The 1973 United States Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XVI Grand Prix of the United States, was the fifteenth and final round of the 1973 FIA Formula One World Championship, held on the 7th of October at Watkins Glen. Unfortunately the entire weekend, which was set to see Lotus and Tyrrell duel for the International Cup for Manufacturers, would be overshadowed by the death of François Cevert in practice.
The Frenchman was killed in the second of the three practice/qualifying sessions, having lost control through the Esses and slammed into the barrier. Cevert was killed on impact after his car smashed through the Armco and wrapped itself around the remains of the steel rails. The Frenchman had been seen talking to his teammate, and mentor, Jackie Stewart about the combination just a few minutes earlier.
The tragic death of Cevert caused Ken Tyrrell to withdraw the sister cars of Stewart and Chris Amon from the meeting, meaning the Scot would miss-out on his 100th and final race start. All the other entrants would take the grid on Sunday, however, with Ronnie Peterson on pole ahead of Carlos Reutemann.
It was with heavy hearts that the race got underway on Sunday, with Peterson streaking into an early lead while Reutemann held onto second. The opening laps then proved to be fairly tame with very little action, until James Hunt elbowed the Argentinian out of the way for second.
Hunt quickly caught onto the back of Peterson over the following laps, although the Brit was unable to get his March ahead of the Lotus. They were still being stalked by Reutemann, while Denny Hulme climbed up the order to fourth after his customary poor start. Emerson Fittipaldi ran in fifth for most of the race, but was forced to pit for a new set of tyres after slamming onto the brakes to avoid Hulme's spinning teammate Jody Scheckter.
The order then remained stable for the rest of the race, although Hunt tried every trick he knew to try and snatch a shock victory. He, however, would ultimately fall shy of a maiden win at the season finale, with Peterson holding out with a six tenth lead. Reutemann was second ahead of the two McLarens of Hulme and Peter Revson, while Fittipaldi recorded to sixth.
The result handed Team Lotus the International Cup for Manufacturers, although they had already done so the moment Tyrrell withdrew their entries. As for 1973 World Champion Stewart, Cevert's death effectively ended any chance of him returning from his retirement, the Scot also falling one race shy of the 100 mark.
Watkins Glen had become a firm favourite for both drivers and fans by hosting the season finale in recent seasons, and at the end of the longest ever World Championship campaign many were looking to finally relax. The picturesque "Glen" was in the midst of its usual autumnal state as the F1 circus rolled into New York State, with no major changes to the recently lengthened "International" layout. There were also very few changes to the entry list ahead of the season finale, with the entire class of 1973 bar Tecno in attendance.
Despite their lack of appearance, Tecno's former driver Chris Amon would be at "the Glen", the Kiwi once again getting a run in one of the three Tyrrells. He joined World Champion Jackie Stewart, entering a Grand Prix for the 100th and final time, and François Cevert in the Ken Tyrrell's three pronged charge for the International Cup for Manufacturers. Cevert would race with a brand new car after his crash in Canada, which had been flown out to the States the day before practice began.
Arch-rivals Lotus had also been busy, the Norfolk squad having flow Ronnie Peterson's smashed up spare car back to the U.K., straightened it out, and shipped it back across the Atlantic in record time. The Swede's usual car remained fighting fit, however, and he would join soon to be ex-Champion Emerson Fittipaldi on the grid as usual. The only thing that could potentially derail their bid in the International Cup were rumours suggesting that Fittipaldi was leaving the team, although the Brazilian remained tight lipped on his relationship with Colin Chapman.
McLaren were hoping to end the season on a high, once again fielding a three car effort that included Formula 5000 Champion Jody Scheckter. The South African's #0 car had been rebuilt after his collision with Cevert, having been sent to the McLaren Engines department in Detroit, and arrived in the paddock alongside the efforts for Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. Indeed, many believed that the McLaren M23 was the strongest car in the field at the end of the season, which had prompted Lotus to finally ditch the venerable 72.
Elsewhere, the American crowd had one American-built effort to cheer on, as Shadow arrived with three black DN1s for George Follmer and Jackie Oliver to use. They also added Brian Redman to their line-up once the third, and newest, of the cars arrived, having previously hoped to field the Brit in Canada. The other Shadow arrived in the colours of Embassy Racing with Graham Hill at the wheel, although the former double Champion would slap a sizeable "For Sale" sign on the car at the end of the weekend.
The March trio arrived as they had left Canada, Jean-Pierre Jarier in the "works" effort, Mike Beuttler's yellow "Stockbroker Special", and the revised Hesketh Racing effort for James Hunt. Surtees, meanwhile, had added Jochen Mass back to their effort for the finale, the German racer joining Mike Hailwood and Carlos Pace again. Ensign arrived with some minor revisions, including a "Hesketh" airbox for Rikky von Opel, having secured their immediate future in the sport with some more sponsor backing.
Brabham fielded John Watson in the "semi-works" car originally built for Andrea de Adamich, who was still recovering from his accident at Silverstone. The Ulsterman was starting a World Championship race for only the second time in his career, alongside regular factory runners Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi. All three were given parity at the season finale, with Watson hoping to take over one of the factory seats with a strong performance.
At the Frank Williams Racing Cars effort there was a rather confused situation developing over who would occupy the cockpit of the second Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth. A range of drivers, including Gijs van Lennep, Tom Belsø, Henri Pescarolo and Tim Schenken had driven the #26 car since Nanni Galli's decision to retire part way through the season, and ahead of the finale it seemed as if Belsø was given the nod. Indeed, the Danish F5000 driver even went so far as arriving at the circuit with regular Williams racer Howden Ganley, only to be told that Jacky Ickx was driving the car, despite the fact that the Belgian was having to renew his US visa and would miss the first practice session. Belsø, who later revealed that he had only been given the drive when Pescarolo declined an offer, immediately jetted back to Europe, while Ickx claimed he had been tempted to the team by designer Ron Tauranac, a man the Belgian knew well from his days at Brabham.
Away from the Ford Cosworth contingent and Ickx's decision to join Williams confirmed what many had believed to be the case: that the Belgian had completely fallen out with Ferrari. Indeed another dismal season for the Italian giants was coming to a close, with Arturo Merzario their only entrant, and only had one car for him to use. The scarlet Scuderia were rumoured to have approached former driver Clay Regazzoni to try and get the Swiss star to rejoin, although he was still serving his time with BRM.
Regazzoni himself was rather confused, having been dropped in Canada and replaced by Peter Gethin, only to be reinstated as lead driver at the Glen. He was to be joined by Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda as usual, although the latter seemed to pushing for a move away from the British squad, who had struggled with their Firestone tyres throughout the year. So, with Regazzoni looking likely to join Ferrari and Lauda actively seeking a move away, the majority of the team focused on Beltoise at the finale, although the Frenchman was hardly considered to be a world beater.
With Stewart already declared as World Champion it was the fight for second that became the focus at the finale, although a strong result for Fittipaldi in Canada seemed to have effectively ended it. The Brazilian would head to Watkins Glen with a seven point advantage over Cevert, meaning the Frenchman had to win the finale and see Fittipaldi fail to score. Peterson was now too far back to challenge, but could take third away from Cevert, while the Canadian Grand Prix winner Revson was secure in fifth.
Far more interesting was the battle for the International Cup for Manufacturers', as Lotus-Ford Cosworth snuck back ahead of Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth by a single point ahead of the finale at "the Glen". Those two would headed State side as the only two teams capable of taking the Cup, with McLaren-Ford Cosworth already secured in third place. Elsewhere, Brabham-Ford Cosworth looked set for fourth, while BRM climbed ahead of a fading Ferrari team for fifth.
The full entry list for the 1973 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
- * Ickx was originally entered in the #3 Ferrari entry, but was withdrawn.
- † Belsø was originally entered in the #26 entry, but was dropped at the start of practice/qualifying.
There were to be three sessions staged during practice/qualifying at Watkins Glen, held over Friday and Saturday. The Friday session was to last for four hours, running through a lunch break, while the two Saturday runs were to last for two hours apiece. As for target times the circuit record for an F1 car stood at 1:40.481, a time set by Jackie Stewart on his way to pole in 1972, with the top teams at least expected to match the Scot's best effort.
Ronnie Peterson was the man to lead the field out onto the circuit at 10:00am on Friday morning, having already completed some laps during an unofficial session held on Thursday. Unfortunately his hopes of an early time were shattered when a rear wheel failed, leaving the Swede to slither to a stop with only three wheels on his wagon. Peterson was lucky to avoid a serious accident, despite clipping one of the Armcos, although was not entirely pleased about using the rebuilt spare car.
Elsewhere, the sister car of Emerson Fittipaldi seemed to be quick, flying round the circuit at unabated speed, only to suffer an issue and disappear into the pits. Stewart, meanwhile, was quickly up to speed and topping the times, with teammate François Cevert close behind, despite having his ankles strapped up after his crash at Mosport Park. Peterson, however, was soon up to speed in his spare car, which carried #3 on the side, and duly set the fastest time of the day with a 1:40.492.
For countless others, however, the Glen was providing its usual challenge of throwing up niggling handling issues. James Hunt, for example, was struggling to turn in at every corner, while Mike Hailwood had to crawl around for an entire lap when his rear suspension collapsed when exiting the pits. Some, however, would have more serious failures, Graham Hill almost crashing in the exact same spot that had ruined his career back in 1969 when a wishbone failed on his Shadow.
The earlier session on Saturday saw Peterson once again lead the field onto the circuit, although this time the Swede would not have no issues in his usual charger. An early run saw him equal his best from Friday, before the Swede found another six tenths to claim provisional pole, ending the session with a 1:40.013. Carlos Reutemann was another man to impress, peddling his Brabham to the second fastest time of the weekend so far, just ahead of Peterson's teammate Fittipaldi, whose niggling issues had all been cured.
Cevert, meanwhile, had just gone quickest of the Tyrrell contingent to lay claim to fourth, when, five minutes from the end of the session, he made his last mistake. Barrelling into the Esses to start another lap, the Frenchman slightly misjudged his entry and clipped the inside barrier on the left hander, which instantly broke his steering. With no control Cevert ploughed into the Armco on the opposite side at over 130mph, dying on impact. The ruined Tyrrell came to rest partly atop the barrier, with Cevert still at the wheel.
A red flag was thrown instantly, while reports of the accident slowly trickled in as some very white-faced drivers returned to the pits having seen the remains of the Tyrrell. Stewart briefly took his car out to look at the incident for himself, before confirming to the team that his friend and protege had been killed. Cevert's body was taken to a nearby hospital, his car dragged into the paddock, and the barriers which had been destroyed were replaced.
Having seen one of the most talented drivers of the current generation die in front of their eyes, most of the field were reluctant to go out and push themselves. Indeed, only Arturo Merzario, Wilson Fittipaldi and Mike Beuttler actually improved, having all struggled previously with mechanical issues, while the Tyrrell team unenthusiastically completed some running at the end of the session. This meant that Peterson was on pole for the finale with Reutemann alongside, while Stewart would start his 100th Grand Prix from fifth, behind Fittipaldi and an impressive Hunt.
Well after the session had ended, and the sun went down, Ken Tyrrell met with drivers Stewart and Amon to discuss whether they would race. After a long debate the three agreed to withdraw from the weekend, effectively handing Lotus the International Cup for Manufacturers title in the process. As a mark of respect, Stewart and Amon's grid slots were left empty on race day.
The full qualifying results for the 1973 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||2||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:40.492T||1:39.657||1:41.675||—|
|2||10||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:41.358||1:40.013||1:41.403||+0.356s|
|3||1||Emerson Fittipaldi||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:42.014||1:40.393||1:41.455||+0.736s|
|4†||6||François Cevert||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:41.044||1:40.444||—||+0.787s|
|5||27||James Hunt||March-Ford Cosworth||1:43.834||1:40.520||1:41.758||+0.863s|
|6*||5||Jackie Stewart||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:40.635||1:41.204||1:42.172||+0.978s|
|7||23||Mike Hailwood||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:42.839||1:40.844||1:44.671||+1.187s|
|8||8||Peter Revson||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:41.866||1:40.895||1:42.418||+1.238s|
|9||7||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:41.917||1:40.907||1:43.084||+1.250s|
|10||24||Carlos Pace||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:43.146||1:41.125||1:42.819||+1.468s|
|11||0||Jody Scheckter||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:41.800||1:41.321||1:41.706||+1.664s|
|13*||29||Chris Amon||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:42.010||1:41.679||1:43.691||+2.022s|
|14||31||Brian Redman||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:42.247||1:42.828||1:43.848||+2.590s|
|17||30||Jochen Mass||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:45.432||1:42.517||1:43.889||+2.860s|
|18||18||Jean-Pierre Jarier||March-Ford Cosworth||1:45.775||1:42.752||1:43.872||+3.095s|
|19||12||Graham Hill||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:46.711||1:42.848||1:44.357||+3.191s|
|20||25||Howden Ganley||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:44.159||1:43.166||1:44.397||+3.509s|
|21||16||George Follmer||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:43.387||1:43.774||1:45.457||+3.730s|
|23||17||Jackie Oliver||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||2:02.161||1:43.650||1:43.726||+3.993s|
|24||26||Jacky Ickx||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||—||1:43.885||1:44.343||+4.228s|
|25||9||John Watson||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:44.455||1:43.887||1:44.086||+4.230s|
|26||11||Wilson Fittipaldi Júnior||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:45.573||1:52.912||1:44.478||+4.821s|
|27||15||Mike Beuttler||March-Ford Cosworth||1:46.096||1:45.352||1:45.032||+5.375s|
|28||28||Rikky von Opel||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:45.228||1:45.157||1:45.441||+5.784s|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- † Fatal accident.
- * Both Stewart and Amon were withdrawn after the conclusion of practice/qualifying.
|28||Rikky von Opel|
- * Stewart and Amon were withdrawn but their grid positions were not reallocated.
After the horrible events of Saturday twenty five drivers assembled on the grid to start the race, after a support programme entertained the locals throughout the morning. A huge crowd had gathered overnight to watch the season finale, although there was still a fairly sombre mood as the field departed to complete a single parade/warm-up lap. When they returned the grid slots of Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon remained empty, while everyone awaited Tex Hopkins' exuberant fluttering of the Stars and Stripes.
Just as Tex leapt into the air and waved the flag like a mad man, Peter Revson shot his hand into the air to signal that he had an issue. Having felt his car creep forwards the American had knocked it out of gear and threw his arm up, although the rest of the field were stamping on the throttle and spinning up their rear tyres. Fortunately the entire field managed to weave around the stranded American, who ultimately got away as the last car charged past his McLaren.
Out front, meanwhile, Ronnie Peterson had shot away from the start to take an early lead, with fellow front-row starter Carlos Reutemann slithering into second. James Hunt and Emerson Fittipaldi went into turn one side-by-side just behind, and it was the rookie who emerged in third, dancing his March around the outside of the Lotus. Other strong starters were Mike Hailwood and the two other McLarens of Denny Hulme and Jody Scheckter, while Brian Redman and Rikky von Opel came to a stop on the outside of the first corner with jammed throttle slides.
Peterson began to pull away from the field as the opening laps unfolded, with Hunt seeming to be very cautious behind second placed Reutemann. The Brit would soon over come his inhibitions, however, and duly dived past the Argentine battler into the old hairpin, before charging off after Peterson. Fittipaldi, meanwhile, had struggled to keep up with the Brit after the opening lap when he picked up a vibration, and was soon relegated to sixth by a charging Hulme.
At the back, meanwhile, Revson was steadily picking off the slowest of the field, while John Watson was already out with an engine failure. Redman was also back in action after his mechanics dragged some dirt out of his throttle slides, although when he returned to the pits with an engine issue the officials disqualified him for having received outside assistance. Howden Ganley had made a visit to the pits after his handling deteriorated, although he was sent back out when nothing could be found, with von Opel was officially retired after his first corner off.
Back with the leaders and Hunt was right on Peterson's tail, although there was very little belief that the March could take the Lotus. It seemed as if, as one would expect, that the black-gold Lotus could distance the white March through the corners, only for the Brit to streak right onto the back of the Lotus' gearbox down the straight. Indeed, the Brit would later claim he was lifting off down the straight to stay behind the Swede, claiming he had decided to conserve his energy and attack later in the race.
The fans were gripped to the leading pair, although behind the "duel" for the lead the rest of the race was proving rather dull. Reutemann was just keeping ahead of Hulme, although the Kiwi was hardly trying to attack the Brabham, while Scheckter was steadily dropping the ill-handling Lotus of Fittipaldi. Hailwood, meanwhile, had been relegated to the back of the field with a puncture, although his race was over a few laps later when his rear suspension collapsed for a second time that weekend.
At BRM, meanwhile, the intra-team strife was not aiding their cause, with the loyal Jean-Pierre Beltoise complaining about an engine issue, only for the mechanics to claim it was running as well as it could. He rejoined on lap 16 still ahead of Clay Regazzoni, with the pair running together for the rest of the race, although so far down the order there seemed little point in them continuing. The third car of Niki Lauda, meanwhile, was managing to complete two laps before disappearing into the pits, with the team taking almost twenty laps to slowly fix a fuel pump issue during his intermittent visits.
The Surtees challenge completely disappeared as BRM hit trouble, with Carlos Pace suffering an identical failure to Hailwood's just two laps later. Jochen Mass inherited the Brazilian's sixth position when Pace disappeared, but his race was over three laps after his promotion with an engine failure. The lone Ferrari of Arturo Merzario then took over the final points paying position, until a rear wing failure through the final corner saw the Italian racer just managed to keep his car out of the barriers.
Up the road, Scheckter and Hulme were working together to try and pass Reutemann, with the South African doing incredibly well to keep up with his more experienced teammate despite having the onboard extinguisher go off. Yet, the #0 car would become another casualty of the race when his suspension failed on the exit of turn one, sending Scheckter into a wild spin. Fittipaldi arrived on the scene moments later and had to slam on the brakes to avoid him, locking up his front tyres so badly that he picked up two huge flat spots. Soon after the Brazilian's front tyres failed completely and forced him to stop, while Scheckter just managed to limp his car off to the side of the road.
Fittipaldi only managed to lose a single position thanks to expert work by the Lotus crew, with a charging Revson the only man to sneak past. Indeed, the American was driving a terrific race, and at three quarter distance he was in sight of fourth placed Hulme, who was now being dropped by Reutemann. The Argentine, if anything, seemed to be catching the leading duo having slipped a little over ten seconds behind, with Hunt still glued to the back of Peterson in the lead battle.
There was an interesting scrap in the lower orders, with Jacky Ickx and the two BRMs of Beltoise and Regazzoni catching the back of Mike Beuttler in the "semi-works" March. All three would sweep onto the back of bright yellow Brit through the corners, only for Beuttler to streak away down the straights, his team having borrowed the setup used by Hunt's Hesketh. Indeed, the scrapping quartet would remain together for several laps, until Ickx sent a dive past Beuttler at the old hairpin when the Brit hesitated while lapping a slow Graham Hill.
Into the closing stages and Hunt's plan to attack Peterson late in the race had been thwarted, for his March was rather less than stable on low fuel. Realising this Hunt decided to settle for second, but still kept close enough that Peterson could not afford to put a wheel wrong otherwise the Brit would dance past. Reutemann, meanwhile, had begun to slip back again realising he had little hope of catching them, while Hulme's pace was deteriorating over the final laps.
The final lap saw Hunt throw one last attempt at getting past the Swede, although as he powered out of the first corner his car coughed as the fuel pump could not pickup the remains of his fuel. Quick reactions saw him switch on the reserve pump and duly get back under the rear wing of Peterson, although his chance to launch a late dive up the inside at the old hairpin. He therefore had to settle for second, just six tenths behind the race winning Peterson, whose victory ensured that Lotus won the International Cup for Manufacturers by ten points.
Third place would go to a lonely Reutemann, who ran short of fuel on the final tour, while Revson just fell shy of taking teammate Hulme at the line. Fittipaldi finished the race in sixth, before announcing he was leaving Lotus now the season was over. Jean-Pierre Jarier, meanwhile, was all set to end the year with a season best finish of seventh, and on the lead lap, until he crashed into the Armcos in the final sector. Ickx therefore finished seventh on his one-off drive for Iso-Marlboro, while Regazzoni and Beltoise had finally elbowed Beuttler out of the way on the penultimate lap.
The full results for the 1973 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Jarier was still classified as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- † Wilson Fittipaldi, in contrast, was not classified as he failed to complete the minimum 90% race distance.
- ‡ Cevert's fatal accident in practice saw the two sister entries of Stewart and Amon withdrawn on race morning.
- Lotus declared as the International Cup for Manufacturers' Champions.
- This was their fifth triumph in the Constructors Championship.
- 100th and final entry by Jackie Stewart.
- Ronnie Peterson claimed his ninth pole position.
- Fourth career win for Peterson.
- Team Lotus earned their 54th victory.
- Also the 66th win powered by a Ford Cosworth built engine.
Jackie Stewart bowed out of Formula One as World Champion, although his crown had been secured back in Italy. Runner-up to the Scot was Emerson Fittipaldi, falling fourteen points shy in the year of his title defence, while his teammate Ronnie Peterson ended the year in third. The late François Cevert was classified in fourth ahead of Peter Revson, with Denny Hulme, Carlos Reutemann, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx and Jean-Pierre Beltoise completing the top ten.
The tragic events of qualifying saw Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth withdraw from the race, effectively meaning they forfeited their chance in International Cup for Manufacturers. The title therefore went to Lotus-Ford Cosworth, who ended the season ten points clear, although many knew that the Norfolk and Oakham squads should have been much closer. McLaren-Ford Cosworth had long since secured their third place finish ahead of Brabham-Ford Cosworth, while March-Ford Cosworth completed the top five. BRM and Ferrari were next, those two fading giants finishing the season just ahead of Shadow-Ford Cosworth.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: UNITED STATES GP, 1973', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr235.html, (Accessed 10/03/2017)
- A.R.M., '15th Grand Prix of the United States', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/11/1973), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/november-1973/25/15th-grand-prix-united-states, (Accessed 10/03/2017)
- 'United States 1973: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/etats-unis/engages.aspx, (Accessed 10/03/2017)
- 'United States 1973: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/etats-unis/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 10/03/2017)
- 'United States 1973: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1973/etats-unis/classement.aspx, (Accessed 10/03/2017)
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