The Golden Era of Formula Two Racing Cars
by Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica.com
Who remembers the golden era of Formula Two cars, especially the period from 1976 up to 1984 during which Ralt, Chevron, Lola and March battled it out for supremacy? In this article we go back to the origins of this great championship and the cars that thrilled spectators.
Formula Two was an open wheel formula racing category meant for single-seater racing cars, introduced during the post-war era in 1947 as a substructure for Formula 1. It was the successor class following the Voiturette cars which were raced before World War 1. With a limited engine capacity of 1500 cc supercharged engines, Voiturette cars were used between World War 1 and World War II and included the Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta, Bugatti Type 13 and different ERAs.
Shortly after World War II it was decided to abandon 3.0 litre supercharged rules, leading to the introduction of Formula A and B cars. From 1947 to 1953 a displacement upper limit of 2.0 litres was used with supercharged engines restricted to 500 cc. As this left nothing below Formula A/Formula 1, the FIA formally introduced Formula Two in 1948 as a smaller and cheaper type of racing to Grand Prix racing.
Two-litre naturally aspirated engines were most common, with 750 cc supercharged engines also seen. These rules allowed the cars to be cheaper, lighter and smaller than the Grand Prix cars of the same era. Formula Two struggled during early years and after the withdrawal of Alfa Romeo, the 1952 and 1953 drivers’ championships were cancelled.
In 1957 1500 cc engines restricted to six cylinders were introduced for the new Formula Two. Rear-engined Coopers dominated this period, followed by Porsches with F2 cars based on their RSK sports cars. The Coventry Climax FPF four-cylinder engine dominated the engine builders. However, the 1.5 litre formula was short-lived. Formula Junior initially started replacing Formula 3, followed by Formula Two until 1963.
Rules were raised to remove the limitation on the number of cylinders in Formula 1. Within these rules previous Formula Two cars, such as the Porsche 718 and Ferrari 156, automatically moved into Formula 1. The reintroduction of F2 took place in 1964 and introduced a displacement limit of 1 litre and a minimum weight of 420 kg.
As well as a number of individual races, Formula Two featured national championships. In addition to a British Formula Two Championship, there was also the Trophées de France, a French Formula Two Championship. The success of which led the CSI to launch a European Championship. This championship lasted until 1984 when cars used an increased engine displacement of 1.6 litres.
Up to the 1970s several drivers with Formula 1 experience had participated in the European F2 championship. Those drivers were designated as ‘graded drivers’ or A-drivers, and did not score points for the championship.
The European Formula Two championship proved to be a success story, seeing young drivers fighting for the championship without any F1 experience. These drivers were referred to as B-drivers.
German Jochen Rindt, already an established Formula 1 driver, scored victory in five races of the inaugural European Formula Two Championship held in 1967. However due to his A-driver status he wasn’t eligible to score any points. The championship went instead to Belgian Jacky Ickx who was a B-driver at the time and had secured two victories. Other winners that year included Frank Gardner, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.
Brabham and Lotus were the most prolific constructors during the early years of the 1.6-litre engines, although smaller constructors such as Matra and Tecno also found their way to success. Matra was a force in the early years of the European Championship, with their cars claiming the first three championships.
During the 1970s, Formula Two became one of the most successful championships. Anyone who wanted to enter Formula 1 had to ride in Formula Two and the championship was cheap, but challenging.
Engine displacement changed from 1972 onwards when two-litre, six cylinder engines became the upper limits. During the early years of these regulations Cosworth BDA and BMW four-cylinder engines dominated the championship. From 1976 on, pure racing engines were allowed, generating over 300 hp. Renault developed a potent V6 and for a brief period both French teams and drivers dominated the European championship.
Formula Two cars proved to be very quick and the lap times of the early ’80s matched those of Formula 1 during the mid-70s. Both March and Ralt delivered dominant chassis, while Chevron, Elf, Martini and Maurer scored some success as well.
However as they say, all good things must come to an end. Due to more sophisticated solutions and increasing budgets, the attractiveness of Formula Two decreased. Only 16 drivers raced against each other in 1984, the last year of the European Formula Two Championship.
Formula Two was replaced by Formula 3000 in 1985. These cars used Ford Cosworth normally aspirated 3.0 litre engines, which were no longer competitive in Formula 1 as they were replaced by turbocharged engines.
The following is a summary of the different European F2 champions between 1967 and 1984:
|1968||France||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra||Died 5.1.2015|
|1969||France||Johnny Servoz-Gavin||Matra||Died 29.5.2006|
|1970||Switzerland||Clay Regazzoni||Tecno||Died 15.12.2006|
|1971||Sweden||Ronnie Peterson||March||Died 11.9.1978|
|1972||England||Mike Hailwood||Surtees||Died 23.3.1981|
|1974||France||Patrick Depailler||March||Died 1.8.1980|
|1979||Switzerland||Marc Surer||March Surer|
|1984||New Zealand||Mike Thackwell||Ralt|