The 1974 Belgian Grand Prix, otherwise officially advertised as the XXXII Bang & Olufsen Grote Prijs van Belgie, was the fifth meeting of the 1974 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Circuit Nivelles-Baulers on the 12th May, 1974. The race, which would be the last to use the relatively new Nivelles circuit, would be fondly remembered for an excellent duel between Emerson Fittipaldi and Niki Lauda.
Qualifying saw Clay Regazzoni claim a rather controversial pole position for Ferrari, with many speculating that the Swiss racer had had an unfair, but otherwise unknown, advantage to beat the rest of the field by over a second. This gap was made even more suspect by the fact that there were only three quarters of a second covering Jody Scheckter in second, and Denny Hulme down in twelfth. A 31 car grid limit meant that Leo Kinnunen missed out on making his debut in a Grand Prix.
The start of the race followed a similar pattern to qualifying, with Regazzoni jetting off to an early lead, leaving Scheckter to battle with the rest of the pack. Come the end of the lap the Swiss racer was a second and a half clear, while Emerson Fittipaldi had elbowed the young South African out of the way for second.
With Regazzoni out of reach, and Fittipaldi dropping Scheckter, the rest of the opening phase belonged to Niki Lauda, who barged past Ronnie Peterson and Scheckter early on. The race then began to settle, with the top five pulling clear of the rest, although this would change when the quintet came to lap the back markers.
In a small melee Lauda was baulked by François Migault and lost out to Scheckter, with both losing time to Fittipaldi. It took seven laps for the Austrian to retake the position, although when he did so it would be a move that effectively promoted him into second. This was because his teammate, and race leader, Regazzoni had misjudged a gap, run onto the grass, and could only scramble back into the fray after both Fittipaldi and Lauda had scrambled past.
The Swiss racer was denied a shot at making up for his mistake by a worsening fuel issue, which would ultimately relegate him behind Scheckter in the closing stages. Behind them, the fight for the final points positions became a war of attrition, as Peterson, James Hunt, Patrick Depailler and Mike Hailwood all suffered mechanical woes when running in fifth place.
When the chequered flag waved it would be Fittipaldi who claimed victory, ahead of an increasingly confident Lauda, those two also heading to the top of the Championship standings. Scheckter claimed his first podium finish at the expense of Regazzoni, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Hulme inherited the final points, having survived long enough to claim them.
It was the turn of the Nivelles-Baulers circuit near Brussels to host the Belgian Grand Prix in 1974, which remained unchanged after its debut back in 1972. A two day testing session was scheduled ahead of the race, which did clean the already famously dusty circuit to some degree, although a late shower before the weekend officially got underway undermined these efforts. Furthermore, the Nivelles-Baulers owners were in financial strife after struggling to find backers, and needed a strong weekend in terms of gate receipts to keep their future hopes alive.
As had been the case in Spain, the Belgian Grand Prix offered the chance to see some new faces and equipment. The first of these would be the new Token effort, which had been penned by Ray Jessop on behalf of the "Token-Motul" team, which had formed from Ron Dennis' old Formula Two team. A rather conventional, if financially restrained design, the RJ02 used elements of the McLaren M23 in its first guise, seen back at the BRDC International Trophy meeting in early April, although development had all but ceased after the withdrawal of backing from Motul. Their pilot would be F2 star Tom Pryce, who would make his World Championship debut if the car qualified.
Other new cars should have appeared in the form of the new Lyncar, although they, and driver John Nicholson, failed to appear. Ensign, meanwhile, were back fielding Vern Schuppan in a now orange N174, the result of backing from Hong Kong based businessman Theodore Yip, although his money had not been enough to fund any further development. The Amon of Chris Amon ran in a private test before the weekend, although the Kiwi withdrew his charger after concluding he needed an entirely new car, a stark contrast to Trojan who arrived with Tim Schenken at the wheel once again.
Frank Williams had made a change to his driver line-up in their pair of Iso-Marlboros, with Arturo Merzario partnered by Gijs van Lennep for the weekend as Tom Belsø had Formula 5000 commitments. Silvio Moser was still in hospital after his horrendous 1000km of Monza crash, although his Scuderia Finotto team did arrive with their pair of Brabham BT42s, meaning Gérard Larrousse could make his debut. There would be an additional Surtees TS16 in the field too, entered by Finnish racer Leo Kinnunen, while one of the factory Brabham BT44s had been loaned out to Nivelles specialist Teddy Pilette.
Pilette's teammates for the weekend would be Carlos Reutemann and Rikky von Opel, both hoping to bounce back after a dismal race in Spain. They had an old car as a spare, while the privately entered brown BT42 of John Watson tagged onto their effort once again. Their three pronged attack was matched by the usual BRM trio of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, François Migault and Henri Pescarolo, which still only had one of the new P201s on offer.
Elsewhere, Tyrrell had been busy building a second 007, meaning Patrick Depailler and Jody Scheckter were equal for the first time all season. Lotus arrived with three cars for their pair Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx, as did Ferrari for Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni. Championship leaders McLaren were also unchanged, with their three drivers Emerson Fittipaldi, Denny Hulme and Mike Hailwood all quietly confident as usual.
Lola, being run by Embassy Racing, were down to two cars for the weekend, team leader Graham Hill having decided to let their newest car go back to the factory for updates, meaning he and teammate Guy Edwards would have to be extra careful. March had rebuilt Vittorio Brambilla's orange 741, while lead driver Hans-Joachim Stuck would be praying for rain after his stunning display in Jarama. The lone Hesketh of James Hunt arrived unchanged, the two Shadows of Brian Redman and Jean-Pierre Jarier were likewise untouched, while John Surtees had a new TS16 in reserve, meaning Carlos Pace and Jochen Mass had a spare apiece.
Although he was still yet to win in 1974, it was Regazzoni who continued to hold the lead in the World Championship standings, the Swiss racer starting the European season with a one point advantage. Teammate Lauda had launched himself into second with his maiden win back at Jarama, leapfrogging Fittipaldi and Hulme in the process, who both scored in Spain. Reutemann slipped to fifth with Hailwood, while Scheckter had become the fourteenth driver to score after his fifth place finish.
A Ferrari one-two in Spain had had dramatic effects on the International Cup for Manufacturers' standings, with the Italian firm carving a huge chunk out of McLaren-Ford Cosworth's pre-Europe lead. The British effort was left with a five point advantage at the top of the standings, with those two looking set to duel for the crown on their own. Brabham-Ford Cosworth were next, twelve points behind, while Lotus-Ford Cosworth continued their downward plummet, leaving Spain in a miserable seventh place.
The full entry list for the 1974 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
- * Moser's entry was still maintained despite the fact that he remained in hospital.
Four sessions, spread across Friday and Saturday, would allow both teams and drivers plenty of time to practice/qualify for the Belgian Grand Prix, with at least one driver set to miss out. These sessions would allow around six hours of total running ahead of the race, although heavy rain on Friday meant that there was less action than predicted. As for target times, the quickest of the quick would be aiming for Emerson Fittipaldi's 1972 pole time of 1:11.43, although there would also be a minimum time to reach, with the slowest of the slow needing to record a time within 110% of the average lap set by the overall top three.
Friday's running was very badly hampered due to the weather, although the heavy rain stopped before the first session really got underway. It would be record holder Fittipaldi who set the best time of the first run, a late lap from the Brazilian would see him top the timesheet eight tenths clear of James Hunt. There would also be some thrills and spills, Ronnie Peterson spinning himself into the wall, forcing him into his spare Lotus, while Carlos Reutemann wrote off his usual Brabham early on.
The second Friday run saw the pace steadily ramp up, although there was still a fair amount of water to catch the drivers out. Hans-Joachim Stuck, for example, would require a nose job on his March after kissing the wall, while Clay Regazzoni took over the spare Ferrari when he damaged the suspension in his regular charger. Everyone would end the day with a minor mark or more on their cars, meaning it was a busy evening for the mechanics, who had a record 41 cars to service.
The main cause for all of the Friday chaos was the fact that the teams had set their cars up for running in the dry, setups that had been perfected during the pre-race testing. They were therefore a lot happier when Saturday dawned bright and sunny, although a whole new issue would arise that afternoon to keep the field on their toes.
That issue would be dust, which had been swept back onto the circuit by Friday's heavy rain, having previously been cleared off the circuit during the test. It therefore took a while before any drivers began to seriously push, although everyone seemed more concerned with completing long runs. It was only in the final session of the weekend that anyone decided to challenge the then provisional pole, set by Arturo Merzario with a 1:11.57.
In truth, Merzario's time had been edged out at the death of the previous session, as Ronnie Peterson finally persuaded his new Lotus to set a time on low fuel, a 1:11.21. They had been joined in the 1:11.00s by Jody Scheckter, Fittipaldi, Regazzoni and Niki Lauda in those final moments, meaning there were arguably seven drivers in the fight for pole. The late flurry had also begun an inevitable battle to be the first driver under 1:11.00, a fight which would rumble on throughout the final run.
First man out to set an all out quali effort in the final session would be Merzario, although his improvement was not enough to beat Peterson's best time from the earlier run. Peterson himself, meanwhile, would be unable to beat his earlier time, meaning he ultimately slipped behind Fittipaldi and Lauda, who were knocking fractions of a second off of each other as they inched closer to the 1:11.00 mark. Then, unnoticed by many, Scheckter shot to the top of the times with a 1:10.86, only to be out done by a stunning, if confusing lap by Regazzoni.
The Swiss racer had just come into the pits when the timekeepers revealed that he had recorded a 1:09.82, on a run that most had not even registered. The inevitable murmurs about the time soon erupted, although before anyone could try and out the Swiss racer from the top of the timesheets, time was up and the circuit closed. Ultimately, there would be no protest against Regazzoni's time, a full second quicker than second placed Scheckter, while Lauda put together a late lap to deny Fittipaldi the third grid slot.
At the bottom of the field, meanwhile, Jacky Ickx and Carlos Reutemann were looking rather dejected, being in the bottom half of the field after a miserable two days. Vittorio Brambilla, meanwhile, had missed the final scramble after an issue in the paddock, leaving him under threat of failing to qualify, although Finnish racer Leo Kinnunen ultimately missed the mark after he suffered a terminal problem in the pits. Brambilla's next issue proved to be the 110% time, with his best effort of 1:23.81 below the combined average of 1:17.63, meaning he would have to wait until race morning before being told if he would start.
The full qualifying results for the 1974 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|2||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:22.27||1:21.29||1:11.36||1:10.86||+1.04s|
|4||5||Emerson Fittipaldi||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:20.19||1:17.07||1:11.83||1:11.07||+1.25s|
|5||1||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:26.68T||1:21.18T||1:11.21||1:11.43||+1.39s|
|6||20||Arturo Merzario||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:24.51||1:26.81||1:11.57||1:11.29||+1.47s|
|8||18||Carlos Pace||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:32.07T||1:29.91||1:12.99||1:11.46||+1.64s|
|9||24||James Hunt||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:20.99||1:15.81||1:12.18||1:11.53||+1.71s|
|10||9||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:27.21||—||1:12.72||1:11.57||+1.75s|
|11||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:24.25||1:19.76||1:12.41||1:11.60||+1.78s|
|12||6||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:26.53||1:23.00||1:12.29||1:11.61||+1.79s|
|13||33||Mike Hailwood||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:26.54||1:22.60||1:12.13||1:11.98||+2.16s|
|14||22||Vern Schuppan||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:25.72||1:26.52||1:13.33||1:12.02||+2.20s|
|16||2||Jacky Ickx||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:23.63||1:21.32||1:12.49||1:12.42||+2.60s|
|17||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:23.33||1:16.38||1:13.13||1:12.53||+2.71s|
|18||16||Brian Redman||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:31.30||1:16.58||1:12.94||1:12.73||+2.91s|
|19||28||John Watson||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:29.53||1:21.64||1:13.23||1:12.76||+2.94s|
|20||42||Tom Pryce||Token-Ford Cosworth||1:32.73||1:22.26||1:13.99||1:12.85||+3.03s|
|21||27||Guy Edwards||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:25.02||1:20.64||1:13.77||1:13.33||+3.51s|
|22||8||Rikky von Opel||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:22.87||1:19.92||1:13.61||1:13.34||+3.52s|
|23||41||Tim Schenken||Trojan-Ford Cosworth||1:30.07||1:20.96||1:14.08||1:13.36||+3.54s|
|24||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:28.39||1:26.20T||1:17.11T||1:13.47T||+3.65s|
|26||19||Jochen Mass||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:25.25||1:18.47||1:13.81||1:16.14T||+3.99s|
|27||34||Teddy Pilette||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:24.56||1:17.97||1:14.33||1:14.05||+4.23s|
|28||43||Gérard Larrousse||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||2:16.11T||1:30.45T||1:15.93||1:14.22||+4.40s|
|29||26||Graham Hill||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:26.36||1:20.22||1:14.30||1:14.73||+4.48s|
|30||21||Gijs van Lennep||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:32.22||1:25.16||1:15.70||1:15.60||+5.78s|
|110% Time: 1:17.63*|
|31†||10||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||—||1:23.81||1:35.20||—||+13.99s|
|DNQ||44||Leo Kinnunen||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||—||1:51.43||1:28.77||—||+18.95s|
|WD||25||Silvio Moser||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||Injured|
|WD||29||John Nicholson||Lyncar-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|WD||30||Chris Amon||Amon-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- * The 110% time was formed by the combined average of the top three times set during the session.
- † Brambilla would be allowed to start despite failing to set a time within 110% by the stewards.
|Rikky von Opel||______________|
|Gijs van Lennep||______________|
Race day dawned bright and warm, although overnight rain had dragged more dust onto the circuit, much to the dismay of the teams. The thirty minute warm-up session passed without incident, with Vittorio Brambilla allowed to start, despite failing to set a lap within 110% of a top three time. He therefore joined a 31 car grid awaiting the start of the race, which would go to battle for 85 laps.
The start of the race was immaculate by recent Grand Prix standards, with pole sitter Clay Regazzoni jetting off to an instant lead. Emerson Fittipaldi was the closest anyone came to the Ferrari, having used the "clean" side of the grid to his advantage, leaving Jody Scheckter to fend off the attentions of Niki Lauda. The rest then came steaming into turn one in one huge bundle, although everyone seemed to be on their best behaviour and avoided any contact.
The rest of the opening lap remained similarly tame, with the field quickly settling down into a long line. Regazzoni had established a small lead over Fittipaldi, who was left to fend off Scheckter and Lauda, with Ronnie Peterson and James Hunt in close attendance. Carlos Pace came next with Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Mikie Hailwood, while Hans-Joachim Stuck rounded out the field after a terrible start.
The following laps saw three groups form, each seemingly in their own race for the rest of afternoon. The fight for the lead featured the entire top six, who were running around Nivelles-Baulers nose-to-tail behind Regazzoni. The next group was headed by Pace, with his quintet of Depailler, Beltoise, Hailwood and Carlos Reutemann dropping away from sixth placed Hunt, but moving clear of Henri Pescarolo. The Frenchman was providing a bottle neck for the rest of the field, allowing both Jacky Ickx and Stuck to quickly climb up the order.
Unfortunately, the nature of the Nivelles-Baulers meant that overtaking was difficult at best, and when Stuck dropped out of the race with a clutch issue the entertainment was effectively cut in half. Ickx had been left as the only source of excitement when the German dropped out, entering an intense duel with Arturo Merzario after both barged past Pescarolo. The Frenchman was left to fend off the rest of the field, only to be elbowed into the barriers by Guy Edwards, while Carlos Pace suffered a puncture and hence fell to the back of the pack.
Out front the top six remained glued together, unable to make a move on one another as they were all equally matched down the start/finish straight. Fortunately, the tediousness of the lead fight was soon to be wiped out by a group of mobile chicanes, as the leaders finally came up to lap the backmarkers on lap 25. This intervention was enough to spark some more interest back into the race, although the first few "chicanes" did little to affect the order.
Then, the top six came to lap François Migault, who was limping along in the outdated BRM, a few seconds behind Tim Schenken in the new Trojan. Regazzoni and Fittipaldi blasted past the Frenchman unhindered, before the group came into the braking zone for turn one. Lauda was next in line to take the BRM, but a slight hesitation from the Austrian dropped him off the back of Fittipaldi. Once clear of Migault it quickly became clear that Lauda lacked the pace to keep with the leading duo without a tow, and so he tactfully allowed Scheckter past and drag himself back into contention.
Scheckter's strong pace did the trick, and its only took half a lap for the group to reform, aided by the fact that Regazzoni and Fittipaldi were about to dive into a slower group of cars just ahead. This time, however, it would be Scheckter who got baulked, and by the time he and Lauda cleared the bunch, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi were four seconds clear. Scheckter and Lauda were therefore left to fight over third, while Peterson and Hunt dropped back after their own issues trying to make their way through the pack.
With the top six now split, it seemed as if the race would be a straight fight between Regazzoni and Fittipaldi for the rest of the afternoon, with the pair equally matched and without the distraction of Scheckter and co. Yet, there was to be one more twist as the pair scythed through the traffic which ultimately destroyed hopes of a fight for the lead. The victim would be Regazzoni, who misjudged a move on the recovering Pace and ran onto the grass, allowing Fittipaldi to charge through into the lead.
The scrambling Ferrari ultimately rejoined behind teammate Lauda, who had pounced on Scheckter just a few corners earlier when the South African got baulked. As all of this was going on, Peterson slipped into the pits to have his front tyres changed, while Hunt had caught up to the back of the shackled Tyrrell after Scheckter's hesitation. Fittipaldi, meanwhile, was left with a one second lead over the two Ferraris, with Lauda unable to really attack the McLaren ahead.
Elsewhere, various mechanical issues had left Depailler on his own, now running in a very lonely sixth, while Hailwood had escaped the pack to run in seventh, and was hunting down the Frenchman. The Ickx/Merzario fight had ended when the latter retired, while the former's charge up the order ultimately came to an end when he had to stop for fresh tyres. Hulme was making steady progress behind Beltoise, while John Watson and Jean-Pierre Jarier were running close together at the tail end of the top ten.
Once again, a rather tedious stalemate settled over Nivelles-Baulers as half-distance blasted past, the only major change to the order coming when Hunt suffered a suspension failure, sending him spinning onto the grass. Hailwood, meanwhile, caught and passed Depailler, although the Brit's race was ruined by a spin a lap later which dumped him back down the order. The #33 McLaren therefore joined the "battle" between Beltoise, Hulme and Jarier, while Depailler soldiered on for a few more laps before his Tyrrell picked up its customary brake problem, forcing him into the pits.
The two Loti, meanwhile, were out of the fight, Peterson and Ickx taking turns to sit in the pits with a variety of issues being attended to, ranging from oil leaks to brake bleeding. Their miserable display was matched by Pace, whose race had come to an end with a vibration, while the sister car of Jochen Mass came to a stop with a suspension failure a few moments later. Brabham's race was also turning into a disaster, with factory drivers Rikky von Opel and Carlos Reutemann out, leaving just local racer Teddy Pilette running at the back of the field, while debutante Tom Pryce in the Token had a premature end to the race when Scheckter smacked into his car.
Into the closing stages and it seemed as if the only driver really trying to make a difference was Hailwood, who had been on top form before his pirouette at the chicane. The Brit was throwing his car around every corner to try and move back past teammate Hulme, and on lap 65 an optimistic dive into turn one put him ahead. Four laps later and the Brit pulled an stunning double move on two Jean-Pierres, Beltoise and Jarier, at the hairpin, before sprinting off to try and hunt down the now wounded Scheckter.
Before any of that could be resolved, however, a wave of fuel feed problems shuffled the order behind the top two, with Regazzoni losing enough time to let a limping Scheckter through into third on the final lap. The Swiss racer was one of a number of victims of a lack of pickup by the fuel pump, which meant that the car would splutter around certain corners as the final few litres of fuel sloshed around the tank. Watson, Jarier, Schuppan and Pryce (prior to his removal by Scheckter) were also victims of this issue, which vastly distorted the picture of the race.
That late twist did not affect that race winner, however, with Fittipaldi screaming past the line half a second clear of Lauda, before a huge wait for the arrival of Scheckter. Regazzoni remained in fourth, running out of fuel as he crossed the line, while Hailwood's run had been brought to an end on the penultimate lap by a similar issue. The Brit therefore finished a lap down in seventh, behind Beltoise and Hulme, while the wave of late race casualties had promoted Graham Hill and the lowly Lola into eighth, a stunning result for a new car, albeit one that had been artificially created in the closing stages.
The full results for the 1974 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Edwards and Redman were both still classified despite failing to finish the final lap as they had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Debut for Tom Pryce, Gérard Larrousse and Teddy Pilette.
- Leo Kinnunen entered a Grand Prix for the first time.
- Token entered their first Grand Prix.
- Fiftieth World Championship start by a Surtees chassis.
- Eleventh win for Emerson Fittipaldi.
- McLaren claimed an eleventh victory.
- Niki Lauda earned Ferrari's 190th podium finish as both a constructor and engine supplier.
- Jody Scheckter claimed a maiden podium spot.
- Ninth and final fastest lap set by Denny Hulme.
Victory launched 1972 FIA Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi to the top of the standings, the Brazilian becoming the first man to deny Clay Regazzoni the spot since the second race. Niki Lauda also overtook his Swiss teammate, settling into second, a point behind Fittipaldi, while Regazzoni himself was three points off the lead. Denny Hulme sat in fourth ahead of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, while Jody Scheckter was the only other man to make progress after his first podium finish.
Fittipaldi's victory allowed McLaren-Ford Cosworth to open out their lead in the International Cup for Manufacturers', although Ferrari remained within striking distance as the field headed to Monaco. The Belgian battle had done little to suggest either of them would be challenged, with BRM and Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth in third and fourth and both holding ten points. Brabham-Ford Cosworth slipped to fifth, while Lotus-Ford Cosworth had made no progress down in seventh, once again being denied solid points by poor reliability.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BELGIAN GP, 1974', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr240.html, (Accessed 24/03/2017)
- D.S.J., 'The Grand Prix of Belgium: A nice little race', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/06/1974), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/june-1974/29/grand-prix-belgium, (Accessed 24/03/2017)
- 'Belgium 1974: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/belgique/engages.aspx, (Accessed 24/03/2017)
- 'Belgium 1974: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/belgique/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 25/03/2017)
- 'Belgium 1974: Results', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/belgique/classement.aspx, (Accessed 25/03/2017)
|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
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