The 1970 Belgian Grand Prix was the fourth race of the season, held on June 7. The race featured a spectacular duel between the BRM of Pedro Rodríguez and the March of Chris Amon, with Rodríguez winning by just over a second.
On the Tuesday before the race, Bruce McLaren was testing his 1970 CanAm car at Goodwood Circuit. At one of the fastest parts of the circuit, the rear bodywork became loose, then detached from the car. With no rear downforce, the car spun uncontrollably, until it hit a bunker, left over from WWII and used as a marshal's post. The side impact killed McLaren instantly, and The Year Of Death had claimed it's first major victim. As McLaren was very popular in the paddock, the teams were in a somber mood as they convened at Spa.
The track itself had the usual issues with safety, with laps speeds now exceeding 250 km/h. The organizers had added a chicane at Malmady, but the lap distance had not been changed despite the obvious extra distance traveled, and the whole thing seemed intended to spite the safety campaigners. This would turn out to be the last Grand Prix run on the long circuit in Belgium.
With the abrupt withdrawal of McLaren, there were only 18 entries for the race, so all of the cars would be permitted to start, except for unusual circumstances. Which was the case for one of the entries.
- Brabham: Rolf Stommelen's car had been fitted with additional fuel tanks on the sides.
- BRM: The cars were unchanged from Monaco, and were still running on the Marelli ignition units first tried at Monaco.
- De Tomaso: Piers Courage had a replacement to the car that he had crashed at the Race of Champions, even though it was badged as the same chassis. It came with a wider track, that took some adjustment by the driver.
- Ferrari: For the first time since the 1969 British Grand Prix, two Ferraris were entered. Jacky Ickx was in his usual car, and Ignazio Giunti was driving a rebuilt copy of the car that had completely burned up at Spain. No real changes were made to the cars.
- Lotus: Jochen Rindt was due to drive the Lotus 72, but was not satisfied with recent modifications and problems cropping up, so he reverted to the older 49C. Alex Soler-Roig was back on a rental drive, and drove a hastily-completed third 72.
- Graham Hill's 49C had been completely rebuilt after his practice crash at Monaco.
- March: Chris Amon was driving a car with an old chassis number, but almost every single part was new, with a lighter monocoque, radiators and wheels. Amon pronounced himself delighted with the upgrades. Jo Siffert's car had lighter wheels and radiators, but the new monocoque had not been completed.
- Johnny Servoz-Gavin had suddenly announced his retirement after Monaco, so Jackie Stewart was the sole driver for Tyrrell. Servoz-Gavin had suffered an eye injury in an off-road event over the winter, and felt that his Monaco accident was a result of diminished vision. The team had modified some of the components of Stewart's car on their own, but were waiting for additional updates from March.
- Ronnie Peterson's Colin Crabbe-entered car had the latest inboard rear brakes and suspension updates from March.
- Matra: The cars were unchanged from Monaco.
- McLaren: After the loss of their leader earlier in the week, all McLaren entries were withdrawn.
The full entry list for the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice at Spa was in the traditional three sessions, on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning and afternoon. Most of the teams seemed primarily concerned with reducing drag, and to that end both Graham Hill and Jacky Ickx ran part of the Friday session without front or rear wings. Both cars were reverted to the normal setting within a few laps. The Ferrari suspension in particular was designed for heavy downforce, as evidenced by being the only team to run full airfoils at Monza later in the season. Jochen Rindt started out in the Lotus 72, but after only a couple of laps, he returned to the pits, and switched back into his old 49C, listed as the spare car. With the mechanics busy reverting the 49C back to fit Rindt, the brand new 72 could not be completed for Soler-Roig until Saturday, and with other problems (including gear linkage, sticking brakes and a bad wheel bearing) Soler-Roig only ran four laps in the car. Since his fastest time was more than 24 seconds slower than the pole, the organizers had little choice other than to not let him run in the race.
The surprise of the first session was the speed of the Brabhams, with Jack Brabham fastest at 3:31.5, and teammate Rolf Stommelen third with 3:32.2. Only Jackie Stewart's 3:31.8 could break up this party. Also impressing many was young Ronnie Peterson, in Colin Crabbe's March. The team had installed a fifth gear that would permit Peterson to hit 195 mph. But he soon found that he was not fast enough, long enough to engage fifth anywhere on the circuit. Rather than losing valuable practice time by changing the gear ratios, he drove using only the bottom four gears, and finished eighth with a 3:38.2. Meanwhile, the BRMs were having gear selection problems, and both Matras were finding that their engines were not up the to prolonged high speeds. Since this was a track that Jean-Pierre Beltoise strongly disliked, he was not concerned by the engine issues.
The Saturday morning session featured a number of problems with the timekeeping, with some drivers recorded with times over 10 seconds slower than what the teams were showing. That did not matter to Pedro Rodríguez, who had his engine break on his first lap out, and would not return until the afternoon. Corrected times were finally posted just after lunch, with Stewart benefiting from a tow to record a huge lap of 3:28.0. Most of the fastest times were recorded during that morning session, as the afternoon was uncharacteristically warm, with only Ickx, Giunti and Stommelen improving their times. Several other drivers, including Rindt, Chris Amon, Jackie Oliver and Henri Pescarolo suffered engine failures, and most of the teams had their fingers crossed for Sunday's race.
|12||7||Piers Courage||De Tomaso-Ford||3:33.0||+5.0|
Raceday was yet another warm late spring day, and most of the drivers were relieved that rain would not be an issue. A minor drama cropped up when Derek Bell's Brabham broke the shift linkage on the warmup lap. He took a position at the back of the grid, and after the flag dropped, was unable to engage a gear. Since the start was on a down slope, he coasted over the line to officially start the race, and parked the car at the bottom of the pit straight.
The downhill start is often tricky, and this time it was Jackie Stewart who was caught trying not to creep while keeping the revs up. When the flag dropped it was Jochen Rindt and Chris Amon who shot ahead, as Stewart popped the clutch and suffered from wheelspin. Amon had a particular affinity for Spa, and just after the Malmedy chicane he drafted past Rindt into the lead. Stewart recovered from his poor start, and also took Rindt coming into La Source, so it was red March then blue March at the end of lap 1, followed by Rindt, Pedro Rodríguez (up from sixth on the grid), Jacky Ickx, Jack Brabham and Jean-Pierre Beltoise (up from 11th). On lap 2, Stewart moved past Amon, and led a lap for the 18th consecutive race, a record that was not broken for more than 40 years. Rindt was being closely shadowed by Rodríguez, and Ronnie Peterson was up to eighth in only his second Grand Prix. On lap 3, Amon had re-passed Stewart, whose engine started to sound a bit off; and Rodríguez had passed Rindt, the BRM looking more competitive than in recent memory.
On lap 4 Rodríguez shot past Stewart, and Piers Courage, who had been dropping back from the pack, pulled in with a lack of oil pressure. Soon after, Rodríguez got past Amon after Stavelot, and a BRM was in the lead for the first time since the 1.5 liter formula, but with Amon still in hot pursuit. Meanwhile Ickx had been working his way up the field, and drafted past Rindt, as both drivers were closing in on Stewart. At the end of lap 8 Rodríguez managed to hit a patch of oil at La Source. He got sideways and almost went off, and Amon managed to pull far enough past to get credit for leading the lap, but Rodríguez had the inside line for Eau Rouge at the bottom of the hill. Amon tried to draft past him twice that lap, only to be thwarted each time, and the crowd was loving the duel.
The excitement in the BRM pit was tempered with the knowledge that Rodríguez' teammate Jackie Oliver had retired with a broken valve, the third BRM engine failure this weekend. But the lead BRM just kept sailing along, with the dayglow red March hot on its tail. Back behind, Jack Brabham had been reeling in other drivers, and moved past Ickx, Rindt and Stewart in short order, then threw much of his progress away by missing the Malmedy chicane, and falling back behind Stewart and Rindt. The next lap, Rindt came by with his engine sounding very rough, and the unit failed just short of Stavelot. Not long after, John Miles retired the other Lotus with a combination of fuel injection and gear selection problems. Brabham had recovered from his error, and re-passed Stewart, when the World Champion's engine quit in a big way right in front of the pits.
At the halfway point, the order was Rodríguez, Amon, Brabham, Ickx, Henri Pescarolo, Beltoise, Rolf Stommelen, Jo Siffert, Ignazio Giunti, Graham Hill and Peterson. Peterson's car had lost an exhaust pipe, and the hot gasses were venting right onto a fuel line, so he made a long pit stop. The problem was eventually fixed, but the car had lost seven laps. Hill's car was stuck in fifth gear, and had needed to change a tire, so it was almost merciful when the engine broke on lap 20. Giunti had been black-flagged early on, the stewards believing that he was responsible for the oil actually dropped by Oliver. After a pit stop, he set out again, and was lapping almost as fast as the lead duo. On lap 19, Brabham suddenly slowed with a serious engine vibration, and after a quick examination in the pits, the car was wheeled away. Ickx found himself alone in third until a fuel line broke, and was squirting fuel on Ickx himself. Since he was still suffering from minor burns relating to his crash in Spain, he had to make a pit stop to changed driving suits while the problem was fixed. This cost him two laps. The race of attrition now had the two Matras in third and fourth, until Pescarolo broke a valve spring, and the car quit altogether on the final lap. He was classified sixth.
Back at the front, the leaders had been trading fastest laps. Rodríguez had gotten under 3:29 on lap 27, but Amon never gave up, and set the new lap record at 3:27.4 on the final lap. But it was all in vain, as Rodríguez crossed the line 1.1 seconds ahead. The rest of the order was largely by attrition, with Beltoise completing the rostrum, ahead of Giunti and Stommelen. Siffert had stopped on the circuit on lap 27, but was classified seventh, ahead of Ickx. The only other car running was Peterson, ultimately eight laps down.
|6||26||Henri Pescarolo||Matra||27||Fuel pressure||17||1|
|7||9||Jo Siffert||March-Ford||26||Fuel pressure||10|
|8||27||Jacky Ickx||Ferrari||26||+2 Laps||4|
|NC||14||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford||20||+8 Laps||9|
|Ret||7||Piers Courage||De Tomaso-Ford||4||Oil pressure||12|
Standings after raceEdit
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