Home Featured Kanonloppet 1973: The last time F2 held a three-race weekend

Kanonloppet 1973: The last time F2 held a three-race weekend

by Elliot Wood
This year Formula 2 makes a bold shake-up of its weekend schedule to have three races at each round. Triple-headers at this level of single-seater racing is a rarity, and was last seen in F2 way back in 1973

Besides arriving with such a large bundle of money that a team couldn’t possibly turn it down, one of the best ways to earn yourself a seat on the Formula 1 grid is by winning the Formula 2 title. Except that hasn’t always been the case.

In the past, winning in F2 wasn’t something you did before F1, it was what you did while you were in F1. The best grand prix racers of the 1960s and 1970s would usually be filling their spare weekends with races in sportscars or in European F2.

The European championship was succeeded by International Formula 3000 in 1985, then by GP2 in 2005, before that was rebranded and then relaunched as the F2 of today.

Drivers who competed in the first era of F2, which began in 1967, were split into graded and non-graded entries. The latter could score points, while the former had amassed too much top-level experience in F1 to be eligible for championship honours. It was the graded drivers that quite often did the winning though in the series’ first decade.

Most rounds were single-race events, and usually carried prestigious names such as Eifelrennen, the BRDC International Trophy and the Pau Grand Prix. As the years went on, many events switched to a split format where the results of two races would be combined to declare one event winner. Then for a short time there were three-race rounds too, with qualifying setting the grid for two heat races, and the results of those being used to set the grid for the points-scoring final race.

That format was last used in 1973, and the series slowly moved back to single-race events becoming more common.

GP2 and modern F2 have run all of their events to two races, with qualifying setting the grid for Saturday’s higher-scoring feature race, and then the results of that race partially reversed for the shorter Sunday sprint race.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

The Friday of each F2 round will remain unchanged in 2021, with a single 45-minute free practice session before a half-hour qualifying session that sets the feature race grid.

Saturdays will now included two sprint races, with the feature race pushed to Sunday, and each will run to 45 minutes or 120 kilometres, whichever comes first over a race duration.

The first sprint race will reverse the top 10 from qualifying to set its grid, while the grid for the second sprint race race will be set by the results of the first but with the top 10 finishers reversed.

Each of the sprint races will be equal in points, and use the current 15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 format, while the feature race mirrors F1’s points format of rewarding the top 10 finishers using 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. Pole will still earn four points, and the driver with the fastest lap within the top 10 finishers of each race will also earn two additional points.

Compulsory use of both nominated Pirelli slick compounds will remain in dry-weather feature races, and they will run to either an hour or 170km at most circuits, depending on which is shorter to complete.

That distance isn’t too different to what was used at Karlskoga in 1973, the last time the three-race format appeared.

The Swedish circuit was holding the 12th round of the season, and it was a pretty big deal as it marked the track’s return to high-profile motorsport after being closed for two years following a crash that killed five spectators. It also marked the revival of Kanonloppet (The Cannon Race), which had been a non-championship F1 race in 1961-’63 before adopting F2 rules.

A grid of over 30 cars was expected to turn up to Karlskoga, but only 20 actually competed as the likes of Lotus’s reigning F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi and Team Surtees’ F2 title contender Jochen Mass skipped on the action.

An aerial view of Karlskoga

Peter Gethin, winner of the closest race in F1 history at Monza two years prior, set the pace in qualifying with a 1m12.5s lap in his factory Chevron B25. His closest rival was unsurprisingly points leader Jean-Pierre Jarier, who had been the points-scoring winner six times already that season in his factory March.

They were split up for the two heats, each running to 114.3km over 36 laps (close to a modern F2 sprint race).

Jarier dominated his heat by 19 seconds over home hero Ronnie Peterson, who was representing Lotus on his own after Fittipaldi chose not to compete. A further 17.8s behind was Jarier’s team-mate Andy Sutcliffe, a graduate of British Formula 3.

Only half of the 10-car grid finished on the lead lap, with Team Nippon’s highly-rated Japanese talent Hiroshi Kazato being classified four laps down, Irish talent Brendan McInerney failing to meet the chequered flag due to a driveshaft problem and the trio of Brett Lunger (Chevron), Jacques Coulon (Brian Lewis Racing) and Reine Wisell (Picko Troberg Racing) all being lost to engine issues.

Wisell, whose car was sponsored by Scandinavian beauty brand Pierre Robert, didn’t even get to start.

Gethin had a similarly dominant victory margin in heat two, which he won by 12.9s over reigning champion Mike Hailwood. The Team Surtees driver was a four-time MotoGP champion before taking to single-seater racing full-time.

His team-mate Torsten Palm edged DART Racing’s Bertil Roos for third, with Coulon’s team-mate Colin Vandervell a few seconds further back in fifth. Welsh racer Tom Pryce, best known for his sideways driving style, finished a lap down in eighth while Jo Vonlanthen and Silvio Moser – who had been business allies in racing – both retired.

Gethin’s heat win was faster than Jarier’s, and they shared the front row for the final. There was little to choose between the pair through the race, with Karlskoga’s multiple hairpins encouraging overtaking and keeping the lead two close together.

The 48-lap final (152.4km) went all the way to the chequered flag, with Jarier putting one hand on the F2 title by holding off Gethin by a tiny 0.2s after lap after lap of defending. It was a race that rewarded the estimated 40,000 fans who had packed in for Karlskoga’s return.

Palm gave more for the spectators to cheer about, as the Swede took his best ever F2 result in third place, 2.3s further back.

Australian star Tim Schenken finished fourth for Rondel Racing, an ambitious British outfit run by ex-Brabham mechanics Ron Dennis and Neil Trundle. It had made its own car for 1973, the Motul M1 (named after the lubrication company that sponsored the team and pictured above), and it had already proven it could rival the more established manufacturers in F2.

Peterson finished a disappointed fifth, but a week later was back to his brilliant best by winning F1’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Coulon was the last finisher on the lead lap, with 11 of the 20 cars seeing the chequered flag. His team-mate Vandervell was classified a lapped seventh after his engine went, while Kazato was robbed of a strong result when his driveshaft failed on the penultimate lap.

Four other drivers retired through engine trouble, with Wisell’s non-start in his heat being followed up by less than a lap of racing in the final before the end of his weekend.

In the five rounds after Karlskoga, there were two single-race events and three which combined the results of two races together. Jarier won the Mediterranean Grand Prix at Enna-Pergusa two weeks after his Karlskoga success with victory in both races there, then finished second behind Vittorio Brambilla in the Albi Grand Prix to celebrate becoming F2 champion.

Rounds where the winner was decided on an aggregate of two races continued to take place up to 1979, before the single-race format became the standard for the series.

Mark Dismore winning in Atlantics, 1992

Indy Lights held a double-header in 1980, CART’s feeder series Atlantics ran two races in its Laguna Seca season finale in 1991, ’92 & ’93, at Canada’s Trois-Rivieres street circuit in 1995 and 1996, and at its Homestead-Miami Speedway season opener in 2000, but otherwise junior single-seaters’ highest level didn’t feature multiple-race weekends until GP2 in 2005.

And after 16 years of that format, F2 finally returns to being a triple threat.

Final results (48 laps)

Pos Driver Team Time
1 Jean-Pierre Jarier March 59m14.4s
2 Peter Gethin Chevron +0.2s
3 Torsten Palm Team Surtees +2.5s
4 Tim Schenken Rondel Racing +47.0s
5 Ronnie Peterson Lotus +56.4s
6 Jacques Coulon Brian Lewis Racing +1m05.6s
7 Colin Vandervell Brian Lewis Racing +1 lap
8 Bill Gubelmann +1 lap
9 Brett Lunger Chevron +1 lap
10 Bertil Roos DART Racing +1 lap
11 Hiroshi Kazato Team Nippon +2 laps
12 Silvio Moser +4 laps
13 Sten Gunnarsson Picko Troberg Racing +5 laps
Ret Mike Hailwood Team Surtees
Ret Roland Salomon Formel Rennsport Club
Ret Jo Vonlanthen Bretscher Racing
Ret Brendan McInerney GRS International
Ret Andy Sutcliffe March
Ret Tom Pryce Rondel Racing
Ret Reine Wisell Picko Troberg Racing
Fastest lap: Palm, 1m12.8s