#197 1970 Mexican Grand Prix

2021-10-21 00:00

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#197 1970 Mexican Grand Prix

For the final race of what is being a fascinating year of Grand Prix racing the action moves southwards down the North American continent to Mexico Ci


For the final race of what is being a fascinating year of Grand Prix racing the action moves southwards down the North American continent to Mexico City. Although the local racing scene is not as active as it is in the more wealthy North American countries, or in places like the Argentine or Brazil, there certainly isn’t any lack of enthusiasm. This culminates in some incredible scenes before the race when the vast 200.000 crowd becomes totally out of control. But more of that later. Although there are no fewer than 27 Formula One cars assembled at Watkins Glen, the Mexican organisers said earlier in the season that their budget was limited and they could only afford 18 cars. This is fair enough; the only problem is that the organisers are somewhat reluctant to inform the teams who are going to be the unlucky ones. When their selection is announced it is much as expected with places for two works cars from Ferrari, B.R.M., Matra, McLaren, March, Lotus and Brabham. Naturally former World Champions Stewart, Hill and Surtees also have places, and the eighteenth and final slot is given to GPDA President Bonnier. Hardly a Grand Prix regular any more, Bonnier has in fact raced his McLaren M7C briefly at Watkins Glen. Incidentally, the history of the car is not quite as involved as Motor Sport’s Watkins Glen correspondent would have us believe, for this machine was built in the early months of 1969 and used by Bruce McLaren throughout that year. Anyway the other entrants thinks that the choice of Bonnier is totally unfair and, after a certain amount of invective about boycotting the race, sense prevails. Stewart’s team-mate Francois Cevert, who gave such a sensational performance in Canada with Tyrrell’s old March, takes the vacated place and no doubt Bonnier is compensated for his disappointment.


Even so the field lacks the interest that could have been provided by a third B.R.M. driven by Eaton, a second Surtees for Bell, Peterson’s March, Schenken’s De Tomaso and De Adamich’s McLaren Alfa-Romeo. The cars arrive in Mexico City without any drama after a long road journey on the giant trucks illustrated last month. Meanwhile the majority of the mechanics have what are probably the easiest couple of weeks since the season started. Most of them go to the famous Mexican seaside resort of Acapulco although Tyrrell’s men return to the cold of England. B.R.M. are allowed to bring a spare car for Mexican Pedro Rodriguez, so in total there are 19 cars in the extensive pits-cum-garages which, ten years ago, were widely acclaimed but now are showing their age. Naturally if you have a major modification on hand you are hardly going to show it in Mexico so there is little new of technical interest. However, Matra tried the Marelli ignition system on Beltoise’s car, which is affixed in a very temporary manner and is finally discarded, but they successfully experiment with large airducts to the injection. Otherwise the general preparation includes fitting fresh engines in many cases and checking everything over after the ravishes of Watkins Glen. The rarified air due to Mexico City’s altitude necessitates the fitting of different fuel cams, this problem being well sorted by people with Cosworth engines although those with 12-cylinder engines have to do some experimenting before they hit the right answer. It is interesting to note that every car in the paddock is designed and built for the 1970 season, the winning Ferrari actually being the oldest machine present. Last year the race was also won by the oldest car but that had almost three hard seasons behind it.

Practice is scheduled for the afternoons of Friday and Saturday with a four-hour session each day. The weather is warm without being tropical and the track is in good condition. Thus drivers have to aim for a time of 1'42"9, which is Jack Brabham’s pole position winning time last year although the official lap record is to the credit of Jacky Ickx’s 1'43"0. The session gets under way fairly slowly as drivers alter their cars to suit the circumstances with several people changing gear ratios while others sort out brake ratios and roll bars to their liking. Competitive times are first posted by Stewart in the Tyrrell, quickly followed by the Ferraris of Ickx and Regazzoni. In fact these three totally dominates both practice days and make the rest look like also-rans. By the end of the session it is lckx fastest at 1'42"41, which demoralizes everyone further as his Ferrari had a full load of fuel aboard at the time. His mature Swiss team-mate is a little slower at 1'42"93. As has been the feature of the late 1970 races, Stewart leads the chase of the Italian machines with the Tyrrell Special. He finishes with a time of 1'43"64. Working together, Amon and Brabham clock the next two fastest times of 1'43"71 and 1'43"92, although Wisell, who is in with them, is unlucky not to get a similar time. Unfortunately the Mexicans’ time-keeping isn’t much better than their crowd control. Further down the field the Matras (particularly that of Pescarolo) is going quite well, the B.R.M.s aren’t and Lotus are in terrible trouble with engines. Brabham, who is just about to announce his retirement, is very lucky to escape uninjured early in the session when a top pulles off a shock-absorber and the rear suspension collapses on one side. Fortunately he brings the car to a halt and a repair is effected. In the McLaren camp Hulme is soon sidelined by a defective fuel pump although Gethin is going quite well on his first visit to the circuit, as is Cevert in the Tyrrell March.


Surtees has an engine blow up early in practice, as does Fittipaldi. Friday night sees a crop of routine engine changes with Brabham, both Marches, Oliver, Stewart, Hill, Cevert and Regazzoni (whose engine have done the US GP) all having freshly rebuilt motors installed. Naturally Surtees and Fittipaldi also have new units fitted. Saturday sees another episode of chase the Ferrari with the Italian team strong favourites despite Ickx’s motor blowing up. At least that is better than a similar thing happening in the race. Meanwhile Stewart has got motoring with a vengeance. The Scot really wound it up to lap in 1'41"88, his latest-type Cosworth engine obviously revving higher than the others. This looks good for pole but Ferrari still has things in control despite Ickx’s blow up and Regazzoni is sent out to retrieve the situation. This he does by recording 1'41"86, thus nudging the Scot off pole position. Brabham, intent on remaining competitive to the end of his career, comes out fourth fastest while Amon’s previous day’s time puts him on row three alongside Beltoise whose shrill Matra is now right on form. Rodriguez is seventh fastest although his B.R.M. does have several problems while Graham Hill, with the Walker Lotus 72, is surprised to find himself eighth fastest with a time he certainly never achieved. Saturday is a day of woe for both March and Lotus. Both the freshly serviced engines in the 701s fails to last the session: Siffert’s has just been rebuilt with a new cylinder block so the bill must have come to over £2.000 but it only lasts ten laps. Expensive business this Grand Prix racing! Both Marches have to be fitted for race day with engines which have already done a lot of work. Lotus are equally in trouble. The engine in Fittipaldi’s car has fluctuating oil pressure and various remedies are tried but it soon blows up, as does WiseII’s. Hill and Stommelen also have fresh engines for the race as does Hulme. McLaren Racing collects an engine from the airport on race morning and as this has all the latest tweaks it is rushed to the circuit and hastily fitted there.


The results of practice indicates a three-car race, for the others are hardly on terms. The event is really catching the imagination of Mexico City and with a population of 8 million close at hand a good crowd is expected. But the organizing committee never envisaged that over 200,000 people would pack into the Autodromo on the outskirts of the city close to the airport. Three club races are run off without incident, the crowd growing all the time. As the start of the Grand Prix draws nearer, excitement grow to fever pitch. Every Mexican wants to get a better view than his neighbour and that means watching from the roadside. Thousands disregard the restrictions of the spectator areas as they smash down fences and crowd onto the safety banks. Some of the braver ones even take up positions sitting on the Armco barrier. It can be argued that similar conditions exist at the Targa Florio every year and that there no one gets hurt, but a long-distance sportscar race is somewhat different from a Grand Prix with 18 closely matched cars dicing it out wheel to wheel. So close are the spectators to the track that a spin could wipe out 20 or more while an accident similar to the fiery incident between Oliver and Ickx at Jarama earlier this year could have meant the death of 200 people. The repercussions of an accident of that nature could be the total ban of motor racing in several countries. Naturally the start is delayed while various appeals are made to the crowd to see sense. Pedro Rodriguez, Jackie Stewart and the Secretary of the GPDA all make appeals for the crowd to go back behind the safety banks. After an hour and a quarter, including an additional delay to sweep up the broken bottles thrown on to the circuit by the impatient spectators, conditions are a little better but the crowd is now very restless.


If the race was cancelled a full scale riot could be expected, so after a lap of inspection the drivers agrees to start. In the circumstances it is the only decision but, nevertheless, a brave one. The slightest mistake can spell major disaster and every man knew it. Once the final decision was made the start was swift and thankfully without incident. Regazzoni powers into the lead from pole position followed by Stewart and Ickx. At the end of the first lap these three are still in front, followed by Beltoise, Rodriguez, Amon, Brabham, Hill, Hulme, Surtees, Gethin, Pescarolo, Cevert, Siffert, Oliver, Fittipaldi, Wisell and finally Stommelen. But lckx is the Ferrari team leader and his position should be at the front. On lap 2 he stormes by Stewart who latches on behind as lckx then also slipps ahead of Regazzoni. So now the order is Ickx, Stewart, Regazzoni, and soon these three break away from the pack. Meanwhile Fittipaldi’s unhappy week-end comes to an end when a third Cosworth DFV engine take a dislike to Lotus 72C/R5. Graham Hill too is out of the running almost as soon as the race begins, his engine overheating badly. By lap 10 the Marches of Siffert and Cevert also fall by the wayside as a result of engine failure. It is an unhappy end to Siffert’s Formula One season with March, for during the year he has failed to score a single World Championship point. At the front Ickx is piling on the pressure although Stewart is hanging on well and, in turn, dropping Regazzoni. Behind it is Beltoise in fourth spot from Brabham, with Amon sixth ahead of Rodriguez, a hard-charging Hulme, Gethin, Surtees, Pescarolo, Oliver with Stommelen and Wisell already trailing. Wisell is late to make three pit stops, first with gearbox trouble and later with oil pressure problems. Stommelen’s race also finishes prematurely when his engine blows up. With 14 of the 65 laps run, Ickx comes round alone and six seconds later is followed by Regazzoni. Next up, and tearing into the pits, is Stewart for his Tyrrell’s steering column is shaking dangerously loose.


A bush is adrift where it holds the column to the dashboard. It takes just a lap for the Tyrrell mechanics to remedy the fault and Stewart re-joins behind the two Ferraris and Brabham, who have overtaken the Matra of Beltoise. Stewart is in no mood to hang about and quickly he passes and thus unlaps himself from first Brabham and then Regazzoni. However he can not reel in Ickx at the same rate although he appeares to be catching up slowly. Brabham is still third ahead of Beltoise while Hulme and Amon are in contention with the French car. The two B.R.M.s are now running eighth and ninth for Gethin has dropped back, soon to retire with overheating, and Oliver overtakes Surtees who is struggling with the gears as his clutch operation had disappeared. Pescarolo stops at his pit on lap 21 with only 3rd gear working. His mechanics finally sort out the mixture of hot oil and broken split-pins and he returns to the race four laps down. By half distance Ickx is 15 seconds ahead of Regazzoni whose engine will later be said to be misfiring slightly, although we can’t detect it, while Brabham is a firm third. The Hulme-Beltoise-Amon battle is where most of the excitement lay unless you pretend Stewart is on the same lap as Ickx. In fact he is tenth on the road, a situation that comes to an end on lap 33. The Tyrrell is sadly retired to the pits with a right-hand front wishbone mount damaged, a wheel bent, and the monocoque rippled locally in that area. The Scot reports hitting a large dog and despite reports to the contrary the animal was eventually found, very dead and a long way from the track. It is the end to one of Stewart’s best drives of the year although it will no doubt go unremembered.  The second half of the race loose much of its interest as Ickx is running unhurried to victory.


Nevertheless the crowd creep closer and closer to the track side and some fools even try running backwards and forwards across the track. Several drivers have near misses but miraculously no one was injured. Ickx has pulled out his lead to almost half-a-minute, while Brabham is 17 sec. behind Regazzoni and Hulme, in fourth spot, is closing on Brabham. Beltoise is still leading Amon and this pair, who might be team-mates next year, are really charging hard. Finally, after numerous thwarted attempts, Amon passes Beltoise on lap 53. It is a significant lap for Jack Brabham too. His third-placed Brabham throws a rod, bringing his race and a distinguished career to a sudden end, this being his last Grand Prix. All that is left is for Ickx to reel off the remaining laps with Regazzoni following him into second place. Hulme, now in third spot, is having trouble with the McLaren jumping out of gear and Amon and Beltoise are closing on him at quite a rate. But as the last few laps are run the circuit gets progressively narrower as the crowd surges forward. Then, as Ickx takes the flag, everyone milles onto the road, completely blocking it, and all the following cars have to screech to a halt as they crosses the line. Ferrari has repeated his one-two results of Austria and Canada and it is also the Italian firm’s fourth win in the last five races. Hulme holds on to his third place ahead of Amon and Beltoise. Rodriguez takes sixth place well ahead of team-mate Oliver, who has been lapped, while Surtees struggles home in eighth place with his recalcitrant gearbox. Pescarolo and Wisell both complete the distance well in arrears. The result moves Ickx and Regazzonii into second and third places in the 1970 World Championship. If there is to be another Mexican Grand Prix the blind enthusiasm of the spectators will have to be curbed in one way or another, whether by high fences or the butt of the rifle. Meanwhile most people would rather forget Mexico 1970.


Gaia Bertinazzi

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