Last year the Austrian Grand Prix was memorable for a number of things, it was the first Grand Prix to be held on the new Osterreichring, it was the first victory by Ferrari in a long time, it was the last race by Stewart with a March car before the announcement of the new Tyrrell car, Italian enthusiasm ran wild after the race, and altogether it was a Grand Prix to remember. There was an incredible atmosphere running across Austria even before the event began, for Ferrari had come so close to victory at the previous Grand Prix and the writing was on the wall for an Italian victory. The sun was shining, Austria was in great form, everyone was delighted with the new circuit the Austrians had built and from the moment of crossing the frontier from Germany into Austria the whole affair had been a roaring success. This year as I approach the frontier it is all very different, it is late at night, the rain is pouring down, the previous Grand Prix had been won by Stewart with a Tyrrell when everyone had expected Ickx to win it with a Ferrari and when I arrive at Zeltweg the rain is still pouring down and there is none of he animation and excitement of last year. Everywhere there is a feeling that Stewart and the Tyrrell car is all set for another victory, which would be his fourth in a row and the sixth this season so that points scoring or no points scoring the Scot would be the undisputed World Champion driver for 1971. Stewart’s last three victories have been achieved with so little apparent effort, with Cevert backing him up in second place with the number two Tyrrell car in two of the races, that the ELF Team Tyrrell has got everyone thoroughly depressed, and Matra withdraws from the Austrian race in a desperate hope to improve their cars in the lull this would give them.
Although Ferrari has three entries and the three 1971 cars, only Ickx and Regazzoni arrive in the rain, Andretti still playing ducks and drakes with European racing and USAC racing. In weight of numbers BRM are very strong, having four 1971 cars and a 1970 car with them, Siffert being joined by Ganley and Gethin on the new cars and the Austrian Dr. Marko joining the team with the 1970 car. Gethin has been released prematurely by the McLaren team for his contract is due to end after the Italian Grand Prix and B.R.M. are taking him on for the Canadian and American Grand Prix events anyway, so he joined them for the Austrian race by general agreement and this means that Oliver can take over Gethin’s 1971 McLaren, in support of Hulme. The STP-March team has undergone a shuffle both in drivers and machinery, for though Peterson still leads them with his usual 711 model, Galli’s car is still using an Alfa Romeo engine and the original Alfa Romeo-engined car is converted to a Cosworth power unit and this is hired out to Niki Lauda, a 22-year-old Austrian driver who is been showing promise in Formula Two racing. Beuttler is driving a March 711 as usual for the Clarke-Modaunt combine and Pescarolo is driving for Frank Williams. In the Surtees team the Stommelen supporters have been complaining that the young German’s usual car is no good so John Surtees gives him his own car and takes the latest one for himself, hoping this would allay any suspicions that there are any differences between the two TS9 cars they have been racing all season. The Lotus team and Tauranac’s Brabham team are unchanged and like the Tyrrell Team all is amicable in their ranks. A last minute entry is Bonnier with his old McLaren. Altogether there are 26 drivers entered but this number is reduced to 22 with the absence of Andretti, Amon, Beltoise and de Adamich. The FIA rules permit 25 Formula One cars to compete on the 5.911 kilometre Osterreichring.
All is peace and quiet on Thursday morning as the rain pours down and the clouds obscur the hillsides. There may have been peace and quiet but all is not well for both McLaren and Williams are in trouble with transport vehicles so that Oliver’s car has not arrived, nor has Pescarolo’s rebuilt March 711. While everyone is wondering about wet weather tyres and suitable gear-ratios, to say nothing of water-proofing, the rain suddenly stops, the clouds lift and within three hours it is a glorious afternoon and the track is dry. Practice begins at 3:00 p.m. and is continuous for three hours, and conditions are ideal for though the sun is strong the Zeltweg plateau is still full of cool, damp air, so that the temperature is just right for racing engines and some fast practice times are expected. The lap record for the fast Osterreichring is set in June of this year by Rodriguez with a 917 Porsche in 1'39"35 (132.9 m.p.h.), but the fastest lap ever is 1'39"23 by Rindt in practice for the Grand Prix last year with a Lotus 72. Everyone is a bit taken aback when Stewart starts lapping in under 1'39"0 and when he gets under 1'38"0 it is almost too much for the opposition. During the three hours he just goes faster and faster and leaves FTD at 1'37"65, being the only one in the thirty-seven second bracket. The two Ferrari drivers make a big improvement on last year’s best time but they are nowhere near fast enough, and a gloom settles over the Scuderia. Right at the end of practice Stewart is well wound up and Fittipaldi sees the chance of nipping his Lotus 72 in behind the Tyrrell and he gets a very useful tow which gives him fourth fastest time of the day, ahead of Cevert who is supposed to have got in behind the master. While some people are having a good time and going fast, others are already in trouble, both the Brabhams wasting a lot of time in the pits having their drive-shafts attended to, while Galli’s Alfa-Romeo engine is in trouble, as is Peterson’s Cosworth engine.
With the pace that Stewart is setting it is clear that anyone who hopes to be in the running would have to improve on the existing lap record, preferably well below 1'39"0, while anyone who can not get below 1'40"0 is likely to find himself getting in the way of the motor-race. In the B.R.M. team Siffert is all on his own, his regular team-mate and the two new-boys being leave way behind, and Hulme is having a very lonely time, but going very well nevertheless. Friday turns out to be a scorching hot day, all the damp and moisture is gone from the plateau and it is really too hot for any serious practice, there being another three hours from 3:00 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oliver and Pescarolo are still waiting for their cars to arrive, Lauda is also without a car as his March 711 is in bits behind the pits awaiting the arrival of another engine, and Galli is also a non-runner as a replacement Alfa Romeo engine has been installed in his March and has made a nasty noise when it is started up. Stewart is not happy with the feel of the throttle slides on his Cosworth engine so his mechanics strip the slide assembly in front of the pits and inspect the tiny balls and rollers on which the throttle slides move. Cevert is finding that the wide nose on his Tyrrell is scraping the ground on the downhill right-hand bends, but it is not too serious, and Regazzoni and Ickx both practice with the spare Ferrari; the Austrian time-keepers, unlike some countries we’ve been to this year, are fully aware of these changes and record them correctly. Quite early in the afternoon Stommelen has an oil pipe come adrift on his Surtees and as he is doing more opening laps than he has been told to he goes on until the engine seizes up and the track is well oiled. It is just as well there is plenty of practice time and everyone can sit back and wait for the oil to dry up. Hulme and Hill appear to be doing endurance testing on their Cosworth engines, for Hulme covers 50 laps and Hill does 55 laps during the afternoon practice for a race that is only ever 54 laps.
It seems that most people are waiting for the heat of the sun to disperse, and at 5.15 p.m. it looks as if there might be a rush of fast laps, but it does not work out that way. Ickx disappears on the far side of the circuit in a cloud of smoke as an oil pipe broke, and Stewart is not too happy with the way his Cosworth engine is opening up. The weather conditions are not as good as the previous day from the point of view of engine efficiency, but they are marvellous for spectators and for most drivers there is no improvement over the first day’s times. Once again Fittipaldi benefits from some crafty slip-streaming, this time from Hulme’s McLaren and his 1'38"41 proves to be the fastest of the day. Siffert uses the spare B.R.M. as well as the one allotted his race number, the newer car having the first of the short-stroke engines, while the spare car, which is the one he normally races, has an old type engine, but with the 1971 cylinder heads, and this proves to be the faster of the two. In less than half the number of laps that his team-mate cover Schenken proves to be quite a lot faster and is a very worthy fifth fastest overall for the day, driving his 1970 Brabham. Saturday is another scorching hot day and this time practice is from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., making a total of nine hours altogether, for a race that is to last barely 1 1/2 hours. At last there is a full complement of cars for Pescarolo’s March 711 has arrived and the McLaren M19A/1 for Oliver, while engines have arrived for the March works cars so Lauda is back in the fray. Stewart’s Tyrrell has been running with an experimental longer wheelbase (described elsewhere) during the first two days, but is now back to its normal length. Siffert seems to be concentrating on the spare B.R.M. and Regazzoni is spending a lot of time in the spare Ferrari. Practice is rather slow in getting under way as nobody seems keen to go out in the heat, except those who are short on practice laps. Oliver only manages six laps before he crashes going into the downhill right-hand Bosch Curve at the end of the top straight.
He blames it on a lack of brakes and when the bent McLaren is brought back to the paddock it is found that there is no outer brake pad in the left-rear caliper for the keeper plate has disappeared. Temperature conditions are not going to return to those of Thursday so everyone has to get on with the job and towards the end of the afternoon there is a sudden rush of activity. Lauda goes by in a cloud of smoke as an oil pipe comes adrift and spews oil onto the exhaust system of his March 711, and Stewart’s Tyrrell has the gearbox apart and the internals are being inspected closely for any flaws as it has shown signs of playing up. One by one a select group of drivers are getting their lap times down into the 1'37"0 bracket, those being Fittipaldi, Cevert, Siffert and Regazzoni. As soon as his gearbox is reassembled Stewart rushes out to join the last-minute thrash and is immediately in with the select group. However, it is not the Scot who is fastest overall, but Siffert with the spare B.R.M. running under number 14T and Regazzoni makes his best time with the spare Ferrari under number 6T. Siffert’s brave efforts are not only rewarded with the fastest lap of the day, but it is also the fastest lap of the whole three days and gets him pole position on the starting grid. Stewart is just pipped by his team-mate, but his Thursday time is still faster and assures him of a front row position on the grid. Top lap scorer on this occasion is Pescarolo, who does a total of 41 laps, trying to make up for the time lost of the previous two days, while Wisell does 40 laps, to make his fastest lap of 1'38"95. Altogether 13 drivers improve on the existing lap record and they are all faster than last year’s best practice time. Hulme does one brief lap with a Tyrrell-like wide nose cowling on the front of his McLaren, but it is gone almost before anyone noticed, although the Tyrrell mechanics smile broadly when they see it. Only five drivers fail to break the 1'40"0 barrier and one of these is Oliver, who does not have much chance, and the overall standard is very fast.
Both Siffert and Regazzoni elect to start the race with their practice cars, Siffert’s spare B.R.M. actually being the one he has raced all season, while the spare Ferrari is the one Andretti has raced on occasions. The start of the race is not due until 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, but another scorching hot morning brings the crowds to the circuit very early, a great number having camped overnight. The morning is taken up with a further 50 minutes of practice for the Grand Prix cars, this session being untimed and called Informationstraining. No Ferraris, no Lotus and no BRMs appear, but the rest goes thrashing round and round, Hulme and Oliver doing a vast number of laps and even Stewart and Cevert put in quite a few laps, the leading Tyrrell still being in its normal wheelbase length. Oliver is making up for lost time, his car repairs all right, and Pescarolo makes the most of the extra time. Just before the 50 minutes is up Gethin puts in some laps as his B.R.M. would stop working on 12 cylinders when it gets hot. The rest of the time before the start is filled in with some National Saloon Car and Formula Vee races, bands, parachute jumping and a parade of 11 507 BMWs, the shapely V8 two-seaters of the mid-fifties. By the time 3:00 p.m. approaches the hills round the circuit are covered by solid masses of spectators, an estimated 130.000 turning up on this beautiful sunny day in the lovely Austrian countryside. More than 100.000 tickets have been sold before race day, and there is no doubt that the Osterreichring is popular with spectators for the viewing facilities are wonderful. The 22 starters line up in pairs on the dummy grid, rather a long way back from the starting line, over which a Mobil banner is displayed. There are, in fact, only 21 cars on the grid, for Bonnier’s McLaren has sprung a leak in one of its fuel tanks while still in the paddock.
At the 30 sec. signal the cars move forward and by the time they reach the starting line the 30 sec. have ticked by and the Austrian flag is dropped while everyone is still on the move so that it is quite a good rolling start for all except Beuttler whose engine would not start. While Siffert’s B.R.M. leads the pack away the red March 711 is wheeled into the pit road where it loses two laps before getting going. From the moment the 12-cylinder B.R.M. beats the blue Tyrrell off the line and up the steep hill after the start it is Siffert all the way, with Stewart desperately trying to hang on. In only four laps they have opened a gap between themselves and the rest of the runners, but it is already obvious that a gap is appearing between the B.R.M. and the Tyrrell. Behind them Regazzoni’s Ferrari is in third place followed by Cevert’s Tyrrell, Ickx’s Ferrari, Schenken’s Brabham with its full-width nose cowling, and then Fittipaldi and Wisell in the Lotus 72s and Hill in the BT34 Brabham. On lap 5 Cevert gets by Regazzoni and takes third place, but only for a lap, and Ickx meanwhile is dropping rapidly down the field, his engine sounding very rough. On lap 8 Cevert is back in third place again and on the following lap Regazzoni’s Ferrari engine dies on him out in the country and that is the last of the Ferrari challenge for the day. By this time it is clear that Stewart is not going to catch Siffert, but more important is the fact that he is not keeping up with him. Hulme has already retired with a broken engine on lap 7 and Ganley has been in and out of the pit since the first lap with an obscure ignition fault in the engine of his P160 B.R.M., thought to be somewhere deep down in the flywheel distributor pick-up mechanism. By 10 laps the race has settled down with Siffert in a commanding lead, followed by the two Tyrrells, but neither of them any danger to the Bourne car which is sounding strong and healthy.
Stewart is in slight trouble with his car understeering too much for he is using narrower Goodyear tyres on the front wheels than he normally uses and the decision to experiment is a wrong one. He lacks the inspired ability to make up for such tactical errors like a Nuvolari, a Fangio, a Moss or a Clark would have done, so it is second place for the little Scot. Behind the two Tyrrell cars Schenken and Fittipaldi are engaged in a great battle, the Brabham being faster on the fast parts of the circuit and the Lotus being faster on the slower parts so that they finish each lap nose to tail with the turquoise Brabham always in front and in fourth place. Then come Wisell and Hill, their cars in the same situation, so that they, too, are having a good race, and after that Pescarolo is leading all the March cars, and Ickx is back amongst them in 11th place and getting nowhere at all. Surtees disappears on lap 13 when his Cosworth engine brakes and by this time some hazy clouds are appearing and obscuring the sun so that the temperature drops considerably. There is nothing that Stewart can do about the Flying Swiss and as he fails to make any impression on the B.R.M. he starts to relax and Cevert closes on him, going by into second place on lap 23, but not gaining on the B.R.M., for Siffert has just set a new lap record. The two Brabham versus Lotus battles are still in progress, with Tauranac’s cars leading each pair, and Pescarolo is alone as the last of the serious runners, those behind him either being uninspiring or in some sort of trouble, like Gethin whose B.R.M. engine is sounding flat and Ickx in the slowest Ferrari we have ever seen. Marko and Oliver are bringing up the rear apart from Beuttler and Lauda, the former having lost so much time at the start and the latter having had a pit stop to change a front tyre.
At half-distance Siffert is as firmly in the lead as ever and the B.R.M. engine sounds strong and healthy and the two Tyrrells look to be outclassed, but nevertheless are still in second and third places. Still the Brabhams are leading the Lotuses but on lap 29 Wisell gets by Hill as one of the Brabham’s Goodyear tyres is beginning to deflate, making the handling tricky. At the same time Fittipaldi is screwing his courage together to try and get past Schenken for he feels sure that once past he cab pull away, but the lanky Australian is not giving way easily and the rugged little Brazilian is going to have to find his own way by. This happens on lap 32 as they start the descent from the top straight, for Fittipaldi has been looking for an opening for a lap or two and Schenken is not so tidy on the Bosch-Curve as he should have been on that lap and that is all the Lotus driver wants. Once past he pulls steadily away from the Brabham, consolidating his newly-won fourth place. He has not been there for long when it becomes third place for on lap 36 the left-rear wheel on Stewart’s Tyrrell parts company with the car on the left-hand bends in the middle of the circuit. The short stub axle, which takes most of the loading on this circuit which has some very fast right-hand bends, has broken and Stewart ends his race in a cloud of dust. Although another Tyrrell is in second place it is not very sure for Cevert is having trouble with his gearbox and Fittipaldi is closing on him. By 40 laps the trouble is so bad that it is only a matter of time before Cevert drops out and this happens right in front of the pits on lap 43 when the engine blows up in a cloud of smoke, due to the gearbox jumping out of gear and letting the engine get overstressed. This puts Fittipaldi in second place, with Schenken a strong third, followed a long way back by Wisell and Hill, then comes a lonely Pescarolo, and an equally lonely Stommelen and the rest has been lapped by Siffert. These are Peterson, Oliver, Marko, Gethin and Galli, the last named struggling along to finish with a very sick-sounding Alfa Romeo engine.
At about this time Siffert is becoming aware that his B.R.M. is beginning to feel a bit odd on the fast right-hand bends and after a few more laps he is very conscious that his left-rear tyre is losing air, but he has sufficient lead over Fittipaldi to stay in front, providing the tyre does not go completely flat. In the closing 10 laps there are no changes in position apart from Gethin passing Marko, to move up to 10th place, but Fittipaldi is closing rapidly on the slowing B.R.M., though no one really knows why at the time, only Siffert knowing what is happening. For the last three laps the B.R.M. situation is precarious as the Firestone tyre loses more and more air and the Swiss driver is having a really bad time on the right-hand bends, though everything is fine on the straights. Not until after it is all over does anyone know just how fraught Siffert’s last lap is, nor that the car is virtually uncontrollable on the slowing-down lap. Fittipaldi is a bare four seconds behind at the finish and has the race been 55 laps long he would have won. He may also have won had he passes Schenken earlier, but ifs don’t win races, you win them the way Siffert and B.R.M. do; fastest practice lap and lead the race from start to finish, no matter what happens once the chequered flag has fallen. It is a great victory for the B.R.M. team and the Mexican Bandit sitting up in Valhalla must have been proud of the Crazy Swiss and all the lads at Bourne. Once the B.R.M. has crossed the line the crowds go wild with excitement and Swiss flags appear from all quarters and the whole circuit is completely flooded by enthusiastic spectators, for Joseph Siffert is exceedingly popular with European crowds, and Austria and Switzerland have a much closer affinity than just being neighbouring countries. Long after darkness has fallen the beer tents behind the paddock are still lit and joyous community singing can be heard right across the valley until late in the evening. It has been a wonderful day and most of the 130.000 spectators must be looking forward to visiting the Osterreichring again in 1972.