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#203 1971 British Grand Prix

2022-08-26 00:00

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#1971,

#203 1971 British Grand Prix

Although the British Grand Prix does not have a long and venerable history, like the French Grand Prix, it does have the distinction of being held con

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Although the British Grand Prix does not have a long and venerable history, like the French Grand Prix, it does have the distinction of being held continuously since 1948, mostly at the Silverstone airfield circuit; with occasional digressions to Aintree and Brands Hatch. There have been some British Grand Prix races held at Brooklands in the twenties, but they have died along with any influence we had on International motor racing, until the BRDC got Silverstone under way in the new era of motor racing. The Daily Express newspaper, who do more harm than good for motor racing with their gory crash and death photographs, have been backing the British Grand Prix for years, and this year they are joined by the International Wool Secretariat (a rather obscure him or they) and the British Grand Prix very nearly lost its identity, for my admission ticket said I am allowed into the Woolmark Grand Prix and there is an RAC badge on it, while some of the Press information given out officially also referred to the Woolmark Grand Prix. Be that as it may, I go to see the 24th post-war British Grand Prix at sunny Silverstone, for during practice on Thursday and Friday it really is hot and perfect weather for the garden-party atmosphere you get at Silverstone. The party is somewhat marred, especially in the B.R.M. camp, by the absence of Pedro Rodriguez, that tough little Mexican, who has been killed in a small race in Germany only the week before, and to many people the cold fact still seems unreal. The death of a driver does not stop Grand Prix racing, so everyone else turned up for practice, which is held in four separate sessions, two on Thursday and two on Friday, each session lasting an all-too-short 60 minutes. Recently sonic races have overdone practice, with as much as seven hours, three of them continuous, for a two-hour sprint race, but the RAC (or BRDC, Daily Express, or Woolmark, or whoever is in charge) rather underdid it this year for 60-minute sessions are barely long enough to make any alterations and certainly not long enough if any troubles crop up.
 

There are one or two changes in the normal combinations of cars and drivers, Team Lotus putting Wisell in the turbine car, which allows Charlton to take over the Swede’s Lotus 72, while Fittipaldi remains with his usual Lotus 72. Following the fashion, the Cosworth engines in the Lotus cars have been fitted with air-collector boxes fed by a large snorkel above the driver’s head, which confuses the original theory behind the earlier Lotus air-boxes and make me wonder if anyone knows what they are doing. It is surprising how many people still refuse to believe that Stewart drives faster than anyone else, and hope that his speed is to do with some Tyrrell or Cosworth mystique. For this race both the 1971 Tyrrell cars are using the Chevron/Porsche-like nose cowlings, while the original car is unchanged and only kept as a spare, not being used at all in practice, though it does do a few laps after practice is all finished, with a cine-camera mounted on the side, and Stewart drives it quite swiftly. The Ferrari team enters three cars, one for the mythical Andretti, who fails once more to appear, so his 312B/2 car is a spare for Ickx and Regazzoni, but they have no need to use it. Following the fashions Ferrari has schemed up very neat air-boxes over the intakes of the flat 12 engines, fed from scoops blended into the sides of the cockpit. They also have new nose cowlings available, with spats in front of the front wheels like B.R.M. introduced at the Dutch GP. After experimenting in practice they retain the new noses for the race but abandon the air-collector boxes. The Brabham and McLaren teams are unchanged from previous races, except that McLaren adds Oliver to their team, driving the 1970 car, M14A/2. They try a Tyrrell-like nose cowling on Hulme’s car during practice, but only briefly, and do not use it in the race. Quite naturally the B.R.M. team leaves their number one car behind, and has Siffert in P160/02 and Ganley in P153/06, with the P160/03 as a spare, and in two practice sessions Siffert has occasion to use it when his own car brakes down.

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On the first occasion the fuel pump packs up and on the second occasion the flywheel ignition pick-up cracks. It is not until the last session that Siffert’s car is made to go properly and the Swiss then storms off and gets himself on the front row of the grid, more by exasperation than skill. A Cosworth-like air-box is also tried on Siffert’s car during practice, but not used in the race. In the March team there are numerous changes in both cars and drivers, for Soler-Roig’s contract is replaced by one with Galli, so that the little Italian takes over the Cosworth-powered 711/4, while de Adamich retains 711/1 with the works Alfa Romeo engine. The chassis and running gear of 711/2, which Peterson has been racing, is sold to the Clarke-Mordaunt group, who fits the necessary parts from their 701 March to it, for Beuttler to drive. Meanwhile, the March 711/6, which is built up as a second Alfa Romeo-powered car, is converted to a Cosworth-powered one and Peterson takes this over as the number one works car. The Surtees team has four cars at the circuit, 001 for the owner, 002 for Stommelen, 004 as a spare and the T-car TS7/001 for Bell, but during practice Surtees does a shuffle and lets Bell drive the latest TS9 and also use it in the race. To make sure it is all right Surtees uses it himself for the first Friday practice session. The Matra team has transporter problems so can only bring two of their V12 cars, Amon having 06 and Beltoise 05, and throughout practice they are never really happy, being unable to match the lap times they have done earlier in the year. The lone private entry is that of the Williams March 711/3 for Pescarolo, whose practice is marred by a broken rear upright causing the Frenchman to crash mildly and bend the rear end, but the Williams mechanics get it all sorted out in time for the race.

 

Throughout the four short-sharp practice periods the pace is set by Stewart, with Regazzoni hot on his heels, and Fittipaldi being in there with them rather unobtrusively, until Siffert gets in there at the last moment. Ickx just never gets fully wound up at all, in spite of the Ferrari team doing all they can to help. Fittipaldi’s progress is stopped, as is Charlton’s, when the top engine mountings begin to break up, caused by the high-speed cornering tyre vibrations, similar to those that have been plaguing Ferrari recently. Charhon’s Lotus brakes both sides and Fittipaldi’s only the left side, so the Brazilian’s car is repaired and strengthened during Friday and he manages to get out just as practice is finishing, and does an instant 1'19"6, a time that a lot of people have spent four hours trying to achieve. He has already put himself in the ace class with 1'18"3, just behind Siffert (B.R.M.) 1'18"2 and Stewart (Tyrrell) and Regazzoni (Ferrari), who has done 1'18"1. Regazzoni does his ace time in the first practice on Friday and in the final session Stewart does all he knows to beat him, but fails, though he does equal the Ferrari time. Anyone who sees him do three consecutive laps on the absolute limit, raising dust with his outside rear tyre as he uses every inch of the circuit, sees a master driver in action; and there are still people who think it is unfair that he should have the only Ferrari-beating Cosworth engine. My answer to the moaners is and who would you give the best engine to? Practice is wound up with five different makes in the first two rows of the grid, with Stewart in the Tyrrell-Cosworth between the 12-cylinder cars of Regazzoni and Siffert. The little Scot is also the only Goodyear-shod runner in the first two rows, so that the Wolverhampton firm joins Ford in their mutual admiration of their choice. One thing that Stewart can do is to give his backers value for money when conditions are right for him.

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The people who pay to go to Silverstone, and it is said that there are 100.000 of them, certainly get their money’s worth of speed, spectacle and sport, for the Grand Prix is surrounded by Formula Three racing, in which David Walker brings more smiles to Colin Chapman’s face, as well as his many enthusiastic followers, aerobatics by the Red Arrow flyers, an old car parade, that looks very much like a race, with everything from Crabbe’s W125 Mercedes-Benz and Tony Brooks in a Vanwall, to D-type Jaguars and Lago-Talbots, and a tour of respect for Pedro Rodriguez by a JW Gulf-Porsche 917, as well as saloon-car racing and Chris Barber’s Jazz Band to finish up the day. Added to all this is superbly sunny weather and the splendid garden-party atmosphere, all in the centre of England, so it is no wonder that Silverstone is packed to overflowing. After an untimed practice session before the festivities begin, the Grand Prix cars are assembled ready for a 2.30 p.m. start, and the less says about the start the better. It would have done justice to any French motor race and resulted in Regazzoni jumping the flag and then stopping, and at the back of the grid Oliver rams the nose of his McLaren into the back of Hill’s Brabham, eliminating both cars and getting himself a naughty-boy fine of £50. On the warm-up lap Charlton’s Lotus blows smoke out of its Cosworth engine and a piston brakes up almost before he leaves the grid, while Wisell with the turbine car is last to arrive on the grid. The Woolmark race sponsors issue all the mechanics with blue Woolmark shirts, but it is noticeable that many teams refuse to wear them, conscious of their loyalties to their own sponsors, like STP, Gulf and so on, the March and McLaren boys having the Woolmark shirts stuffed under their belts. Would there be a clashing of vested interests here?

 

The 22 cars that roar away on the opening lap are led by the Ferraris of Regazzoni and Ickx, the Belgian having nipped in behind his team-mate from the third row, and they have Stewart’s Tyrrell hard on their heels. It takes Stewart one lap to dispose of Ickx and two laps to dispose of Regazzoni and that is it, the race as such is all over and we settled down to watch and admire the way Stewart and the blue Tyrrell make everyone else look like beginners. There is not even a moment of excitement with the Ferraris hanging grimly to the slipstream of the Tyrrell, for once past Stewart just disappears into the distance and cruises effortlessly onwards for the remainder of the 68 laps, making the Woolmark-sponsored British Grand Prix a one-man, one-car demonstration, and Ken Tyrrell’s team are on such a winning streak at the moment that their confidence is such that they do not make mistakes in preparation and maintenance. Siffert gets his B.R.M. past the two Ferraris by lap 5 and the only real interest is to watch Peterson and Fittipaldi move up and actually catch and pass other cars, while no one can miss noticing that Schenken is driving the way he has gone at the French Grand Prix, holding a good sixth place ahead of Hulme. The first 10 laps see everything sorted out nice and tidily, with Stewart well ahead of Siffert, both lapping at around 1'20"0, followed by Regazzoni and Ickx, the two Ferraris being harried by Peterson, Schenken, Fittipaldi and Hulme. After a sizeable gap comes Ganley’s B.R.M. well ahead of the rest of the runners, in the order Gethin, Cevert, Stommelen, Amon, Pescarolo, Beltoise, Surtees, Galli, Beuttler, Bell, Wisell and de Adamich. On lap 20 when Cevert stops at the pits with hot water spraying on him from a broken pipe; it is bodged up and he rejoins the race at the back of the field.

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Then Beuttler goes missing with low oil pressure in his Cosworth engine, Bell drops out with a radius rod mounting broken on the new Surtees, and Hulme coasts to a stop at Beckett’s with a pool of oil around his McLaren, by which time the leader has covered 32 laps and there is a bit of a procession going on. However, there has been a little drama going on just behind Stewart, for the B.R.M. in second place has vibrated its coil loose and it is shorting the electrical system occasionally, so that Regazzoni is able to retake second place from Siffert, but until something happens to Stewart or the Tyrrell no one is going to get a sniff at the leading position for by now Stewart is cruising round at his leisure. At half-distance the engine in Amon’s Matra begins to fail, which drops him from a pretty miserable tenth place, and Gethin is unhappy with the feel of his McLaren, which two pit stops finally show to be due to a deflating tyre. Ickx goes missing on lap 38 and arrives late at the pits with a flat rear tyre, which drops him from fourth place to the back of the field where Wisell is circulating slowly and quietly with the turbine car and de Adamich is also circulating, having had to stop for repairs to the Alfa Romeo throttle linkage. Meanwhile, the popping and banging of Siffert’s B.R.M. is getting worse and it is only a matter of time before he is forced to stop, which happens on lap 43, when the coil is lashed up, and, after some trouble restarting the engine, a slave battery having to be used, Siffert rejoins the race down at the back. Hardly has the race recovered from losing its third-place car than the second-place one is heading for the pits and Regazzoni retires with a broken engine.

 

This leaves Peterson now in second place, followed by Schenken, Fittipaldi and Ganley, and just as the last named is lapped by the leader of the race his B.R.M. gets a flat tyre at the rear and the stop to change it puts him back behind the non-stop tail-enders who have been reduced to Pescarolo (March 711) and the two Surtees cars of Stommelen and Surtees. Next to go is Ickx with a Ferrari engine that is fast dying and he is followed by Gethin, whose Cosworth engine is dying, and it begins to look like a good thing that the race is only 68 laps long, for there are not too many healthy cars left running. As Stewart goes round and round it is interesting that there are three comparative new boys following him, all of them progressing steadily in the art of driving a Formula One car as distinct from racing a Formula Three or Formula Two car, these three being the only ones on the same lap as the leader. Just when Schenken seems all set for an honourable third place his Brabham brakes its transmission and he coasts to a stop out on the circuit on lap 64. Meanwhile, Wisell is creeping to the finish with the turbine losing power and only pulling about 60% and Galli has his fingers crossed as his Cosworth engine has been blowing out oil smoke for the whole race and his oil pressure is down to an uncomfortable 40 lb./sq. in. Stewart sweeps home the winner of the British Grand, having demolished all the opposition and the rest straggles home in various states of health. The two Surtees works cars finish strongly enough, but not fast enough, and Pescarolo has had a good steady run in the Williams March 711. It has not been a memorable British Grand Prix, and Stewart has not been perfection, for he has not made fastest lap in every practice session and has not led from start to finish, but he has more than satisfied his supporters and if he becames the 1971 World Champion this race is yet another demonstration of why he will justify the title.

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Giulia Noto

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