Monday, 24 January 2011

1972 German Grand Prix - Nurburgring

July 30, 1972

The Nurburgring (Nordschleife) is one of those legendary circuits that brings a smile to the face of enthusiasts whenever it is mentioned. Unparalleled by the F1 circuits of today it was given the nickname "Green Hell". Those drivers that won at the Nurburgring were immediately set apart from other drivers and the honour was well deserved for the Ring truly was the ultimate test of consistency, skill and courage.

Ferrari's venerable 312B had served them well in 1970 and 1971, but with the 312 B2 version used in 1972 it was clear that Ferrari had been unable to meet the development progress of it's rivals (Lotus, Tyrrell and McLaren). However, at the Nurburgring Ferrari had one key advantage over the competition ... Jacky Ickx.

1967 German GP - Ickx at the Flugplatz
The 27 year old from Brussels, Belgium was one of those immortals who had won there before (In 1969 while driving for the Brabham team). He was never short on talent or courage at any circuit, but he always had a knack for running well at the Nurburgring. In fact, he made his debut in F1 there in 1967 driving an F2 car run by Ken Tyrrell. He made an immediate impression.

Despite the lack of power his Matra F2 possessed in comparison to the F1 cars Ickx managed to outqualify all of the regular F1 drivers, save two (Hulme and Clark). It was an incredible achievement, however the separate F2 class cars were mandated to start behind the F1 cars regardless of qualifying times and so Ickx started from the 18th grid position. 

Ickx lost none of his qualifying pace during the race and within four laps of the start he had overtaken 12 cars and was up to fifth position.  Unfortunately fate stepped in and a broken suspension on lap 12 brought his brilliant showing to an end. Despite this, he clearly demonstrated that he had a natural gift for driving the Nurburgring and this was only the first of many great performances there.

In 1972 the Ring belonged to Jacky Ickx. He qualified on pole with a time of 7:07.000, an astounding 13 seconds faster than the existing qualifying record at the time set by Jackie Stewart in 1971. Stewart (Tyrrell-Ford) was starting beside Ickx on the front row followed by Emerson Fittipaldi (Lotus-Ford), Ronnie Peterson (March-Ford), with Fran├žois Cevert (Tyrrell-Ford) rounding out the top five.

1972 German GP - Ickx leads through the Karrusell
On race day the Belgian led away from the start. He took a lead he was never to give up. Behind Ickx the battle was between Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni in the second Ferrari. Stewart, who had been squeezed out at the start, was fourth but fighting back. Ronnie Peterson in a March that was finally worthy of his talent was also in contention. Ickx's Ferrari was in superb tune and he was matching the car with driving skill that had been honed in long-distance sports car racing at this circuit. He was gaining around 3 seconds a lap on his pursuers. Smashing Ceverts lap record, set the previous year, by almost 7 seconds. He covered the 22.9 kms (14.2 miles) in 7:13.6, an average of almost 190 kph (118 mph). For the purists, this was motor racing at it's best.

Then, on the 10th of the 14 laps, Fittipaldi's gearbox seized and caught fire right behind the pits. The toughest course in Grand Prix racing was beginning to take it's toll. Not long after, Stewart began coming to grips with Regazzoni's Ferrari in the battle for second place behind Ickx, and it was no holds barred.  However, on the very last lap the two cars tangled at Hatzenbach. The Tyrrell went off the track and destroyed it's suspension against the Armco barrier, it's driver raising his fist furiously as he got out of the car. There was no doubt about who Jackie blamed for the incident.

But for Ferrari, first and second was a great result and the team was justifiably jubilant. Ronnie Peterson and March was happy with third too, but the big loser was Jackie Stewart. To lose second in a race where his nearest championship rival had retired was a bitter blow. To see Regazzoni, the man he blamed for his retirement on the podium in the place that could have been his must have made it worst.

Grand Chelem - Ickx, Regazzoni and Ferrari celebrate
For Ickx, this would be his 10th and final Grand Prix victory. It would also be the only Grand Chelem (led the entire race from pole and recorded the fastest lap of the race) he would score in his F1 career. One of the first races I remember watching on television and one of the reasons I fell in love with Grand Prix racing. 

No comments:

Post a Comment