Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…”
In 1969 four men, Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd, built a F3 car… Nothing so odd about that. In the 60‘s new ‘junior’ formula companies appeared monthly as if from cornflakes packets… But… just a few short months later they announced to the world that March Engineering would not only be building, for sale, cars for FF, F3, F2, and F1, as well as Can-Am sportscars… but, on top of that, would be entering works teams in F1, F2, and F3…
Each man had his own individual expertise: Mosley was the ‘businessman’; Rees was team manager; Coaker was in charge of production; and Herd was the designer… and each man put £2,500 into the company.
Mosley had been a barrister and amateur racing driver since the mid-60’s until two crashes in 1969 decided him to change direction. Rees had also been a racing driver, culminating in two appearances at the German GP, in 1966-67, in F2 cars, and a one-off appearance in the British GP in a ‘works’ Cooper Maserati, where he qualified 15th, and finished 9th. Teammates Jochen Rindt and Pedro Rodriguez had qualified 8th & 9th, and Pedro had finished 5th. Rees also managed and drove for the Winkleman F2 team.
Coaker trained as an accountant and mechanical engineer and was also an amateur driver, which is how he met his future partners… and Herd was a highly qualified and talented engineer who started at the RAE, working for four years on Concorde, before joining McLaren in 1965. After three years he took a new challenge, joining Cosworth to design a 4WD F1 car and then, the following year, helped found March.
With such a bold beginning it would not be a surprise to discover the whole thing fell about their ears, and the company was quickly embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings… but, in fact, that did not happen… although the four men were not necessarily in complete accord at all times… and the venture did stumble at the first hurdle when Jochen Rindt, who had apparently expected a one-car team to be built around him, was somewhat dismayed to see just how big this operation was from the get-go… and elected to stay at Lotus – and took the World Championship.
The full scope of the March influence on motorsport has to be outside the scope of this ‘TJ13’ series – it could fill a book on it’s own – and this article will concentrate purely on March F1 history.
March started by supplying a 701 to Ken Tyrrell’s team (for Stewart), while Tyrrell awaited completion of their own car, but March also had their own two-car team for Jo Siffert and Chris Amon, while Andy Granatelli’s STP
corporation also entered one for Mario Andretti, and Colin Crabbe’s ‘Antique Automobiles’ team had another for Ronnie Peterson… and that wasn’t all…
A March car won its first GP in its second race, in Spain, took four 2nd places, three 3rd places, and several other points finishes to finish their first year in 3rd place in the Championship, with 48pts. Lotus won with 59, while Ferrari took 2nd with 52. March was also on Pole three times. I don’t think any other F1 team has been so successful in their first year, especially when considering, twelve months earlier they didn’t even exist.
If Rindt hadn’t been frightened back to Lotus, March might have taken the Championship in their first season in any form of motor-sport.
March cars also won the non-championship Race of Champions (Brands Hatch) and the International Trophy (Silverstone – Amon). I might also add that in this, his 16th and final year in F1, Jack Brabham won the first race at Kyalami, set fastest lap there, and also in Spain, France and Britain, and started from Pole in Spain… and had three further podiums during the year… but it has nothing to do with the March story, so I won’t…
During the year March sold more than forty cars to privateers but the profit from this was not enough to finance their ‘works’ teams and they were already having financial problems while Herd was apparently having difficulty creating state of the art racing cars alongside safe, reliable customer cars. By the end of the year Mosley had demanded and acquired full financial control, including the factory, and Graham Coaker left… as did, finally Chris Amon, who Mosley constantly whined was too expensive, and was out-performed by Stewart anyway…
Mosley and Rees invested a further £20,000 into the company. Graham Coaker received a 712M as settlement but crashed the car a month later and tragically died of septicemia from his injuries.
After four seasons in F1, with just one points-scoring finish, Chris Amon was given a Ferrari and finished 4th in the Championship but two further years with the Scuderia left him in the doldrums again. With March he recorded three podiums, a 4th and two 5th places, and a fastest lap at Spa, which gave him a lowly 8th in the Championship.
Chris moved to Matra where he performed well but had appalling bad luck, a feature of his F1 career that led to him being frequently regarded as the Best Driver Not to Win a GP. Mario Andretti allegedly joked that if Amon became an undertaker people would stop dying…
Meanwhile, in Bologna, Italy, i fratelli Pederzani, Luciano and Gianfranco, had been making incredibly successful karts for the past twelve years, introducing numerous innovations and winning everywhere they entered, including three consecutive World Karting Championship in 1964-66. By 1968 they were also dominating F3, and won the 1970 F2 Championship, with Clay Regazzoni.
Along came Count Gregario Rossi to fund a Tecno F1 car, complete with Tecno flat-12 engine. Oddly, apart from apparent visual similarities with the flat-12 Ferrari, there is almost no mention of the Tecno engine on the internet.
How can you build an F1 engine, from scratch, without history recording who designed it and who actually built it…?
As is so often the case the Tecno F1 venture seems to have been one step further up the ladder to fame than the Pederzanis could deal with. Their single 1973 entry alternated between Derek Bell and Nanni Galli, for just eight races. Bell, who went on to win at Le Mans five times scored just 1pt. in an intermittent six-year F1 career. Galli spent four years in F1, and scored even less.
Just when you might think it couldn’t get worse… it got worse. It wasn’t helped by the sponsor, the Count, becoming too involved, hiring ‘veteran’ British team manager, David Yorke (Jaguar, Vanwall, Ford GT40, Porsche 917), who commissioned a new car from Gordon Fowell, and Chris Amon (just when you thought there was no connection here…) to drive. At the same time the Pederzanis hired Alan McCall (with input from themselves) to design a new car. Thus the cash-strapped team arrived at Spa with two different cars in two different teams, running as one… with one driver…
In fact the Fowell car never ran in a race, and McCall ‘left early’, and the year was an embarrassment, although, at Spa, Amon started from 15th and finished in 6th, three laps down, after much of the field was obliterated by accidents and breakages. But this was followed by three very poor performances, Amon departed, and Tecno was finished.
The Martini sponsorship moved to Brabham and Amon went off to build his own car, with Fowell… but this effort made just four appearances, failed to qualify twice, didn’t start once, because of a lack of spares, and retired from the fourth event.
With many drivers jumping about faster than water droplets on a hot-plate March entered two 711’s for Peterson and Alex Soler-Roig, who was shortly replaced by Nanni Galli, while a young Niki Lauda and Mike Beuttler each had a one-off drive… but the team also entered a couple of Alfa Romeo-engined cars, for Andrea de Adamich and Nanni Galli.
Frank Williams had a 701 for Henri Pescarolo and five other teams entered March cars at various times during the year, at the end of which March were just pipped, by a 1pt. technicality, to 3rd place by Ferrari. Apart from Henri’s 1pt. in Austria all March’s points were won by Peterson and, without him, March would have finished nowhere – four 2nd places (including ‘that’ race at Monza) and a 3rd place, made all the difference, and also gave Ronnie 2nd place in the Drivers’ Championship.
The 711 was noted for its elevated ovoid front wing, known to some as the Spitfire (after the War-time fighter plane) or, less politely, as the tea-tray…
Perhaps accepting the need for concerted restraint, rather than force of numbers, the works March team (and that’s a term, ‘works team’, that doesn’t get used today…) now appeared with just two cars, all season, for Ronnie, and Niki… but the cars had gone to pieces and Ronnie scored just 12pts., including one podium, while Niki finished his first season in F1 with… nothing…
The 721 was hardly a success, and was soon replaced by the 721X, which was no better and quickly dumped. Meanwhile Mike Beuttler’s team ordered a 721 and March grabbed a 722, F2, chassis, modified the rear end to accept the Cosworth V8, and called it the 721G (for the Guiness Book of records, because the car had been ‘built’ in nine days…). It was such a success March built a couple for themselves, while Robin Herd must have wondered what on earth was happening…
After three years of slowly drooping fortunes 1973 brought March to an even lower point. The 721G’s were rebodied and called 731. With most of the STP sponsorship money down to a dribble that would have had little effect on a dried out arroyo the team was down to one car for Jean-Pierre Jarier (who also managed to win the F2 Championship in a 732-BMW). Jarier was replaced by Roger Williamson who died in the awful Zandvoort crash. Lord Hesketh bought one, for James Hunt, which Harvey Postlethwaite developed into a points-scoring car, achieving two podiums by the end of the year.
But BMW’s insistence that Herd concentrate on the F2 car prevented March from doing better in F1, and they were able to finish 5th in the Championship, with just 14pts. – beating Ferrari and BRM, who each scored just 12. But all 14pts. were scored by James Hunt in his private entry.
Hans-Joachim Stuck and Kiwi, Howden Ganley, joined for a more concerted effort in F1 but there was little success, and Ganley was soon replaced by (‘spanner-man’) Vittorio Brambilla, whose 1pt, was added to Stuck’s 5 to leave March down in 9th place in the Championship.
In 1972 Lauda had his debut season in a March and now, three years later, was World Champion… while March continued with the Monza Gorilla’s Beta sponsorship, alongside ‘Lella’ Lombardi. In the accident-shortened Spanish GP Brambilla and Lombardi, having qualified 5th & 24th, finished 5th & 6th. Later in the season, in Austria, a rain-shortened race gave March and Brambilla their first F1 win but, with half points, only managed to finish 8th in the Championship.
Around this time a degree of ‘corruption’ crept into the company as chassis identification became extremely ‘fuzzy’ (and I don’t mean, from drinking vodka…). Frank Williams bought a ‘brand new’ 761B which turned out to have been Brambilla’s 751. At least one chassis plate was alleged to have appeared on three distinct monocoques, and one monocoque appeared several times with different plates…
Peterson, finally disenchanted with Colin Chapman’s empty promises, returned to March, alongside a returning Stuck, but the cars arrived at almost every race in different liveries, to match the floating sponsors, while BMW increasingly insisted Herd concentrate on ‘their’ F2 project, to stave off the new competition from Martini, Elf, and Ralt. Ronnie scored the team’s second and last F1 win, at Monza (plus fastest lap), but only scored one other point during the year – plus nine retirements, and pole in Holland. With Stuck’s few places March managed to clamber back to 7th overall.
During the winter March produced a car with four driven rear wheels (2-4-0), after the success, and especially the publicity, of Tyrrell’s 1976, P34 (4-2-0)… but it either didn’t work, or March were unable to develop it, and it never raced. Later both Williams (in tandem) and Ferrari (on one axle) tried ‘2-4-0’ designs but these didn’t race either. In 1983 the FIA, in its infinite wisdom, banned 4WD… and later declared four wheels to be a maximum.
Alongside six private entries March fielded two cars, for rookie Alex Ribeiro (sponsored by a Brazillian bank and a tobacco company), who failed to qualify eight times, and retired four times, in seventeen races. before returning to The Church – Alex’s religious proclamations were greater than anything we’ve seen from Lewis…
He was partnered by Jody Scheckter’s older brother, Ian, who despite being a big name in South Africa, failed to shine in F1, though he might well feel inclined to blame the March cars. Jody, three years younger, had been in F1 for five years already, had twice finished 3rd in the Championship, would be 2nd this year, and World Champion in 1979… ‘Big Brother Syndrome’, maybe…
Without scoring a single point March slumped to the bottom of the Championship list.
Having apparently several times considered retiring the F1 operation, this year was the nadir that broke Mosley’s back and he sold out what was left of the operation to Robin Herd and moved on to run FOCA full-time. Max had been largely controlling the Grand Prix Constructors’ Association (GPCA) for some time, alongside Brabham owner, ‘Little Bern’… (see: Morecambe & Wise…), and this was formalised when it became FOCA.
Meanwhile… Gunther Schmidt, boss of the German ATS wheel manufacturing company, who had previously bought the remains of the Penske F1 operation, now acquired ‘control’ of the March assets, using Herd as a ‘consultant’…
And thus, without fanfare, or barely a mention in the Stop Press, March just disappeared from the F1 grids.
A 781 chassis was built but not raced in a GP, and the company concentrated on F2 while breaking into IndyCars, where they won the Indy-500 five times in a row, 1983-87, and two IndyCar Championships – at one point 30 of the 33 starters of the Indy-500 were in March cars.
In 1981 March made a half-hearted attempt to re-enter F1, with RAM Racing, without success, and tried again in 1987 with Leyton House sponsorship. In mid-summer a certain Adrian Newey arrived and his 881 was an instant success, despite running a Judd V8 when the rest were turbo-charged… Allegedly the aerodynamics and ultra-slim monocoque were adopted by the rest of the grid in 1989 – Newey had arrived…!
But, in mid-1989, March hit the skids again and the F1 & F3000 teams were bought by Akira Akagi, who campaigned them under the Leyton House banner for 1990-91, until Akagi was caught up in the Fuji Bank scandal. The rest of March merged with Ralt.
A last-ditch attempt was made to resurrect the name in 1992, also without success and designer Chris Murphy took his ‘931’ drawings to ‘New Lotus’ where it became the basis of the 107.
After that various bits & pieces of the March empire were bought & sold, passing back and forth, until finally disappearing where the sun don’t shine…