#221 1973 Argentinian Grand Prix

2022-07-10 00:00

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#221 1973 Argentinian Grand Prix

The 1973 Grand Prix racing season has opened, despite all the recent squabbling, with a classic contest at Buenos Aires Municipal Autodrome in late Ja

The 1973 Grand Prix racing season has opened, despite all the recent squabbling, with a classic contest at Buenos Aires Municipal Autodrome in late January. It is the kind of battle packed with intrigue and excitement, which surely makes every one of the 100,000 plus spectators resolve to come again next year. Isn’t that what motoring racing is all about? When the chequered flag drops at the end of this long, gruelling, 96-lap, two-hour Grand Prix, the man and car that flashes under the chequered flag is familiar enough—Emerson Fittipaldi in Cohn Chapman’s John Player-sponsored Lotus 72. What is going on is hardly common-place. There is Clay Regazzoni leading the early stages with a BRM P160 and looking impressive in the process until his tyres let him down. Then we have Francois Cevert showing that, not only does he have the same speed as team-mate Jackie Stewart, but he can actually lead him in a race. There is the spectacle of the Tyrrell drivers playing team tactics, something rarely seen in Grand Prix racing these days, and the Lotus team at least attempting to play the same game with Fittipaldi and Peterson running in convoy for many laps. But most of all we have the fanatical crowd packed into the stands displaying the fervour that can be generated at a British football match but, for some reason, never at a British motor race. The facts speak for themselves. The winning margin at the finish is less than five seconds, and never in the course of the race is the time between the leader and second man ever larger than that margin, and most of the time it is considerably less. We have, at one stage, the cars of Team Tyrrell and Team Lotus comprising a blue and black four-car train with barely a second between the quartet. But when the flag finally falls most people agree that the right man has won.


This excellent race comes from a field of only nineteen cars, of which four turn out to be patently uncompetitive but the remainder all lap the 3.41 km No 9 circuit during practice within 2.5 seconds of pole position. The current battle between Grand Prix International, representing the circuit owners, and the entrants’ club, the Formula One Constructors’ Association, as mentioned in last month’s issue, has not really affected this race or, for that matter, the Brazilian or South African Grands Prix, and the inevitable clash or compromise is being put off until Spain. Meanwhile this season opener has been by no means certain due to the machinations of the current political scene in Argentina. There is a fear of kidnappings and also the current government are not keen to follow last year’s lead and guarantee the race financially. Instead, the organisers, the ACA (rather than the government-owned YPF Club who have previously been responsible for this race) have managed to gain some help from commercial sponsors although the race is certainly not a Fray Bentos Grand Prix, and after initial cancellation, the race is now back on. Sitting right on the outskirts of the city is the ideal venue, the long-established Municipal Autodrome in the Pare Admiral Brown which came in for a superb face lift some 18 months ago. It is a venue that almost unanimously has received approval from drivers, entrants, and mechanics alike, and the hot Argentinian summer sun seems to put smiles on the faces of even the most serious members of the Grand Prix set. The kidnap threat remains, some drivers like Stewart and Fittipaldi obviously having a high price on their heads and thus having their own personal armed guard. But nothing untoward has happened  apart from the menacing looking alsatians of the police baring their teeth at the occasional mechanic.


Only even numbers have been used on the entry list and taking Nos 2 and 4 are the Lotus 72s of Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, the new joint No 1 racing for the first time in Formula One in a car other than a March. Who will be the quicker, they all ask? Nos 6 and 8 have been assigned to the pair that finished the 1972 season on top, Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert in the Mk 2 Tyrrells 005 and 006. Next on the list comes the man who the majority of the crowd has come to see - Carlos Reutemann of Argentina. Reutemann, as he is known, is a national hero, his name is on the lips of almost every man in the streets of Buenos Aires at race time. He has remained in the Brabham team with Wilson Fittipaldi and, Graham Hill having departed the Weybridge camp, both are in the 1972 model Brabham BT37s. The next pair are the faithful McLaren MC19s for Peter Revson and Denis Hulme, again with Yardley sponsorship-so it has been no change here. Ferrari’s cut-back for 1973 seems no more than a threat for Maranello brought along a two-car team headed by Jacky Ickx, while the spidery Arturo Merzario is given his third Formula One chance in a second machine. Both cars are the B2 models now entering their third season, as the new cars based on British-built monocoques were not complete in time for the meeting. Two places were available for the March team but as they now only have one works car into which the young and inexperienced Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier has found himself, at the present at least, a somewhat inadequate replacement for Chris Amon, the second spot has been taken by Mike Beuttler in his private March. Both are in the neat little 721Gs which are probably pounds under the new weight limit which came into force on January 1st. Contrary to popular opinion this is not actually Jarier’s Grand Prix debut for he drove Hubert Hahne’s March 701 to 12th and last place in the 1971 Italian Grand Prix.


The next numbers on the list are reserved for Team Surtees, who brings along two brand new Surtees TS14As for Mike Hailwood and Carlos Pace. Here is a team that at least seems prepared for the start of the new season with their 1973 cars looking shiny and smart. Hailwood’s car carries the Brook Bond Oxo logo while the similarly blue-and-white car of Pace has only Fina fuel affiliations displayed. B.R.M. spent most of last season fielding more cars than anyone else with a marked lack of success, and continues the new season in a similar vein with three entries to everyone else’s two. Clay Regazzoni, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda are the three permed from the squad of four and Vern Schuppan is the one left at home. Completing the list are the two Williams Specials, or Iso-Rivolta Marlboros as they are known, finished in red and white of the cigarette company but with dark British Racing Green flanks. The drivers are Howden Ganley, and Nanni Galli who have come into the team to take over the places left by Carlos Pace and Henri Pescarolo. Originally the Shadow team had planned to bring a pair of their brand new Grand Prix cars for Jackie Oliver and George Follmer but the plan was a little optimistic considering the length of time available to the team since Tony Southgate first drew up the design and, for various reasons, they scratched about a week before the event and decided to go to Paul Ricard for testing instead. There are a number of familiar faces missing and, as well as both Graham Hill and Chris Amon being absent because their plans are yet to be finalised, other Grand Prix regulars like Tim Schenken, Henri Pescarolo, Peter Gethin, Rolf Stommelen, Andrea de Adamich and Reine Wisell are all absent for one reason or another.

A total of five hours has been allocated for official practice, split between Friday and Saturday with each day having a session of one and a half hours in the afternoon followed by a break of an hour and then by a session of a similar period. There has also been a familiarisation session on Thursday which nearly everyone took advantage of, and this enabled newcomers to the circuit - Hailwood, Beuttler and Lauda - to learn its twisty lay-out. As is so often the case, virtually everyone finds something a little extra in the very last practice session, actually in the last half-hour of it, and all but two of the cars (which have brroken anyway) set their qualifying times during this period. On Friday Regazzoni serves notice that B.R.M.’s winter labours were not in vain by securing fastest time in the first session with a time of 1'11"53. The lap record of 1min 13"66 and the pole position time of 1'12"46 are soon looking outdated. In the afternoon session Regazzoni’s car breaks a wheel putting him off his stride, and Fittipaldi snatches pole position after showing that the Lotus 72 is just as competitive this year as it was last. Saturday is much hotter than Friday and the earlier session sees very few competitors improve, although Jackie Stewart is actually fastest but with Fittipaldi still in the No. 1 starting position. So it is all down to the last hour and Regazzoni soon shows that his earlier performance was not a flash in the pan. The long pits are so arranged that all the Goodyear runners are at one end and the now much smaller Firestone contingent are at the other end; the two camps being separated by perhaps 100 yards. With Lotus, Tyrrell, Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren all on Goodyear, most of the attention is focussed on their end of the pits, and this is where most of the observers cluster, wandering down only occasionally to look at the underdog Firestone contingent of Surtees, B.R.M. and Williams. In fact from the Tyrrell pit you can’t even read the lap boards being hung out to the B.R.M.s.


Thus when Regazzoni gets everything set up just to his liking and suddenly starts breaking into the 1'10"0 barrier hardly anyone notices. One or two of the time-keeping personnel start to point out that they thought perhaps Regazzoni did a quick one. In fact he stops the official watches at 1'10"54 to take pole position and, by the time anyone else realises, he is out of the car and sitting on the pit wall looking a little flushed but with a very satisfied grin on his face. With only about ten minutes of practice left there is little anyone can do about it, although meanwhile Emerson Fittipaldi is also making progress and his best is 1'10"84. Ickx puts in a good effort with the old Ferrari which some are rumouring is giving 500bhp, but, if that is so, they are certainly weaker Modena horses than usual. His time of 1'11"01 just pips Stewart’s best of 1'11"03, the Scot complaining that he couldn’t make the front end of the car work. Peterson can be judged by a yardstick now that he is with Lotus and in this Grand Prix at least he’s proving to be slower than Fittipaldi. But he is hampered by problems for he missed the majority of Friday’s practice, due to a faulty bearing in the new gearbox of his new Lotus, but after that looks impressive and finishes up fifth fastest at 1'11"66. Alongside him on row three, but 0.4sec slower, is Stewart’s team-mate Francois Cevert, who laboured away on the first day with a very tired engine, which had done a good deal of testing, but perks up when the new one is fitted. Staying with B.R.M. has left Jean-Pierre Beltoise in a rather invidious position, for he now finds he has to play second fiddle to Regazzoni. Nevertheless, he has taken on the challenge admirably and his 1'11"48 is a good effort which puts him in row four alongside Hulme’s McLaren. Both McLarens seem to be plagued with various engine troubles throughout the sessions and, along with Brabham, they seem to be having problems making their cars handle on the new target 26" diameter Goodyear tyres, not having tested them previously in private sessions as had Lotus and Tyrrell.


Thus, right back in ninth fastest place is poor Reutemann who naturally is feeling that he is letting his fellow countrymen down. But the Brabham will not handle and he also has lost almost a session with gearbox problems. This year we aren’t to have the spectacle of him coolly snatching pole position. He lines up on the fifth row with Mike Hailwood’s Surtees. Both the new Surtees cars are in trouble for, apparently, the toad springs have been heat treated incorrectly and the rates are nowhere near what they should have been. Only a brave effort with the patently bad handling car puts Hailwood as far up the grid as he was. Behind Reutemann and Hailwood comes an unhappy Revson, who had to sit out the last vital session due to a seized fuel pump, and Wilson Fittipaldi. Then there is Lauda who is delighted with his B.R.M., apart from it rolling too much for his liking, and Merzario in the second Ferrari. The Italian had to play underdog to Ickx and has spent two of the four sessions sitting on the pit wall, the first while Ickx decided which car he preferred and the second when Ickx’s choice has developed an engine fault and the Belgian has reverted to the other car. The grid is completed by Pace, in trouble with the Surtees (and missing the final session with engine trouble), Galli, Jarier, Beuttler and finally Ganley. The Williams cars have been plagued with problems, ranging from split fuel tanks to broken rear cross-members, throughout practice. Saturday’s practice session has filled out the stands to the region of some 30-40.000 racing fans, such is the popularity of the sport in Argentina, but this is nothing compared to the scenes as well over 100.000 fight to get through the gates on Sunday, including a large number of fans from neighbouring Brazil. Some estimates put the contingent at something like 10.000, most of whom seems to be waving Brazilian flags, just as last year the crowd roars and sings for Reutemann, and there is some hope for them because, in the morning untimed session, he has got the car set up much more to his liking and feels more confident.

All the practice sessions have started on the minute and the race is no exception. After parades of Marlboro girls and then a most curious motorcade of dustcarts and other public service vehicles, the racing cars make their entry looking polished and exciting. The mechanics have all discarded their working overalls and now are dressed in natty race-day gear - a trend encouraged by the sponsors. Almost on the second the 19 cars are rolled forward from the dummy grid and almost immediately there is a burst of sound and the flag drops. All one can see is a great cloud of brown dust as the field disappears into the first corner, out of which emerges a blue Tyrrell in the lead. But it isn’t Stewart, for he has found  himself scratching in the marbles an the outside of the first corner, and has lost several places in the process. The leader is Cevert. But the wide-nosed B.R.M. of Regazzoni is right with him and, as they brake for the first of the two sharp corners on the course, the Swiss cuts through on the inside to snatch the short-lived lead from Cevert. Mike Hailwood has made an excellent start and is up about sixth place, only to spin it all away a corner later. So when the field bursts into the view of the main grandstand it is Regazzoni in the lead followed by Cevert, then the two black-and-gold Lotus 72s of Fittipaldi and Peterson, with Beltoise, lckx and Hulme following. Stewart is down in eighth place ahead of Reutemann, Revson, W. Fittipaldi, Lauda, Pace, Merzario and Jarier. Then there is a gap until Hailwood arrives followed by Beuttler, whose throttle slides are jammed open, while poor Frank Williams gazes sadly from the pit but neither of his new cars appears.
At least they have not collided for Galli’s stop when the main drive belt of the engine breaks and Ganley’s throttle slides are jammed, despite the team taking the precaution of putting a nylon stocking over the air intake in an attempt to beat the problem. Ganley finally getst his car mobile after three lost laps and returns to the pits later, to continue many laps in arrears. Regazzoni hasn’t led too many Grands Prix in his career so he intends to stay out in front. Over the first three or four laps he pulls out about three seconds lead over Cevert but, after that, it is all hard work as the gap never increases any further as the bunch behind gives strong chase. In fact, in the first ten laps, there are very few changes apart from Stewart moving up to sixth place while Revson overtakes Reutemann. Lap 10 is a bad one for Team Surtees with both Hailwood and Pace dropping out. Hailwood’s car breakes a rear-drive shaft while the Brazilian comes into the pits to report that his car is undrivable. The springs have sagged and the nose, which had a little trim strip added overnight, has been bottoming very badly and is tailing off. Surtees decides to cut his losses and retire the car. With 15 laps gone a pattern has formed with Regazzoni leading but now with Cevert and the two Lotuses right on his tail, and this bunch of four are separated by fractions of a second. Beltoise is a strong fifth and struggling to get on terms with the leaders, but getting larger in his mirrors is the blue Tyrrell of Stewart. A little bunch comprising Ickx, Revson, Hulme (who is in discomfort with some fuel spilt on his back), Reutemann, Wilson Fittipaldi and Lauda followed. The rest are hardly in the same race and are already dropping well back. Hopes that Reutemann might start to make his way up the field are dashed on lap 16 when he brings the Brabham into the pits, unable to select any gears.
A pinion bearing has started to break up and he sadly to retire. Meanwhile Stewart passes Beltoise and all eyes are now on the former champion as he is catching the leading four apace. Regazzoni, meanwhile, is now finding the car quite a handful for the Firestone tyres are starting to overheat and thus lose their grip, but he is doing a good job of keeping the rest of the field behind. By quarter-distance Stewart is in the bunch so we now have the exciting spectacle of five cars lapping in convoy. On lap 29 Regazzoni can no longer hold the lead and he has to let Cevert through and, in the next four or five laps, the other three challengers also pass the B.R.M. In fact a mix-up in traffic benefits Stewart and all of a sudden we have a Tyrrell one-two with the Frenchman leading, the Scot, and then come the two Lotuses, Peterson having lost a little ground as he is baulked badly. So now the order is Tyrrell, Tyrrell, Lotus, Lotus, B.R.M., B.R.M. Then some way back comes the Ferrari of Ickx followed by the pair of McLarens with only Merzario in the second Ferrari spoiling the two by two. This exciting and gripping battle continues and, by half distance, the two top teams in Formula One racing today are still hard at it with the pair of blue cars only just leading the pair of black cars. The two B.R.M.s fall back with both Regazzoni and Beltoise slipping down the field together for they both have the same problem. Ickx is now fifth and much happier now that his B2 is less full of fuel for it is difficult to drive when topped right up. He pulls away from the two McLarens white Wilson Fittipaldi is at least keeping Brabham in the race although he is unable to keep up with Hulme. But he has shaken off Lauda, who also has tyre problems, while Merzario is proving a disappointment although, apparently, he is having gearbox trouble.
As the race enters the second half, team work really starts to come in for Stewart is being hampered by a blistered front tyre which is vibrating the car badly. Thus he makes no attempt to pass his team-mate and rather Cevert starts to open up a lead. But, meanwhile, Stewart is able to keep Fittipaldi at bay, thus nicely defending Cevert. Meanwhile Peterson has noticed his oil pressure dropping on corners and has slackened his pace in an effort to preserve the car if possible. This is not to be and, on lap 67, he pullsinto the pits with the engine seizing. Regazzoni meanwhile gives up the struggle and makes a pit stop for a new set of tyres and, once back on the track, he is soon lapping as fast as the leaders although he is now down in 10th place some three laps in arrears. Beltoise makes a similar stop but his engine later gives trouble and he retires before the finish. Lauda also retires when he sees his oil pressure sagging. The cat-and-mouse battle between Stewart and Fittipaldi is giving the crowds something to cheer about but when, after many attempts, Fittipaldi manages to outbrake Stewart and snatch second place the whole Autodrome erupts with excitement. The South Americans enjoy their motor racing! There are twenty laps of the race remaining and Cevert’s lead is nearly four seconds. Can Fittipaldi close the gap and pass Cevert? After a couple of laps there is no doubt about it in anyone’s mind. Fittipaldi smashes the lap record and, within five laps, he is right on the tail of Cevert. The Frenchman is not giving up at all easily and for five laps he holds off the Fittipaldi challenge. But on lap 86, with just ten to go, the Brazilian brakes deep into the sharp right-hander before the main straight, puts a wheel on the inside dirt and has the line for the corner. Cevert has driven a brilliant race and has led for over 50 laps but, at this moment, he must know he has been beaten.


Even so, he is doing his best to hang on to Fittipaldi as he reels off the final ten laps to the flag. Colin Chapman has left for the airport but Peter Warr imitates his cap-throwing welcome. Cevert finishes 4.7sec later. In the closing stages Stewart has further problems with a rear tyre which has started to deflate, and he limps home in third place. He might just have been caught by Jackie Ickx had the Ferrari driver not run desperately short of fuel in the closing five laps and, at the finish, the car only just splutters across the line. Peter Revson looks all lined up for a fifth place only to have his engine go very off song in the closing laps. A pit stop fails to remedy the situation so it is team-mate Hulme who takes the two points, while a delighted sixth is Wilson Fittipaldi, who has scored his first ever Championship point in the process. Regazzoni is able to claim back a couple of places in the closing stages to take seventh place, and second fastest lap of the race, but this is little consolation for his excellent drive. Revson limps the McLaren into eighth place and Merzario has to be content with ninth position, his car boiling towards the end and short of gears. Beuttler completes the classified finishers although, on the last lap, he stops on the circuit out of fuel and returns to the pits not realising that he also has a broken rear suspension radius rod mounting point. However, he is still classified 10th. The other two finishers are Jarier, who has made a total of three pit stops for gear linkage and loose radiator troubles, and Ganley who has made the late start and also has made a couple of pit stops. Neither is classified due to insufficient distance. Amidst scenes of near riot as the prizes are presented the opening round of the 1973 World Championship comes to a close. With a few more races like this there will be absolutely no need to worry about Grand Prix racing at all.


Lara Ferrari

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