There are Grands Prix that are tense and closely fought with the lead see-sawing between several teams and the verdict in question until the closing few laps and there are others where the result looks almost a foregone conclusion, even in practice. But, in these cases, the unexpected sometimes happens and the cars that made the running in practice may hit trouble in the race leaving victory to someone who can count himself lucky. One of the great joys of motor racing is its very unpredictability and the way in which the status quo can change so rapidly. The Argentine Grand Prix, for instance, was a classic race where the lead was in doubt until the last ten laps and three different teams had led at various stages of the race. Yet two weeks later, in neighbouring Brazil, one racing organisation, John Player Team Lotus, dominated practice and the race so utterly and completely that the others were almost left wondering whether it was worth carrying on. Yet, almost certainly, at the South African Grand Prix the pendulum will swing again in someone else’s favour. However, the two opening World Championship Grands Prix do have one thing in common and that is the winner-Emerson Fittipaldi and his John Player sponsored Lotus 72. In Buenos Aires it is a hard-fought victory for the Brazilian, but at his home circuit of Interlagos he is never challenged having taken the lead at the moment the starter’s flag drops. It is something of a special occasion for Fittipaldi for it is the first Grand Prix he actually leads throughout and, of course, it is the first World Championship race ever held in his home country, one of the reasons for the event being the amount of motor racing success and prestige that he has brought to Brazil.
The race also marks Lotus drawing level with Ferrari on the number of victories since the World Championship started. Both now have 49. The Interlagos track has been the home of racing in Brazil since 1940 but it is only in recent years that it has become known internationally thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of one of Brazil’s television stations, TV Globo. They have been instrumental in promoting Formula Ford, Formula Three and Formula Two series at the track with considerable success and Fiitipaldi competing in each as he moved up through the ranks of European racing. Wanting a World Championship Grand Prix, the organisers arranged a Formula One race last Easter time and, although it only attracted 12 cars and gave Reutemann his only F1 win to date, it qualified them for a full World Championship race this year. The circuit itself measures just under 8 km. and twists and turns like a serpent. Basically there is an outer bowl off which the track snakes backwards and forwards as the map shows and then rejoins before the pits straight. The highest point on the circuit is the pits straight and along this is the majority of spectators’ accommodation, with huge grandstands as can he seen from the start picture of the race in our colour centre spread. From this vantage point the spectators can see almost the complete track. The corners of the outer bowl are banked while the rest offers various combinations of radius and severity. All in all Interlagos is a track well worthy of inclusion in the World Championship. Unfortunately it is set within the city limits of Sao Paulo in a rather unattractive and industrial area and the facilities in the pits and paddock are not yet to the standard set in Buenos Aires.
In total there are five hours of official practice covering Friday and Saturday with sessions of one hour and one hour and a half on each day, while on Thursday there is a two-hour untimed practice period. Team Lotus totally dominates practice, their two cars finishing first and second in all four official separate sessions. In the first three Ronnie Peterson springs something of a surprise by recording the faster time of the pair while Fittipaldi is the faster in the fourth and final session. But that is held in altogether much hotter weather and he just fails to equal Peterson’s pole position time from the previous day. So, for the first time in his World Championship career, Peterson starts on pole position with a time of 2'30"5 which leaves Emerson Fittipaldi’s lap record, set in the non-championship 1st Brazilian Grand Prix last Easter, of 2'35"2, looking very second-hand. Fittipaldi’s best is 2'30"7 and even this leaves the rest of the field looking slow in comparison. Completing the front row of the now rare (in Grand Prix racing) 3-2-3 grid is Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari with 2'32"0, hardly on terms with the Lotuses. On row two is Regazzoni showing that his Argentina form is no flash in the pan for the B.R.M. is fourth fastest at 1'32"4 while Hulme’s best of 1'32"7 completes the row. Regazzoni’s fast time was recorded on Friday using the same engine he had raced with in Argentina. As it is now rather tired it is replaced by a fresh one from Bourne which refuses to run cleanly at all and the Swiss has not completed a flying lap on Saturday so it will be changed again for the race. Carlos Pace indicates that now the Surtees TS14A has the correct springs there isn’t too much wrong with it and he also records 1'32"7 to share row three with Carlos Reutemann’s Brabham (also handling much better than at the previous race) and Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell. On the fourth row is Francois Cevert’s Tyrrell, just 0.1 sec, slower than Stewart and Beltoise’s B.R.M.
It is certainly unusual to see the Tyrrells only eighth and ninth fastest in practice but they have worked fairly hard to be that far up, for the chassis just does not appear to suit the circuit. The second half of the grid is headed by Wilson Fittipaldi, who probably knows the Interlagos track better than anyone, and he is able to lap his Brabham in 2'34"3. A similar time is recorded by Peter Revson who has missed both of Friday’s sessions due to a stomach ailment which laid him low in his hotel bed while that rank of the grid is completed by Niki Lauda’s B.R.M., which has missed both sessions on Saturday due to various problems. Behind them comes Mike Hailwood who, unlike Pace, does not seem to be getting on with his TS14A very well and does not appear to have much appetite for the task at hand. He shares his row of the grid with March Engineering’s white hope Jean-Pierre Jarier. On the last but one row of the grid are the two Williams Specials sandwiching Merzario’s Ferrari while, right at the back, is Beuttler’s March and Bueno in the Surtees, neither of which has had much practice, but have they done so it is unlikely to make much difference. While the crowds during practice have not been particularly large or noisy, in contrast to Buenos Aires, they have certainly made up for it on Sunday. Brazilian racing fans have started packing into the Interlagos track from the early hours of the morning in preparation for the 1:00 p.m. start. As on Saturday it is a sweltering hot day with the temperature, in the shade, in the high 90s and there are many cases of sunstroke. The fire brigade sprays the main grandstands with water to cool down the fans but, while it may do so physically, it certainly doesn’t do so metaphorically, as the cheering and general bustle get louder and more excitable as the start of the race draws nearer. Tremendous displays of flying and sky-diving keep everyone amused for a while and then the grid starts to form.
The poor Williams team, who has suffered various misfortunes during practice, can not believe it when two scrutineers sealing the oil tanks with locking wire almost simultaneously contrive to set off the fire extinguishers on both cars. These have to be replaced and Ganley and Galli arrive on the grid with only about five minutes to spare. All the teams are protecting their drivers from the heat with parasols and, meanwhile, some enthusiasts with Scottish flags cavort in front of the main grandstand and get empty beer cans hurled at them for their trouble. At least this display seems to inspire Jackie Stewart who has earlier given them a friendly wave for, when the engine notes rise and the flag drops, he makes a terrific, or even jumps, start along with Carlos Pace from row three, this pair sweeping around the two row two competitors. But there is no way either Stewart or Pace is going to pass Fittipaldi for the Brazilian has made the perfect get-away and is into the first corner at the head of the pack. That first lap order certainly bears little resemblance to the practice order for lckx has muffed his start, Reutemann, does likewise while Hulme’s throttles are sticking open and he is driving on the ignition while Regazzoni’s engine is fluffing. So as the cars weave back towards the paddock on the infield section it is Fittipaldi in the lead from Pace, who of course is another Sao Paulo local, with Stewart third then Peterson, Ickx, Wilson Fittipaldi, Beltoise, Revson and the rest. But the elder Fittipaldi’s fortunes are short-lived a water hose suddenly blows off, and the car starts to lose all its water. He motors slowly towards the pits where attempts at a repair are made and he makes three or four more exploratory laps before calling it a day. It hasn’t been his day because, in the morning warm-up session, his engine threw a connecting rod, unusual on Cosworth engines, and the new motor had to be fitted quickly, perhaps too quickly.
Fittipaldi completes the first lap to an enormous roar from the appreciative crowd and he already has about a second’s lead over Pace who has Stewart, Peterson and Ickx on his tail. Then come Beltoise, Revson, Cevert, Hailwood (who madean excellent start), Reutemann, Merzario, Regazzoni, Hulme, Lauda, Galli, Beuttler, Jarier, Ganley with Bueno bringing up the rear. Stewart’s problems seem forgotten and he passes Pace on lap two, while Peterson remains a close fourth. Revson pulls into the pits thus losing seventh place, which is snatched up by Mike Hailwood. The American’s problem is in the gearbox for he only has the top two gears remaining and a couple of further laps convince him it is no use continuing and he is actually the first retirement. The pinion shaft has somehow come unscrewed. On lap three, with the crowd still roaring as Fittipaldi flashes by, Peterson moves up to third place ahead of Pace while, the following lap, the fortunes of Hailwood starts to wane when the engine goes rough and he slows. Thus Cevert and Reutemann move up to seventh and eighth places behind Beltoise but then the Argentinian hits trouble. A ball joint in the throttle linkage breaks and he rolls into the pits and it takes three laps to repair, robbing him of any chance of a position. Right at the front there is still plenty of action which looks in Team Lotus’ favour. Fittipaldi has further increased his lead while Peterson is putting Stewart under considerable pressure for second place. But on lap six Peterson floors the throttle out of the second long corner and suddenly hears the revs race and feels the car start to lurch out of control. He thinks it has jumped out of gear and in the fraction of a second he starts to hunt for gears and control the wildly spinning car as well, but to no avail and it brushes the armco barrier.
What has actually happened is that the centre had pulled out of the right rear wheel - one of those pressed and bonded Melmag types that Lotus and several other teams have been using for a while, and this had naturally thrown the car out of control. The Swede walks back to the pits unharmed. Hailwood retires altogether on lap five with a fault suspected in the metering unit and Jarier stops on the circuit with a broken crown-wheel and pinion while Pace starts to slip further back as the car is now handling badly because its sticky Firestone tyres, upon which Pace has gambled, are already giving trouble. He actually retires on lap nine with this and a rear suspension problem which Team Surtees are not keen to talk about. So by lap ten, quarter distance, the order is looking very different from either that on the grid or the first lap. Fittipaldi now has a lead of at least five seconds over Stewart, who has an even larger margin over Ickx. Beltoise is a handy fourth, but is starting to come under pressure from Hulme, who is certainly making up for the first-lap engine trouble. Cevert is now sixth, ahead of Regazzoni, who is being challenged by Merzario who suddenly found form he hardly demonstrated in practice. Lauda, the two Williams cars, Beuttler, Bueno and, back in the race, Reutemann complete those still running. Six cars are already out at quarter distance. Not a good omen, but after that only two further cars retire. First and second places are now secure but third place is definitely in contention with Ickx, Beltoise and Hulme running in close quarters. Hulme is definitely in the mood for motor racing and he first passes Beltoise and then three laps later, on lap 15, puts Ickx behind him as well. On lap 17, Cevert makes a pit stop as the top of a front shock-absorber has come unscrewed, this takes a couple of laps to replace, and he later makes a pit stop with a puncture so he is effectively out of the running thus letting Regazzoni, his engine now sounding more healthy, into sixth position.
Ickx is the next to strike trouble and, soon after he is passed by Beltoise, he comes into the pits with a puncture in a rear tyre. In the rush Merzario’s spare somehow gets fitted and this is a narrower rim and tyre which make the handling of the car somewhat odd for the rest of the race. The Belgian continues in eighth place. Beuttler is the next to go, his tired engine going onto five or six cylinders on lap 18 and he retires. So, at half distance, the race order has Fittipaldi in front and still going away with a lead now over ten seconds. Stewart is a secure second and Hulme third unable to catch Stewart, as he has been doing earlier, because the clutch is now inoperative. In fourth and fifth places are the B.R.M.s of Beltoise and Regazzoni while Merzario, still nagging at Regazzoni’s tail, finds himself sixth ahead of the two Williams cars which are running reliably, although they are now about to be re-passed by lckx. Lauda has pulled up on the circuit when his engine stopped but he is somehow able to revive it by fiddling with the electrics and, subsequently, has to make a pit stop to have his seat belts tightened. Carlos Reutemann, with absolutely no hope of a place, is nevertheless driving his Brabham as fast as it would go and is actually lapping as quickly as Stewart. He keeps overtaking people but three laps of an 8 km. circuit is a lot to make up and the lap chart still shows him 13th and last. On lap 24 little Merzario suddenly finds himself in fourth place as both the B.R.M.s start to falter. Beltoise actually grinds to a halt when a flying stone knocks out his car’s electrics while Regazzoni is having to contend with tremendous understeer which bringst him into the pits two laps later to have a worn-out front tyre replaced. Bueno is another pit caller with an electrical fault which is soon corrected. So with three-quarter distance approaching only the first four cars, plus the two Williams machines, run without a pit stop. Ickx is already back up to fifth place and Ganley is sixth.
If he can hold off a fast-closing Regazzoni he will give Williams his first ever point as a constructor. Out on the circuit Fittipaldi is driving in a beautifully relaxed style and is certainly not hurrying, as his fastest lap in the race indicates, and he even has time to make signs to his wife indicating it is all too easy. He is keeping the gap at around 14 seconds and, from then on, just reeling off the laps to the finish and a tumultuous welcome from his 80.000 fans. Some 13 seconds later comes Stewart, no doubt happy and surprised to collect six championship points in the circumstances, while Hulme is third, the only other driver not lapped. The next four cars are all a lap behind with a tired, but delighted, Merzario finishing fourth in only his fourth Grand Prix, team-mate Ickx with the strange-handling Ferrari is fifth and Regazzoni steals sixth place front Ganley and the Williams team. So the New Zealander is seventh, swerving wildly on the last lap to pick up the last dregs of fuel and, for that matter, the car is also out of oil and water so he would not have gone another mile further. In eighth place, two laps down, is Lauda who heads home Galli, who has very few Grand Prix finishes to his credit, while there is a great race to line between Cevert and Reutemann for tenth place. The Argentinian catches up about twenty seconds in the last three laps as Cevert struggles in with a couple of gears missing, a punctured rear tyre and a soggy rear shock-absorber. But he makes tenth place with just a length to spare. The final finisher in this Fittipaldi benefit is Bueno so it is Brazilians first and last. Their first World Championship Grand Prix will not go down as a classic but it will be remembered as a race so totally dominated in practice by the Lotus team and, in the race, by the nation’s own World Champion. With two wins from two races Fittipaldi has certainly made an excellent start to the 1973 season.