Mario Andretti, the three times American USAC Champion, has long been considered by the Grand Prix circus as a potential winner of World Championship races and this has been the little Italian-born driver’s big ambition. However, occasional races with Lotus in 1969 always ended in retirement, usually when high placed, while last year’s effort with an STP March was almost completely abortive, apart from a third place in the Spanish GP. During this time Andretti has also driven occasionally for Ferrari in long-distance sports-car races, and when it is announced that he has further extended the deal in 1971 to take in Formula One races with Ferrari as a third member of the team, which already include Ickx and Regazzoni, everyone is very interested to see how he would get on. The answer is provided conclusively at the opening round of 1971 World Championship at Kyalami when Andretti takes his 1970-type flat-12 Ferrari to victory with team mates Regazzoni third and Ickx eighth (after he had been slowed by a puncture). To start three Grand Prix cars in a race and have them all finish on full song is quite an achievement these days. But despite predictions to the contrary it is not all easy sailing for the Maranello team. The Cosworth-engined cars offers quite a challenge but, surprisingly, it is not the Tyrrell of Stewart, complete with the latest 11 series engine, but the new Formula One cars from McLaren and Surtees stables with Denny Hulme and John Surtees driving them. Both are put out of the running by annoying little failures rather than major mechanical disasters, Hulme when he is conclusively in the lead with only four laps to the flag. The organisers of the South African GP, in particular Alex Blignaut, work efficiently and tirelessly to attract a large and representative field for the Grand Prix.
This year they spend in the region of £100.000 in appearance and prize money, but on an early reckoning look as if they will have made a small profit when all the sums are done, thanks to a huge 100.000 crowd, which turn out encouraged by a massive publicity campaign in the national newspapers printed in Johannesburg. The race is not directly sponsored but all the papers rally round and give the race enormous space, running stories daily for two or three weeks beforehand culminating in big six-page supplements which are in all the copies of the papers, not just those slip issues sold at the circuit gates. With a few last-minute additions, a field of 25 cars is amassed and all but two of them come over from Europe. Last year the race attracts new models from every team except Lotus and while, this year, brand-new cars are not so numerous there is still plenty of interest around the paddock. Ferrari brings along four cars, the three regular 312B/1s plus a brand-new 312B/2, which is described elsewhere. Sadly this is written off in pre-race testing by Regazzoni so the team has to rely completely on last year’s machines. Both Ickx and Regazzoni have their regular race-winning cars, 001 and 004 respectively, while Andretti takes over 002, which is last raced by Giunti in the Italian GP. Gold Leaf-Team Lotus are little changed from their appearance in the Argentinian GP and late races last season, for they have Fittipaldi and Wisell respectively in the regular Lotus 72s numbers 5 and 3. In numbers of personnel the team is rather more limited than of yore with just the two drivers, four mechanics and Colin Chapman. Racing Manager Dick Scammell has left the company while Competitions Manager Peter Warr is sorting things out at base.
The new car is intended primarily for the French driver Cevert, who arrive so conclusively on the GP scene last year and he does, in fact, drive it. Bruce McLaren Motor Racing brings along just two cars, the progressive spring-rate suspension M19, described last month, which is to be driven by Hulme, and a last year’s type M14A for Gethin. This car has been modified in the suspension department to accept the latest low-profile tyres and particularly 13-in. rear wheels. Motor Racing Developments, now minus Jack Brabham, are also using 13-in. rear diameter wheels for the first time on their two Brabham BT33s. Graham Hill, driving for the team for the first time, has what is virtually a new car to the 1970 design, for it is built around a new monocoque but still carries chassis plate BT33/1, while the second ex-Brabham car is entrusted to the local driver Dave Charlton, who went so well in last year’s race in a Lotus 49C and subsequently had won the South African Formula One Championship. Charlton has the Brabham deck out in the colours of his recently acquired sponsors Lucky Strike Racing. Still finished in the colours of Yardley but now enter by British Racing Motors, are BRMs for Rodriguez, Siffert and the team’s F5000 recruit Howden Ganley making his Formula One debut. Rodriguez, as team leader, has the new P160 at his disposal as well as an almost new and never-raced P153 number 07, while Siffert has P153/06, which also has very few racing miles on it, while Ganley takes over 03 which uses to be raced by Eaton. True to their word Matra does not replace the presently-banned Beltoise so Equipe Matra is relying completely on recent signing Amon. He has the choice of an almost new car, MS120/04, or Pescarolo’s MS120/02, which remains engineless in a packing case.
The McLaren team are having an interesting time sorting out Hulme’s new M19 with its unusual suspension design and once they find that the wing and roll-bar changes seem to have the opposite effect to that which would be expected from a conventionally suspended car, they find that they are making good headway. Surtees is concentrating on his older car while Stewart has tried both the new and old Tyrrell and decides to remain with the older car. During Thursday’s practice Stewart’s engine blows up early on while he is still engaged in testing the car on full fuel tanks so he is out of the top times. It is Regazzoni who heads the list, having lapped impressively at 1'18"7, which put him firmly on the front row. Andretti in the second Ferrari is little slower at 1'19"0, but Ickx, in his, seems to be rather overshadowed. Emerson Fittipaldi, having learned the tricky circuit for the first time, again shows what a fast car the Lotus 72 is by recording 1'19"0. Stewart’s time, before the engine failure, is 1'19"4, just 0.1 sec. faster than team-mate Francois Cevert, who is driving a Tyrrell and racing at Kyalami for the first time, so his speed is most creditable. Also on 1'19"5 is Rodriguez, who has the new B.R.M. going well, and Amon who reckons his engine is off form. Stewart, Amon and Ickx all have fresh engines fitted for the final day’s practice on Friday, the Scot’s being the first of the new 11 series motors. However, the front row is not altered, although Stewart is by far the fastest on Friday with 1'18"1. The big improvements come from the two new cars of Hulme and Surtees and both get down to 1'19"1 to finish up on row three with Ickx, who finally get down to 1'19"2. Row four is comprised of Cevert and Rodriguez with their Thursday times and on row five come Gethin in the older McLaren, Charlton who works hard and put lots of laps in to take the Brabham round in 1'19"8 (after reverting to 15-in. rear wheels) and Peterson. The rest are ranged out behind as per the grid.
Amon is unhappy as his new engine does not seem very good, while Stewart also comments that his new engine is not anything particularly special. The large South African crowd filter into Kyalami early as a full programme has been laid on for them, including saloon, Formula Vee, Formula Ford and even a vintage race. A half-hour non-timed setting-up session for the Formula One cars have several takers, amongst them Francois Cevert whose engine blows up and the Tyrrell team has to rush through a last-minute change. However, there is a very healthy grid of 25 cars lined up for the start and once they have rolled forward from the grid the starter raises and drops the South African flag very quickly, catching out both Stewart and Amon. However, Regazzoni gets away very quickly and both Fittipaldi and Hulme tuck right in behind him, several others are held up by the two front row men, while Hill and Soler-Roig are very slow away from the back of the field. The opening laps are very confusing indeed and even the most experienced lap charters have trouble following the progress of a huge mass of cars dicing out the middle positions. Anyway, it is Regazzoni definitely in the lead with Fittipaldi, Ickx and Hulme in his wake, then Rodriguez, Andretti, Stewart, Surtees, Siffert, Cevert, Charlton and the rest. Soon there are some retirements with both Bonnier and Soler-Roig going out on lap 5, the former with suspension trouble and the latter with engine trouble, although no one really miss them. Next to go is Gethin, whose McLaren has been fitted with badly out of balance front wheels and he can hardly hold the steering wheel, and even a mirror shakes off. To add to his problems a fuel leak starts from the tanks so he retires on lap 7. By this time Hulme is already starting to show that he is going to be a major contender by moving into second spot behind Regazzoni, while Fittipaldi is third dropping back into the clutches of a furiously dicing bunch comprising Rodriguez, Stewart, Andretti, Surtees, Ickx and Siffert.