With Great Britain being the home of most of the teams involved in Grand Prix racing today, as well as many of the drivers and the people putting money into the racing, it is no surprise to find one of the largest entries ever seen, arriving for practice. There are no fears about having to qualify for a starting grid place, for they can all be accommodated on the wide 4.71-kilometre circuit, so their only problem is exactly where they will be on the grid. Official practice takes place on Thursday from 11:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and again on Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., a total of 5 hours practice for a race that is going to last for less than 1-1/2 hours, being run over 67 laps. In case this is not enough there is an unofficial practice day on the previous Tuesday, and if this still is not enough there is a further 30 minutes available on the morning of the race, which is Saturday July 14th. As the John Player cigarette firm are backing the meeting and doing all the high-pressure publicity to bring the required crowds to buy the very expensive tickets to pay for the enormous field of Grand Prix cars, to say nothing of the Formula Atlantic cars, the Formula 3 cars, the Saloon cars and the Historic cars, the John Player backed Lotus team are out to win. They are more determined than before, if that is possible, and Fittipaldi and Peterson have their two cars each in the same condition as used at the Grand Prix of France, with the rear aerofoils mounted well back, the Brazilian having R5 and R7 and the Swede R6 and R8. In order to avoid the confusion that nearly all other organisations suffer from when a driver has two cars at his disposal, the first cars are given the normal racing number, and the spare car an entirely different number. In Fittipaldi’s case R5 is race number 1 and R7 is number 40 and Peterson’s pair are 2 and 41, respectively.
This sensible system avoids the use of 1T or 2T which invariably confuses the timekeepers. The poor old muddled Ferrari team arrives with two cars for Ickx and no sign of Merzario, even though he is entered. The Belgian is using 010 as his number one car and has 012 as a spare. Tyrrell’s smart blue cars are his usual trio, the spare car having the chisel-nose and side water radiators, but there is no question of having any drivers other than Stewart or Cevert in the car. On the other hand the McLaren team has all three of their M23 models entered and ready to race, with Hulme as usual in M23/1, Revson in M23/2 and Scheckter in M23/3. Ecclestone’s Brabham team surprises everyone when they unload four BT42 cars, 42/2 for Wilson Fittipaldi, 42/3 for Reutemann, 42/4 for De Adamich and a brand new one, 42/5, as a spare for Reutemann, it being finished off in the paddock. In addition the modified 1972 car, BT37/2, previously raced by De Adamich, is now being driven by John Watson, backed by Hexagon of Highgate, the used-car dealers, and it is painted chocolate brown, though some people call it another sort of brown. The UOP-Shadow team are unchanged from previous races, with Follmer and Oliver driving, and Graham Hill with his Embassy-cigarette backed Shadow is there to support and oppose the works team. BRM produced a brand new P160, number 9 in the series, for Regazzoni, while Lauda and Beltoise have their usual cars. John Surtees enters his full set of TS 14A cars, with Hailwood in 04, Pace in 03 with the vented side sponsons, and the German saloon-car driver Jochen Mass in the oldest car, number 01, and not being involved in any complicated sponsorship programme it is painted white. Frank Williams has both of his Marlboro and Iso Rivolta backed cars in side-radiator form, and co-opted the New Zealand Formula 5000 driver Graham McRae into the team to join Ganley.
There are four March cars entered, the works car, the Stockbroker car, Lord Hesketh’s car and David Purley’s car, and since they are built as new cars for 1973, from the basics of the 1972 cars, some new chassis recognition plates have been made and riveted onto the monocoques. The works car is 721G/4 or 731/4, the Stockbroker car 721G/2, the Hesketh car 731/3 and Purley 731/2, which give slight variations on the original designations and definitions. There are two important moves within the March camp, one being that Jean-Pierre Jarier is no longer in the works car, due to the ending of various complicated deals, and Roger Williamson took his place, due to the commencement of even more complicated deals. Beuttler is fully recovered from his Formula 2 accident and is back in the yellow Stockbroker car, Hunt is driving for Lord Hesketh in the car modified by Harvey Postlethwaite, and Purley has his car back after its brief loan to Wisell for the Swedish Grand Prix. The smooth green Ensign is having another stab at this Formula One business, driven by von Opel and last, and unfortunately least, is the trouble-torn Martini Racing Tecno team with Amon as driver. They have their original 1973 car, designed by Alan McCall, before he disappeared and left them high and dry, and the brand new car designed by Gordon Fowell and his Gorted Design firm. The new car is very smooth, but angular looking, monocoque with orthodox suspension and the flat-12 Pederzani engine and Hewland gearbox cantilevered out the back of the cockpit structure. The water radiator lay very flat at the front with air for it being taken in through a duct under the wedge-shaped nose cowling. With 35 cars in the paddock there is much to see and in the tiny Silverstone pit lane there is as much confusion as there is at Brands Hatch, even though all 35 are never out at the same time.
Fortunately Lotus are able to overflow into the area beyond the pits, Ferrari does not use their spare car, Brabham has spent most of the time finishing off their latest car and Tyrrell puts one of his away when he brings out his spare, but even so the tail end of the entry overflows into the Trade drinking pits. The GKN-Daily Express meeting back in April gives a good indication of what to expect as far as the top drivers and cars are concerned. The two Lotus drivers and Stewart can be guaranteed to go quickly, even though the Tyrrell does not seem to handle too well on the flat airfield circuit, while the McLaren’s are sure to be deceptively fast, being very stable and giving their drivers a comfortable and confident ride, Hulme being belligerently fast providing conditions are good, and Revson’s smooth driving and USAC high-speed experience paying dividends on corners like Stowe or Woodcote compared to the harbour front at Monte Carlo, for example. Cevert always seems to get left behind on corners calling for bravery and finesse, and none of the other teams ever seem to look like providing a natural winner or a serious challenger. However, there are a number of interesting asides and these are to see how Scheckter will perform after his meteoric drive at Paul Ricard, how Williamson will get on in his first drive in a Formula One car, how Mass will fare in the Surtees, how McRae will go in the Williams car, whether Ickx will get anywhere with the Ferrari, and how the new Tecno will perform. Just as everyone is getting ready for the first practice a summer shower of rain fell lightly on the scene and while everyone goes into a flap it stopped and dried up almost instantly. As the skies are still overcast and the overall weather forecast for the next three days is uncertain, one driver in particular is determined to get in a quick lap before rain slow everyone up. This is Stewart, and as soon as the circuit is open for practice he is away like a jack-rabbit.
The weather stays dry, though threatening, and for two-and-a-half hours everyone goes round and round, some going faster and faster, some going slower and slower, and some coming to a grinding halt. One of these is Regazzoni, who does a mere 16 laps with his brand new B.R.M. and brand new engine, before all the bearing metal ends up in the oil tank. Others stop and are able to get going again, thanks to some speedy work by their mechanics, like Scheckter, whose Cosworth engine in his McLaren spring a leak in its high-pressure mechanical petrol pump. Replacing it means removing the exhaust system and water plumbing from the left-side of the engine, so the South African loses quite a lot of practice time. Williamson goes grass cutting out of Abbey curve after trying to take the bend without lifting off, and makes a mess of the nose cowling, and Peterson has a lot of oil leaking out of the gearbox on his spare car which he is using until his first choice is ready. Hunt spends a long time in the pits while his gearbox is made to work, an incorrect spacer allowing the gear cluster to float about, and when he does get going he not only goes very fast, but put himself up with the fast Goodyear-shod runners, even though he is on Firestone tyres, which B.R.M. and Team Surtees have been telling everyone are no good. While he is busy winding himself up to even greater things the front suspension of the March collapses at Becketts Corner and with the left wheel turning itself on full left lock, and Hunt turning the right one onto full right lock to counteract it, the car slides straight on and stops on the grass, luckily without any serious damage. With little fuss and a lot of determination Hulme makes fastest lap, the McLaren handling so nicely that it never looks very fast, and he is a whole second faster than his team-mates. As expected Peterson, Fittipaldi and Stewart are hard on Hulme’s heels, the primitive RAC timekeeping unable to decide the differences closer than one-tenth of a second. Peterson never does go out in his number one car, while Fittipaldi never goes out in his practice car.
Cevert tries the spare Tyrrell briefly, but Amon is stuck with the earlier Tecno as the new one has something wrong with its engine and keeps blowing all its oil into its catch-tank instead of returning it to the oil tank even when warming-up in the paddock. Mass is getting the feel of the Surtees so well that he is as fast as Pace, and they are both fractionally faster than Hailwood, and De Adamich is taking time to get used to the more forward driving position of the BT42 and the different feel, compared to the old BT37. Watson is making the best of what he has got in the way of a Cosworth engine in the brown Brabham, but McRae can not get much joy with the Williams car and is wishing he has his Formula 5000 car to drive. Ickx and the Ferrari are an embarrassment to all the Ferrari enthusiasts, though the noise is some consolation, but he seems unwilling to hurl the car into the corners with the sort of carefree abandon that the McLaren and Lotus lads are displaying, yet it is arriving into the braking areas as fast as any of the cars. By the time this first practice session finishes Stewart has completed 66 laps, Hulme 60 laps, Fittipaldi and Ganley 59 laps, Peterson 51 laps, and Wilson Fittipaldi 50 laps. Saturday’s race is to be over a mere 67 laps, and there is another 2-1/2 hour practice session yet to run. One can not help feeling that either there is an awful lot to learn, or they are slow at learning. On Friday it all starts up again, with the same people being fast, the same ones being courageous, the same ones being slow and many of the same troubles appearing, as well as some new ones. Regazzoni has another engine in his BRM and is going well. Lauda is still driving hard and bravely. Peterson gets his hands on his proper car and Fittipaldi tries his spare one briefly. Poor Amon does one lap in the new Tecno before the catchtank is full of oil and then returns to the old Tecno, and Stewart has a brief go in the chisel-nose Tyrrell. He does this while 006 is being repaired, for he has taken to the grass in a big way at the exit of Woodcote Corner on one lap and damages the nose-cowling and the left-front suspension.
A new nose cowling is fitted and a new lower wishbone member, and he is away again. Williamson is also on the grass at Woodcote, but at least he is in good company, but Purley goes off at Becketts and bends his March too badly to continue or even repair it in time for the race. The McLaren team are very happy for Revson equals Hulme’s time of yesterday and Scheckter is less than half a second behind them, so the Yardley firm who back the McLaren team with money, are even happier. Colin Chapman is not at all happy that his ace drivers are not up at the front but as practice draws to a close Peterson rose to the occasion and in a display of driving that gladdens the hearts of Silverstone old timers who think the spectacle disappeared with Fangio and Gonzalez, he snatches pole position away from the McLaren team with a lap in 1'16"3 compared to their 1'16"5. The pale-faced Peterson is fully winds up and it is terrific to see it happening. While the Lotus enthusiasts are bubbling over with joy, the Ferrari fans are hiding their heads in shame for Ickx with the 312B3 flat-12 is only as fast as the newcomers von Opel and the Ensign, and no Ferrari can possibly be that bad. It is obvious that McRae should have stuck to Formula 5000 for he is not as fast as his team-mate Ganley, but the works Shadow drivers are over-joyed for they are a full three-tenths of a second faster than Graham Hill. There is some slight consolation for Amon when he sees the newest Brabham BT42 sets off from the pits with Reutemann and not reappear, dying out on the circuit. When it is all over and the timekeepers have sorted it all out into some semblance of order and a starting grid, everything is in its right perspective. The front row is Peterson, Hulme, Revson, the second row Stewart and Fittipaldi, the third row Scheckter, Cevert and Reutemann and then the miscellaneous lot that make up the field but seldom look like winning, and there are 28 all told, for Purley’s March is beyond immediate repair.