Amon, who won the first two rounds, keeps the lead of the classification with 22 points, followed by the Austrian with 15 points. The two Ferraris bring home a 1-2 finish in the third-to-last round of the Tasman Series, the Australian Grand Prix. Chris Amon, now leading the classification with 35 points, wins ahead of Derek Bell, so that he will only need to finish in the points in the last two rounds to secure the championship. The race, held on Lakeside Circuit, is dominated by Amon who, started on pole thanks to the fastest time set in qualifying, takes the chequered flag after a record run at an average speed of 161.200 km/h. Behind Amon, the initial laps see a fierce fight for second place between Englishman Piers Courage’s Brabham-Ford and Graham Hill’s Lotus-Ford. On lap 5, a small contact between the two cars entering a dangerously tight hairpin forces Courage to retire, while Hill enters the pits with a broken suspension. The accident allows Bell to climb up to right behind his teammate, who drives with chronometric precision, setting the new circuit record in 52.2 seconds (average speed of 169 km/h). Hill, now back on track, recovers up to third place. On lap 49 the British driver breaks a flap of his wing and is forced to pit for a quick repair. The final stages of the race witness a quick succession of retirements, so that only half of the competitors cross the finish line. Among the retired drivers there is also Jochen Rindt, out of the race on lap 44 while he was sitting in fourth position.

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Meanwhile, the Daytona 24 Hours, first of the ten rounds of the 1969 International Championship for Makes, ends with the unexpected victory of the Chevrolet-powered Lolas: the Americans Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons win ahead of their fellow countrymen Scooter Patrick and Edward Leslie. The long-awaited battle between the 3-litre Porsche 908 and the 5-litre Ford GT40 ends after seventeen hours, when the last of five the Porsches entered retires for crankshaft and exhaust pipe issues. An hour earlier, the last of two Ford GT40s, the one driven by Jackie Ickx from Belgium, had hit the wall, catching fire: the driver got away unharmed. As Jackie Ickx’s Ford crashes out of the race, Donohue and Parsons’ Lola-Chevrolet takes the lead till the end of the race. The two American drivers run a very cautious race, always remaining in the first ten positions. The car had set the second-fastest lap in qualifying but at the start, on Saturday, no one would have bet on a win. In the past, Lola had not been able to resist more than 8 hours in an endurance race, and the Chevrolet engine had never been used in this type of competition. After all, neither the winning Lola was able to avoid every sort of mechanical issues, which forced it thirty-one times in the pits, for a total time loss of two hours and ten minutes. Porsche team, arrived in Daytona with the goal of winning and lay the foundation for the victory of their first world title, currently in the hand of Ford, are baffled by the situation. Team manager Rico Steinmann says:

 

"The most spectacular issue, the exhaust leak which spread smoke in the cockpits, was not decisive for the outcome of the race. We only had one problem: the crankshaft. We took part in other races with mechanical parts built according to the same specifics, and everything went well. Back in Stuttgart we will verify what happened this time".

 

The drivers may not agree: first Briton Brian Redman and then German Gerhard Mitter were forced to withdraw from the Daytona 24 Hours due to exhaust fumes, with Mitter being even hospitalized for poisoning. The competition had started at 3:08 pm on Saturday 1st February 1969, with Porsche taking all the first five places in the second hour of the race at a record average speed: almost 187 km/h. But then, it finished in a disappointing way, at the lowest average speed recorded in the last four years: 159.622 km/h vs Ford’s record 172.706 km/h set in 1967. After only 84 laps of the 6130-metres circuit the first signs of crisis showed up: Redman stopped in front of his garage almost unconscious because of the exhaust fumes and, shortly afterwards, the other four cars had the same problem. David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood (both from England), who noticed the situation, with their Ford GT40 tried to stay close to the Porsches and waited until they broke, allowing them to take the lead, followed by teammates Ickx and Oliver. After having covered half of the racing distance, the Porsches, already far away from the leaders, began to leave the scene: first the 1968 winners, with only two remaining, assigned to the pairings Schutz-Attwood and Siffert-Hermann. A that point, however, Hobbs and Hailwood also had to withdraw because of a broken cylinder. At sunrise, Ickx and Schutz were battling for the lead when, after seventeen hours of racing, Ickx’s Ford skidded and then spun towards the wall, catching fire after the shunt. Ickx suffered only some minor abrasions and burns, because he was able to get out of the car on time, while firefighters were intervening to extinguish the flames. Schutz, now with a 322-kilometre gap on Donohue’s Lola, would also retire for mechanical problems, just an hour after Ickx’s accident.

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On Sunday 9th February 1969 Chris Amon wins the Tasman Series driving his Ferrari Dino 2400. The kiwi wins despite having to retire in the Warwick Farm International Grand Prix, won by Jochen Rindt in his Lotus-Ford. An extraordinary conclusion for the championship, as the two drivers who could still fight for the title were forced to retire right after the start for being involved in accident. At the start, Piers Courage (Brabham) slides on the wet track surface and his car spins dangerously: behind him there is Amon on his six-cylinder Dino, who has not even the time to figure out what is happening in front of him before crashing into Courage’s car, fortunately without consequences for both drivers. By contrast, the cars are irreparable. Courage is more disadvantaged by the crash, because he loses the remote chance to still reach Amon at the top of the classification and claim the title. Courage should have won two races, or at least won one race and claimed another second place in the last two rounds of the Tasman Series (Warwick and Melbourne) to still be mathematically in the game. Amon’s other rival, Rindt, could not claim the title even if he won in Melbourne: he could finish second at best, two points away from the New Zealand driver. The race is held in the rain. Rindt wins after 1h18’12’’8, at an average speed of 125 km/h. Derek Bell is second, ahead of Australian Frank Gardner’s Mildren-Alfa Romeo and fellow countryman Levin Bartlett in his Brabham-Alfa Romeo. The first few laps witness the battle for second place between Graham Hill and Derek Bell, but Hill is forced to slow down due to carburettor issues. So, it is Bell who takes second place behind Rindt, who barely avoided Amon and Courage’s crash. On Sunday 16th February 1969 Chris Amon concludes triumphally the Tasman Series, which he already won the previous week, by winning the race at Sandown Raceway, seventh and last round of the championship.

 

By this time, Amon’s advantage has become unbridgeable for his rivals, but he wanted to crown his splendid victory in this series held across Australia and New Zealand with a champion-worthy performance. The Ferrari driver wins the 100 Miles of Sandown at a record average speed of 170.554 km/h, seven seconds ahead of Jochen Rindt’s Lotus-Ford, the only man, together with Piers Courage, capable of coming closer than everyone to overall victory. At the start, Amon promptly takes the lead from poleman Rindt. Race victory immediately becomes a matter between the two, who are not willing to give up, fighting just few inches apart. After thirty laps, Amon is still in the lead, closely followed by Rindt, one second away. That is the most important moment of the race: a small mistake could be decisive to determine the winner. But, apparently, up until then it has been only cautious driving for Amon, who starts pushing hard, widening the gap on an increasingly discouraged Rindt. The Austrian pushes hard too, but the Gold Leaf-sponsored Lotus-Ford does not gain an inch. A cheering crowd (25.000 people) applauds fanatically Amon and roars as he crosses the finish line, with a seven-second advantage on Rindt. Behind the leaders the battle is not as exciting as it is for the first positions. Racing veteran Jack Brabham, three-time Formula 1 world champion, drives a new car in its debut up to third place, ahead of Frank Gardner, in his Mildren-Alfa Romeo, and the other Ferrari driver Derek Bell. A real champion’s victory in a great race with a formidable racecar. Chris Amon’s win raises the hopes of Ferrari’s fans for a good year at last, ahead of the usual exciting carousel at the most famous racing circuits around the world for the Formula 1 Grand Prix that will assign the World Drivers’ title. So many times bad luck has prevented Ferrari’s main driver from the great satisfaction of winning the Formula 1 World Championship. Maybe this year it is time to turn things round.

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"He has won the Tasman Series because he had the best car and has raced on his home circuits. The World Championship will be won either by Rindt or Stewart. For me, Chris Amon cannot drive on the same level of the other Grand Prix racing drivers. Ferrari will not be able to win the Formula 1 World Championship".

 

Says Stirling Moss and, as always, his judgement is harsh and scathing. The British racing driver is in Turin to test the Lancia Fulvia 1300 on the streets of Rally del Sestriere. But a man like him, who won 16 Grand Prix between 1955 and 1961 (up until now, only Jim Clark with 25 wins and Juan Manuel Fangio with 24 have done better than him), does not only talk about rallying. He gladly shifts the conversation to Formula 1, to those single seaters capable of reaching 300 km/h that he was forced to leave seven years ago, on 23rd April 1962, after that terrible accident at Goodwood circuit.

 

"The championship starts on next Saturday in South Africa. Sixteen Grand Prix, sixteen difficult rounds. Jochen Rindt or Jackie Stewart will be victorious in the end. It will be a duel between the Austrian’s Lotus and the Scotsman’s Matra. Both cars are good and they are superior than anyone else. Maybe Rindt has more courage, more momentum than Stewart. But the latter is more technically competent. It will be a great battle".

 

What about Amon and Ferrari?

 

"Amon is not doing any good, and it’s a shame for Ferrari. When it rains, he takes the foot off the throttle, he slows down, he doesn’t know what to do. It’s a very serious defect for a Grand Prix racing driver. Besides, he lacks initiative, those lightning-fast decisions that can overturn the outcome of a race. He is good at following others, not at holding the lead of a race".

 

Nevertheless, Amon performed well with the Ferrari Dino 2400 in Australia and New Zealand, winning the Tasman Series.

 

"He was driving the best car and was racing at his home racing tracks, which he knows very well. He had the spectators on his side, all the help that he needed. I’ve met lots of racing drivers who did well at circuits of their country and achieved poor results abroad. It’s the case, for example, of some Italian drivers who were very strong at Monza, whereas they did nothing or almost nothing on other tracks".

 

Moss is asked what he thinks about current Italian drivers like Andrea De Adamich or Tino Brambilla. He answers with half a smile.

 

"I have no idea, I don’t know them. Did they do something relevant in Formula 1? I don’t think so, otherwise I would know".

 

Why did you choose rallying to go back racing?

 

"In 1963, a year after my accident, when I tested again a Formula 1 car, it occurred to me that I wasn’t the same anymore, and I chose to leave this type of competition. From then on, I’ve always been involved in the racing world, as a commentator, journalist and now circuit designer. I manage one in the United States, actually. However, I’ve always desired to rediscover the sweet taste of duelling, of the battle wheel to wheel. Rallying has become hard, difficult, and I can do it. For me, at 39 years of age, racing is still a habit".

 

Perhaps, there is another reason that Moss does not mention. In 1963 he was granted a significant compensation because he could not hit the track anymore. Now, if he returned to Grand Prix racing, he could probably face some insurance problems. But would he be ready to go back at the wheel of a single seater? What does he think about current racing and the possibility of converting racing cars to four-wheel drive?

 

"No, not at the wheel of a single seater. Again, I’m done. But apart from the technical progress, I don’t find many differences between current Grand Prix and the ones I used to race in in my time. Nowadays cars are better: they have exceptional braking capabilities, stability, and roadholding. But the effort for the driver remains the same. There are the same risks. They start right when you hit the ignition button. AWD cars will bring a lot of changes. I know that Lotus, Matra and those at Cosworth are studying some projects. The problem is to find racing drivers prepared to drive them. Those cars are difficult to drive, they require a completely new driving style. I personally drove one in 1961 called the Ferguson P99. Instead of taking the corners partializing the throttle to correct the racing line I just had to turn the wheel. It was a whole new sensation. AWD cars will be very effective in wet conditions and in circuits with slow-speed corners, as they can take them faster and will benefit from a better traction, provided that drivers are able to tame them".

 

The interview is over. Moss has to leave with his co-driver David Stone for a spin with the Fulvia. He tinkers with helmets equipped with radio and says:

 

"I wanted to bring mine, the one I’ve always worn in my racing career. But it’s not suitable for rallying. I will have to get used to many things, including a co-driver who reads the notes and tells me the features of the road and tells me what to do".

 

He speaks with a light tone, but there is a bitter note in his voice. The man who sat for years in the narrow cockpit of his single seater. In front of him the wheel, the tyres, the racing track. Depending only on his decisions. Now he has to listen to someone else to race. A sacrifice for this terrific man, who enjoys giving his harsh judgement with such candid calm. And he is usually right. But Chris Amon responds immediately to the criticism moved against him. On Wednesday 26th February 1969, at night, while he is flying from Rome to South Africa, where on Saturday he will take part in the Grand Prix, first round of the Formula 1 World Championship, with Ferrari team principal Franco Gozzi and the mechanics Borsari, Vezzoli, Colmi and Guezzoni, informed of Stirling Moss’s opinion, says:

 

"I’m quite shocked. I’ve always thought that Stirling was a friend. On the other hand, now he’s a journalist and, as such, he can express his ideas, whatever they are. Anyway, I don’t want to make a fuss out of it, and I can confirm Moss has all my respect: as a racing driver, he has been one of the greats".

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The Formula 1 World Championship begins with the South African Grand Prix. For the best drivers from all around the world and their lightweight cars, expression of an increasingly advanced technology, begins a long journey that will end in November in Mexico. The 1969 season consists of twelve races, for a total of 4.205 kilometres and 834 laps, with the South African Grand Prix having been for a long time the first round of the competition. The previous year it was held on the 1st of January, while this time the organizers decided to postpone it to a more reasonable date to avoid the risk of attending an exhibition of the old 1968 cars. Nowadays, the cars change nearly from race to race, so much that by the end of the season manufacturers hit the track with completely different cars than the ones they had started the season with. It is a continuous technological progress dominated by marketing and commercial needs. It should be a spectacular championship, with manufacturers committed to building increasingly powerful cars, with more sophisticated aerodynamics and better safety systems. In 1966, when the current specs for Formula 1 cars were introduced (1500 cc displacement for turbocharged engines or 3000 cc for naturally aspirated engines, minimum wet weight of 500 kilograms and commercial fuel), 3-litre engines had a power output of around 350 horsepower. Now, they have 410-420 horsepower (although Ferrari’s new 12-cylinder engine has already reached 435-440), pushing towards the prestigious 500-horsepower barrier. Just to give a benchmark, a GT-car like the Fiat Dino Coupé has a power output of 160 horsepower and weighs 1300 kilograms.

 

But it is also true that it has a selling price of less than 4 million lire (around 2.700 pounds of the time), while a Formula 1 car costs between 20.000.000 30.000.000 lire (13.000-20.000 pounds) and it is obviously reserved to a few professional racing drivers. This year the paddock talks insistently about the all-wheel drive: in fact, B.R.M., Ferrari, Lotus, Matra, McLaren, and Cosworth (supported by Ford) are studying the design or even preliminary building the new AWD cars. The first manufacturer to hit the track with one of them could be Lotus, maybe in May at the Monaco Grand Prix. The all-wheel drive can be an advantage in slow-speed corners and in case of rain: cars will be slower on the straights but incredibly faster round the corners. Finding the right setup will take much more time because transmission, chassis and suspensions will require ad hoc preparation. Also, this year neither Eagle nor Honda will participate in the championship. Dan Gurney, who was the soul of the American team, has quit racing in Formula 1 due to financial reasons, while the Japanese manufacturer has preferred to suspend its Formula 1 program. Also, Cooper’s participation is still questioned: only the help of a tyre manufacturer and a fuel supplier will allow the British team to keep racing. On the other hand, Brabham, B.R.M., Ferrari, Lotus, Matra and McLaren all confirm their participation. Lotus is still the car to beat, powered by the eight-cylinder Ford-Cosworth engine. The previous year, it won five out of twelve races, but, counting the other Ford-Cosworth-powered teams too, the number of victories goes up to eleven. This legendary engine only missed one race, the French Grand Prix, won by Jackie Ickx in his Ferrari.

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Tradition dictated that the South African Grand Prix would be staged on the weekend closest to New Year's Day, meaning that almost every race had seen the older cars entered by the locals battling a mix of the previous season's machinery and developmental cars. For 1969, however, the FIA has decided to move the opening round to March, allowing teams to fully focus on developing new cars over the winter, meaning the entry list features a lot of new equipment and major updates. On the other hand, the Kyalami Circuit remains unchanged for 1969, although there are plenty of new faces in different teams among the entries. Lotus-Ford arrives in South Africa with three cars featuring updates and two new drivers to support defending World Champion Graham Hill. Colin Chapman has opted to drop Jackie Oliver after a largely anonymous season, favouring two younger talents: Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti. All three drivers get redesigned front-wings, which can be moved from the cockpit by working a pedal, on-board fire extinguishers and redesigned timing gear mountings as Cosworth attempted to remedy their poor reliability. Rob Walker Racing Team has also received upgrades for their privately entered 49B, once again fielding Jo Siffert to create a four-pronged works effort from Norfolk. McLaren-Ford has taken a split approach for the opening round, fielding different spec cars for their drivers Denny Hulme and owner Bruce McLaren. The former goes to South Africa using the same chassis he used in Mexico the previous year, although the car does have a new aero setup copied from Team Lotus. McLaren, meanwhile, has an updated car with integral fuel tanks at the sides of the cockpit, attempting to redistribute the weight of the car, as well as a brand-new rear wing.

 

Ken Tyrrell has the semi-works Matra International squad out in South Africa, fielding two drivers for the opening round, both using season-old cars. Jackie Stewart races two chassis, the MS10, marginally updated with new aero, and a brand new MS80, which has a completely redesigned monocoque, brake system, suspension, and rear wing. Throughout the weekend, Jean-Pierre Beltoise will be using only the second of the MS10s brought to Kyalami. B.R.M. have made their way out to South Africa with three cars available, two for the works team with a third for Reg Parnell Racing. They have been busy over the winter, securing John Surtees and Jackie Oliver to drive their factory cars, having dropped Pedro Rodríguez to their customer Tim Parnell. Surtees's Honda deal was terminated over the winter, while Oliver became a free agent after being dropped by Chapman. In terms of the cars, there have been little changes over the winter, although Surtees did get an upgraded, lighter, engine as the former Champions intend to regain their former fortunes. Brabham had a change of engine ahead of the first round of 1969, with team owner Jack Brabham ditching Repco after a difficult season in favour of the Ford-Cosworth DFV unit. The Australian also had two new cars built in time for opening round, identified as BT26As with various modifications to fit the new engines. Brabham also secured the signature of Jacky Ickx to replace Rindt, as the Belgian also brought Gulf sponsorship to the team after being persuaded to leave Ferrari. Speaking of the Italians, it has been a difficult winter in Maranello, where they were only able to get one car ready for the opening round. It is the unlucky Chris Amon who sits again in the hot seat, getting a new nose section and an upgraded engine, based off the design of Maranello’s sportscars, meaning that the budget is shared by the two programs. 

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Minor aero details were also changed, but Amon will have to be careful not to damage the only car the team has shipped over. The final cars are entered by the locals, led by John Love and his Team Gunston, who will race a Lotus 49 with his own aero-kit and an older Cosworth engine. Love will also support fellow countryman Sam Tingle with a Brabham-Repco, whose car does not have any wings at all. Basil van Rooyen and Peter de Klerk complete the field, using a McLaren-Ford Cosworth and a Brabham-Repco respectively. The first round of the season will provide plenty of time for the teams to practice and qualify, with three three-hour sessions scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The weather forecast expects all three days to be hot, although Friday's qualifying will be affected by a storm caused by the humidity that has built during the week. Target times will be the circuit record of 1'21"6, set by Jim Clark en-route to his final pole and victory in 1968. There will be several absentees at the opening session of the Grand Prix, with Ferrari still making their way south, while several other privateers have trouble persuading their cars to start. Those who make it out, however, try to hit the track as soon as possible, among them the two papaya-orange McLaren-Fords of Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. Hulme sets the pace soon, with a time of 1'20"5 after a few aborted attempts, before both he and McLaren set about completing some long-distance runs. Elsewhere, Lotus-Ford has all three of their cars running different aero-setups, although World Champion Hill will be outclassed by both Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti by the end of the session. B.R.M., meanwhile, are having serious troubles, and a complete rewire is required for all three of their racecars due to a mistake made when the cars were built before being shipped out to South Africa. 

 

Jackie Stewart is trying out both Matra-Fords available to him, while Basil van Rooyen stands out among the professionals as the best of the local privateers. Thursday witnesses hotter temperatures, leading Jack Brabham to bolt on a radiator to the rear of his car, although the experiment concerns more creating drag rather than regulating temperature. Meanwhile, McLaren seem very happy, with Hulme and team owner once again going out as soon as possible to begin a series of long runs, although only the boss can improve his time set on Friday. B.R.M. has a delayed start as their parts arrived in the morning, while Ferrari are in strife as Chris Amon's car is suffering numerous issues. Things at Team Lotus were looking more promising, until Hill suffers a failure on his wing adjuster, leaving him out of action as the team works to fix the issue. He, however, is lucky compared to teammates Andretti and Rindt, both suffering identical failures just a few moments away from each other. The two drivers were coming towards the pits when their rear-wing struts failed, causing the towering wing to come crashing down onto the rear of the car, although it is only when Andretti reports that the rear wheel has touched the upright while cornering that Colin Chapman and co. have a clearer idea what to do. With Lotus out of action, the rest of Thursday is all about who can topple Rindt, who had just set the fastest time before his failure with a 1'20"2. Hulme is trying hard but is unable to improve, while Amon suddenly gets some clean running to record a time good enough for fourth, just shy of Stewart who is trying out both cars once again. Yet, they will all be beaten by a veteran, for Brabham has removed his rear radiator and gone out in the final minutes, before topping the sheet of the times with a 1'20"0, as the chequered flag brings the session to a close. 

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Friday sees only thirty minutes of timed running in the dry before the storm hits, although most of the field misses the window or simply opts not to push. Lotus arrives just after the start of the storm to try out their shortened wings, with the front and rear wings now sitting at the same height, although Andretti will go out without a front wing. After the storm the circuit dries progressively, with the officials allowing the teams to have an extra half hour of untimed running after 5:30pm on the now completely dry circuit. Raceday dawns hot and sunny, although as the start time of 3:00 pm approaches, stormy clouds have begun to gather in the nearby valleys, a little over five miles away from the circuit. Yet, everyone settles for dry tyres, and most of the teams will be fighting fit after a morning practice session to help clear sand from the circuit, a consequence of the storm from the day before. While seventeen out of the eighteen starters pull away from the dummy grid onto the proper grid, Sam Tingle remains stranded with a silent engine, waiting for the flag to be fluttered at exactly 3:00 p.m. Pole sitter Jack Brabham leaps away from the grid as the flag falls to take an immediate lead, although Jackie Stewart manages to squeeze past the Australian veteran into the second corner. Graham Hill follows his compatriot through to the back of Brabham off the line, only to get beaten into turn one by teammate Jochen Rindt, while Denny Hulme slots into fifth. At the end of the first lap Stewart crosses the line a second clear from Brabham, who has the rest of the runners, except Tingle, hanging on in his wake. It soon becomes clear that Stewart is simply not out for a fight, as the Scot simply drives off into the distance in the opening stages, breaking the old lap record already on lap three. 

 

Brabham remains a stubborn second and holds up the field, allowing Jo Siffert to move past John Love and Mario Andretti with ease. Pedro Rodríguez, in contrast, is dropping through the group: after a good start seeing him go up to eleventh place, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jackie Oliver, Jacky Ickx, Basil van Rooyen and John Surtees, who have been forced to start from the back of the grid, all made their way past him. Brabham begins to push after the first few laps, but his attempts to catch Stewart are immediately curtailed when the Australian’s rear wing collapses. With Brabham pitting to have the remains of the rear wing and the healthy front wing removed, Rindt and Hill move into second and third, working together to break away from the rest of the runners. Hulme and McLaren lead the chasers, dragging along Siffert, Andretti and Amon as that quintet begins to move away from the backmarkers, aided by the fact that Love is putting up a ferocious defence on Beltoise and Ickx. Stewart slows down as soon as Brabham goes into the pits, holding a seven second margin over the second placed Hill, who moves past Rindt with relative ease on lap eight. In truth, the Aussie is struggling with a worsening misfire, and will soon drop behind Hulme, Siffert and Andretti over the following laps. Brabham, meanwhile, is back in action and battling with Amon, but has to lift off down the straights in his wingless car to avoid going over 10.000 rpm. Indeed, the Australian's car is proving so powerful down the main straight that he can hit a maximum speed of 176.33 mph, leaving Amon with little hope of challenging him. 

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Yet, when the two come to a corner Brabham's pace falls dramatically, as his car proved horribly unstable and constantly darted from side to side. This, however, is enough to hold off Amon, with the New Zealander unwilling to risk a sideswipe from the tank slapping Aussie, only to lose the place again on a straight. In front, Stewart is still holding his seven second gap on Hill on lap twenty, as Siffert and Andretti manage to move past Hulme and begin to close on their fellow Lotus driver. Hulme is running with teammate McLaren in his wake, the latter having had to get past Rindt, who was still losing pace every lap. Ickx, meanwhile, has just broken into the top ten when he suffers a wing collapse, identical to that of his teammate, and when the Belgian tries to get going after stopping in the pits to have it removed, the Ford-Cosworth engine refuses to start. With the race approaching half-distance things begin to settle down, although only after Andretti moves past Siffert and begins hunting down teammate Hill. Siffert himself is struggling with fading brakes, leading to a steady decline in pace that makes him fall right into Hulmes’ clutches. Elsewhere, Love and Beltoise are enjoying a spirited duel at the lower end of the top ten, with the Rhodesian proving more than a match for the factory-backed Frenchman, while B.R.M. looks in a sorry state as lead driver Surtees is lapped well before the halfway point. After passing Siffert, Andretti is on Hill's tail within ten laps, although the American is hesitant to overtake his senior teammate and opts instead to match the Englishman's pace. Yet, he soon overcomes his initial hesitance, but before Andretti can get the job done, his Lotus's gearbox fails, leaving him stranded out on the circuit without any gears. 

 

That leaves Hill with a sizeable gap over Hulme in third, although Stewart has taken Andretti's charge as a reason to resume pushing, stretching his advantage up to twelve seconds when the American drops out. The other battles in the field are interrupted by mechanical failures rather than the chequered flag, meaning the second half of the race becomes a procession. First, Love drops out due to an ignition failure, while the wayward Brabham retires after having given up hope of keeping his car on track with the handling getting worse as the car gets lighter. Amon is therefore relieved and ready to attack Rindt, but he has to retire with an engine failure a lap after reaching the Austrian, while B.R.M. lose their two best placed cars just after half-distance due to engine issues. The closing stages see Rindt finally succumb to a series of issues on his Lotus, the fatal blow proving to be a broken fuel pump, while de Klerk stops to have his clutch fixed, returning to the race too far back to be classified. As McLaren eases his pace as soon as he can, he allows Stewart to lap him, while Beltoise loses a cylinder from his engine as he limps on in sixth. Oliver is his biggest threat over the closing laps, but the seemingly healthy B.R.M. simply lacks the pace to challenge a sick Matra. Eventually, 80,000 fans greet a dominant Stewart across the finish line, with the Scot holding an eighteen-second margin over Hill by the time the race finishes. Hulme cruises home third, the New Zealander having had little trouble in passing the ailing Siffert, who is grateful that McLaren opted to nurse his car early on. The New Zealand team owner finishes fifth ahead of Beltoise, with Oliver and Tingle completing the classified finishers.

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Jackie Stewart, driving the Matra powered by the Ford-Cosworth V8 engine, wins the South African Grand Prix, first round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The Scotsman precedes Graham Hill (Lotus) and Dennis Hulme (McLaren). Chris Amon retired on lap 31 of 80 because of a problem with the fuel system of his Ferrari, same as Jochen Rindt, who had to withdraw on lap 44 for a lubrication issue with his Lotus. In total, just 9 out of 18 cars succeed in finishing the race. Stewart’s performance was brilliant, and Stirling Moss identifies him as the most probable successor of defending world champion Graham Hill. After taking first place at the start, Stewart remained in the lead until the end, winning after 1h50'39"1, at an average speed of 176.992 km/h (which is a new record, previously owned by Jim Clark with a time of 1h53'56"6 at an average speed of 172.870 km/h). Stewart wins with a gap of 18 seconds on Graham Hill and 31 seconds on Dennis Hulme. Remarkably, the first six cars to have crossed the finish line are all powered by Ford-Cosworth engines, which already dominated the 1968 season, and they all have wings. Stewart and Hill have two: a front one and a rear one, directly bolted to the suspensions. However, it is a wing problem that forces Mario Andretti and Jack Brabham to retire: the one on the Italian American driver’s Lotus loosened while running at 240 km/h, and he was able to maintain control of the car.

 

Brabham, for a similar issue, decided to remove it but the car that bears his name became undriveable and, to avoid any further risk, the Australian decided to abandon the race. Surtees, instead, retired after the engine of his BRM blew up, while Jackie Ickx had electrical issues on his Brabham. Victory leaves Jackie Stewart at the top of the Championship after the opening round, continuing his positive streak starting from the second half of the previous season. Defending Champion Graham Hill opens his title defence with a safe second, suggesting that he will be a threat for a third title, while Denny Hulme claims a promising third. Jo Siffert, Bruce McLaren and Jean-Pierre Beltoise are also on the board. Matra-Ford are on top of the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers' Standings after the opening round, with Stewart's victory backed up (although not on the board) by Beltoise's sixth place. Lotus-Ford would have been second even if Siffert's tally had been added to Hill's second place, with the Lotus 49B getting more wings over the weekend. Completing the scorers is McLaren-Ford with Hulme and McLaren both in the points.

 

Giulia Gravante

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