Ronnie Peterson's John Player Special Lotus 72 leads team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacky Ickx's Ferrari past the Monza pits during the 1973 Italian GP.
1973 was a year symptomatic of the modern trend of racing, with as much competition off the tracks - mostly concerning money - as on. Fortunately the quality of the racing diverted the public eye from the more unseemly side of things and it was another vintage championship year, though one again tainted by tragedy. The first race, in Argentina, saw Ronnie Peterson alongside Fittipaldi in the black and gold Lotus 72Ds and the reigning champion won the race after Regazzoni, Cevert and Stewart had problems ahead of him. Regazzoni was newly ensconced at BRM and was sensational in practice, giving the team their first pole position since 1971. He led for 29 laps before overheating tyres forced him out.
Fittipaldi won again in his native Brazil, at 114.88 mph and the stage looked set for him to retain his title. Stewart thought otherwise and followed up second place in Brazil and third in the Argentine (behind Cevert) with his first win of the season in South Africa. It was a meeting of high drama; Stewart had crashed in practice, local man Jody Scheckter shared the front row with McLaren team-mate Hulme (who used the new M23 to give him his first ever pole position) and Mike Hailwood earned himself a George Medal during the race for a heroic rescue of Regazzoni from his blazing BRM. George Follmer also survived all the dramas to give the new Shadow team their first point.
The Spanish Grand Prix was back to the round the houses circuit at Mont-juich and the drivers must have been glad of the new deformable structures on the cars, which became mandatory at this race. Peterson was again on pole, but the race went to Fittipaldi after Peterson, Hulme, Cevert and Stewart were all sidelined. Emerson's 97.86 mph win gave Lotus their 50th Grand Prix victory. Emerson's win was a close thing as he had a tire deflating over the closing laps, and Cevert, recovering after a puncture of his own, drove as hard as he knew how in his efforts to take the lead.
Follmer brought his Shadow home in third place. Politics reared their head at the Belgian Grand Prix, which was transferred from Nivelles to Zolder. The newly resurfaced track began to break up during practice and for a while it looked as though the race might be cancelled. An idea of the conditions can be gained from the fact that Peterson, having gained pole position, crashed twice during the race-day warm up and again in the race. He was not alone: as car after car left the circuit, Stewart and Cevert pounded through to a one-two, from Fittipaldi.
There were plenty of statistics to note at Monaco: Graham Hill was making his 150th Grand Prix appearance and Stewart was aiming for the 25th win of his meteoric career. He collected it, too, beating Fittipaldi by 1.3 seconds at an average of 80.96 mph. Making his debut in the race at the wheel of the flamboyant Hesketh team's March 731 was James Hunt. His engine blew up five laps from home, while he was lying sixth and silencing many critics. Sweden was a new country to be added to the championship trail and all eyes at Anderstorp were naturally on Peterson.
From pole position he led until less than two laps from home, when a deflating tire forced him to give way to Denny Hulme who had stormed through the field in his McLaren M23 after early problems. McLaren's new boy, Jody Scheckter, sprung some surprises in France, leading from the flag and disputing the lead until he collided with Fittipaldi, eliminating them both. On his 40th attempt, Peterson won his first Grand Prix, by 40.92 seconds from Cevert ; Hunt scored his first point at his second attempt with sixth place.
The British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, saw one of the biggest accidents of all time when, at the end of the first lap, Scheckter - lying fourth - lost control coming onto the start-finish straight from the very fast right hand-er, Woodcote. He bounced off the pit wall and into the pack, which was Soon reduced to so much wreckage. The only injuries amidst the mechanical carnage were to Scheckter's ego and Andrea de Adamich's ankle. The race was restarted after a long delay and was no less of a sensation with Peter Revson winning from Peterson, Hulme and Hunt. 3-4 seconds covered the four of them and Revson's average speed was 131.75mph.
Hunt pleased his local crowd with fastest lap, at 134.06 mph. The sense of security lent by the efficiency of the new deformable structures in the Silverstone melee was shattered at Zandvoort
. Roger Williamson, in only his second Grand Prix with Tom Wheatcroft's March, crashed heavily on lap eight and the car burst into flames. Although David Purley tried heroically to rescue Williamson - virtually unaided by the marshals - the promising young Englishman perished. Stewart went on to win his 26th Grand Prix, from Cevert, but there were no celebrations, only bitterness. Stewart and Cevert pulverised the opposition at the N urburgring, finishing 1.6 seconds apart and a long way ahead of third man Ickx, who was making a 'guest' appearance with McLarens.
The winning average was 116.82mph and fastest lap went to an inspired Carlos Pace at 118.43 mph. Peterson won in Austria, from Stewart, after Fittipaldi had retired only five laps from victory. Ronnie won again at Monza, with Emerson second, but Stewart, who drove a magnificent race to finish fourth after a puncture, clinched his third championship. The Canadian race was won by Peter Revson in total confusion after rain forced pit stops for tire changes and an. accident brought the newly introduced pace car out to slow the action. Unfortunately, it came out in front of the wrong car and the race degenerated into a shambles.
What should have been the crowning of a magnificent career for Stewart with his loath and last Grand Prix at Watkins Glen
was completely over-shadowed by the death of Cevert in practice. The Tyrrell team withdrew, Stewart announced his retirement a week later as Champion, and Peterson won the race from a hard charging and very impressive Hunt. Stewart's retirement again left a throne to be filled and the sport was now so competitive that no single driver could fill it.
Stewart and Tyrrell were back in the ascendancy in 1973; Gardner's 006 design took five victories, in a season dominated by three Ford-powered makes - Tyrrell, Lotus and McLaren. 006 was a typical Tyrrell, with a wedge-shaped monocoque, side radiators and the highest of high air boxes - designed to collect cool undisturbed air from above the body-induced turbulence. It was a year of elation and tragedy for Tyrrell, the championship success being tempered by Stewart's retirement and Cevert's death in America. The remarkable Lotus 720 again provided most of the opposition but McLaren's new M23 proved to be very quick. The Gordon Coppuck designed car was very much a second generation Lotus 72, embodying the side radiator, wedge layout of that car.
The latest regulations demanded wider deformable structures on the flanks of the cars and the M23 used these to good effect to achieve excellent aerodynamic penetration. The M23 was to share another feature with the Lotus 72, its long competitive life. Involvement from America returned with the appearance of the UOP Shadow DN1, designed by former Eagle and BRM man Tony Southgate. The young Englishman Lord Alexander Hesketh entered James Hunt in a March 731, looked over by the former March designer Or Harvey Postlethwaite; the car proved consistently faster than several works entered cars. At the end of 1973, Hesketh announced that the team would build their own car and V12 engine for the following season. Although the engine never materialised, the Postlethwaite designed Hesketh 308, bearing a fair resemblance to the March, did.