The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa

The 1967 Season Opener: A War of Attrition.

The 1967 Formula 1 rules dictated 3.0 liter engines.  The cars looked like cigars on wheels.  There were no wings yet (those would not arrive until 1968).  The cars, largely free of sponsorship advertising, were absolutely elegant.  Among the three liter cars, there was a lot of variation.  Some teams ran four cylinders.  Others ran as many as 16 cylinders.  The first championship-points race of 1967 was at Kyalami, a track near Johannesburg in South Africa.  It took place in early January.  Monaco, the next race, was several months away.  In fact, in the middle of a rebuilding state, Ferrari did not even make the race.

1967 F1: The Teams and Drivers

The Brabham team has two cars for Jack Brabham, the team owner, and Dennis Hulme.  The well-prepared cars were unchanged from their form at the final grand prix of 1966 in Mexico.

Cooper also brought two cars to the 1967 South African GP.  The cars were driven by Rindt and Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s car was formerly John Surtees’ mount; however, Surtees raced for Honda in 1967.

Importantly, Team Lotus was about to drop a car with a Ford-Cosworth engine that would change the face of Formula 1 for the next 15 years.  However, neither the engine nor its special monocoque chassis were ready for the first race of the season.  Thus, they showed up with two cars rocking older H16 B.R.M. engines.

As mentioned above, Honda had employed John Surtees to race for their relatively new F1 team.  Surtees was working closely with the team to improve some temperamental  handling issues.

Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence were driving new 16 cylinder engines for B.R.M.  Stewart, now considered a legendary F1 figure, was just then achieving number one driver status for the team.

Finally, aside from the privateers, Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers (AAR) team completed the field.  Possibly the most beautiful of an already elegant era of car, the Gurney Weslake V12 would eventually push 415 horsepower at 10,000 revolutions per minute; however, the V12 was not quite race-ready.  Gurney, instead, put a Coventry-Climax four-banger in his gorgeous chassis.

Thursday Test and Tune:  Grand Prix of South Africa

You are correct to notice a lot of variation between the engine and chassis combinations of the different teams.  There were inline, V, and even H cylinder configurations with cylinders ranging from 4 and 8 to 12 and even 16 cylinders.   The variance in sound must have been amazing; at least, as compared to the homogeneity of todays F1 field.

Shakedown Problems

Yet, the first practice of the 1967 F1 season started rather quietly.  In fact, not everyone had even arrived yet.  Many of those that had arrived were having problems.  For example, John Surtees had already blown both engines before the first official practice.  When practice started, the mechanics were busy with repairs.  And, much like the 2017 Formula 1 season, the Honda engine (and chassis) were both beleaguered with problems.

Other teams were also having problems.  Graham Hill’s fuel tank was split open.  Jim Clark could not run simply because his helmet had ended up in Nairobi.  Dennis Hulme could not initially run due to a fault valve adjustment requiring the engine to be torn apart in his Repco-Brabham V8.

Compared to the subsequent test sessions and race, the Thursday practice was relatively cool.  The clouds also helped to keep down the track surface temperature.  Nevertheless, Jochen Rindt’s Cooper-Maserati had fuel vaporization problems.  Finally, with time, on Thursday, more and more engines came to life and the 1967 Formula 1 season was finally underway.

Early Speed in Practice

Jackie Stewart was the first driver to do any meaningful running.  He was driving a works B.R.M., which had an updated crankshaft.  The Lotus team, which were using B.R.M. engines for this race, did not have the new trick crankshaft.

Jack Brabham was quick from the outset.  Pedro Rodriguez, a Mexican driver racing for Cooper-Maserati, was also really fast from his first laps.  This was impressive because it was his first time to the track in an era long before endless simulator hours.  Not only that, but this was also his first time driving in the Cooper-Maserati.

Mike Spence, driving for B.R.M. lapped the fairly short nine turn track in 1:32.2. Rodriguez upped the ante with a blistering lap at 1:29.4.  Not to be outdone, Jack Brabham lapped the track even faster (1:29.1).  To put this in perspective, Brabham was lapping 4.3 seconds faster than the prodigal Jimmy Clark.

Gurney struggled throughout the session.  According to multiple reports, a spectator who had gotten into the pits managed to dislodge a small pebble from a tire and inadvertently knock it into the engine through an open spark plug port.  In any event, the American chassis was slow due to misfires.

As temperatures heated up, the cars encountered more problems and the drivers struggled to drive as fast as they had during the first practice.

Friday Heats Up

The ambient temperature was 85 degrees.  However, the track was a tire-melting 140 degrees.  Engine internals were also running abnormally high due to the combination of high temperatures and low cooling from the thin high-altitude air.

Fuel vaporization was now affecting most of the cars to some degree or another.    Hulme’s Brabam was quite strongly affected by the problem.  Surtees’ freshly repaired Honda was still not running very well.  Rindt (Cooper-Maserati), Gurney (Eagle-Climax), and Clark (Lotus-BRM) made the biggest gains, as compared to their times from the day before.

Final Practice on Saturday

On Saturday, Jack Brabham went nearly as quickly as he had on Thursday, in spite of ever-increasing overall temperatures.  However, even he could not improve on his ultimately quickest lap from Thursday.  This is important in these days because the grid was set by your practice time.  In other words, practice was, in essence, qualifying.

And so, the grid was set.  Jack Brabham had the pole position from his lap of 1:28.3.  Dennis Hulme, in the other Repco-Brabham V8 was also on the front row (1:28.9).  Jimmy Clark (1:29.0) and Pedro Rodriquez (1:29.1) made up the second row.  J. Love in a 2.7 liter Cooper Climax was in third, next to John Surtees in the Honda V12.  After them, it was Rindt, Charlton, Stewart, Anderson, Gurney, Bonnier, Spence, Tingle, Hill, Siffert, Botha, and Courage.

No Rest for the Mechanics on Sunday

Sunday was supposed to be a rest day.  However, as racing mechanics are acutely aware, a rest day typically benefits greater the driver than the wrencher.  Having encountered numerous problems on short runs, the entire field was at work making moderate to serious cooling modifications to their respective cars.  Some teams fit extra fuel radiators.  Other teams re-routed fuel or water lines outside the chassis, to expose them to the air.  Repco-Brabham even fitted containers to pack dry ice around key engine components.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa Race Report

The Grand Prix Start

The race took place on Monday, January 2, 1967.  Hulme got the best start from the second position on the front row and jumped ahead of Jack Brabham.  Just after the flag dropped, the engines roared to life and took off: Hulme, Brabham, Surtees, Rodriguez, Clark, and Rindt.

On the third lap, Jack Brabham had a quick spin and dropped from second to fourth.  This moved Jochen Rindt up to third.  Pedro Rodriguez was fifth, chasing Brabham.  On the same lap, Jackie Stewart’s B.R.M. H16  blew up in grand fashion spewing oil all over the track.  In one fact, one report from 1967 suggested that no grand prix had ever resulted in more total oil spilled onto the track.  Whether true or not, nobody can know.  However, on the third lap, there was already enough oil to send Rindt off the track.  He rejoined several places back.

By the south lap, Denny Hulme was showing his dominance.  Hulme continued to lead the field followed by Surtees, Brabaham, Clark, and Rindt.  There was a hard-charging battle for seventh place between Love and Gurney.

1967 Grand Prix of South  Africa: Midrace

Hulme was efficiently pulling away from John Surtees in the Honda.  It would seem that the Honda started better than it could sustain over a race distance.  In fact, Surtees’ Honda was falling into the clutches of the chasing cars: Brabham, Rodriguez, and Rindt.

On the eighteenth lap, Rodriguez passed Brabham.  However, he quickly lost his second gear shortly after the pass.  This left him fighting from his back foot for the remainder of the race.  As a result of losing second gear, he was reposed by Brabham.  Jochen Rindt also made it by Rodriguez.

Further back, the midfield battles continued.  J. Siffert had passed Love and Gurney, but then lost a fuel pump.  He eventually got it fixed and headed back out; however, the damage had already been done.  Around this time, Bonnier went out with a dropped valve.

On the twenty-first lap, Brabham shot past Surtees to take second place.  A few laps later, on lap 24 ,J. Rindt passed John Surtees for third place.  At half-distance, the four-bangers of Love and Gurney had also passed by Surtees’ Honda.

Halfway to Victory

At the halfway point, Hulme led Brabham by 28.6 seconds.  Love, Gurney, and Brabham battled for third, fourth, and fifth; the group trailed Brabham by 25 seconds.  Pedro Rodriguez was in sixth place.  In fact, at the halfway mark, he was the last car on the lead lap.  However, the heat and altitude were tolling the cars.  All four H16 cylinder cars had already dropped out.  More cars were soon to follow.

Trailing Hulme, Brabham’s car started to misfire.  He stopped in the pits.  His crew packed dry-ice around his fuel pump, in an effort to cool the engine.  But, by the time he returned, he was a lap down in eighth place.  Thus. Love slotted into second; Gurney went into third.

On lap 44, Gurney’s beautiful blue Eagle went out with a broken left-rear wishbone.  So, even in his problematic Honda, Surtees was racing in third, chasing the second place Love.  Pedro Rodriguez, for all his Formula 1 inexperience, was in fourth.

Finally, on lap 54, Rodriguez roared past Surtees.  Brabham was up to sixth, but only by way of more retirements in front of him, including the privateer Courage.

Racing to the Finish

With 21 laps remaining, Hulme was looking good for the win.  But, suddenly, he slammed his right foot-pedal to the floor.  His brakes were gone.  He dove into the pits like a bomber swooping toward its target, slowed down, and yelled to his crew to get brake fluid ready.  On the next lap, he stopped and his crew filled up his brake fluid.  But, it was of no avail.  His brakes were shot.  More than that, the probable winner was then in fourth.

At that point, Love, in the oldest and least powerful car, was in the lead.  Good ol’ Pedro was down 20 seconds.  He chased Love as hard as he could; however, he was unable to meaningfully close the gap.

In those days, pit stops for fuel were avoided at all costs.  To this end, Love had fitted a reserve fuel tank to his car.  But, there was problem with this ad hoc modification.  The fuel pump was not picking up the final three gallons of fuel.  There was no choice.  Love stopped for fuel.  Rodriguez shot by into the lead.  When Love got going again, he was 30 seconds down.

Thus, having lost his crucial second gear early in the race, Pedro Rodriguez won the 1967 Kyalami Grand Prix against all odds in a battle of attrition against the elements.  Love crossed the line in second place.  Surtees finished in third and burst a tire just after crossing the line.  Hulme finished, dejected, in fourth place.


The 1957 German Grand Prix: Fangio’s Maserati Triumph

The Maserati 250F was a great car. It was well-balanced; however, this does not mean that it was easy to drive on the edge. Cars of this era were heavy, but also had notoriously little grip. A driver, Paul Frere, described what it was like to drive a Formula 1 car in 1956:

“When things start to happen they happen so quickly that correcting action must be taken without delay and with the utmost accuracy: with a Grand Prix car it is extremely easy, owing to the quickness with which it responds, to overcorrect a slide and start a series of zigzags of increasing amplitude which will eventually bring you up—hard—against the bank, ditch, or whatever else happens to be at the side of the road.”

Fangio (Maserati 250F, race # 1, chassis #2529), looks cool, calm, and collected.

Another author, Paul Fearnley, was permitted to drive Fangio’s actual 1957 German Grand Prix car (chassis number 2529) around the Nurburgring in 2002. His words, captured by Motorsport Magazine, were profound. “Its throttle is feather-light and I hamfootedly kick the three Webers awake. My left tympanum goes into spasm.” The Maserati 250F, although well-balanced, took a master’s touch around the tricky Nürburgring.

Even with Fangio at the helm, it was not easy to navigate the Nürburgring. I will assume you are familiar with the ‘ring. If you are not, you should first go and look it up; it is pretty epic. The Nurburgring, circa 1957, was precisely 22,810 meters in length (14.173 miles). To win the race, you would need to be the first to complete 22 circuits, at breakneck speed.

Too long to memorize, one needed to at least remember the corners that could kill them. But, the driver also needed to compartmentalize their fears and have supreme confidence in their ability to squeeze the car through the narrow racing gaps of the newly partially-resurfaced Nurburgring.

Finally, Fangio’s main competition, the Scuderia Ferrari were dangerous contenders. Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn, both young British drivers for Ferrari, were about to face off a 46-year-old Fangio. Vanwall, a British team, had also been coming on relatively strong in 1957.

By any stretch of the imagination, Fangio’s task was challenging. To a mere mortal, it would have been terrifying to have the wobbly 1950s machinery shrieking down the narrow pavement of the ‘ring. And yet, pictures show Fangio smiling at the wheel of chassis 2529 as he calmly circled the lengthy track. He was at-one with the car by the end of the practice sessions. The year before, pole position was set at a lap speed of 86.3 mph. This year, Fangio tore through the track at 90.1 mph. Fangio had the speed, but something would go wrong in the race.

The Maserati team and the Scuderia Ferrari would have known each others relative fuel loads on race day. The trained eye could easily tell how much the tail of a car was drooping from fuel weight. Fangio would have known that Moss and Hawthorn were on full fuel, thereby planning to run a non-stop race. Conversely, Moss and Hawthorn would have seen Fangio’s 250F sitting high in the tail; it was only half-full on fuel. Fangio planned to hedge his bets and pit at the halfway mark for fuel and tires.

The front row was four red cars: Maserati and Ferrari. 200,000 people came out to watch the race that sunny day in August 1957. At 1:15 pm, the flag dropped and the drivers revved their engines and spun their tires as they left the starting line.

The Nürburgring’s long laps bring unique challenges, such as the inability to track the race for minutes, at a time. But, when the cars finally emerged nearly ten minutes later, Fangio was not in front. Rather, it was the Ferrari of Mike Hawthorn, followed by his teammate Peter Collins. Hawthorn had done a standing lap of 9:42.5. This was a cracking lap, and they would only get faster as the race went on.

At the end of the second of twenty-two laps, Hawthorn was still in the lead. Time was just starting to grow short for Fangio to pull out a lead. Remember, Fangio needed to stop for both tires and fuel at the halfway point; the Ferraris Hawthorn and Collins would drive straight through without interruption. On the second lap, Hawthorn lowered his time to 9:37.9. But, Fangio had furled his brow and dropped the proverbial hammer. Within a few seconds, Fangio finished his second lap in an even quicker 9:34.6.

Without too much difficulty, having waited to warm his tires, Fangio finally passed both of the leading Ferraris. According to Fangio’s own comments, he had never been more “one” with an automobile than on that day, mounted atop his Maserati 250F, chassis 2529.

Although Hawthorn and Collins stayed in close formation, Fangio was screaming over the hills, down through the valleys, and around the kinks, twists, and turns of the ‘ring. Over the next several laps, Fangio increased his lead by seven seconds a lap.

By lap eight, Fangio again dropped the course world record to 9:30.8. At this pace, could his tires even last to the halfway point? He was 28 seconds in the lead. This is about the average length of a late-1950s pitstop, without the time lost heading into and out of pit lane.

Behra, another Maserati 250F driver and teammate to Fangio had shot his tires by lap 10. He needed to pit even before the halfway mark. Fangio continued to only speed up. He finished his tenth lap in 9:25.5.

Finally, his worn tires could take more. Moreover, Fangio was almost out of his half-tank of fuel. Around 30 seconds ahead of the Ferraris, he stopped at the end of the twelfth lap. However, the pit stop was bungled.

The stop was a disaster. The mechanics needed to change the two rear tires and give his 250F another half tank of fuel. However, one of the mechanics dropped, and momentarily lost, the wheel nut. The mechanic fumbled about as he looked for the part necessary to re-secure the new tire to the car. The pit stop took a shocking fifty-two seconds.

The fifty-two seconds, plus the time at reduced speed in the pit lane, resulted in Fangio being down on the Ferrari’s by about forty-five seconds. Remember, in the entire first-half of the race, Fangio’s miraculous performance only pulled out a twenty-eight second lead. Now, with less laps remaining, Fangio would need to make up even more time.

Fangio’s infamous bungled stop for fresh fuel and tires. Fangio can be seen out of the car, taking a drink, just below the number “3.”

It would take more than proficient driving and a bit of luck. Fangio knew something more was required. Rather than take off at demon pace, Fangio played it cool as his tires warmed up. Some have suggested that this was a ruse designed to get Hawthorn and Collins to lower their pace.

Whether intended or not, Fangio’s slower pace on those first few laps gave him even less time to catch the Ferraris, even if it may have lulled them into a false-sense of security. However, Fangio was back at ten-tenths soon enough. At the end of the sixteenth lap, Fangio was closing methodically. However, he remained in arrears by 33 seconds.

A truly historic picture of Fangio leaving the famous pitstop. The crowd is on their feet as Fangio drops his goggles onto his face. Two mechanics push the car back into the race.

Fangio went on to drive even faster. His record lapping time dropped first to 9:28.5, and then to 9:25.3. With three laps to go; however, Juan-Manuel still had to cover 13.5 seconds of a gap. He caught and passed both Ferraris in half that time. He must have made up at least seven to eight seconds per lap on his well-worn tires.

Fangio not only won the 1957 German Grand Prix that day, but also won his final championship. One would be well-justified in asserting that this great race was the high-point of the career of a true great master.

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Travis Turner of