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#223 1973 South African Grand Prix

2022-07-08 00:00

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#1973,

#223 1973 South African Grand Prix

South Africa is always a popular race with the Grand Prix circus, for the 24-mile Kyalami track although a little short is fast and interesting while

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South Africa is always a popular race with the Grand Prix circus, for the 24-mile Kyalami track although a little short is fast and interesting while the race’s promoter Alex Blignaut is a true professional who does a tremendous job. The weather, of course, is also an attraction although this year the majority of the Grand Prix set already have a tan following the two earlier races in South America. Blignaut by-passed the political squabbles between the Constructors and the circuit owners, represented by Henri Treu’s GPI, by offering a prize fund that no one would sneer at. Prospects for the race looked good a month before the event with Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren all intending to bring their new models, while the new Shadow and Ensign teams were scheduled to make their first public appearances. Racing cars rarely seem to be finished on time and, in the end, the new Brabham BT42 wasn’t completed, the Ferrari was tested prior to the race in Italy and it was decided to leave it home for further development, while the Ensign project for Rikki von Opel was severely hampered when new and larger premises fell through at the last moment and the car consequently was still in a multitude of bits and pieces in a cramped workshop. In contrast McLaren Racing are ready with their new car, the McLaren M23, and are confident that it was a race winner from the word go. On its very first test day Denny Hulme lapped Goodwood quicker than in his well-sorted M19 and then the new car was shipped to South Africa, after being proudly shown to the press. Shadow also made it to South Africa after crying off from the first two races and, in between, they had tested extensively at Paul Ricard. But it is soon evident at Kyalami that there is plenty more work needed before the car can be regarded as a potential race winner.

 

The rest of the field is made up of the majority of the competitors seen in Brazil plus some replacement cars sent out from Europe while two locally owned Formula Ones complete the 26 on the entry list. John Player-Team Lotus are Nos. 1 and 2 on the programme with cars for Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, and again chassis 72/7 and 72/8 are on hand. The two earlier works cars are back at Hethel, being stripped and rebuilt to comply with the new safety regulations which come into force at the Spanish Grand Prix. Elf Team Tyrrell likewise have their usual pair of 1972 models for Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert and are numbered 3 and 4. The next three places are taken by Yardley-Team McLaren. Hulme is driving the brand new M23, Revson has his usual M19, while their apprentice Jody Scheckter is given his third Formula One chance in this, his home country. He has Hulme’s regular M19C, which won this race a year ago. Although the team has not brought it to the circuit they also have the original M19A/1 on hand in South Africa in case of emergencies. One of the biggest disappointments is that Ferrari’s new 83 model has not arrived at Kyalami. Thus the team fields two of their regular B2 models for Jacky Ickx and Arturo Merzario. Ickx retains chassis No. 5, which he raced in South America, while No. 8 has gone back to Modena and has been replaced by No. 6. The various arms of Teams Surtees entry no less than four cars. As usual Mike Hailwood and Carlos Pace are in their regular TS14As while Andrea de Adamich makes his first appearance of the year with his faithful TS9B, which served him adequately last year. Then, less than a week before the race, John Surtees entry the prototype TS14 for himself to drive. But the team is really rather short of mechanics to handle four cars, so the idea of racing has been scratched. The mini March Formula One effort is unchanged from the previous two races, with the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier handling the official STP entry and Mike Beuttler hopefully continuing with the stockbroker sponsored similar 721G.

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Motor Racing Developments Ltd. are again represented by their South American pairing of Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi and, with the Brabham BT42 unfinished, they rely on the safety clad BT37s. Marlboro-BRM are at their usual three-car strength with the regular P160s for Clay Regazzoni and Jean-Pierre Beltoise while a chassis not previously used this year, No. 4, has been brought out for Lauda in replacement for No. 5 which has been returned to Bourne. In testing, however, Regazzoni had tried the Lancia car and decided he liked the feel of it more than his own, so he swopped B.R.M.s. The Frank Williams team have their normal pair of Iso Marlboros, as they call them, but are short of a driver as Nanni Galli had broken a leg testing an Abarth sports car at Vallelunga. So Howden Ganley’s new teammate has turned out to be local driver, Jackie Pretorius, who had raced his own Brabham BT26 in the Grand Prix two years ago. A brand new name on the entry list is that of Nichols AVS Inc. Shadow Cars. The Universal Oil Products sponsored team is the brainchild of an American called Don Nichols, who has already run a similar Can-Am venture for UOP. As has already been mentioned in these pages Nichols has chosen Tony Southgate to design the car and Alan Rees to run the team while Nichols himself remains in overall charge. None of the mechanics on the team have worked in Formula One before, although some are widely experienced, but a couple are completely new to motor racing. There is no doubt that this is no shoe-string effort for the team is tremendously well equipped and the whole outfit looks thoroughly professional. The team so far have two cars, complete numbered DN1/1A and DN1/2A respectively for Jackie Oliver and George Follmer. The cars vary in the width of the inside dimension of the monocoque as Follmer’s hips are rather wider than Oliver’s, but otherwise the sinister black cars, described elsewhere in this issue are similar.

 

For Oliver it is his return to a full-time Grand Prix seat after an absence of over two years, for Follmer this race is his first in Formula One, although as the reigning Can-Am and TransAm Champion he is vastly experienced in many forms of racing and a most worthy addition to the Grand Prix circus. Completing the entry are the two cars from Lucky Strike Racing, although actually prepared completely separately. One is the Lotus 72 of three times South African F1 Champion Dave Charlton who took part in three European Grands Prix last year and the other is Tyrrell 004 which is now owned by Alex Blignaut and driven by South African F5000 Champion Eddie Keizan. Since the car was raced to seventh place in the US Grand Prix by Patrick Depailler it has been fitted with Lockheed brakes. Both the local cars are absolutely immaculate in the red and white Lucky Strike colour scheme. Practice is spread over seven and a half hours of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but, before this, many of the teams have been testing at the track as it is available free of charge to any Formula One cars that might like to use it. In fact, this spate of testing really started before the Argentine Grand Prix when both Firestone and Goodyear held tyre testing sessions at Kyalami. The Lotuses of Peterson and Fittipaldi both circulate around 1'16"7 and so does Hailwood and this is obviously the time everyone would aim for, although the lap record actually stands to Dave Charlton whose best of 1'18"74 was recorded in a national race last year. McLaren Racing arrived  with the new M23 ten days before the race and soon set a new standard. Hulme was delighted with the car and lapped in 1'16"2 during this unofficial testing. Quite a few other teams join in before official practice but no one approaches Hulme’s time. Shadow are learning a number of answers including the fact that the body is not securely enough fastened and on one occasion the main piece of fibreglass flies off on the straight giving Oliver a very nasty shock.

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The official timed practice commences at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday and immediately Hulme starts to show that the testing times are genuine; which is hardly a surprise. What was not expected is a complete domination by the McLaren team. With half an hour of the session gone, the first three fastest cars are McLarens with Scheckter’s speed belying his inexperience and proving that he is a real natural in the Fangio/Clark/ Stewart mould. By the end of the three hours it is still McLaren, McLaren, McLaren with Holm fastest at 1'16"42 Revson on 1'16"72 and Scheckter on 1'16"87. Everyone else laps in 1'17"0 or more. In fact the Lotuses are the next fastest with times of 1'17"0 for Fittipaldi and 1'17"04 for Peterson, after some very dramatic opposite lock motoring from both the John Player drivers. Stewart is trying various combinations on his car and finishes up sixth fastest at 1'17"18, while five more cars are all very close behind. Several teams are struggling including Shadow. Jack Oliver laps in a respectable 1'17"64 but then an engine mount pulls away from the chassis while Follmer’s engine blows up, after only two laps, as did Charlton’s. The Shadow problem is obviously fairly serious and both chassis are strengthened and they both miss Thursday’s session. Neither Ferrari look very competitive and Team Surtees are trying hard to approach the times obtained in private testing and Hailwood’s car looks particularly skittish. On Thursday it is very much a matter of the local boy making good for Scheckter improves to 1'16"77 to be fastest for most of this hot session. But in the final hour lightning flashes across the sky and, ten miles away in Johannesburg, it is obviously torrenting down. The air suddenly cools off and it is in the closing minutes that Team Lotus choose to knock the McLarens off their pinnacle. They very nearly succeed, but the times hung out by the pit crew are a trifle optimistic with Peterson recording an official 1'16"44 to almost knock Hulme off pole, with Fittipaldi a trifle slower. Both Hulme and Revson are inside 1'17"0 again, but neither is as fast as Scheckter.

 

Reutemann and Cevert both improve into the 1'16"0 bracket but Stewart is struggling rather with the old wing set-up and new suspension while Cevert has the opposite. lckx tries Merzario’s Ferrari, likesit better, and laps in 1'17"16 but does not improve the next day when he sticks with this car and Merzario takes his over. Friday’s session is only an hour and a half long but it is action packed all through with Stewart making the headlines. He now has his wing set back and immediately his times start to fall. He records a 1'16"33 lap which would have been good for pole position if only Hulme hadn’t further improved to 1'16"28. Stewart’s glory is short-lived for, a couple of laps after his quick time, he brakes for the corner at the end of the straight, where the cars are touching 175 m.p.h., and the pedal goes straight to the floor due to a hydraulic failure. It could have ended in a terrible accident but the Scot is/was able to spin the car and then disappears backwards through three layers of chain link fence which he himself advises to be placed at that spot. The car comes to rest looking rather sorry for itself but Stewart is unhurt. He walks back and for the last half an hour is installed in Cevert’s car. The closing minutes of the session see some desperate efforts with Scheckter again staggering everyone with a 1'16"43. Fittipaldi lowers his time to 1'16"41 but then the rear subframe brakes so his chance of snatching pole position comes to naught. Hulme has a leaking water radiator so is unable to defend his fastest time, much as he wants to because never in his Grand Prix career has he ever started from pole position. In the closing minutes some very fast times come from Regazzoni, while Beltoise is not much slower either, and Lauda is far from disgraced. Peterson tries desperately to save Lotus honour but can’t improve on his previous time while Revson has to sit the whole session out while a mechanical fuel pump is replaced on his engine.

 

Then the flag is hung out, it is all over. One immediately realizes the closeness of the whole plot. Timing to one hundredth of a second always tends to confuse but a look at the grid will reveal that the first five cars are separated by only one fifth of a second and the first thirteen are covered by a mere second. Racing can get no closer than that. The grid looks particularly healthy for McLaren Racing with Denny Hulme sitting on pole position, for the first time in his long Grand Prix career, with the brand new M23 model. On the outside of the front row, sandwiching Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72, is McLaren’s No. 3 driver Jody Scheckter, in his second ever Grand Prix. On row two is Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus and Clay Regazzoni’s B.R.M. thanks to his final five minute burst at the end of the session, after various engine problems on the previous two days of practice. These five are closer than any Formula Three grid. On the third row is Revson’s McLaren, the Beltoise B.R.M. and Reutemann’s Brabham while on the fourth rank is Pace’s Surtees and Lauda in the third BRM. Row five contains Ickx’s Ferrari, Hailwood’s Surtees and local man Charlton, who finally has sorted out his Lotus when he screws one of the works team’s engine in the back of it. These leading thirteen are all covered by 0.9 sec. The rest are not quite in the same race with Jack Oliver’s first day time with the Shadow good enough for row six with Merzario while right back on row seven, in 16th fastest position, is Jackie Stewart with Cevert’s Tyrrell. Wilson Fittipaldi and JeanPierre Jarier can tell their friends that they started alongside Stewart. The rest are spread out behind with Cevert given a spot right at the back if Stewart’s wreckage can be repaired in time. This the Tyrrell team do but, because of lack of parts, have to convert it back to the old suspension and rear wing set-up and fit outboard front brakes.

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All the papers and radio are absolutely full of the race and a huge crowd estimated at 91,000 turn up as usual to watch what is generally regarded as one of South Africa’s premier sporting events of the year. A couple of action-packed supporting events keep everyone amused while the mechanics put the finishing touches to the Formula One cars, some of which have taken part in an early morning check-up session. Revson is in trouble again, this time when first gear disintegrates and damages the gearbox. A bearing has to be replaced in the rear suspension of Reutemann’s Brabham, Beltoise’s car is having a new engine fitted while the Tyrrell mechanics did a fantastic allnight job of repairing 005 for Cevert to race. As the 3:00 p.m. start time approaches and the cars are ready in the pit road to be driven round to the grid, it again becomes much cooler and, dramatically, lightning cuts across the sky. A tropical storm is approaching and, as the 25 Grand Prix machines line up on the grid, odd spots of rain set everyone scurrying for rain tyres. These storms tend to be very local but also very intense flooding everywhere with water within a matter of minutes and then passing over. Wisely the Clerk of the Course decides to delay the start and let the storm pass over. After forty minutes it is obvious that it is by-passing the circuit completely and so everyone lines up on the grid again, with Oliver a late-corner as his Shadow has wet all its plugs. Finally the South African flag is raised and dropped and the front row all screams off as one with Fittipaldi just getting half a length’s advantage as the cars disappear out of sight of the pits. Regazzoni from row two completely screws up his start and somehow gets behind Beltoise, who then has his clutch lose all its grip and the two B.R.M.s have nearly everyone pass them. Ickx also makes a very bad start and Oliver swoops around him in the dirt off the circuit.
 
The front row arrives at Crowthorne at the end of the straight almost three abreast with Hulme coming out of the corner first ahead of Scheckter with Fittipaldi third and Revson fourth. That is the way they complete the first lap with Peterson fifth, Reutemann sixth while Charlton has moved up to seventh place after an excellent start. Mike Hailwood, Wilson Fittipaldi, Arturo Merzario complete the first ten while Stewart is already up to eleventh place leading Jarier, Lauda, Follmer and the rest with Ickx and Regazzoni right near the back. Beltoise immediately comes into the pits and his clutch is adjusted but nothing can really be done, and after two more laps, he retires. Hulme looks in command right from the beginning and as he sweeps by at the start of the third lap he has already opened about three seconds on team-mate Scheckter. Then comes Fittipaldi, Peterson and Revson. Next up is Reutemann, with Charlton desperately trying to outbrake him down into Crowthorne. But the South African is trying a little too hard and he gets completely sideways on the outside of the corner and Mike Hailwood runs over his nose and in the process spins himself, finishing up backwards. Charlton manages to motor off towards the pits and the majority of the field pass by without further incident. Then all of a sudden Regazzoni arrives on the scene, possibly out of control already, due to a puncture or, possibly, after contact with Ickx. He slams into the rear of Hailwood’s car chopping off a rear wheel while the BRM splits down the side of the monocoque as if by a tin opener and bursts into flames, with Hailwood’s car also catching alight, lckx stops further round the corner, out of the race with a damaged wheel. The onboard extinguisher douses the Surtees fire and Hailwood is out of the car in a second.
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But Regazzoni is slumped back in his cockpit unconscious and the marshals, mainly in short trouser safari suits, show their lack of training and make only vain attempts to fight the fire and save Regazzoni. Not so Mike Hailwood who leaps into the fire without any tear for his own safety and manages to undo the Swiss’s safety belts before the flames beat him back as he tries, unaided, to drag Regazzoni from the car. Hailwood’s overalls are now on fire but they are put out by a marshal while other marshals manage to bring Regazzoni’s fire briefly under control. The new high-speed fire engine, which had been proudly presented to the club, has still not moved. Hailwood with the help of a marshal manages to drag Regazzoni from the crumpled wreck and then the fire engine and ambulance arrive. The Swiss is bruised and battered but fortunately the only burns are to his hands and he can thank Mike Hailwood for his life. He is rushed to hospital but is to leave for Switzerland only a few days later. Meanwhile the race continues. On lap four HuIme sustains a puncture as a result of running over the wreckage and so does  Howden Ganley in one of Williams’ cars. Hulme’s pit stop naturally loses him the lead and after only two more laps he stops again for another tyre to be changed re-starting in 19th place. Scheckter is now in the lead. Stewart’s progress in those first few actionpacked laps is spectacular to say the least. Passing the Hailwood/Charlton spin moves Stewart up to seventh spot and he passes Reutemann before the end of the next lap. By lap seven the Scot is in front and while Fittipaldi says he was passed out of the vicinity of the accident Peterson, Revson and Scheckter, who has led his home Grand Prix for two laps, all reckon that they were overtaken under rather dubious circumstances, and this is what leads to the protest. With the fires now out and the wreckage all pushed out of the way the race continues with Stewart slamming home his advantage with a succession of fast laps which pull him away from the other group.
 
Already a fantastic battle for second place has formed up with Scheckter, the new boy, leading the World Champion, Fittipaldi; his American McLaren senior Peter Revson; and wonder boy Ronnie Peterson. In fact, on lap eleven, Revson overtakes Fittipaldi on the main straight to take second place. In sixth position is Reutemann followed by Lauda’s B.R.M., with Merzario eighth ahead of Jarier in the works March, Pace (who has been badly baulked at the start), Wilson Fittipaldi whose engine has gone off song, de Adamich, Follmer, Beuttler and the rest. Cevert is another who has had a puncture but the rest of his race has been punctuated by pit stops to attempt to cure a metering unit problem. Oliver’s Shadow is already in trouble and soon after a pit stop the engine seizes. It is to this pattern that the race settles down with Stewart pulling away from the next four, at the rate of almost a second a lap for a while, before settling down to a lead of some twenty seconds at half distance. The second place battle holds everyone spell-bound as the two McLaren M19s hold at bay the two Lotus 72s, while Denny Hulme is setting a rapid pace as he starts to make up the odd place at the back of the field. On the road, however, he is closing on this four-car battle and, as half distance approaches, he has no trouble in passing them all. By then a good deal happens because Revson is now leading Scheckter and the pair are still keeping the Lotuses behind. Reutemann is no longer sixth for he had a punctured rear tyre which is going down slowly and he makes a pit stop to change it after dropping behind first Lauda and then Pace, who is moving up well. Lauda’s glory is short-lived for his engine blows up on lap 26 and then Pace slows with a problem, which elevates Merzario to sixth place.
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Pace is now seventh ahead of Farrier, who has been driving sensibly, but is hampered by the engine which will not rev. above 9.200 r.p.m., possibly because of a fuel system problem. Follmer has finally passed de Adamich who now leads Reutemann, and Beuttler, with Hulme moving up to twelfth place just ahead of Keizan’s Tyrrell and the remaining stragglers. Soon after half distance the second place battle starts to break up with Revson drawing away from the others as he follows in Hulme’s wake. Scheckter feels that his tyres are losing their efficiency but, anyway, it is no disgrace being passed by Fittipaldi and he is still able to keep Peterson at bay. The Peterson challenge fades again on lap 49 when he rushes into the pits with a ball joint in the throttle linkage broken, a fault which has occurred on several cars this season. He loses six laps having it replaced and all chance of his first championship points of the season. Merzario moves up to fifth place but, in an attempt to fend off Pace, he spins and drops to sixth place in front of Fullmer. Jarier has lost a good deal of time having his gear linkage repaired, Wilson Fittipaldi is soon to retire with engine and gearbox problems, and Pretorius retires with engine failure. Stewart now has the race firmly in the bag but Fittipaldi has not settled for third place and is trying everything to catch Revson. Scheckter is in a safe fourth place a lap ahead of Pace. Hulme’s progress continues and is now on the same lap as Follmer, de Adamich and Reutemann, who are also making up places. The last ten laps see some further changes. With ten laps to go Pace suffers a front tyre deflation which sends him flying off at Sunset Bend and it takes three catch fences to bring him to a halt. He is unhurt but the front suspension and the rear wing are damaged.
 
Then, with only four laps remaining, Scheckter suddenly pulls into the pits and immediately jumps out of the car. There is a hole in the side of the engine and that is the end of his superb effort. Stewart roars on to victory, with a margin of some 24 seconds over Revson, who has just succeeded in holding off Fittipaldi by about three car lengths. A lap down comes Merzario for his second successive fourth place achieved without passing more than a couple of cars during the whole race, while Hulme is two laps down but in an excellent fifth place ahead of Fellmer who just hold off Reutemann, who slips by de Adamich in the closing couple of laps. Scheckter has completed enough laps to be classified ninth ahead of Ganley and Peterson. Several others also finish after pit stops but none have completed sufficient enough laps to be classified. They are Keizan, who had stops with a puncture and front suspension trouble, Jarier, Beuttler (who had a brush with the armeo at one point) and Cevert. Without hesitation Teddy Mayer of McLaren files a protest against Stewart for his driving tactics during those opening laps and the various parties involved are questioned. If it is found that Stewart passed under the yellow and gained an advantage in the process, there are precedents for his disqualification. But the Stewards decide, after due consideration, that a severe reprimand is all that is necessary. Two days later, after an appeal, the decision is reversed and Stewart is put in the clear. Formula Three and club drivers everywhere don’t expect the same treatment, your names are not Jackie Stewart. The yellow flag incident apart, there is no doubt that Jackie Stewart could have won just as easily if the accident had not occurred, except that Denny Hulme would not then have received a puncture, and he would have taken a great deal of catching. Hooray for the new McLaren M23.
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