Before the meeting begins there is not too much enthusiasm among the Italian populace for the 42nd Italian Grand Prix, even though it is the 50th anniversary of the running of the first Italian Grand Prix. This is because the fortunes of the Ferrari team are at a very low ebb following defeat in the Austrian Grand Prix, the race in which they rose to the top last year. Added to this are a lot of newspaper stories that Enzo Ferrari is not going to send any cars to Monza, as a protest about something obscure, so it is not surprising that when practice begins on Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. the Monza Autodromo is pretty empty, apart from the competitors. There has been quite a bit of unofficial practice going on earlier in the week, with Tyrrell experimenting with a rear-mounted water radiator layout, and Goodyear and Firestone doing tyre tests with various of their customers or clients, while Dunlop has a new footbridge inaugurated on their behalf, it being in the classic half-tyre form across the Monza track just beyond the long Curva Grande at the end of the finishing straight. Everything is warm and dry when practice begins and Amon is first away, in the revised Matra-Simca V12, sounding as sharp and exciting as ever it does, and the driver sporting a brand-new moustache and mini beard. There is plenty of activity on this first afternoon and it is Cevert who is soon setting the pace, but there is no sign of a Lotus 72 for Herbert Muller, the Williams March 701 for Carlos Pace or the Bellasi for Silvio Moser. The Lotus 72 is to have been the ex-Robb Walker car which Siffert has bought to use as a T-car; the Williams March is not rebuilt and the Bellasi is not ready. Schenken has to stand around for a while at the beginning of practice as someone presses the fire-extinguisher button instead of the starter button on his Brabham and it takes some time to fit another extinguisher unit and mop up the mess.
The works March 711 cars look very odd running without their nose aerofoil, although the rounded nose devoid of air-disturbing holes look very efficient. It is a change to see that most teams have come prepared to sacrifice cornering down-thrust from aerodynamic devices in favour of lower frontal area and drag, in the search for more maximum speed, whereas in the past everyone has arrived all kitted up with aerodynamic devices and gradually discarded them as practice progressed. Surtees sets off in the new TS9 with a plastic shield of deflector vanes under the wide nose and returns to the pits without them as they have been ground away under braking! Stommelen is waiting for his Surtees TS9 to be finished off in the paddock, not terribly happy with his association with Team Surtees as a customer, and less happy in the knowledge that Surtees has announced officially that the association would not be renewed in 1972. Amon does not do many laps before he is back in the pits to set off in the spare car while the water pump is changed on the best car. The Ferrari team begins confusing things by sending Regazzoni out in the spare car with Ickx’s racing number on it, while Siffert does a few laps in the spare B.R.M. Half-way through the afternoon there is a break of approximately one hour, during which time the Lotus mechanics lower the ratio of the central drive train on the turbine car, as it is over-geared, and a new filter system is taken out of the engine’s air intake as it seems to be short of breath. In the last part of the afternoon as the air temperature cools there is a lot of activity and a lot of nose-to-tail running and diving into the slipstream of faster cars and in one little flurry of activity Pescarolo gets himself a very quick lap. The Formula One lap record officially is still held by Beltoise in 1'25"2 in 1969 with a Matra MS80, and last year Regazzoni has equalled it with a Ferrari 312B/1, but in practice last year lckx has made fastest lap in a similar car in 1'24"14.
Naturally an improvement is expected and Siffert is fastest of the afternoon with 1'23"47, showing that his performance with the BRM in Austria has not been a flash in the pan. However, what is surprising is the number of people who get below 1'24"0, for Cevert, Pescarolo, Gethin, Ganley, Peterson and Stewart are all in this select high-speed group with laps at well over 153 m.p.h. and a mere five-tenths of a second cover these seven. In the Ferrari pits there is a gloom as neither of the drivers is in the select group and the Firestone tyres are giving them trouble, so much so that approaches are made to Goodyear to try some of their tyres on the following day. As practice is finishing for the afternoon Stommelen has a lurid moment when a right rear tyre on his Surtees deflates and comes off the rim, sending him spinning into the Armco barrier on one side of the track and bouncing across the road to thump the barrier on the other side rather hard, but fortunately being able to step out shaken but unscathed. Saturday is as hot as ever with practice in the afternoon again, non-stop this time, and lckx has a set of Goodyear tyres on his 1971 Ferrari, while one of the 1970 cars have been brought along as a spare for Regazzoni, but the Ferrari confusion continues when lckx changes from the 1971 car to the 1970 car, taking the Goodyear tyres with him. Surtees has used bits of Stommelen’s wrecked car to convert his latest car back to front radiator layout and chisel nose, while Hailwood is out again after an engine change overnight, his Friday practice stopping prematurely when his engine shows signs of blowing up. The Bellasi arrives for Moser, and Pescarolo is content to scrub in some new tyres and then rest on his fast Friday lap time. Cevert does a quick try with the old-type Tyrrell chisel-nose cowling, minus the canard fins, and Stewart seems to spend more time in the pits with his Hewland gearbox in pieces than he spends out on the track. The Italians’ natural enthusiasm for motor racing overcomes the pre-race apathy and a vast crowd pours into the Autodromo for the Saturday practice.
They get themselves well and truly jam in the foot-tunnel under the track, so that at mid-afternoon when most of the competitors are sitting around waiting for the cool of the evening to come there is more excitement and shouting in the public enclosures than on the track. Just after 6:00 p.m. there is a bit of a rush and some exciting nose-to-tail stuff going on, with Siffert and Amon having a bit of a dust-up, the sound of the V12 B.R.M. and V12 Matra in close company keeping everyone happy. When Amon goes back to the pits Peterson has a bit of a go with the B.R.M. and during this time Siffert gets in a fastest lap at 1'23"03. Marko has a brief try in the spare B.R.M., and then just before practice ends at 6:30 p.m. there is a mad rush and cars can be seen going down the back straight at no more than 80 or 90 m.p.h. with the drivers peering intently in their mirrors waiting for someone to go by and provide a slipstream tow. Every now and then a bunch of cars would get together and there is some pretty hectic driving taking place as everyone tries to get an ultra-fast lap time. Most drivers get themselves confused with too many cars so that they get in each other’s way, but one or two timed things right and Schenken has his Brabham in the draught of a bunch of cars so that he is gaining speed, at which point Amon catches him up and uses his slipstream to waft by and get in a prodigiously fast lap of 1'22"40, an average speed of 251.213 k.p.h. (nearly 156 m.p.h.). The timekeepers are working overtime at this point to record all the lap times and are so overjoyed to record 1'22"82 for Ickx with the 312B/1 Ferrari, on Goodyear tyres, that they overlook Amon’s fast lap. As the dust settles and practice finishes the provisional results give Ickx the fastest lap with the Ferrari, and everyone is happy and full of enthusiasm for race day. The Matra team is not content with this and challenges the timekeepers, who say: "Oh, yes, we had Amon at 1'22"40 but we didn’t really believe it". As most of the rival teams are in agreement over the lap time Amon is given pole position, with Ickx alongside him, the starting grid due to be lined up in pairs.
With Ickx on the front row of the grid, and as far as the general public are concerned, having made fastest practice lap, the crowds really pack the Monza Autodromo on Sunday under a typical Italian sunny sky. From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. there is a session of extra practice for anyone who wants it and B.R.M. uses it for Siffert to bed in a new engine on P160/02, and Ickx tries the 1970 Ferrari on Firestone tyres, while Stewart tries a super-high fifth gear that would allow him to benefit from any slip-streaming without overstressing the Cosworth engine in his Tyrrell. Also Regazzoni, Cevert, Beuttler, Surtees, Hailwood, Schenken, Hill, Oliver and Peterson all use this extra session, but Amon is content to stay away and take his time over breakfast. During this session Hill has his gearbox seize two gears together and Hailwood’s engine has a persistent misfire, so between 11:00 a.m. and the 3:30 p.m. starting time Hill’s Brabham has a change of gearbox and Hailwood’s Surtees has an engine replacement using the one taken out of Surtees’ own car during practice, the Team owner having had a new engine installed. Everyone who practices is on the grid, the line of paired cars stretching a long way down the track, and it is impressive that all but four of the entry have improved on the existing lap record and thirteen of them have improved on last year’s fastest practice lap, so it is obviously going to be quite a dice for the 55 laps, the race distance having been reduced from last year’s 68 laps in accordance with the CSI recommendations, though no-one seems to know why 320 kilometres are decided as the maximum for a Grand Prix. Twelve-cylinder engines are dominating the scene, with Matra and Ferrari on the front row with two B.R.M.s behind them, and as the cars are assembled on the dummy grid it is noticeable that Regazzoni’s Ferrari, 312/2 No. 5 not No. 7 that he recordes his fastest laps with, is well out of line in row four, alongside Stewart.
The twenty-three cars move forward towards the start-line, Amon and Ickx bring their cars to a stop, engines scream, the flag drops and Regazzoni takes his Ferrari down the outside of the grid line-up and is in the lead almost before the first row has got their wheels spinning. The grandstands shake with cheers and the whole Autodromo is really buzzing as Regazzoni leads the opening lap of the 42nd Italian Grand Prix. There is no need to look down towards the Curva Parabolica to see who is leading at the end of the first lap, the tumult from the crowd speaks for itself, but Siffert has his B.R.M. alongside the Ferrari as they cross the line, the two Swiss drivers giving no quarter. Stewart is third, Ganley fourth and Peterson fifth, the two starting grid leaders, Amon and Ickx having been swamped by the excited mob behind them, and being sixth and eighth, respectively. The race is on with a vengeance and Siffert is not going to mess about in second place behind a Ferrari driven by a chap from the wrong side of the Alps. Side-by-side they rocket round the Monza track, the Ferrari leading lap two by half a car’s length, while Peterson is alongside Stewart, moving up to third place in the next lap. The third lap ends with the three foreign tearaways almost touching one another in echelon as they cross the line, the order being Regazzoni, Siffert, Peterson and there is no nonsense about race-tactics, it is Harry Flatters for all concerned. On lap four there is a big reshuffle as Peterson takes the lead with Stewart following him through into second place, and this pushes Siffert back to third and Regazzoni fourth, but it is all instant stuff for they are nearly touching one another. Ickx is in fifth place, and keeping out of the scrum because he doesn’t like this sort of racing, and Cevert has moved up into seventh place and takes sixth place from Ganley on the next lap. Amon is in trouble with his left front tyre coming up in blisters and drops back to watch developments so that Gethin soon passes him.
Almost unnoticed Marko has brought his BRM into the pits as the engine is not running properly, but he sets off again only to have the engine die completely before he can get back to the pits. Equally unnoticed Surtees starts lap 4 with his engine blowing up and as he walks back to the pits to sympathetic applause from the crowd he gets some consolation when the main bunch of the racers go by to see that Hailwood has the second Surtees TS9 in there with them. For the fifth lap the first five cars keep their positions, as if taking a short breather after the initial rush, but on lap six Regazzoni is past Siffert and into third place and from the back of the field Schenken retires his Brabham at the pits due to the suspension sub-frame under the gearbox breaking and Moser gives up with a broken shock-absorber mounting on the Bellasi. The leading bunch are lapping at just over 1'26"0, a speed of close on 150 m.p.h., 185 m.p.h. or more down the back straight, and still with their wheels almost touching one another. The afternoon heat is pretty severe and Ganley’s B.R.M. is running hotter than desirable and Siffert finds that when close behind other cars his water temperature is rising unduly, so he drops back slightly and Cevert moves into fourth place. For a brief moment on lap eight Stewart takes the lead but on the next lap Regazzoni gets his Ferrari ahead to the delight of the crowds and then Peterson goes into the lead again at ten laps, with the average speed now over 150 m.p.h. and on lap eleven Cevert goes by Stewart and took third place. Prize money is being given according to the race position at 13, 26, and 39 laps as well as the finish, and the first bag of lire goes to Peterson, while Cevert snatches second place from Regazzoni, who is followed by Stewart, Ickx, Siffert, Ganley, Hailwood, Amon, Gethin, Oliver and Pescarolo, but the last two are out of touch with the draught of the leaders. Galli’s March 711 expires at the pits on this lap with electrical trouble and Jarrier’s March 701 has already been lapped.
Nothing is settled among the first four cars and on lap 15 Cevert takes the lead, with Stewart behind him and Peterson down to third place and Regazzoni fourth. Then there comes a major change in the order for lckx is clearly in trouble and Hailwood and Ganley go by the Ferrari, while Siffert drops back dramatically to try and get his water temperature down. On lap 16 only one Tyrrell appears out of the Curva Parabolica, followed by Peterson’s March and Regazzoni’s Ferrari; it is car number two, Cevert, for his team-leader is coasting down the back straight with a wrecked engine, the super-Cosworth having suffered a major blow-up. Hailwood goes by in fourth place, followed by Ganley, Siffert, Amon and Gethin and Ickx is seen heading for the pits, his Ferrari engine having broken itself. Peterson now takes the lead again and the cutting and thrusting is all over for a few moments. On lap 18 Regazzoni’s Ferrari engine brakes and as the second Ferrari heads for the pits the Italian crowd are not at all pleased, but this let Hailwood take the Surtees into third place, with Ganley, Siffert, Amon, Gethin and Oliver following, while Pescarolo is much further back and on his own, and Hill, Beuttler, Fittipaldi, Bonnier and de Adamich are beginning to wonder where everyone has gone. Hailwood is obviously getting into the swing of this type of racing and he not only catches Peterson and Cevert but gets between them and then in front of them to lead the race on lap 25, a great moment for the ex-World Champion Motorcyclist and an even greater one for John Surtees, also an ex-World Champion motorcyclist, to see his own car in the lead of a Grand Prix. At the same time Siffert’s B.R.M. has recovered its breath and the Swiss opens up again, passes all the young heroes in front of him and takes the lead on lap 28. At the end of the thirtieth lap the B.R.M., the March, the Tyrrell and the Surtees cross the line almost side by side, and they very nearly run right over Bonnier’s old McLaren as they lap it.
Behind them Amon is getting used to the handling of his Matra on its knobbly front tyre and passes Ganley and takes fifth place, while Gethin is running in a lonely seventh place. Pescarolo has gone into the pits as his March 711 is swooping about down the straights due to the gearbox bell-housing, on which the rear suspension is mounted, cracking, and Beuttler is having a keen race with Hill down in ninth and tenth places, the lonely orange McLaren of Oliver being in eighth place. Siffert’s revival is short lived for his B.R.M. suddenly gets itself jams in fourth gear and all the leading bunch goes past him. There is no way of getting any other gear so poor Siffert has to resign himself going as fast as he can in one gear, easing off on the straights where he should have used fifth gear and stuttering out of the corners where he should have been in third gear. This puts him from the lead back to seventh place, and Cevert and Peterson continue to swap the lead with Hailwood behind them, between them and on lap 35 in front of them, and really enjoying himself leaning heavily on the two young aces in the corners. Not that anyone cares very much, de Adamich retires the Alfa-Romeo engined March 711 with trouble in the Alfa-Romeo port. While the three new-boys are playing games up at the front Amon decides it is time he joins in the race, the Matra-Simca being strong and healthy and fast on the straights, merely a bit odd on the right-hand corners, and in one lap he shoots from fourth place straight into the lead, which he holds from lap 37 to lap 41, with Peterson having a go at him on lap 40 and just failing to lead across the line, and Hailwood leading the Matra on lap 42 for a brief moment. At 45 laps, with ten to go Amon has showed that the Matra V12 has got the race in the bag in spite of the bubbly tyre for though Cevert, Hailwood and Peterson are right with the French car they are not going to get in front of it on speed and power. Ganley still has his B.R.M. in the wake of the leading group but has insufficient power to get in amongst them, his water and oil temperatures running high, but Gethin’s B.R.M. is very healthy and he has been scratching away ever since lap 19 when he gets rid of Oliver’s McLaren down in seventh place at that time.
Slowly but surely Gethin has worked his way into the draught of Ganley’s car, which is always in the draught of the leading bunch, and he is using a consistent 11.500 r.p.m. in the gears, which is well over the normal limit, but the engine stands it without fuss. With lap 50 approaching and only five to go the leading group begins to flex their muscles for the final punch-up, and in readiness Amon takes off his top face-visor which is dirty and oily, in order to see more clearly through the clean one underneath. Unfortunately, both come off and he is left with no face protection at all, and that is all hope of a last minute battle gone for he has to slow down and drop back behind Gethin who is about to pass Ganley. This leaves Peterson leading once more followed by Cevert and Hailwood as they cross the line on lap 49, but they are swopping places all the way round the circuit, each one planning and practising his final manoeuvre, hoping the others would not see exactly what is happening. It is still anyone’s race, and Hailwood leads at 51 laps, just as Gethin passes Cevert and on lap 52 Gethin takes his B.R.M. into the lead. Poor Amon has fallen right back for in addition to not being able to see properly the Matra V12 engine now begins to hum as air or vapour-lock affect the fuel-injection system. The battle for the lead is so wide open that happenings at the back of the field go unnoticed, and both Hill and Beuttler retire, the Brabham with another seized gearbox and the March with a broken engine. Throughout the race the Lotus turbine car has been whistling round at the back of the field, not going very well as it lacks power and brakes, but at least it is running through non-stop. Siffert has been lapped by nearly everyone and it says a lot for his tenacity that he keeps going in his one gear, when many other drivers would have given up and gone home. Lap 53 sees Gethin, Peterson and Cevert in echelon in that order as they cross the line, each certain that they know the other’s weaknesses in the sprint from the last corner and at the end of lap 54 it is Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood, Gethin.
Any one of them can win and if they all make a nonsense on the last lap then Ganley can win, and none of them had ever won a Grand Prix before. It is truly the dice of the debutants. Down the back straight on the last lap Cevert leads; under braking for the last corner Peterson goes into the lead, and out of the corner Gethin is leading and it is all over, the B.R.M. leads up the finishing straight, the four of them closely bunch and lapping Bonnier yet again. The B.R.M. gets to the line first by mere inches from Peterson’s March, with Cevert’s Tyrrell and Hailwood’s Surtees only a few feet behind, and one has to realise that the 42nd Italian Grand Prix is over in 1 hr. 18'12"6, and the photo-finish is Formula One, not Formula Three or Formula Two or Formula 5000, though it might well have been, except that the average speed is 242.615 k.p.h. (just over 150 m.p.h.). The new generation has arrived with a vengeance.