The 1973 Belgian Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XXXI Grote Prijs van Belgie, was the fifth round of the 1973 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at Circuit Zolder on the 20th of May 1973. The meeting would be overshadowed by a dispute over the track surface, which required constant attention throughout, with the eventual podium finishers all threatening to have the race cancelled unless the problems were resolved.
A delay in confirming Zolder as host of the Belgian Grand Prix of 1973 meant that there was a delay in getting new tarmac at the circuit, which was only completed the evening before the first practice session. Indeed, the track surface was not properly hardened before practice got underway, and when huge chunks of tarmac began to be thrown up, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association threatened to cancel the race.
Fortunately, overnight repairs on Friday cured the issue, with Ronnie Peterson sweeping to pole once again for Lotus. The Swede's form carried over into the race as he took an early lead from François Cevert, with Jacky Ickx, Denny Hulme and Carlos Reutemann completing the top five.
Cevert really pushed on lap two and snatched the lead, leaving Peterson to fend off the rest of the field as the Tyrrell pulled clear. The Swede's cause was aided by quick fire retirements that eliminated Hulme, Ickx and Reutemann, before being overhauled by teammate Emerson Fittipaldi and Cevert's partner Jackie Stewart.
Moments after the pair passed Peterson, Cevert spun and released them into the lead, with Fittipaldi slowly pulling clear. Undeterred, Stewart pressed on an managed to pass the Lotus, with Fittipaldi suffering from a worsening fuel pressure problem.
Stewart was therefore left to cruise home to victory, while Cevert overhauled Fittipaldi for second well before the end of the race. Fourth went to Andrea de Adamich ahead of maiden scorer Niki Lauda, while Chris Amon finished a surprise sixth for Tecno, three laps down on the race winner.
Since the demise of Spa Francorchamps as host of the Belgian Grand Prix, the Royal Automobile Club of Belgiaum had tried out Nivelles-Baulers, only to find that the circuit was less than popular. They therefore chose the Flemish Circuit Zolder in the north of Belgium, although a lot of work was required to bring that circuit up to Grand Prix standards. Unfortunately, late announcement of Zolder would cause confusion at the circuit, with the C.S.I., R.A.C. and the FIA all throwing weight behind major renovation works to both facilities and circuit, only to run out of time to have any of the projects completed. Yet, the Formula One Constructors' Association had been informed of the situation, and when the F1 circus rolled into the paddock there were no major concerns.
The entry list remained unchanged ahead of the fifth round of the World Championship, with Lotus and Tyrrell fielding exactly the same cars as they had in Spain. Their lead drivers Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart arrived as favourites for both victory and the Championship, with both confident ahead of the visit to Zolder. Their teammates, meanwhile, were coming under fire for their driving styles, Ronnie Peterson receiving criticism for his exuberance at the wheel of the famously fragile Lotus' of Colin Chapman.
Elsewhere, McLaren and Brabham arrived without any major issues, although the latter squad had rebuilt Andrea de Adamich's car during the break. BRM had their familiar trio of Clay Regazzoni, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda back in action, all three hoping that the team's high tyre wear would not cost them potential points once again. Likewise Surtees arrived without any concerns other than tyre wear, March continued to limp along in financial turmoil, while Ferrari were only able to field a single car effort, with Jacky Ickx trying out both of their new 312B3s once again.
Of the new boys, Shadow arrived without any major concerns, buoyed by George Follmer's podium in Spain which had seen them gain another sponsor. Ensign entered without any expectation of arriving, while Tecno returned with Chris Amon at the wheel of their new car, which would race under the "Martini Racing" banner. The Italian firm had commissioned Kiwi designer Alan McCall to design their 1973 car, although the new PA123/6 was heavily based on its predecessor, which had been poor at best. Expectations were therefore low, despite their poaching of Amon from a potential move to March.
Three victories in the opening four rounds of the season had seen Emerson Fittipaldi extend his lead in the Championship, the Brazilian's advantage opening out to twelve points. Stewart was his closest challenger, the Scot's retirement in Spain a huge factor in that gap reopening, while Cevert was up to third. Revson and Hulme sat together on nine points, ahead of the two Ferraris.
Lotus-Ford Cosworth held a four point lead in the International Cup for Manufacturers, with rivals Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth sat in second. McLaren-Ford Cosworth and Ferrari held station in third and fourth, while Shadow were up to fifth after just two races. BRM also made a move, pulling two points clear of Brabham-Ford Cosworth who failed to score.
The full entry list for the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying were set to run together across Friday and Saturday, with both days playing host to a single session, intended to be two hours apiece. With no major weather concerns ahead of the battle for pole, and four hours of scheduled running, there was little to concern the teams, despite the fact that work on the track was continuing on right up to the start of practice. As for target times, the teams had no idea what to expect, largely due to the fact that Zolder had never hosted an event featuring cars capable of matching a Grand Prix machine.
The track surface had been relayed ahead of the Grand Prix weekend, and when practice first started the tarmac had not fully hardened. In the early stages this did not appear to be an issue, most of the field completing a series of early runs that saw the pace gradually increase. Indeed, shortly before the hour mark, Emerson Fittipaldi completed a quick series of laps to record a 1:26.08, a second faster than anyone else bar Carlos Pace in his Surtees.
Unfortunately this increase in speed did have an affect on the fresh tarmac, and as Fittipaldi blitzed the time sheets, lumps of circuit were being thrown up in two highspeed corners, while other areas were beginning to break up. Seeing this, Grand Prix Drivers' Association President Denny Hulme and Jackie Stewart immediately called a Union meeting, with four other drivers calling for a strike. Their protests ultimately saw the rest of the Friday session cancelled, the organisers deciding to have the track surface replaced in time for Saturday's sessions. As for the G.P.D.A., they continued to press the issue, even threatening to boycott the race entirely unless the entire F1 circus was moved to Nivelles-Baulers.
By Saturday morning the entire track surface had been replaced, and warm temperatures overnight had allowed the tarmac to set. Yet, the G.P.D.A. were still calling for a boycott, with team owners and managers increasingly annoyed by their star employees despite the fact that their cars were ready to run. As the G.P.D.A. continued to protest Jacky Ickx shot out of the pits in his Ferrari at the start of the second session, soon joined by Nanni Galli in the Iso-Marlboro.
Ickx had previously been a member of the G.P.D.A., but personal frustration at their constant complaining prompted the Belgian to leave long before the latest campaign in Zolder. As the G.P.D.A. continued to hold their protest meeting, the screaming Ferrari would come barrelling past and drown them out, with Ickx soon dipping below Fittipaldi's time from Friday. This change caused more tension between the team owners and the drivers, with the former eventually putting enough pressure on the C.S.I. and organisers to come to an agreement and end the G.P.D.A. protest.
This new deal effectively split the session into two, with a track inspection in between the two hour long runs determining whether the race was to be staged on Sunday or not. As soon as the deal was reached the drivers flooded back to their garages and climbed into the cars, with times falling soon after. Unfortunately it seemed as if concerns over the track surface had affected the mentality of the drivers, with no one really pushing as hard as they could during the first session.
The track inspection after that session revealed no major issues, despite the fact that everyone had improved their best time by two seconds or more. The afternoon session saw a little more aggression from the drivers as a half-hearted battle for pole emerged, although when Ronnie Peterson claimed a 1:22.46 the issue was settled. Hulme ended the day second fastest ahead of an impressive Ickx, while François Cevert claimed fourth with a time set during the first Saturday session.
The full qualifying results for the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||2||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:27.31||1:23.50||1:22.46||—|
|2||7||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:42.64||1:27.10||1:23.00||+0.54s|
|4||6||François Cevert||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:28.14||1:23.22||1:23.31||+0.76s|
|6||5||Jackie Stewart||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:28.37||1:23.28||No Time||+0.82s|
|7||10||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:28.50||1:23.85||1:23.34||+0.88s|
|8||24||Carlos Pace||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:28.50||1:25.41||1:23.34||+0.88s|
|9||1||Emerson Fittipaldi||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:26.08||1:24.23||1:23.44||+0.98s|
|10||8||Peter Revson||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:27.79||1:24.43||1:23.52||+1.06s|
|11||16||George Follmer||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:28.90||1:27.52||1:23.86||+1.40s|
|13||23||Mike Hailwood||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:26.85||1:24.58||1:23.96||+1.50s|
|16||14||Jean-Pierre Jarier||March-Ford Cosworth||1:30.07||1:27.26||1:24.83||+2.37s|
|17||26||Nanni Galli||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:30.80||1:26.54||1:24.89||+2.43s|
|18||9||Andrea de Adamich||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:30.38||1:26.56||1:25.28||+2.82s|
|19||11||Wilson Fittipaldi||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:32.89||1:26.06||1:25.57||+3.11s|
|20||15||Mike Beuttler||Matra-Ford Cosworth||1:29.03||1:25.77||No Time||+3.31s|
|21||25||Howden Ganley||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||No Time||1:42.97||1:26.68||+4.22s|
|22||17||Jackie Oliver||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:28.12||1:34.58||No Time||+5.66s|
|23||12||Graham Hill||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:35.03||1:31.24||1:30.45||+7.99s|
|WD||18||Rikky von Opel||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|______________||Andrea de Adamich|
Race morning proved to be a rather chaotic affair, despite the fact that an unofficial test session, and a Formula Super Vee race had been staged before the 3:30pm start time. The cause would be the grid, which had been painted in a 3x2x3 formation, despite the fact that the teams had agreed to a 2x2x2 layout, as was becoming the norm on tracks as narrow as Zolder. A thirteen minute delay resulted as changes were made, while a readjusted timesheet was released that effectively reshuffled the grid, the result of a F.O.C.A. protest overnight.
When the race eventually started it would be pole sitter Ronnie Peterson who shot away into an early lead, the Swede having to use his spare car after a heavy crash in the Sunday warm-up. The rest of the field soon shuffled into place behind him, with François Cevert sprinting into second after relatively poor starts for Denny Hulme and Jacky Ickx. Ickx ended up in second through the first corner, having run Hulme out wide after starting on the inside of the circuit, only to be taken by Cevert through the chicane halfway round the opening tour.
The rest of the opening lap would see Peterson pull a small lead over Cevert, only to lose it all through the final corner. The Swede was not happy in the spare Lotus, and his small mistake opened the door for the Frenchman, who duly claimed the lead at the chicane half a lap later. The Frenchman quickly established a small lead, while Peterson was left to fend off the attentions of Ickx and Hulme, who were still battling away for third.
The following laps saw the order begin to settle down, although Emerson Fittipaldi was slowly picking his way through the field after his poor qualifying result. Another man stealthily climbing the order was Jackie Stewart after a poor start, the Scot simply shadowing the Brazilian after an early duel between the two at the lower end of the top ten. Their progress was aided by the mutual disappearance of Hulme and Ickx, the former having to stop in the pits after getting his radiators full of dirt, while the Belgian's race was brought to a premature end with an oil pump failure.
Elsewhere, Mike Hailwood was out after crashing at Terlaemen, soon to be joined by Jackie Oliver when the Shadow ran wide and smacked into the abandoned Surtees. The two Iso-Marlboros were already out of the running after lengthy stops, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise was forced into the pits with a brake problem. Other early casualties proved to be Mike Buettler in the semi-works March, delayed by a puncture, and George Follmer in the second Shadow, the American's race brought to an end with a jammed throttle.
After twenty laps the Fittipaldi/Stewart charge had put them into the top three, the pair having passed Peterson moments after Carlos Reutemann's engine expired ahead of them. Yet, even they seemed powerless to deny Cevert from victory, with the Frenchman setting fastest lap after fastest lap to pull out a ten second gap over the second place scrap. Yet, the youngster was on the very edge of his abilities, and within a lap of Fittipaldi and Stewart taking Peterson, Cevert was pointing the wrong way at the Bolderburg hairpin.
Although his misjudged braking attempt had ended with his Tyrrell on an earth bank, Cevert was not out of the race and managed to rejoin, albeit in eighth place and over half a minute behind the new race leader Fittipaldi. Yet, the Brazilian's joy would be shortlived, for Stewart in the #5 Tyrrell decided that now was the time to attack the #1 Lotus, with an enticing duel reigniting between the two. Fittipaldi put together a determined defence, but his attempts proved futile as a late dive on the brakes by Stewart at the start of lap 25 put the Scot into the lead.
By this stage the track surface was beginning to suffer, with only one real line around the circuit remaining unaffected by the increasing damage to the tarmac. Off the racing line a combination of worn rubber, track debris and dirt almost guaranteed a trip to the barriers, as proved by Peter Revson on lap 34. He had been in third at the time after Peterson lost all confidence in his Lotus, the Swede soon falling out of the top ten before retiring with a brake problem.
The rest of the race became a rather dull affair, for Fittipaldi was unable to challenge Stewart after a fuel pressure problem starved his Ford Cosworth engine of fuel. Cevert duly became the centre of attention, his charge back through the order seeing him dance his car on the marbles to pass the rest of the field. Fittipaldi's struggles made him an easy victim for the Frenchman, and once Cevert was clear Ken Tyrrell signalled for his drivers to "STAY" as they were for the rest of the race.
With that the race was run, with Stewart and Cevert sweeping home to claim a one-two for Tyrrell, almost a lap ahead of the limping Fittipaldi. Carlos Pace was set to finish fourth before a slow puncture broke his rear wing, causing the wing to collapse, allowing Niki Lauda into fourth. Yet, before the end of the race the Austrian would have to stop for a quick splash of fuel, with Andrea de Adamich duly promoted to fourth. Time ran out for the late Lauda charge on Adamich to leave him fifth, the BRM right on the Brabham's tail as the pair crossed the line, while Chris Amon battled against an incredibly hot cockpit to bring the Tecno home in sixth.
The full results for the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Regazzoni and Beuttler were still classified as they had completed 90% of the race distance.
- 50th pole position by a Ford Cosworth powered car.
- Jackie Stewart claimed his 24th victory, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio and one behind Jim Clark on the all time list.
- Tyrrell earned their thirteenth win as a constructor.
- Also engine partner Ford Cosworth's 56th win.
- Future World Champion Niki Lauda claimed his maiden points finish.
- Tecno claimed their first (and only) point.
- François Cevert earned his second (and final) fastest lap.
Emerson Fittipaldi's lead at the top the Championship was cut to seven points thanks to Jackie Stewart, with those two emerging as favourites for the title with two thirds of the season still to go. François Cevert left Belgium in third, ten points behind teammate Stewart, and nine ahead of the two McLaren drivers Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. Fourteen drivers were now on the board after the first five rounds, Andrea de Adamich, Niki Lauda and Chris Amon the latest drivers to add their names to the scorers list.
Victory for lead driver Stewart saw Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth overhaul arch rivals Lotus-Ford Cosworth at the top of the International Cup for Manufacturers table, the pair leaving Zolder just a point apart. McLaren-Ford Cosworth sat in an already distant third, while Ferrari found themselves in fourth amid another season of poor reliability. BRM sat level on points with new boys Shadow-Ford Cosworth, while Brabham-Ford Cosworth and Tecno rounded out the table.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BELGIAN GP, 1973', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr225.html, (Accessed 23/02/2017)
- D.S.J., 'Grote Prijs van Belgie: Telland voor het Wereldkampioenschap der Bestuurders', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/07/1973), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/july-1973/54/grote-prijsvan-belgie, (Accessed 23/02/2017)
- '5: Belgium 1973', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/belgique.aspx, (Accessed 23/02/2017)
- 'Belgium 1973: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/belgique/engages.aspx, (Accessed 23/02/2017)
- 'Belgium 1973: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/belgique/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 24/02/2017)
- 'Belgium 1973: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/belgique/classement.aspx, (Accessed 26/02/2017)
|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Spa-Francorchamps (1950 - 1970, 1983, 1985 - Present), Nivelles (1972, 1974), Zolder (1973, 1975 - 1982, 1984)|
|Races||1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020 • 2021|
|Pre-1950 races||1925 • 1930 • 1931 • 1933 • 1934 • 1935 • 1937 • 1939 • 1946 • 1947 • 1949|
|V T E||European Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Brands Hatch (1983, 1985), Nürburgring (1984, 1995–1996, 1999–2007), Donington (1993), Jerez (1994, 1997), Valencia (2008–2012), Baku (2016)|
|Races||1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969–1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978–1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986–1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013–2015 • 2016|
|Non-Championship Races||1923 • 1924 • 1925 • 1926 • 1927 • 1928 • 1929 • 1930 • 1931–1946 • 1947 • 1948 • 1949|
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