RE­LIVE THE STORY OF 50 YEARS OF FOR­MULA 2

As it reaches its 50th year, we track the roots of For­mula 2. By Paul Lawrence

Motor Sport News - - Historics -

Be­tween 1967 and 1984 For­mula 2 was Grand Prix rac­ing’s wait­ing room. Just about ev­ery­one des­tined for the pin­na­cle of the sport had to first prove them­selves in For­mula 2. Each of the 18 Euro­pean For­mula 2 Champions went on to race in F1 and over the same pe­riod 13 World Driv­ers’ ti­tles went to for­mer F2 rac­ers.

At the height of its pomp, For­mula 2 had big grids, qual­ity driv­ers, glo­ri­ous cars that made the right noises and some spec­tac­u­lar rac­ing. Through the 1970s, when F1 driv­ers joined in on their spare week­ends, a gag­gle of tal­ented rac­ers used F2 as the most ef­fec­tive spring­board into the grand prix arena. In­evitably, times move on and F2 fi­nally reached its sell-by date in the early to mid-1980s. But there has never been a bet­ter sec­ond string sin­gle-seater cat­e­gory.

The story of For­mula 2 dates back to 1948 although the con­cept of a cat­e­gory be­neath grand prix rac­ing has its ori­gins in pre-war rac­ing for 1500cc Voi­turettes. Into the early 1950s, the two-litre F2 class al­lowed driv­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers, notably Cooper, to move up the rac­ing lad­der. In fact, in 1952 and 1953 there were so few gen­uine F1 cars that the rounds of the World Cham­pi­onship ran for F2 cars.

The sport changed in 1954 with the in­tro­duc­tion of the 2.5-litre Grand Prix reg­u­la­tions, a move that sent F2 into a pe­riod of de­cline but it was rein­tro­duced in 1957 for 1500cc cars and Cooper, us­ing the four-cylin­der ver­sion of the fire pump­based Coven­try Cli­max en­gine, en­joyed great suc­cess. The ba­sis of that Cooper took the com­pany into F1 and so be­gan the rear-en­gined rev­o­lu­tion.

For sev­eral years, at the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, the ris­ing star in the sin­gle-seater fir­ma­ment was For­mula Ju­nior, which at its height was run­ning scaled-down F1 cars, and F2 and F3 were side­lined. How­ever, as For­mula Ju­nior costs spi­ralled, For­mula 2 and 3 were rein­vented for the 1964 season. F3 was for cars with one-litre pro­duc­tion en­gines, F2 was for one-litre pure race en­gines. Cos­worth and Honda en­gines were the lead­ing power units.

When For­mula 1 moved to three-litre en­gines for 1967, and opened the door to the Cos­worth DFV era, the gap to a one-litre F2 cat­e­gory was judged too great and F2 was re­launched for cars us­ing 1600cc pro­duc­tion-based en­gines. The for­ma­tion of the FIA Euro­pean For­mula 2 Cham­pi­onship, half a cen­tury ago, was a de­ci­sive boost for the cat­e­gory, which duly en­tered a golden pe­riod.

Bel­gian ris­ing star Jacky Ickx was the in­au­gu­ral Euro­pean F2 cham­pion in the early stages of a ca­reer that would take him to eight Grand Prix wins and six vic­to­ries at Le Mans. Ickx’s Cos­worth Fva-pow­ered Ma­tra MS5 was en­tered by Ken Tyrrell and opened a run of three-straight F2 ti­tles for the French man­u­fac­turer.

For five years the 1600cc F2 cars de­liv­ered some fine rac­ing, of­ten at the less no­table Euro­pean tracks that were not able to host a Grand Prix. The 1967 sched­ule in­cluded races at Snet­ter­ton, the tem­po­rary air­field cir­cuit at Tulln-lan­gen­le­barn in Aus­tria, Enna in Si­cily and Val­lelunga in Italy.

A year later, the first ma­jor event at the newly-con­structed Thrux­ton cir­cuit was a round of the Euro­pean cham­pi­onship, won by Jochen Rindt in Roy Winkel­mann’s Brab­ham BT23C. Ten of the 26 driv­ers on that grid went on to race in For­mula 1 and the field in­cluded Chris Ir­win, Piers Courage, Peter Gethin and Max Mosley as well as Rob Lam­plough, who is still rac­ing in his­toric sin­gle-seaters half a cen­tury later.

Dur­ing the 1600cc era it was com­mon for F1 driv­ers to have F2 pro­grammes as well. At the time, the F1 sched­ule was only around a dozen races and an F2 cam­paign al­lowed some grand prix driv­ers the chance to sup­ple­ment their in­come.

Gra­hame White was closely in­volved with the run­ning of F2 in the pe­riod. “It was at a time when most of the grand prix driv­ers were also do­ing For­mula 2. The pres­sure was off, they could have a great time and the cars were very com­pet­i­tive. The driv­ers were more re­laxed and it was a friendly at­mos­phere.” Sadly, the open­ing race of the 1968 Euro­pean season at Hock­en­heim claimed the life of Jim Clark when his Lo­tus 48 crashed into a tree.

French driv­ers were al­ways prom­i­nent in F2 and in 1968 Jean-pierre Bel­toise and Henri Pescarolo fin­ished first and sec­ond in the Euro­pean cham­pi­onship. A year later Johnny Ser­voz-gavin was cham­pion along­side an F1 ca­reer that was cut-short when he quit the sport mid­way through 1970.

In 1971 F2’s first fu­ture world cham­pion was Ron­nie Peter­son, who won the F2 crown for the fledg­ling March or­gan­i­sa­tion. His March 712M was the best car of the 1600cc era, which was now in its fi­nal season as 1972 her­alded a two-litre for­mula and per­haps the great­est era for the class.

Cos­worth BDG and BMW en­gines set the ini­tial pace, but in 1976 a fur­ther change to en­gine reg­u­la­tions opened the door to pure rac­ing en­gines and a very ef­fec­tive Re­nault V6 unit com­bined with ma­jor back­ing from Elf to pro­pel a new gen­er­a­tion of French driv­ers into the lime­light. Mike Hail­wood and the Sur­tees team took the first two-litre Euro­pean crown in 1972, but af­ter that came a run of five French champions thanks to the fore­sight and com­mit­ment of Elf.

BMW later fought back with a well-funded ju­nior team in fac­tory tended Marches and late 1970s ti­tles fell to Bruno Gi­a­comelli and Marc Surer. With eight wins from 12 races in ’78, Gi­a­comelli was one of the most em­phatic F2 champions as the clas­sic 782 de­sign dom­i­nated the season, with only Chevron’s B42 of­fer­ing any chal­lenge.

Ron Tau­ranac’s fledg­ling Ralt op­er­a­tion joined the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ros­ter in 1979, the year of Brian Hen­ton and the Tole­man, and the Ralt-honda combination was to be the dom­i­nant force in the fi­nal years of twolitre F2 with three ti­tles in the last four years for Ge­off Lees, Jonathan Palmer and Mike Thack­well. How­ever, the suc­cess of the works-backed Honda V6 en­gine had pushed costs higher and scared some peo­ple away, leav­ing F2 on bor­rowed time. In Septem­ber 1984, a rain-hit race at Brands Hatch marked the end of For­mula 2. Just 15 cars ar­rived and Philippe Streiff took ag­gre­gate vic­tory in his Bmw-pow­ered AGS. With seven wins from the first nine races, Thack­well was long since se­cure as the cham­pion.

For 1985, the FIA re­placed For­mula 2 with For­mula 3000 as a cost-cut­ting ini­tia­tive. It was also a move that con­ve­niently mopped up the sup­ply of Cos­worth DFV en­gines now ren­dered ob­so­lete for grand prix rac­ing by the turbo era. The For­mula 2 era was at an end, save for a four-season re­vival that started in 2009 and ran as a Mo­tor­sport Vi­sion package for Audi-pow­ered chas­sis from Wil­liams.

But for most fans, F2 died at the end of 1984. For­tu­nately, the cars live on in His­toric F2 and they still look and sound as good as they did up to 50 years ago. ■

Photos: LAT ar­chive

For­mula 2 vis­ited Don­ing­ton in ’83

Car­los Reute­mann leads Ron­nie Peter­son in ’72

Jochen Rindt tack­les the Thrux­ton chi­cane in 1968

Jacky Ickx led the way in the first season in 1967

Marc Surer took the 1979 ti­tle with BMW power

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