Part 1 - from Motor Sport May 1977
After three rounds in what looks like being a tough year of Formula Two, there have been three different winners, in three different makes of car and using three different types of engine. The European championship was predictably being led by the little Frenchman Rene Arnoux in his Martini Renault but a number of very promising young newcomers to the FIA championship have emerged. These drivers, the American Eddie Cheever in his Ralt-Hart; the 1976 European Formula Three champion, the Italian Riccardo Patrese in his Chevron-BMW; and Bruno Giacomelli, the Italian who finished runner-up to Keegan in last year's British Formula Three series and who this year is driving a March-Hart, had all threatened Arnoux's superiority. Cheever, Patrese and Giacomelli all look set to win races in 1977, indeed both Cheever and Patrese have already led events, while several other names also stand out as exciting prospects, particularly Arnoux's team-mate Didier Pironi in the second Martini-Renault and the high-flying Finn, the spectacular Keijo Rosberg in his Opert Chevron-Hart.
After the initial rounds, two in Britain at Silverstone and Thruxton, and the third at Hockenheim in Germany; Arnoux led the championship with 18 pts. Britain's Brian Henton, driving Brian Lewis' Boxer-Hart, had slipped into second place with 13 pts. after a fine win at Thruxton, the Italian Alberto Colombo, having scored in all three races, was third on 7 pts. Tied on 6 pts. and equal fourth were Cheever, Patrese and Britain's Ray Mallock. There are 14 races in the 1977 championship building up what could be a tense finale at the Donington circuit at the end of October. In the second year in which all-out 2-litre racing engines have been allowed to contest the series, Formula Two looks set for some close, hard racing.
The engine battle this year looks to be it three-cornered dispute between the production-based German BMW engine, the Renault Gordini V6 and the all-alloy four-cylinder racing engine built at Harlow in Essex by Brian Hart. Ferrari have fielded several works V6 engines but they haven't proved competitive in the early rounds. On the chassis front the leading constructors have been Martini, March, Chevron and Ralt while Brian Lewis' British-built Boxer, a year-old chassis designed by John Clarke, has upset the established manufacturers with that fine Thruxton win.
The season began early in March, too early many people thought because cars and engines weren't ready. The BRDC had replaced their traditional non-championship Formula One International Trophy with the opening round of the European series after FICA decreed that one non-championship race a year in Britain was all there would he Silverstone has the Grand Prix, and therefore Brands Hatch got the other Formula One date for the Race of Champions. The Daily Express were still backing the 29th International Trophy meeting and it marked the beginning of both the European racing season and the BRDC's Golden Jubilee year.
It was a rush to get the cars ready for such an early beginning to the season but a representative entry arrived for the 47-lap race at the fast airfield circuit. Practice saw Michel Leclere on pole position in one of the spaceframe French chassis which he, and 1976 Champion Jean-Pierre Jabouille, raced last year. Cheever's Ralt was on the outside of the front row and then came the Belgian Patrick Ness who was in the single works March. The Bicester team are running a car based on their 77B Atlantic chassis as it development exercise and, fitted with a factory BMW engine, the little 772P is proving very fast. Mallock was fourth quickest in the new Chevron-Hart that he is racing for Creighton Brown's Ardmore team but several of the other fancied runners, notably Arnoux, were were well down after troubles in practice.
The racing got off to a dramatic start when Cheever confused the starting procedure and left the grid thinking there was another warm-up lap. He was at the other end of the pits before he realised his mistake but it was too late. Although he waited Its the others to catch him up, with a minute penalty for jumping the start, he was out of contention. It turned into a race of attrition. Leclere went out with a broken engine and Nest, having his first Formula Two drive, saw his chance of victory disappear when a rear wheel worked loose and sent him lurching sideways in the chicane. Until has the March had been well in front. After a pit stop Neve recovered to finish third but the race had gone to Arnoux. The Frcnchman had slowly worked his way up through the field from it fourth row start and, in spite of troubles with the fuel system on Tico Martini's latest MK22 chassis, had snatched a lucky win. Mallock drove steadily into second place, and behind an unhappy Neve came the Brazilian Ingo Hoffman, in his Ralt-BMW, Colombo's March and Patrese's Chevron. The only compensation for Neve was fastest lap at a record 1 min. 21.85 sec. (128.96 m.p.h.). This equalled Leclere's pole time and showed the potential of the March.
Thruxton, five weeks later, saw the teams a lot more organised and the 55-lap race at the Hampshire circuit developed into a bitter argument for the lead. Four cars took turns at setting the pace and there was some good dicing all the way down the field. Practice was dominated by the works March which had passed into the hands of Alex Ribeiro. The Brazilian was half a second quicker than Henton while Cheever was again on the outside of the front row. Giacomelli and Leclere were on the second row and on the third were Patrese, Pironi and Hoffmann
From the start Ribeiro leapt into the lead, but his frantic pace in the opening laps soon took its all on his tyres and Cheever came through to head the bunch. He was in control for most of the race until a combination of troublesome back-markers and a slowly deflating tyre, allowed the rest to haul him in. Again there was a group running nose-to-tail. Patrese took over the lead from Cheever until his fiery driving wore a front tyre so much that it blew out under braking for the chicane. That is when Henton came to the front. Cheever had been rammed from behind by Leclere when the Frenchman lost his brakes, and had caused both cars to spin at the Thruxton complex. However, in the sort-out at the finish it was Henton from Cheever, Ribiero, Colombo and Patrese. Leclere and Hoffmann didn't finish and poor Rene Arnoux hardly started. His Martini tangled with another car on the grid, flipped high on its back wheels and crashed back down.
Henton's win was a major breakthrough for British Formula Two interests and the first victory for a British driver in Formula Two since Roger Williamson won the Monza Lottery in Tom Wheatcroft's March-BMW in 1973. It was also the first Formula Two win for Brian Hart's own 420R engine. Henton set fastest lap in the race too, a new outright Thruxton record of 1 min. 10.67 sec. (120.02 m.p.h.). Before Thruxton the organisers of the traditional Easter Monday race had been involved in a running battle with the entrants over sponsorship. The dub wanted the teams to reduce the amount of advertising on cars so that the BBC would televise the race and thereby ensure the BARC of getting a sponsor. As it turned out the teams refused but the backers of the meeting, the Car Radio Division of Philips Electrical, carried on as sponsors and the BBC filmed three of the supporting events. The BARC were satisfied in the end, although not quite to happy about the twenty-five per cent increase in travel money that the CSI insisted organisers pay out at each Formula Two race this year. Thruxton was the most expensive meeting ever organised by the BARC and the prize fund alone was more than £40,000. The crowd at the meeting was about 15,000.
Five days later at Hockenheim the crowd had swelled to nearly 100,000 for a well-promoted meeting that was to have ranged local heroes Hans Stuck and Jochen Mass against each other. However, as it turned out, Stuck who was running alongside Cheever and Hoffmann in the Project Four Ralt team, was in difficulties all weekend. He never had a chance to join the confrontation and the two-part race became a Mass benefit. The McLaren F1 driver was in the works March 772P and the car realised fully the potential it had shown in Britain.
As at Thruxton the March-BMW was half a second quicker than the opposition and Mass won both 20-lap heats. This time it was Giacomelli second quickest and the Italian again showed well, only to be frustrated for the third time by engine problems. In the first heat his March, which is being run by the semi-works AFMP Euro racing team based in Silverstone village, ran third behind Mass and Arnoux. Patrese's Chevron was fourth, the Austrian Harald Ertl mat fifth in his Chevron-BMW and Henton was a good sixth. The best Stuck's troubled Ralt could manage was seventh and Jacques Laffite in an Opert Chevron was down in a lowly tenth.
The second heat again went to Mass from Patrese and Amoux while Cheever, who had dropped out of the leading bunch with a broken driveshaft in the first heat, charged through from the back of the grid to take a superb fourth place. Poor Giacomelli had an engine fail just as he was challenging Arnoux so he was right out of the results.
The overall positions saw Mass winning from Amoux and, because Mass is a graded driver, that meant the Frenchman took maxirnum points for the second time. Patrese was third overall, the Italian Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi was fourth and Henton ran fifth in spite of finishing only tenth in the second part. Stuck retired in the second heat with a persistent loss of fuel pressure and Laffite was seventh, good enough to give the 1975 Formula Two champion seventh overall
Part 2 - from Motor Sport July 1977
After six rounds in what is undoubtedly the toughest European Formula Two Championship of the last five years, the French are once again emerging as the front runners and, having scored maximum points in three races, Rene Arnoux has edged ahead in the points. The former Formule Renault and Super Renault Champion of France, having his second season in one of Tico Martini's French-built chassis, has won two races outright—Silverstone and Pau —and had scooped nine more points by finishing second to a graded driver at Hockenheim. However, Eddie Cheever, having finished runner-up to the same graded driver at the Nurburgring race, has also taken maximum points that had helped him into second place in the standings. Arnoux's Renault V6-engined Martini is on 30 points and Cheever, in a Ralt chassis fitted with a works BMW engine, has 19 points. Backing up Arnoux in third place in the points is Frenchman Didier Pironi and he earned 16 points after some fine showings.
However, just as interesting as the fight for the European Drivers' Championship has been the running battle between the various chassis and engine manufacturers. The works March development chassis, under the direct supervision of Robin Herd this year, has won three of the first six races while the Elf-backed Martini has won only two. But, March had put Jochen Mass in their 772P chassis for the two German races and the McLaren Formula One driver was not eligible for points in the championship. Therefore, both Arnoux and Cheever had benefited. The other race, the BARC Thruxton meeting was won by the John Clarke-designed Boxer chassis built by Brian Lewis and driven by Britain's Brian Henton.
On the engine front the battle is even hotter. Three manufacturers are disputing the honours in this, the second year in which all-out 2-litre racing engines have been permitted into the Championship, and the competition was still wide open. After the sixth race the production-based factory BMW engines from Munich had scored three outright wins while the Renault-Gordini V6 had won twice; and Britain's Brian Hart had notched up his very first Formula Two win with his 420R engine at Thruxton.
The 2002-derived BMW engine, which was rather overshadowed in the Championship by the Renault onslaught last year, also edged slightly ahead in other areas. In practice, BMW-engined cars have been fastest overall on four occasions, while the Renault claimed pole position only once—in Michel Leclere's Kauhsen chassis at Silverstone. Hart's engine powered a pole position car for the first time when Patrick Tambay's Chevron took fastest practice time at Pau. The BMW engine also took fastest lap in four of the six races while Renault and Hart scored one fastest lap apiece. So, although the French look like dominating the Championship yet again, it is by no means certain that they will win. They are looking anxiously for their fifth straight European title but, the way the opposition is already shaping up they are going to be pressed hard all the way. Arnoux and Pironi may have approached mid-season in a strong position but the opposition are gathering strength and Cheever, Riccardo Patrese and Bruno Giacomelli all look poised to cause an upset.
Our early season review, published in the May issue of Motor Sport, covered the first three races of the year at Silverstone and Thruxton in Britain, and Hockenheim in Germany. The three rounds in May saw the teams dashing from races at the Nurburgring in Germany, to the Vallelunga Autodrome near Rome and then to the classic round-the-houses road race at Pau in southern France.
The Nurburgring race at the start of the month only fell to the works March driven by Mass after the German shook off a stiff challenge from both Patrese and Cheever. In practice it was Patrese in the Trivellato Chevron-BMW that snatched pole position in spite of crashing midway through the second session. The Italian was 1.4 sec. faster than a surprised Mass and proceeded to lead the local hero round the daunting North Circuit for over a lap. But then the young challenger made his second mistake and slid off, leaving Mass to take his second Formula Two victory in a fortnight. Eddie Cheever started right back on the seventh row after a troubled practice but stormed through the field and was lying second as they completed the second lap. The 19-year-old American then kept his RaIt-BMW within a few seconds of Mass' car for the remaining laps, content to take full championship points. Clay Regazzoni was Cheever's team-mate for the race, driving another of Ron Dennis' RaIts, and the Swiss held third place until the halfway point when the gearbox broke. In practice Regazzoni had been fifth fastest behind Patrese, Mass, Giacomelli in a Euroraoing March-Hart, and Pironi's Martini. After Regazzoni retired from the 9-lap race it was left for the Finn Keijo Rosberg to sweep through into third place in his Chevron-Hart, Pironi was fourth and then came Arnoux and Giacomelli. Fastest lap fell to Mass in 7 mm. 20.3 sec., although that was rather overshadowed by Patrese's superb 7 min. 15.3 sec, in practice!
The race in Rome a fortnight later saw the works March entrusted to Giacomelli. The Italian having been rescued from the troubled AFMP Eurracing team has signed a two-year contract to drive for the works Giacomelli put the car firmly on pole position in the first practice session and then repeated Patrese's trick—he crashed! The March mechanics worked all through Saturday night to rebuild the car and on Sunday it led the 60-lap race from flag to flag. Arnoux chased hard in the opening laps with Patrese also joining the hunt until the two pursuers ran over debris on the track. Arnoux split an oil radiator and retired and Patrese punctured a tyre. It was left for Pironi to catch and pass Cheever to take second while behind Cheever came the consistent Italians Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi and Alberto Colombo in their March-BMWs.
The most recent race, at Pau, ended in farce after a flash thunderstorm washed out the race. The French organisers were rather slow in putting out a red flag to stop the race and as a result the cars that were eventually placed second and third—Pironi's Martini and Patrese's Chevron—ended up in a pile of wreckage, along with three other cars at the tight Station hairpin. Drivers found their cars skating straight ahead out of control on slick tyres at the corner which follows the only fifth gear straight on the circuit.
Up until then it had been a superb race. Patrick Tambay was on pole position in the British Ardmore team's Chervon-Hart only to stall at the start and be rammed from behind by several other cars including Cheever's Ralt. Arnoux went straight into the lead from the outside of the front row and in the early stages was holding a slender advantage over Giacomelli in the March and Jacques Laffite in one of Fred Open's Chevron-Harts. A coming together between Giacomelli and Laffite delayed both cars and left Patrese lying second ahead of Pironi.
Just before the rainstorm Pironi had caught and passed the Italian and was closing on his team-mate Arnoux. The sudden stop on lap 59 of the scheduled 73-lap event ended any chance of the fast-improving Pironi challenging the experienced Arnoux but it did ensure the first 1-2 finish for Two Martini's cars. Fastest lap went to Pironi so there could soon be some intense rivalry within the ranks of the top team.
Part 3 - from Motor Sport December 1977
At the vast Estoril Autodrome in Portugal, little Rene Arnoux finally clinched the 1977 European Formula Two title in his Martini-Renault Mk. 22. He finished second in the October 1st penultimate round to put the coveted Championship safely out of reach of his few remaining rivals. Mindful of the bitter disappointment in 1976 when the Championship was stolen from his grasp in that incredible Hockenheim finale by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the determined Arnoux made sure that it was wrapped up with a steady drive that earned him just enough points to claim overall honours. His strongest challenger, the 19-year-old American Eddie Cheever, finished almost alongside him, in third place in the tough Portuguese race, but the five-eighths of a second that split the two cars meant the dispute was settled before the final round of the thirteen-race season at Donington Park in England at the end of the month.
The race prior to Estoril had been right back at the beginning of August at Misano in Italy and it was there that Arnoux made a rare mistake at the first corner and crashed. Cheever too made an error, and had to settle for second place which meant that when they arrived in Portugal nearly two months later (the Zolder and Salzburgring rounds were cancelled) the Martini-Renault of Arnoux, the car that had led the Championship ever since winning the opening round at Silverstone, had a nine-point advantage over the Ralt-BMW of Eddie Cheever. In practice at Estoril it was Arnoux's team-mate Didier Pironi in the other Elf Martini that went fastest and alongside him on the front row was the Italian Bruno Giacomelli in the works March-BMW 772P. Arnoux was on the inside of the second row and next to him was Riccardo Patrese, the Italian driver of the Trivellato team's Chevron-BMW B40, and he too still had an outside chance of challenging for the Championship. Cheever was tucked in behind Arnoux on the third row in his Project Four/ Ron Dennis Ralt, while sixth fastest, and making an impressive debut in the formula, was Irishman Derek Daly. He had been put in the ICl/ Newsweek Chevron-Hart B40 run by Britain's Ardmore team and had quickly come to grips with the car.
The 50-lap race saw Pironi immediately in command and, although it was the first time he had led a Formula Two race, the young Parisian made no mistakes. He set a cracking pace. In the early laps Giacomelli in the March chased him hard and looked poised to overtake him when the March suddenly spun off the track at one of the wide Estoril hairpins (above, opposite). At that stage Arnoux was lying safely back in third, needing to take only a single point to clinch the Championship providing Cheever didn't score. However, Cheever's Raft was at that point right in behind him in fourth place. As the race developed it seemed Cheever might have got ahead of Amoux and forced the Championship sort-out into the final round but then Cheever himself started to come under increasing pressure from the Finn Keijo Rosberg who was running fifth in Fred Opert's Chevron-Hart.
Rosberg soon worked his way tight in behind the Rah and, to Cheever's annoyance, began to attack at any opportunity. At every corner Rosberg was trying to dive through on the inside and as Cheever began weaving about to block the moves, Arnoux was able to edge away. Well into the race Rosberg was still trying desperately to snatch third place from Cheever when his efforts got the better of him and he slid round in a spin at the same spot that Giacomelli had gone off. With Rosberg delayed, Cheever was then able to catch Arnoux again yet, just as he was sitting in behind the French Martini once more, Rosberg had recovered and was shadowing the pair of them. Once again the fight was on and Rosberg began once more to press hard for a chance at Arnoux. He began trying round the outside of Cheever (lower, opposite) and as the three cars went into the final laps they were running nose-to-tail. However, they trailed Pironi's winning Martini across the line in the same order—Arnoux, Cheever and Rosberg—the three cars covered by less than a second!
Pironi had pulled clear of this battle to take his first win in the European Championship while Amour; had secured the title. With a one-two finish, it was a great day for Tico Martini who was making one of his rare visits to a meeting. He has been busy this season back at his Magny Cours workshop in central France building the new Cosworth-powered Grand Prix car that he and Equipe Martini team manager Hughes de Chaunac intend to run in Formula One in 1978 for Rene.
Fifth place was taken by Daly in the Chevron after an excellent drive that also earned him fastest lap, and sixth was Patrese In the BMW-engined Chevron. Patrese had a fiery coming together in the closing laps with Cheever's team-mate, Ingo Hoffmann, and the Brazilian's Ralt was sent flying through the air. It rolled several times but Hoffmann emerged from the upturned car angry yet unhurt.
With a round to go the Championship was, in effect, all over. The race at Donington late in October might well have been a showdown finale if Cheever had managed to scrape ahead of Arnoux in Portugal, but as it turned out the American wasn't even at the last round. He injured his hand when his works BMW 320i rolled in practice for the World Championship of Makes race at Vallelunga a week before, so the Championship wound down to a rather hollow finish. Tom Wheatcroft wanted the Formula Two race co round off his first season at the ambitious new English circuit and, in spite of the series having been settled, the teams were keen to race at the fine new circuit which looks likely to become a regular venue for Formula Two. In 1978 Wheatcroft plans to run a Championship round in mid-season but to get that date he had first to accept the dreary October 30th fixture this year.
The entry for Donington was surprisingly good although, in contrast to Estoril, the racing was a disappointment. March wheeled out their prototype 1978 Formula Two model and the car, which had already done extensive testing, was able to pulverise the opposition. In practice Giacomelli was about a second faster than anyone else and in the 65-lap race Bruno simply drove away to win by half a minute, and set fastest lap. Into a distant second place Rosberg brought Opert's Chevron and third was Pironi in the Martini. Pironi had needed to win outright to wrest second overall in the Championship away from the absent Cheever. The Swiss driver Marc Surer had taken over the works March 772P chassis, which he took to a promising fourth place—Surer will be joining the three-car works March-BMW team in 1978—and fifth was Danny Sullivan, the American having his best result of the season in Brian Lewis' Boxer-Hart. Trundling home in sixth place, and almost lapped by Giacomelli, was Arnoux who claimed he fiat-spotted his tyres while chasing Pironi in the early laps.
A lap down in seventh place was Brian Henton, the fifth driver of the season to handle the ICl/Newsweek Chevron, and eighth, after a troubled race, was Alex Ribeiro in the third works March. Patrese had challenged Rosberg for second place in the early laps before retiring with gearbox problems brought about by the loss of the clutch. It was a disappointing race run in cold, miserable weather and unfortunately reflected badly on Formula Two. Outside Britain the racing is usually tensely competitive, yet nearly every time the Championship crosses the Channel it is seen in a bad light. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that the racing is always too early or too late in the season. Hopefully a Donington race next June Will cure that.
In winning Donington Giacomelli had taken his third win of the season. That equalled Arnoux's number of wins, yet in the Italian's case was only good enough for equal fourth in the Championship with Patrese. March, on the other hand, had taken their fifth win of the year and thereby edged ahead of Martini who could claim only four outright victories. Rene Arnoux had become the fifth consecutive Frenchman to win the Formula Two title and the seventh since the series was started by the FIA in 1967. For the last four years Elf have backed the winning French drivers and teams, for the last three years the Championship has been won by French-built cars and for the last two years the Renault Gordini V6 engine has powered the winning chassis. Now the French are withdrawing from Formula Two to concentrate on other International racing, notably Le Mans and Formula One. Yet, with British constructors like March, Chevron and Raft and European engine builders like BMW and Ferrari matched by Britain's Brian Hart, the racing should be just as good in 1978. The prospects, if anything, look even better because the racing should be a lot more open.