- Spanish Grand Prix
Safety concerns ring true as tragedy strikes at Montjuic
The Spanish Grand Prix goes down in the history books as a race won by Jochen Mass in the McLaren, but the whole weekend was overshadowed by driver protests over an unsafe track and ultimately a tragic accident that claimed the lives of five spectators.
Montjuic Park had come in for criticism for being unsafe, and hastily-installed Armco barriers had done nothing to dispel those fears as Emerson Fittipaldi leant on one for a photoshoot and it collapsed under his weight. The Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) made their worries known and threatened to strike, causing Friday morning practice to be cancelled, while only two non-GPDA members took to the track in the afternoon.
With the teams having helped out with repairs to the barriers, the GPDA voted on Saturday whether to race or not. Only six were in favour, but the race organisers warned that they would be in breach of their contracts if they didn't race, and so the Saturday afternoon session saw the cars reluctantly take to the track. Fittipaldi completed only three laps to fulfil his contractual obligations and then pitted having not set a competitive time so that he wouldn't qualify. "I don't want to race because I do not believe the track will be made safe for the grand prix," he said after the session.
Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda locked out the front row with James Hunt and Mario Andretti behind. Lauda retired on the first lap after being clipped from behind, while Regazzoni was forced in to a lengthy pit stop to repair damage after collecting Lauda in the incident. That left Hunt in the lead but he lost the rear on a patch of oil and crashed out against the barriers, before Andretti's suspension failed.
Rolf Stommelen had then inherited a surprise lead, but on lap 26 his rear wing detached just before the 'stadium jump' and, deprived of downforce, his Embassy Hill hit the barriers and was launched through the safety fencing, hitting a lamppost and landing in the crowd. The car crushed a fireman and four spectators, while Stommelen was lucky to escape with two broken legs and several cracked ribs after it landed upside down.
It was four laps until the provincial governor finally stopped the race to allow emergency services on the scene, and with less than 66% of the distance completed drivers were only awarded half points. Mass took a token victory ahead of Jacky Ickx and Reutemann, while Lella Lombardi's sixth place gave her half a point - the only female driver to score in the world championship to date.