After a two-month break following the two South American Grand Prix races, during which the Brands Hatch Race of Champions conveniently took place, the World Championship series heads to South Africa’s Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg. A degree of uncertainty had surrounded the fate of this race for a few months following the South African Government’s ban on all forms of motoring sport which use pump petrol, and at one point it seemed as though the race would not take place at all. Fortunately, the circuit and race are under the direct control of a very determined man called Alex Blignaut, primarily a very astute businessman but also basically a racing enthusiast for he owns Tyrrell 004 and enters it with the assistance of Embassy sponsorship in local races for his friend Eddie Keizan. Blignaut wanted his race to go ahead, and some subtle hints that the circuit could be sold as a housing estate eventually made the necessary approval forthcoming from the authorities, although the date has to be delayed until the end of March. Pre-race testing was allowed on a couple of days during the previous week, these sadly being highlighted by a fatal accident to UOP-Shadow team leader Peter Revson. Testing DN3/1A, the car in which he had taken sixth place in the Race of Champions the Sunday before, Revson crashed on the sweeping downhill right-hander called Barbecue just before the end of the main straight. The accident occurred at a point where drivers are changing from third to fourth gear and evidence suggests that the pin holding the front left wishbone to the upright broke and sent the car straight on into the steel barrier at almost ninety degrees. Denny Hulme, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill and Eddie Keizan all stopped to help extricate the American driver from the wrecked Shadow, but the impact inflicted fatal injuries on Revson and there was nothing they could do to help.
It is significant, however, that a large number of drivers are expressing a new apprehension over steel barriers and their potential dangers after this accident. There was no need for such barriers at this point, and modifications to the circuit took place before official practice started, a triple-layer catch fence replacing the barrier at the scene of the accident. Remembering how both Stewart and Cevert were saved from injury by catch fences at Crowthorne Corner last year, one could not help feeling this was another case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and can only nurture the vain hope that the latest victim of these barriers will at least provoke some less muddled thinking over the question of safety facilities. In the wake of this disaster, the Shadow team withdrew their second car DN3/2A for Jean-Pierre Jarier, but there's still a full entry from the other Grand Prix teams, their numbers supplemented by several ambitious local entries using second-hand Formula One machinery. Heading the list of entries, both cars taking place in their very first race, are Colin Chapman’s latest Lotus creations for Ronnie Peterson and Race of Champions winner Jacky Ickx. The Swede is allocated R9, the car which had been displayed to the Press at an elaborate John Player Press conference in February, while Ickx have a brand new chassis R10. One of the most interesting technical points of the car’s original design, the Automotive Products developed electric clutch system, had been left off Ickx’s car for although the Belgian had tried it and liked it on his road-going Lotus Plus 2, he preferred to stay with conventional controls on his racing car. Peterson’s Lotus retained the automatic clutch system, and both cars had their nose sections mounted on small extensions so that air could be drawn from beneath, through the slight gap at the front of the monocoque and up over the top of the body.
Otherwise the cars were to the specification as originally displayed, but Chapman hedged his bets by having 72/RR on hand as a spare and marked in the entry list as a reserve car for both his drivers. Tyrrell designer Derek Gardner was busy back at the team’s Ripley base putting the finishing touches to chassis 007 at the time of the South African Grand Prix, so Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler are left with chassis 006/2 and 005 respectively to the same specification as they had run in Brazil. The Marlboro Team Texaco McLaren M23s will run in the same trim as they’d been seen at Brands Hatch two weeks earlier, and the team is feeling quite confident as both Fittipaldi and Hulme each have a Grand Prix victory to their credit this year and Hulme put the McLaren M23 on pole position at Kyalami last year on its very first outing. Mike Hailwood is still running that very same car under the Yardley McLaren banner, and he's feeling similarly optimistic on a circuit which he knows and likes well. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team arrived with their South American GP machines for Carlos Reutemann (BT44/1) and Richard Roberts (BT44/2), their designer Gordon Murray hopes that things might come right for the team at Kyalami, for he at least is on home soil, hailing from just down the road at Durban. Both cars looked absolutely immaculate and almost completely free of sponsorship stickers, a situation which the attentive observer would have seen to change after practice with the appearance of a couple of Texaco decals on the cars. It wasn’t an indication of a fresh high-powered sponsorship deal, merely Ecclestone losing a gin rummy game with Texaco’s racing public relations man who had astutely been allowed to name the stakes. It was to provide a lot of free advertising in the days immediately following the Grand Prix. Supplementing the Brabham ranks is the brown Hexagon BT42/2 for John Watson, this car now having been extensively strengthened round the front of the monocoque as well as being fitted with a revised fuel system devised to counter the pick-up problems which troubled the car in 1973.
March Engineering brought along their usual pair of 741s, both now sporting a Formula Two-type extended nose section, Hans-Joachim Stuck is the number one works driver, despite his inexperience, now that Howden Ganley has left the team to join the Japanese Maki project. Stuck came to South Africa straight from his very first Formula Two triumph round Barcelona’s Montjuich Park, while Max Mosley’s business dealings now mean that the second works March is driven by Italian Formula Two exponent Vittorio Brarnbilla. The younger of the two Brambilla brothers, Vittorio drove a March-BMW in the European Championship during 1973 in the orange colours of the Italian Beta tools concern. His sole Formula One experience is limited to a few laps round Misano Adriatic in the McCall Martini Tecno late last year, but Beta have chosen to back Brambilla’s move into Grand Prix racing and March 741/2 now carries their distinctive orange colour and signwriting. The works Ferraris sported minor modifications not seen on the two which raced at Brands Hatch. Regazzoni (011) and Lauda (012) now have revised cockpit sections which incorporate the cold air box for the flat-12 cylinder engine in one large piece. The front of the cowling starts further forward than on the two-piece design, with a more gentle slope back towards the screen over the front of the cockpit. Neither driver found them to offer any difference in terms of straight-line performance, but they did at least provide a cooling draught into the cockpit which made things rather more comfortable under the sweltering South African sun. B.R.M. brought along their distinctive new P201 chassis for Jean-Pierre Behoise, leaving the other two Frenchmen in this British team to rely on their old faithful P160s which are now in their fourth season of Grand Prix racing.
The P201 looked very promising in private testing, continuing the tradition of good road-holding which the P160 became noted for, although the team is still waiting for major engine modifications for their V12. A spare nose section of a slightly different shape is available as an alternative, while the shrouds over the side radiators were soon cut back to combat overheating in the official practice sessions. Both Surtees TS16s are here in their new Bang and Olufsen colours, Carlos Pace using TS16/02 and Jochen Mass has allocated a new chassis TS16/04, to replace the one which he spun into the pit wall during unofficial practice on the morning of the Race of Champions. Frank Williams brought along his usual entry for Arturo Merzario plus a second car for Tom Belso, the Danish driver, an arrangement made possible by his connections with Marlboro, while a singleton Embassy Lola entry is on hand for Graham Hill to drive and James Hunt handled the Hesketh 308 on its first outing in a World Championship race. The Hesketh team had their second chassis, 308/2, flown out to Johannesburg just in case any damage should be sustained in practice. The local challenge is led by reigning South African Formula One Champion, Dave Charlton, an ex-works McLaren (M23/2) replacing his Lotus 72 in the colours of the Lucky Strike cigarette company. Their Lotus, 72/3, was entered for John McNicol, but was not ready in time to take part, though last year’s John Player Team Lotus 72s were out in force for Ian Scheckter (72/6) and Paddy Driver (72/7), both now running in the distinctive orange colours of Team Gunston. Keizan’s Tyrrell, 004, sported neatly constructed deformable structures round its monocoque, these having been made up locally. Originally Kyalami’s leisurely schedule provided for practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a break on Friday before the Grand Prix took place on Saturday.
Unfortunately, with marshals turning up late owing to a misunderstanding over times and the incomplete work on the catch fences at Barbecue Corner, the organisers decided in favour of delaying first practice until Thursday, a move heartily approved of by the majority of teams in view of the severe thunderstorm which doused the circuit during Wednesday afternoon. As official practice started on Thursday it is clear that the strides forward made by Firestone over the winter months and emphasised by Hunt’s performance at Brands Hatch, are going to be maintained. But at Kyalami it is Pace in the Surtees TS16 who set the quickest time during the first session, injecting a good deal of confidence into the Edenbridge team even though one or two people doubted whether the Brazilian had recorded this quick lap. But 1'16"63 stood as fastest until the organisers reexamined their time sheets and discovered that Lauda had lapped the Ferrari in 1'16"58. The Ferrari team are almost hugging one another with this performance from the young Austrian for, although Lauda cannot he described as a natural, he is a willing worker who readily gives to the best of his ability. On the second day, when the temperature is even higher and, in consequence, lap times fractionally slower, Lauda again topped the list with 1'16"66 which meant that a Ferrari would be starting from pole position in a Grand Prix for the first time since Ickx at Nurburgring back in 1972. Down in the Lotus pit, Ickx must have been reflecting on the wisdom of switching from the Italian team for Regazzoni is recording competitive times as well, the Swiss lapping in 1'17"20 on the Thursday and then slicing another 0.4 sec. off this time this afternoon. The Lotus team are experiencing a fair degree of strife with their new cars and plenty of their rivals are outwardly trying to make a joke of their apparent chaos while inwardly realising that it will not be too long before Chapman sorts out his latest Grand Prix car and then they will have 10 start looking to their laurels.
Ickx is lucky on the first day, his car is lapping quite reliably with little drama at just over the 1'17"0 barrier, but Peterson is spending most of his time hopping from his new car to his old one as all sorts of little things went wrong. Firstly the starter motor jammed and, as the automatic clutch system relies on the starter revolving in the opposite direction to normal in order to activate the pump which pressurises its fluid system, Peterson climbed. into 72/8 and recorded 1'17"46 before getting back into R9 towards the end of the afternoon. The next problem seems to be an oil leak from the engine’s rear casting where the top forward parallel link is attached, so another lengthy spell in the pits is needed whilst mechanics checked whether it had cracked or not. On Friday Ickx’s car developed a misfire owing to low fuel pressure while Peterson’s, now running with its automatic clutch disconnected, firstly proved reluctant to fire up in the pit road and then developed a misfire of its own, particularly frustrating in view of the fact that it had rounded off Thursday’s session by losing its oil pressure and being abandoned by the Swede out on the circuit. Neither Lotus got below 1'18"0 on the second day, so their prospects for the race looked distinctly unpromising. One quite outstanding effort came from Merzario on the second day, as the little Italian put his Williams Special round in 1'16"79 to secure third place on the grid for Frank Williams. Frank is beaming from car to car after Merzario’s plucky performance which certainly earned him a capital A for effort, qualifying tyres or not, low fuel load or not. Belso, in contrast, had an unhappy time with an electrical problem stranding him out on the circuit on Thursday as well as gearbox trouble. He will start from the bottom of the grid, so that the Williams sponsors, ISO and Marlboro, are at both ends of the scale of satisfaction. Predictably Reutemann and Fittipaldi produced competitive times for the grid, but the Brazilian seems not very happy with his McLaren’s handling at all on the first day, while Jody Scheckter had to use plenty of opposite lock with Tyrrell 006/2 to qualify for the outside of the fourth row.
Another worthy surprise is provided by young Stuck, in the works March, who seemed to have terrific car control and still drives a Grand Prix car as though he were in a touring car. His efforts are worthwhile, for he pipped Scheckter junior for seventh place on the grid by one-hundredth of a second. Vittorio Brambilla is carefully keeping out of everybody’s way and, although he damaged a nose cone on Thursday, he's not last on the grid for his first Formula One race by any means. Ickx’ best lap earned him a fifth row start alongside Hulme’s McLaren M23, the New Zealander failing to reproduce the form which won him pole position in 1973. Most of the cars are almost a second slower than in 1973, slightly increased weight due to the deformable structure rules, bigger rear tyres and larger rear wings all being factors which could contribute to slightly lower speeds. Hunt’s Hesketh is far too slow down the straight for the peace of mind of designer Posthlewaite, so some adjustments are made to the rear wing which enabled him to manage 1'17"61 on the second day. The team also encountered what was thought to be a fuel injection trouble, so they changed the engine only to find that fuel vaporisation had been the root cause. John Watson managed a respectable time in the old Brabham BT42, while Peterson is sitting hack on the eighth row in his new Lotus reflecting that he could have been on the sixth row in his older 72, but as that wasn’t a worthwhile improvement this is clearly the time to concentrate on getting the new car right even if this was at the expense of immediate results. Depailler and Mass are looking rather glum, the latter unable to lap quicker than Hill’s Embassy Lola which is now creeping its way forward on the grids once more, it's driver having gone from back to front to back and now part way to front again on starting grids during his 16-year Grand Prix driving career. Neither of the B.R.M. 160s are even remotely impressive, while most of the locals suffered from a six-month lay-off with no practice for their racing cars at all in addition to having their first try in new machinery and endeavouring to match the seasoned Grand Prix competitors all at the same time.