#228 1973 French Grand Prix

2022-07-03 01:00

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#228 1973 French Grand Prix

When the business of practice starts, it is mostly a matter of many drivers adjusting their psychological outlook, for the Ricard circuit has a long s
When the business of practice starts, it is mostly a matter of many drivers adjusting their psychological outlook, for the Ricard circuit has a long straight, followed by a slot-track section. If you adjust all your aids to super-cornering, like nose fins, aerofoils, tyres and so on to give maximum adhesion through the wiggly bits then there is so much drag that the poor old Cosworth V8 can hardly push it through the air on the long straight. Alternatively, if you cheat the wind and get the Cosworth V8 wound up on the highest possible gear ratio and achieve 180 m.p.h. on the long straight, you are liable to find the course car keeping up with you through the twisty bits. Consequently, the practice problem is simple-strike a happy medium, without letting anyone else notice, and most of all not let them see what you understand so that they can’t copy it. Of course, there are all the usual problems to overcome, like engines that would not run properly, malfunctioning instruments, fuel systems that objected to the heat, wrong gear ratios, bits that broke, and for some teams, drivers who spin-off and do the damage. For those with 12 cylinders, either in vee formation or flat formation there is the all-important problem of keeping up with the V8 engines, especially those used by Stewart, Cevert, Fittipaldi, Peterson and Hulme. There is a feeling that drivers like those mentioned have special Cosworth engines, which is why they go so fast, and if that isn’t the reason then they all have special Goodyear tyres, for no one wants to admit that they are better drivers than Ganley, Oliver, Pescarolo, de Adamich or Wilson Fittipaldi, and no-one wants to admit that a Lotus or a Tyrrell is a better chassis than a Williams or a Shadow. One thing that cannot be blamed for this difference between the front and the back of a Grand Prix field is the Hewland gearbox, though it does occasionally decide whether you win or lose. Those of us who believe that some drivers have the ability and some do not like to think that the leading group are better than the tail-end group until along comes a new boy; young, carefree, happy, untroubled by sponsor responsibilities, team problems, money-grabbing, job-hunting,
with no need to justify his existence, full of enthusiasm and eager to go racing. For the first time in his life he gets into a McLaren M23, the team’s normal spare car, 23/3, and wham, he’s on the front row of the grid, with Stewart on his right and Fittipaldi on his left. This must prove that he has a special Cosworth V8 like the others and special Goodyear tyres. But wait, it is only his third Formula 1 event, and his first in Europe, but not his first motor race, nor his first works McLaren drive, for this woolly-headed youngster, is South African Jody Scheckter and the Colnbrook team have been promising him a car in Formula One for some time. With Revson away in America racing in a USAC event for McLaren, this is the chance for Scheckter and he will not hesitate. In the first practice session, Stewart is credited with a time of 1'48"37 and the next best is Cevert with 1'49"39 and nobody paid much attention, assuming that this first session is just the beginning. When nobody could approach the 1'48"0 in either of the Saturday sessions, not even Stewart himself, the various teams compare notes and find that the best time set for Stewart on Friday, is a low 1'49"0, so it looks as though the timekeeper misread by 1 sec., but if they have it they don’t say. In the second practice, Hulme is the fastest and in the third Scheckter is the fastest, so if the time-keepers are making an error of 1 sec., then Scheckter should be in the pole position! Even in the middle of the front row, made people ask what Fittipaldi, Peterson, Cevert, Reutemann, Hulme, Regazzoni, Ickx, Hailwood, Beltoise and other Aces are up to. Naturally, they all have their reasons and their excuses, and practice isn’t everything. He only appeared to be going fast, because the others had problems is the feeling, it will be a different story in the race, they’ll pound him into the ground. Early on Sunday morning, there is an untimed test session for the GP cars and then as the day got hotter and hotter there are races for everyone and everything, until 3:00 p.m. when the Grand Prix of France is due to start.

After two warm-up laps, they begin to form up on the dummy grid, with the drivers standing protected from the heat with umbrellas, sunshades, sheets of cardboard and anything else that would cast a shadow. The free-ticket side of the start-line is packed out, with people fighting and struggling for a view, while opposite, the grandstand has plenty of empty seats in it, and anyone who cares to pay money could have sat and attended the race in comfort. The bridge over the start line, paid for by Marlboro cigarettes is banned to all except a television crew and even Mr Marlboro himself, the man who controls all the money the firm is pouring into motor racing, was refused permission to go up on his bridge, and had to stand behind the struggling crowds of free-loaders. As the 25 starters move up towards the main grid Merzario is having trouble starting his Ferrari and only just got going in time, taking a position behind Pace’s Surtees as the flag fell. Fittipaldi is trying hard to outsmart the starter’s flag, and Reutemann made a super jump-start from the third row with his Brabham, but the young eager lad in the middle of the front row is up and gone in one of the quickest starts imaginable, leaving all the Aces looking like beginners. One driver who seems fated to start and never end is Oliver, who cooks his clutch on the line and his black Shadow barely got out of sight of the starter’s flag. At the end of lap one, a McLaren takes the right-angle bend before the pits straight in a lovely, ragged opposite-lock power slide, and it wasn’t Hulme. Scheckter keeps by, followed by Peterson (Lotus), Stewart (Tyrrell), Hulme (McLaren) and Fittipaldi (Lotus), and followed is the operative word. They are not trying to get by the South African, they are trying to keep up. A gap already appears between Fittipaldi in fifth place and Cevert in sixth place, when they put Scheckter in his place it would presumably relegate him to fifth place, ahead of Cevert, Reutemann, Ickx, Jarier, Regazzoni, and all the others, which would still be praiseworthy.


Next time round Peterson is very close behind the McLaren, but behind nonetheless, though the Establishment said: Here they go, they’ll pick him off one-by-one, and elbow the cheeky little devil back to where he belongs. Forty laps later the Establishment shut up completely, for Scheckter, who is in the lead right to the end of lap 42, never look as if he is going to lose it, while all manner of desperate things is going on behind him. Until lap 17 it’s a case of follow-my-leader, the embarrassing thing for all the top drivers is that Scheckter is the leader, and Peterson, Stewart, Hulme and Fittipaldi can’t do anything but follow, while nobody else is even in the running for leading the race. As they start lap 18 Fittipaldi is in fourth place, and Hulme is heading for his pits with a flat left rear tyre. His stop takes longer than normal for he decides to have both rear ones changed for ones of different rubber, feeling that it is pointless to put the same type of tyre on again and risk another failure. Due to this, the leaders are due round again before Hulme is ready to go so his pit crew hold him back and as soon as Scheckter appears in sight they gave Hulme the go signal and he shot out of the pits and join onto the tail of the foursome in the same position as he had left them, but a whole lap behind. Anyone who goes to the bar for a Ricard at this juncture of the race could know Hulme has been into the pits. At 20 laps Fittipaldi took third place from Stewart, and on the next lap, he takes second place from Peterson, obviously despairing of the Swede ever being able to deal with the South African out in front. On lap 22 Stewart headed for the pits as Hulme had done, with a flat left rear tyre, but unlike the McLaren team the Tyrrell boys have a new wheel and tyre on in a flash and Stewart is back in the race albeit, now in thirteenth place. This deflating tyre is the reason Fittipaldi moves up a place so easily, and Peterson let his team-mate by, to see what he could do about Scheckter.


By this time they lapped the slowest car and are now beginning to pick off the other tail-enders, and the McLaren and the two Lotuses ran nose-to-tail, with Hulme close behind watching it all, even though he is a lap behind. Naturally, each time the leading trio lapped a tail-ender, Hulme goes by with them and moves up a place. Although Scheckter is on his own in his battle against the two Lotuses, or to be more accurate, the two Lotuses have only Scheckter to beat, the sight of Hulme in all their mirrors must be encouraging to the South African and annoying to the Brazilian and the Swede. At 35 laps Peterson’s Lotus hesitate momentarily on acceleration and Hulme nipped by and positioned himself between the two black and gold cars, and the four of them continue to circulate nose-to-tail, with Fittipaldi looking for a way by Scheckter, but not finding it. They are now lapping Pace and Regazzoni, with Hulme moving up a place at each manoeuvre and as they go down the long straight on lap 42 they caught up with Beltoise in his B.R.M. Unable to get by they are forced to follow him into the wiggly section which finishes with the right-angle turn onto the pit straight, and this slowed their pace slightly so that they all got closer to Scheckter, who was waiting for the end of the wiggly section to go by the B.R.M. Then something happens. With Scheckter behind the B.R.M. and waiting until the exit of the corner to accelerate by, Fittipaldi sees his chance and dives to the inside, but the South African doesn’t move over and the left front wheel of the Lotus hit the McLaren’s right side of the cockpit, the wheels tangle and as Beltoise left the corner the McLaren shoots into the air and land with a thud on the outer kerb, the impact bending the left front suspension mounting, while the Lotus skated across the corner and onto the rough with its left front suspension broken. Hulme can’t see it all happening and knows it was going to happen, from previous experience of Fittipaldi diving through the inside on slow corners, but he has no way of warning the inexperienced Scheckter.


Hulme is the first out of the dust, now on the same lap as the leader who is, of course, Peterson, who drives through the dust into the lead. Scheckter keeps his car on the road and set off after the Swede, but the front left corner is scraping on the ground, and at the end of the lap he draws into the pits and is forced to retire. Fittipaldi drives his Lotus a few yards beyond the corner and abandoned it, the left front wheel nearly being right off. As the dust settled the Lotus team heard yelling That crazy South African, while the McLaren team were screaming That stupid Brazilian, and Peterson drives carefully on in the lead, not believing that luck is on his side for once. Hulme keeps his same pace knowing it's been six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other and a coming-together of two fairly inexperienced young drivers, inexperienced by his standards, that is. Few people believe that Peterson is actually in the lead, with no one challenging him, and those who only saw the first six in a Grand Prix went to the bar for a glass of Ricard, while everyone else took stock of the situation, for those 42 laps had left little opportunity to worry about the plight of the people who are not going to win and the no-hopers, to say nothing of the rank outsiders. Almost unbelievably the complete BRM team is still running and hasn’t made a single pit stop, but they are not very inspiring, Lauda is 9th, Beltoise 12th and Regazzoni 13th, Firestone tyres are the popular excuse, but it doesn’t ring very true for there is a Firestone equipped car way ahead of them in sixth place. This is the March 731 owned by Lord Hesketh and driven by James Hunt, and if Scheckter hasn’t been at the meeting Hunt could deservedly have all the glory, for him is going well. In practice he had beaten all manner of more experienced Formula 1 drivers, is on the sixth row of the grid, and right from the start of the race, he got on with the job and hang on to the pacemakers, leaving the also-rans well behind. Even though the air intake to his Cosworth V8 engine falls off on lap 45, he is depressed to collect a well-earned sixth place, after the leader’s fracas.


Of the Surtees and the Williams teams the less said the better, for neither of them ever looked like producing a winner, and at times, even a finisher. Pescarolo takes Galli’s place in the Williams team and gives up when the engine appears to blow up, while Ganley struggles along at the back. The pace changes the tyres on his Surtees, but he isn't able to show how well he can drive, and Hailwood stops with oil coming out of the wrong places. The Shadow team is a little better off making virtually no impression at all in practice, and Graham Hill with his private Shadow is faster than both the works cars, while in the race he led Follmer by a long way. Leading Oliver is no problem, as he barely left the starting line. Follmer’s miserable weekend came to a stop when his engine died, due to a lack of fuel pressure for the injection system on the Cosworth engine. The Ferrari team appears to be in good order, except that Merzario is faster than Ickx in practice, but then with his starting line trouble, he starts the race with a handicap, from which he never fully recovers even though he drives courageously. Ickx is content to drift along in eighth place, behind Cevert and Reutemann, but no threat to them, until after Stewart has his pit stop. As the Tyrrell driver is charging back up through the field from his thirteenth position, Ickx wakes up and tries hard to keep in front of the Scot, and they both close up on Reutemann. Stewart got by the Ferrari on lap 51, after pressing hard for several laps and indicating very forcibly that he wants to get by. This left Ickx in fifth place and put Stewart into fourth place, and though he tries all he knows there is no way past Reutemann. The Argentinian Brabharn driver holds a very good sixth place in the opening stages of the race, behind the pack that is chasing Scheckter, and he is ahead of Cevert, having passed the Frenchman on lap 5. Then on lap 27 he make a slight error and spin, letting Cevert go by, and stayed behind Tyrrell to the end of the race, finishing a worthy third, mere inches ahead of Stewart. The other Brabhams don't fare so well, de Adamich retiring from his position of 13th on lap 28 when a drive-shaft universal joint brakes, and Wilson Fittipaldi, in the latest Brabham BT42, retiring four laps before the end, while in eighth place, with his throttle mechanism jammed shut.


Right at the back, from start to finish, but running completely reliably is the brand new Ensign of Maurice Nunn, driven by Rikky von Opel, straight from Formula 3 into his first Grand Prix. When the leading group started by him after only 17 laps, having made up a whole lap, he has a good chance to see what Grand Prix racing is all about, as Scheckter led Peterson, Stewart, Fittipaldi and Hulme a merry dance. On lap 31 they do it again, this time without Stewart. Unlike some new designs that appear in Formula One and last so short a time that they are hardly noticing, the Ensign goes through non-stop to the finish, which is more than can be said for a lot of other teams. The mixed bag of Marches is completely dominated by the Hesketh Racing one driven by Hunt, though Jarier in the works car is going well for the short while he last, actually leading Hunt, until a drive-shaft universal joint broke. The Stockbroker March, usually driven by Beuttler, is in the hands of Reine Wisell, as the regular driver is still suffering from an F2 accident the week before. On the start line, the Swede finds petrol seeping up the straps of his seat harness and beginning to burn into his body, he started hoping it would wear off. The pain gets worse and he has to stop after 3 laps, and while he is doctored with ointment his mechanics mop up the fuel, which is from an overflow, and not a leak. Bravely he rejoices in the race but has to give up when the engine show signs of overheating. As if with velvet gloves and velvet boots, Peterson completes the 54 laps, not daring to think about anything until he sees the chequered flag and a joyful Colin Chapman leaping into the air to celebrate yet another Grand Prix victory for Lotus and the John Player Team, but more important to Peterson, his first Grand Prix victory, after coming so close so many times. A long way back came Cevert in second place, followed by Reutemann fending off a truly on form Stewart who drives hard after his pit stop, followed by an unimpressive Ickx, the joyful Hunt, then Merzario, Hulme and Lauda, all on the same lap as the winner. It's a jolly and good Grand Prix of France, but not a French Grand Prix in the Grand Manner that we used to know in the days of the Automobile Club of France before the Fédération Francaise Sport Automobile takes over the running of the sport.


Carola Buzio


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