#250 1974 United States Grand Prix

2022-08-17 00:00

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#250 1974 United States Grand Prix

Watkins Glen, the 3.7-mile road circuit in the north of New York state, has been the scene of the World Championship’s final round ever since 1971, th


Watkins Glen, the 3.7-mile road circuit in the north of New York state, has been the scene of the World Championship’s final round ever since 1971, the Mexican Grand Prix having been dropped from the calendar that year. This year there is an added interest attached to the United States Grand Prix, for this is the event which will decide both the drivers’ World Championship as well as the constructors’ title and most of the cars which are present at the Canadian Grand Prix stayed in North America for the second race. Such is the intensity of competition at Watkins Glen, this intensity foster by the added attraction of a first prize totalling 50,000 dollars, that many teams took the opportunity to test at the circuit during the two-week break between races. However, an unexpect bout of cold weather a couple of days before the start of official practice made it seems as though the race might have to be canceled, but fortunately sunny skies and higher temperatures returned before the serious business got under way. Last year Ronnie Peterson led the United States Grand Prix from start to finish, so his Lotus 721R8 looks as though it would be a suitable mount for a second year running, Particularly after his impressive showing at Mosport Park. Ickx handled 72/R5 as usual, while a third entry was made for the former Brabham and Surtees Formula 1 driver Tim Schenken who has had a bleak season this year driving the Ron Tauranac-designed Trojan-Cosworth T103. Schenken was assigned to the Lotus 76/JPS 9 on condition that he would have to give the car up to Peterson should the Swede damage his 72 or suffer some last-moment mechanical failure. Elf Team Tyrrell is busy preparing 007/2 for Scheckter to drive, this car being flown out from the team’s Ripley headquarters to replace 007/3 which sustained very serious damage in the Mosport Park accident.


The fresh car fits with slightly larger fuel tanks, for the Watkins Glen race, at just over 199 miles, is one of the longest Grands Prix of the season and with Scheckter retaining an outside chance of winning the World Championship, Tyrrell isn’t going to take any chances. This longer-range tankage has originally been built into Depailler’s new car (007/4), but the spare chassis (007/1) retains its original fuel capacity. Four McLaren M23s came to Watkins Glen, all having appeared at Mosport Park. These are M23/8 for Firtipaldi, M23/6 for Hulme, M23/4 for Mass and M23/5 as a spare chassis which in fact don’t get used by either driver all weekend. This event is going to be Hulme’s last, for the craggy New Zealander has decided to retire from motor racing after the United States Grand Prix although he isn’t destined to make his decision public until the following Monday. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team had BT44/1 on hand for Reutemann and BT44/2 for Pace, while John Watson’s BT44/4 is successfully repaire following the damage it sustains to the underside of its monocoque when it slides off the circuit at Mosport Park. All three 1974 Brabhams are completely unchanged and they are backed up by Ashley in Watson’s old BT42/2 who is trying for the last time this year to get to grips with Formula 1. A totally new monocoque is required for Vittorio Brambilla’s March 741, but the rebuild is successfully complete after a great deal of hard graft on the part of his team’s mechanics who have a lot of time for the plucky Italian as he isn’t in any way averse to rolling his sleeves up and giving them a hand. Stuck drives the second car as usual although he has a rather hectic schedule in the intervening ten days since Mosport, rushing back with Depailler to drive against each other at an F2 event at Hockenheim. Similarly, in the B.R.M. and Shadow team Beltoise, Jarier and Pryce came back home to Europe for another race but rushed back in time to practise B.R.M. P201/03, Shadow DN3/2A and DN3/3A respectively.


Chris Amon is down to have his second drive as a member of the Bourne organization and although he is singularly unimpressed with his car’s performance in the Canadian Grand Prix, he is at least happy to know that an engine mounting is find to have broken so the apparent handling deficiency isn’t just in his mind. In the Surtees team, Koinigg is continuing to drive TS16/03-3, but Derek Bell’s place in the second car is taken by Jose Dolhem, the French driver who tries unsuccessfully to qualify at both Dijon-Prenois and Monza. Merzario and Laffite are representing the Williams team as usual, Wilds drove Morris Nunn’s Ensign and Rolf Stommelen rounded off the season as temporary team-mate to Graham Hill in the Embassy Lola T370. Having finish second in the Hesketh March 731 last year, James Hunt is hoping for great things from the Hesketh 308/2 complete in the same side radiator trim which takes him to fourth place at Mosport and the team buy along 308/3 as a reserve car once again. Undoubtedly the most popular entries in the race as far as the American crowd is concerne, Mario Andretti and Mark Donohue are taking part in their home Grand Prix in the Parnelli VPJ1 and the Penske PC1 for the very first time. Both cars have taken part in the pre-practice test sessions at Watkins Glen and each team feels confident that it can improve on its Mosport Park result. Finally, the one team with a chance of beating Fittipaldi and McLaren Racing to the World Championship, Ferrari, has run into a host of problems whilst testing the previous week. Regazzoni has crash 312B3/016 very heavily and completely written the car off against the guard rail but the Swiss is fortunate to escape from the wreckage with an uncomfortably bruise leg. The damage Ferrari is flown home to Italy and the Maranello workers have to put in many extra hours getting 011 ready to be dispatch to the United States as a replacement, this unfortunate incident interrupting the development work which is be carry out on the revise 312T model which features a transverse gearbox cast into the back of the engine block amongst other refinements and is to be test in Italy the week after Watkins Glen.


Official practice takes place on the Friday and Saturday prior to the race, it being apparent from the word go that everyone is working as hard as they possibly can to secure a decent grid position. The heroes are looking as heroic as ever, the triers are trying probably harder than ever before this year and the also runs are even looking quick for a change as they all strive to get a place on the last Grand Prix grid of this season. Unfortunately B.R.M. are in trouble almost before the session is under way with Beltoise crashing his P201 on an uphill right-hand corner on the new section of the circuit after trying too hard too early on cold tyres and a filthy dirty track surface. The little Frenchman escaps from the twist B.R.M. with a slightly chip bone in his ankle, but neither the mechanics nor Tim Parnelli looks particularly please with Beltoise because he ought to have known better than to go so fast so quickly on very cold tyres. Whilst all this drama is being enact in the B.R.M. pit, Carlos Reutemann is busy underlining the fact that his Brabham BT44 is one of the best Grand Prix cars currently racing by lapping in 1'39"26 which top the practice lists until Andretti goes 0.01 sec. faster in the afternoon. The Italian-born American made his Formula One debut at Watkins Glen back in 1968 at the wheel of a Lotus 49 and he put it on pole position, a fact which raised a few eyebrows at the time. Since then he has concentrated on American USAC events and only had intermittent races in Europe with Formula One Marches and Ferraris. However, it has always been one of his ambitions to go back into Formula One with an American team and, albeit with a car designe by an Englishman, that is just what he has done and the whole demeanor surrounding the Parnelli team at Watkins Glen is very similar to that surrounding Ferrari at Monza, or that which used to surround the Matra-Simca team at the French Grand Prix. It is a contagious feeling of confidence and by the end of the first day, everyone in the team from Parnelli Jones and sponsor Vel Miletich right down to the most junior mechanic is grinning fit to bust.


It seems that the first practice hurdle to clear is the 1'40"0 barrier, this being successfully manages by Andretti, Reutemann, Scheckter, Pace, John Watson and the two Ferraris. But even though the Italian cars are near the front all is far from well as both drivers are complaining that their cars understeer acutely and Lauda’s is ruining its rear shock-absorbers at a very fast rate. Out on the circuit the red cars’ familiar stability has vanish and both their drivers wrestl hard with the Ferraris as they weav disconcertingly under braking and their rear ends vibrates violently under harsh acceleration. Lauda’s best ends up as 1'39"32 while Regazzoni just slips in 1'39"73 lap when the engine of his car blow a hole in its crankcase. So that is that. Nevertheless, Ferrari can perhaps draw some small consolation from the fact that Team Lotus are having one of their most shambolic weekends since they drop the Lotus 76 project. Peterson looks depress, Ickx merely resign to the fact that neither of them can cure the two Lotus 72s of their massive understeer problem and although Ickx just breaks into the 1'40"0 barrier, the usually cheerful Swede is very glum after failing to break 1'41"0. This air of gloom quickly spread through the team because one of the really good things about having a driver like Peterson in the team is that he tries hard all the time, so you don’t have to bother about wondering: Is he having an off-day? Everyone can see that Peterson is trying as hard as he knows to get the car going well, so there is only one conclusion to be drawn and that is that the fault lay with the car. This is underline on the second day when he laps appreciably quicker than his team mate, and the grim sight of the two Lotus 72s lining up on the starting grid in 16th and 19th position out of 25 cars was very depressing for Colin Chapman. Just to complete their anguish, Schenken fails to qualify for the spare 76. Emerson Fittipaldi encountere braking problems with M23/8 which necessitate his mechanics stripping down the front brakes on the spare McLaren and transferring the discs to the Brazilian’s regular car.


Once that is carry out, Fittipaldi records a 1'39"85 lap which stands him in good stead at the front of the grid. Hulme wears a relax, unconcerne look on his face while Mass, in contrast, don’’t understand why he can’t get the Yardley car going faster than he does. Penske’s teamare learning all about Formula One the hard way as they spend most of Friday’s session attempting to come to terms with a mysterious misfire on Donohue’s car. After trying every remedy they can think of, they are all a little bit perplexe and embarrasse to find that the battery has a loose earth lead. Despite this trivial fault, at least the Penske team is following the Parnelli team up the grid and passing a lot of season regulars as they do so. After a rather pointless demonstration race by three UOP Shadow Can-Am cars, wins by George Follmer, Saturday’s session got underway with Reutemann establishing fastest time in his Brabham. The way in which this swarthy Argentinian has come to the fore and develops his driving ability this year is quite outstanding. Last year he was never quite as determined in the Brabham BT42, but this year, with Gordon Murray’s BT44, he has developed into an impressive driver. He records an excellent 1'38"97 lap to take pole position for the 59 lap race and never look as though he is having to work hard to do so. Alongside him on the front row of the grid sit James Hunt in the Hesketh after a fine 1'38"99 which is aid by the excellent tyres produces by Firestone’s Akron, Ohio factory for their last major international event. This is the first time Hunt has manage to put Hesketh onto the front row of a Grand Prix grid and provides a degree of consolation for the English team who expect to do so well this year and end up having a rather disappointing season. Andretti is all set to retain his place at the front of the grid on Saturday afternoon, but he spins at the same corner which has claim both Beltoise and Regazzoni. The Parnelli revolves a couple of times and the American is unfortunately unable to prevent his car hitting the guard rail with a front wheel, slightly bending the suspension and steering.


Practice is halt as the damage car is towes back to the pits and, although the entire Parnelli team falls on the car and work like slaves to repair it in order to continue practising, Andretti only makes it back out onto the circuit with just over five minutes left to go. This meant that he was unable to improve on his Friday time, so he faced the start from the second row of the grid alongside Pace’s Brabham which has record 1'39"28. On the inside of the third row, Niki Lauda is flankes by Scheckter in Tyrrell 007/2 although his time is establish in 007/1 after an engine has fail in his newer car while John Watson’s speeds in the brown Hexagon car is repaid with a grid time quicker than Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian not being unduly worry by this because he is ahead of Regazzoni on the grid and realizes full well that he is in the strongest position as far as the outcome of the World Championship is concern. Two rows behind Fittipaldi there is a great A for effort award earn by Chris Amon who is driving the B.R.M. on its door handles' so to speak to record 1'40"7 although it is very difficult to decide whether this is more meritorious than Laffite’s 1'40"59 which put the Frenchman’s Williams-Cosworth ahead of the B.R.M. one place. On the seventh row of the grid are Depailler, feeling crestfallen on 1'40"7 and Donohue, feeling encourages, on 1'40"8. Behind this center point of the grid things are much as usual with one or two major upsets. Neither of the Lotus 72s should be down in the positions they are, but things fail to improve for them on Saturday, Pryce and Mass are rather disappointing while both the Lolas are slow perhaps understandably in this case for Stommelen’s last visit to Watkins Glen ends with minor burns after a serious accident in the Alfa Romeo T33/12 and Hill’s car blow two DFVs during the course of practice. Its nice to see that Mike Wild’s persistence in the Ensign has pay off and he manages to gain a place on the grid ahead of Koinigg, Hill and Brambilla, the last-name having a slight brush with a barrier in the final session and slightly damaging the March’s monocoque. Dolhem ends up as first reserve, just as he has been at Monza, while Schenken, Stuck, Ashley and Beltoise are the others who fail to get a place at the start.


Sunday’s untime warming up session bring last-moment problems for several teams; Hunt’s Hesketh stops on the circuit with fuel pressure problems, Laffite’s Williams break a wheel stud and Andretti’s car runs into a bout of misfiring which is trace to the electrical system. However, some feverish work by the mechanics got everyone ready in time, even though Andretti has to squeeze in three warming up laps before his Parnelli will run properly. All 25 cars line up in front of the lavender-suited starter, Tex Hopkins, with both Schenken and Dolhem waiting optimistically at the back should anything go wrong. And Dolhem is to be reward for, as the grid moves forward to take the flag, Andretti can’t starts the Parnelli and the whole grid surge away leaving the fuming American stationery, Reutemann just beating Hunt to the first corner with Pace and Lauda tucks tightly in behind. Dolhem waves into the race as a replacement and Schenken joins in as well after misinterpreting the official signals. He completes six laps before he is blackflag and disqualify. Meanwhile, as Reutemann led Hunt round the first lap, mechanics push Andretti’s car to the end of the pits where Dick Scammell bled the apparent vapor lock in the car’s fuel system and then send his driver out into the race. Unfortunately there isn’t alternative but to black-flag the unfortunate Andretti and disqualify the car for receiving assistance outside the pits after it has completed four trouble-free laps. Reutemann and Hunt cross the line comfortably together at the end of the first lap leading Pace, Lauda, Scheckter and Fittipaldi with a gap already opening to Regazzoni, Watson, Depailler, Laffite, Jarier and Merzario. It doesn't take long for the leading duo to pull away from their pursuers, Hunt hanging on in fine style but not really looking as though he is about to pass the Brabham, while Pace similarly begins to move away from the next bunch.


Lauda is trying hard to keep in front of Scheckter and Fittipaldi, the Brazilian apparently perfectly content to keep the Tyrrell just in front of his McLaren for he knows that Scheckter has to win to take the Championship and then only if the McLaren driver falls to fifth or below. Regazzoni on the other hand is holding up his pursuers in typical fashion, pulling away from them on the straights and holding them up in the corners with the result that there is a nine-car bunch behind him with five laps of the race completes although Merzario isn’t messing about with any nonsense from the Swiss and elbow past on the second lap to chase off after Watson. Jarier drops back from the front of this group chasing Regazzoni as his Shadow’s tyres start to lose their grip and Koinigg’s Suttees go missing on the tenth lap on the far side of the circuit. It is only much later that the majority of people in the pit area receive news that the young Austrian has been killed when his car leaves the track at the same corner as the two practice accidents occure, ploughing headlong through two catch fences before striking the guard rail at right angles. As has so often happen in the past, the guard rails split and allow the car to pass between them so there isn’t chance of survival for its driver. A sheet is laid over the Surtees wreckage and the race continues with the shatter car lying under the guardrail with Koinigg still inside it. With the first three remaining in the same order and Lauda still keeping the Tyrrell and McLaren behind him, interest is focused on the speed with which Merzario catches Watson and the tenacity with which both Mass and Peterson dispose of Regazzoni’s understeering Ferrari. By lap 15 the Swiss virtually concede any hope of winning the Championship when he rolls into the pits to complain about his car’s impossible handling. The only solution was to replace the front tyres, so the Ferrari is sent back into the race with some fresh rubber at the front only to return later with the same complaint.


While the order at the front of this high speed precision remains very much as one might expect bearing in mind the grid positions, the one in the woodpile turn out to be Merzario. By lap 22 he is right on Watson’s tail and challenging the Ulsterman as hard as he knows only to let enthusiasm get the better of his judgment and elbow Watson into a spin three laps later as they jostle for position going into the tight right-hand corner after the pits. Watson handbrake turns his Brabham with a dexterity that raises cheers from the crowd, but by the time he is pointing in the right direction, Merzario has vanished into the distance in pursuit of Fittipaldi. Regazzoni feels his Ferrari handling just as badly within a few laps and, after a second stop to change the front suspension adjustments, charge back into the race and all but knock Jochen Mass straight out of the contest as the Yardley McLaren laps his Ferrari on lap 28. At the tail of the field Dolhem’s Surtees TS16 is withdrawn after the accident to Koinigg and Donohue’s race, which is hamper ever since the opening stages by spongy brakes, end with a broken rear suspension link on the Penske at the point where it attaches to the bottom of the upright. In bleak contrast to last year’s race, Team Lotus are having an absolutely soul-destroying race. Peterson is fighting his way through the mid-field runners and struggle up to ninth place, his Lotus 72 understeering like mad all the way round the circuit and even the Swede’s brand of determination don’t seem enough to overcome the problems on this occasion. In the pits Colin Chapman wears a grim expression on his face for not only has Schenken hauls off the track, but Ickx has brush a crash barrier on his seventh lap and driven slowly in to retire with derange suspension on his 72. But there is plenty more misfortune in store, for the sole surviving 72 suddenly starts to sound desperately rough and on the 32nd lap Peterson drives into the pits where it is find that an exhaust pipe has come away from one bank of the DFV right up by the cylinder head. After a brief checkover he is send on his way but eventually stops for good when a fuel line becomes detached.


Whilst all this drama is unfolding for their rival teams, both works Brabhams continues to lap steadily and progressively, Pace taking great chunks out of Hunt’s second place advantage as the race progresses to the lap 45 mark and Hesketh begins to experience fuel-pick-up problems. Encourage by the obvious plight of his immediate rival, Pace speeds up and establishes a new Formula One record of 1'40"6 on lap 54 prior to snatching second place one lap later. From that point on it is all over and the two smart white Brabham BT44s sped confidently on to a convincing 1-2 result at the end of 59 laps’ racing, Reutemann leading Pace over the line by slightly less than 11 seconds. Hunt drops away substantially over the final two laps, but he just manages to keep the Hesketh spluttering round for long enough to beat Fittipaldi by five seconds, the Brazilian not takes any chances whatsoever and cruising gently round those final laps to clinch his second World Championship and the very first for McLaren Racing. By sitting on Scheckter’s tail all the way, he knows that the Tyrrell driver hasn’t chance of taking the title, but when the blue car drifts to a standstill with fuel-pick-up problems on lap 45, the contest is all over. It is only leave for Watson and Depailler to finish in strong fifth and sixth places, Merzario having stops his Williams with an electrical fault which discharge the car’s fire extinguisher into his face and then causes the engine to cut out, while Mass has driven very hard from near the back of the grid to take seventh place. It is an excellent result for the works of Brabhams, Reutemann having maintaine the tremendous form he has shown throughout the second half of the season, but somehow there is a feeling of anti-climax over the way in which the Championship contest has fizzle out. Fittipaldi has driven a conscientious and strategic race into fourth place, but it is hardly the stuff of which legends are made, while the failure of Ferrari to maintain their competitive edge proves a rather disappointing footnote to the last race of the year.


Rebecca Asolari

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