#254 1975 Spanish Grand Prix

2021-12-29 00:00

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#254 1975 Spanish Grand Prix

We should have seen the writing on the wall when the transporters carrying the Formula One circus cross the frontier into Spain with little or no trou


We should have seen the writing on the wall when the transporters carrying the Formula One circus cross the frontier into Spain with little or no trouble, unlike previous years when there had been long delays and muddles over paperwork. Best trip we’ve ever had, said the UOP-Shadow crew. One man who did have a bit of a bother was the driver of the Texaco entertainment caravan which was full of food and drink. The customs officials want assurance that it will all be taken out of Spain on the return trip and that nothing will be left behind. There is some delay cause by discussing the whys and wherefores of returning empty bottles and tins and in what form the food will probably be left in Spain. The very scenic Montjuic Park is envelopes in Armco barriers and wire netting, the entire circus is ensconce in the big sports stadium just beyond the start area and Jean-Pierre Beltoise has make a flying visit to inspect the circuit for the Grand Prix Drivers Association a little while before. The sun is shining and everything seems set for a superb Spanish Grand Prix on the exciting circuit on the very edge of the City, and enthusiasts from all over Europe are heading towards Barcelona to witness the opening of the European Grand Prix season. It’s going to be a great occasion. The first rumblings of discontent are heard coming from Switzerland where Emerson Fittipaldi is hear to say that he is against racing on the Montjuic Park circuit as it’s impossible to take adequate safeguards in the manner of Paul Ricard or Nivelles-Baulers, which is a sound enough statement of fact, like saying climbing a Swiss mountain is more dangerous than taking a walk through the English countryside! Previously at the Montjuic Park the paddock has been squeezed into the gardens behind the pits and many people had looked at the enormous Olympics sports stadium, built for the 1936 World Olympics but never used, as Spain decided to have a Civil War instead of an International sporting competition, wondering what it could be used for. This year the great rusty iron gates are open and the transporters range around the running track with more space than they know what to do with. The Vel’s Parnelli Jones team are having to curb the enthusiasm of Mario Andretti who is eyeing the outer loose-cinder oval with a glint in his eye and saying:


"Just sprinkle a bit of water on it and it will make a great midget speedway, and we can use the Formula One cars".


Practice is due to start at the reasonable hour of 2:00 p.m. on Friday, April 25th, and all the teams are ready to go, the Texaco-Marlboro sponsor McLaren team has M23/9 and M23/8 ready for Fittipaldi and Mass, respectively, with M23/6 as a spare; the ELF Team Tyrrell has 007/2 for Scheckter and 007/4 for Depailler, with 007/5 as a spare; the John Player back Team Lotus has 72/R9 for Peterson and 72/R5 for Ickx, with 72/R8 as a spare; the three Brabhams, sponsor by the Rossi family’s giant Martini empire, are B1, B2 and B3, for Reutemann, Pace and a spare in that order; March Engineering has the brand new car 751/3 for Brambilla in Beta Tools orange, and 751/2 for Lella Lombardi in white. The Scuderia Ferrari has three immaculate 1975 cars line up in front of their transporter, all three with the transverse gearbox layout. Lauda has 022, Regazzoni 021 and 018 is the spare. Behind the cars is an equally impressive tool cabinet provide by Beta Tools. The Stanley family’s BRM team has two of their red, white and blue cars for Bob Evans to drive, P201/05 as the number one car with an engine with revise crankcase layout, and P201/02 as the spare car. Universal Oil Products Shadow team of wicked-looking black cars, with multi-colour flashes on the nose fins and monocoque sides, are DN5/1A, 2A and 3A, for Jarier, Pryce and spare, respectively. They also have two neat little trolleys, one for each driver, to carry a full set of wheels, jacks and wheel-nut spanners for emergency last-minute starting-line panics on tyre decisions. John Surtees’ Matchbox-support team are running TS16/04-4 for John Watson, with /02-4 as a stand-by and a variety of nose cowlings and aerodynamic devices for experimentation. The Frank Williams team are in fine form, with a brand new car, FW/04, basically like the previous cars, but of new design in many details, such as cockpit shape, air-box, nose cowling, anti-roll bar layout, overall size and so on. The cockpit is much smaller than previous cars and the skinny Merzario is muttering that it’s possibly too small, even for him.


The other Williams car is FW/03, to be driven by Tony Brise, making his Formula One debut, going in at the deep end from Formula Atlantic, so to speak. Graham Hill is managing his Embassy-sponsor team of 1975 cars, build by his own small group, Stommelen having the latest car GH2 and Francois Migault being re-introduce to Formula One with the first Hill car, that start life as a Lola T371. Wraps up in a canvas bag is one of the 1974 Lola cars as a spare in case of emergency. The small Hesketh team is looking quite large, and certainly very impressive, with 308/2 and 308/3 for James Hunt, both equipe with the Harvey Postlethwaite rubber-cone front suspension medium and the very forward extend front aero-foil. Alongside, in dark blue and advertising Harry Stiller’s enterprises and Rob Walker’s garages, is 308/1, similar to M’Lord’s cars, except for the rubber front suspension, it has the older coil-spring layout. Alan Jones is due to make his Grand Prix debut after a good showing in the International Trophy at Silverstone recently. The two American teams, by courtesy of English designers, are sparkling as usual, both having a pair of cars for their drivers, Andretti and Donohue, and while the Vel’s Parnelli Jones team are making very big forward strides, with Andretti a serious racer’s-racer, as ever, the Penske team, sponsor by First National City Travelers Checks, seem to be standing still. Poor Wilson Fittipaldi’s little team, sponsor by Brazil’s sugar industry seem to be the poor-relation in the circus, while Morris Nunn’s equally small one-car team look very healthy, the once-green Ensign looking smart in white with the Dutch HB-alarms system colors and lettering on it, the Dutch driver Reolof Wunderink being responsible for the sponsorship. Everything looks very good for the opening of the European season except that there are no drivers for they are all out on the circuit with Emerson Fittipaldi, pointing out that the guard-rails and debris-nets, while being in the right place, are badly fix, many bolts being finger-tight and many missing altogether, while others are lacking plates under the heads to stop them pulling through the holes in the rails, and in some places the rails aren’t attach to the uprights.


It’s a case of shoddy workmanship, such as we see many times before on other circuits, The Formula One teams tend to think in aircraft standards without realizing that this involves aircraft standards of pay, and circuit amenities are usually put up by laborers working on laborers’ pay. Without doubt the steel barriers are substandard as regard their fixings, but instead of driving at sub standard speeds or personally explaining the situation to the paying public the drivers held a GPDA meeting in the Texaco caravan, gathering in the non-GPDA drivers as well and go on strike until something is done. With five miles of double-row Armco in the Park and something like 500.000 bolts and fixings, instant-action is a bit unrealistic. Practice is delayed until 4:00 p.m. while the drivers talk among themselves and then Jacky Ickx, who is not a member of the GPDA, left the gathering saying that they are talking without saying anything. Donning his overalls he got into his Lotus 72 and put in some token laps at medium speed and later Vittorio Brambilla joins him for a lap or two. Many drivers are torn between their loyalties to their teams and to the GPDA, the new-boys wishing they can go racing without all this Union-business. Some of the teams, like Lotus, B.R.M. and Shadow, had their cars in the pits, ready to go, while others, like Ferrari, Brabham and Hesketh, put their cars back in the paddock. Regazzoni will like to have got on with the job, but the Ferrari team-manager put the cars away and refused to become involve. Grand Prix practice fizzle out with only two drivers recording times, and then the local Formula SEAT 1800 single-seaters got on with their practice. During the evening a small gang of workmen make a token attempt to rectify the faults, but the task is monumental and on Saturday Fittipaldi and Co. are still not satisfy and are calling for the race to be cancel. At midday the small gang of laborers is greatly enhance by an army of Formula One mechanics, team personnel, sponsors men and the likes of Ken Tyrrell, Colin Chapman and Max Mosely who are all saying:


"We want to get on with the racing, let’s get stuck in with spanners and do the job ourselves".


Which is exactly what they do. The drivers are still lock away behind smoked-glass windows, still talking without saying anything. The constructors and their work-force attacked the most crucial points on the circuit and the general feeling is that the circuit was 90% to CSI standards, and the FIA stewards accepts the circuit to be ready for racing. Practice is announce and Ickx, Bob Evans and Roelof Wunderink go out while the rest of the drivers remain hidden from sight, though there are those in their ranks who badly want to get on with the job. Bob Evans makes the very reasonable observation that at one point he doesn’t like the look of the installation of the guard-rails so on that section of the circuit he goes slowly; elsewhere seems to be alright. Meanwhile the organizers and the team owners are getting their heads together, for all the teams have now accept the circuit as adequate, though not perfect, doubting if it ever can be make perfect to the GPDA standards. While many of us view Grand Prix racing as a sport, it changes its status from a sport to a professional business in 1902, as Charles Jarrott pointed out in his classic book Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing. Today it is as big a business as it has ever been, though the word professional is used loosely. The Formula One Constructors Association has made a contract with the Royal Club of Cataluna and it looks as though it’s not going to be honored. The consequences are very obvious for the whole circus is ensconce in the sports stadium and it will not have taken long to lock the gates and put a cordon of Guardia Civile round the place and impound the lot until legal retribution is taken. Some team managers are making open threats of canceling contracts or reducing the financial inducements, while others go to the Texaco caravan to drag their drivers out by the hair, or anything else they can grab hold of. The whole affair has become so sick it isn’t onger funny and is yet another blow by the Trade Unions and the rising-up of the workers, as Karl Marx warns us will happen.


Four o’clock is the deadline and Colin Chapman is seen leading a very sheepish looking Ronnie Peterson down to the Lotus pit, where an expressionless Jacky Ickx is standing watching it all through dark glasses, but sticking to what he says at Zolder two years ago. Mon metier, c’est pilote de course. One by one the drivers appear in the pits, some with looks of relief on their faces, others looking very poker-faced, and last to appear is Emerson Fittipaldi who is great with whistles and cat-calls from the Spanish public in the grandstands, who seem to be remarkably well inform of the dramas. Practice got under way on a very low note, but at least it’s under way and it’s not long before the racer instinct came out in Lauda, Hunt, Depailler and Andretti and the pace quickly warmed up to normal with the lap record of two years ago of 1'23"8 taking a battering, but not the 1973 pole-position time of 1'21"8 Reutemann, Pace and Merzario make no attempt to go racing while Emerson Fittipaldi goes round so slowly, in protest, that he must be a danger to the Laudas, Hunts and Andrettis who are having a bit of a go. The reigning World Champion is getting “the bird” from the Spanish public and someone reflects sadly that two years ago the same people are cheering him to the echo as he won the Spanish Grand Prix in a Lotus 72 with a flat rear tyre, after driving a heroic race. The starting grid is make up from times recorded in this last opportunity for practice and just before it ends Depailler lost his Tyrrell spins into the barriers, which doesn’t fall down as some people predict, but the rear of the car is damage. There is a pause while the wrecked car is retriev and Depailler continues in the spare Tyrrell. In the closing moments the time-keepers became confuse by the two Ferraris running close together and record a false time for Regazzoni. Although a couple of the teams investigat it officially and the mistake is obvious on the time-sheets, it can’t be proven, so Regazzoni is on the front row of the grid alongside Lauda, much to the joy of Ferrari enthusiasts. Hunt has the Hesketh in row 2 alongside Andretti’s Parnelli and both are portents not to be discard lightly, while those two hard triers, Brambilla and Watson are in row 3.


The clouds over the Montjuic Park clears slightly on Saturday evening and workmen continue to check the safety barriers, so that on Sunday morning the stewards of the meeting are satisfy that all was well. Everyone is ready to take part except Emerson Fittipaldi and he has returned to his home in Switzerland saying that he considers the safety precautions inadequate, not that the circuit is dangerous. His brother Wilson and Merzario make it clear that they will drive but not race, and one or two others are still emotionally muddle, not sure what they are suppose to be doing. The start of the 75-lap race is suppose to be at 12:30 hours, but a display of music and dancers in front of the main grandstand delay things a bit, but eventually all is ready. The cars made a warm-up lap, line up on the dummy-grid, and then Lauda and Regazzoni lead them up to the start line. The 30-second signal is raise, but almost immediately the flag drops and 25 cars make a superb start, with Lauda just leading Regazzoni up and over the brow of the hill leading to the first left-hand hairpin. Andretti is on the right with the Ferraris and Brambilla is going up the outside on the left. Down to the hairpin it all happens as Lauda breaks late and heavily, trying to dive into the apex, but Andretti got his right-front nose-fin under a rear wheel of the Ferrari and is inadvertently pushing Lauda offline and into the path of Regazzoni’s Ferrari. Watson’s Surtees collide heavily with Andretti’s car and a lot of others are bouncing off one another. Hunt sees a gap in the melee and dive through into the lead, follow by Andretti, Watson, Stommelen and Brambilla and the rest follow, some bearing scars, while Lauda’s race is over with his right front suspension broken against the guard-rail and Regazzoni is limping along with a crumple front and a smash front wheel. He makes it to the pits where a new nose-cowling is fit and new front wheels and tyres and he joins in the race having lost four laps. Wilson Fittipaldi retires discreetly in the pits and Merzario gives up on the circuit, but Hunt is really getting stuck in, but isn’t getting away from Andretti. The Parnelli car has its right-front nose-fin inoperative and its left rear wheel leaning in due to the top link inboard mounting having been bent on the first corner. As Andretti explains:


"The two faults kinda even each other out, and I soon learn to live with the new handling, even though the car is crabbing on the straights".


John Watson is in a very healthy third place, follow by Stommelen in Graham Hill’s new car, Brambilla and Pace, while Peterson is catching them. Hardly had the dust of the first lap settle then there are clunks and bangs as cars bounce off the guard-rails as if the GPDA are deliberately putting the safety-barriers to the test. Scheckter’s engine blew up in a big way and Jones spun his Hesketh out of the race on the resultant oil patch. Donohue does likewise and Reutemann has a spin which causes Wunderink to dodge and bang a rear wheel on the Armco, but he continues. After the Penske car is remove from where it stops, Hunt lost his Hesketh and the lead on the slippery surface and change to a stop against the rails and now Andretti is leading the race in the out-of-line Parnelli. All is going well for the little Italian and he leads the race confidently, with Watson now in second place, trying hard to close on the American car. At one point the Irishman locks his left-front wheel under braking and unknowingly puts a flat on the tyre and a little later when the front starts to vibrate he thinks a wheel-bearing wheel is breaking up. At 11 laps he pulls into the pits for a check of the wheel-bearings and suspension and a lot of time is lost before the faulty tyre is discovere. This let Stommelen into second place with Pace and Peterson hard on his heels, for Brambilla has stop to have his car checks as it feels odd and there is the thought he may have bend something in the first corner fracas. Jarier has also stop to have a tyre change and Evans is out with the drive to the fuel-injection unit on the B.R.M. engine seize. Andretti’s gallant drive ended suddenly as the left-rear suspension link mounting, bent in the accident, now broke and left the wheel collapse, the car damaging itself on the steel barriers as it slid to rest. This left Stommelen in front, with Pace and Peterson now racing him for the lead, which is much more serious and Peterson begins to make signs of forcing his Lotus past the Brabham. Down the field Brise is leading Migault and Pryce, until the Frenchman damages the nose of the Hill car and makes a pit stop, and then the two young British drivers have a dice on their own.


This ends when Brise hesitates coming out of a corner and Pryce runs the nose of his Shadow into the rear of the Williams. Brise stops to inspect for damage and the Shadow had its nose cowling bent and the oil cooler inside it’s rubbing on the road. On lap 24 the leading trio are lapping Migault, who has rejoin the race, and as they go into a corner there is room for the first two to go by but not the third, and Peterson collide with the Hill car and bounce into the barriers, breaking a front suspension link bolt, which left the Lotus leaning on its elbow. Jochen Mass is now third and Ickx fourth, follow by Reutemann and Jarier. Stommelen is still leading as he starts lap 26, with Pace right on his tail, and the two cars go by the pits and up the hill past the paddock stadium at 150 m.p.h. The road up the hill is a long left curve as it approaches the brow, where the cars are almost air-borne and without warning the rear aerofoil separated the company from Stommelen’s car. With a left bias already on the car, the instant removal of all down-thrust on the rear wheels cause it to veer across the road and hit the barriers on the left. They don’t collapse, as predict, but stand firm and deflect the car across the road at something like 130 m.p.h. and Pace breaks furiously to avoid it but the Brabham is nudge into the barriers and career down the hill smashing wheels as it goes. Stommelen’s car continue on its natural horizontal path from its point of contact on the left, but by sheer bad luck this path is across the brow of the hill, so that when it reaches the barriers on the right, they and the road surface are already at a lower level so that the crashing car skate along the top rail, take down a lamppost and a length of wire debris net as it destroy itself. The car is launch up in the air by the left-hand rails as some people say, nor had the right-hand rails collapse. In fact, all round the circuit the guard-rails are trying and testing and not found wanting. Miraculously, Stommelen is still alive, but with many broken bones but a fire-marshal and four other people are kill, while some nine or ten are injure. When the extent of the injuries is ascertain there is nothing to be done except stop the race, principally in order to get ambulances and a breakdown truck to the scene of the accident.


This catastrophe left Mass in the lead with Ickx second and the Belgian pass the McLaren on lap 28, but is re-pass on lap 29 at which point the checker flag is out and the whole unfortunate affair of the Spanish Grand Prix 1975 is over. By the FIA rules it can be restarts again, but in view of the seriousness of the accident the Spanish Grand Prix is declare to finish at 29 laps. From far-away Switzerland come cries of I told you so while the media men disport themselves in all stages from the philosophical to the hysterical. A lot of people reflect on the whole situation and the position that the extrovert human being holds in society, whether he races cars, motorcycles, powerboats, airplanes or merely spectates at these activities, or whether he explores holes in the ground, climbs mountains, scans the bottom of the sea, tries to fly like a bird, or fights bulls. The extrovert, whether he be participant or spectator, knows the risks and accepts them, the peace-loving citizen who is beaten up by hooligans and yobs in cities or at football matches not only needs our sympathy but also our help.


Rebecca Asolari


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