The 1974 French Grand Prix, otherwise known as the LX Grand Prix de France, was the ninth round of the 1974 FIA Formula One World Championship, and the first Grand Prix to be staged at the Dijon-Prenois circuit. The race, held on the 7th July, would not be remembered as a classic despite a closely fought qualifying battle.
Pole, once again, went to Austria's rising star Niki Lauda, whose Ferrari ran faultlessly throughout qualifying to beat Ronnie Peterson in the ageing Lotus 72E. Tom Pryce stole the show for Shadow, snatching third on the grid by edging out the second Ferrari of Clay Regazzoni by 0.02 seconds.
There would be a chaotic start to the race, as Pryce was caught out looking at his gauges and so missed the waving of the starter's flag. With a certain inevitability an unsighted Carlos Reutemann speared into the back of the Brit, punting the Shadow straight into the path of James Hunt and eliminated all three before the first corner.
Fortunately the rest of the field could squeezed past the scene without incident, with the circuit cleared completely by the time the leaders screamed past a little over a minute later. Leading the charge was Lauda, who sprinted ahead of Peterson into turn one, with Regazzoni, Mike Hailwood and Jody Scheckter slotting in behind. Elsewhere, Jacky Ickx had used the chaos to make ground, while Emerson Fittipaldi had to stage a comeback after a getting caught out by the accident.
The Fittipaldi recovery came to dominate the race, although his escapades were briefly overshadowed when Peterson elbowed Lauda out of the way on lap seventeen. By that stage, Fittipaldi was tagged onto the back of third placed Regazzoni, but before the McLaren was sent slithering past the Ferrari, the Brazilian had to stop with a ruined engine.
That proved to be the last major change to the order, with Peterson cruising home to a shock victory for Lotus. Lauda was an unchallenged second, the Austrian denied the chance to comeback against Peterson with a worsening vibration. Regazzoni fended off a late charge from Scheckter to claim third, while Ickx and Denny Hulme completed the points.
Another season, and another new host of the French Grand Prix, as Dijon-Prenois joined the ever growing list of circuits to host one of the oldest races in motorsport. Opened in 1972, Dijon-Prenois was the result of a consultancy project between private investors and several French Grand Prix racers, although at a little over two miles the circuit was incredibly short. Indeed a bumper 30 driver entry list had been submitted, but limited facilities and the short track length prompted F.O.C.A. leader Bernie Ecclestone push for a limited 22 car grid, much to the irritation of the small one-car efforts populating the lower end of the field.
The French tricolour would be flying strong at several teams in Dijon, highlighted by the all French driver line-up at British squad BRM. Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo spearheaded their effort, the latter getting an expanded cockpit for his P201. The third, and oldest, car would be piloted by François Migault once again, although his hopes of making the cut were very limited.
Tyrrell were also flying the flag for France by fielding Patrick Depailler as usual, with South African racer Jody Scheckter partnering him as usual. Shadow had their lead Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier in action, partnering impressive rookie Tom Pryce who was hoping to complete more than one lap in his second appearance. Frank Williams hired Jean-Pierre Jabouille to partner Arturo Merzario in his pair of Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworths. The French compliment was further added to by Jacques Laffite and Gérard Larrousse at Token and Scuderia Finotto respectively, although the former's effort failed to materialise.
The Surtees effort was back up to two drivers, John Surtees drafting in local racer José Dolhem to partner Jochen Mass, after Carlos Pace was officially fired from the team in Holland. Indeed, the Surtees situation surrounding the highly rated Carlos Pace had taken another turn in France, with the Brazilian securing a seat with Brabham, hoping to outdo his former employer. Unfortunately for him, the drive was in the second of the privately run Hexagon of Highgate BT42s, partnering another future prospect John Watson who was enjoying a strong season despite using an outdated car.
Elsewhere, Lotus were still paying the price for fielding the new Lotus 76 too soon, with Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx still limited to the ageing 72Es if they wanted to be competitive. Yet, Colin Chapman was reluctant to let the 76 slip, bringing a pair for his drivers to experiment with in Dijon, while also fielding some updates for the old 72E's front suspension. Title sponsor John Player were sticking by the team, realising they had been the ones to push an underdeveloped car into action too soon, although rumours were abound that Chapman's next creation had to succeed to keep the partnership alive.
McLaren were back with their quintet cars for their three drivers, Denny Hulme and Emerson Fittipaldi sharing a spare, while Mike Hailwood had a pair of cars to himself as usual. Brabham had Argentine star Carlos Reutemann leading the line with Rikky von Opel in the second car, although Eccelstone was thought to be on the verge of sacking the Liechtensteiner despite his sponsor money. The other full season efforts of March and Lola were unchanged, the former fielding Hans-Joachim Stuck and Vittorio Brambilla, while Graham Hill and protege Guy Edwards raced for the latter.
Into the single car efforts, and James Hunt had both of the Heskeths at his disposal, both getting complete rebuilds after his escapades in Zandvoort. Vern Schuppan filled the Ensign seat once again, while Finnish racer Leo Kinnunen brought his self-funded Surtees TS16 along for a drive. Frenchmen Laffite and Larrousse would also run without teammates, the latter also running in memory of fallen Swiss racer Silvio Moser in his old car.
A second win for Lauda in the Netherlands had not enough for the Austrian to hit the top of the World Championship standings, meaning he would enter the second half of the season in second. Fittipaldi still led the way, albeit with only a single point in hand, while Regazzoni remained a threat in third. Scheckter remained in fourth, and arguably the dark horse for the title, while Hailwood climbed into the top five.
The International Cup for Manufacturers' standings saw McLaren-Ford Cosworth head into the second part of the campaign in the lead, despite being the only team with a dropped score. Their advantage over Ferrari sat at three points, down from ten at the start of the weekend, with both pulling away from third placed Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth. Lotus-Ford Cosworth were still a distant fourth ahead of BRM and Brabham-Ford Cosworth, while Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth and Lola-Ford Cosworth rounded out the table.
The full entry list for the 1974 French Grand Prix is outlined below:
Four sessions of practice/qualifying were scheduled at Dijon, allowing drivers and teams to familiarise themselves with a circuit that only had experience of hosting small sportscar races. Regardless, there would be two days of dry running across Friday and Saturday, although the former would be bright and warm while the latter remained dull and cool. As for a target time there was little for the teams to land their sights on, although several drivers refused to rule out a sub-1:00.00 lap.
It was immediately clear that those who thought the 1:00.00 mark was an ambitious target for the field were being pessimistic, as the majority of the field got within sight of the sixty second barrier. The first of those to breech that figure would be Emerson Fittipaldi, who went on to complete a late run in 0:59.20 to end the session fastest, the Brazilian enjoying a trouble free morning in the McLaren. Indeed, the short, and rather technically unchallenging lap saw most of the field within three seconds of one another, with the promise that that gap would come down later in the weekend.
The first run of the weekend was not without drama, however, with Patrick Depailler one of a number to get his car sliding through the middle sector. Unfortunately for him his sliding Tyrrell suddenly found some rear end grip, and as the Frenchman was already on full opposite lock there was little Depailler could do to prevent the car from spearing into the barrier. The Armcos did their job and absorbed the energy of the impact, although Depailler was forced to use Tyrrell's spare for the rest of the weekend.
After the strong times set in the morning, most of the leading team bosses set their sights on a lap in the 0:55.00s. However, while the overall pace improved, Fittipaldi and Depailler, the only two in the sub-minute bracket, came no nearer to the revised target. Indeed, Depailler, using a car deemed fit as a museum piece failed to get back under the minute mark, while Fittipaldi decided to experiment with a prototype rear aerofoil without much joy. Others with struggles were Hans-Joachim Stuck, out of action early on with a gearbox failure, while Henri Pescarolo only completed two laps as he had to wait for his BRM to be completed at the back of the paddock.
Elsewhere, the two Ferraris were up to speed, Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda both breaking into the sub-minute section. Lauda himself stole the show, claiming provisional pole overnight with a 0:58.91, while Regazzoni found himself behind Fittipaldi. Others to break a minute were Ronnie Peterson, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Carlos Reutemann and James Hunt, while several others were in sight of the mark.
Cooler temperatures on Saturday morning would mean more engine power, although the expected increase in pace would have to wait for some early session dramas an experiments. Arturo Merzario was the first, his strong practice pace ruined by an engine failure, joining temporary teammate Jean-Pierre Jabouille in the pits waiting for a new Ford Cosworth. Vern Schuppan and Leo Kinnunen had to protest their right to continue practising, having been removed from the entry list overnight, while Vittorio Brambilla went for a bounce when a wheel failed on his March, sending the car skidding into the Armco.
Away from the dramas, and Lauda was flying, finding another couple of tenths to end the morning with a 0:58.79, remaining the only man in the sub-0:59.00s. Tom Pryce was another driver stealing the attentions of the press, claiming second overall with an excellent lap in the Shadow, despite it being only his second race with the team. More drivers also slipped under the original one minute target too, with Mike Hailwood, Jody Scheckter, Denny Hulme and Pryce's teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier up among the elite.
A brief, but very light shower denied some practice time on Saturday afternoon, with everyone outside the provisional top ten seeking a sub one minute time to guarantee their spot on the grid. Those fighting to get in were further hampered when Regazzoni spun his Ferrari into the catch fencing once the circuit dried, although the Swiss racer had done very little damaged and could continue late in the session. Ultimately, it would be François Migault who snuck into the top twenty-two late on, leaving Schuppan, Kinnunen, Carlos Pace, Stuck, José Dolhem, Rikky von Opel and Gérard Larrousse on the sidelines. There would also be one late change to the front of the field, as Peterson put in a strong final attempt to oust Pryce from the front row, although the Swede was still a third of a second slower than pole sitter Lauda.
The full qualifying results for the 1974 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
|2||1||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:00.61||0:59.28||0:59.27||0:58.08||+0.29s|
|3||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:00.65||1:00.58||0:59.11||0:59.91||+0.32s|
|5||5||Emerson Fittipaldi||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||0:59.20||0:59.41||0:59.56||0:59.78||+0.41s|
|6||33||Mike Hailwood||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:01.30||1:00.02||0:59.22T||0:59.59||+0.43s|
|7||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:00.76||1:00.31||1:00.55||0:59.68||+0.53s|
|8||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||0:59.93||0:59.84||0:59.80||0:59.36||+0.57s|
|9||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||0:59.43||1:00.96T||1:01.43T||1:02.09T||+0.64s|
|10||24||James Hunt||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:00.29||0:59.51||0:59.90||0:59.95||+0.72s|
|11||6||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:01.58||1:00.08||0:59.54||1:00.22||+0.75s|
|12||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:00.40||0:59.72||0:59.59||0:59.83||+0.80s|
|13||2||Jacky Ickx||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:01.48||1:00.31||1:00.55||1:00.00||+1.21s|
|14||28||John Watson||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:01.08||1:01.34||1:01.03||1:00.02||+1.23s|
|15||20||Arturo Merzario||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:00.34||1:00.68||1:00.52||1:00.16||+1.37s|
|16||10||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||1:00.95||1:00.26||1:00.49||—||+1.47s|
|18||19||Jochen Mass||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:01.65||1:02.14||1:00.48||1:00.71||+1.69s|
|20||27||Guy Edwards||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:01.72||1:01.57||1:00.80||1:00.68||+1.89s|
|21||26||Graham Hill||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:02.15||1:01.50T||1:00.73||1:00.83||+1.94s|
|DNQ||22||Vern Schuppan||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:02.82||—||1:01.90||1:01.24||+2.45s|
|DNQ||34||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:01.35||1:01.76||1:02.33||1:01.62||+2.56s|
|DNQ||21||Jean-Pierre Jabouille||Iso-Marlboro-Ford Cosworth||1:01.52||1:02.93||1:02.28||1:02.04||+2.73s|
|DNQ||9||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:04.05||1:01.60T||1:02.16T||1:01.99||+2.81s|
|DNQ||18||José Dolhem||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||—||1:01.70||1:02.31||1:02.15||+2.91s|
|DNQ||8||Rikky von Opel||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:02.27||1:02.18||1:01.79||1:02.34||+3.00s|
|DNQ||23||Leo Kinnunen||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:03.63||—||1:04.56||1:03.15||+4.36s|
|DNQ||43||Gérard Larrousse||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:05.27||1:03.68||1:03.27||—||+4.48s|
|WD||42||Jacques Laffite||Token-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.
Sunday dawned bright and warm, with an early morning warm-up session staged to allow teams to test out their overnight repairs. Some late changes saw Vittorio Brambilla take over teammate Hans-Joachim Stuck's unqualified car, while Patrick Depailler was officially allowed to keep his grid slot despite racing with a different chassis. Otherwise, the twenty-two strong grid was ready to race, with a long wait for the starter to finally wave the French tricolour.
Unfortunately, the long pause before the starter waved his flag caused problems for numerous drivers, with Henri Pescarolo and Jochen Mass just beginning to creep forwards. Also in trouble was third placed Tom Pryce with an overheating engine, and as he glanced at his temperature gauge the starter waved his flag. Front row starters Niki Lauda and Ronnie Peterson reacted instantly, as did the cars around Pryce's Shadow, while the Brit himself was only a fraction slower to react.
However, a moments hesitation was all that it took, and an unsighted Carlos Reutemann, who had just jinked around Mike Hailwood, duly slammed into the side of the Shadow. With little control Pryce was powerless to prevent his car from sliding into the path of James Hunt, who had no time to react. For the second race in a row the two Brits were out before the first corner, Hunt pulling to a stop a few yards on while Pryce limped into the pits at the end of the lap. Reutemann also picked up damage, but continued on with some rather unusual handling characteristics on his Brabham.
In front of the carnage, however, it was an all out fight for the lead into the first corner, with Lauda just edging Peterson out as the pair dived onto the brakes. The move proved to be decisive, for the #12 Ferrari was duly able to establish a small lead over the #1 Lotus over the rest of the opening lap, although the Swede was hardly troubled by those running behind. Clay Regazzoni was the man in third, leading a tight bunch that contained the bulk of the field, with just the start line victims, and the a limping François Migault running around behind them.
The following laps saw Regazzoni break away from the group, joining Peterson in the hunt to catch Lauda, who found it difficult to escape more than a couple of seconds up the road. Behind, Hailwood was elbowed out of the way by Jody Scheckter, moments before teammate Emerson Fittipaldi barged past as well. The Brazilian had to first move past Jacky Ickx in the second Lotus to attack his teammate, and it was not long before both Scheckter and Fittipaldi were clear of the #33 McLaren.
Indeed, the lack of pace from Hailwood, resulting from a dodgy set of shock absorbers, ensured that the majority of the field remained condensed for the time being. That fact allowed Denny Hulme to steadily pick off cars in the sister car, although a stubborn defence from Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the BRM took the Kiwi longer to get past than expected. A similar limitation was denying Fittipaldi further progress, the Brazilian stuck right on the tail of Scheckter, with the rest of the order remaining stable around the McLaren trio.
Back with the leaders and the race had quickly become a procession, with Lauda having just enough pace to prevent Peterson from launching an attack, while Regazzoni looked on. Yet, all was not well with the #12 Ferrari, and on lap seventeen Lauda suddenly lost pace, allowing Peterson to sweep past without issue. The Swede duly established a lead over the following laps, and continued to stretch out his advantage as the Austrian battled with an undiagnosed issue.
Fittipaldi, meanwhile, had finally elbowed his way past Scheckter, although the South African was doggedly hanging onto the back of the 1972 World Champion. Those two were chipping away into the gap the third place Regazzoni, who was unable to match even the hampered pace of his teammate. Behind, Hailwood's group was beginning to break up into small duels and truels, while Hulme was up into the top ten and dicing with Depailler.
Sadly, the race was to take a rather monotonous turn before the leaders hit half-distance, as several of those providing entertainment dropped out of contention. First out of the fight was John Watson, who had to pit for fresh tyres after an incredible defensive drive to deny both Depailler and Hulme for countless laps. Then the two Lolas disappeared for a fresh set of Firestones each, splitting them apart after a healthy inter-team battle. Yet, overshadowing all of this was the fall of Fittipaldi, as the Brazilian suffered a catastrophic engine failure after just pulling within striking distance of title rival Regazzoni.
Without a tow, Scheckter could no longer hang on to the pace of even a wounded Ferrari, and so Regazzoni was effectively guaranteed third. Hailwood, meanwhile, had lost more places, falling behind Ickx, Depailler and Hulme, with the latter also making his way past the #4 Tyrrell a few moments later. Ickx proved to be a more stubborn prospect for the Kiwi, with the two remaining glued together for the rest of the race.
Bar a late charge from Scheckter onto the back of Regazzoni the race was run, with Peterson claiming another win for the venerable Lotus 72E. Lauda remained physically, rather than mechanically, untroubled to claim second, while Regazzoni had to do little more than occasionally glance in his mirrors to keep Scheckter at bay for third. Ickx and Hulme finished a second apart to complete the points, with everyone else lapped assuming they made it to see the chequered flag.
The full results for the 1974 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
- Debut for the Dijon-Prenois circuit.
- First entries for José Dolhem and Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
- Niki Lauda claimed his fifth pole position.
- Sixth victory for Ronnie Peterson.
- Lotus earned their 56th win as a constructor.
- Maiden fastest lap set by Jody Scheckter.
With Emerson Fittipaldi failing to score it would be Niki Lauda who left France with the lead in the World Championship standings, surging to a four point lead. His teammate Clay Regazzoni also snuck ahead of the Brazilian, a point ahead of the former World Champion, while Jody Scheckter retained fourth but lost ground overall. Race winner Ronnie Peterson climbed into the top five, but required a complete reversal in fortune to challenge for the title, while Jacky Ickx climbed up the table with a strong points finish.
Lauda's second place finish was enough to put Ferrari to the top of the International Cup for Manufacturers' standings, the Italian firm taking away a two point lead over rivals McLaren-Ford Cosworth. Dropped scores denied the British squad the lead, although only they and the tifosi could really entertain hopes of the title. Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth and Lotus-Ford Cosworth were leading those in the battle to be third, while BRM had their early season form to thank as they desperately hung onto their fifth place spot.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: FRENCH GP, 1974', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr244.html, (Accessed 26/04/2017)
- 'The 7th Grand Prix of France: Minuscule', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/08/1974), , (Accessed 26/04/2017)
- '9: France 1974', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/france.aspx, (Accessed 26/04/2017)
- 'France 1974: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/france/engages.aspx, (Accessed 26/04/2017)
- 'France 1974: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/france/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 27/04/2017)
- 'France 1974: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1974/france/classement.aspx, (Accessed 28/04/2017)
|V T E||French Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Reims (1950–1951, 1953–1954, 1956, 1958–1961, 1963, 1966)
Rouen-Les-Essarts (1952, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1968)
Charade Circuit (1965, 1969–1970, 1972)
Bugatti Circuit (1967)
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Dijon-Prenois (1974, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1984)
Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours (1991–2008)
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